Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How I Pick Blog Topics

This post is in part a follow-up to some of things I discussed on the Seedlings podcast a couple of weeks ago and is in part a response to a common email question. I understand that because of the frequency with which I post it might appear that I blog about everything I see. In fact, I blog about less than a quarter of the "educational resources" that I see in a given day. How I choose what to blog about is the purpose of this post. Back in My Seven Edublogging Secrets I shared the importance of focusing your blog's content, consider this a follow-up to that blog post.

The first question I ask myself before writing about a new website or service is, "does this have real relevance to a classroom and is it universally accessibly?" There are a lot of neat things that I see every day, but a lot of them don't have relevance to education. Similarly, until last week, I've refrained from writing about iPhone and Android apps because they're not as universally accessible as a purely web-based service.

The second question I ask is, "can the average teacher access this in five minutes?" If the answer is "no," I probably won't write about it. If something isn't easily accessible to a teacher, he or she isn't likely to spend 30 frustrating minutes trying to figure it out. There are exceptions to this rule, but in general my first concern is accessibility.

Another question I ask myself is, "can students access this quickly and is the advertising classroom-safe?" In general, I believe that if a teacher can access a service quickly, students will be able to as well. Questionable advertising has kept a lot websites off of Free Technology for Teachers. If the advertising I see is inappropriate or intrusive, I don't blog about that site.

In a typical week I'll receive between 35 and 50 email pitches from public relations people. In almost every case those emails are unsolicited and I don't respond to them. Occasionally, I get an email that actually informs me of a free resource that's worth sharing with you, but that is the exception to the rule. Why? Because there are only a couple of PR people that have actually approached me politely and have taken the time to understand that this blog is about free things teachers can use. A lot of the email pitches I get are for paid services and the sender is hoping I'll make an exception. For the record, the only paid products I've ever endorsed are a few books, my netbook, and Common Craft videos. None of those people pitched me.

Finally, I see a lot of things each week on Twitter and on great blogs like Larry Ferlazzo's, Kelly Tenkely's, and Kevin Jarrett's. If I see something on Twitter that has already been reTweeted hundreds of times, in a lot of cases I'll simply reTweet it myself. Things that I see on other's blogs I'll often just Tweet about. Sometimes I blog about those things later, but I generally think that there is so much great stuff on the web that I don't need to repeat what someone else in the niche has already said that day.

What is your criteria for choosing blog topics?