Blogging Friends: Spreading The Love

See that column on the bottom right? That’s my Blogroll. I wrote this as a static page but was so blown away as I pondered the qualities of my various blogging friends that I thought I’d make it a post, too. These are all people I know offline and I would like to introduce them to you in no particular order:

Nick Howes: Developing leaders and organisations to their full potential.

Nick is the associate Director at LMI UK (Leadership Management), a training and development company that has been going since 1966 – that’s a long time for this kind of company. Nick is based in Coventry. His blog shares gems of wisdom in leadership and training, motivation, planning, and goal setting in a nice informal style.

Liz Coughlan: Geriatric Gapper

I first met Liz when I was about 5 in Zimbabwe. Since then she has travelled and taught all over the world in England, the USA, Zimbabwe, Spain, Argentina, South Africa, Thailand, El Salvador, Malaysia, Italy and Turkey. Currently based in Turkey and retired from teaching, Liz blogs her travel experiences and the colourful life of Istanbul. She also writes at Helium.

Daniel Sladen: true//edible

Daniel was my room mate for the first term at University, he is one of the most intelligent people I know, and a gifted philosopher. He is a tax expert and city banker in London but he is on a mission to share fine recipes and discover an authentic experience of “church” in the 21st Century; both of which he does very well on his blog.

Ben Jiggins: These Thoughts of Mine

Ben is an elf from Middle Earth thinly diguised as a science teacher. He has a thoroughly considered opinion on just about everything so his thoughts are worth a read. Ben blogs about books, films, music and fragments of contemporary culture as well as random uncategorizable stuff.

Gabriel Smy: The Tongues Of Men

Content Guru by day and Novelist by night, Gabriel is a man with a vorpal pen. If pens were swords his would be Saldin’s Scimitar. His chameleonic ability with poetry, web copy, and fiction is an inspiration to me. Gabriel is based in Cambridge and blogs about his coming novel, “The Tongues of Men” and all things writing.

Marika Rose: Theologies

Marika … I can’t really tie it down in a single phrase. She’s an academic theologian with not the slightest hint of bluestocking. Her blog does what it says on the tin, “Theologies”. Marika makes the wierd and wonderful ideas of bygone and current thinkers accessible and relevant to laymen like me.

James: James’ Blog

James IS a giant peach. By that I mean a soul with an engulfing sweetness it would take years to explore. James is based in the cultural melting pot of Bradford and blogs very honestly about his faith. He dares to say out loud the stuff that most of us won’t admit to thinking.

Becky Hunter: visual artist, itinerant art historian, freelance writer

Another of my greatest inspirations, Becky is insanely prolific and seems to cram into a single day what I can only hope to achieve in a week. Where does she find the time and energy to flit between York and Philadelphia, interviewing artists about their work, delivering talks, drawing and creating original artwork, and writing for magazines? She is amazing.

Emily Phillips: Emily Tamara’s Blog

After working like a trojan for several months, fighting off dastardly infections and saving all she can, Emily is at last starting at Nexus Music College in Coventry. Read about her experiences and adventures in faith … or even better, sponsor her!

Sally Heasley: Sally Heasley Illustration

Sally’s artwork has an illustrator’s simplicity of line and lightness of touch. It makes me think of icecream and parasols and has an atmosphere of unihibited joyousness. Her blog showcases her recent work and current projects and she sells lovely screenprints and cards at her www.sallyheasley.co.uk.

Heather Lawson: Home Grown Heather

Heather and her husband, Mark, are urban gardeners taking small steps towards sustainability and The Good Life in Durham, UK. Every time I see them, there is a new idea on the horizon of their ever-widening visions and plans. Heather blogs about the simple pleasures of their little plot and other exciting projects.

Stuart Porter: Eat More Raw

Meet the man who eats 30 bananas a day! Since breaking free from a host of physical ailments – back pain, IBS and fatigue – by changing his diet, Stuart has become an advocate of the raw vegan lifestyle. He proves that you really can thrive on raw fruit and vegetables. He has a YouTube channel and is always pushing the limit of what can be achieved on his diet. He also sleeps without a pillow and runs barefoot – a true man.

Tim Mayo: Cool Christian Culture

Tim works for a homelessness charity and in his spare time he surfs and ponders Christian Culture from the perspective of a visual and new media artist. I love this humble man and his relentless quest to be a better person and live alive. His blog highlights some great charities, beautiful artwork, music and films and tries to see where “cool” and “christian” meet. He plays a mean guitar, too.

Dr. J: Heart Soul Mind and Strength

A man of bass, beats and strong convictions, I have had the privilege of playing in bands with Jason during his years at Durham University. Jason is a DJ and musician, never seen without cans on his head. His blog is a mix of photography, videos and other creative projects. He’s another of those people who crams every day full. Where does he get the energy? Loves God, nuff said.

Sian Aynsley: Literal Librarian

Another Durham graduate from the old university days. Sian held the record as a longtime housemate to my wife until I overtook her a couple of years ago. She has gone on to become one of the new breed of librarians; by that I mean unstuffy, savvy, information management ninjas. Currently working as an NHS librarian and blogging in that niche, Sian always has creative projects going on the side where she lets the artist out.

Robyn Trainer: Floral Footsteps

Robyn Works for the Ethical Superstore and is forging a second career as a photographer, illustrator, and florist. I don’t know anyone who can put so much life into a few penstrokes and a blotch of colour. She blogs about the projects she is working on and the lovely people in her world.

Matt Finn: Confessions of an Undercover Theologian

Matt is the living proof that there is so much more to Geography than colouring in. His blog has been going for years. Matt is doing a PHD and the “undercover theologian” bit is about revealing the theological dimension in absolutely everything he does, geographical and otherwise. His posts are always thought provoking and very current from, “How Emphasis can Quickly Become Reductionism” to, “Keep Anachronisms Relevant”.

Pete Phillips: postmodernbible

Pete is Secretary of the Methodist Church’s Faith and Order Committee and Director of Research for Centre for Biblical Literacy at St John’s College, Durham. He’s also a Dad and an avid tweeter and social media networker. He’s massively involved in advocating for the Bible in a digital age, dashing round the country with a bag full of i-gadgets and writes about all this stuff on his blog. In spite of having such a full mind, you always feel that he is 100% with you when he’s with you – I covet that quality.

Chris Juby: Christian spirituality, web design, reading, music and life

Chris is the arts and media man at my church and runs his own web design show. He shot to fame in August 2010 with his herculean project to tweet the whole bible at biblesummary. He’s one of my most valued brotherly confidants and encouragers. He blogs his worship sets and the books he is reading. Sorted Geezer!

Editorial Policies

Suite101 has a 13 year history of providing a place for both casual and dedicated writers to publish articles and generate a passive income. It has also maintained a reputation for being a reliable source of expertise as many of the Suite101 writers are specialists in their field. It is a great place to write, a supportive writing community with a broad range of topics and editors who work hard to ensure consistent quality accross the site. Is some of this about to change?

This month’s revised editorial policy could be a significant shift and I only hope it is in the right direction. For me, one of the great appeals of writing at the Suite were the fair but stringent editorial guidelines and the minimum requirement of 10 articles every three months. Having written for some article aggregators that had neither of these, it was refreshing to come to a place where quality really mattered.

The new policy abandons the minimum requirements and relaxes some of the standards for submissions, allowing for opinion and a voice other than the objective third person. It seems to have been well received by the community and I’ll admit I breathed a little sigh of relief, too. The quotas were tyrannical for people writing in very rare and specialised niches and struggling to generate articles in sufficient quantity. The new policy also provides more scope for creative flair and colour in the writing.

However, I have also been reflecting recently, in light of the buzz around Demand Media and widespread concern about the web becoming flooded with low grade SEO copy, wondering if the frenzied article writing bubble is going to pop any time soon. Search engines are going to have to develop increasingly sophisticted algorithms to ensure that well written and informative content continues to rise to the top. At the end of the day I like robust editorial policies and I like being told when something is not up to scratch. I appreciate and aspire to a professional style. If I want to do opinion in the first person I’ll do it here.

Of course, slightly more relaxed editorial guidelines mean more articles get published, translating to more pages and more revenue for more people – or does it just mean more people competing for a finite number of clicks? Who will be the winner in the long run?

On balance, Suite101 is also opening up opportunities for writers of newsworthy items to have them listed on Google News which has some commitment to the integrity of reportage. The relaxed quotas may also mean that there is not a great change in the number of articles being published but I really hopeThe Suite keeps its reputation for quality intact.

Links:

Demand Media Debate – Content Farming VS Unique Content – By Joe Leija on TMBlog

My Suite101 Profile

Google News Guidelines

How To Get Me To Read Your Blog

I’m not an expert but a couple of people have asked me recently about how they might improve their blogs. From the top of my head, here are 9 things that will make me more likely to read your blog regularly.

1. Syndicate

I follow between 50 and 100 blogs at any given time, I don’t have time to visit every page so I use Bloglines. Please provide a link to an RSS feed for your blog and I am more likely to subscribe.

2. Introduce Yourself

I’d like to know who you are before I read your opinions and stuff. I like to have a rough idea where you are coming from and what your credentials are. This sounds heavy, It doesn’t mean I won’t read you unless you have a certain level of education – I just want to feel like I am hearing from someone who has experience of what they are talking about.

3. Lighten Up

Let your personality come through a little. I don’t like endless opinionated posts or to be constantly reminded of how quirky you are but I do like to get a sense of the person behind the posts. If I want dry facts I can get them from other sites. The whole point of a blog is the human touch.

4. Don’t Use Big Words

Frequent visits to dictionary.com really halt the flow of my reading and I might start to think of you as pompous if you use big words when small ones will do.

5. Have a Purpose

I am more likely to read your blog if it seems to have a purpose. As well as asking myself “who” is this blogger, I also want to know “why” are you blogging. If the answer to that question seems to be an, “I don’t really know” then I’m unlikely to read you. Let there be an overarching theme or purpose at least, even if your posting topics are very eclectic or general.

6. Give Me Links

I want something to click on! That’s why I’m online, to click on stuff. It makes me feel like I have choices. Seriously, your blog goes up in my estimation if feels like it is linked in to the rest of the net, not standing aloof. I like blogrolls and bloggers who point to and compliment what others are doing. I like blogs that share the love around a bit. I also like to be pointed to more information or sources on the topic of the post incase I want to read more. Don’t overkill on anchored links in the text, though, I’d like to get to the end of your post and then have the option of following a couple of relevant links.

7. Break It Up and Flow It

This is a stylistic preference but will make your blog more enjoyable for me to read. When I see a huge chunk of text I skip it, I know I’m pathetic and have a poor concentration span but so do most of us. Break it down into short paragraphs and it’s a bit easier on my eyes. I also can’t stand when people put large pictures inlined between chunks of text that I have to scroll past to carry on reading. I love text that flows around smaller pictures.

8. Reply to my Comments

Even if you just say “hi, thanks for the comment”. This makes me feel like there’s someone there who takes the time to check their comments, it will make me like you more and there’s a good chance I will keep following your blog if I have already commented on it and I am starting to like you.

9. Post Regularly But Not Too Regularly

When I am clearing out the deadwood from my feed aggregator, if there is a blog that has not been updated for two weeks, I will need a very good reason to stay subscribed – if you post only once a month, it had better be pure gold when you do! I like to read blogs that are active and content that is current. If, on the other hand, you update more than two or three times a day, I will tend to assume you have no life and will probably tire of wading through your twenty posts a week quite quickly unless, once again, they are pure gold. If I want a minute-by-minute commentary on global information streams, there’s twitter.

My guess is that I’m a fairly typical blog reader, but feel free to comment if you vehemently agree or disagree or have any other tips to add.

(c) 2010 Seymour Jacklin

Check Out:

What’s your blog really About?

Overcoming the Curse of the Generalist: Categories, Tags and Niche Blogging

I had an interesting conversation yesterday afternoon with Robyn from Floral Footsteps. Robyn works for The Ethical Superstore and is also quietly exploring how to turn a profit from her hobbies, floristry, photography and illustration.

For those of us who are tantalised by the possiblity of making a living from the things we love doing there is no option to ignore the internet. The first port of call for a creative entrepreneur who wants to develop an online presence is to start a blog (like this one). Updated with fresh content regularly, the blog is a place to grow interest in your work and, to use a cringeworthy cliche, “build your personal brand”.

Multibloggers

But what if you are an all-rounder with at least five irons in the fire? How do you effectively use a blog when you are a jack of all trades? Are people coming to your site for information on current developments in green technology really going to want to wade through your musings on art history and pet health? Can you really brand yourself as a plumber-drummer-standup-comedian-who-grows-orchids?

Pic of Swiss Army Knife
Is there a place for the generalist?

Unfortunately not. Received wisdom dictates that you should be able to condense what you do into a neat strap-line and a 30 second elevator pitch to a targeted audience.

It is “expertise” that people are looking for. The jack of all trades is in danger of falling between several stools (ouch). A few brilliant rennaissance men and women may have come to a place where they can be branded as an “everything person” but it will take a while for most of us to get there.

Here’s my advice for all-round-bloggers:

Tagging and Categories

Firstly, good use can be made of the options of tagging and categories offered by the major blogging platforms. Even if your blog covers a multitude of expert areas, make sure that your tag or category clouds are clearly visible so that your posts can be filtered by interest.

Niche Blogging

Secondly, if there is some content type that is becoming dominant, consider moving it over to a niche blog. I have just done this with my photography stuff by starting The Analog Photog Blog. You may have to become a multi-blogger. This is not as complicated as it sounds – after all, you have set up one blog … why not ten?

However, before you rush off to start a plumbing blog and a drumming blog, consider seriously if you can realistically keep the content coming? That blog is a “sucker, you have to be able to feed that mother,” to quote one of my Anthropology tutors (describing the human brain). Can you make at least one post a week to your new niche blog?

Blogs to Read

For an example of a good generalist blog I would point you in the direction of Matt at Undercover Theologian. Matt blogs very broadly on geography, education, science and life and makes connections with theology. The broadness of his remit still hangs together quite nicely as everything he sees, hears, and learns becomes grist to the mill of his unique perspective. There is enough of a general overarching theme to hold it all together. Matt is the kind of person whose overview of a broad range of topics will become well respected over time.

By contrast, for a real magnifying-glass-and-tweezers niche blog, check out Sian, The Literal Librarian. Sian writes as an NHS librarian and reflects on stuff that is very specific to information management. What I like about Sian’s blog is that the rest of her intrudes into the librarian-speak every now and then. Sian also happens to be an accomplished artist and allowing a bit more breadth in there keeps the blog from being too dry.

Whatever you blog, it is worth stopping and thinking, “why do I blog?” and “what do I have to give to the world?” and trying to shape things areound the answers to these questions.

Thanks Robyn for the chat and idea for something to write about today.

A Bluffer’s Guide To My New Writing Job

In the last few weeks I have been asked what I am doing by the curious, the interested, and the concerned:

Two writing peeps in a cafe
Writing: Freedom, Flexibility, Hard Work

“What sort of writing do you do?”
“How is writing going?”
“What do you write?”

For some people I need to clarify that I am not hiding in a garret penning the next “Harry Potter”. I jokingly tell people that I’m “pimping my pen” and I’ll write whatever pays although I feel a little bit smeared, talking like that. The truth is that I am so excited by a world of possibilities that I hardly know where to start.

I started writing stories when I was about 7 years old. These short creative pieces were to entertain my classmates and impress my teacher and, as I recall, they included the various adventures of “Sammy the Scout” and something about a creature called “The Mugglepop”. At various points in my life ever since, I have told everyone that I am going to be a writer; that is between wanting to be a priest, a musician, a tree surgeon and a hermit.

I have kept a journal since my early teens and one of the advantages of this process has been being able to reflect on the themes in my life that have outlasted the many phases that my family learned not to take too seriously.

Writing surfaces like the many humps of the Loch Ness monster in every part of my life. I would encourage anyone to think of starting a journal if only to help them to identify the repeated footfalls of the greater themes in their life. At some point you have to fall in step with them or forever be running away.

That is why I now find myself getting up each morning, having an executive board meeting with myself to determine the targets for the day and then settling to it as quickly as I can, knowing that the distractions of homeworking on your own schedule can make a shipwreck of your day quicker than the Sirenuse.

At the moment my focus is on churning out articles for the web that mine my experience, my hobbies, my curiosity and my imagination. Every website needs content and, since the Internet is rapidly expanding in all directions, this represents a virtually bottomless market. It is not only bottomless in terms of the opportunities offered, but it is also bottomless in respect of how cheaply some writers are prepared to sell their words and this makes it fairly competitive, too.

There are numerous ways of selling writing on the web. I am trying all of them and intend to post more about this in the coming weeks. For today I have set myself the target of writing three 500-word articles, a blog post (this), an enquiry letter to a former client (done already), and reviewing some of the outsourcing sites with the intention of registering with one or two of them and bidding for work.

More on that later …

Meantime, check this out:

Why Outsourcing your Web Content to a Freelance Writer is a Smart Choice

and: Seymour Jacklin Freelance Writing and Editorial Services

Thanks, Facebook … it was fun while it lasted …

People sign up to facebook for a number of reasons, but the one I most often hear is a variation on a theme of,  “my friends told me it would be a good way of staying in touch”. This is true. The social networking site, Facebook, is a phenomenal tool for getting and staying in touch with friends near and far. However it is also a potential time waster that can ensnare all but the most disciplined in an endless round of “friending”, “poking”, commenting, “liking”, uploading and all sorts of activities that, in my humble opinion, are weak shadows of what real friendship is.

Thanks to Facebook we have a new verb, “to friend”, but what does having 500 faces in your list really mean? Serial mono-friendist? Insecure but appears popular? I think Facebook has a great a time-limited usefulness and in this article I propose an approach that will make the best use of it without getting hooked, wasting time, or compromising your online privacy.

Facebook (Huh) What Is It Good For? Find It, Friend It, Forget All About It.