When Blogs Go Big and Bad

I recently noticed a seemingly increasing amount of negative comments on growing blogs. Comments vary from “You used to be cool but now you suck” to comments bearing a warning signal “Don’t continue like this or I will unsubscribe” to more constructive criticism.

There are different strategies you can follow when you are becoming increasingly popular. Which path you take depends on your goals and whether your blog is a hobby or a (potential) business. Do you keep on doing what you are doing or are you going to deliver more content. Most importantly, are you continuing on your own or are you going to expand?

Becoming more popular also means a changing audience that may be more demanding. Can you maintain the same quality as before? And how do you manage a growing team of (guest) bloggers that you will very likely do not know personally? These are just some of the problems a growing blog may face and that you should take into account before taking it to the next level.

If your blog is your hobby I think your main goal is that both you and your readers should be satisfied. Listen to your commenters and their (constructive) criticism and be open and transparent in the process you are going through. Transparency is what mainly seems to be lacking on the (wannabe) professional blogs that are picking up their posting pace or expanding their editorial team.

One of my favorite design blogs/magazines PSDtuts recently experienced first hand what it is like to go big and ran into a major problem. One of the contributing editors duplicated a Photoshop tutorial. PSDtuts handled the situation in possibly the best way they could with total transparency:

Today we’ve had to unfortunately remove a tutorial due to copyright issues. As all creatives should, we take copyright very seriously here at PSDTUTS. The tutorial in question has been removed, the author has not been paid and I’ll personally be investigating further to get in touch with the original author to apologize and ensure everything is sorted.

The reaction of most of their readers? Respect.

What to do when your readers are complaining you are growing big and bad? Be honest and transparent. Admit you are going through a transfer phase and trying to adjust to the new situation. If you can’t get your new big blogging act together don’t be afraid to radically change your approach. Do you want to be big and bad or rather small and good?

Choosing between Twitter, live blogging or fast publishing

I love it when bloggers write about conferences I cannot attend. Blogs and Twitter are my main resources to stay in touch with conferences such as the Web 2.0 Expo in San Fransisco last week. Bloggers take different approaches to cover conferences which all have their advantages and disadvantages. The main three approaches are using Twitter, live blogging tools or fast publishing.

Twitter

Twitter is a useful tool to stay in touch with both conference organizers and attendees. Stay up-to-date with schedule changes, keynote transcriptions and videos and people in the room. Twitter is used more and more often by speakers to answer questions from the audience or from people who are not attending the conference. The downside of such interaction is that there are always people out there to get their 140 characters of fame and add a lot of noise to the signal.

One of my favorite uses of Twitter during conferences is a backchannel people can send their posts to. During the Next Web conference in Amsterdam a few weeks ago a backchannel was created where all posts that included #nextweb were posted. By following the backchannel you can get information from everyone actively participating in providing content from the conference.

Live blogging

CoverIt Live is one of the most popular tools used for live blogging. It provides an easy and instant way to provide your blog readers with the latest news without having to refresh the page:

Your commentary publishes in real time like an instant message. Our ‘one-click’ publishing lets you drop polls, videos, pictures, ads and audio clips as soon as they come to mind. Comments and questions from your readers instantly appear but you control what gets published.

It is an excellent solution for blog visitors if you are “live reading” the blog. However, for archival (and SEO) purposes I am not too fond of using such tools. For example, I wanted to check out Mashable’s post on Matt Mullenweg Announces Related Posts and Themes for Photo Bloggers. If you use an external service such as CoverIt Live the content is not actually a part of your blog but it is embedded into your blog from their server. The fact that your content is embedded has consequences for indexing and finding the content. Be aware when using such tools that your live coverage will not be indexed nor be part of your blog’s archive.

Fast publishing

This is my personal preferred method of blogging conferences and keeping up with conferences. At the Next Web Conference we covered the whole conference with only two people and took turns in covering the keynotes. After a thirty minute keynote we would have another thirty minutes to turn our notes into a blog post and publish it online. While thirty minutes to edit your notes is not much it provides you with just enough time to turn them into a coherent blog post.

Why do I prefer fast publishing over Twitter or live blogging? Your blog is not as good as its latest post, it is the archive that counts. Which is your preferred method?

Trackback Declared Dead… Again!

Trackback is one of the major blog features that has been declared dead over and over again. This recently led Kyle Eslick from Hack WordPress to ask his readers “Does WordPress Need Trackbacks Any More?” Eslick’s own answer is straightforward: “In my opinion, blogging has outgrown the trackback and the pingback has made it irrelevant.”

The question is not so much if spam or the Pingback killed the Trackback but rather if the medium has rendered it obsolete. The medium and practice of blogging are entangled in the blog software and with the introduction of Pingback the inter-blog notification system became automatic instead of manual. When I described the difference between the manual Trackback and the automatic Pingback in On Using Manual and/or Automatic Link Notification Systems I also described how I mainly relied on Pingbacks.

Gathered from the discussion in the comments (and the slowly disappearing Trackback URI on blogs) it seems that especially the newer generation of bloggers, including myself, is not aware of the Trackback feature let alone use it. Does that mean that WordPress, or any other blog software for that matter, should remove the feature? If Trackback is only being used by spammers should we keep that little Trackback box that hardly anyone uses?

I am sure users would raise hell if WordPress would remove the Trackback feature because as Martin Emmerich comments: “Trackbacks and pingbacks are the threads of the blog web and part of the blogging culture.” Trackbacks play(ed) an important part in our blogging culture and they have helped to shape the blogosphere as we now know it.

So what should we do with the Trackback? Should we do anything at all? Anil Dash from Movable Type, who developed the trackback, replied to a first wave of “trackback is dead” declarations in 2005 that we should fix its problems:

Finally, the familiarity and utility of TrackBack, especially now that current-generation tools reduce the likelihood and reward value of spamming, means that there can be a base for a new generation of TrackBack, featuring necessities like authentication and richer content payloads. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater in regards to TrackBack would be as silly as throwing out email because it’s been abused.

Mend it, don’t end it! :)

Did Pingback fix TrackBack sufficiently to render it obsolete? Should we remove obsolete features from the already abundant options in the blog software interface? Troy Duncan shares my wish of further developing conversational techniques: “Instead of removing choices, I would like blogging platforms to develop more ways to extend the conversation.”

Do You Care Where Your Comments Are?

The discussion surrounding the previously addressed Commenting Issues in the Blogosphere heated up again this weekend with Robert Scoble claiming that the Era of blogger’s control is over. When I asked the question: Where Do You Leave Your Comments? I only dealt with commenting on blogs:

When bloggers are quoting other bloggers and you want to comment on the issue, where do you leave your comment?

There are three different options:

1. Comment on the the original post
2. Comment on the post that quoted the original post
3. Start a new post and use trackback/pingback to notify the other two posts

However, we are increasingly using other services and social networking sites to engage in the conversation. The feature to auto-post your latest blog post on Twitter is a very popular way to promote your blog post. It also means that you may receive comments on your blog post in the form of a Twitter reply.

I notice that I reply differently on blog posts when I comment on Twitter than on the actual blog post itself. When commenting on a blog post I feel the need to sit down, reflect and spend some time on formulating a valuable comment. However, when I comment in the form of a Twitter reply I am not only limited to 140 characters but I also feel my comment is part of a time sensitive flow. This means that my comments are not only shorter but that it also lowers my personal barrier of commenting, I can write a quick and short reply.

I recently commented on a blog post with a Twitter reply suggesting some corresponding literature. The author then asked me if I could comment on the blog post also which I then did. This is the problem we are currently dealing with. Should we care where our comments are, that the conversation is increasingly scattering around the blogosphere? Should we cling onto our blog as the central aggregation point of our conversation?

Friendfeed suggests that the issues of distributing commenting in the blogosphere seems to have moved beyond control. It is the perfect tool to keep up with your friends’ feeds but it also allows you to bring the conversation to Friendfeed. The situation is getting more and more dispersed. We use centralizing features such as CoComments to keep track of where we leave our comments but the conversation is only visible to us and not to others who would like to participate.

I don’t care where my comments are, as long as I am aware of them. This is the issue that we need to address which is an infrastructural issue as Matthew Hurst from the Data Mining Blog points out:

What is being lost in the conversation is the fact that the infrastructure of the blogosphere, due to its somewhat amateur evolution process, has not managed to fix some of the serious issues that have troubled it from the past. Commenting is exactly one of those things. As the value and use of comments evolved, and as the distribution mechanisms of content evolved, little effort has been made to bring commenting along with it. What has happened, is the appearance of a number of hacks on top of the base infrastructure to get around this issue. Perhaps the exception to this is the RSS 2.0 commenting mechanism.

Do we need an infrastructural fix or should we just “give up control” and focus on the conversation taking place? Robert Scoble doesn’t care where his comments are, do you?

Twingly: “The future of media is conversation”

Last weekend at The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam I spoke with Anton Johansson and CEO Martin Källström from the new blog search engine Twingly. They present themselves as a new spam-free blog search engine with a strong focus on the conversational nature of the blogosphere.

TwinglyLorelle VanFossen recently addressed the issue of spam in blog search engines and keeping their index spam free is one of the main objectives of Twingly. On top of that they focus on conversational search in the blogosphere by partnering with traditional media. They have closed several deals with major newspapers in Europe which provide links to the blogs that reference them. This is another step in showing the two-way links between blogs and online newspapers. Their main competitor in this area is of course Sphere but Twingly focuses on different markets. Read all about their ideas to start another blog search engine in the following interview and grab a special Blog Herald beta invite code while you can!

[Read more…]

Welcome to the Blogosphere Twitter!

Have you claimed your Twitter feed on Technorati profile yet? This may be the perfect time to do so because Technorati is now indexing Twitter. It heatens up the debate whether Twitter is a form of blogging or not. I previously wrote that Google Blog Search defines the the blogosphere by technology by including everything that publishes a site feed in their index. According to Google a blog is anything that publishes a site feed and syndicates. It comes as no surprise then that tweets are showing up in Google Alerts.

Technorati seems to allow anything that publishes a site feed to be claimed, including your Twitter account. So how do you claim your Twitter feed on Technorati? It is just as easy as claiming any other blog, just read Twitter everywhere it says “blogs” or “blog software” or follow these steps:

  1. Go to the blogs tab in your account
  2. Claim a blog/Twitter account by providing the blog URL, for example: http://www.twitter.com/blogherald and begin claim.
    You may encounter an error stating that the Technorati Monster has escaped again, ignore it and simply try again. Technorati’s infrastructure does not seem to be build for the amount of requests it receives.
  3. Activate your claim by pasting the provided HTML code in your Twitter update field and press update.
  4. Done!

By claiming your Twitter profile on Technorati your tweets will be indexed. Yes, all of them, including the ones that say “brb, need coffee.” This means that there is a need to separate the wheat from the chaff as a lot of “breaking news” in the blogosphere is moving to Twitter.

With a potentially massive amount of indexable tweets the question arises if Google and Technorati can handle the maturing blogosphere? This question has become even more relevant now that Technorati is indexing Twitter. Joery Bruijntjes wonders why is Technorati is indexing Twitter? because

As you all know, Technorati’s main function is to map what’s being talked about on the web. To do that accurately, you need to gather a lot of information. Aside from the main article, blogs contain a lot of useful metadata like tags, outbound links, categories and trackbacks.

This kind of data -especially trackbacks and outbound links- is great for tracking conversation across media. You can see this in action on their homepage. They use all this great metadata to try and track what’s being said about news stories in the blogosphere.

Conversations are all about links and the amount of metadata in Twitter is limited to only 140 characters, or is it? Andy Beard describes how Twitter “also has a blogroll of sorts” in the form of “links on the sidebar to the people you are following which are links Technorati can see.” The blogosphere thrives on links but Beard describes how Technorati may not be able to cope with this new situation if “Twitter user like Robert Scoble with 100s, actually over 1000 followers” start claiming their feed and Joery Bruijntjes also points to Technorati’s vulnerability:

Last year news spread that Technorati “temporarily” dropped all content older than six month. To me this says they can’t cope with the enormous amount of data being generated by bloggers. Twitter has far less content to process, but still needs a dozen servers to keep things running.

Knowing that, why would Technorati take on all this extra burden? Surely it can’t be a content-driven desire, as the updates on Twitter contains too little metadata to be of help for linking news stories to the blogosphere. I could understand if they chose to build a separate search engine specifically for Twitter, or simply gave it a unique representation on their site. But they didn’t.

So why would Technorati index Twitter? Andy Beard provides at least one good reason:

Robert’s Twitter feed is legitimate content on a different platform, and that people are choosing to link to him from their “Twitter Rolls”

Are you providing interesting, informative or legitimate on Twitter? Have you claimed your profile yet?

What is the Status of the Blogosphere?

I usually stick to the blogs I’m subscribed to in my feedreader and don’t actively look for new and interesting blogs. This has mainly got to do with the fact that I am currently subscribed to more blogs than I can actually keep up with. However, over the past few months I saw more blogs than ever as a jury member of the Dutch Blog Awards 2008.

The longlist consisted of hundreds and hundreds of blogs I had never ever read or even heard about. Going through the list and deciding which blogs should make it to the short list was a really interesting process.

If you have to evaluate hundreds of blog how long do you take to judge one blog? If you are not familiar with a blog you should dig into it, read some new posts, read some old posts and evaluate the overall structure. However, it is impossible to spend, let’s say, thirty minutes per blog, so how do you quickly evaluate a blog and give it a fair chance.

This was one of the hardest things while evaluation blogs. However, I think general points apply when you come across a new blog: do you like the tone of voice, the style, the design and the topic? What criteria do you use to judge a blog? And most importantly, do these criteria change per category? What happens if different jury members use different criteria? The whole judging process was as interesting as choosing the winners itself.

Two days before the final award show I received a phonecall from a major Dutch public broadcasting station. They asked me some questions regarding blogging and the blog awards but after answering unclear random questions for almost twenty minutes it finally became clear to me what they were aiming for. So I asked him: You are asking me what the status of the Dutch blogosphere is?

That is one intriguing question, what is the status of the blogosphere? Do you determine it by quality or by quantity or a mixture of both? The overall quality of newspapers is often determined by the amount of papers available and the diversity. The trick is, even the biggest countries have less than a few thousand newspapers. So how can you use criteria such as quality, quantity and diversity in the blogosphere?

The question has stuck with me ever since.

Are you a fast blogger or a slow blogger?

The philosophy of one of my favorite bakeries is that they allow the bread to rise up to 36 hours to ensure the best quality. It reminded me of the Italian ‘slow food’ movement as a response to the production and consumption of fast food. The general idea was translated into various aspects of life and gave birth to the ‘slow movement’ which may be considered as “a cultural shift toward slowing down life’s pace.” (Wikipedia)

However, the web seems obsessed with updates, it seems to be in an endless beta state fed by a perceived freshness fetish where updating quickly and instantly is the norm. Blogging may be seen as a medium where the freshness norm is illustrated in the daily update. New York Times science reporter Andrew Revkin recently stated that

Much of the power of the Web lies in speed and reach. But those same properties are the source of its greatest failing as well: the tendency to spread faulty assertions instantly and widely. Maybe it’s time for a “slow blog” movement, just as there’s now a slow food movement — and even a slow life movement, as described in The Times this week.

While blogs thrive on the update , the quick update in order to break the news first may also lead to the “fast-motion flow of misinformation.” A recent example is the Robert Scoble’s quick but inaccurate Twitter message stating that “revision3 just sold to cnet for $58 mil” which was humorously covered by Michael Arrington on TechCrunch.

While freshness is still the norm on the web there are also a few trends that propose to slow down. We are dealing with an increasing amount and speed of information which gave birth to the Getting Things Done hype. Dutch problogger Ernst-Jan Pfauth for example applies GTD to blogging in ‘how to process blog-related email Getting Things Done-style‘.

Both the slow movement and Getting Things Done are a philosopy and a lifestyle. Slow blogging proposes to take a step back, reflect and think. Carl Honore gave an interesting talk on ‘Slowing down in a world for speed’ at Ted 2007 (see video). Of course the Slow Blog Manifesto does not apply to all blogs and bloggers. Slow Blogging is a style and mindset that rejects immediacy:

It is an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly, and that many thoughts are best served after being fully baked and worded in an even temperament.

News blogs depend on quick and fast updates but depending on what kind of blog you run you have to balance between the speed of information and depth of information:

The best internet experiences balance the tension between speed and ease of access and depth of information. The superficial quality of speed is inherent to the net (just like water is wet) but that doesn’t mean it has to be accepted unquestioningly. The proliferation of information and our consumption and creation of it isn’t something that should be taken for granted. (Jesse)

Mari then distinguishes between two types of blogging:

There is and should be fast and slow blogging. Someone a while back made the point that the real issue is lazy blogging. I think that’s right. Fast blogging has its place in conveying news and starting conversation. Meanwhile, slow blogging is for thoughtful, considered analysis; for weighing all of the news that’s already been reported in fast blogging and by other media outlets. Both are good. Lazy blogging has no place. (Mari)

What kind of blogger are you? A fast blogger or a slow blogger?

The Long Tail Applied to Blog Hosting Services

The Long Tail is a popular consumer demographic often applied to Internet related business and services. In How Many Blogs Are There? Is Someone Still Counting? I proposed studying blogging demographics based on software platform, country or a combination of both. While looking into the blogging demographics per platform it became clear that there are huge national and local blogospheres. A lot of blogs that write about blogging focus on the major platform WordPress and at the Blog Herald we have readers kindly reminding us that blogging does not equal WordPress.

Point in case is: WordPress.com and Blogger.com are big but national blog hosting services may be even bigger.

[Read more…]