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?

GNIP Spells a Whole New World for Data APIs

Allow me to get nerdy.

It has been a long time since I got downright giddy about something developer-oriented. Lots of new APIs are coming out all the time and I usually take a once over look at them to determine if there is something cool there. A lot of time there are cool things and I promise myself to come back and explore the possibilities later. I rarely do.

However, with the announcement of GNIP today, I finally feel like my incessant mulling of API frameworks might be coming to an end.

Let me back up. A few weeks ago, I was fiddling with a bunch of APIs trying to create some mashup I was working on. I sent Keith a direct message pitching a “crazy idea”. An API for all APIs. One API to rule them all. His response, “A meta API?”

That made sense and made me laugh because I know how much he hates the word “meta”.

My idea quickly dissipated as I realized it was probably pretty futile to create an API for all these varied services that all had different data formats and types and my need for it wasn’t all that important at the time anyway.

I could have also used the concept when I was working on Mokonji, the project that now sits dead because Trackur beat me to the punch.

The idea with GNIP, bringing this story full circle, is that it is a meta-API. It sits in front of “data producers” (Digg, Flickr, Disqus) and provides a standardized API for “data consumers” (Plaxo, MyBlogLog, even Lijit!) to exchange data.

Since this is still so very early, there are bound to be other data producers and consumers. Also notable is that the only data format is XML. XMPP and JSON are missing. That will likely change over time too.

Data Producers not yet involved that should be:

And a few Data Consumers that are also missing:

I Own My Data, Dammit

Micah had a very encouraging article last night about two commenting social networks, Disqus and Intense Debate. It was all about listening to your customer base and making trajectory adjustments as needed to ensure you’re meeting real needs, instead of just assuming your business model has everything mapped out for you and you know exactly how to execute on your vision.

The discussion over Disqus and Intense Debate has been an interesting one. Particularly perceptive readers may have noticed me playing around with both of these services a few weeks ago in the wee hours of the morning. If you didn’t notice, never fear… it was only for a minute before switching back to my default WordPress comments.

So here’s the thing. I met Intense Debate, and perhaps Disqus, at Blog World Expo. At the same time, I met SezWho, a competitor. Each of these services offer a “social network” around commenting. But what set them apart was in who owned the data.

I use the word “own” loosely here. What I mean is, “Where is the comment data being hosted?”

There’s legitimate reasons for this. One example of why it is important for me to own the data is in the case of a legal issue or subpoena. Very relevant concern. At b5, there were several times where the Police called us asking for data about some random person on some random blog who was a person of interest in some random crime. In all cases, we could not give up data without a subpoena. When provided, we cooperated. When we were not served, we didn’t relinquish data.

This is pretty common and the bigger a property (or in b5’s case, group of properties) get, the bigger the target that is on your back.

In the case of Intense Debate and Disqus, none of this data is controlled by me. It’s controlled by them for a variety of reasons. SezWho did not host the comments which was a big selling point for them.

In the case of blogs, there are many things that can be done via mashup that doesn’t place any kind of liability on the site owner or blogger. However, in the context of comments, that is actually content.

In order for me to use Disqus or Intense Debate here – both of which I’m interested in using as it adds some nifty functionality to the blog – I need to host the content and control the styling. Without that, it’s a no-go.