Better Blogging Mini-Series Conclusion

Over the past four weeks, I've worked on a mini-series all about bettering myself as a blogger. I wrote about usability and your blog, writing for your blog, connecting bloggers, and creating networks. Reading the assigned text gave me insight to some concepts I never thought of before. It made me realize that my presence on the internet is not going to be well-known unless I work for it. I want to "link up" to some of my classmates so you, my dear reader, will get better insight to the topics I brought up in my mini-series. 

Rosalinda Writes gives a thorough book review of Steve Krug's, "Don't Make Me Think!" which is a great introduction to creating and maintaining usability on the web. As bloggers, it's important to remember that we create the user experience. Readers come to my blog for a specific reason, whether it's because they know me and want insight to my life, or they are strangers and want a peek into my life via pictures and some text. Understanding your audience is the first step to creating the reader experience. 

Cheyenne Independent does a great book review of "Aim for the Heart" by Al Tompkins. Speaking of creating the user experience, Al Tompkins discusses the need for the journalist to give the reader a chance to be interactive with the news story. In the context of blogging, it's important for readers to have options on my blog: commenting, jumping from story to story with ease, clickable links, photos and text. The reader should be able to come to my blog and have options. Easy enough, right? Actually, no, this is not easy. It takes some thought! 

LaVida News and Reader Inspired deliver with insight on the importance of connecting with others and how closely linked we all really are. "Linked" by Albert-Laszlo Barbasi is a difficult book to digest, the concepts are complex but LaVida News and Reader Inspired do a great job of breaking down the important points. LaVida News discusses how information is passed from one person to another by using "The Party" as a great and easy to understand example. She writes, "at a party with ten guests, none of whom initially knows one another, social ties form as the guests start chatting in small groups. At first, the groups are isolated from each other. Indeed, though there are social links between those in the same group, everyone outside of that group is still a stranger. As time goes on, three guests move to different groups and a giant cluster emerges. Although not everyone knows everyone else, there is now a single social network that includes all the guests. By following the social links, one can now find a path between any two guests." See the importance of linking up? Reader Inspired touches on the weak vs. strong links. Weak ties are important in the blogging world because these ties are where we find inspiration and new ideas. Strong ties are the people at home that support your efforts on the internet but weak ties are the bloggers you create online friendships with and discuss link up opportunities. Linking up will give a blogger better presence on the internet. 

The ending chapters of "Linked" are a lot more difficult for me to wrap my head around so I decided to pick the two writers who sum it up in an understandable fashion. Great Basin Photography narrates an example of the power of hubs and online placement. He mentions that his comment on a news web board went viral due to the placement of his comment, he receive a lot of likes which kept him at the top of the comment series. Think about this in terms of networking your blog and creating relevant link ups. You will sit high on a search engine if the search engine doesn't have to do much to find you. If his comment is your website and the people clicking are people "searching" the web for a keyword on your site or clicking on you from another site, then you continue to gain "popularity" online. Bernard's Blog writes about how everything is interconnected and that we as humans, have always been forming social networks. As human beings, we recognize the "network" and how we interact within that network. He makes a great point by stating, "if we can get our networks in shape and understand how they work, how to feed them and how to keep them healthy we can create great opportunities to succeed in getting our information into the place we intend them to go." In terms of blogging, this means we have to recognize the network in which we want to reside and work to build those weak ties mentioned by Reader Inspired to ensure a strong network. The strength of your network dictates the strength of your blog. 

To Link or Not to Link

After finishing the last few chapters of “Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Elseand What it Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life” by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi my brain is tired. Sometimes the concept of blogging seems simple, right? Create a blog with a relevant topic, take pictures, post blogs, comment on other blogs, and bam! Internet success overnight! Only, it never really happens that way. There are so many pieces to this blogging puzzle that it can seem daunting and overwhelming. I take the time to take pictures of my food, my outfits, and my day-to-day happenings, write an eloquent post (that’s relative), and post it to my blog. It gets a few hits but no comments and certainly no overnight popularity. It makes me question, “What am I doing wrong?”

Technically, I (as a blogger) am not doing anything “wrong.” When thinking about the Internet, we have to consider the code and architecture of our cyberspace. “Code – or software – is the bricks and mortar of cyberspace. The architecture is what we build, using the code as building blocks” (174). The architecture is determined by “code” and “collective human actions” which includes the way we interact with the Internet or in this case, the “blog-o-sphere”. The reason why my blog did not gain popularity overnight is due to my blog having too weak of a voice. Consider the fact that there are many blogs out there basically selling what I’m selling: daily happenings and some fashion. As a reader, you have probably seen and read what I have to say already. The Internet has no way to search me because I’m not part of the “hub.” In order for a search engine to notice me, I must have “twenty-one to one hundred incoming links” (174). This means that other bloggers are linking to me because they agree with my view, liked something on my page (or not), and/or want others to check out something they have discovered. “Your ability to find my Webpage is determined by one factor only: its position on the Web… my node will slowly turn into a minor hub, and search engines will inevitably notice” (175).

By linking, we are creating a network of bloggers who share similar interests and ideas. I believe one thing my blog lacks is a specific topic. At first, my blog was about my weight-loss journey, then it turned into a half-assed fashion blog, and then I just started writing about my daily happenings. In order to have a stronger voice in the blogging world, I have to have a stance. It can be difficult to find when my time to blog is limited and I’m sure you feel the same. “Linked” has given me some great insight to how the internet works and how I can make the internet work for me. At first, you may feel overwhelmed with the topics as they range from networking to viruses (AIDS), but it may help steer your blog and the way you use your blog in a different (and better) direction!

So my lovely bloggers, it’s time to start linking to your favorite blogs to make this hub grow! 

Also - see this video about "Linked" as I thought it was a great overview of the book: "Connected: How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer".

Connecting Bloggers

This week I was asked to read, “Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life” by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi and at first, the concepts were difficult for me to wrap my head around. Albert-Laszlo discusses the importance of “connections” and how these connections began as mathematical theories which let's face it, I'm terrible at math! But for the sake of blogging purposes I overcame my fear of learning math and then realized I didn't need to know math to understand his concepts and found two that I want to discuss from the book. As a blogger, it’s important for me to understand how to generate traffic on my page, network with other bloggers, and then how to maintain those connections and keep traffic. It’s not as easy as posting link and commenting on another blog, it takes a lot more thought. Let’s consider these concepts: nodes and links and six degrees of separation.

Nodes and links are the driving force behind all interactions in person and on the web. Nodes are considered “people” or “points on a network.” It is by these nodes that we connect by links to from networks. Think about the networks you have created through other people. When I first read about this concept I thought of the fashion blogging world. The majority of fashion bloggers, especially popular ones like GabiFresh, created a network of not only readers but supporters and fans and other bloggers who were doing the same thing. Gabi is part of the Young and Posh Blogger Network: a network of nodes (individual bloggers) who link (create a network) to each other’s site. The website dedicated to the network does a great job of showing the connection between these bloggers. Another network for fashion bloggers is Independent Fashion Bloggers where you can find other fashion bloggers, learn about meet ups, and gain some fashion blogging knowledge!

Now that we know a little about nodes and networks (people and how they ‘link up’), let’s think about the Kevin Bacon game (Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon) and how this theory may not be a game after all. First, let’s say that the world is not as big as we think it is. According to the Poisson distribution “most of us have roughly the same number of friends and acquaintances. It predicts that it is exponentially rare to find someone who deviates from the average by having considerably more or fewer links than the average person” (22). This means that the potential to create bigger and better networks is increased. You may be asking yourself, “why then, do I not have more followers?” Let’s consider the links on your page and other blogger’s pages or lack there of. The important lesson here is to begin creating links and requesting that other bloggers link back to you. The more links you have out in the web, the more chances you gain for click traffic. Some great ways to increase this is through Facbeook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram: start linking back to your site. Give Internet browsers a chance to click back to your site.  While Six Degrees of Separation helps your chances of gaining followers, you have to reach other and discover your own six degrees of separation: what ties you to other bloggers. 

Writing for Your Blog

Last week, I wrote about blogs and usability. This week, I want to discuss how to tell your story online. In “Aim for the Heart” by Al Tompkins, I’m taught that writing for online is not the same as writing for television for news journalists. Online storytelling requires a lot more pieces; first, it needs to be interactive. Readers want to consume new stories on their terms. They want to be able to click through a news story and discover what is relevant to them. For example, when there was a stand off in Imperial Beach (my neighborhood), I wanted to know how close this was happening in relation to my house. When I went to local news channels online sites, it gave me the general address but no map. While this did not hinder me from searching on Google Maps, I had to take an extra step, which news sites should avoid. Second, online storytelling requires updating because once a story is published online, it gets archived. Consumers can refer back to these archived publications and should have the most up-to-date information.

Now I want to put this in context of online writing for a blog. The blogging world is a bit different.  Most blogs are not updating the public on big media stories. In fact, the majority of blogs that I read talk about fashion, fitness, and the Paleo lifestyle. These blogs should still follow similar, if not the same, rules that local news sites follow. When I go to a Paleo lifestyle blog, I want the most recent information on Paleo trends or recipes. Balanced Bites does a great job of keeping her readers updated through medias such as Facebook and Instagram. Her website is also easy to read and shows the most recent updates on top of her page. Most importantly, her website is interactive. She includes videos, Podcasts, pictures, and written stories.

Other important tip to remember is that online publishing also needs to keep SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in mind. When writing a story, remember to use words that readers are going to type into their search engines to find your story. Al Tompkins writes, “the first rule of SEO is brevity” (176). Ensure that the words in the headline “capture the content of the story” (176). Readers don’t want to be lied to when clicking on a news story. Optimizing a headline would include using words that frequently show up in the story. While most writers want to be “clever,” search engines cannot search cleverness. If I’m writing about San Diego Fashion Week, the title for my blog entry should read, “San Diego Fashion Week Brings Out the Local Fashionistas” instead of “Local Fashionistas Unite.” While both titles capture the story, the first headline is going to get better SEO. 

While some bloggers might say that they don't want a "fan base," I personally feel empowered when people read my blog. I'm posting on a local forum for the entire world to potentially read. I want people to read my blog and relate to what I'm writing. Al Tompkins writes about understanding your online audience. Blogger is a great platform for blogging because it allows me to view how readers are finding my site (the most searched keyword: "Musings of Kristen" which to me means, this person knows my blog pretty well). It also shows me what entries people are reading the most (the previous one is on top right now) and also where my readers are from. In the online publishing world, journalists need to know these stats. It helps journalists know what their readers are interested and how to keep bringing them back to their site. In journalism, it's important to cater to what your reader wants especially if it means bringing traffic to your site. Hmm... now I have to consider how to bring readers back to my site. 

Aside from posting more frequently, what, dear readers, do you want to read?

The Importance of Usability and Your Blog

After reading Steve Krug’s, “Don’t Make Me Think,” I started to think about all the websites and blogs that I frequent and whether or not they’re easy to navigate. I’ve experienced many frustrations when entering a website and not being able to find what I’m looking for in a quick search.  I’ve also entered many blogs and left due to the content. While there are plenty of lessons in "Don't Make Me Think," three lessons stuck out to me: conventions, omitting needless words, and the importance of a search function.

He states that as users, we are constantly looking for conventions. As someone who grew up using the Internet, I never really thought about how I learned to navigate it. Krug states, “well applied conventions make it easier for users to go from site to site without expending a lot of effort figuring out how things work” (35). This is important when reading through a site. The more I have to read through a website, the less I want to stay on it. Our conventions tell us where links are on the page, how to get back to the home page, and how to submit a form and there is no thinking involved when a website takes advantage of this. However, not all websites, or bloggers, are created equally.

What does this mean for us bloggers? It means that we need to start considering our readers. While our blogs tend to be advertised as our personal space on the web, we still want readers to relate to us and find comfort in familiarity. Krug writes about omitting “needless” words (also see Usability Guidelines). I asked myself why it would be important to omit words in my blog entries and while I feel there is a time and place for long posts about significant life happenings, I also feel that the reader just wants a quick peek into my life. He also discusses the importance of getting rid of “noise.” The benefit that stood out to me was that it would make “useful content more prominent” (45). As a blogger, I want the reader to find usefulness in what I’m writing because I want them to come back.

Last, Krug explains the importance of adding a search function to your website (he also discusses it in this interview). The search function allows users to quickly navigate a website by simply typing in a word and discovering results. I want my site to be searchable and this is why I use labels and will start using “anchor texts”. Anchor texts give my blog a better chance of showing up when a specific word is typed into Google. They will be key when blogging about reviews or linking to relevant entries. The search function, labels, and anchor texts add an element of usability to my blog and make it different from other similar blogs.

While Blogger is a great platform due to it's many options and tools to personal a blog, it’s up to us to make our blogs usable. As more blogs appear on the internet, it will be crucial for me to continue to critique my site and make it better. If anything, Steve Krug shares that we should always be learning and reviewing our websites. Even as technology advances, Krug finds that usability is still a constant struggle for web designers. Here is a recent (2009) slide show that Krug did for New Riders Voices That Matter Conference, "What I Have Learned So Far in the 21st Century". He discusses what he has learned since writing “Don’t Make Me Think." 

Making a Comeback

It's been a long time since I last wrote in this journal. My life has changed a lot in the past few months. Sometimes I sit and wonder how I got here and I'm sad that I have nothing to refer back to. My memory isn't as good as it use to be and so significant events, though I remember them, are fuzzy and I need someone to help jog my memory all the time. I guess the biggest announcement is that I'm going back to school in July. I finally decided to go back and get my Masters in Strategic Communication through National University. Although not my first choice for schooling, I knew it was now or never and I couldn't take myself out of the workforce to attend SDSU. I'm really nervous for school to start. I feel like my life is going to change again and in a dramatic way. My priorities are going to shift and I'm going to feel a bit overwhelmed at times.

I want to start writing again because it's theraputic and because I wan to share how wonderful my life is now. Things are falling into place and everything is beginning to make sense. I am so excited for life (though nervous, too!)

I can't wait to reconnect with people.

Hello, world!
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