By Request: What Would I Do Differently If I Started Blogging Today?

Leading intellectual property law blogger Steve Nipper had a great post the other day called “Five things I would do differently if I started blogging today” that I highly recommend to your attention. He has some wise observations and some great tips for both new bloggers and long-time bloggers.
I started this blog three years ago today. To help you understand my point of view, at the time I felt that I was starting my own RSS feed and that the blog was the vehicle for the RSS feed. RSS was the motivation and the driver for this blog. As I’ve mentioned before, I was soaking up everything I could about RSS at the time, Dave Winer’s Scripting News was my prime and daily resource, and I spent much more time researching what the blogging tools could do in generating RSS feeds than I did in researching what they could do in terms of blogging.
First, let me concur that Steve’s main points in his posts – portability and user friendliness – are ones that every blogger needs to think about on a regular basis.
Here is my somewhat iconoclastic list:
1. I’d Treat My Blog More Like a Website. I make no secret that my focus for my blog and the audience I consider when writing my blog is the audience that subscribes to the RSS feed. Even though I know that a huge number of readers visit my blog directly, I’m surprised when someone tells me that they “visited” my blog.
As a result, I think I underserve the non-RSS portion of my audience, don’t think about the blog experience as much as I perhaps should, and have not explored what blogging software, such as Movable Type, can do as a content management tool for a combined blog/website experience. I’m intrigued by some of the things another RethinkIP guy, Matt Buchanan, has done and has talked about doing in terms of making his blog more webpage-like.
What does that mean? Updating certain posts with fresh information or lists of links. Using posts as repositories of information (say, a list of my articles). Fleshing out the “blog as mini-portal” concept. There are a lot of ideas there.
Once you move into a feed-dominant approach, I think that you focus primarily on content and less on the actual design and user experience of the visitors to the blog (do bloggers really understand what the message they are sending when they have a long column of not-very-relevant Adsense ads on the front page of their blogs or a blog roll in which there are hundreds of blogs and six of the first ten are either dead links or blogs which haven’t been posted to in months?)
In retrospect, I might have decided to do the idea I had a few years ago to redesign my site and adapt it into Movable Type. RSS is still what interests me most, but I think I neglected some things that would have worked well for the large numbers of people who do not yet use RSS.
2. I Would Have Used More Emoticons and Humor Warnings. Many people still do not believe me that I started this blog not as a lawyer blog, but as an experiment in writing. I wanted to try different kinds of writing and let it find its own audience. As a result, I’ll do things on my blog that I would not recommend that the standard lawyer blog do. But, I know that.
One thing that I like to do is write about subjects ironically or to attempt to inject some humor. One of my friends likes to tell me that my humor is pretty dry and it’s hard enough to know when I’m not being serious in person, but it’s even harder to know that in my blog writing.
Once upon a time, I used little “humor warnings” when I thought there was a good chance that people, especially lawyers, would not be able to tell from the context that I was joking around. I haven’t done that in a while. I also use a lot of self-deprecating humor, which people don’t always understand that I’m doing (that comes from growing up in small-town Indiana, where both self-deprecating humor and deadpan-delivery are admired traits).
The unstated rule in blogging seems to be that you not use emoticons (smileys) to let people know that you are joking. ;-) This, of course, preserves the “but I was just joking” defense if someone takes exception to your post, but sometimes leads to some misinterpretations.
This has become more of a concern as the blogworld has grown and not every blogger knows every other blogger. In the past few months, I’ve felt that too many of my comments have been misinterpreted and a smiley here or there would probably help matters.
3. I Would Have Done More Collaborative Blog Projects Earlier. The whole blogging thing is worth it for me just because it gave me the chance to work with Between Lawyers group. If you add LexThink!(R) to that, that’s quite a “return” on my blogging investment. I’d like to do more of that, and to have done it sooner. The bloggers I’ve met over these three years are amazing people. I’m happy that they’ve let me join them in creating whatever blogging will grow into.
I’d still like to do that big collaborative project that a bunch of us have been talking about for way too long.
4. I Would Not Have Turned on Comments. I turned on comments on my blog after not enabling them for close to the first two years of my blog’s life. Now that they are on, I don’t really think that I can (nor do I really want to ) turn them off. But I have a lot of second thoughts about them.
I estimate that the ratio of comment spam to good comments is at least 50:1. It’s part of my regular routine to clear out spam comments. On the other hand, one good comment from someone you respect makes all the hassle seem worth it – at least now that they are on. In retrospect, I would have left them turned off and ignored the people who like to say that you don’t have a “real blog” if you don’t have comments on.
5. I Would Not Have Spent Two Years Trying to Decide What the Right Thing to Do on Ads and Sponsorships Was and Then End Up at the Same Place I was at Two Years Ago. I used to write a lot on this topic. My feeling was that randomly-served ads really did not make sense for blogs (unless you have huge amounts of traffic) and that the National Public Radio sponsorship model was more appropriate for blogs. However, there was tons of discussion about ads on blogs, ads in feeds and related issues. I wanted to do the right thing and follow the model that the leading blog thinkers felt was best.
The blog world moved to server-based ads. I do some of that, through Blogads, in part because Henry Copeland was a speaker at our BlawgThink conference, but, now more than ever, I think that a tailored sponsorship model is the better approach. I’ll consider any approach these days and it is clear that the ad-based model has become a standard, but I think I should have gone my own way from the beginning.
6. I Would Have Done More Experimenting. I’m really curious to see where today’s generation of highly-focused, marketing-oriented blogs go. I think that many of them are great and I learn from them on a regular basis. I also know that most of the long-time bloggers are writing on topics and in ways that are far different and far broader than what they did when they started. It seems that somewhere between a year and a year-and-a-half, many bloggers start to write more personally or to explore new directions. It will be interesting, in a good way, to see what happens with the more corporate blogging efforts.
Some might say that I’ve probbaly experimented more than most with the blogging form. I still remember the negative feedback I got when I experimented with a blog post written in the third person.
However, there are many things I haven’t tried and I’d like to have been more willing to experiment with new features, approaches, audio and the like.
So, I’d add to Steve’s list of key points one thing – a willingness to experiment.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
Like what you are reading? Check out the other blogs where I post – Between Lawyers (feed) and the LexThink Blog (feed).

Comments

  1. says

    Good insights!
    I understand your position on comments–however, I think they are one of the things that makes a blog a blog. Without comments (and to some degree trackbacks) a blog is just a website that’s updated more frequently. To me, it’s the interaction between the author and the reader–to which comments are essential–that make a blog a *blog*.
    The bigger name bloggers that don’t take comments, to me, aren’t blogging at all. They are just web based columnists with a very frantic publishing schedule. :)

  2. says

    Dennis — excellent post. Steve put some great thoughts out there and you’ve added some good ideas to the mix.
    You know that I’ve been experimenting at Promote the Progress…Here’s some of my current thinking on blogs:
    1. RSS — My site deals primarily with a very narrow topic – patent law and policy. The great majority of my audience comes to the site via direct visits and searches. Most of my audience has not adopted RSS. Because of this, I have designed my site for the web visitors. I still make RSS available, but I put the work into catering to the 95% that come to the site using traditional browsers. One great thing about blogs is the ability to tailor the actual site to web visitors while still providing content via RSS. You can have your cake and it eat too!
    2. Blogrolls – I hate them. In fact, I have completely eliminated mine. The blogroll is an artifact of some blogging packages and, as everyone knows, is present primarily as a search engine manipulator. Anyone interested in the topics I discuss are probably already reading the same blogs that I read, so I don’t think a blogroll provides much utility to my readers. The visual clutter created on the site by the presence of a blogroll is too great a cost for such a limited benefit, in my opinion. There’s a side effect of blogrolls that is annoying too — every new blogger wants to be listed in your blogroll if you’ve got one…so they e-mail you and ask to be added. Arrrghhh.
    3. Comments – I, like you, have struggled here. Comments are currently turned off at Promote the Progress simply because of the spam problem. The new version of MovableType does a good job of detecting comment spam, so I’m conisdering turning them on again. But, there’s another reason underlying my decision to turn comments off – the blog is my face to the professional community. Some commenters, while not spammers, post things that I would not. When this happens, is it enough for me to respond to these comments to clearly spell out my thoughts on the matter? Maybe, but that creates an additional workload that I’m not currently willing to take on. So, for now, I’m leaving them off.
    4. Design — make the website visually pleasing and easy to navigate and use. I have completed a major transformation at Promote the Progress that focused on the design. I eliminated “clutter” items like the blogroll and date-based archive links (does anyone ever navigate a blog this way? Did anyone ever ask “hmmm, I wonder what Matt said in March of 2004?” I don’t think so….). Doug Sorocco is a design guru, and he helped me alot. Design is important and should be a primary concern for all blogs.
    5. Architecture – What do I mean by this? Make the site (not talking about RSS here) easy to navigate and use. If a reader comes into an individual archive via a Google search, they should be able to jump to other related pages quickly. When visiting these archives, they should be immediately introduced to you and your site just like they would have had they come to the main or front page of the site. Keywords, tags and the like make this relatively easy to accomplish. Couple that with good design, and you’ve got a winning site.
    I hope this helps. Make sure you let me know when you decide to redesign the blog! ;-)
    Matt

  3. says

    Regarding comment spam, you might want to look at using a “are you human” test in your comment form. I wasn’t sure about doing it, but once I made the switch, I find that I’ve had to weed out far less comments. In fact, in the last month, I haven’t received any spam comments and the number of real comments seems to have increased. It works so well that I’ve stopped pre-moderating comments.
    Specifically, I started using HMPassphrase that works with MT. There is the small annoyance of having to modify your comment form (and the comment preview form).