Everything you wanted to know about blogging but were afraid to ask ..

Well .. Not ‘everything’ but still, it makes a good title .. :)

I have been meaning to do this article for some time. It is in response to many people who asked me tips about blogging. I hope you find it useful. This article mainly draws on my personal experience in running the OpenGardens blog.

This will be a series of three articles:

First one (this one) on blogging, Second on publishing and finally a third article on my views on the future evolution of the OpenGardens blog

Lets start with my credentials. I have been blogging since May 26 2005 . My blog OpenGardens has an Alexa rating of around 100000 and a Google page rank of 6/10. More importantly the blog is followed by corporates – like Motorola CTO Padmasree Warrior , MEP Piia Noora Kauppi and also companies like Symbian, Nokia, IBM and many others.

These insights are based on my personal experience in developing the OpenGardens blog(and also some thoughts on it’s future development)

An outline of this article is as follows

1) Introduction

2) Where to blog

3) What makes a good blog

4) The consultant who blogs between assignments

5) Making money from blogging

6) Dominate – Go big or Go home

7) Insights and experiences in creating the OpenGardens blog

8) Who does your PR?

9) Competitive advantage from bloggging

dorktower.JPG

Introduction

Most people start off with the two questions

a) Where do I start if I want to create a new blog?

b) How should I make money from blogging? Or What returns do I get from all this work I put in?

Two other questions which most people don’t ask(but should) are:

c) WHY are you blogging? and

d) What do you stand for?

In other words:

I believe that your goal should be to dominate a sector. By ‘dominate’, I mean – you should aim to be an important thought leader in a particular segment.

Lets face it, the Internet is huge .. and if you are not looking to be a serious player it may be a little like the expression p****ing in the wind .. pointless activity i.e. you will hardly make any impact.

Hence, the WHY is important(why are you blogging in the first place)

And by extension – WHO do you serve(your segment – people who gain from your insights)

I think you should start with the WHY ..

Your motivations(the WHY) may vary – and I will outline my own motivations below.

The last question – almost no one asks … What do you stand for?

And long term .. it may well be the most important question you have asked yourselves. I will come back to this later as well.

We will focus on these questions with insights based on my personal experiences. The mechanics of blogging are actually well known(such as add keywords to posts, ping technorati, feed reader basics etc etc). These, I will not cover here.

Where to blog

The traditional approach is to start off with the toolset(WordPress vs. Movable type) and so on ..

It does not really matter which blogging platform you use(wordpress and Movable type being the market leaders)

The first choice is

a) Do you want to create your blog and take all the effort OR

b) Do you want to only get exposure for your ideas

If you don’t want to build and maintain your own blog but are rather looking to mainly get exposure for your own ideas – then you should blog on another network – and choose the highest traffic/most reputed network you can find(and will accept you – the two may not be the same  )

If you are serious about blogging, I recommend that you should download and install a copy of the blogging software (ex wordpress) and run it on your servers under your domain name. This has BIG implications for SEO which we will discuss below

What makes a good blog?

Before we begin, let us rule out some categories who I think will never get beyond their starting line

a) People who use ghost bloggers

b) Anonymous bloggers

c) People who merely repost from other sources without providing any analysis

In all these cases, these people don’t stand for anything. They cant be trusted – and their motivations are unknown.

Take the anonymous blogger.

Is he sponsored by anyone? Without knowing his CV, how do we know what are the limitations in his knowledge? He may claim to be an ‘expert’ on everything .. but what exactly does he know? What has he got to hide? Etc etc ..

So, having ruled out these people : lets ask ourselves:

What makes a good blog?

Lets answer this question with another question ..

What blogs do you read?

If you are like me, you follow feeds from a range of sources .. and no matter what they are; these blogs are either

a) New/News

OR

b) Analysis

(This is a purist definition – there are blogs which do both – but the categorization helps to put our discussion in perspective)

Even a political blog, celebrity blog, gossip blog etc can all come under this classification i.e. they are primarily reporting the latest developments OR they are providing analysis for some key trends in a sector.

Do you want to report on the latest OR do you want to provide analysis

While most journalists will never become good bloggers, some of the best known bloggers have a journalism background – for instance: Robert Scoble, Richard Mc Manus and Om Malik.

A blogger can’t really be a journalist. Most bloggers don’t have the resources to look for a story and track the latest developments.

When I created the OpenGardens blog, I made a conscious decision to ignore the ‘story’ and instead focus on analysis only. In that sense, the blog is similar to Gartner or Ovum – as opposed to a more traditional news based publication like ZD net

Irrespective of what type of blog it is: from a blogger’s perspective – there are three main reasons to blog

a) Search engine optimization

b) Building your own reputation

c) Engaging the community (especially if you are a corporate blogger)

And a good blog is all about being insightful , independent, original and consistent (i.e. you must blog well and regularly).

The style does not matter as long as your readers like it. My writing style leans more towards longer articles(like this one) as opposed to shorter blog posts. If you really want to ‘microblog’ – then you should consider twitter – but I see twitter more as ‘presence’ than as a blog.

The other extreme is Video blogging or audio blogging(podcasting). Both have their place. However, nothing replaces the written word – with text you can quickly see the whole article and decide what you are interested in(you cant do the same with video or audio).

It is especially important to be consistent

Most people can do great one off posts – but cant be consistent.

The consultant who blogs ‘between assignments’

Why is it important to be consistent?

Take this example ..

There is a unique class of blogger called : ‘The consultant who ‘blogs’ between projects’

I know one such person. His blogs are great but very occasional and they get frequent when he has no work. When he is on an assignment, the blogs stop

Insightful they may be, but the Web is too big to take this type of person seriously and it is rather arrogant of them to think that the world will wait for them when they are ready

People will simply move on ..

But you mentioned something about making money .. What about making money?

Ahh .. money ..

As you would have gathered by now, I am not a fan of ‘pay per post’ – for the same reason that you lose your objectivity if you are paid(This is different from sponsors for your blog – which is fine as long as it is declared)

Having known some of the best bloggers – I can say that there is only one blogger I know Richard Mc Manus

Of readwriteweb who makes a living from blogging alone. And Richard is truly a one man media machine – the depth and the scope of his blog is awesome .. not something most people can replicate.

I am happy to hear about anyone else who does. (Note – Mike Arrington(techcrunch), Om Malik(Gigaom) , Robert Scoble(Podtech) and others have all got funding or corporate sponsors. I am referring to a blogger who earns money from the blogs alone(sponsorship/advertising)

The advertising model works – but you need to work hard for it.

There is however, a secondary model, which I think is also useful. It depends on your personal focus – and it is similar to the ideas I described in Salt, Pepper and Social networking . In essence, WiFi, Social networking(and also blogging) need to be ‘free’ – like condiments(salt and pepper). But – you must know in advance what the ‘coffee’ is i.e. what ‘else’ can you sell(or a secondary reason for getting returns – which may not be monetary)

In my case, it is clearly selling books – not just my own – but also books from other authors we publish. It is also all about thought leadership, getting live feedback by blogging about my books in advance and so on.

Dominate – Go big or go home!

I alluded before that – within the scope of the Web – there is little point in taking a half hearted approach i.e. Go big or Go home ..

The irony here is ‘Big’ is relative.

It does not need loads of money

It does not need to dominate ‘the whole web’

It needs you to dominate a segment ..

Therein lies the skill of understanding who do you serve .. Who is your audience and What benefits are they gaining from your blog?

Why would they bother to give you their time in the attention economy? When attention is indeed the scarcest resource? (Read the full paper by Michael Goldhaber in the link on attention economy – its long but its great!)

I believe that if you define your audience and provide something useful within a smaller segment, there is room for your new blog to be truly significant.

In other words, blogs like Boing boing may be for ‘everyone’ and much more difficult to build – but there may be plenty of is plenty of room within your own industry sector. Indeed I would argue that it is more valuable to build a blog with a smaller but more qualified traffic.

Another common mistake is to ‘attack’ something or someone constantly with the hope that you get some attention. This is a short term tactic – and it labels you directly as a follower and not a leader.

I believe that in the long run(and by that – I mean at least a year of dedicated blogging before you start to see any results), analysis and insights will prevail over short term tactics purely because – inspite of all the ‘noise’ out there – there are VERY FEW people on the web who can provide good, independent analysis. And thus an opportunity exists.

What are the characteristics of a good blogger?

What are the characteristics of a good blogger? Is there some quality that is nice to have?

I think there are three

a) An ability to assimilate vast amounts of information and create new insights from this information

b) A sense of humanity and individuality – being an individual – even if you work in a large company

c) An ability to outline your viewpoints in a format that your readers will find useful

Insights and experiences in creation of the OpenGardens blog

And finally, here are some of my own insights in creation of the OpenGardens blog

The OpenGardens blog was launched in May 2005. As the name suggests, it reflects my personal philosophy of Open systems, interoperability etc especially within the telecoms sector.. and it is also a reflection of my larger libertarian philosophy(which you can see through various links in this blog)

In other words, the blog stands for something! Something I truly believe in

It is only about analysis(no news).

In the first six months it was launched, it got almost no traffic and very little coverage – although that period accounted for one of my favourite posts The mobile Internet will do more for

Africa than live 8!

The blog aims to be factual and non controversial.

It is also a reflection of me as an individual(for instance various references to animation, the music of Pink Floyd etc)

The ‘coffee’ is selling books and SEO. See SEO: How to use blogs for Search engine optimization and to improve your Google ranking/Alexa rating

to understand how that works for me.

I also genuinely like to blog. It helps me to put out ideas relating to my new books and get direct feedback(engage with people)

Finally .. the blog was inspired by the simple observation that there are almost no blogs that span the Web and the Mobile Web. Hence, there was a need for a blog that focussed on the interplay between these two domains. As mobility becomes more important, this sector gains in importance.

Competitive advantage

Blogging is no different from the Internet. It’s a winner takes all game. If you truly take the efforts, you create an asset and hence a competitive advantage. When the dust of the Web 1.0 world settled, there were a handful of big names which had won (Google, Yahoo etc).

Thousands of smaller start-ups were wiped out.

The same with blogs ..

With 50 million blogs as of Oct 2006 and the blogosphere doubling in size every six months .. , very few will be survive

Those that do, will have an unassailable competitive advantage

There is one difference though .. Unlike web 1.0, we now have the Long tail effects ..

Hence, every sector will have winners ..

And that is cause for optimism especially if you can define your own niche!

Concluding thoughts – Who does your PR?

Someone from the PR industry asked me recently –

Who does your PR? How do they get you speaking slots at conferences like Java One, 3GSM, Web 2.0 expo and the Symbian smart show?

The answer, much to the disappointment of that person is, we have no one in that role(PR)

ALL the coverage is from the blog.

Blogging IS the new conversation(and I hesitate to call it PR!)

As usual, all comments welcome

Cartoon from: dorktower

The next article will discuss the publishing industry from the perspective of an author and a publisher

Comments

  1. BeachBum says:

    I love the cartoon and “go big or go home” quote. On the lighter side, you never know if you don’t try. So I say try and if you like it focus. The topic of the week next week on my blog is about topic focus. Nice post you researched here, thanks for writing.
    BeachBum

  2. Raddedas says:

    I’d say about 80% of this is very accurate, but I think it’s unwise to give a blanket ban on any annonymous blog or any which is posted only occasionally.
    I think some of the most insightful bloggers around post every 2-4 weeks, on no regular schedule, eg. Michael Mace at Mobile opportunity. Strictly by your definition, he is arrogantly expecting the world to wait for him and not worth reading because he doesn’t post predictably often – I think many people including yourself would actually happily admit he is knowledgable, interesting and well worth reading and it’s a pleasant surprise whenever one of his posts turn up. (I’m not Michael Mace by the way, at least not that I’m aware of). There are other bloggers who post regular vast quantities of rubbish who should be ignored much more readily – I value the random timing of good blog posters, with choice nuggets of information turning up at surprising times without the need to wade through vast amounts of so-so information.
    I’m actually suspicious of anyone who blogs too much, as it’s a hugely time consuming occupation and if they spend that long reading about things and then writing I can’t see how they have the time to actually get more than a surface knowledge about any particular subject area. It was for this reason I always struggled to see how Russel Beattie kept such a voluminous (and profitable) blog going along with a day job at Yahoo! and a family, and possibly its why he ended up without the blog and job (I have absolutely no idea really). Quality, not quantity, should be the blog reader’s yardstick.
    As for annonymous bloggers – many are like annonymous commenters, extremely annoying with limited knowledge and hidden agendas (like many recent scandals o CEOs posting about their companies and competitors). Others like the annonymity for the freedom it gives them to say exactly what they feel about the disfunctionality in the industry they work in (and mobile is a highly disfuncitonal industry) without jeapordising any existing or future relationships. Agendas can be hard to discern – I can state here that mine is to amuse or educate people by pointing out when people lie or make uncorrected errors in public, but really I don’t care if anyone believes that or not. If anyone wants to read one of my posts I hope they see a self-contained opinion which might be in controversial language, but rings true with detail that stands up to scrutiny.
    Take my bias for JavaME as a mobile runtime environment – there are two possible causes for this. Possibly I sell JVMs, and am a Java religious zealot, or possibly I’ve looked at the market and realised that for interactive applications it’s the only credible solution right now for mobile despite its many imperfections. I would hope that anyone reading my blog can see that it is the latter and I do have pretty deep technical knowledge of JavaME and other platforms, but if they don’t I ultimately don’t really care.
    Ultimately, judge the blog by its content not a predetermined set of criteria. If a post is credible, well argued, well researched, and fits in with facts that you already know about the subject matter, then it’s worth reading whether it was posted by a blogging “celebrity” or someone annonymous. If it doesn’t ring true, isn’t interesting/insightful or is just an attack on something without any valid argument to justify that attack, ignore it and ignore its author.
    So again – a very interesting and generally valid post, but I don’t think you can be dogmatic about dismissing certain types of blogger and still get a balanced viewpoint of the world. All have their place, even if some of them have to manage a blog alongside the constraints of a day job which doesn’t involve blogging.

  3. Ajit Jaokar says:

    thanks Raddedas for your comments. I have sent you an email. kind rgds Ajit

  4. Song says:

    Ajit, I have a question for you. What are your thoughts on a company blog? It’s a nice way to communicate with interested visitors, but it seems to me that it’s not news or analysis. Well, I guess you could say it’s both, but for one company. I think it’s a way to build community. As a Web 2.0 company, we put up a blog and underestimated how much work it was to keep it updated and the content fresh. We have multiple people who post to the blog and I wonder if that is confusing for the audience. We also realize that we need almost a full-timer to keep up with tracking, etc. Alas, we’ve not found the resources for it yet as we are still an understaffed startup. I hope to change that in the future. What are some of the best company blogs in your opinion?

  5. (an off topic comment)
    Just making sure, Ajit, are you aware that the division into paragraphs doesn’t work in your RSS feed? It’s not a major problem, but it makes long posts difficult to read.
    Tried it with Google Reader and Feedreader.

  6. Dag says:

    Ajit,
    Good posting.
    I do agree with commenter Raddedas wrt anonymous and ‘every so often’ bloggers. The key, as a thoughtful and critical reader, is to ensure that what is being posted is accurate and timely and interesting. The web is filled with less than qualified writers and if you blindly believe everything you read, shame on you as a reader. This is similar to believe everything you read on Wikipedia without doing the necessary double check.
    Best,
    Dag.

  7. Ajit Jaokar says:

    Thanks Tommi. I have had others saying the same to me. It seems to work on Google reader for me (in firefox) but not sure if there is a problem. Clearly others have the same problem as well. so thanks for your comment. Hope you are well. kind rdgs Ajit

  8. Ajit Jaokar says:

    Hi Song
    re ry qs: see this article from me(its in 4 parts) the links are there. That’s pretty comprehensive. hope you are well. kind rgds Ajit
    http://opengardensblog.futuretext.com/archives/2007/08/enterprise_web.html

  9. Ajit Jaokar says:

    Thanks Dag. I am about to make a seperate posting about this qs. kind rgds Ajit

  10. > It seems to work on Google reader for me (in firefox)
    Hmm…. It doesn’t work on Google Reader for me in Firefox (2.0.0.5). Strange.
    best,
    - tommi
    ps. good post!

  11. Ajit Jaokar says:

    Thanks Tommi! rgds Ajit

  12. Bob Geller says:

    Thanks, Ajit, I really enjoyed this post, and learned a lot from it.
    As a PR professional, I am extremely interested in the implications of blogging for the field (some say it is a death knell, I disagree), have started my own blog, and am always looking for good advice on improving my blogging game.
    Your post gave me new food for thought, and that says something when you consider that there is already quite a lot of very good advice out on blogging.
    I agree with your concern about anonymous blogging, in fact on my blog I have proposed a new PR code of ethics for social media, one of the caveats is that people need to identify themselves and their affiliations (this still relatively new way of communicating favors transparency).