For most bloggers, finding story ideas is one of the hardest parts of maintaining a blog and it is something that becomes increasingly important important, though much more difficult, the more topical your site is.
Fortunately, the Web provides many great ways to keep on top of what is going on in your field, if you know how to use the tools that are available.
For me, the trick has never been to find the one best way to get new story ideas, but to but open up a wide variety of communication lines. Though my system is not perfect and I continue to miss stories from time to time, I also have a backlog of about three weeks forth of topics in my notebook.
That is because finding story ideas, for most niches, is fairly simple. It is just a matter of knowing where to look.
When I first started blogging, this was my primary source of news and information but have since waned greatly in usefulness for me. Technorati provides a means to subscribe to keywords of your choosing, giving up updates in your RSS reader as stories are posted relating to your topic.
To take advantage of this feature, simply use the site to search for your favorite topics and the subscribe to the RSS feed created on each page. You will not need to visit the site again as updates will be delivered directly to your RSS reader.
While I still find this useful for locating bloggers that may have questions or need assistance, its role in finding stories has been reduced drastically due to an increase in spam and general lack of effectiveness. Google Blog Search also provides a similar function but has the same limitations.
Though many feel Twitter is nothing but a waste of time or a distraction, I’ve found it very useful for keeping in touch with what is going on my field. Not only do people send me @replies and direct messages with stories I might be interested in, but since Twitter acquired Summize, their search feature has been incredibly useful as well.
Much like with Technorati, their search feature allows you to subscribe to queries in your RSS reader and receive updates that way. Alternatively, you can use TweetDeck to subscribe to keywords, thus eliminating most of the delay that can come with adding a keyword to your RSS reader.
All in all, even if you don’t use Twitter personally, it can still be a valuable resource for finding out what is going on.
Though it may be old-fashioned, email and the classic tip off still play a major role in where I get my information from. My friends and my readers are wonderful about letting me know about what they see going on and, routinely, let me know before any of my other methods do.
Also useful is subscribing to email newsletters related to your topic and getting ideas and links through those. Though many bloggers think of email newsletters as an anachronism in the age of RSS, there are still many who prefer to get their information via email and there are often very good newsletters that serve them.
Digg, Reddit, Techmeme, Sphinn or whatever your poison is, read it and keep on top of it. Not only do many of these sites provide RSS feeds for keyword searches, but provide a great deal of information about what others are discussing. This type of insight is invaluable when you are trying to talk about what others think is important.
In short, keeping on top of social news not only helps you get ideas for what to write about today, but might suggest larger shifts that you can make in your blog moving forward to give it a broader appeal.
If using traditional blog search feels a bit too much like drinking from a firehose, Regator can help whittle down the number of posts that you have to read.
Regator is not a traditional blog search engine, but rather a blog directory with approximately 2000 of what they consider to be the best blogs. However, much like Technorati and Google Blog Search, they offer users the ability to subscribe to a certain keyword and get updates.
However, Regator’s results tend to be much fewer in number and much more potent. Where my Technorati feeds might produce two hundred results in a day, most of which are not well-targeted, Regator provides less than ten, most of which are interesting.
I use both Regator and Technorati to help me keep on top of things but I give more weight and spend more time with my Regator results.
Bringing it Together
Once you have found all of your sources, you need to bring it together in a way that is manageable for you. For most bloggers, that will mean passing it through your RSS reader so that you will have all of the results in one place
But once you have a good stream of news and ideas coming to you, it is important to stay on top of it. Reading it regularly, though not so often that it becomes a distraction, is important. Once you see something you want to hang onto, either bookmarking the article or jotting down the idea is critical.
What usually develops from this is something of an RSS work flow where stories are read and then either discarded, commented on or bookmarked for later. This makes it possible to quickly go through your incoming stream of information while staying abreast of what is going on.
After all, getting ideas and staying up to date is important, but it should not take up all of your time.
Of course, not everyone is going to agree with these tools nor will they be right for everyone. They are simply what has worked for me so far. I am constantly shifting my strategy and expect others to do the same and have tools that work for them but not for me.
The important thing is to find the best sources for you and keep your eyes open for new approaches that may work better. After all, no matter how great your system is, it is important to keep honing and refining it to both decrease the time spent and increase the stories received.
Until you get every story you would ever want to know about and none of the stories you don’t, there is always room for improvement.
The bottom line is that, though the Web can make it difficult to find what is important to you, there are a lot of great tools that do much of the dirty work for you. If you take advantage of them and find a system that works for, you may never struggle for an idea again…