2008: The Year Ahead for Spam Blogs

As the year draws to a close, the blogging community has a great deal to reflect on and look ahead toward. Between the viral videos, blogstorms and major upgrades, it has been a busy year.

But for those of us involved in content theft and spamming issues, 2007 was something of a bittersweet year. A lot of progress was made in the fight against spam, but a great deal went wrong. It seemed that, for every victory, there were at least two setbacks.

Sadly, it seems that we can expect a very similar year in 2008. However, there are new tools and new possibilities that might make the next year a little bit more bright than the one gone by. Perhaps, with a little bit of luck, 2008 can be a brighter year than 2007 when it comes to spam blogs.

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Blogging Story: What is RSS?

So over the Christmas holidays, my uncle and I were sitting around in the basement, with my cousin, Mark, and he wanted to know if either of us knew of any software that would help the military organize their information in a better way. We talked about Basecamp, and a few other pieces of software, but of course we knew that the military would only accept software from a big box company like Microsoft or IBM, despite the amazing advances that other companies have made in the software space.

As we were going over the features that Basecamp had, I pointed out that it supported RSS, which for me was kind of cool, though I didn’t know how it could really be useful for collaborative software like Basecamp, I still thought it was worth mentioning. My uncle looked at me and raised an eyebrow. He didn’t know what RSS was.

My uncle is not a slouch academically, or even technologically. He helps pick out some of the equipment that the military will be using next, and his computer set up at home is fairly high tech, but RSS was foreign to him.

I went on to explain that RSS is like being able to subscribe to a variety of sites, as though they were newspapers, and your RSS reader, is like the house they are all delivered to. All the content you want is pushed to you, rather than having to go to each site, find it and read it.

Despite showing him an example of how useful it could be, he didn’t seem to really understand how it could benefit someone like him. He didn’t see the inefficiency of going to a dozen different news sites to get the content he wanted. He was worried he would miss something by subscribing to RSS, or that he would be getting too much of the things he didn’t want.

He also didn’t see the business model behind RSS, asking me if only certain content was pushed through, or if the content was limited in any way. The idea seemed totally strange to him, and despite sitting with him for half an hour, showing him how useful it could be, the end result was the same as the start: he didn’t understand RSS.

As a blogger, I constantly try to push people towards my RSS feed, as I want to keep them informed each and every time I write a new article, but here is my uncle, a man in his 40’s, unable to wrap his brain around why I would want to do that.

Has RSS really gotten to the point where it is well known enough by the Internet users at large that we can, without an informational page, push people towards it? Or should we bloggers be explaining what RSS is, and what the reader will get so that we can continue to teach those that don’t know, what they are “subscribing” to?

My hope for 2008, is that RSS becomes more ubiquitous, and pervasive online, and that next time I mention it, I don’t see a raised eyebrow from someone that does hundreds of tasks online each and every day.

To Blogroll or Not to Blogroll

I have been thinking about removing my blogroll in a new design. My blogroll needs updating but instead of reconsidering the blogs in my blogroll I have been thinking about removing it altogether. Not only is it outdated, the blogs I want to link to are subject to change and I rather link to blogs through blog posts than through my blogroll.

Currently I mainly link to friends from university and some other people writing about new media. My blogroll is pretty coherent as it reflects the focus of my blog but what about the other people I want to link to?

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Top 10 Ways to Market Your Blog in 2008

As the year draws to a close, it is good to take stock of how far you’ve come with your blog. We all like to think about improvements to implement in the New Year. Rather than offering a list of to dos, I prefer to consider ways to be a marketer that highlight your accomplishments all year around. With that in mind, people notice you when you:

1. Write something fresh, unique, and useful in a human voice — this is as true of your business web site as it is of your blog. You ask time and attention of your readers and visitors, make sure they are both well spent on learning about topics and opinions they cannot find anywhere else. As more companies and businesses start considering blogs as tools to begin online conversations, it is important to remember that along with information that readers find valuable, voice plays a large role in stickiness. Make it personal and human — it is on both counts.

2. Become a trusted source of news and informed opinions — there has been a lot of discussion around the definition and meaning of expert. Personally, I prefer to become a trusted advisor, and so should you. The Internet is a great place to find information on every conceivable thing. You can run searches on virtually any topic and find dozens and dozens of entries. This is good, yet it can also overwhelm. When you act as an informed and reliable source, your experience and expertise also come through.

3. Are a good member of the community — highlight the great content that other people create, become active on other blogs and sites with comments, guest posts, interviews and volunteering advice off line. Blogging can be a solitary activity, especially when you aim to create original content. Get out there and help others and you will find more inspiration to bring what you know to the surface.

4. Show that you can be trusted and that you care — every contract that lasts is based upon trust and care. All it needs is a hand shake and a nod. If you think back at the people you most admire and respect, they are probably the ones you never doubted for a moment. Not everything is up for grabs, relationships are complex. Some things are not blog material, don’t think they should be just because you are there when they happen. Ask permission first, and provide a sanctuary where a face to face encounter is off limits. We are human after all, not everything is and should be for public consumption.

5. Put the work in — the best way to succeed is to be in it for the long term. Why would you expect time and attention from others if you haven’t put them in yourself? People often ask me how I landed a guest blogger gig at FastCompany.com, for example. I started developing off line conversations with the magazine readers seven years ago and offered free monthly events with thought leaders, CEOs and prominent businesses to a group that has grown to include more than 500 members.

6. Get the word out — this may seem a bit simplistic, yet I am surprised at how many people overlook the step. Register your blog or site URL with the search engines. Google, Yahoo, and DMOZ.org. Use a description that captures your niche market and topic — the more specific, the better in helping you stand out. If you are judicious and have asked permission first, it is good to spread the news to friends and colleagues. Remember that while it may be promotion that gets the word out, it is solid and useful content that keeps people coming back for more.

7. Listen to your customers — yes, you may think about them as readers, yet the people who happen upon your site are customers. Learn from them by engaging in the conversation when they comment. A good way to do this is user surveys. Cheap, too. Those are perfect opportunities to listen and adapt to your customers needs and wants. Granted, they visit because you already provide what is appealing and interesting to them. Yet the best way to develop relationships is to listen to what others draw from your content.

8. Think creatively — while it’s good to be a reliable and steady source of a consistent type of content, every so often it’s also great to shake things up a little. Using a different perspective, inviting a guest blogger, or recalibrating your brand (and focus) are all signs that you are putting the effort and care in what you offer.

9. Project the right image — make sure your layout, sidebars and links are all aligned with the purpose and meaning you are trying to convey with your content. Design means business, not only colors, lines and photographs. Choose the appropriate illustrations and shots, those that complement and complete your message.

10. Remain grateful and thankful for the connections you make — each comment, each email and message is a gift, take them as such. Never, ever take your customers for granted. Take the time to acknowledge people and find new ways to be of service to them.

Too often, we look to the latest social media tool or viral marketing technique to grow our blogs. In the end, however, nothing matters unless you are hitting the basics. Blogging still comes down to authenticity, consistency, and interaction with your readers. If you are looking to expand your reach in 2008, this should be your first New Year’s resolution.

I Blog

Recently, while on my back in the dentist chair having my teeth scraped and cleaned, my new hygienist asked me what I did for a living. I have my pat answers such as “web publishing”, “online media consultant”, “web consultant”, or the traditional and simple “writer”, but this time, a little twinge hit me.

In between the fingers in my mouth I said, “I blog.”

I think it came out “I blog”, which is what “I blog” would sound like with or without fingers in your mouth. Still, he sat back, removed his fingers and sharp instruments, looked at me oddly, and said, “You do what?”

“I blog.”
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FeedBurner Subscriber Maintenance Tips

Most bloggers focus on their RSS subscribers, but I often remind people that around half of my subscribers subscribe via email using Feedburners email subscription feature.

While this free service is brilliant, it does have a couple of issues you need to be aware of.

First while your overall count is added to when people sign up, unlike if you were using a competing email service like aweber, your count can vary or be lower than you would think, even when people do not unsubscribe. This is because after signing up the new user has to click a confirmation link and they have to continue to receive emails.

Luckily you can download your subscriber list and email those unconfirmed users with a gentle reminder. Obviously one reason they might not have confirmed is they mistyped their email address, happens a lot more often than you would have thought.

Email delivery errors also contributes to the second issue. Feedburner keeps trying to email confirmed but problematic addresses and after five attempts halts service for them. These will be deactivated completely if you do not go in and manually reactivate them in your Feedburner interface (see below).

I recommend taking a look at any problematic email subscribers every few weeks to ensure delivery. Also consider using a plugin to email unconfirmed subscribers.

Have you got any subscriber maintenance tips to share?

Creative Weblogging Looking to Lease Blogs

If you think leasing was only for cars, buildings and office space, think again. You can now lease your blog to Creative Weblogging. This could be a good alternative to selling blogs outright, or applying for a blogging position with a blog network. The arrangement is basically for CW to market your blog, and to provide technical, administrative and creative support to your blog at their expense.

Creative Weblogging posts its requirements here.

Simply – It’s more fun together, less hassle and often more money for you. We pay for all services surrounding your blog. You ‘just’ blog – we do not interfere with what you write at all. Also we help you to make your blog even more famous and after ‘the lease’ is over you can sell your blog to whoever you wish.

The standard “lease” period is 36 months, during which CW will import the contents of an existing blog into their servers, and integrate the site within the network. The “lessor” need not spend on anything, except perhaps exert some effort in actually creating good content for the blog. The blog owner is then paid per post, and a traffic bonus.

Interested bloggers can head on to CW’s publisher application form.

WordPress Wednesday News: WordPress 2007, Nominated for TechCrunch Crunchies, More WordPress Blogs Hacked, WordPress Events in 2008, WordPress.com Blogger Wins, and Snow

A WordPress review – what happened this year? Excitement builds for WordPress 2.4 coming in January. WordPress.com nominated for the TechCrunch Crunchies. Popular WordPress blogger hacked – brings you the tips and techniques learned the hard way. Lots of WordPress events for your 2008 calendar. WordPress.com blogger wins top honors. And WordPress.com gets snow.

WordPress News

What Happened to WordPress in 2007: Weblog Tools Collections offers a WordPress Review for 2007, creating a timeline for progress on WordPress.

It also includes a list of what’s coming up for WordPress 2.4 which includes the new Administration Panel redesign with a Widget-based Dashboard Panel, undo for comment editing, search of both posts and Pages, and even more.

Vote for WordPress: TechCrunch Crunchies Awards list WordPress among the “Most Likely to Succeed” nominees with an eclectic bunch including Zivity, Slide, Mint, and Kayak, totally unrelated sites. Very odd combination to choose from and no clarification that the vote is for WordPress.com not WordPress overall, but your vote for WordPress is always welcome by the WordPress Community. Automattic CEO, Toni Schneider is nominated for Best start-up CEO, so cast a vote there, too. Can someone tell me why WordPress.com isn’t listed in the Best overall category?

Akismet Updated: Akismet has been updated to version 2.1.2 and has several new features including filtering by comment type and the addition of Plugin hooks.
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The Five Worst Ideas in Content Theft

When it comes to detecting and stopping content theft, there is a great deal of progress to be seen. New plugins are constantly being developed to stop scrapers, search techniques are constantly being improved and new tracking methods are being explored.

But despite all of the effective ways to monitor your content and protect it from misuse, it seems some of the worst ways never die.

No matter how many times these techniques to get shot down, disproved or otherwise defeated, there are still those that preach them as gospel. However, these systems not only provide a false sense of security, but often times irritate readers and, in some cases, can actually make the problem worse.

So let us take a moment to look at the five worst methods of dealing with content theft on the Web and analyze why they are so bad.

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