Advice for Newbie Bloggers

NOTE: This is a (slightly edited) re-post of a blog entry I wrote way back in 2005, that actually comes from a few pages in ye olde blogging book. I decided to re-post this because although you might think everyone is hip with the blogging, that isn’t really the case. In fact, the majority of students in my (half mine) class are new bloggers. I know this will be useful for them. Maybe others.

Making Friends and Influencing People
Once you’ve found a community of blogs that appeals to you, the next step is to venture out into it. You can be a silent reader—also called a lurker—or you can jump right into the conversation. It all depends on your own personality. The term lurker is not at all pejorative—it simply means you’re reading blog content and following the conversation going on in the comments section of the post, but you don’t participate often (if at all).

I lurk on many blogs. Sometimes it’s because I don’t have anything to add to the conversation, sometimes it’s because I know that Jane SuperCool A-List Blogger doesn’t care one whit for what I have to say. The point is this: lurking isn’t bad. In fact, it’s a recommended means of entry into a new community.

Think of the Blogosphere like it’s one big party. What happens when a stranger enters the room and loudly begins conversing with anyone who will listen? Typically, people will start slinking away, regardless if Loud Person has something interesting to discuss. But if a calm, quiet person sidles up to a conversation, listens for a bit and then interjects some insightful commentary, voila! New friends are made.

We all want to make friends and influence people, right? Even if you write only in your own little corner of the Blogosphere, you’ll be in contact with other humans and it’s important to treat your readers and fellow commenters as such. We’re all human beings, and we all have something to offer to the world just like we all have flaws. Following are some guidelines to remember, which—remarkably enough—mimic etiquette in the “real world.”

Blogospheric Diversity
Bloggers exist on all seven continents, and virtually every demographic group on earth is represented by a blogger. Bloggers are very young, very old, and every age in between. Bloggers come in every shade of color between translucent white and deep ebony. Religion, sexual orientation, social class, gender—you name it, there’s a blogger out there to match any and every combination thereof.

Unless you have some sixth sense that tells you the particulars about a person based solely on a few words printed on your monitor, you will have no idea to whom you are leaving a comment or who might be reading your blog. Unless you aim to offend others or incite arguments, bear in mind this note about diversity.

This is not to say that you cannot express your opinions on your own blog, or in the comment areas of other blogs. However, there is a fine line between expressing an opinion while recognizing the inherent worth of all people, and making bigoted statements with the intent to offend. Crossing or not crossing that line is a personal matter for each and every one of you.

Opinions vs. Facts
No one is “right” or “wrong” in the Blogosphere, unless there are facts in evidence that tip the scales one way or another. For instance, my car is silver. I know it is. If I say it is, and a reader leaves a comment to the effect of “your car is blue,” then obviously that person has just lost some credibility. In this situation, I would correct the person, telling them that indeed my car is silver and I know this because I bought it, it’s parked outside my house, and here, gentle reader, is a photograph of it. The example I just used is pretty lame as examples go, but it does show how to diffuse a possibly contentious conversation—offer evidence that supports the argument you are trying to make. But what if there is no evidence?

Let’s say two people are arguing over whether newborn babies should ever wear polka-dotted clothes. One person may offer an opinion that their child benefited greatly from wearing polka-dotted clothes. Another person may offer an opinion that polka-dotted clothes caused tremendous mental anguish for their child and in fact is the cause of their child’s developmental delay. Neither person can point to a scientific study regarding the effects of polka-dotted clothes on newborns. The two should agree to disagree, and the person who asked the question originally should consider both sides of the argument. However, if either of the opinionated parents says that they are right and the other person is wrong, without offering factual evidence to bolster their case, they are behaving badly.

Cite Your Sources
If you offer facts in evidence, use links in your posts to direct readers to the primary source of this evidence. For instance, if you are citing scientific research, link to the journal article in which the research was published. If the primary source is not available to you, link to a reputable secondary source in your post. In other words, if you are offering evidence to support your claims, provide your readers with a method to evaluate this evidence on their own.

In addition to citing sources, give credit where it is due. Perhaps you’re writing a blog post about a spectacular salad you made for dinner. If you got the recipe from your mother, say so. If you got the recipe from another blogger, who posted the recipe on their blog, say so with a link. The link serves several purposes—it shows you’re not a salad recipe plagiarist, and it tells the original blogger that you used their recipe and enjoyed it. The act of linking also increases the page-rank of the original blogger’s page, in search engines that use the number of incoming links as a measure of the value of the page content.

Trollish Behavior
Trolls have been around since the first words were typed on Usenet, all those years ago. If you have spent any time on mailing lists or message boards, then you’ve likely experienced a troll. Trolls exist for the sole purpose of “posting specious arguments, flames, or personal attacks,” and typically have no interest whatsoever in the topic at hand.

It may take you some time before you can immediately recognize trollish behavior. If you think a troll is baiting you into responding, you might want to post a short response to the argumentative comment by beginning with something like “You appear to be a troll, but regardless I will briefly answer this question.” You might also want to end your response with something like “If you are not a troll, we can continue this discussion in a more civil manner.” But the best way to get rid of the troll is simply to ignore it. On your own blog, if you feel a troll has posted in your comments section and wish your regular readers to ignore it as well, you might post a comment that says “Please do not feed the troll.”

Additional Tips
A “successful” blog means different things to different people. My personal blogs have been successful for me because they provided me with a place to chronicle people, places, and things in my life—and my handwriting is atrocious so that was never an option. The fact that anyone at all reads my own blog is simply icing on the cake. The interaction between members of my own little blogging community is special to me, as we all have things we can learn from each other. But even if no one else read my blogs, I’d still be happy about them. Other people have a real need to receive comments to their posts, as a sort of validation that someone is reading their work and is moved to say something about it, and that’s fine too.

However, in addition to the other elements of etiquette just discussed, there are two very blog-specific things that are considered bad form:

  • Don’t ask others for a link to your blog. If they want to link to you, because they read your blog and think others would like to as well, that’s their own business. Just because you link to someone doesn’t mean they have to link to you. For instance, I link to Wil Wheaton’s blog because I read it and enjoy it. I never expect Wil Wheaton to link to my blog, and I wouldn’t ask him to do it.
  • Don’t complain about a perceived lack of readership. You may have more readers than you know, because not all readers leave comments, and even if you have a stats package on your site you often won’t know who reads through RSS feeds. If your regular readers feel unappreciated by such statements like “no one reads my blog and that makes me sad,” they’re likely to stop coming around. If a new reader stops by and sees such a post, they may not stay because such a personality trait is unappealing to some. It also calls into question the purpose of your blog. First and foremost, do you write for others or for yourself? If you write for others and you believe no one is reading, doesn’t that speak to a bigger issue?

To end this on a positive note, the primary tip I can offer to you is simply to have fun. Blogging can be emotionally draining, but it can also be a raucous good time for you and new-found friends.

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4 comments on “Advice for Newbie Bloggers
  1. Rachael says:

    Troll question: http://snarkmarket.com/blog/snarkives/books_writing_such/a_snarkmarket_book_project_the_new_liberal_arts/ is Gavin a Troll???

    I never met a troll before. Thanks for your very helpful post 🙂

  2. JM says:

    Not at all. For quick examples of trolls in the wild, just look through any of the comment threads at Pharyngula, esp. the ones clearly about evolution, or at BitchPhD. In fact, there’s a good example of troll/trollfeeding at the end of this post until someone mods it away.

  3. Rachael says:

    gotcha-though I still think Gavin P was headed that way, or at least had an instigative motive 🙂

  4. JM says:

    Instigating things is fine…lord knows the world would be boring without that. But there has to be some dark, seedy, malicious underbelly to that instigation for it to be trollish. You know how there’s a difference between someone who’s being a little bit of a shit disturber and someone you want to just punch in the face all the time? It’s like that.

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