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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Payola, Extortion and Market Correction

For the last two weeks, I’ve been mulling this concept of market correction as it pertains to the web. There are a variety of stories that have been related, in addition to signatory bubble characteristics that I have observed for some time, but it’s all coming into a lot more focus as time has gone on.

A market correction is an economic term describes a natural occurrence when a certain market sector becomes “over sold” or hyperinflated, or when a sector becomes irrelevant to the market and is put out of its misery, or re-capitalized. It is a “coming to center” that occurs naturally when there is an imbalance in the system.

We’ve seen macro-economic market corrections in the form of the housing and financial market implosion last year or the dot-com bust of the late 90s. Last year, around this time, the stock market gave up half of its value in a correction that wreaked havoc in every market sector. Even the startup market based largely in Silicon Valley felt the effects as leading venture capital firms started informing portfolio companies of looming doomsday scenarios.

Right now, I’m seeing another kind of market imbalance looming larger as a bubble seeking market correction and that is in the area of payola. Bloggers and social media people, anchored largely, but not at all exclusively, by the mommy-blogger sector, have taken and accepted “bribes” (let’s face it, that’s what these things are) from corporate America to provide coverage of their products. These things come in the form of reviews and can include anything from household cleaning supplies to all expense paid trips to New York, Los Angeles… even London.

There seems to be no limit on what corporations will do because they feel they have to win the favor of a small, but vocal minority group. So corporations, thinking this is the way to do business in the new world, and not understanding that the same principles that have always guided their PR efforts should apply to bloggers as well, willingly open their pocket books to garner that good will.

In a vacuum, the idea that the world has changed due to blogs and social media and thus the way to do business has changed too, makes some sense. But because nature abhors a vacuum, we must look at the economic principles that will force a market correction and will assist corporations back to center for the better of the entire market.

111286829_c24b4c7b31This will not go on because at some point, companies will have to realize the ROI involved in “buying off” bloggers and how they represent themselves and the companies they get paid off by, are not worth the dollar drain that will come from it. Bubble burst.

When this happens, and it will happen soon, the ship will return to center. This does not mean bloggers won’t get to do reviews, but the reviews will not be because of payola, but legitimate business-minded ethics guidelines that have roots in traditional journalism.

The New York Times spells out their guidelines on review material:

76. Staff members who borrow equipment, vehicles or other goods for evaluation or review must return them as soon as possible. Similarly, items borrowed to be photographed, such as fashion apparel or home furnishings, should be returned promptly.

77. Automobile reviewers should carry out their testing expeditiously and return the vehicle promptly. Any period longer than two or three days must be approved by a responsible newsroom manager. A reasonable amount of personal use is permissible if that use contributes to the review.

78. Staff members may keep for their own collections ““ but may not sell or copy “” books, recordings, tapes, compact discs and computer programs sent to them for review. Such submissions are considered press releases. But no one may request extra copies of review materials for personal use. Local management may impose a ceiling on the value of review copies that journalists may retain. If not retained by the reviewer, recorded or digital media, such as tapes or disks, must be destroyed or returned to the provider; they may not be given away or left where they could be carried off for illicit copying.

79. Photographers, camera operators, picture editors, film editors, art directors, lab personnel and technology editors and reporters may not accept gifts of equipment, programs or materials from manufacturers or vendors. They may not endorse equipment, programs or materials, or offer advice on product design. (This guideline is not meant to restrict our technical staff from working with vendors to improve our systems or equipment.)

Of course, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has already weighed in on this stuff (a bit late, but hey, they are now getting involved) updating their disclosure requirements to include bloggers with “material relationships” with any company. Clearly, the beginning of a market correction.

Where the whole bubble gets bizarre is in the strong arming practices of bloggers who believe that they have authority and leverage to for a company to provide freebies for them (believe me, it happens). Somehow, some bloggers believe that by threatening a company, they can get what they want because they are a blogger or personal brand. Let me make it real simple…. that’s illegal. It’s extortion. If the companies don’t stop buying your crap first, you could end up in jail. Just saying.

Takeaways on this idea are this: Companies face a new world of online public relations and community management and they have, so far, played the game that puts bloggers completely in the drivers seat. At some point, the game is going to change and I think that time is very soon. When the game changes and the market corrects, the bloggers who are in the business for free stuff are going to end up on the outside looking in as the market correction takes business back to business, centers, and all industries involved grow up. At that time, the quality of journalism will increase and the effectiveness of blogger-company partnerships will also increase and mature.

Until then, start the clock ticking. The bubble is about to pop.

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