At least the Notre Dame mens basketball team can win games – I’m predicting they’ll reach the Sweet Sixteen at the very least.  Go Irish!


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How To Get Blogged

March 13, 2008

Cory Doctorow (co-editor of the ultra-popular Boing Boing) has an article in Information Week about how to get bloggers to write about you – and as someone who blogs, and contributes to many other blogs and websites, I have to say his tips are solid.

Here’s the link: 17 Tips For Getting Bloggers To Write About You.

And because it bears repeating: using tons of Flash almost always does more harm than good.  It is like the web equivalent of a really gorgeous shoe with a five inch stiletto heel – sometimes beautiful to look at, but not exactly user-friendly.

A couple days ago Abha Malpani from the Written Road posted about online publishing and how it is affecting the way writers of all stripes compose their pieces, whether they are bloggers or journalists or something in between.  She linked this article from Skelliewag – and while I don’t disagree with everything (people do tend to read web content differently than magazines or books), I do take issue with the idea that just because it is web content, “good” writing isn’t necessary. 

Bad writing is bad writing, whether you are reading it on a screen or on dead trees.

Skellie’s main point is that people reading blogs are looking first and foremost for interesting ideas, and if the bloggers behind these ideas happen to be skilled writers as well, so much the better.  In addition, she does correctly point out that people reading online usually scan articles quickly instead of carefully digesting every word, which is probably true – but people also do this with newspapers, magazines, and books.  Scannable content is not limited to the web. 

In addition, Skellie points out that many of the popular bloggers haven’t studied writing or received any real training – but then again, there are plenty of popular authors who didn’t take the traditional route either (however, they do have the advantage of editors to refine and develop their work, unlike most bloggers). 

In some ways, I think Skellie is indeed correct – news blogs, gadget blogs, and other image/fact heavy bloggers don’t need to be amazing writers, but they do need to be capable of expressing themselves clearly.  After all, spelling errors, grammatical mishaps, and poor word choices can overshadow even the best ideas. 

On the other hand, a skilled writer can be much more engaging and memorable, and therefore attract a bigger audience.  Since there is an incredible number of blogs (at the moment, 112.8 million according to Technorati), why would a blogger or a writer – and the line between the two gets blurrier every day – ever settle for simply good enough?

Another important point was made by many of the commenters on the original article – you never know who is reading your blog, and what opportunities they might offer you in the future.  You definitely don’t want anyone to click away because your blog is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors, so for the love of Strunk and White, hit spellcheck before you post. 

Publishing a sloppy article is similar to showing up with unkempt hair and wrinkled clothes for a first date or job interview – although you might be the most awesome, talented, and caring person in the world, appearances matter a lot, especially when it comes to first impressions. 

That said, plenty of bloggers do break traditional grammar rules and this can be part of a distinctive voice – but you have to know the rules before you can break them effectively.  There is a huge difference between using slang or insider terminology because it works for your audience/concepts and forgetting to edit before you hit post.  And of course, lists and bullet points and short snappy paragraphs are more popular on the web than in books or magazines, and for good reason – they are simple and usually contain scannable nuggets of information.  They are effective.

In the end, however, the goal of writing is communication – and I believe Skellie’s point is that traditional good writing isn’t a requirement for blogging, because it is a different kind of communication.  He is correct in that you don’t have to be Hemingway (who also valued brevity and clear, concise writing) to be a popular blogger with tons of subscribers – but then again, McDonald’s has served billions too, and very few people would call their food amazing or remarkable – more like “easily accessible” or “good enough”. 

The Observer recently listed their fifty most powerful blogs, and while the list does contain some of the usual suspects (Techcrunch, the Huffington Post), there are plenty of more out-of-the-box choices too, such as Susie Bubble‘s creative fashion blog, Chocolate and Zucchini‘s Parisian food blog, and Waiter Rant (I think anyone who has ever worked in the service industry can identify with this one, at least a little).

What’s interesting about this list to me is that very few of these blogs fit into the typical mold or follow the rules/ideas popularized by the pro-blogging community; there isn’t a lot of obvious writing to the search engines, the design choices range from completely basic (Kottke) to quite complex (like Treehugger, where the front page has a lot going on but is still fairly easy to navigate).  In fact, the only thing that all these sites seem to have in common is compelling writing/information/images/videos – perhaps it is proof that useful or entertaining content really is all that matters for blogging success.

Legos Are For Everyone

March 6, 2008

I’ll be the first to admit that I was a nerdy kid who loved to read; in addition, I was also a huge fan of Legos.  My brothers and I could spend hours building elaborate castles and pirate ships and space stations; then we would spend more time playing “war” and destroying them, only to start over the next day with even more fantastic creations.  In fact, I’d probably still play with Legos if I had the chance (and not the candy pink ones either).

Lego Castle picture

That is why this article kind of surprised me – apparently, the powers that be over at Lego corporation are trying to market to girls.  As Chief Executive Jorgen V. Knudstorp says, “There is something about the idea of constructing and deconstructing or destroying which frankly is an important part of Lego play that is a very boys-type of activity.”  Now, either this was taken completely out of context, or he is completely discounting a whole bunch of creative girls here.  More from the article:

“Girls are an area where “we’ll never stop trying,” Knudstorp, who joined the family-owned firm in 2001 from consultancy McKinsey & Company, told Reuters.

“I think there is something that genetically skews us towards boys, but we can do better.”

To win girls over Lego — whose iconic plastic bricks have entertained children and wounded unwary barefoot parents since the late 1940s — is working to change its mindset, and taking its bid for their custom online.”

Now, the online lego world actually does sound kind of awesome, but the optimistic side of me hopes that this article was more of a bid for publicity than anything else; sort of a “you say girls don’t play with legos!  We’ll show you!” kind of thing. 

Found via Jezebel, where the piece got 200 comments in a few hours, mostly from girls who loved Legos.

*I just discoved they now have Indiana Jones legos.  DO want!

Hemingway On Blogging

March 4, 2008

Performancing has a great interview with Larry W. Philips, who edited the book Ernest Hemingway on Writing.  As you might guess, the book is full of the Papa’s observations on the nature of the writer’s life; however, the author makes some interesting points about writing, journalism, and blogging in the interview.  When asked about fledgling writers getting started with newspaper work (after all, that is how Hemingway began), he replied:

“I think numerous dangers lurk in journalism for the writer who wants to go beyond journalism. Bloggers are actually closer to having the kind of freedom to really develop as writers, IMO, than journalists. I’ll give an exaggerated answer here, in order to show what I mean.

A journalist has limitations. He can’t use slang, he can’t use the way real people talk (often), he can’t (or isn’t supposed to) include his opinion, can’t mention personal beliefs or convictions, isn’t supposed to draw conclusions, can’t use obscenity, can’t use long, odd or quirky sentences, can’t say anything bad about a company or product (you may get sued), can’t make the story too long, and on and on—I could list many other limitations. It’s rather like a painter being told to go paint a picture, but without using yellow, blue, red, green, brown, black, or purple. This is an exaggeration, as I say, but it hints at what the problem is, and what Hemingway was getting at.”

On a related note, I recently had a client say how pleased she is when writers/prospective writers have blogs, because then she can see the raw material and how they really write, without the luxury of an editor(s).  This is true – while blogs might be more likely than say, a magazine or book to contain typos (it happens to the best of us), it is also a lot more difficult to hide.  Like I’ve said before, if you want to be a writer, perhaps the first thing you should do is get a blog and get started.