Showing posts with label blog practices. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blog practices. Show all posts

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What I've Learned from 5,000 Blog Posts

Last weekend I wrote and published my 5,000th post in just under four years on Free Technology for Teachers. In the course of writing all of those posts I've learned a few things that I'd like to share. Hopefully, these lessons will help other aspiring bloggers.

Just ship it.
I do worry about spelling, grammar, and punctuation. However, I don't fret over the minutia of the grammar rules. If I fret over every detail I'd spend more time consulting Strunk & White's The Elements of Style than I would publishing blog posts. Now when I write for a publication like School Library Journal I do worry a little bit more about the rules of writing because I only get one chance per month for people to see my work (fortunately, I have an editor to catch my mistakes too). The beauty of blogging is that you can publish as often as you want thereby giving yourself more chances to have your work read by someone.

About growing your audience.
Publish often. There are two reasons for this. First, the more you publish the more chances you have to reach people. Second, your search engine ranking generally improves the more your publish. The more you publish, the more content you have for search engines to index. Think of it this way, why does TechCrunch appear at the top of so many search results? Because they have a team of writers pushing out tons of content every week.

Keep it short. You might have a lot to say about a particular topic, but people generally are not going to stop and read your 3,000 word essay on assertive discipline as they scroll through their RSS readers. If you have a lot to say on a topic, break up that long post into three or four parts. In doing so you've made each part more digestible for your readers and you've accomplished the goal of publishing often, at least for that week.

Dealing with criticism, backlash, and mistakes.
Whenever I get a really negative comment or some other blogger takes me to task for something I wrote, it hurts. However, I don't let it change what I'm doing. This is particularly true if the criticism comes from someone who appears to spend more time criticizing other people's efforts than they do actually sharing their original thoughts. Like I tell my students, it's easier to sit back and criticize than it is to share your new ideas. Criticism comes with the territory of blogging. Keep on blogging because in two weeks the blog-o-sphere critics will be on to a new topic.

Mistakes, I've made a few (dozen). Rather than cover it up, just acknowledge it and try to do better the next time. For example, I forgot to add my relationship with Common Craft to my disclosures page before writing a blog post recently. One reader was kind enough to call me out on it. I said thank you and fixed the error.

I'm occasionally asked by other teachers for advice on earning money from a blog. If making money is your goal in starting an education blog, I recommend going to Home Depot and filling out an application for a part-time job instead. I started Free Technology for Teachers as an exercise in thinking about and organizing the free web tools I was finding. I didn't have any goal for monetization until a year after I started the blog. Then I put up my Adsense ad units and it was six months before I had earned enough to cross Google's $100 threshold to receive a payment. Even now with more than 700,000 pageviews last month I still couldn't live off of advertising alone. I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from trying to "blog for bucks" just bear in mind that it is definitely not a get rich quick vehicle. If you do hope to make some extra cash from blogging, speaking and consulting is a much more viable option (if you can convince people to hire you).

I don't have anyone to take care of at home other than myself and my dog Morrison. That gives me more time than a lot of other adults have for blogging activities. That said, I still have to find balance with the other aspects of my life. I have a course load at school that includes teaching, assigning, and grading more than one hundred students every semester. I also like to get out to hike and fly fish whenever possible. If I don't step away from the keyboard, I get stagnant and everything suffers. My balance comes on the weekends when I generally don't spend more than an hour online until Sunday night (this weekend has been an exception because apparently autumn in Maine has been replaced by monsoon season). 

Technical skills
I'm still a hack (not hacker) when it comes to code. I know some rudimentary HTML and CSS. But the beauty of the 2011 web is that if you can follow directions, you can write more than enough code to make your blog hum.

Thank you all for following along my 5,000 blog post journey. Some of you have been with me since the very early days, thank you. Some of you just started following, thank you too. I continue to be amazed at how many people guy with a computer in western Maine can reach. I hope you all come along for the next 5,000 blog posts.

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?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Avoiding Comment Spam Scams

For every blogger receiving comments from readers can be a feel-good experience. It makes you feel like your writing has reached someone on a level deep enough or important enough that the reader takes time out of his or her day to respond to you. But before you approve the comment and publish it to your blog, take a minute to determine if it's an authentic person leaving the comment or if it's a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Some comments are easy to recognize as spam, comments containing misleading links or the commentator's name is linked to a nefarious website are obviously spam. A less obvious spam comment is something like "great post, thanks for sharing, I'll be sure to visit this blog often." Sure that may be a legitimate comment, but in most cases if you visit the site linked to the commentator's name you'll find a spammy website.

A recent trend I've seen in comment spam is a request for you to send the commentator an email. This is what I'm seeing, "Great articles and it's so helpful. I want to add your blog into my rrs reader but i can't find the rrs address. Would you please send your address to my email? Thanks a lot!" While this comment is obviously trying to appeal to my helpful nature, there are a couple of tell tale signs that is a spam comment,. First of all my RSS feed is pretty easy to spot on my blog, it's a big button with the letter RSS on it. Second, the comment has nothing to do with the blog post. If you receive a comment like this on your blog, DON'T RESPOND TO IT! It is an attempt to capture your email address which at the very least will end up on spammer's list. On a similar note, as I mentioned on Seedlings, posting your complete email address with the "@" symbol is an invitation to spammers.

There are a number of very good plug-ins that you can use to automatically filter comments. As good as some of those filters are the one fool-proof method of protecting yourself from spam is to moderate comments yourself.

Image credit: Thomas Hawk. Image link.