Dan Frommer just about sums up the kind of tech blogger I would like to eventually evolve into (and I’m still evolving, by the way). Perhaps I was living under a rock (I wasn’t), but I wasn’t aware of SplatF’s existence until two weeks ago. I have no excuses to offer other than my own ignorance.
I’ve been digging through the SplatF archives over the past two weeks, and while there are more than a few gems I would like to link to and talk about here, this one – on being a better blogger – stands out, mostly because I’m slow and it’s in list form, and because it contains my quote of the week: “Write the site you want to read”.
Frommer’s list doesn’t offer anything you didn’t already know about being a good blogger, but it doesn’t offer anything you should not know about being a better blogger either.
1. Above all else, factual accuracy and attention to detail. That’s the easiest and best way to build and maintain trust over the long-term. If a fact is wrong, fix it and don’t be shy about it. If an opinion or prediction is wrong, learn from it and consider explaining how you got it wrong.
This is probably the right approach, lest the neckbeard trolls desecrate your 2,000 word blog post with links to Wikipedia and ‘learn to read, asshole’ in the comments.
2. Write the site that you want to read. That covers story selection, length, frequency, style, vocabulary, attitude, humor, level of sensationalism, and more. Don’t publish anything you’re not proud of. Be yourself.
I would like to believe this, but I don’t think there’s room for poop jokes and meme-references on a tech blog (or maybe there is…). Jokes aside, this is probably the best piece of advice about blogging – or writing for that matter – I’ve read in a while. Blogs, like pets, tend to evolve and embody the personalities of their owners. TechCrunch lost its edge as soon as Arrington left the editor’s chair. And Mashable is blander than tofu because it is Cashmore’s brainchild. You want your blog to reflect your personality. You better hope it’s an interesting one.
3. Be more skeptical. Companies and people have no interest in telling any side of the story but their own. Often, that side is flawed, invalid, or incorrect. Let someone else be the gullible one who looks silly later: Always question everything. (But don’t let it turn you into too much of a conspiracy theorist.)
Right on. Don’t trust press releases entirely, and definitely don’t trust news organizations with a well-regarded bias. You wouldn’t want to get news about Android from AppleInsider, would you?
4. Attribute well — the way you’d want to be attributed
This is a given, of course, and I’d really appreciate if bloggers stopped using the ‘original article link in the footer’ tactic popularized by Gawker. That’s the internet equivalent of asking someone to stand in a corner and hum silently.
5. Add context. Don’t assume people know what you’re talking about, especially if it’s obscure or technical.
I’ve been guilty of this more than a few times. In my brief blogging career, I often find myself launching into a cold open, assuming that my readers are savants who’ve memorized WikiPedia’s 15 million articles. A bit of context helps. Or it doesn’t. Depends on whether you actually give a fuck about your readers or not.
6. Be critical, but don’t be unfair. You’re not a jerk in person. Don’t be one on the Internet. (Unless it’s funny, of course.)
The worst sin you can commit on the internet is being bland, even though Mashable has built up an envious audience doing it. You’re competing with a gazillion other bloggers. Being a little critical helps. And you can be a bit of a jerk too. Just make sure you’re a funny jerk.
7. Care about your writing
Nobody wants to read Joe McClusterJargonFuk’s blog on Just Some Random Things. You have a personality that is unique (or is it?). Let it shine through your blog. And hope that the personality knows how to spell.
8. Care about your design. Don’t make your site more complicated than it needs to be.
Blogging with a bad design is like walking through Times Square in tee shirt and jeans. Unless you’re Brad Pitt, nobody is going to notice you twice. Jazz up your blog, or at least make it readable. SplatF is a good example to begin with.
9. Don’t be the 10th person to write the same thing. Say something that everyone else will wish they’d thought of. It takes longer, and it’s harder, but it’s worth it.
But it’s probably okay if you were the fifth person to say it and somehow managed to convince TechMeme that you were the first person to say it.
10. Try new things, all the time. Especially those that are a little outside your comfort zone. This is the Internet — don’t act like you’re writing for Time Magazine in the 80s. Stories can be pictures, charts, lengthy essays, numbered lists, or 140 characters. Measure how your experiments do, and take the results into account for the future.
This is what I love about the internet – the my blog and I’ll damn well write what I please attitude that makes it such an infinitely more interesting medium than old media. You’ve got the space to experiment, and hopefully an audience to experiment it on. What’s stopping you from going crazy?
And finally, one of my own tips:
11. Don’t be afraid to piss people off
I’m generally a people pleaser. I say sorry when I commit a mistake and knock before I enter. I hold doors and always return calls. It’s a little difficult to get out of the comfort zone and piss people off. But sometimes, you need to write things that won’t go down well with certain people. That’s okay. Don’t be an intentional jerk (it’s okay to be an accidental jerk though), but don’t hold back your views just because they might be unconventional or unacceptable.