August 16, 2007
I started out in early 2004 as a blog skeptic. But over the last four years, I've become a born-again believer. In that time, I've written almost a thousand blog entries, and I've read thousands upon thousands of blog entries. As a result, I've developed some rather strong opinions about what makes blogs work so well, and what makes blogs sometimes not work so well.
I'd like to share some of the latter with you today, in a piece I call Thirteen Blog Cliches.
Before I start, realize that these are my opinions. That should be a redundant statement on any blog, much less my own, but I'm putting the disclaimer out there anyway. Just because I run my blog a certain way doesn't make it the right way – or even a very good way. These are preferences, not beliefs. Please don't be offended if your blog, or a blog you enjoy, violates one of my so-called cliches. I'm not trying to single any one person or blog out here. It's your blog, and you don't have to answer to me. I'm just some guy on the internet. Run your blog as you see fit. These are nothing more than broad observations formed over a period of four years where I've been deeply immersed in blog culture.
You may not agree that these are cliches. You might even feel very strongly that I'm wrong about all of this. That's what comments and trackbacks are for. Use them.
- The Useless Calendar Widget
This list isn't in any particular order, with one exception. There is nothing I dislike more than the redundant blog calendar widget. It's like a recurring canker sore we can't quite seem to rid ourselves of.
I can't think of a single time I have ever found the blog calendar widget helpful. My computer already has a calendar function, so it's not like I need another calendar displayed in my web browser. Every post carries an obvious datestamp, so I can easily discern when it was published. But knowing whether someone posted an entry on the third tuesday of the month? Utterly useless.
The calendar widget is the vestigial tail of blog engines, evidence of our primordial ancestors. But we've evolved; it's time to lose the tail. Surely there's something more useful we could put in that space.
- Random Images Arbitrarily Inserted In Text
One of the cardinal rules of web writing is to avoid large blocks of text. There are plenty of excellent web writing guides that exhort you to break up your text, using bullets, numbered lists, quotes, paragraph breaks, images – anything, anything to avoid creating an intimidating wall of dense, impenetrable text.
And they're right. That's what you should do. I do it all the time. I'm doing it right now.
But like all good advice, it can be taken too far. For example, when you find yourself inserting random pictures into your writing for the sole purpose of breaking up the text.
In the above snippet, what does that image have to do with the text? As far as I can tell, absolutely nothing at all. I see this on a disturbing number of blogs and feeds that I regularly read. It's probably due to the influence of Philip Greenspun and his seminal book, Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing, where the text is juxtaposed with random photographs that Philip has taken. It's one of the earliest and best references on web development, and the fact that it's still relevant today despite its age speaks volumes about the quality of Mr. Greenspun's writing. But it's the writing that makes the book a classic, not the amateur photography sprinkled throughout its pages.
As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But you should no more insert a random image into your writing than you would insert a thousand random words into your writing. I don't care how beautiful your photographs are, it's a terrible, irresponsible practice that distracts and harms readability.
And those of you sitting there smugly, with your stock photo library and your peripherally, tangentially, almost-but-not-quite related images that you use to break up your text, don't think I'm not talking about you, either. Because I am. Think about that the next time you read an article about a "web 2.0 bubble" accompanied by – you guessed it – a stock photo of a child blowing a bubble.
Images are not glorified paragraph breaks. Images should contribute to the content and meaning of the article in a substantive way. And if they don't, they should be cut. Mercilessly.
- No Information on the Author
When I find well-written articles on blogs that I want to cite, I take great pains to get the author's name right in my citation. If you've written something worth reading on the internet, you've joined a rare club indeed, and you deserve proper attribution. It's the least I can do.
That's assuming I can find your name.
To be fair, this doesn't happen often. But it shouldn't ever happen. The lack of an "About Me" page – or a simple name to attach to the author's writing – is unforgivable. But it's still a problem today. Every time a reader encounters a blog with no name in the byline, no background on the author, and no simple way to click through to find out anything about the author, it strains credulity to the breaking point. It devalues not only the author's writing, but the credibility of blogging in general.
Maintaining a blog of any kind takes quite a bit of effort. It's irrational to expend that kind of effort without putting your name on it so you can benefit from it. And so we can too. It's a win-win scenario for you, Mr. Anonymous.
- Excess Flair
I'd like to talk to you about your flair.
Blogs work because they're simple. When we clutter up our blogs with a zillion widgets, features, and add-ons, we're destroying an essential part of what makes blogs worthwhile.
Before you add a new "feature" to your blog, consider whether this feature will be useful enough to your readers to overcome the additional complexity it adds to the page. Hint: almost none of them are.
- The Giant Blogroll
I'm all for linking generously to outside content. We all stand on the shoulders of giants, after all. Although if you look down in today's world, you might find that you're standing on lots and lots of midgets. Large or small, we owe them a debt of gratitude.
Citing your references and influences is a great and necessary thing, but obsessively listing every single blog you read – the so-called "blogroll" – is just noise.
If you're really reading this many blogs, you should be linking to them organically in your blog posts, in a sort of natural quid pro quo. Wearing a giant blogroll on your sleeve is an empty gesture. I'm reminded of the distasteful way that blogs in giant ad networks (such as Weblogs, Inc) spam every page with a huge list of internal links to their other blogs. It feels artificial and insincere.
Publish your OPML if you think organic links in your writing aren't telling the whole story, but avoid cluttering up your page with a huge, spammy blogroll.
- The Nebulous Tag Cloud
I'm a big fan of tagging. It's far superior to the old method of placing everything in hierarchical folders. Tag categories on blogs are moderately useful, particularly for bloggers who tend to bounce around among many different topics. What I've never found useful, however, is the stereotypical tag cloud visualization, where the size of the tag word varies with its frequency.
The perception is that tag cloud visualizations are cool, like badges of honor for the tagging club. The reality is that tag cloud visualizations are chaotic, noisy, and unusable. Keep the tagging, lose the cloud. A simple sorted list of tags, along with the number of posts associated with each tag, is much more effective.
- Excessive Advertisements
Advertising is a fact of life. People need to feed their starving children. I get it. I've even reluctantly entered the field myself. But is it really necessary to make your blog look like Times Square? Does every square inch of whitespace have to be filled with paid links, Google AdSense, and ad banners?
In the process of researching this article, I found a related article on blog usability that's a perfect – even ironic – example of how you can hurt your usability with excessive, obnoxious advertising. It's everywhere.
It is almost never in the reader's interest to see advertisements, so my advice is to tread very lightly, and be respectful of your audience. Bad advertising is so prevalent that if you take the time to advertise responsibly, you may find that readers appreciate you for it.
Well, probably not, but it can't hurt to try.
- This Ain't Your Diary
I don't begrudge anyone their right to post whatever it is they think they need to post on their blog. But let's be perfectly clear: your readers aren't coming to your blog to read about you. They're coming to your blog to find out what it can do for them. If you find your blog turning into a diary of your daily activities, you'll have a very limited audience unless you happen to be a real world celebrity. Even my wife isn't particularly interested in the minutiae of what I do every day. Why would I expect my readers to be?
That said, blogs are a place for writers to find an interested audience, and a place for readers to find a helpful peer and a unique voice. It's OK to be yourself; at some level, it is a cult of personality: people are reading not only because your content is useful to them, but because they like you. It's normal to inject a regular dose of yourself into the conversation.
But like Tabasco sauce and other powerful seasonings, a little YOU goes a long way. A really long way. Write accordingly.
- Sorry I Haven't Written in a While
If you haven't posted anything new to your blog in a while, don't waste our time with apologies. Just write! The best apology is new and improved content. Maybe with a wee bit more consistency this time, though.
The most important piece of advice I give anyone who asks me about blogging is this: pick a schedule you can live with, and stick to it. That doesn't mean you should post substandard crap, of course, but I find that talent is far less important than enthusiasm. And the best way to demonstrate your enthusiasm – and to improve – is to get out there and write. Regularly.
And if you can't muster the enthusiasm for writing regularly, move on. But don't stop creating.
- Blogging About Blogging
I find meta-blogging – blogging about blogging – incredibly boring. I said as much in a recent interview on a site that's all about blogging (hence the title, Daily Blog Tips). I wasn't trying to offend or shock; I was just being honest. Sites that contain nothing but tips on how to blog more effectively bore me to tears.
If you accept the premise that most of your readers are not bloggers, then it's highly likely they won't be amused, entertained, or informed by a continual stream of blog entries on the art of blogging. Even if they're filled with extra bloggy goodness.
Meta-blogging is like masturbating. Everyone does it, and there's nothing wrong with it. But writers who regularly get out a little to explore other topics will be healthier, happier, and ultimately more interesting to be around – regardless of audience.
- Mindless Link Propagation
One of the most pernicious problems in blogging is the echo chamber effect. Most blog entries merely regurgitate what other people have said or add vapid commentary on top of news articles and press releases. Only the tiniest fraction of blog entries are original content, and only a tiny fraction of that fraction is worth your time. One of my very favorite articles is Chris Pirillo's piece on 10 Ways to Eliminate the Echo Chamber. Chris has been blogging for a very, very long time and he has the battle scars to prove it. This call to action should be required reading for every blogger. With pop quizzes.
It's always been deeply disappointing to me that we have the whole of human history to talk about, and most people can't get past what happened today. If I wanted news, I'd visit one of the hundreds of news sites that do nothing but news every day. Putting yourself in the news business is a thankless, unending grind. Don't do it.
If everyone knows about it, what value does that information have? Three years from now, will anyone care that Apple released a new iPod on that particular day? My advice here is almost contrarian: if everyone else is talking about it, that means you should avoid talking about it. Switch things up. Seek out uncommon sites with unique information. Dig down to original sources and read the material everyone is commenting (comments on top of comments on top of comments) endlessly on.
If all you can find to talk about is what's already popular, you're not trying hard enough. Form your own opinion. Do your own research. Go out of your way to blaze a new trail and create something we haven't already seen hundreds of times before.
- Top (n) Lists
Yes, exactly like this one.
The problem with Top (n) Lists is that they become a substitute for critical thinking, the classic, laziest possible use of Cliff's Notes that every college professor and high school teacher fears. You're supposed to read the book, then read the Cliff's Notes as a companion to the book – not use the Cliff's notes as a substitute for reading the book.
Lists are a great convention. They make sense, people understand them, and they're a logical way to structure your writing. But don't let lists become a crutch. I'm always taken aback when I see the "most popular" posts on a blog dominated by Top (n) Lists. Shortcuts are only meaningful if you know what it is, exactly, you're cutting. If all you read is whatever Top (n) Lists have managed to float to the top of today's Reddit or Digg homepage, then you've cheated yourself out of the deeper experience of reading a complete book.
If you find that the Top (n) List convention is a go-to tool in your writing toolkit, consider rebalancing your writing portfolio with longer, more in-depth pieces as well. Not everything should be a sprint; throw a few small marathons in there somewhere to complement your short distance skills.
- No Comments Allowed
A blog without comments is not a blog. Yes, there are exceptions for massively popular blogs where comments clearly don't scale. But until that applies, the value of the two-way conversation far outweighs any minor inconvenience on your part. Writing is inconvenient. Get used to it, and get over yourself. The sum total of community contributions is far more useful than any one thing you'll ever write.
Besides, It's an open secret in the blogging community that the comments are often better than the original blog entry itself. Would you browse Amazon without the user reviews? No? Then why would you willingly choose to run your blog that way?
Don't be afraid of comments. Embrace them. Moderate them. The community will respect you for it, and your blog will be better for it as well.
This piece ended up being much longer than I originally intended. But I've had a lot of this stuff on my chest for years, and I wanted to do it justice. I also needed to explain myself in a constructive way so I don't end up offending too many people.
I've already broken at least two of my own rules with this very post. How cliche.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
And yet it is still possible to follow all these guidelines and still be crap, as my blog illustrates.
... I would disgree with the lists being a cliche: It works because people, by nature, don't like reading lots of text. Lists (done properly) add to the usability of the article.
I feel like writing a followup to this though. :)
This post finally got me to write something in the "About me" section of my blog. All three of my readers will be so excited. ;)
How about this one: writing a blog with close to 1000 entries and give your readers one way to browse them: sequentially. Thanks for the search box though!
Jeff, I'm glad you included Top (n) Lists.... because that's the first thing I thought of when I read the title! :)
Great stuff! I am wondering about the "no comments" one though. I suppose there could be a blog that is there to express one's thinking with no real reason to want any feedback.
I think I would like to turn the feature on/off on a post-by-post basis. For example, if I blog that California Microbreweries make the best Pale Ales, I may simply be stating a deeply held belief and do not want to read anyone else's opinion.
If I blog that "I really like Pale Ales, particularly those from California. Does anyone out there have any favorites from other places (like Kona)?", then yes, comments are welcome.
Then again, the fact that I am writing a comment may indicate that I really believe in them, but do not want the responsibility of reading or commenting on them...
While not cliches per se, I have a similar list of blog annoyances that match this pretty close except for one that you missed: no syndication feed. This is 2007 and the bulk (IMHO) of the blog readers hit you with their blog consolidator and not via a direct url browse. There are a couple of really good blogs out there that don't syndicate and I totally space reading them....bummer for all of us.
Nice job...as usual.
I think you are mostly right. Especially about the points 8-11. I disagree about Top(n) lists though. If you actually add some new content there, you might get something. You can explain a subject (or a few) in a clear way, while the list itself catches the eye. It's a good trade-off. Naturally - it's a matter of balance.
Great list, although I disagree with point #13 (A blog without comments is not a blog). Comments are nice, but not essential.
Disagree with #2, at least as stated. An image -- even one completely orthogonal to the post's topic -- enhances the aesthetic of the page.
Guy Kawasaki, who is one of my top 10 favorite bloggers, inserts an image with every post. Sometimes they are arbitrary.
A somewhat related aside: Personally, I think the text column is too wide on your blog. I read this post in Outlook, and then read it again when I clicked through to comment. I think even *more* use of whitespace (i.e. don't scale out to 1920 horizontal resolution!) would make an excellent blog even better.
Great List. I agree with most of these except for the tag cloud. I think the tag cloud is okay as long as you limit it to your more frequent tags.
Thanks for some great advice.
"your readers aren't coming to your blog to read about you"
That depends on the blog, surely? It's like saying Mr Book Author, people aren't reading your book to read about you. They are if it's an autobiography.
If you find your blog is becoming a diary, maybe you're just going proper old-school, and expanding the term back to whence it came: web log.
Blogging's just a medium. The message is up to you, and it's the only thing people really care about.
#10 11 are exactly why I stopped reading blog by guys like Scoble Winer.
And #10 also applies to podcasting (podcasts about podcasting) and why I stopped listening to guys like Curry.
A good list, I know that I'm guilty of many of these myself at times. However, most of the people who read my blog are my friends, so it does include a fair bit of personal content. I really should start keeping two.
I found it funny that you mentioned the random image thing, something I think your blog is quite guilty of from time to time. I don't really have time to dig up a lot of examples, but here's a recent one:
I run a group blog covering local politics, and people in the comments section were so consistently awful that we've had to disable comments entirely. We tried moderation for a couple of months, but weeding through hundreds of illiterate, racist screeds each week just wore us out.
I run a group blog covering local politics.. we've had to disable comments entirely
Eric, I'm amazed you were able to make comments work that long on a political blog. Political blogging is a far too dangerous hobby for me. I'd rather take up something safer, like juggling chainsaws.
Guy Kawasaki, who is one of my top 10 favorite bloggers, inserts an image with every post. Sometimes they are arbitrary.
I find GK smarmy and annoying (if he says "bull shiitake" one more time, I'm gonna throttle someone), but I have to disagree with you here. Of all the posts on his main page, almost all had relevant photos and/or illustrations. I was surprised too.
Lots of other bloggers suffer from the Random Images Inserted in Text problem, but I'm not going to name names.
I definitely agree about 10-11. I had to chop a few blogs from my feeds because I essentially got four stories throughout the day on the same events.
Metablogging is particularly annoying. That was one of the reasons why I stopped reading Robert Sc()ble (sorry, he's a link whore, I'm not going to give him any more Google Juice than I have to.[scratch that, I'm not sorry]) He'd post an article about something, and then spend the next day putting up posts to the effect of "My post hasn't shown up on any of the blog search engines yet...Oh, it just showed up on google...now it's on Technorati...Techmeme just picked it up...ad nauseum"
"I find meta-blogging -- blogging about blogging -- incredibly boring"
Err... isn't that what you're doing now?
14. SPAM in Your RSS Feed like this:
[advertisement] Tran*les.com allows you to send huge files (up to 1GB) to anyone without worrying about email attachment limits. Send via the Web site or download the DropZone utility for even more functionality. It#8217;s fast, easy, and totally free! Transfer big files now.
Good list - and I found it first after Tara Hunt twittered it. ;) I wanted to point out that I think you meant AdSense, not AdWords (even though your point is very well taken - and I can be guilty as charged). :)
Finaly, great post, very true.
Listen to PWills, he's right, lines could be shorter.
Talking about blogs, Guy used to be one of my favourites, but he is so into ads nowdays he
doesn't even need random pictures any more. I got the impression lately that he just throws something in a hurry just to have a fresh page for the ads :(
Good points all, though I like meta-blogs and am a staff writer at Daily Blog Tips. If there are sites about being a better wind-surfer, cook, programmer, why not sites about being a better blogger?
And what about this post? It's great, but it's meta-blogging too.
I wish I could have linked to this article in a piece I wrote a few days ago, 50 Tips to Unclutter Your Blog.
I think my blog scores 0/13 (or 13/13, depending on how you look at it) on this ... however, I have recently embraced the missing 14th clich: "loooong time since last post!" ...
John Lam (the IronRuby guy) in each blog entry puts an image not always referring to the post content. It's still a good blog. (Here: http://www.iunknown.com/ )
I think you need to come clean and admit that the only reason this was posted was so you'd have an excuse to show off that pretty pink journal you purchased!
some of us want to remain anonymous and infrequently read. not everyone is ego driven you know. some of us write to write.
Alex is the dog BTW so I don't think he took many pictures. But my guess is your actually seeing if anyone is paying attention. :-p
Greenspun's images, although random, were purposeful. He was the founder of photo.net one of the first true communities on the net and the artful pictures certainly attracted people to that community. Also, as he states in the preface he wanted the first coffee table computer book -- because the book looked accessible I bought it. It led to me Greenspun and his free three week bootcamps -- an incredible learning experience that jump-started my web career. Btw, maybe you should allow commenters to post images ;)
A very thoughtful post. However, regarding #6, I believe that it really depends on the writing style of the blog's author. If the author focuses on one and only one topic in each blog, I think a hierarchical categorization system works fine. Otherwise, tags seem to be a better choice.
*cough* Speaking of tagging... With ~1000 entries the old search box doesn't always cut it here. Although your back-linking to old posts relevant to the topic helps a lot (and helps suck up more of what little time I have!).
My other meta beef here is your URI names. I like having the title in the URI such as ../blog/thirteen-blog-cliches.html because it gives me immediate feedback on links that link back to previous posts.
"...I can't think of a single time I have ever found the blog calendar widget helpful..."
One blog site I go to uses it to make it easier to retrieve articles in archives. Keeping your initial disclaimer in mind, I personally find it easier to use than the standard archive menu.
Hey! Stop blogging about blogging!
Pretty good list, actually.
standing on lots and lots of midgets.
LOL, thats funny!!
I would have put a 14th:
- Commanding discussion or reactions at the end of a post.
It comes off too condescending IMO, feels to me like the blogger is saying: "there you go, I've come up with this astounding piece of prose that will inevitably arouse your minds, thus, you should discuss...in fact, you must discuss this amazing topic I've just layed out for you, I'll return to the olympus now, and leave you with your fellow mortals..."
well that was a bit dramatic, but it comes off too cocky.
Man, oh man! You've been reading my mind, Jeff!!
And what is it with people and widgets? The consensus seems to be that if you aren't a WordPress blogger, you're just some kinda moron. And some of the biggest selling factors on WP blogs is the plug-ins, gadgets, and gizmos. Like I need a blog to feature an analog clock when I wear a watch and have the time displayed in the system tray anyway?
Even aside from websites, just look at how everyone is all aflutter over Windows Vista because of its glossy widgets and resource-hogging eye-candy. FireFox is another great example of this - people are so gaga over the plug-ins, widgets, and greasy monkeys that they seem to have forgotten to use the dang app for - dare I say it - web browsing.
Lately, it sures seems that fluff, rather than substance, is the order for the day...
I agree w/ everything here except the top (n) lists... I think they serve a purpose, readers eyes like to browse bullets and numbered lists, it gives them something to do.
Number 1, replicating standard OS functions as widgets, is probably my biggest pet peeve.
If you're at somebody's blog, you're already at a computer and can use your own system to figure out things like today's date. DUH!
It takes up space that can better be used to lay out your content more logically.
Oh, I just love tag clouds. I love how they work exactly backwards. The biggest, most prominent links are the ones that have been applied the most liberally; the ones that will be the *least* helpful in narrowing your search. Genius.
I'm only in disagreement regarding the diary issue. A blog is a blog is a blog. You're only as obligated to your audience as you feel you are. The beauty of the blog is that it's a passive medium. You can express your feelings, opinions, tribulations and it's up to the reader to take the of reading it.
To rule out an entire genre of weblog as a cliche just because it doesn't interest you is going a bit overboard.
I agree with everything but #3. There are various reasons for not providing your real name. In an age in which spock.com and similar sites (stalkerati springs to mind) provide everybody and their dog (potential employers, customers, landlords, whoever) with the ability to gather a rather comprehensible profile on everyone, it sounds like a good idea to me to keep a low profile (no pun intended). After all, the internet does not forget anything, and who can tell what their personal circumstances will be ten years down the road?
I've already broken at least two of my own rules with this very post. How clich.
Rules were made to be broken. (Doh! Yet another cliche in response to a cliche!)
I'll second the two previous anonymous comments - anonymity can be desirable for many different reasons.
Also, if you discount what is said solely because the author is anonymous, I have to question your ability to think for yourself. If something is written and well supported, it should stand on its own regardless of authorship. On the other hand, just because somebody you trust in relation to certain topics posts something about another topic, doesn't mean you should trust it solely because of authorship.
An "About Me" page doesn't have to contain a name and I don't think that's what Jeff was getting at. The purpose of it is to outline your motivations and hobbies, maybe what you do for a living, that sort of thing. It's to give enough background information on the person to really appreciate what they are writing. Whilst a name is nice, it doesn't really add to that depth in any meaningful way and so isn't needed.
As for writing Top(n) lists, one related problem is that everyone then seems to refer to them by their number. Surprisingly enough guys I've not memorised the list (yet :S) and so am having to jump back and forth. A simple "I agree with the one about meta-blogging" rather than "I agree with 10" takes you a small amount of time and saves everyone else a lot.
"This Ain't Your Diary"
I completely and utterly disagree with this point. Your blog is whatever you want it to be. In fact, I feel that if you really want to build a "loyal" readership, you *should* include some details about your life and inject some of your personality into your blog posts. Otherwise, you're just writing magazine articles.
Unless you really *are* boring. Then you should steal quotes from "The Big Lebowski" and "Animal House" to spice up your posts.
And could you call this the "Top 13 blog clichs"?
I feel that if you really want to build a "loyal" readership, you *should* include some details about your life and inject some of your personality into your blog posts. Otherwise, you're just writing magazine articles.
Isn't this what I said? Search for the term "cult of personality".
My own blog pet peeves:
- No search, or search that doesn't work well if at all. Solution: Use a Google search box that searches your site.
- Difficult or impossible to page back forth. Once a post is off the front page, you can't find it.
- Posts with no date. Because sometimes you want to know if an article is 5 years old or 1 day old.
I think there is a SEO rationale for some of the things you point out, such as the calendar widget.
Doing something simply for an "SEO rationale" isn't explicitly on the list for the same reason that drive-by downloads aren't.
Anyone who makes a bollocks of their page's UI to place higher in Google deserves whatever's coming to them.
It probably won't come as a surprise, then, that I agree totally with Jeff "The Last Cowboy" Atwood about tag clouds. I'm glad someone finally pointed it out.
"That's what comments and trackbacks are for. Use them."
Sorry, Jeff, I couldn't find a trackback URL for this post, so I'll just provide the link here:
Jeff, great points.
I agree with all of them except lists maybe. I find that they are a very nice way to make the content scannable.
Regarding meta-blogging, I think that this niche will somehow merge with web-design and web-development.
Blogs are merging with websites after all, they are no long the online diary of 17 year old girls that want to share how the ballet class went, as you pointed out.
Hmmm... I recognize that calendar snapshot from somewhere... Isn't it from one Mr. Hanselman's blog?
"This Ain't Your Diary." ?? Well, pardon me, but maybe it is. Although no one may want to read a blog that someone is using as a diary, I don't agree with your suggestion that using a blog as a diary is a bad thing. No one wants to read my paper journal but that's okay, because I don't write it for anyone else. Yes, I know, a blog is public so it would seem that someone writing one expects some others to read it but not necessarily. Which brings me to that calendar widget...
Maybe, it's not there for the reader. If an author uses the blog as a diary, the calendar may be a useful tool. It is a quick and easy visual reference to determine when posts were made.
Other than that, I agree with your list...even though it IS a list. :
OK, my opinion now.
There are two types of bloggers: the first is the journalist type of blogger, who writes concise pieces of information and lets his/her users know what's new on his niche. These people are organized, have an About Me page, a calendar, and a moderate blogroll.
The second type is the blogger, the simple blogger. There are two types of the simple blogger. Money-oriented blogger and information-oriented blogger. What do you want to do with your blog? Earn money like everyone is doing, or just write information, useful information, and thus, good content?
I agree with you regarding these cliches. The tag cloud will go away, will fade with time. It's a Web 2.0 feature, overutilized.
Some good tips here. Some that had already bored the crap out of me, and some that made me think. The list thing... Yes, long lists with questions are fun to answer, but to read? I don't read them, so why would my readers want that? (And shamely enough, a list is my latest content!)
I have always assumed that "blogroll" was the product of an English mind, coupled with a suitably scatalogical sense of humour. (Not uncommon over here).
You see, "bog" is a colloquial term for "toilet". So "bogroll" is a roll of toilet paper. A sprinkling of pun powder later...
Which puts the thing firmly in its place, I'd say.
I highly disagree with your comment about tag clouds. I think it's an easy way for a new reader to grasp what topics the blog is covering. You can say whatever you want in the "About Me" section, for instance, write that you are interested in C++ and philosophy, but your tag cloud might show that the biggest topic is lolcatz. What to believe? I will conclude that you have a higher opinion of yourself. Tag cloud show what are your results, and what you ultimately produce and interested in. For me, it's the best invention in user interfaces for a while. Information Architects have also adopted it.
#14: Open Threads. "I can't think of anything to write, so how about you write for me?"
I have to say I totally disagree with number #8. Just do a define:blog on google and you'll get a load of definitions that say a blog is exactly an online diary ;)
- Blogs generally represent the personality of the author or the Web site.
- An online Journal.
- A weblog or internet diary.
- A personal journal/diary that is available on the web.
- Blog (originally weblog) is a diary or history.
- Online journal of a website owner.
Addendum to list: Embedded objects or widgets that grab keyboard focus on load.
Jeff, you might want to use em-dash html entity (#8212;) instead of using double dash --, this what I learn from John Gruber of DaringFireball. Your blog has been my favorite all time insightful writings, I don't know how actually you keep up with your writing and work, and of course your idea streaming engine.
I have seen so many sites sprung up with all top (n) listamatic tantamount points, which I believe it to be one of de facto ways to get to the top social digging sites like digg itself. Though it is highly excessive information overload, probably one of the top productivity killers, and people likes it. Which I find it weird. It is unclear whether to put these top (n) list stuffs under blogs that works or blogs that doesn't work so well.
I laughed my ass off when I read the point about meta-blogging. You have a very dry humor ;)
Agree with pauldwait and Scott about #8. It's a good rule if you're trying to be a "professional blogger." But most people who write blogs aren't. They're interested in providing an update on the big things in their lives (not the minutiae), and the flow and progress of their thoughts, to a probably quite limited audience of their friends, family, and a few random fellow-travellers. Reading "planet" sites (aggregators of the blogs of people within a thematically-defined community) like Planet Gnome and Planet Emacsen, I'm actually quite glad to read diary-type posts. It gives me a window into the lives of people with whom I have something in common, even though they might otherwise be very different from me. Yes, posting diary-type stuff makes you a "commodity blogger." But I disagree that that's necessarily a bad thing for most bloggers.
I think #9 (pick a schedule and stick to it) is bogus, too. Most people who read a blog read it via its feeds, and so will be notified when there's a new post. You don't have to stick to a schedule just to make sure that there's new content when they come back to it -- this isn't 1999, and people aren't checking their bookmarked sites manually. Of course, it's also pointless to apologize for not posting regularly, for the same reason. Just post when you have material.
There should probably be another one added -- if you're trying to make your blog your job, don't make it obvious. None of the blog cliches above are as annoying as a blogger who has specifically adopted advice like "don't be a commodity blogger" or "always stick to a schedule" because they see that as the way to make money or to be an A-list blogger.
GREAT POST! Back to basic with the obvious.
It made me change my position on blogging, and I am off to change a few things on my BLOGS.
You mention inserting images and breaking up text as a way of improving readability for a blog. There's a third way to improve readability that you should have mentioned: limit column width. Lines should not run on endlessly, and, for many readers, having to do that manual carriage return on long lines can become a pain since it is easy to lose your place. Newspapers have known this for a very long time, and I see many blogs now picking this up as well.
This was a good read. I disagree with what you said about tag clouds though (perhaps because I don't want to admit that the tag clouds my site heavily rely on aren't actually poor design). I think some clouds are easier on the eyes than others. The one depicted in this article is indeed horrible. On the other hand, I find sites like Flickr have it right.
Also, as far as #8 goes, I think it has a lot to do with your target audience. If you're trying to attract a large portion of the internet then writing about what you bought at the supermarket isn't very appealing. But if your blog is something you share with your friends, then they might be interested in your day-to-day life.
I am the developer of the Blogger Calendar [java version]. I use my calendar often to tell me what I was doing when provided a reference date. I tend to blog everything.
I have found a great many uses. The link I provided demonstrates one of the installations of the calendar. I hope you will check it out.
What i don't like also, and this happens sometimes in different kinds of articles on web pages, not just in blogs, is putting more than 1 link with the same destination very close to each other, just like you did in "Mindless Link Propagation" paragraph: 2 links to the same "http://chris.pirillo.com/2006/08/18/10-ways-to-eliminate-the-echo-chamber/" page.
Great, absolutely great article! I especially liked it because I have followed all of these practices from the beginning, for carefully thought-out reasons just like you wrote.
The only two I violate is (11) and (3). (11) because sometimes an event is newsworthy and my site is partly devoted to tracking current events and developments within my niche. Most of the time, however, I do "blog for the ages".
(3) is more of a pet peeve. I don't mind so much if an author doesn't say who they are. I DO hate it when the author is this egotistical, overbearing jackass who includes a blown-up head-shot of their ugly puss in every single post and their name is the biggest thing on the page and repeated twelve times. People like this are trying to make celebrities of themselves, to the point where it is assumed that their content is a nil consideration. Yes, I'm looking at you, professional bloggers posting under the umbrella of some mega-corporation.
So, I've been avoiding including too much data about me, because I don't want to turn my audience off with too much egocentric posturing. I assume people are there for the content, not to kiss my feet.
But thanks to your insight, I will resolve to include one (1) tasteful "about me" link to a simple bio, for people who just gotta know.
Yes! Yes! Yes! I agree with all your points. Except for no.8. If it's a celebrity blog, then as a fan would lap up whatever you talk about yourself.
I have been making satirical swipe at meta-blogggers and meta-blogging in my blog. Making jokes at bloggers and bloging is my niche. I find them a BORE. Yakking the same useless, no-brainer tips post after post. Of course there are some new and useful blogging tips, but that's far and few.
Love it. Especially meta-blogging.
Thanks for the great read.
Dj vu! I could have sworn I read this exact list before. The part about the top(n) lists and comments seems especially familiar. Have you posted this before ?
You don't need comments to have a successful blog. You don't need comments to have a successful blog. You don't need comments to have a successful blog.
Who reads a blog where the comments are more interesting than the content!? Not me. Not anyone. That's silly talk. Come on now.
If blogging about blogging (meta-blogging) is so boring, yet you wrote about it! I suspect you find it at least a little intriguing or else you wouldn't have made this post.
The problem I find frustrating with blogs is that many just generate too much noise. If you are posting more than once a day, I would take a serious look at how useful each post actually is to your readers.
I read a dozen or more blogs each day, and really don't care for your "daily links" or other superfolous posts. I think Coding Horror is great in this respect with its one post per day and each is usually of high quality.
Ah, my tag cloud has been forever immortalized on coding horror. ;-) I actually agree with you, I never cared for tag clouds. It was only until 2 weeks ago I started playing with WordPress trunk and its built-in tagging support which I used to turn my categories into tags. But yeah, I should find a better way to display them.
The Useless Calendar Widget: I couldn't agree more. I actually author a blogging application (Google Battle Blog if you're curious) and made a point to specifically avoid the calendar on the very premise you assert. I can't remember the last time I've actually been interested in the month and day someone posted. A calendar is a left over from the days when the novelty of the blog was the daily accumulation of content and not its substance. Blogs have since evolved. Nowadays people who hit a blog and bother to delve into it beyond the latest page of postings are far more likely to be topocentric about it.
Random Images Arbitrarily Inserted In Text: I disagree with this one. By contrast I absolutely cannot stand a text-only blog. Text-heavy blogs are a waste of the medium. A text-heavy blog is basically a web based e-mail message one might as well send to my inbox. Random images are better than none at all. However, I will agree that in every post a random image becomes mechanically obvious. Plus, its total mitigation also depends on what the blog is about and/or who is doing it. As always relevance of content trumps presentation.
This Ain't Your Diary: Not so fast. Again, it's about who's doing the blog and why. What if the blog IS a diary? I think what you really meant to say was that most of us have mundane lives and shouldn't be attempting to build an audience parlaying every detail of it to the public. Again, the author and context matter. "I got up, brushed my teeth, and jogged around the block" is uninteresting if I blog it today. But if an astronaut on Mars blogs it next week, well, that's pretty damn interesting. :) The diaried lives of exceptional people in extraordinary circumstances can be extremely compelling. But even then, blogging isn't necessarily about building an audience so much as it might be about self-expression. Blogging for money and audience are actually relatively new motivational trends, but far from the original.
Sorry I Haven't Written in a While: Could not agree more. However, I would also disagree that the way to correct this is to "write more". Writing to fill a blog can lead to thin content. Every blog has its own pace and it is completely valid to only post when something interesting happens - depending on the purpose or reflection of the blog. RSS in particular, which helps to effectively forget about a blog until it updates, helps with this logic.
Mindless Link Propagation: I agree with this one, too, but also only to an extent. Propagating actually has two useful functions. One, to, solidify the philosophical viewpoint of the blog's author without re-inventing content. And two, to push a viewpoint across the internet that may not otherwise get pushed by the mainstream media. We haven't really had our "Pentagon Papers" of the blogosphere just yet, but we will eventually, and propagation and mirroring will be critical to making sure that information is provided with redundancy. We don't want to fall into the trap of such a thing as a "blogging leader" because, really, that deflates the medium and returns our mindset to a sort network television comfort zone. Be wary.
Excellent post, Jeff.
I have a simple solution to the Giant Blogroll eye sore: I publish my Google Reader Shared Items feed. My readers can see what I'm reading that I think is important without having to sift through noise.
Keep enlightening us!
What does Jeff use to run this blog?
And if you, Jeff, are reading this, I am curious as to what you think of wordpress for effective blogging (assuming that the clichs you've listed are avoided during the wordpress usage).
I agree with Jeff's comments on the blogosphere intuitively, but I am more interested in what he has to say - due to his blogging experience - about the technical side of running his blog. Software, tips for long-term management - I see Jeff has changed several things in codinghorror since the beginning.
You raise some wonderful points. And you negate the value of raising those wonderful points by letting your ego get in the way of otherwise good writing.
Quick quesiton: Is this list a conscious critique of your own blog methods? Or a glaringly hypocritical self righteous attempt at externalizing your own flaws? Either way, congrats on attacking the work of others while turning a blind eye to your own faults. Job Well Done.
Ahem -- #10 - you find blogging about blogging incredibly boring? then wtf is this article about? This point was great for a nice laugh at first, given the nature of the post, but the sene of humor quickly gave way to bittersweet pity when it became clear that you were trying to be serious.
also, dude, lose the thesaurus!!! you will seem much more intelligent the moment you stop trying to sound intelligent with clunky, often misused obscure words. your readers will stop suspecting that you're really compensating for something else when you erroneously substitute 'vapid' for 'boring' or 'pernicious' for 'harmful.' Reflect for a moment on your position on visual clutter, which is spot on by the way. Now think of the verbal equivalent - using teacher-PLEASE-notice-my-essay words is not so different from adding lots of stickers, banners, etc. to a visual composition. You should really talk to yourself about flair, if you insist on co-opting jokes from Office Space.
Lastly, your writing will benefit tremendously from your purchasing (and utilizing) both of these books:
A) Strunk White's Elements of Style. In it, you'll find lots of useful tidbits to strengthen your own writing, such as avoiding useless lead-ins ("One of the most"), etc.
B) Dale Carenegie's How to Win Friends Influence People - you'll win a lot more people to your way of thinking once you hang up the "I's" "Me's" and "My's," and stop insinuating that your readers must be at fault if they disagree with the almighty You. Alternatively, check out Brian Regan's 'Me Monster,' - the subject of this joke should strike a familiar chord with you.
Once your writing is somewhat worthwhile, your attacks on the faults of others will seem less like an unintentional punch line.
i think two of the reasons for your own success are:
-only post quality. (you don't ever post unless you've written something good)
-keep doing it over time.
people who say "i only have an audience of 3" are needlessly pessimistic: you only had 3 readers at one point. i remember only having one reader initially. so i wrote hard for that one reader, and now there's... dozens ;-).
Disclaimer: this is purely my own worthless opinion and isn't meant to offend.
I think that you're taking things way too seriously. Blogs are by their very form trivial. You toss some words together and be done with it. The push to write something every day results in a weakened form of quality. Blogs are for people to sprout of their unfounded ideas and thoughts. The daily format also prevents a person from creating a consistent structure to their site (as blog ideas can arrive in a random order).
The blog style doesn't translate well to serious writing. Serious writing can be seen (as an example) in the process of writing a technical book - say on programming. An author (most likely more than one) writes a book over several years. Editors and technical reviewers then tear that book apart looking for faults and ways to improve the work. Draft after draft are written until the book is finally considered acceptable.
To repeat my point: you're taking blogging way too seriously. If you want a serious medium then enter the world of technical book writing. Blogs are a joke and will remain as such.
I just deleted a bunch of ads from my blog. I've been researching whether a personal blog is commercial or noncommercial if it has ads on it. I'm starting to think that the answer has something to do with profit motive, but am continuing to research.
I actually feel better now that some of the clutter is gone.
I'll be doing more...
You really nailed a bunch of the "no go" issues for blogging. The one item I will push back a little is lists (#12) only because lists to be among the most-read things on the blogosphere. This inspired my brother and I to start a quirky, list-driven blog - fourreasonswhy.com.
My favourite cliche, as demonstrated about 15 minutes ago right here at codinghorror.com:
I went to http:://www.codinghorror.com/ and saw the :discipline makes strong developers" article. Nothuing new? Oh well. Visit reddit, see a link to a post here, take a look. Realise it's new. Go back to the main page, hit F5, oh, lookie, there's two new posts!
I'm guessing something got stuck in a cache, but it could be anything.
Also, there's the ever-popular calendar showing a post in every second month, and 6 months ago the post ended "this was the problem, tomorrow I'll blog about the solution" and no more posts ever appear. (Even if you bang away on the F5 key all day.)
I disagree about calandars. You say that you already have a calendar on your desktop - correct - but it doesn't tell you or link you to the days' posts on a blog, does it?
The useful blog calandars only highlight days in the month where posts were made.
There certainly is a lot else I agree with you on though. Too many clicklets, huge blogrolls (use OPML instead). Tag clouds are good though.
There are simply different people in the world, and you only appear to see one side/opinion : yours. Which is fine ;p
But some people like to navigate to discover, some like to search. Some browse. etc. Some know exactly what they want.
Ads ARE EVIL though. Why would you create a site to lose the visitor by provide links to irrelevant othe rplaces to something totally differnt : ie : read blog - buy crap.
hmmm.. :) Good post!
"Isn't this what I said? Search for the term "cult of personality"."
Yes, but I think we disagree about the degree you should involve your life in your blog. If you look at a lot of the bloggers that have been around for a long time (Winer, Pilgrim, and others), you'll notice that they include political views, happenings at home, and recounts of vacations in their posts. Newer ones often just stay on topic, writing what seem to be magazine articles rather than personal insight. I think including things like that goes a long way towards building a "personal brand" than just including pop culture references like "Man that band Boston sure could play a mean tune" or small personal opinions. I understand targeting your content for your audience, which often means putting up multiple blogs.
Not sure you actually read Jeff "Silent But Deadly" Atwood's comments about tag clouds. His suggestion to include a simple, sorted list of tags and their frequencies addresses your concerns without using some terrible widget from the "Oh look! A shiny object!" school of UI design.
I would have liked your article had you titled it “Learn how to blog Jeff Atwood style!”
Though you make a humble start highlighting that these are “your” opinions, the tone of your article does not reflect it.
Ok, so I want to display a random picture because I came across it and found it brilliant, or say I created it myself. Do I have to write a 200 word blog that suits the picture to share it with my audience? You are stifling creativity.
Besides, who are we blogging for?
In the genuine artist the desire for applause, while it usually exists strongly, is secondary, in the sense that the artist wishes to produce a certain kind of work, and hopes that that work may be applauded, but will not alter his style even if no applause is forthcoming.
- Bertrand Russell.
Anything works so long as it adds value to someone and that someone can be just you.
Excellent, again. If you ever write a book, I'm buying it.
What’s Next after Web 2.0?
I do not like those buzz words like Web 2.0, Business 2.0 etc., however in order to communication, you have to conform to their protocols, otherwise they might think you are speaking in a foreign language. So far Web 2.0/Internet 1.0 lead by Youtube, FaceBook, same Amazon, New Yahoo! and New Google is successful, though at not successful as Web 1.0/Internet 0.0 led by Old Yahoo!, Ebay, Amazon and Old Google. Why? Not a big surprise anymore when from Web 1.0/Internet 0.0 to Web 2.0/Internet 1.0 as opposed from nothing to Web 1.0/Internet 0.0.
I believe the next after Web 2.0/Internet 1.0 is Web 3.0/Internet 2.0, however we’d better to call it Internet 2.0, since at that time, Web is not that important any more. Why?
Web 1.0/Internet 0.0 - Informed, you as a reader
Web 2.0/Internet 1.0 - Inform, you as a writer
Internet 2.0 (as opposed as Web 3.0/Internet 2.0) - formation of Information, you as a reader, writer, and much more
- BTW I am writing this post while I am watching a lecture C++0x (yes, C++0x) on at Univ. of Waterloo made by Prof. Bjarne Stroustrup - Prof. Stroustrup, think about C++ 3.0, borrow somthing nice from Ruby, the world is way too different now as opposed to 1980s
Frontier Space - http://www.hwswworld.com/space
Frontier Blog - http://www.hwswworld.com/wp
How about this one: writing a blog with close to 1000 entries and give your readers one way to browse them: sequentially. Thanks for the search box though!
True. I just fixed up the archives page, and I'll be linking it from the main page as well.
There's a third way to improve readability that you should have mentioned: limit column width.
Agree (http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000618.html). I need to adjust my stylesheet, which currently expresses line length as a percentage of width. This works OK up to about 1600x1200, but is probably too long if the browser window is larger than that.
Yeah, sorry, kiddo, some of us are going to keep on running blogs without comments.. because they're *ours* and we can do with them as we wish.
I hate blogsites with no way to comment. I do have Top (n) lists from time to time; it helps with one of your other points, regular posting. Since I've posted every day for over 2 years, it's helpful. I've done far less posting of previous links over time. But I like my blogroll; the idea of the blog, one longtime blogger told me when I started, is to please ME.
"Who reads a blog where the comments are more interesting than the content!? Not me. Not anyone. That's silly talk. Come on now."
Err... I do, This one has comments that are often as interesting as the original article and Slashdot where the original article is quite often boring but the comments are (sometimes) interesting and largely the whole point of reading it
An example of this was mentioned above, I go to Amazon for the comments it gives a better idea about the product than many review sites that are more likely to be biased
When I find well-written articles on blogs that I want to cite, I take great pains to get the author's name right in my citation.
Just link to the page you cite, that would be enough.
obsessively listing every single blog you read-- the so-called "blogroll"-- is just noise. If you're really reading this many blogs, you should be linking to them organically in your blog posts, in a sort of natural quid pro quo. Wearing a giant blogroll on your sleeve is an empty gesture.
I’m using blogrolls (aka “friend’s feed”) as a kind of a social network. If I’m interested in what you write and you are interested in reading those people I may be interested in them also. So a blogroll is not a noise.
I'd like to talk to you about your flair.
The better (and probably more effective) line from the same movie: "You know, the Nazis had pieces of flair, but they made the *Jews* wear them."
I thought my blog was just kind of un-hip (my blogroll is so short!), but it turns out that it's actually just un-cliched! Thanks, Jeff!