9 Years of Blogging: Lessons from the Trenches

It is May 20 today and that means two things. First, it’s the 5 year birthday of this handsome boy. Without a doubt, his day will be filled with belly rubs and snacks… as it should be.

But secondly, this is my 9th anniversary of blogging. It’s also the 9th anniversary of me installing WordPress for the first time and embarking on, what would become, a career change and my livelihood. This month, WordPress celebrates it’s 10th birthday which makes me a WordPresser for almost all of the time it has been around.

In that time, I have dabbled in everything from traditional blogging (evolving from political blogging to personal blogging to blogging about blogging to social media blogging to business blogging…. and on and on), to writing code for bloggers use to writing a book for developers to consulting on WordPress projects, etc.

I may have learned something or other along the way. From my 9 years, let me share some of my thoughts:

Blogging Never Killed Journalism

In the hey day, everyone suspected that “old media” was a dying breed and that blogs would overtake old media and replace it. While it is certainly true that old media had to adjust to the digital age, I think it’s more relevant (and healthy!) that blogging began to complement traditional media, as I noted in 2010. Today, most of the major news organizations maintain blogs and journalists wear the hat of traditional reporters and maintain more loosely structured blogs as well.

The same can be said about other forms of digital media – Twitter, primarily, but Reddit and other Social Media destinations as well. While it’s certainly true that breaking news travels much faster on digital platforms (including blogs) than traditional, the fact is that traditional publications still have a relevancy and can get a job done in a better way that digital sometimes.

This is particularly true for long form content. On the internet, there is an inherent ADD that causes many readers (including myself) to get distracted easily and not be able to consume long-form content as easily. If I had to back-of-napkin guess, I’m guessing the sweet-spot for online articles is between 300-700 words. This article will, of course, blow that number out of the water. It is rare that you see great long-form content from publications other than The Atlantic, Ars Technica, the New Yorker, etc.

Notably, it was Sports Illustrated’s print edition that carried the story, that has since been published online, about NBA Center Jason Collins coming out as gay. That was an important piece of journalism with far-reaching political and cultural fallout. And it wasn’t printed online first. It was printed in traditional media.

Get Rich Quick with Blogging? Fugghedabotit!

Oh boy, do I remember the days when everyone fashioned themselves a pro-blogger. Throws some ads up, write content and PROFIT!

While there’s a part of me that wished that model worked (Damn, that would be so easy… I’d never have to work again!!!), life is never that easy. First of all, the advertising bubble was just that… a bubble. The fact that usable metrics (that advertisers with real money wanted) around long-tail sites could boost income was (and still is) a farce. You need to be able to show some level of guarantee of traffic (CPM) or relevancy with a user propensity for buying (CPA). Otherwise, why buy the ad spots at more than “remnant” (i.e. cheap) rates. Remnants aren’t going to pay your salary, much less your coffee bill for the month. I abandoned advertising on this site a long time ago.

Protip: Affiliate advertising still can convert very well and, if handled properly, could potentially earn someone a living.

Data Portability is actually important

Data portability – the ability to take all your content and pick up and go somewhere else – used to be the domain of radical, technarchists like Dave Winer. However, with recent acquisitions of companies like Instagram by Facebook or the very recent Tumblr acquisition by Yahoo!, where reportedly 72,000 Tumblr blogs were moved into the WordPress.com silo in a single day, the ability for users to take their content somewhere else is actually a primary concern these days. It didn’t use to be like this, but notably enough of these events have scared users into wondering what happens when their platform of choice goes out of business or is bought.

Personally, for these reasons as well as things like SEO and domain canonicalization, I’d always recommend people have their own site and use open source self-hosted solutions like WordPress.org or even one of the (in my opinion) inferior open source content management systems out there. Control your own destiny.

Journalistic Integrity

Many bloggers fancy themselves as journalists. They’ve never gone to J school. Never got a degree. Never learned the art of sourcing. All they have is a laptop, a loud mouth and something to rant about.

To be fair, there have been hundreds of bloggers who have turned into amazing journalists in their own right, broke stories, developed sources, protected their integrity with confirmations, etc. Then there’s the rest of bloggers who hear something, run with it, write a story that is poorly sourced (“a source inside Congress told me…”) with little to no confirmable facts and want to be respected as journalists. There’s a reason why real journalists look down their noses at bloggers like this. And rightly so. Also, why everyone looks down their nose at CNN… ahem *cough cough* )

Not to mention the spate of bloggers who have historically expected freebies for “review” or otherwise. Another thing separating real journalists from bloggers.


There are probably dozens of lessons learned from the past 9 years. Don’t hold yourself to a posting schedule… write when you have something to say. I do that here. Maybe a lesser known thing… write drunk, edit sober. Yeah, I have some of my most creative time when drinking. Dumping that stuff onto the proverbial canvas while in that state and hitting “Save Draft” instead of “Publish” means I can come back later and review what I wrote with a clear head.

What tips would you give?

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I hate social networking

I hate social networking. I despise it. All of it.

For me it’s a tool (like me, some would say).

“But, Aaron. You have 1500 friends on Facebook and nearly 10,000 on Twitter. You’re lying.”

Oh but I’m not. I used to love social networking. I used to travel to conferences where other social media people were just to, in hindsight, make myself look more like a stud. That’s why there are so many.

I’ve dated or slept with social media women just for access.

I’ve been that guy at SXSW that, as a former Austinite, I now mock. That one cutting to the front of the blocks-long line to a hot party just to utter those predictable, and douchey words, “Do you know who I am?”

I have the cred I so craved. Even years after I stopped the social whoredom. I get added to Social Media lists on Twitter every day? Why? Because someone thinks if you have 10k followers, you must be important, and therefore, you must be “social media”.

I am important. But not in that way. I am important to my 9 year old son who I don’t see nearly as often as I’d like. I’m important to my company because I can take their WordPress life farther than they dreamed.

I’m important to my friends… My real friends. The ones who drink beer with me or wish they were drinking beer with me like they used to.

I’m not important because I have friends or followers. And the quality of my life is not contingent on my social presence. I could give a shit less.

When you introduce me as technosailor, instead of Aaron, you do a disservice to me and you. You are the one caught up in the social insanity. Go drink a beer or watch Breaking Bad or, for god’s sake, go fuck your wife.

Come with me for a minute as I revisit a moment of my life.

It was 1998 and I was in my religious mode. I realize that most readers aren’t aware of this past and really prefer if I don’t get preachy. So I won’t.

But what was said from a pulpit 15 years ago lives on in me, as a life principle.

In the Old Testament book of Joshua, the story is told of the Children of Israel, after a generation of wandering in the Sinai desert after escaping Egyptian captivity, finally had the opportunity to cross the Jordan River into their promised land.

Joshua, their leader, was instructed to construct a monument in the middle of the river where they crossed on dry land. The monument was to be made of 12 stones (representing Abraham’s twelve sons an the tribes of Israel) and it was to be a celebration of gaining the Promised Land.

It would be really easy, after 40 years and finally attaining your goal, to stay there and live life there. Live in that glorious history and moment.

Except they had a job to do and a land to conquer. They couldn’t stay in that moment. They had to move on. That moment was glorious but they couldn’t stay. They had to do work.

And so we come back to social networking. I’ve been on Twitter since early 2007. I’ve been on Facebook since late 2006.

I could live in the glory of the Internet and social networking but I’ve got a life to live.

Some of you are still mindlessly operating with the idea you can make a living doing social media on the Internet. When you simply can’t. Only very few people can do it well.

As the Jordan River became a part of Israel’s every day life, social networking is a part of mine. I use it. I live it. I meet people there. It is not my life. And if its yours, you really need to re-examine your priorities.

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Photo by m thierry on Flickr.

Two-Factor Authentication: What it is and Why You Should be Using it Now

Not too long ago, WordPress sites around the world started getting attacked with automated botnet traffic trying to brute force admin passwords.

The other day, the official
Twitter account of the Associated Press was hacked
.

Last year, Wired reporter Mat Honan was hacked when his Amazon account was compromised. That compromise allowed an attacker to access his Apple ID which gave him access to Mat’s Google account which, in turn, let the attacker into Twitter.

Email, in my opinion, is the gateway to identity theft. It’s bad if your Twitter or website are hacked. You get things like the AP hack. It’s bad, if an attacker gains access to your website and defaces it, or does something else. But as terrible as these things can be (and expensive), identity theft is something that is quite a bit more dangerous.

Here’s a scenario. Somehow, someway I gain access to your Gmail account. It could be that you have a pretty easy password, or you use the same password everywhere, or it can be from some other nefarious means. But I get access to your Gmail.

You might say, “well it’s only email and there’s nothing all that important there.”

But you’d be wrong. If I have access to your email, I have access to everything else. Can’t remember your Amazon password? That’s fine. I can perform a password reset, and gain access by clicking on a password reset link. Then delete it so you never even know it was there. Once into Amazon, using your saved billing information, I can run up your credit card info.

I might even be able to get into your bank, although that’s become significantly more challenging in recent years because of two-factor authentication (which I will get into momentarily).

I could potentially access credit records. Or, depending on the state or locality you are in, your driving and criminal records. And if there is something incriminating in your inbox, I might be able to blackmail you.

Granted, all of this stuff is extremely illegal, but I could still do it if I have access to your email account.

Side Point: Web services that use an email address as the login name are inadvertently dangerous. If I know your email address, I know your login. Then all I have to do is know your password. Whereas not having an email address as a login means I have to figure out BOTH your password AND your username.

Fortunately, Google has two-factor authentication. Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook all have two-factor authentication as well. Banks, including Bank of America, all have two-factor authentication.

Two-factor authentication is your saving grace and you need to enable it on every account you have.

What is two-factor authentication?

The easiest way to explain what two-factor authentication is with the phrase, “Something you have, something you know”. You need BOTH things for authentication to happen.

You see this with some biometric systems. Enter a pin (something you know) and scan your thumbprint (something you have).

With banking sites, you enter a password (something you know) and you might identify a unique image (something you have).

You see this with SSH on Linux systems with ssh keys. You provide the server you are logging into with your public key (something you have) and in the “handshake” of authentication, it matches against your private key (something you know).

Google, Facebook and the other services providing two-factor authentication require you to enter your password (something you know) and then they’ll send a pin to your phone (something you have) that you have to also enter in.

It’s a pain in the ass, and certainly I hope technology reduces the friction that two-factor offers to the authentication process, but it’s incredibly important that you have two-factor authentication wherever you can.

Go re-read Mat’s nightmare and you will understand how vastly important that two-factor is. It’s a nightmare. It’s scary. It should be a come to Jesus moment for anyone that operates on the internet.

I will let you use the power of the internet to figure out how specifically to do this for various services, but this wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t also suggest a plugin for WordPress (.org, not .com) to enable two-factor. I highly endorse the Duo Two-Factor Authentication plugin. I use it on several of my sites.

Hopefully, by enabling this stuff, we can not only stem off a vast amount of hacking attempts, but also become smarter about how we use the internet, protect our privacy and security and, even, in some cases… safety.

Be safe out there!

Bonus: More on 2FA from my friend Mika Epstein (@Ipstenu).

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