Monthly Archives: February 2012

Number crunching…


With so many blogs around you wonder who finds and reads your blog. We are overwhelmed with information and yet we love spending time seeking out more. The number of people who write blogs is growing steadily and the reasons for blogging are numerous. I thought it might be interesting to explore this a bit further and I came across the following.

Technorati, an internet search engine for searching blogs, releases every year a report called the State of the Blogosphere. Since 2004 they have followed trends and measured growth in the blogosphere.  The 2011 study reports on topics such as media, branding, marketing, monetisation and changes within the blogosphere, http://technorati.com/social-media/article/state-of-the-blogosphere2011

It’s interesting reading especially if you are a number cruncher. The report shows some remarkable figures displayed in easy graphs. Technorati used to follow blogs worldwide but seem to concentrate nowadays only on English blogs.

Some interesting findings

Technorati divides bloggers into various categories – hobbyist, professional part time and full time, corporate and entrepreneurs. Most bloggers are between 25 and 45 year of age and in this group the part time professional writers are represented the best. More than three quarters of the world’s bloggers are from the USA, Canada and Europe.

People spend 1-3 hours per week blogging and write between 2-3 posts. Professional full time bloggers spend over 35 hours per week and post 1-2 per day. And believe it or not there are some who post up to ten times per day!

The largest percentage of bloggers gets their inspiration from other blogs. Against my expectations as I would have thought that people tend to blog because they have this burning desire to write about something that is important or of interest to them. The second source of inspiration is conversations with friends. I can relate to that. Once you have started blogging, many everyday discussions with friends have the potential of becoming the subject of your next blog post.

The increasing impact of blogs

Blogs are seen more and more as a serious source of information. They will keep on growing in popularity and bloggers believe that more people will be getting their ‘news fix’ from blogs than from traditional media sources over the next 5 years.

To me blogs represent a source of information with a ‘human element’. I find myself looking for blog communities and forums when I need ‘brainstorm’ information. I am aware this type of info could be subjective but if you read various sources you will get a fair idea. People who talk about something out of experience can make you aware of the benefits or lack of benefits of a product or service.

Traditional media or advertising tends to concentrate on the features of a product and service. It may be considered more’ objective’ but I can’t tell from features what the potential benefits could be. Seeing someone elaborating in a blog may well help me decide. Then I like to add that I am not so sure about the traditional media sources being that ‘objective’ either but that is a different subject altogether!

Do we need grammar?

Did you know that most kids in Australia nowadays do not learn grammar? In fact they have not been taught these essential skills since the 1970s. What on earth did they think when they decided to remove grammar from the curriculum?

One of the main reasons that grammar was unpopular was that it was taught ‘out of context’. Teaching rigid rules about the use of language but not understanding how to apply those rules would not appeal to anyone. However that still doesn’t mean that they had to remove it altogether. The issue now is that they like to re-introduce grammar as part of the curriculum. Who is going to teach it as the generation that was ‘saved’ from grammar is now teaching our kids! Are they first going on a ‘grammar’ course to actually now what they talking about?

Is grammar a necessary evil?

I am not a native English speaker and there are still occasions that I do not know a particular word or compose a sentence in the wrong way. When I learned English I did learn grammar though. In fact I had to master it in every language. Grammar is part of the make-up of a language and I believe that you need to be able to recognise the parts of a sentence in order to use them correctly.

My daughter did a German Immersion Program at high school. She learned to understand German very well but did not learn to speak it grammatically correct as she was never taught any rules. There are many rules in the German language and without knowing them you will make mistakes.

She changed schools and learned Spanish through the International Baccalaureate Program. In this system grammar is considered important and funny enough she started to understand her German better as a result of mastering Spanish grammar rules.

Spelling mistakes – are they acceptable?

What do you think when you receive an email or SMS message with spelling mistakes? Maybe I am old school but I don’t like it. I aim to deliver both my emails and  messages in correct English. My kids will certainly sigh when reading this but I like to think that there are basic standards. After all you would not send a job application without doing a spell check? So why is it so common in the social media?

Grammar may be boring but to me it is just as essential to a language as traffic rules are to driving. I won’t start throwing all kind of grammatical jargon to you but I like to show you a few basis rules.

  • Sentences: Keep your sentences to such a length that they make sense. There are some numbers out there – 25 words tend to be the maximum, 15-18 words are a nice average but shorter is fine. A variation makes reading more interesting.
  • Connecting words:  but, because, since, or, and are connecting words and they often introduce a concept that is contradictory or explanatory to the previous you have written. Where they are used in very long sentences is often the place where you could break up the sentence.
  • Paragraphs: Nobody likes to have to work through too much unbroken text. Keep your paragraphs sharp, short and to the point. A guideline is 5-6 sentences. Bullet points are great for blogging as many bloggers tend to skim over the page. They are easier to digest than long slabs of text.

Last but not least, grammar is part of a language but you are not writing a scientific report and nobody is grading you. The occasional stylistic ‘error’ is fine when it helps your blog to be more interesting and punchy.

Good Luck!

 

How to get more traffic

Your blog is up and running, it looks gorgeous and what you write about is interesting. Everything is in place for success. So how do you get people to stop by and have a look? In other words what can you do to increase the traffic to your blog?

Interesting content – It seems logic but nevertheless it has to be mentioned. Whatever you write about or show should be interesting, original and be up to date.

Regular posts – You have to post regularly, not once a month or even once a week but more like 3 times per week. That way your followers are not overwhelmed by your stuff but will be intrigued to see what you have to say next. Nowadays people are bombarded with news on a daily base. The statistics are horrendous! So don’t overdo it but in order to stay connected with your blog readers you do have to see you on a regular base.

When I publish a blog post I usually have enough inspiration to write a couple more posts but feel that I ought to make myself useful in other areas. Before I know it is a couple of days further and I have to dig deep to get that initial inspiration back. I suppose it would be better if I let myself be guided by my drive and creativity on the spur of the moment.

By invitation – A pro-active way to get more readers is to invite them. By checking out other blogs, leaving comments and introducing yourself you may entice bloggers to have a look at your site. If they like what they see and if it is relevant to them they may become a regular visitor.

I think I am a little guilty of not looking at other blogs enough. It seems a little indulgent to just browse the net and look for interesting things to read. Well I’ll also say to myself – if you like people to read your blog, you may have to take the time to read others’!

Don’t overdo it! Your comment on someone else’s blog should not be an advertisement for your own blog. If you leave your link with your comment it should be relevant to the blogger otherwise it is the same as getting a random email to promote something. And I don’t appreciate those and very likely you don’t either!

Be creative!

Looking at other blogs – I realise I am doing it for research purposes – I came across a couple of more interactive ways of creating more traffic. Giving away something, swapping items with other bloggers and organising competitions are some of them. I like to look into this a bit more myself and maybe set something up at a later stage.

One way that appeals to me to get more readers is to ask for opinions about a certain project. For instance I am looking into making insect screens for a rental house I am currently living in. I could ask for suggestions. But that hasn’t got anything to do with blogging!

Although, anybody out there who has got some ideas?

 

 

My blog has a total makeover

Well after my last post things have changed indeed. I was talking about changing my header and I had a go at this but I ended up going a different avenue altogether. The perfectionist in me won’t allow me to put something online that isn’t 100% to my liking and I started playing with other templates instead.

Choosing a new theme

There are 171 different templates available in WordPress. Spoilt for choice one could say. And you can browse them in various ways. Simple from a-z, the most popular or latest themes or the Premium section – the ones that come with a cost.

The advantage of browsing for a new theme when your blog is already up and running is that you can see how your blog will appear in a particular template. I can remember going through the templates before my blog was published. I found it hard to imagine which one would look the best and would reflect me, my topic and my writing style the most. As “Twenty Eleven’ has a style that is appealing to me I could imagine my blog looking attractive with that theme.

The advantage of having a ‘life’ blog already

With a ‘life’ blog however you can see how your blog will appear and this was very helpful. After I selected several templates I came across ‘Mystique’ and I loved it. The default colours and lay-out for this theme are the ones you see in my blog. I did try however every possible combination of colours and lay-out but came back to the ones I saw when I changed to Mystique. You can do this by going into ‘Theme Options’ and selecting from the colours and lay-out options on offer. Your blog will then appear in the format of your choice.

I even opened two versions of WordPress so I could see both themes –Twenty Eleven’ and ‘Mystique – next to each other. Although I had liked Twenty Eleven initially I found ‘Mystique’ more professional and classy. I can still adapt the header but the colour scheme of “Mystique’ is interesting enough and for the moment I like to leave it as it is. Furthermore I do like to add the occasional picture in the future.

There is a ‘Premium’ section of templates available and in order to use them you have to pay a small fee. Before making a decision though it is possible to see your blog in those templates as well. All over a nice feature and worthwhile having a look at once you feel more comfortable and daring.


Time to make some changes

When I started my blog with WordPress I sifted through all the different templates and choose eventually the ‘Twenty Eleven Theme’ – the one I am using now. It is fresh and modern. WordPress itself calls it contemporary, elegant and simple.

I have been using it since the end of November and understand that it is possible to customise the theme more to my liking and to fit the purpose. I realised this week that the header contains a number of pictures that are rotated constantly. Nice pictures but totally random. They have got nothing to do with the topic of my blog.

I have decided to create my own personalised header with images that reflect the content of ‘blogexercise’. This may not be such a simple task as I can think of many aspects that represent blogging. I will try to pin down what it means for me, set a scene and get going with my camera. Probably not that easy either, but it will be good fun!

Creating a header that makes sense

Challenging on the technical front? Maybe not for some of you but it will be for me. But with an IT professional as husband and a computer savvy daughter I should be alright. First I have to decide on the actual image I like to be displayed in the header.

I had a quick look online and there are many pictures, cartoons etc that have to do with blogging. Immediately there is the issue of copyright when choosing something that is online. If you find something online that you like to use, it is good practice to check if you are allowed to and to credit the source after having been granted permission. Also check out my post ‘Your or Theirs’.

I am more attracted to having a go at creating something myself. I can take the pictures but apparently it can only be uploaded in a certain format – it needs to be 1000 x 288 pixels. My daughter assured me that she can organise that although it looks as if WordPress can also fix that for you during the uploading process. Additionally there are other websites that can take on this role for you. Just Google ‘header of a blog’ and you can take your pick!

I am starting to get got some ideas for the pictures and will leave this post for what it is and retain my creative juices for setting the scene for my new header image.

Looking forward to it!

Ready to put your ‘technical hat’ on?

I think it is time to get a little more technical. I have been avoiding it for a while but I feel I can hold off no longer. I will do an attempt to get a good grip on the basic technical attributes of a blog. By the way we are still talking about a hosted blog – a turn-key blog.

Blogging sites such as WordPress, BlogSpot and TypePad have made it very easy for the less technical equipped and in less than 5 minutes you can register and create a blog, choose your favourite template and off you go. It is user friendly and I am sure that most bloggers will be perfectly happy to have a long relationship with their ‘hosted blog’.

They are easy to set up, easy to run and their features are easy to use. In case you do get stuck they offer tutorials that cover everything you need to know about your blog’s features.  They also have automatic updates that happen behind the scenes without you realising it.

Using a ‘hosted blog’ has some disadvantages such as lack of control and limitations in designs and templates. Also your URL is not unique and it will contain the name of the blog host – in my case ‘blogexercise@wordpress.com’. This may not bother you at all but it could become an issue when your blog gets very popular and you would like to create a more professional look with your own domain. The good news is that it is possible to transfer the content of a hosted blog to a self hosted blog. It just may require some technical help!

The basic anatomy of a blog

Whatever blog you choose they all have a couple of things in common. It will have a banner, a profile and there is usually an email address so your readers can get in touch with you.

Banner or header image

The face of your blog and it contains the blog’s name, an illustration or a picture. You can find it at the top of the blog and it ideally represents your style and you as a writer.

One of the reasons that I would like to change to a self hosted blog is that I could not find a template and banner that really is ‘me’ or more importantly what I would like the blog to look like. My problem is that so far I only have vague ideas about the ‘looks’ of my blog so for the time being I am kind of happy with the face of ‘Blogexercise’. It’s simple, fresh and stylish.

Profile

A bit about youwho you are, your name, where you are from and what your blog is about. Could be a craft, a picture blog, cooking or whatever drives you to write your blog. You can reveal as much or a little about yourself as you wish but your readers will be interested in learning a bit about you.

Columns

Your blog consists of a main column where your blog posts appear and there usually one or more of sidebars where links are being displayed. You will find things there such as archives, categories, photo galleries, ads and more. In ‘Blogexercise’ you can see a list of recent posts, archives, categories and various links.

Basic so far but more to come!

It is time for a recap!

I have written 20 blog posts so far. I like to ‘recap’ and have a look at all the stuff I have been exploring on Blogexercise. I am a logical person and function the best when presented with logical information.  My experience has taught me that I am not the quickest in internalising technology but once I understand how it works, it usually is there for life.

One thing I have noticed and realised is that there is a lot of information about all aspects of blogging available in books, blogs and general on the web. Some is informative and some is a little confusing, contradicting abnd sometimes even incomplete or incorrect! This in a nutshell has lead to my motive for “Blogexercise’. I like to strive for simplification!

For the average person the amount of info out there may be daunting and confusing and not exactly entice someone to have a go at blogging. Hence the birth of the hosted websites such as WordPress, Blogger and TypePad. They have been successful in making blogging more accessible to all people, web savvy or not. And this brings me to the first decision a blogger needs to make before getting started!

Planning Stage

→First decision to make is ‘hosted or self-hosted platform’

  • Hosted refers to starting a blog on a developer hosed software platform
  • Self hosting refers to own domain, own server and more complicated set-up

→To make that decision you will need to know the following:

  • How do you want your blog to look (appearance)?
  • What do you want to do in your blog (text, pictures)?
  • Assess how ‘technical savvy’ you are (be realistic)

→To give an answer to these questions you have to:

  • Research other blogs
  • Decide on the purpose of the blog
  • Evaluate your technical knowledge or have access to assistance

Choosing the platform

If you choose hosted, the next choice you need to make is which host. The most popular ones are:

  • WordPress  (no costs)
  • Blogger or BlogSpot (no costs)
  • TypePad (charges)

If you choose self hosting, you need to;

  • Choose and research a domain for your blog
  • Choose a host
  • Design your blog yourself or get help

Looking at it now I don’t know why it took me so long to get this sorted. It looks simple and straight forward but believe me it did not look that way to me when I started! I also like to point out to all people out there who consider themselves technically on a higher level – this blog post is not written for you. It is written for those who feel intimidated, would like to give blogging a try but don’t now really what it is all about or what to do. You may not believe me but I get on a regular base the following question thrown at me:

What is a blog……………………..

Who doesn’t like a ‘good old rant’?

In a previous post I have talked about different roles a blogger can have. Some like to educate, show and tell, others prefer to entertain and make people laugh and there are some who just want to have a ‘good old rant’.

What kind of blogger are you?

I have not really decided what my role is– it could be a mixture of several. I am a bit of a ranter and I have very likely annoyed people with various tales of criticism regarding a simple cup of coffee or a shop assistant. Australians can come across as a laid back bunch and my ‘Dutch’ bluntness combined with several years of ‘Swiss time keeping’ experience makes me sometimes a tough nut to crack! But it works in two ways – some people may not see where I am coming from but it is the same for me. I don’t see why I have to tolerate another badly made coffee and pay over 4 dollars for it. As if it is a privilege…

The opportunity to ‘speak out loud’

One of the reasons that social media and in particular blogging may be so popular is that we all like to have the occasional criticism, whinge, whine and rant. And what is better than doing it online ‘anonymously’ without having to face anyone?

Another thing I like is educating people – showing people ‘the how and the what’ of things. Looking at my working life, there has been a lot of educating. About wines and food, health, counselling and home and garden design. And at the moment about ‘blogging’. My blog ‘Blogexercise’ was totally unintentional and came about rather spontaneously. I had been planning a blog about several topics but I felt that I needed to explore this blogging business a little further before I wanted to commit. I have decided I prefer to self-host my blog and that requires a little more preparation.

So ‘Blogexercise’ is a bit like having an ‘apprenticeship’ – it enables me to train on the job and it is helping me. I am learning a lot and I have started to enjoy blogging about this topic. So much that I like to continue – not only for myself but also for others. Since I started blogging about ‘blogging’ I have come to the realisation that many people do not have a clue what blogging is and how to go about it. And ‘the educator’ in me has thereby found a grateful audience for those who like to have a go at it themselves.


Yours or theirs?

When talking about content of your blog, it doesn’t really matter whether you are an expert or not. After all you will become one if you keep on blogging about a certain topic. This is provided you come up with new stuff and not ‘borrow’ from others.

One of my readers commented on this and asked if I had an answer to him finding ‘his’ stuff being used by others under the pretence that it was theirs. An interesting topic and worthwhile exploring. The answer seems logical but nevertheless it is a controversial topic as it can be hard to trace where information comes from.

When to ask for permission!

Going back to basics we all know that it is not common practice to go into our neighbour’s garden and borrow their lawn mower without asking for permission. Neither are we allowed to pick the luscious mangoes that we can just reach when hanging over the fence. We just don’t do that, right? Then why do we think it is allowed to use text or pictures we find on someone else’s web pages. I dare say the same principles apply!

I don’t know if you have ever been asked by someone whether they could use something you produced. I can tell you that it feels good and I was more than happy to let someone else shine with my picture of a beautiful sky. Especially when I saw my name mentioned under it!

If you feel you like to use someone else’s content, ask for their permission. It is not difficult as most bloggers leave their contact details available to their readers. Ask for their permission, wait for a reply and then reward them with a link back to their blog.

What are the rules when blogging?

When blogging there are rules to abide by. It is allowed to refer to work that others have published however you must tell your readers where that information came from. Just as you reference when you are writing an essay or report, you name the author, the source and link back to their website or blog.

There is a term called ’fair use’. Fair use is a grey area and it may be hard to know exactly what to do when citing someone else. It is complex but in a nutshell if you use someone else’s material for ‘the purpose of research, teaching, to criticise, to comment or to report news’ you may not have to ask for permission. Personally I would ‘rather be safe than sorry’ and it may be better to get permission if you want to use more than a couple of words or phrases. Reverse the roles and imagine how you would feel if someone asks you for permission to use your material.

Last but not least use your common sense. Your blog is in the public domain and it is there for the whole world to see. Your reader may have a different culture or religion and it is not necessary to offend others. So write your blog with this in mind!