Blogs and blogging Writing

Blogging for 10 years and still going

This blog began its life under a different domain on 6 December 2004. It has survived in one form or another until now, thanks and no thanks to me. I started my blog after tinkering with blogging back in the primordial days of the social Web when blogging was the New Thing, after interactive fora. Keeping a blog alive for 10 years feels like an achievement. Having 3 527 blog posts under my metaphorical belt (not counting this one) feels like I have made a meaningful contribution towards documenting my life and the things that interest me. It is something worth commemorating.

I’ve created multiple blogs, merged them into this one, almost killed this blog on many occasions (my most recent attempt was particularly spectacular). After blogging here very sporadically, this blog started to become more meaningful and almost losing a decade’s work (some of it probably wasn’t worth saving but it all represents aspects of me at some point or another), I decided to make a point of using it more often.

Blogging seems to be having a sort of Renaissance. You may have noticed a number of prominent bloggers returned to blogging with a 30 Day Challenge they took on to blog every day. I was tempted to do that but didn’t see myself sticking to that and still posting something worthwhile every day. I’ve thought about podcasting through SoundCloud or even doing video posts but as much as I enjoy consuming audio and video content, creating it hasn’t stuck with me. Writing remains my favourite way of expressing myself, followed closely by my photography.

10 years is a convenient time period to commemorate blogging. It certainly feels like a substantial period of time. At the same time, the underlying writing habit pre-dated it and will probably stay with me for decades to come. I blog because of some compulsion to share stuff and as blogging tools become easier to use, I expect I’ll blog more often. It is still one of the best ways to express yourself in your space that won’t vanish when terms of service change (at least, less likely, I hope).

Blogs and blogging Mindsets Writing

Blogging with less pressure

Gina Trapani published her rules for blogging in her post about “Short-form blogging” which reminded me about an anxiety I still seem to have about blogging: if I’m not going to write a really substantive post, I shouldn’t bother. One of her rules is this one:

If it’s a paragraph, it’s a post. Medium-sized content gets short shrift these days. Don’t go long. One or two paragraphs count. Then press publish.

I don’t know why I feel this need to write long posts that are researched, reasoned and detailed but that compulsion has probably ruined many post ideas through my associated procrastination. Perhaps if I just let go on that need to fill a page with my words, blogging would be more integral to my expressive life.

As for the rest of Trapani’s rules, well, I don’t agree with all of them. I have pages with static content and I have a number of plugins in my WordPress installations. I even keep an eye on traffic to my sites (it’s hardly worth mentioning but useful because it tells me what people find more interesting).

Anyway, this post is starting to run on a little so I’ll just end this one off here and save my other thoughts for another, shorter-form blog post.

Creative expression Events and Life Writing

"Writing, to me, is the meaning of life"

I love this quote about writing and life:

(Thanks to Om Malik for tweeting it).

Business and work Mobile Tech Useful stuff Writing

Trying out the Ozaki Stylus R with my iPad

Styli comparison

I bought an Adonit Jot Pro stylus a while ago to use with my iPad 3 and I struggle writing stuff on my iPad with it. It seems to jump around a bit. It is possible I am not holding it correctly (or something) but I tend not to use it even though I have some awesome apps on my iPad for notes, drawing and brainstorming stuff visually.

I was at a meeting a while ago with a couple agency people and noticed Ramotse Phalatsi (I think it was him) using a fat stylus and asked him how it works for him and he raved about it. It is cheap and you get 3 for the price of 1. I thought I’d check it out and went to the iStore today. I couldn’t remember the brand but I bought the Ozaki Stylus R which I am pretty sure is the one he was using. The stylus comes with 2 replacement tips so you basically do get 3 in 1. The Ozaki costs R199 (I received a discount due to some sort of FNB Business cheque card promo I was unaware of).

I played around with the Ozaki for a few minutes and it is really smooth and seems to work well. It is definitely chunkier than the Jot Pro (I lay the two styli besides a couple pens and a marker for a size comparison below) but it feels good in my hand. I’ve been taking more handwritten notes in a Moleskine notebook I carry in my laptop bag lately mainly because doing that on my iPad has been more frustrating than its worth.

Stylus and pen comparisons

I think fairly visually so my notes include diagrams and handwritten notes that probably don’t make much sense to other people but that works well for me. My process has been to take a photo of those notes afterwards and stick the photos into Evernote for later reference. If the Ozaki works consistently for me, I’ll have the option of doing something similar on my iPad and just moving the images across to Evernote either using Penultimate’s integration or importing images I create with Paper.

The only catch with the Ozaki is, because of its size and shape, you don’t see the point where it makes contact with the screen so really fine work can be tricky until you get a great sense of how it feels in your hand and where it makes contact. It is very possible I am not using the Jot Pro effectively so I’ll keep working on that. For now, though, the Ozaki works pretty well. I’ll see how well it works when I am using it for a longer time period and how accurate it is. At R199, it’s not all that much to spend if you want to try it out and like the size and form factor.


All about the traffic?

I’ve been a little obsessed about my blogs’ traffic for a while now and lately I have found myself wondering why. Sure blog traffic is important if you want to make some money off your blog because it is all a numbers game. It didn’t help when I was told that the stats I have been relying on are probably not the important stats from an advertising perspective and the 200 000 page views (give or take) are not nearly as important as my humble 21 000 unique visitors last month (which doesn’t sound nearly as impressive as the page views for the month). So I started to reconsider what is important to me when it comes to my blogs, particularly the blogs that have even less traffic than this blog and it occurred to me that while the traffic is great (when I have a lot of it and get a cheque from Google), I blog because I enjoy writing and talking about stuff.

I am probably not going to be able to retire on my blogs for a long time (ok, probably never) and with all the new blogs starting up, the first mover advantage sailed long before I started blogging that exciting day in December 2004 so I am probably far better off just focussing on my writing. That is the important stuff, isn’t it?

I came across a post by Seth Godin where he talks about this emphasis on stats and how too strong a focus on traffic distracts us from the real reason why we blog in the first place. After all, if it was all about the traffic then I may as well spend the time it takes to put out a decent post setting up multiple link blogs and begging for links from other bloggers. But it isn’t really about the traffic for me. Sure I am ecstatic to have loads of people (all of you) reading what I write and letting me know what they/you think (and I’d love to have more of you dropping by) but you are more than just numbers to me so I write for you and for me.

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Blogs and blogging Writing

What blogging means to me

I blog to make the world a better place, most of the time. I am pretty idealistic and, some might say, a bit naive and I am ok with that. My hero is Superman and I believe in the ideals he represents (I even have a Superman t-shirt for every day of the week). I remember when I applied for entrance into Wits’ LLB program I said something about the legal system being a tool to improve society and wanting to be part of that process. The point is I have this notion that I can do my small bit to make this world a little better and the public tools I use are my blogs and my podcasts.

Blogs used to be almost exclusively online diaries and were still described as online diaries in the South African press until some time in 2006 when the media embraced the idea that blogs could be more than a diary. To me, blogs are the children of the principles of The Cluetrain Manifesto. They facilitate the expression of an authentic voice that the authors of Cluetrain spoke about, as well as the direct feedback from readers of the blog.

Blogs make it really easy for anyone to publish their thoughts on the Web and to have those thoughts received and transmitted to a potential audience of millions, perhaps even billions. It is probably pretty rare that billions, or even millions, of people will actually read a blog post but that is ok too. If a thousand people read something I write and some of those people do something meaningful then I have done what I set out to do. Sometimes just talking about an issue is important. The main thing for me is to make a difference of some kind, however small. Sometimes I slip up and I write in a destructive way but I’d like to think those times are few and far between.

Bloggers have received some pretty negative publicity in the last few months in response to the way certain hot topics have been dealt with by local bloggers. Responses have varied from rational analyses of the issues to wild and outrageous personal attacks on the personalities involved and more. This hasn’t helped the nascent blogosphere’s credibility with mainstream media as the gateway to the general public. Ideally I would like to see blogs embraced as legitimate sources of commentary, entertainment, news and information about what is going on in our world.

Through blogs we can publish information far quicker than the press and to a potentially broader audience because we are not constrained by geography and production schedules. A blog post can be on the Web in a matter of minutes and there could be feedback within minutes after that. I have published posts in the past, stepped away from my laptop for half an hour and have returned to find a dozen comments already and I don’t have tremendously popular blogs.

Good feedback for me on my most popular blog, Wired Gecko, is half a dozen posts (Update (2016-03-30): Wired Gecko was rolled into this blog a few years ago). A dozen posts is great and more is a runaway success for me. Regardless of the small number of readers who frequent my blogs, I see those people as my partners in helping to make the world that little bit better because the people who frequent my blogs tend to share some of my ideas and passion.

The ability to share my thoughts and passion with the people in the cloud and to do that authentically are two powerful advantages of blogging and two of the big reasons why I blog in the first place. I am becoming less and less dependent on the quantity of readers of my blogs and more focussed on the quality of those readers and to attract those readers I aim to write better quality posts rather than posts aboout topics I know will attract a bigger audience and yet fail to contribute to my overall goal of making a real difference. That being said, I still post about the popular, pointless stuff from time to time so my blogs are by no means paragons of social awareness blogging.

Members of the press have commented on the fact that they are paid to write good quality content for their papers and bloggers are not paid. Furthermore, you pretty much get what you pay for and since bloggers are generally not paid, the implication is that the posts those bloggers publish are poorly written and of little value. I have to wonder whether not being paid for my blogging means that I am free to publish posts that are aligned with what I believe and not with what sells better. How can you expect to publish something truly meaningful when your primary motivation is to publish something that will make more money? Sometimes the important issues are not the popular ones and yet they still need to be talked about.

Joi Ito published a post a couple weeks ago titled “Mindful Writing” where he took a look at the Buddhist principle of Right Speech and applied it to his blog posts and in a way it was both ironic and a synchronicity that I first saw his post on a day when the blogosphere was going ballistic about the latest attack on it. He quoted a passage from a book titled “The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching” by Thich Nhat Hanh on the topic of Right Speech which I’ll quote a little from:

“I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break.”

This quote expresses ideals I aspire to. They are worthy ideals for bloggers to aspire to. There has been so much talk about codes of conduct for bloggers and the fatal flaw with all these codes is that they are external and intended to be imposed on the bloggers in some way. The only code that will have any real effect is the code we internalise, believe in and express through our actions. Perhaps when enough bloggers practice some variation of Right Speech and Right Action our blogs will have greater credibility in the eyes of our intended audience.

Blogs are vanilla these days. They can be used as personal diaries and corporate communication tools. They are really just web publishing platforms and are defined by what they are used for. They are used maliciously and they are used to promote positive ideals. I blog to make the world a better place and sometimes I have a very small impact on an issue I am passionate about and that makes all the time I spend on my blogs worthwhile.

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