Colin Walker

on social media, tech, blogging and the internet.

Running with the pack?

Wolf PackYesterday, Michael Martine of Remarkablogger posted the concept of using a ‘blog pack‘ to enhance the promotion of your site. A blog pack is a group of bloggers who set up an ‘alliance’ to cross promote each others sites by way of comments, links, stumbles, etc. in order to:

– Get established
– Build personal networks
– Increase traffic
– Increase RSS subscribers
– Get organic backlinks

At the time I commented that as bloggers we tend to do this anyway; we gravitate towards those with similar interests and, as we leave comments or hook up on social networking sites, develop a relationship and a mutual respect which invariably leads to interlinking and cross promotion. The blog pack is a way of formalising this relationship.

There is the possibility that some people might take offence at the suggestion of being ‘obliged’ to promote others and, as such, we would have to be careful when suggesting the idea in case we undo any good that our existing online relationships provide.

Gaming?

Chris Garrett has set up a blog pack over at the Authority Bloggers forum which has attracted some considerable interest. Each member should follow the others on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feeds of each blog involved and the interact by way of comments and cross promotion. While this is great idea in principle I can see some potential pitfalls:

  • the pack may be too large and unwieldy
  • being an unfocused group it may lead to disinterest
  • the risk of being accused of gaming the system

Michael argues that a group of like minded bloggers creating a pack is just a “sped-up version of what happens naturally” and so is networked growth rather than gaming but, what about a group created especially for this purpose such as that at Authority Bloggers? Is such a group at risk of being banned by StumbleUpon for gaming the system as they continue to crack down on abuse of the system, for example?

Simplification

If a blog pack gets too unweildy then maybe – as Chris suggested to me – it could be sub-divided. This may also help with the issue of the members being an unfocused group. Dividing members into smaller, related sections based on blog topics etc. would help to restore some relevance.

I had originally opted in but the concerns listed above have made me rethink and withdraw (if you are an AB Blog Pack member feel free to unsubscribe) especially as I have been making an effort to streamline my RSS feeds and connections.

If nothing else this is an interesting social experiment and it will be interesting to see where it leads.

Your thoughts

Do groups of bloggers need to formalise their cross promotion strategies or is the natural development of relationships enough? Would you be offended by being asked to participate by a contact? Is creating an artificial blog pack gaming the system?

UPDATE: Chris has updated the pack instructions with what I consider to be a far more sensible, and workable set of guidelines including: “Audition, do not think everyone expects permanent residency in your feed reader! Same with Twitter, keep those who gel, lose those who do not”.

Image by ‘skirkybaby’.

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May 15, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , | 15 Comments

The old link love she ain’t what she used to be.

Old Grey MareBefore having my say on this weeks bitchmeme I thought I would wait for the situation to calm down and look back on one of the issues raised – that of where we should be linking to.

As is often the case when emotions are running high the situation can rapidly spiral out of control which is what seemed to happen yesterday. Points are made and in the effort to strike while the iron is hot things may not be said in exactly the way we would like and, as such, ambiguity can creep in causing misinterpretation.

Linking

The particular problem of linking arose as Robert Scoble linked to a conversation on FriendFeed instead of the source post by David Risley. David was unhappy with this claiming it was done to deny him the “Scoble Google Juice” – the large body of traffic that invariably follows anything Scoble discusses. I don’t wish to comment here on the rights or wrongs of what happened but feel that the issue itself should be addressed.

Now, the issue of where we should be linking to is not a new one, the last time a similar row broke out – which coincidentally involved Scoble again – was the beginning of last year when he claimed that large sites (such as Engadget etc.) didn’t link out to the small guy – he had to back track. Sue Polinksy followed this by asking if big bloggers should also be linking to the little guy instead of sticking within the A-list echo chamber, Robert followed up with his own thoughts and, at the time, the overall opinion was a resounding ‘yes’ but is this necessarily the case today?

Changes

The web has been changing considerably – aggregators and the like are forcing us to adapt to new ways of gathering information, sourcing our content and generating links to our blogs. The arguments around comment fragmentation don’t appear to be going away any time soon so what are our responsibilities? Should bloggers, as Corvida of SheGeeks suggests, make an effort to post comments at the source location and by, the same extension, should we also be linking back to the original post rather than any discussion that may relate to it? Is it just common decency to do so?

Social bookmarking sites such as Digg, Mixx and Sphinn have gotten us in to the habit of asking for votes at a location remote to our blogs in the hope that the more votes a story receives the more traffic it will generate back to our blogs. Is the process of adding Likes and Comments to FriendFeed so different?

Signal to noise

The recent discussion about the noise level on FriendFeed has prompted some to suggest that there should be a way of filtereing our streams with maybe only those items that have been liked or have comments showing. This would be a way of filtering by popularity – a similar thing to how Digg and the like operate on their front pages.

If an influential blogger were to link to a conversation on FriendFeed rather than the orignal post and those who followed that link found 30 empassioned comments waiting for them would they not feel the need to check out the source to see what all the fuss was about?

Are there any answers?

The way we use the web has altered and opinions that were valid a year ago may not hold the same weight as they used to. How long before our source content becomes fragmented rather than just the comments? Will we see a move towards posting away from our blogs (we already do guest posts) so that the source itself is in the same place as the reactions? A FriendFeed blog anyone? Could something like this even spell the beginning of the end for blogs as we know them?

Image by David (North60).

May 10, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , , | 6 Comments

The rebrand – one month on.

Aprol 08Now that is has been a month since I moved to this domain I thought it would be a good time to see how the rebrand has gone and what the move has taught me. But first, a few metrics.

As the new blog started on April 2nd I have included the first of May in the figures below.

Posts: 34
Adjusted: 32

The posts included two weekly summaries which don’t really count and I have stopped doing these as I feel they have added no value (let me know if you disagree).

Unique visitors

According to Google Analytics: 2127
According to MyBlogLog: 2184

These may be low numbers but it’s not all about that if you’re not a pro-blogger; it’s about making connections and taking part in the conversation. It’s about sharing your opinions with like minded people in an area that interests you.

The first month at colinwalker.me.uk saw 42 comments or trackbacks excluding my own replies which is great. When you compare this to the last version of Randomelements (where there were between 180 and 200 in nearly 2 years) it illustrates that those interested in social media are more conversational and willing to interact in all places across the board. The type of person involved in social media, the early adopter, is by necessity more extrovert – it goes with the territory.

What it’s achieved

The refocus has caused me to do something that I hadn’t really done for a while: think! Whether I’m on the right track or barking up the wrong tree is perhaps less important than the thought process; that is the interesting bit, getting the brain working and trying to add some value to the discussion.

As such, the blog is an evolving conversation rather than isolated posts on a multitude of topics; each is a progression from earlier posts expanding on ideas already presented. Making connections with some very intelligent people has re-awakened the spark and that can only be a good thing.

What it’s shown me

Anyone advising how to blog successfully will tell you the importance of regular posts – it’s become a cliché – but my experiences over the first month of this blog has reinforced this advice. On days when I haven’t posted reader numbers drop radically; maybe there is not yet enough content to maintain a steady flow of traffic.

Also, when I have been posting and those posts have been reviewed on StumbleUpon there has been a huge difference in traffic when posts are tagged as social media against those tagged blogging. Yes, social media is very much flavour of the month but maybe blogging is becoming passé.

The way forward

It’s obvious to me that there are issues with the way the web is developing. How can this type of growth in web 2.0 applications and services be sustained? How can the reach be extended or even, should the reach be extended? Just as, at present, the web is not for everyone the new developments will not be for everyone.

Many of those who use the web on a regular basis do not see a need for social media or how a need will develop, maybe social media will artificially create a need. As it spreads people may perceive a need where there was none and growth may be viral with everyone not wanting to feel left behind.

Whatever happens, I will be here asking questions ang I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Image by fr1zz.

May 4, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , | 3 Comments

If I’m not a blogger then what am I?

Blog handsOver the past month or so there has been a distinct feeling of unease spreading across the web with bloggers appearing to be increasingly insecure about their position in it. This first became really noticeable with the discussions surrounding the problem of fractured conversations.

Having their posts spread across the web by aggregation services with no control over the conversation and the subsequent arguments over commoditisation of content caused a number of bloggers to question their worth.

Louis Gray played devils advocate by suggesting that blogs had no inherent value and deserved no advertising revenue – the backlash was hardly surprising. Michael at Remarkablogger questioned the term blog asking if it was unprofessional and holding us back and I asked a similar question of the term social media.

Louis has now rocked the boat again by asking if bloggers should be accountable and display their stats – a sensitive issue with bloggers at the best of times. Bloggers are renowned for being stat obsessed; it’s an element of vanity that goes with the territory of putting yourself out there but no-one likes to talk about it in public in case they are accused of bragging etc. 

Finally, Steven Hodson posted yesterday echoing the sentiment that blogging needs to be called something else and his post was the catalyst for me to write this – the straw that broke the camels back so to speak.

What is happening?

Are the majority looking at the likes of Robert Scoble and Darren Rowse and becoming jealous of the success (and consequently the income) they have received from blogging and related Activities?

Is there a fear of becoming lost at sea amongst the myriad of new bloggers appearing all the time,  many of which are perceived as adding no value to the conversation?

Is it a fear that other forms of media such as podcasting and video blogging as well as micro blogging are taking over? The two ends of the ‘new media’ spectrum are spreading further apart and there may be a concern that they are leaving a vacuum in the middle ground: the traditional blogging space. A number of bloggers seem to be increasingly precious over the format just as others are saying that this particular dog may have had its day.

Self preservation

Is the self preservation instinct kicking in now that blogging has gone mainstream and the elite are moving on to new things? Is this problem limited to just blogging? Look at the discussion recently around whether social media is going, or will go, mainstream – myself included.

Is this a cry for validation? A lot of people are investing a lot of time, money and effort in the web and perhaps the current financial climate has got a lot of people looking over their shoulder.

Where do we go from here?

If not bloggers then what? Self publishers, authors, writers, journalists, what? As Steven mentioned where is the line which means we have “outgrown the confines of the concept people have of blogging” – the old image of a personal ‘web log’. As I said before, the term blog has become a part of modern language and everyone knows what one is, if we try to move the goalposts are we making a rod for our own backs?

What do you think?

Related Posts

Image by Kevin Lim.

May 1, 2008 Posted by | Blogging | | 7 Comments

Bringing the conversation home.

A lot has been said about the way conversations are fragmenting across the web due to the ability to leave comments in places other than at the original source. I’ve had my say as have many other bloggers.

Attempts are being made to re-centralise comments – such as disqus, fav.or.it and the FriendFeed plugin for WordPress – and we now have a new offering from Rob Diana of the Regular Geek blog called YackTrack.

YackTrack is designed to poll a number of services for comments that relate to a given URL (of a blog post for example) and gather the comments into one location. At present YackTrack supports Digg, Disqus, FriendFeed, Mixx, StumbleUpon, Technorati, and WordPress blogs with plans to incorporate others.

I have built a link to YackTrack which is displayed in each post so you can easily see what is being said in all of the supported locations (click the thumbnail for full size image)

  YackTrack Link

Here is also an example of the output from YackTrack

  YackTrack example

YackTrack is gaining quite a bit of exposure which seems to surprise Rob, he mentioned by email: “I am getting a little more attention than I thought I would” but any service which aims to bring order to such a contentious area is bound to get noticed.

I look forward to seeing how this service develops but, for now, check out Rob’s post at for more information.

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April 28, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , | 1 Comment

“Read and Comment” day.

Last week, Chris Brogan suggested that today, April 28th should be pronounced Read and Comment Day where we should all get out in to the blogosphere, find some good stuff and add your thoughts in order to progress the conversation. It’s a great idea and I intend to do exactly that but, in a sense, it is a shame that we need such a call to action.

So, go on, get out there and participate.

April 28, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, RSS, Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

The lost art of listening.

ListenBlogging is all about getting your point across and being heard isn’t it? Actually, no.

As I have said before, the real point behind blogging is getting involved with the conversation which must be a two-way affair for it to work. As bloggers we become so caught up in our own opinions and the desire to get posts finished that we often fail to notice what is going on around us. We must always look at the bigger picture as it will undoubtedly affect the way we think about any given subject.

Cycle of conversation

I’ve been many soft skills courses in my time which attempt to teach you how to have an effective conversation by recognising the different elements at work (the cycle of conversation) and how to use them correctly; when to step back or when to direct the conversation to where you want it to go. None of the courses I have attended, however, have focused on the listening part and used exercises to demonstrate the importance of this skill. They always focus on hearing the other side but not digging deep and really listening to what what is being said.

Hearing and listening are two completely different things. You can hear something but not take notice of it, you don’t get an appreciation for exactly what is going on. Once you do take notice you start to listen and this is where you achieve real benefit from the conversation.

Blogging

With all this in mind, how does listening fit in with the blogging process?

We cannot simply throw words and opinions at our readers or they will not remain so for long. Our brand, and the loyalty it commands, is only as strong as our reputation and if we develop a reputation for being arrogant, narrow minded or egotistical we may as well just give up now.

In order to blog successfully we must be open to other opinions and influences which we can obtain from sources such as our reader’s comments, other sites and blogs and our ever increasing circle of ‘friends’.

If one of our readers has taken the time to leave a meaningful comment (not just the ‘great post, here’s my link‘ type) then we must show that we appreciate that comment by listening to it and responding accordingly which is why I say that we should be using comments to further the discussion.

While it is nice to get comments of affirmation it is equally important to receive those that are contrary to our position; these comments are the ones that make us think, make us re-evaluate our ideas, and cause us to understand what we say by having to explain and justify. We should, therefore, always encourage opinion by asking open questions. A debate doesn’t work if you present your argument and then refuse to hear the reaction.

Networking

Every site that offers blogging tips will tell you to get out there, read other blogs and network with the authors. It may sound like a cliché but the importance of this act cannot be over emphasised. Other bloggers will be just as opinionated as you but their opinions will be different. By cross referencing a range of other authors you can establish a wider view, determine trends or even spark off a good healthy debate. Bloggers will always be a good sounding board for ideas and many will take those ideas and extend them into areas you had not considered – the converse is also true in that we take ideas from elsewhere and add our own take.

Just subscribing to a range of blogs doesn’t work, you have to try to understand what makes that person tick and why they say the things they do – you can then gain an appreciation for their thoughts and writing style. In short, you have to listen not just to the words but to the meaning.

By getting to know some of your favourite bloggers using social networking tools you will enhance both the relationships and discussions you have with them which can only lead to better insight and, consequently, better blog posts.

In conclusion

The hardest part of any conversation is listening but do it well and it makes you more thoughtful, considered and productive.

Related Posts

Image by Simon Crowley.

April 24, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Uncategorized | | 5 Comments

Stand out from the ‘social’ crowd.

Stand outAny product or service should fulfil a function or solve a problem. This is one of the biggest ‘rules’ out there which businesses must pay attention to or be doomed to failure (unless they are extremely lucky). I would also, however, apply the same rule to anything we do within social media.

Jim Tobin at Ignite Social Media has posted advice on creating new social networks with products like Ning. Ning itself provides a valid service – the ability for user to create their own social networks for free – but this does not mean that the end result will be valid. Too many people create a network just because they can with little thought, time or customisation. Without due care and attention these cannot hope to become anything other than just another social network (JASN).

If a network or service is not catered towards a specific need then it cannot hope to succeed unless it too is extremely lucky. It must offer ‘value’ over every other upstart social network out there. The same can be said of blogs.

Value

A blog should offer value if it doesn’t want to become lost in the ether but, what is value? Value is the differentiator between something and everything else out there in the same niche or on the same subject etc. Value is the reason you would want to read/use/consume something over all the rest. It is a new twist, extra information or an insightful opinion.

Louis Gray controversially stated that bloggers don’t add value, only services do. He argues that “Web services are adding real value to the Web by changing the way we interact and communicate” whereas bloggers are not. This definition of value is too shallow. Value can encompass so much more and a good blogger can even influence the web services, both their creation and development. We can all be influencers. What is more valuable, the final product or the spark that was responsible for it’s creation?

Stand out

I read recently that bloggers should not see other bloggers as their direct competition but should foster a sense of cooperation in order to increase exposure but I disagree. With the millions of blogs out there all vying for a slice of attention we are definitely in direct competition with those others bloggers in our chosen area and should ask ourselves why someone would want to chose our content over that on another site.

What makes us different? What gives us the edge over those who just rehash the same story without an original spin or opinion?

I blog in such a way as to start discussion – I have questions and opinions but not always answers but believe that these opinions and the questions I ask offer value in their own right. Rather than tow the line I constantly think how I can shake things up a little and get people thinking as that creates the most value of all. Why just agree with everyone else when you can be the boy who shouts “But he has nothing on” when presented with the emperor’s new clothes.

Selling yourself

Your life online (and to a degree your offline one) is dictated by your personal brand: how others see you based on what you do and say – and we should do everything we can to boost the perception others have of us. We should view it just as though we were applying for a job. Out of all the applicants why should an employer pick us? How do we sell ourselves in order to make us stand out from the crowd? We may have a change of career from time to time but our online history and reputation form our CV or resumé and the internet is an unforgiving place with a long memory.

Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer has taken this to its ultimate conclusion by actually offering a job via his blog and twitter. He’s not asking for a resumé but wants applicants to connect with him using social media and to use their online profiles to help differentiate themselves from the rest. We should not, however, wait for a job offer to bolster our brand – it is something we should be doing every day as you never know when an opportunity may arise.

We are living in a small world and are no longer compared against just those around us; our immediate vicinity has now become the whole planet.

Your take

How do you perceive value? What do you do to differentiate yourself from those in your niche, or what would you advise others to do?

Related Posts

Image by Tony Roberts.

April 23, 2008 Posted by | Blogging, Social Media | , | 5 Comments

When to add updates or create new posts?

Question MarksDarren Rowse of ProBlogger posted a few reader questions around the issue of when to update existing content rather than create a new post. I commented at the thread but wanted to share my full thoughts on the subject here as well.

The relevant questions were as follows:

  • Is it good practice to continue to make improvements after I’ve hit the magic publish button?
  • If so, should it be obvious to readers that’s what I’ve done?
  • What about simply re-wording a sentence or changing the order of content around?
  • Should new related ideas always go in new posts, or be added as “updates” at the bottom of existing ones?

Blogging is constantly about making improvements or corrections, striving to produce better quality content and become a better blogger; part of this is communication. We use our blogs to communicate our thoughts and ideas to our readers – often in order to start a discussion. It is only natural, therefore, to want to provide the latest and best information we have to had so that the discussion can be enhanced. How, though, is this best presented?

Quantity, not quality.

We normally see those two words the other way round but, in the context of updating existing content on your blog I believe that you have to look at how much is being updated. We must consider if an update is merely a one point addendum or whether it warrants a new post of it’s own – the quantity of the update is therefore most relevant as we can assume that the quality of the update is not being questioned or there would be no incentive to provide it.

A brief update of one or two sentences or a link to a relevant post on another blog is normally best handled as an update to the post itself. Anything larger is probably better served by a new post to prevent the original becoming cluttered. It will also be more productive with regards to enhancing the conversation as more people are likely to see and read it.

Making changes

Changing a post, as opposed to adding to it, is a difficult topic as has been alluded to in the comments on the ProBlogger post. I would tend to agree with a lot of what has been discussed there but to clarify here are my own preferences:

  • editing typos should always be done and need not (usually) be communicated back to the reader
  • if a typo changes your fundamental point (e.g. typing does instead of doesn’t) it should be corrected with a note of explanation, using a strike-through if necessary
  • rewording content should generally not happen, especially if it changes how the post reads

It is always a good idea to go back over your old content to see if you can add extra value or even if the surrounding landscape or your own position has changed. We are continually being re-influenced by everything we consume or experience, we may therefore change our opinions accordingly. These circumstances would always warrant a new post which goes over your original position, explains your new one and what has caused the change.

Comments and surveys

As I have mentioned previously a good way to expand on a particular topic is to use comments as the basis of a new post whether they are other peoples comments on your blog or your own comments somewhere else. The comments on any post are just as (if not more) important than the the original item and it is the conversation that we all value. Using comments to further discuss as issue is one of the reasons why we are all here.

Sometimes it may not be relevant to update a post with new information but you may also consider that it does not warrant a new post on its own. Under these circumstance it may be a good idea to start a poll or survey to garner even more opinion to either support or argue against your new idea. Sites such as SurveyMonkey or PollDaddy are good places to start.

In conclusion

There are no fixed rules and each change or update should be based on its own merits but the one point I would stress is that, with the exception of simple typos, you should always inform the reader.

April 22, 2008 Posted by | Blogging | | 1 Comment

Permalink problems.

For some unknown reason the permalink structure on the blog became corrupted overnight so, while you could reach the home page, none of the post, page or category links would work (thanks to all those who got in touch to let me know).

The issue should now be fixed – I had to force refresh the permalink structure – but if you find anything that isn’t working please let me know.

April 18, 2008 Posted by | Blogging | | Leave a comment