Just to give heart to anyone out there who is struggling with a blog they’ve just started, I thought I would share something with you all.
This was my first effort at a blog and it was terrible. Now, I am hardly some kind of uber-blogger these days, but I would like to think that I am a little better at it!
So, blogging is a skill like many others - it can be learned. Just give it time and stick at it.
For anyone interested in the complete Briggs archive, most of it is here.
Here’s a photo I took whilst we were away in Cornwall last week - it’s almost like it’s alive! I’m about halfway through posting up the best of the 200-odd photos I took - you can find them all here.
I’m not much of a photographer and just use a simple point-and-click Sony, but when the scenery is as good as this, it’s hard to go wrong!
There is a load of great information out there on the various hosted wiki services like WikiSpaces, pbWiki, Stikipad and WetPaint to name a few. But how do you find these wikis if you want to contribute, or just to read stuff from them?
So, here’s theWikiFinder. It searches every wiki hosted at those mentioned above, along with Wikia and Wikipedia too. I tested it with the phrase “social media”, which brought up the wikipedia entry first (naturally) but second was David Wilcox’s Social Media Wiki on WikiSpaces. For some reason I feel this justifies the effort putting it all together - it works!
I’m doing some work at the minute putting together the agenda for Tuesday’s socia media shindig in Coventry for members of the IDeA Social Media and Online Collaboration Community of Practice (…and breathe). It can be tricky keeping an eye on what it is that you want to achieve at these events, so I have put together a little template that helps me plan what we are going to do, why we’re doing it, how we are going do it, and what we all hope to get out of it.
Feel free to download and use/hack the template as you see fit via the link below:
|Workshop Planner Template|
Here’s a quick run through of what I mean for each column in the template:
It’s not rocket science, but it’s amazing how helpful it is just to have stuff written down!
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that while WordPress.com is probably the best place to start for beginner bloggers, it also isn’t the most customisable of environments. In other words, if you want total control of what your blog looks like, you need to host it yourself using the download from WordPress.org.
[It's often said that you can't run adverts on a WP.com blog. This is true, although Automattic, the company behind WP.com (and which drives the development of the open source WordPress project), do run ads on every WP.com blog. This may surprise you, but ads are served to not-logged in readers of WP.com blogs when they visit it via a search engine (if my memory serves me correctly). If you don't believe me see here - and if you really don't want ads on your WP blog at all, move away onto a self hosted solution, and likewise if you want to run your own ads on your blog.]
Anyhow, there is still stuff you can do for free on WP.com to make yor site look a little more groovy. Obviously there is the ever-growing number of themes which you can use to give your site a cool look and feel, but more interesting are the WordPress widgets. These are gobbets of code which make your blog do interesting thing in the sidebar(s) of your theme. In this post, I am going to run through the various widgets that are available, what they do and how you can use them to make your blog more interesting.
All WordPress.com blogs have Akismet running as standard, and as I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, it really is the best of breed in blog spam prevention. This widgets lets you display on your blog just how many comments Akismet has put into the spam bin for you as a kind of badge of honour. After all, if people are spamming you, you must be good, right?
Pretty basic this, it displays a chronological list of months and years which people can use to find content from your dim and distant past.
If you are using your WordPress.com blog as a group effort, you can use this widget to list the contributors, with their avatars and links to their archive of posts. You can also list up to their latest 10 posts too.
Shows a little badge on yout blog displaying the numbers of hits you have received, based on the stats in your WordPress.com dashboard. Probably not a good one to use in your first week of blogging.
Box.net File Sharing
Box.net is a wicked cool site which lets you upload files to their server, for backup and sharing purposes. It’s a really nice looking site and one of the leaders in this particular field. This widget allows you to display the files you have chosen to make public in your blog sidebar.
Lets people find posts by clicking on dates in a calendar. These were very popular a few years ago, but these days are pretty much a waste of screen real estate, in my opinion.
Another way of helping readers navigate around your content. WordPress.com allows you to present your list of categories as a straight list, a dropdown or with the numbers of posts within each category displayed. Nice.
Show your latest bookmarks in del.icio.us with your blog readers. These are good for sharing stuff that you don’t necessarily want to comment on in too much depth. The alternative is to do what I do and have an automated daily posting of the sites I have bookmarked to my blog.
As easy way to display your flickr photos in your sidebar. Alternatively, if your photos are rubbish or irrelevant, you can display anyone’s public photos with a certain tag, say. Brightens things up no end.
Shows the links you have put in your blogroll on the WP admin panel in your sidebar. Nice for building some link-love.
Platial is a service which allows you to create and share ’social’ maps. If you’ve heard of Frappr, well, that’s a part of Platial - it’s the bit that deals with mapping where people are. This widget lets you easily embed the maps you have created into your blog. More here.
Meebo is a great service that lets you have converstions cross many instant messaging protocols (like AIM, Jabber, MSN, Yahoo! etc) using a web page rather than a client application (it’s a good way of using IM at work, folks). This let’s you have a little window in your sidebar that let’s people chat with you on your own site! Could be annoying. Anyhow, the WP.com blog post about this is here.
Provides a bunch of links, such as to your control panel and RSS feeds which is sometimes handy to have available. One of the first to disappear when you want exciting, shiny things.
Shows a list of all the static pages you have created on your blog. Handy for navigation.
Show how amazingly popular your blog posts are with commenters by showing the latest additions to the conversations you’ve started.
Shows your recent posts in a little list in the sidebar. Useful if your posts are VERY long, and so it takes ages to scroll down through them, or if you theme only displays one or two on the home page.
RSS widgets are cool as they let you add all sorts of extra content into your sidebar. You can be really creative with these widgets if you put your mind to it: think Yahoo! Pipes and that sort of thing. Anyway, if you bog elsewhere or have any other kind of RSS feed, you can regurgitate it onto your WP.com blog sidebar with as many of these babies as you like - just scroll down a bit on the Widgets screen to see the dropdown where you can select how many you want.
Whacks a simple search box on your blog sidebar wherever you want it. Somewhere near the top is good.
Presents your categories as a cloud rather than a boring old list. Groovy.
Almost as much fun as the RSS widgets, you can dollop all the text or HTML code you like in these, which makes them handy for customising your sidebar with images, links, text and stuff. As with the RSS ones, you can have loads of these.
Lets people know what the most popular outbound links are on your blog.
Shows the most popular posts on your blog in terms of the number of views they have received. Again, this is driven by the WordPress stats.
VodPod is a cool service that lets you collected videos from around the various online video sharing services and have them in one place. You can then build communities around them, or just have a widget on your blog’s sidebar showing the latest ones to have been added to your ‘Pod’. And that’s what this widget does. More here, if you want it.
It’s a cloud. With your blog’s tags in it.
So that’s widgets on WordPress.com. There are other things you can do to make your WP.com blog more exciting, and I’ll cover those in another post. I’m knackered now.
I wondered what would happen if I included every public Twitter profile in a customised Google search. The result was a pretty cool way of finding what people are saying on Twitter on a certain topic.
You can have a go yourself at Find a Tweet.
One drawback is that it relies on the Google cache, so isn’t up to the minute accurate. But if you are looking for something you know someone said a little while back, you should be able to track it down.
Following my beginners’ guide to blogging, I thought it might be nice to expand further on what sort of content you can use on your blog. After all, a blog is just a website, and what you do with the words you publish on it really is down to you.
There are a number of different blog post ‘types’ and it’s best to use a number of them regularly, otherwise your blog might end up a bit of a one-trick pony. Here I go through seven different types of post that I have identified.
1. List posts
You must have seen these around: “10 ways to make your blog accessible to cats”, “5 ways to ensure you are bankrupted by the Digg effect”, “33 ways having a blog makes you less attractive to women”. That sort of thing.
List posts are very good for being noticed on social bookmarking sites like Digg and Reddit, for example.
List posts are a useful framework to hang ideas from, and if you are struggling for inspiration, they are a good way of driving yourself through bloggers’ block. Everyone knows this though, so if you use them too often, you end up looking a mite desperate.
A lot of people are bemoaning the large amount of reblogging that goes on these days, but I still think there is a place for it. Effectively, it’s just picking a news item that’s particuarly hot, linking to a popular post about it, sticking in a quote from said blog and then maybe adding a line or two of comment at the bottom.
You don’t need to be terribly creative to do this, and it serves a purpose to highlight stories you think are important to your readers. But, if it’s all you do, then you will probably come across as looking pretty pointless. You need to add a little more value now and again.
How-tos are great, because they can be genuinely useful for your readers. Pick a topic, maybe something you have done yourself recently, and write a run-through of how you did it, with plenty of links and screenshots. Everyone will love you for it, but they take quite a long time to do and require some real dedication - if they were all you did, you’d soon go mad.
4. Summary Posts
These are quite tricky to do well, but can be really good for catching new traffic and generally interesting for everyone. It’s where you take a current news topic, quote a few different sources about it and try and weave your own views inbetween. Again, it can take ages to find decent quotes and then come up with something original to say about it all.
5. Random brain dumps
You can get away with these only every once in a while, but they can be pretty entertaining. Say something has been nagging away at you for a little while, well, just start writing about it with no idea where you are ending up. It’s just possible that somewhere in your witterings will be a gem or two - but you are likely to be relying on your readers to point them out to you in the comments. These posts are great for starting big “what if…” type conversations and even sparking things to get done or built. However, if all you post is this sort of stream-of-consciousness stuff, the only thing likely to get done is your readers’ heads (in).
I used to do quite a bit of reviewing of new web 2.0 stuff that cropped up, and I really want to start doing it again. Take a new service, explain what it does, compare it to the competition and summarise your thoughts. Dead useful.
Sometimes it just isn’t necessary to produce huge screeds of text to make a post useful. It can just be a one liner, or a couple of sentences. Euan Semple is great at these - just chucking a thought out there and seeing how people react to it. It’s possible that microblogging platforms like Twitter are starting to be the best place for stuff like this, but I think it’s nice to have a more permanent record, with the structured responses in the comments that you get with a blog.
So there’s my seven. Anyone got any more?
One of the great things about Twitter is the community that comes with it. Not just the community in terms of the people you follow, and who follow you, but also the network of people working to make Twitter more useful, or just more interesting.
Much of this is because of the API Twitter has released, making it dead easy for hackers to build stuff around the service. There is also a community run wiki gathering resources together, as well as a Google Group mailing list.
So what are some of the projects that are built around Twitter? Try these for size:
Have you got any favourites?
TechCrunch announces the launch of a new Mozilla (the guys behind open source projects like FireFox, to name one) site called Mozillla Messaging. This site aims to ‘fix’ internet communications, firstly by driving the development of the new version of Thunderbird, a desktop email client that replaces things like Outlook Express on Windows machines and Mail on the Mac.
Thunderbird has never really taken off like Firefox, largely, I would imagine, because people just don’t use desktop email clients much, unless it is a heavyweight like Outlook or (bleugh) Lotus Notes at work, so there isn’t much to replace. Indeed, the success of Firefox in making web based email applications even more usable, like Gmail and the new Yahoo! Mail, has reduced the possible market for Thunderbird.
Still, giving the email app. a bigger online presence, out of the shadow of Firefox, is probably a good idea. Mozilla Messaging hasn’t completed replaced the former Thunderbird online places though - you can still get it from the Mozilla.com site.
It’s not just about Thunderbird though. In a blog post, the new CEO of Mozilla Messaging David Ascher says:
It is worthwhile considering what the right user experience could be for someone using multiple email addresses, multiple instant messaging systems, IRC, reading and writing on blogs, using VoIP, SMS, and the like. What parts of those interactions make sense to integrate, and where? I don’t believe that stuffing all of those communication models inside of one application is the right answer. But the walled gardens that we’re faced with today aren’t the right answer either. There is room for innovation and progress here, and we need to facilitate it.
There has been plenty of writing recently about email actually being the hub that links all of our social networks, rather than being replaced by them. However, I’m not convinced that a desktop application is the answer. Indeed, I would imagine that you can pretty much manage all your online social networks through Gmail in FireFox now.