Do You Take Links for Granted?

As a blogger, links have been part of my daily blogging rounds. I click links on blogs to check out references and sources. And I use links on my blog posts to provide readers relevant information or alternative sources of information. Links have been so prevalent in the blogging culture that sometimes we tend to take these for granted.

However, not everyone is familiar with links, and the relevance of hyperlinking in blogging and the Web in general.

For instance, consider someone from the traditional media. How would they consider links? Would they think of links as relevant or important, even? Formal studies and print publications would usually include footnotes or even endnotes with references. Or, sources can be referenced in the bibliographies or appendices. But what about links? Well, you can’t hyperlink from paper, can you?

In fact, I have a few colleagues whose background involves traditional media of all kinds (print journalism, radio broadcasting). They’re prolific writers, yes. But in a way, they are still not that familiar with using links when writing blog posts. Or perhaps they are, but they just prefer to stick to their way of citing material. The way they reference sources and related information is a bit different. But that is not to say it’s inadequate. Being from traditional media, they tend to be able to do better research, and to dig deeper into the facts.

Referencing Jonathan Bailey’s recent post about lessons for and from journalism, I would think that effective linking is another lesson that journalists can learn from the bloggers. Having good sources and references is one thing. But giving your readers easier access to these would definitely be better, especially in a more interactive environment.

However, this should be the case for bloggers, too. Effective linking would mean using links more sensibly and reasonably, and thus ensuring the quality of the links. Just like how a journalist wouldn’t cite bogus information, we bloggers should try our best to link only to the good stuff. You wouldn’t link to a scraper site to cite information, would you?

So here’s a challenge I pose to our dear readers. Whenever you see a hyperlink on a blog or a webpage, don’t just click on it blindly. Try to think about the relevance of that link. Why was it there in the first place? What was the intent of the author? Is it relevant at all? Is it even appropriate?

The search engines have been looking into quality of linkages (both inbound and outbound). Shouldn’t we humans start doing the same?

Does Blogging Give You a Stiff Neck?

Repetitive strain injuries are perhaps common for folks whose work involves staying in front of a computer screen for extended periods of time, among other health concerns. My most recent injury would be a stiff neck. Perhaps if you blog (or design, or write code) for a living, you would know what I mean.

The other day, I woke up feeling heavy and disoriented. And I couldn’t move my head much. I knew it was one of those bad days because I don’t remember getting into bed the previous night. That usually happens when I fall asleep too tired. What’s worse was that I had a stiff neck. And it was probably work related!

So why should I relate getting a stiff neck with blogging? Well, people who spend all day or all night doing work on blogs–which may include writing, managing, or doing back-end fixes–are likely to be prone to this. Here are some scenarios:

  1. I fall asleep on my keyboard. This usually results in me (or my keyboard) spewing out indecipherable garbage. It’s even worse if I was in the middle of an IM conversation or if it’s an email and the send button gets pressed as my head hits the keyboard.
  2. I may not hit my head on the keyboard or desk, but I could just doze off, with my head unsupported.
  3. I’m too tired to get into my usual comfortable sleeping position after a long night’s work, so I just plop into bed and fall asleep.
  4. I’m too preoccupied and focused with what I’m currently working on that I’m no longer minding my posture.
  5. Or maybe I’m taking photos to blog about, and the sheer weight of my dSLR + Speedlite + superzoom lens hanging from the neck strap is killing my neck and back.

In all these cases, it’s a matter of improper posture or positioning. I guess this is one disadvantage when you work just next door to your bedroom. The risk could even be higher during those times you decide to bring your laptop to bed to do some late readings, or maybe to save up on airconditioning costs.

I could try some of Ryan’s tips for bloggers. But the best solution here would probably be better time management. That’s one thing I really have to work on.

Any other blogging-related injuries you’ve experienced?

CSS Naked Day on April 9th, 2008

Are you going naked this April 9th? Not you, but your blog, that is. I’m talking about Dustin Diaz’ CSS Naked Day, which started in April of 2006.

A couple of days ago, I had this very embarassing experience. I was at a conference explaining to students the different aspects of problogging, when I showed them my site. It was devoid of any styling. I realized later on that I had left my CSS Naked Day WordPress plugin running, and it was already April 5th.

However, this year, CSS Naked day has been moved to April 9th, to ensure best exposure. No pun intended.

A lot of you may be wondering–what’s the point behind naked day? Well, basically it’s a way of celebrating Web standards. Remember the good ol’ days when sites were formatted with tables and font tags? And remember those days when just a simple change of formatting would require you to hunt for dozens (or even hundreds) of tags on dozens of pages? And I won’t even mention the tacky styles that used to be popular, such as flashing text and marquees.

Aren’t you glad the Web looks better today? Or does it?

The idea behind this event is to promote Web Standards. Plain and simple. This includes proper use of (x)html, semantic markup, a good hierarchy structure, and of course, a good ‘ol play on words. It’s time to show off your <body>.

Additionally, CSS Naked day gives you a chance to highlight the accessibility of your blog. The best designs out there are those that appear sensible even to viewers using alternative devices that may not necessarily be able to read stylesheets. These may include older smartphones, PDAs, text-based browsers (like Lynx). And of course, text-to-speech readers that visually-impaired users benefit from well-structured sites.

So before your stylesheet lays out your site, how does it look underneath? How does it look naked? Is it sexy? Is it bloated? Is it in so much disarray that you’re embarrased to show it to the world in the nude?

Again, CSS Naked Day is on April 9th this year. If you’re using WordPress, there are various plugins available such as this one by Aja Lapus. Plugins and scripts for other CMSes and platforms are also available.

Welcome Our New Editor: Thord Daniel Hedengren

Folks, for some time now, the Blog Herald has been running on autopilot. When our former full-time editor Tony Hung left, there were various people who took on the task of being editor in the interim. But what did that actually mean? It mostly involves making sure posting schedules are met, comments were moderated, and that everyone was happy.

It’s probably not so obvious as with a single-author blog. We have an excellent team of contributors and columnists, after all. And pretty much like the Orpheus, we can liken ourselves to an orchestra that can play even without a conductor. But still, even a conductor-less orchestra needs the concertmaster. Simply put, a team needs a leader. And in terms of blogging we need an editorial voice. Sure, we can continue writing about our own interests and various news items that come up here and there. But an editor’s job is to give us the creative direction and focus we need to truly make an exciting blog about blogging.

It’s been under wraps for a short while now, and we are proud to announce our new editor here at the Blog Herald: Thord Daniel Hedengren.

Thord is a designer, a writer and a blogger from Sweden. He co-owns his own design and publishing company, and has been involved in several startups in his home country. He does work in a global environment, though, given the nature of the design and new media industry. And did you know Thord is into creative writing?

Thord has been with the Blog Herald for the longest time I can remember. He has been contributing since 2006, and has been responsible for some subtle (but important) design changes on the site. Thord has also reworked the design of various blogs in Splashpress Media’s network, including 901am, Blogger Jobs, Blog Network Watch, Jack of All Blogs, and several others, with the most recent being Wisdump where he served as editor until this move.

In Thord’s own words:

It feels great stepping into the front seat of The Blog Herald. To me, it is something of coming full circle, since my first international freelance gig was for this excellent site. I’ve got a ton of ideas, plans, and suggestions that we’re talking about internally right now, and among those is of course a new design, so expect more on that in the coming weeks.

So let’s give Thord a warm welcome!

Would You Risk Your Life With a Blog Post?

A few days back Lorelle asked what one would not blog about. People had varied responses. Some would not write profanities. Some would not offend other people with their writing. And others would not blog about work. Generally, it’s about doing others no harm.

What if blogging can bring you harm? We do know that restrictive regimes have jailed or imprisoned bloggers, or at the very least blocking access to blog hosting providers. People have been fired for what they have written on their blogs. It can be worse. There are a handful of arguments against blogging.

Here’s one example of something I would rather not blog about. When I was new to the blogging world, someone close to me witnessed a murder in broad daylight. Standing in line at a fastfood counter, a man was shot in the head and died on the spot. There were dozens of other witnesses, but no one dared move for fear of being shot themselves.

At first I thought that it was blog-worthy, that it was a good case of citizen journalism. I had finished drafting the post and was almost at the point of publishing the entry. But then at the last minute I changed my mind. I thought that I would rather not endanger myself and that person with that potentially dangerous blog post. I have several reasons.

First, I don’t personally know the nature of the incident, and the background of the perpetrators. For all I know those people could be members of organized crime. And they could perhaps come after me and my family.

Secondly, I’m not sure I can trust our authorities here 100%. In my country, while there are perhaps a good number of honest civil servants, hoodlums in uniform are aplenty. And in these cases I would rather not be involved lest I become involved in a very complicated and potentially dangerous way.

Some things are best kept private. Or at least anonymous. In hindsight, perhaps I could have posted about the incident, but somewhere not directly attributable to me or my friend.

Put simply, I like the freedom that blogging gives me, in terms of expressing myself. Both in writing opinions and reporting observations and facts (even news, where applicable). I can even go to the extent of writing negatively about people and companies. But when my life and those of the people close to me are potentially at risk, then that’s when I’ll keep my mouth (and my blog) shut.

Deep Jive Interests Looking for Guest Blogger

For those unaware, Tony Hung, our former editor here at the Blog Herald, is actually an MD (medical doctor, that is). And whenever he’s not busy saving the world, he loves to write about new media, particularly on Deep Jive Interests. However, with a big exam coming up, Tony will be unable to post regularly on his blog. So to make sure the site stays alive, he’s looking for guest bloggers.

[M]y Royal College Exams in Internal Medicine are here (or will be, in April and May), and seeing as they are the Final Exams one writes at the end of one’s medical training they are rather important.

Although my training won’t quite end, because I’ve decided to do an extra year’s training in Palliative Care, this Exam is the Big One. Its the kind where people sweat and stress, and really, start studying in earnest about a year before the exam date.

In case you’re interested, or know someone else who may be, do get in touch with Tony. You can help the new media scene with deeper, jivier and more interesting thoughts and commentary over at Deep Jive Interests!

Micropatrons, Welcome!

A few months back, Jim Kukral (whom I know to be an avid Blog Herald reader) wrote to us about a new ad/tipping system he has developed, ScratchBack, which basically allowed people to send small amounts of money to a publisher in exchange for a text link or image. I thought of it as a mix between text links and tagboards. But the more important question I had was whether micro-tipping systems like these were viable.

So here we are trying it out. As announced by our Marketing guru, David Peralty, on XFEP and as shared by Jim Kukral himself on the ScratchBack blog, we are implementing ScratchBack widgets on several Splashpress Media blogs. We’re initially starting out with a few sites, such as Blogging Pro, Forever Geek, 901am, Blog Search Engine and Gadzooki–actually those sites where it’s easy enough to add the 200px-wide widgets. The Blog Herald is included. You might notice the widget on the middle sidebar of the site, labeled Patrons, right below the News column.

So if you’d like to tip us, please feel free to do so. For $5 you get a Google-friendly (as they say) link from us, and you get that warm fuzzy feeling that you’ve helped us Splashpress Media folks spread the good news about new media.

It’s a bit like advertising with us, but at less expense. Do consider, of course, that direct advertising has its benefits. For one, our current ScratchBack setup is an auto-scroll one. This means that older links are pushed down as new ones come. So you’re not assured of how long your link stays there. Also, we’ve set it up such that there are only five slots, so link space is limited.

This brings me to the question whether to go for fixed duration vs. auto-scroll. And there’s also the issue of whether to stick to five spots or increase to accommodate more tippers. Then there’s also the question of whether $5 is a good price point to start with, or to vary it depending on the popularity of each site. And then there’s the placement of the widget itself. Too high up on the site and it can be too obtrusive. Too low and it would be practically invisible.

The big consideration is to find a balance such that the tipping system doesn’t dilute the value of the direct advertisements (so we don’t piss off our advertisers) but still be valuabe enough for micropatrons to send in tips. Any ideas or suggestions would be welcome.

So again, micropatrons are welcome!

Running Websites With WordPress?

Aside from my work in the blogging world, I sometimes accept web development work on the side, such as the Parish website I recently helped launch, in collaboration with a designer colleague. I’ve also helped out my daughter’s preschool in running their own site and email system. And there have been a few organizations I’ve lent a hand to in this matter.

In all of these cases, the common denominator is the use of WordPress as the content management system. I’m sure there’s not much need to explain why. Being used to running WordPress on an entire blog/new media network, it’s almost like second nature to me. So preparing the hosting account, installing the software, uploading themes and plugins, and actually setting up and maintaining a site running WordPress is something that I’m very much comfortable with. Actually it can be a no-brainer with the easy install scripts (i.e., Fantastico) that come with most hosting packages. A few clicks and a few lines of typed-in information and you’re good to go with a basic install.

I tend to think that others share this sentiment with me. A quick Google search for “inurl:wp-login.php” will yield all indexed sites running WordPress, and some of these will not actually be in blog format, but instead websites and e-zines belonging to companies and organizations. A search for “site:.gov inurl:wp-login.php”, for instance, will show you that a number of US government organizations and local governemnt units running WP on their official websites.

Another observation of mine is that WordPress theme designers are coming up with themes and theme packages aimed at users who want to run a WordPress-powered site that is not necessarily in a blog format. For instance, there’s the Revolution Theme and WP Remix. Then there are those for users who intend to run magazine-like themes like Premium News and Zine Style. (Disclosure: WP Remix and Premium News are advertisers on the Blog Herald.)

So there is a market for WP themes not aimed at the blogging community, but rather for other entities such as corporations or businesses, or perhaps people running traditional publications. This only goes to show that easy-to use back-end software goes a long way. If there are others using WordPress for non-blogging purposes, I’d love to hear how you do it!

Bloggers Warned of Scammers

You might be familiar with the “Nigerian” 419-type scams that have been flooding our inboxes for some time now. The story is simple. Someone tells you they need help transferring funds offshore, or that you’ve won millions in a lottery. Once you respond, they ask you for all sorts of information, and might even ask for small amounts of cash to help move the alleged money that is supposedly coming from another country. Some people have even gone to the extent of travelling to other continents in order to claim the money supposedly stashed somewhere.

Later on (sometimes weeks or months later) you will learn that you’ve been taken for a ride, and the perpetrators have been sucking money out of your gullible pockets!

Well the perpetrators of this crime are a resourceful bunch. Now the scam has evolved into something that affects blogs and bloggers as well. We were alerted by our former editor, Tony Hung, of this new take on an old scam. Basically, the scammers purchase ad space or text links from your site, and then send you a check for an amount greater than the agreed price. They then ask for a refund.

From F-Secure:

If you fall for the bait and sell something for $2000, you’ll receive a check for $3000. The perpetrator of the scam will then claim that a mistake was made and ask that you refund $1000 via money transfer.

So you send $1000 via money transfer, which cannot be stopped… and in the end when it finally clears, the $3000 check ends up being a fake.

It’s an old fraud that uses technology for a clever new bit of social engineering.

These messages are being sent to website contact addresses and are including the site name in the body of the message. This results in a message that feels almost personalized and might potentially lower the guard of the recipient.

Tony says bloggers should watch out for advertising deals that sound too good to be true, and should always wait for checks to clear.

As always, we would advise using common sense in these types of dealings. For instance when negotiating with direct advertisers of an unsolicited type (meaning we were approached, rather than the other way around), we usually ask for information first before invoicing them for the ad space subscription:

  • URL and anchor text of the target site.
  • Other text, if applicable (such as with paragraph ads).
  • Creatives (images, animations, etc.) to be used, if it’s a button or banner ad.
  • PayPal email address.
  • Name(s) of the company(ies) or individual(s) behind the site.

While this is usually just for reference, it also helps us become selective with the ads we feature. Information also helps us learn more about the companies advertising with us. We wouldn’t want any inappropriate content to be displayed on our sites, would we?

Then again, if you’re the type who likes scambaiting as a recreational activity, or if you’re the adventurous type then you can probably scam them back, like what the folks over at 419eater do. But remember that this can also be time-consuming (I know, I’ve tried it!) and could be dangerous if you actually slip up and disclose your real identity or other information.

Again, common sense is usually the answer!

What’s Your Blog Idea Taking Tool?

I have a lot of great ideas never reach fruition for the simple reason that I fail or forget to take note so that they can be executed at a later time. This includes ideas for blogging. Every day, in persons I encounter or events I happen to observe, or places I go to, there’s bound to be something relevant to blog about. But unless I remember to do so later on, the thought will forever be lost.

For instance, I do a lot of thinking in the bath. But it’s a bit inconvenient to take an electronic gadget along with me (even if it’s as small as my Asus Eee), or even a pen or pencil and notepad (I hate soggy paper), and especially not my Moleskine notebook (sure, it’s oil-proof paper, but is it waterproof?). Of course, not everyone gets their Eureka! moments in the bath–unless perhaps you’re Archimedes. So in those instances I try to be conscious enough to make a mental note to make a physical note of my ideas.

But I tend to be forgetful and I have difficulty keeping focused.

So it’s always a good idea to have a handy means of keeping note of ideas. For some an electronic voice recorder does the trick. You can take it anywhere, and you can simply talk into it, and you can review your voice memos at your own time.

What’s great about voice recorders is that you can record voices other than your own. You can do interviews!

A digital voice recorder is the ultimate gadget to have when an interview needs to be done. You might, for example, bump into someone of important interest while being out and about. Let’s say you are at a blogger’s convention and have a few moments to talk to Darren Rowse of ProBlogger — wouldn’t it be a wasted opportunity if you couldn’t record an interview with him? Your readers might appreciate something like that. Depending on the type of blogs you write for, that missed opportunity could be very painful.

What about those of us who are more visual rather than aural in orientation? Perhaps a digital camera would be more ideal. After all, it is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. I’ve had many opportunities to take snapshots of interesting objects and views.

Trouble here is the bulk of my equipment. I shoot with a digital SLR, so unless I have the camera on hand (which is about 80% of the time) and can whip it out of its bag quickly, the moment is lost. And I have thousands of unorganized photos in my collection. So there you have it–my photoblog or blog image ideas are like lost streams of consciousness scattered around in thousands of images stored in my Picture folders and archived in DVDs.

But then there’s also an advantage when you bump into someone you’d like to interview. Photo ops are as valuable as recorded interviews, after all. Then there are those times when you encounter newsworthy events you can actually report on your blog. Photos can come in very handy.

Come to think of it, things don’t have to be as complicated as having to bring along a full-fledged digital camera and voice recorder everywhere I go. Even my inexpensive mobile phone can do that, as most other modern-day mobile phones do. It can take picture, record voice memos, and even video clips! Sure, quality wouldn’t be as good as when using a real digital camera, a real voice recorder or a real video camera. But it’s something I can always carry around in my pocket and whip out in a moment’s notice, ready to capture images, sounds or videos.

And for those quick personal information management (PIM) and simple note-taking needs, my phone also does wonders. Actually for this purpose any mobile phone with text capability will do, even if it doesn’t have photo, video or sound recording capabilities. One can simply type a short outline as a text message, and then save it as draft to later on expand and expound on. So for me, my phone serves as one of those gadgets that help me note down blog ideas.

However, my problem now is actually expanding or working on those ideas. My phone, my notebook, and even my online todo list are overflowing with great blog post, design, or business ideas but I could not work on them all at the same time! But that’s the point of note taking. You can have a record of all your ideas. Some of them might be great. Some not so. And you can prioritize and work on those that you think would prove to be valuable. For blog ideas, it’s just like news reports and feature articles in the magazines and newspapers–not everything can make it to press. It’s like movie or TV outtakes–not everything can make the final cut.

So don’t be afraid to jot down ideas. One of those might turn out to be really great ideas that can change the world!

Back to my question–what’s your favorite blog-idea taking tool?