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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The Changing Face of Comments

It’s been over six years that I’ve been writing on Technosailor.com. It has gone through many evolutions of themes, plugin uses, writing styles, writers, etc. The latest, if you haven’t noticed, was a move to subdomain technosailor.com as technosailor.com in an effort to rebrand under my name.

In the last two years, this site has become less abouot frequent writing and more about in depth writing. Most of the articles you have seen in the last two years have been solid articles that are well-written and in the 500-1000 word range.

Photo by wickked on Flickr

It’s become less of a blog and more of a column that you might see in a journal or newspaper. That is by design as it adds to the authority of this site. During this time, I have toyed with turning off comments completely which would certainly remove this site from the blog category. I’d actually be okay with that since I do blog in other spots. This site does not need to be a blog as that is only a word.

I find it interesting today that John Gruber of Daring Fireball happens to be talking about this issue (again…. it happens enough). A lot of people don’t like John. But no one can argue that the hard work he has put into his site over the years is something that he doesn’t have to share with anyone else.

Now that DF has achieved a modicum of popularity, however, what I tend to get instead aren’t queries or complaints about the lack of comments, but rather demands that I add them — demands from entitled people who see that I’ve built something very nice that draws much attention, and who believe they have a right to share in it.

The reality is most of my “conversation” happens elsewhere. Most of the time, reader engagement with my content comes in the form of retweets and not comments. And when I do get comments, they tend to be distracting. Who really needs that?

Comments, at least on popular websites, aren’t conversations. They’re cacophonous shouting matches. DF is a curated conversation, to be sure, but that’s the whole premise.

Indeed. Look no farther than the comments on any article on TechCrunch.

In short, I’m about to do what I should have done months ago. Maybe not immediately. It might take a few weeks before I pull the trigger. But I’ll be shutting off comments here. Of course, I have blogs elsewhere with comments, but sometimes not as focused as here on Technosailor.com. For instance, my personal blog is aaronbrazell.com and my mobile blog is at technosailor.wordpress.com. Comments will stay open there.

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The Greater Good: Entrepreneurship, Open Source, and a Better World

Last night, I was catching up with a friend who is as far from me in lifestyle outlook as you could possibly be. She is a extremely left wing type working for an environmental advocacy organization in DC. I, on the other hand, am an entrepreneur with one foot planted firmly on the right and one foot firmly planted on the left.

The conversation came to an issue that I’ve only marginally thought in great detail about. I had made the comment about how I am potentially looking to leave the DC area because, as I put it, it’s not my scene. I feel like a square peg trying to be fit into a round hole. While I certainly have political views and will sometimes voice them, my life does not revolve around politics, policy and advocacy as it does in Washington. In fact, when pressed to explain my feelings around why I dislike DC, I described myself as a regular guy wanting to live a regular life in a regular town.

Defining that more explicitly, I appreciate town like Baltimore, where I was raised and lived most of my life, because it’s filled with people who go about their normal everyday lives. No one is trying to “save the world” as seems to be the case in DC. Certainly, there are people and companies (hopefully many) who take a balanced position in life to be good stewards of the earth, energy and the planet. Certainly, many are socially conscious in how they live their lives. But it isn’t an all consuming agenda such that you find in DC.

I love Austin too. Why? Well, it is the self described live music capital of the country. On any given night, from my experience, it is not difficult to find bars that have a good live music set that is original and that doesn’t carry a cover charge. Outside of a handful of live music venues (DC9, 9:30 Club, Velvet Lounge, Madames Organ to a degree, Rock and Roll Hotel, etc) it’s hard to find a burgeoning music scene in DC.

Even with sports, which consumes a fair bit of my life, it’s hard to find supporters of the home team. No one, it seems, is from DC. They all came here with an agenda. You have to go out to Maryland or Virginia to find real hometown fans.

This is not my scene. This is not what I like. I am an entrepreneur because, first and foremost, I want to make money. When I made a break from my former corporate job, it was after becoming aware of how much my employer was billing our customer for my services and realizing that if that was how much I was worth, I could damn well do that on my own.

But that’s the crux. As entrepreneurs, our general purpose is not to do social good (though there are exceptions). Not that there is anything wrong with that. There isn’t. But entrepreneurs get our kicks from building something. From doing something. And of course, from making money. Who starts a company with the intention to not increase profit margins? You show me that entrepreneur, and I’ll show you an entrepreneur who will fail within a year.

There, of course, is a balance. Like Geoff, Beth and Kami are doing at Zoetica, there’s a balance between making money and doing good. The more I had this conversation with my friend, the more shallow I realized I sounded.

But as I thought some more, the more I realized that doing good is not something you do. It’s something you are. Based on the integrity and character of the entrepreneur, the decisions that are made, whether geared for profit or for building a product or spinning it up into an acquisition by Google, become decisions made out of the character and integrity of being “good”.

Frankly, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that even what I do as an entrepreneur creating services and products around WordPress, (and yes, even sometimes writing patches for WordPress core itself) is done to make the world a better place. Even writing a book on WordPress and travelling to San Francisco, Dallas, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago and Raleigh speaking to WordPress users, developers and designers is done to extend the platform, thus extending the reach and improving on the largest self-hosted blogging platform on the planet.

Think about why this is important. It’s not just about WordPress. It’s about enabling voices. Giving those who never had a chance to speak before the opportunity to be heard. We’ve heard as recently as this week about the man who used an iPhone app to figure out how to treat his own wounds while buried under the rubble in Haiti.

The Chinese government is so threatened by web technologies, and blogging in particular, that they have banned WordPress.com in China.That is not likely to be lifted anytime soon, especially as the government lockdown and censorship of the Chinese people is thrust back into the limelight with the latest Google-China fallout.

Even the internationalization efforts in WordPress is putting WordPress into the hands of more people in more countries and making it possible for voices to be heard, not only in the United States, but in the Sudan and Kurdistan as well.

As an entrepreneur with integrity and character, even the mundane decisions that go into building a company can be seen as social good. This is not intended to diminish the efforts of those who explicitly set out to do social good, but with the right mindset, the things that make us successful can also make the world around us better.