I started writing this blog on a whim ten months ago. Here is quick look back at my three original goals and things I have learned.
1. To write about things you care about for yourself
Have I succeeded? Yes. This is probably the goal I am most satisfied with. I find myself referring back to my own posts (e.x. on how to setup DKIM on Centos, or how to implement semantic naming in CSS), which I think is an indication that what I write has longer-lasting value to me.
Lesson learned #1: Writing helps you clarify your own thoughts. To me, this not an online diary – my blog is my online whiteboard.
Lesson #2: Writing a blog helps you with expressing your ideas briefly. Writing a blog has been educational, because one needs to really stick to simple, short and easy-to-skim posts. My point of comparison is academic writing, which is much more rigorous with the details and definitions of concepts. With blog posts, you can’t do that because of space limitations.
Lesson #3: The best test for content you write in my opinion is whether you would give a damn if someone else wrote about this very same topic. Another good question is whether you think you will give a damn in a week, a month or a year? Not all content is evergreen, but I do think it should either be something worth revisiting/updating later; or if that is not possible at least timely and helpful.
2. To learn about marketing and publicity without having to face high stakes
Have I succeeded?Not really. Writing a blog has kept the thought of marketing it in the back of my mind, but so far I have done very little about it.
Lesson #3: Headlines and searchability matters. As of now, I have about 2000 monthly visitors, or 60-70 per day. Most of that traffic comes from Google searches on the relevant topic. The posts that get no traffic are those that have a title that no-one searches for.
Lesson #4: Blogging is about taking part in a conversation with other people. If you want traffic, you need to interact with other blogs and contribute. Search engines can only give you the traffic that cares about that specific topic, long-term engagement seems to be a result of building connections and referrals.
Lesson #5: A blog is an extension what you do offline. No point in getting obsessed with getting referred to online if you do not connect to people in the real world. I’d prefer my blog to be a convenient way of learning more about me and the topics I discuss off the Internet rather than a separate endeavor.
3. Realize that the rest of the world does not, in fact, give a damn
Have I succeeded? Yes. Woohoo! Nobody cares, and I don’t give a damn. As Derek Sivers said, “Nobody’s going to help you. Does that encourage you or discourage you?”
Lesson #6: In my opinion, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing whether or not other people give a damn.
One of my favorite recent quotes is from James Stockdale, a Vietnam POW: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” That nobody cares is a reality, and if that makes you feel like crying, you might as well not try.
What will 2010 look like?
What I will NOT do:
- Blog more frequently. This is not my third or fourth job. It’s a hobby. A couple of posts a month is just fine, as long as they are quality posts or solve some real problem.
- Link trading, link fishing, directory listings, forum participation. It may work, but I don’t care enough to start some sort of campaign solely for the sake of getting more traffic. I will link to things I refer to and would like to be a bit more active in commenting about stuff I care about, however.
- Advertising, either on the blog or for the blog. I don’t need the money and I will certainly not pay for some #¤%&?! to visit my blog.
- Respond to commenters (more).
- Be a bit more active with commenting on other blogs. I haven’t done this so far, because I just don’t have the habit of writing comments. However, since I like getting comments on my posts, it would probably be nice to do the same – but only if I have a real opinion or alternative viewpoint.
- Cross-promote posts on your own blog. It’s not enough to be useful, you also need to make other relevant content easy to find on your blog.
I am surprised at how bad most blogs are with making me click on a second post if I liked the one I read. Archives need to list all the posts simply, most popular content helps understand what the blog is about, and then there should be “collection pages” that collect and summarize previous posts on relevant topics. Related posts and updates (e.g. to link to a relevant later post) are also important. Gotta still write those collection pages for this blog.
- Create positive expectations regarding future content. It is the expectation that future posts are good that makes me interested in a blog.
Creating a series of posts on a topic, or by highlighting other resources or ongoing projects will probably help build positive expectations for this blog.
- Make it easier to share stuff and subscribe via RSS. This probably means adding those widgets for sharing a post, adding a free feed-sharing service, better RSS links and perhaps Twitter reactions (if I ever start using Twitter).
- Guest author on some other blog or have another blogger guest post/interview here.
- Look at the CSS of this site to make the text easier to skim.
- Add downloadable stuff. Since I already writing about code, why not publish some and make those downloads easily accessible? Since I am already writing scientific articles and working papers, why not make those available?