Are You Blogging Through Rose-Colored Glasses?

Twoflower didn’t just look at the world through rose-tinted spectacles, Rincewind knew – he looked at it through a rose-tinted brain, too, and heard it through rose-tinted ears.

Terry Pratchett, The Light Fantastic from the Discworld series.

As you write your blog, you are viewing the world through your lens, your filter, your perspective on the issue. Like Twoflower, is your view so narrow that you are blogging through your ears and brain as well as your eyes?
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Friendly Competition: Not So Friendly Anymore

Competition is a good thing in any business. It drives up quality and often drives price down. Competition in the WordPress theme design business is good thing as well, and we’ve seen some great quality in the premium themes that have been released recently, as I mentioned last week. You can get a very professional site for a very reasonable price, and it has been great for the community of WordPress users. My question is, why can’t we keep this competition friendly?

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Reaching Out To Bring Back More to Your Blog

Mohsin of Blogging Bits writes in 5 Sources That Brought Me Tons Of Visitors about the different methods that have brought him success from outside of his blog to his blog.

At the end of the post, he shares this great summary of the lessons learned:

Again, the best part of the traffic coming from related blogs is that those visitors are interested in my content. It’s up to me if I can retain their interest long enough to convert them into regular readers.

…Every new visitor on a new blog brings with him tons of new hopes for the blogger, and helps shape the future of the blog.

…Don’t be afraid to link out to others, participate in contests, volunteer to post on other blogs, and make contacts in the social media world. You have to do all this to survive, if not to succeed.

Sometimes we are so concerned about linking to sources to help further educate and enlighten our readers that we forget that links are communication, connections between the blogs, and those links are a two way street.
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The Blog is Mightier Than The…

I’ve been thinking about the power of blogging lately. It’s amazing how blogs and the openness of the web has helped communicate what is going on in Burma, in spite of the governmental shut downs, and blogs growing in popularity in Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and other places in the world where “freedom of speech” can come with a jail sentence. As I prepare to leave next week for WordCamp Israel, October 25, 2007, in Tel Aviv, I’m reading the blogs of many Israelis. A saying keeps echoing through my thoughts: The pen is mightier than the sword.

Credited as being first said by Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 play, Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy, I’ve seen many variations on this, but I wonder if anyone has yet said, “The blog is mightier than the pen and the sword.”

Just doesn’t have the same punch, does it?

Still, the ability of the written word to influence and change the world has been around for thousands of years. Its power increased when the word became portable, traveling from place to place as the population spread around the world, bringing the preserved words of the past with them.

Today, the written word is virtual, which could mean ephemeral, but it’s not. It is still made of sharp metal when used properly.

As I contemplate freedom of speech, blogging, and this old saying, let’s look at how that famous quote has been used by others to make a bigger point, and how it applies to blogs.
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Seven Ways Microsoft Can Gets Its Blog Groove On

When it comes to the blog world, Google is king. Whenever the search engine giant makes a move of any kind, bloggers (like the media) are quick to echo their praises, or their rebukes. All this free advertising makes Google one of the most popular names on planet Earth, with one father naming his kid after the company (how weird is that?)

If there is one company with the desire (and ability) to dethrone Google as the topic of the century, it would be Microsoft. Having lost important employees, and business deals, not to mention threats against its bread and buttertwice, Microsoft is probably eager to gain the eyeballs to show the world what it can do.

And what better way to do this than to get some positive attention from the blogosphere (for a change)? So, without further delay, here are seven tips for the software juggernaut.

1) Avoid buying Facebook: Huh? Why would anyone avoid purchasing a company that even Google feels threatened by? Aside from the fact that Mark Zuckerburg is not interested in selling it (which must tick Google off), it would be much easier for Microsoft to maintain its ad presence on Facebook than to shell out $10 billion for the social network.

Not to mention the fact that they would avoid the legal messes of running a social network, something both Google and MySpace are all too familiar with.

2) Purchase Digg: With Google launching its own social linking service and Yahoo! purchasing two years ago, Microsoft may find itself with its pants down if they waste too much time deciding what to do in this field. Digg is already popular with many (if not most) bloggers, and an early buyout could ensure Microsoft’s dominance in this arena.

Since they are already running Microsoft Ads, why not add it to the family?
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Best Way to Design Blog Network Blogs?

Over at Free WordPress Themes, I recently wrote a post about how to best design blogs within a blog network. I whipped up this article based on my experiences having been part of blog networks for the past couple of years. The options are:

  • A similar design across the entire network, with color scheme variants;
  • Entirely unique designs for each blog; or,
  • Unique design for each blog, with each with familiar elements that can identify the blog with others within the network.

Using a single design across many blogs can be a real cost-saver (do you know how much it costs to commission a really good WP theme design these days?). And you get to establish your branding in terms of design–since all your sites look the same, your readers will be quick to identify sites as belonging to you.

However, the tradeoff here is that your sites will lose their individuality. They will look like boilerplate dseigns stamped on blogs, just to make a forced fit. It’s sometimes awkward.

Then again, having entirely unique designs for each blog might make the network look non-cohesive and un-networked.

In my opinion, a good balance between individuality and similarity does the trick.

I’ve realized that it makes better sense to design and conceptualize each site uniquely, but keeping something in common across the network, to retain that familiar feel. (I know this sounds–and actually is–very non-technical.) This way, things don’t get boring because of that all-too-similar look and feel across an entire network of sites.

Having unique themes for each blog makes it exciting for readers and us editors and contributors alike. But keeping the familiarity is also the challenge, because we want each of our sites to be closely identified with the network.

Do you agree with me on this? Any design gurus out there who would like to pitch in their two cents’ worth?

Another Perspective on Unionized Blogging

One of the more interesting news tidbits I picked up these past few days is the move by some people to have organized labor unions for bloggers. While the idea seems to have come from political bloggers (probably a dime-a-dozen as the 2008 US presidential race gets underway), some notable bloggers are bringing up the question whether it’s also applicable to bloggers of all kinds, particularly those of us who blog for income.

AP cites (via Fox News) that proponents of unionization believe this will increase professionalism among those in the trade, and also set standards, such as with advertising rates and statistics measurement. Those who are against this move argue that it would be against the essence of blogging as a medium that is non-establishment (anarchistic, even).

Pay and Benefits

Yet the issue that hits closer to home here is how unionization is seen as a way to standardize the benefits schemes for probloggers. For sure, people who earn from blogging–particularly for the blog networks–would want to improve their earnings and get more benefits. True enough, blogging for income is not without its drawbacks. And this JOAB post summarizes all too well (in a light-hearted fashion) how network bloggers might be better off with more perks like set/limited working hours, free coffee, free hardware, and an expense account to boot, just like our counterparts in the corporate world.

Seems like a good idea.

However, the economist in me doesn’t exactly think so. More so, the blogger in me doesn’t think it’s such a good idea, too.

Is it viable?

For one, the question that looms is whether the having bloggers’ unions is viable at all. Unlike workers and employees working in a physical workplace, bloggers are not limited to a specific geographical region. Blog networks often hire writers around the globe. That means in terms of legal responsibilities, it would be very difficult for a union to do its job, given the differences in laws across different countries.

Not only that, it would also be difficult to justify similar benefits/compensation schemes across all would-be-members of a bloggers’ union. Just recently, the big news about blogging is how content creation has begun to move off-shore. Tony Hung thinks it’s going to be the most explosive blogging issue of 2008, and I tend to agree, being one of those people who writes for what is largely a western audience, but is located somewhere in the Orient.

Tony hit it right on the mark by saying that even if blogger pay in the more affluent countries might be considered small change, it most certainly is not small change from places where the cost (and standard, perhaps) of living is lower. In this regard, I think those of us in such places are at a comparative advantage over those in, say, the US or UK, since blogging dollars (or Euros, or whatever) certainly go a longer way. Think Big Mac Index, or purchasing power parity. Perhaps this might be reason to shun the idea of unionizing; it would effectively dilute the advantage we enjoy–that is, if the clamor is for a more standardized pay across the board.

Now another perspective would be from the blog network owners. And here, Jeremy Wright argues that a unionized blogging workforce would be too costly. The beauty of running a blog network, after all, is that you don’t have the burden of too much overhead, like when you run a more traditional business, with a physical office, and with regular employees. Most blog networks would rather focus on coming up with creative stuff, and fostering community. Yes, the money is important, too. But it’s a different business environment altogether!

Having to deal with all that overhead would just spoil it all.

In conclusion …

I’m only touching on the issue of unionizing in terms of banding together to have more negotiating power as–what bloggers would then effectively be–employees. Sure, it’s good to have solidarity, and to harness the power of numbers. However, I believe in the power of free markets (I’m an economist, after all, right?). And here, I feel it’s best not to mess with with the pro-blogging industry as it is. If we want solidarity, we can do it through other ways, like by setting up groups, communities, professional associations even, that foster solidarity without necessarily making it an us-against-them proposition.

Unionizing a blogging workforce is just too costly, and I don’t see any net benefit.

Is This The Twilight of Blogging?

There’s a new (or old) meme that’s brewing about the nature of popularity, A-lists, and blogging that’s a brewing over in the technology side of the blogosphere. I had some strong words about it, but it bears analyzing from a bit of a different point of view as well, because it raises a fundamental question that should interest bloggers everywhere:

Does the rise of social networking sites mean that this is the twilight of blogging?

My feeling is an unbridled “No” — because it may in fact represent the best opportunity to *start* blogging.

This is what I mean.

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Would You Trust Your Memories to a Web App?

As I post this, I’m uploading hundreds of digital photos onto my Flickr account. I still do have a ton of photos I haven’t uploaded yet, and most of these are either burned onto DVDs or still inside my laptop’s hard drive. Each time I update and manage my photo collection, I come to the realization that because of technology we’ve come so far in terms of how we manage our memories.

Just a decade ago, photo albums were still the preferred way of keeping family memories. People took photos on film cameras, had these developed, and organized select photos into albums. The negatives are mostly kept tucked away, sometimes along with the album itself. This way, we had hard copies of whatever relevant events in our lives on hand. If we wanted copies, we just took the negatives to the photo shop, and had duplicates printed.

These days, though, it’s mostly digital. The first time I bought my family our own digital camera, we were hooked on digital photography. The initial cost was higher than your usual film point-and-shoot camera, but the variable costs are close to nil. You could just keep on downloading your photos to your computer, and save them to optical media for backup. Printing was only done sparsely, and we only printed photos which we would frame.

Along with this radical change came also radical changes in how we shared these memories with friends. Before, we used to bring out photo albums everytime friends or relatives visited our home. But these days, we just send emails with links to our photos online. We post them on our blogs. Or even better, our social networking contacts are automatically notified of newly uploaded photos, for them to view at their pleasure (or displeasure, if you’re not exactly the photogenic type).

However, Murphy’s law says if something can go wrong, something is bound to go wrong, and this is especially applicable in the realm of technology. So in a couple of years, my hard drive might crash. My CDs and DVDs might scratch, melt or fade. There’s still my Flickr account, you say. But how sure am I that Flickr will still exist as it is now, 10, 20 years from now? What about Photobucket? Picasa? Multiply? What about my blog?

And if nothing wrong happens, the world might adopt an entirely new way of storing and cataloging images that might render our present one obsolete. Would we be using holograms? Would we be directly interfacing our brains with computer equipment? If this be the case, would we have an easy way to migrate our data over to such formats?

The question looms. Have I haphazardly entrusted my memories to technology and to web apps?

I’m using a Flickr Pro account, and Flickr says pro users get permanent archiving of high resolution photos. I sure hope stick true to their word.

At my old room at my parents’ house, there’s this old leather attaché case filled with unfiled, un-sorted photos of our family dating from decades back (even before I was born). Some are still in pristine condition, while some have yellowed and faded. But the photos are still there, within physical reach. We still reminisce and laugh about those moments that happened ages ago, whenever we chance upon the old thing and open it to reveal the treasures hidden inside.

I’m wondering whether I can do the same with my digital photos with my kids and future grandkids decades into the future.

So Who’s In Control of DIGG?

The latest buzz on the blogosphere lately is the “revolt” (if you may call it that) of Digg users against what they considered to be a violation of the very nature of Digg itself. Here’s a brief recap via AP/NY Times and BBC News.

An entry containing the encryption key of HD-DVD (which allows users to break the copy protection of HD-DVD discs) was frontpaged. Shortly after, this and similar entries were buried–or taken off the front page and basically hidden from most searches–and the accounts of the submitters were suspended. DIGG’s CEO Jay Adelson later on explained that these actions were done to avoid potential lawsuits by the Advanced Access Content System, “the owners of this intellectual property,” who got in touch with Digg and other sites saying they “believe the posting of the encryption key infringes their intellectual property rights.” He added that the suspension and burying were part of Digg’s terms of use and stressed that Digg was not immune from lawsuit and must abide by law.

However, the Digg community, perhaps used to the notion of the community itself having the power to determine what happens to the entries (frontpaged, buried, or simply ignored), acted strongly against what they felt was censorship on the part of Digg. The community also took the HD-DVD Promotion Group‘s sponsorship of Digg’s DiggNation podcast as possibly the real reason behind the banning, and accused Digg of being a sell-out. Users then revolted by flooding the site with entries relating to the encryption key, which filled the front page. Some of these entries garnered record Diggs or votes, even (screencap here). [Read more…]