Monday, April 14, 2014

Dave Ghidiu

Playing With the Blogs - by Kenny Bloggins


Blogs.

Blogs are one of those things that have been around forever in the intertubes. Some blogs are great. Some blogs are awful. But blogs are empowering in that anyone can blog. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone has opinions and perspective. Blogs - despite being one of the oldest modes of participative web technologies - are still one of the staples of internet conversation. The tools have gotten better, and we've (as a society) discovered more ways to enhance them and make them engaging. But I'm going to share a few tips and observations I've learned about blogging, and then in my next post, I'll furnish some examples of how to use blogs in education.


Use images.
Images certainly add visual appeal to a blog. But there are two other reasons why images should always be employed.

  1. Pinterest will only allow you to pin sites with images. If you don't have an image, you can't be pinned. And Pinterest is a beautiful way to promote your idea quickly.

  2. Regardless of how your blog is set up for viewing, it may look radically different on a mobile device. FringeEdTech looks just like a plain ole' blog when you visit it from a computer. But from a mobile device, it uses images. So I make sure to place a nice image in my blog.
How FringeEdTech resolves on a mobile device
Pictures appear, by default, in the mobile view.

Other things to keep in mind when using images:
  • Always use the alt text when using an image. This is the text that is read on screen readers for visually impaired readers. There are only a few ways to make a blog incompatible to all visitors, and this is one of them.

  • Credit photos when you use them. Google's advanced image search has a feature called "usage rights" that helps you find images with specific licenses (including free to use!). You will find some great stuff at the Creative Commons website.

  • If you want software to edit photos, I would certainly recommend Pixlr. It's a complete suite that has hardcore software known as Pixlr Editor (think Photoshop) as well as lightweight stuff like Pixlr Express for some nice filters and borders. The whole suite is free and plugs in to Google Drive. For a quick peek, check out the blog I posted in December of 2013.

  • I always center my images. I think it makes the page look better. While it's true that an image surrounded by text looks professional, that doesn't always translate well on mobile devices and certainly is problematic if you elect to publish your content in an eBook. The post I did on "mobile mentality" digs a bit deeper into this. 

  • For the same reason, I also prefer to have a border on all my images. Some blog platforms will allow you to put a border on the image, but there is no guarantee that when someone is reading your blog, the border will be there (because of RSS feeds and mobile viewers). So I always add a 2 pixel border on my images before I put them into the blog. Now I know my readers will enjoy the benefits of a border because it is part of the image. I use Pixlr Express, although PicMonkey does the job too (and also plugs in to Google Drive as well).

Test your blog.
And test it before you go live with it. I use Blogger, and there is a "Preview" function built in. Unfortunately, it does not show dynamic content (like photo sliders, videos, links etc.). For this reason, I have another blog set up in Blogger called "Diagnostic". Whenever I'm using content that the previewer won't render, I'll copy my entire post from FringeEdTech and paste it into the Diagnostic one (the Diagnostic blog is not listed, and I delete each post as soon as I'm done testing). The, I'll go "Incognito" ("Private Browsing", "InPrivate" - read my blog about private browsing if you want more information) and check all the links and embedded content to make sure they are functioning properly. Once I'm convinced, I'll delete the post from Diagnostic and publish it in FringeEdTech.

I try view my blog posts on a mobile device frequently. I have the Blogger app (which is not all that spectacular, although viewing my blog on it is the same as viewing it on a mobile device through the web browser). I also have the Glimpse extension in Chrome which gives me a perspective of the mobile version.

I also use the private browsing function whenever I test a link in my blog. I want to know it works for everyone, not just me.


Find the "sweet spot" for publishing.
There's a few different schools of thought about the best time to publish, but my friend (and fellow blogger) Erin publishes on Wednesdays. It makes sense to me, so I try to do that, too. I think Wednesdays or Thursdays are good, and I try to publish in the morning. I suspect that Mondays and Fridays are pretty busy, and who doesn't love some fresh, easy reading during the middle of the week. And I also try to announce a new posting via Google+, Twitter, and Pinterest. I bet more people are listening in the morning than at nine in the evening.


Find your voice.
I like my blogs to be very conversational and playful. Since most of my blogs are explorations (and borderline tutorials), I like to have an inner monologue feel to the post. It takes time to figure out your voice, although it may come easier to you than it did to me. I feel like the evolution of many blogs are evident. There's usually a big difference between the first few blog posts and the most recent ones.

You should also consider what your blogging style is. I like to do one meaty blog a week. Sometimes it's just a diatribe, although most of the time I want the posts to be nice resource for people to come back to. One of my favorite blogs to read, Free Technology for Educators, has multiple posts a day. I don't know how Richard does it, but it's pretty awesome (you should also follow him on Twitter - not only do his tweets contain great tips, but I learned a lot about good tweeting just from watching him). 

As you find your voice, one thing is important - be reliable (see the "sweet spot" tip above). I read an article about Jenna Marbles, and it mentioned how she religiously posts a new video on YouTube every Wednesday. I like that for a few reasons. For starters, it is incentive to work on my blog (Wednesdays and Thursdays are manageable goals). Additionally, Jenna's fan base now has expectations. I bet if she missed one or two, her fans would forgive her. But sporadic posting leads to sporadic consumption. She has a fanatical fan base, and they have demands!

Also decide if you want to monetize. Many bloggers do - and that's great. Why shouldn't you be compensated for quality writing. Some of my blogs take upwards of nine or ten hours to create - time I could spend doing something else. So I understand why bloggers want to monetize their content. I, personally, don't monetize. That's just my preference. I tested it out, but it didn't really appeal to me. If my blogging is so profound and perfectly crafted, maybe someone will hire me to blog someday. That would be sweet

I've also read a few bios from bloggers disclosing affiliations, sponsorships, or advertising deals. I've never been in that position before, but I know that if I were affiliated with an organization or compensated by a company, I would certainly disclose that. You should definitely check out Jeff Jarvis' blog (pay attention to his disclosures). And if you haven't yet, I would highly recommend reading What Would Google Do?, a great book that Mr. Jarvis wrote. I'm not his primary audience (it's intended more for business owners), although I took away an awful lot from his anecdotes (especially regarding social media).


Think carefully about your layout.
There are hundreds of articles and blogs devoted to choosing your platform. I think two of the biggest are Blogger (I use it) and WordPress. I prefer Blogger because I thrive in the Google ecosystem, I am talented enough with HTML to do some swanky things, and because it's free. WordPress has more plugins and templates, but there are some people who don't have very good things to say about it.

I pay for the URL name (it's only about twelve dollars a year, so I can swing it). This way, I don't have to have the ".blogspot" in my URL. Twelve dollars is a small price to pay for a professional URL (of course, I also have other derivations like "FringedTech" just to catch people who type in the wrong URL).

Get a "favicon". That's the little icon that appears in your web browser (either in the search bar or the tabs). There's plenty of tutorials on how to create them (and add them to your blog). Currently, mine happens to be a shrunk down version of my logo. 

Example of "favicon"
My fave favicons

Don't go overboard with widgets. Widgets are the extra information on a blog (for instance, I have the "Popular Posts", "Blog Archive" and "Follow by Email" widgets). Sure, they are cool, but they can increase load time and make your site looking tacky. Be smart about which ones to add.

I stripped out the Blogger header and footer (the things that says "Powered by Blogger"). I thought my blog would look more professional. It's not hard to do - I just Googled it and found a solution that took sixty seconds. Just be sure that when editing the HTML for your site that you copy and paste the functioning code somewhere so that if you muck things up, you can always paste it back in.

Speaking of HTML, there is one trick that I like to do with numbers and bullets. I prefer spaces between each item. For instance,
  1. This is line one
  2. This is line two
  3. This is line three
is less appealing to me than:
  1. This is line one

  2. This is line two

  3. This is line three

All I did was add the <br /> tag in the HTML. Easy to do, and way prettier to look at.


Adding the <br /> tag
When you need a break...

Be a part of the blogosphere.
Being a blogger is good, but being a blogger that can engage other people and reference other bloggers is much better. There's "street cred" to be had. And it builds your fan base (and thus your exposure). Holly, a runner I know, has great engagement on her blog, FueledByLOLZ. She asks pointed questions and interacts with people who leave comments. It gives her readers a sense of ownership.

But more importantly, interact on other people's blogs. That will get you exposure to interaction as well as the opportunity to read some really great blogs. Or terrible blogs. When I was a student teacher in 1999, I had a really great supervising teacher and a really poor one. I learned an awful lot from the great one, but I learned just as much from the bad one (I learned what not to do). Reading blogs will give you perspective.


Get social.
I'm not even going to go into ways to become involved in social media, but I will tout the value of it. Use social media! Twitter is a great way to draw people to your blog from companies or products you reference in a tweet. Mention "Microsoft" in a tweet about your most recent blog about Publisher, and you'll be visible to the four and a half million people who follow Microsoft on Twitter.

I don't really promote myself on Facebook, although if I have a particularly relevant post that I think many of my Facebook friends will benefit from, I'll post them in my status. But in general, I don't like doing that. I suppose I could create a Facebook page for FringeEdTech, but I haven't yet. I also maintain a Pinterest board. One note about Pinterest - make sure you pin the URL that goes directly to your recent post, not just to the URL of your blog. 

I also love Google+. For me, Google+ is the best place for me to find more information about my passions and career. Google+ is a great venue for targeted, niche insight. Especially for me, as I love all things tech. So I make sure to post every time I publish a blog (Blogger will automatically prompt me for that anyhow).

One thing I do when I post a link to my blog is shorten the URL. I like TinyURL because it allows me to customize my new, shorter link. Sure, other services provide an even shorter link, but I can customize my link as tinyurl.com/FET-Blog1. It's free advertising! I can brand the link with my initials (FET).


Use pages.
Blogger and WordPress both offer you the ability to publish pages as well. Pages are merely venues for you to put content up that isn't a blog. I have a page for my biography and one for presentations I do (this is great advertising - whenever I do a presentation, I put all my content up on my blog. That way, I ensure that everyone there can access the material and I introduce them to my blog!).

You can hide pages, too. This means they aren't visible to viewers, but you can always access them directly by punching in the URL. I do that sometimes for things I want to share with certain people, but don't want to make public.






One last lesson about blogging - don't put as many links in one post as I just did. I went link crazy. But that's because I think there is a lot of valuable information that demands further exploration. So go explore!

That's everything I know about blogging. I hope there's something you can takeaway from this post. I'd be interested to hear how you use blogs in your classroom. Please also comment on tips that you have for bloggers!





If you do want to read some more quality blogging information, Richard Byrne also has a blog dedicated to people who want to increase their blogging efficacy. Check out WormsInTheFridge, but specifically The Secret to Successful Blogs and Making Time to Blog.


Dave Ghidiu

About Dave Ghidiu -

Dave Ghidiu is a Senior Instructional Designer for Open SUNY.

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John Ghidiu
AUTHOR
April 19, 2014 at 11:47 PM delete

I really appreciate you calling out the differences between mobile and desktop web sites. More and more content is being consumed via mobile devices, so now is the time to really put an emphasis on mobile accessibility!

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Dave Ghidiu
AUTHOR
May 1, 2014 at 3:05 PM delete

It's easy to forget that visitors to your site may be consuming on a mobile device. It's hard enough to worry about different monitor resolutions, let alone mobile devices. By the way, when I want to view my blog from a mobile device and I'm too lazy to pick up my phone, I append a "/?m=1" at the end of the URL (so it reads http://www.fringeedtech.com/?m=1 ) and I get a mobile perspective. That only works with Blogger, though.

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Mark Dibble
AUTHOR
April 6, 2015 at 10:18 AM delete

This is VERY helpful information. We're definitely going to incorporate a lot of these tips at our organization. I love the line "sporadic posting leads to sporadic consumption." I'm going to hang that in my office and maybe get it tattooed somewhere. I think it applies to all social media. Thanks!

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