The state of blogs today

I spent considerable time this week mulling over what this blog means and what blogging means in general. Specifically, I refer to the increasingly valid concern about the state of blogs today. They are so vastly different from what they were a few years ago, and almost nothing like they were back when weblogging started, that I ended up with two conclusions: one, blogging in the form that it started is either evolving or dying, depending on how you look at it; two, the spirit behind blogs, the core interests they brought to the table are being resurrected, albeit painfully slowly.

These two statements may at first seem counterintuitive, but they are not. In any case they demand further explanation. Luckily enough, over the course of this week I came across two interesting writings on this issue. One is a short post published on Seth Godin’s blog, and the other is an article by Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic, published earlier this year, titled What blogging has become. (On a side note, I have found articles in The Atlantic to be increasingly more interesting than The New Yorker of late.)

Mr Meyer writes about blogging as a victim to corporate consolidation:

Open up an old blog and it was a list of posts in “reverse-chronological order”… Meanwhile, in the right rail, there was a list of other blogs read by this one. Things were generally chummy… Very, very few people do that anymore… For a couple years now, it was clear we were going to lose the reverse-chron, single-URL game… in return, we got Twitter and Facebook… They adopted the chatty tone of blogs, and they unified the hundreds of streams of content in reverse-chronological order into just one big one… a writer didn’t have to attract and maintain a consistent audience in the same way anymore.

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A glimpse of the infinite — an interview with Martins Kai

Martins Kai will begin writing a column here on starting this month. Called “Glimpse of the infinite”, this will be a monthly — or occasionally a fortnightly — column. In this tête-à-tête with Mr Kai we talk about writing, his interests and passions, about himself, and then take a look at what his new column will be all about, as well as what plans he has for it down the road. “This”, he says, pointing to stretches of green lawn around us, “is a luxury in my country.” Dressed in a simple red T-shirt and black trousers, his eyes scanning the landscape around, he talks to me enthusiastically about his upcoming article. He is working on a piece about Foreign Direct Investment in Kenya and how development has been slow there and corruption blatantly on the rise. “We’re one of the largest economies in East Africa”, he says, and believes that Kenya needs to steal the development model of countries like India which are developing faster than most African countries. He promises to address this and more in his next article, which will also be one of the first write-ups in his upcoming column on this website.

About himself —

I’m Martin, I studied computer science and I love art. Oh, I love art. Like drawing… the whole of art, I love art so much. And sometimes reading novels, and also (television) series. I’m a fanatic for series. Crime, suspense, and sci-fi.

On his interests in writing —

The sort of things I like to write are things that people ignore, like the truth about something. Continue reading

A new blogging manifesto

About three years ago, shortly after I joined the slow blogging movement for the first time, I wrote down a massive list of fifty points to which this website would conform. It was a blogging manifesto and at that time everyone needed one because blogging spiked in popularity and most of us were looking at why we blog, what it means for us, and how best we could define our style. It was not so much about carving out a niche as it was about setting a standard for ourselves.

Three years later I find the time has come to renew the manifesto, to amend and improve it. And, above all, shorten it and make it more practical so that understanding and following it would be easier. The original still exists and I will leave it untouched if only as a witness to the brief history of this website.

1. Be mindful of the audience

In an excellent article on the OUP blog, Kansas University’s David Perlmutter makes several thoughtful points about content in the 21st century. There used to be a time when limited access to a public audience meant few people could afford to be heard and almost all content was, in some form, curated, being rich in information and carrying little noise. “The voices are many, loud, and raucous”, says Prof Perlmutter, “what many people are asking is, ‘how do I get good information?… Where can I discover people who are coherent and responsible, intelligent and precise?’ We don’t have the time to sift through all the voices in the crowd.” This is truer today than ever, when the race is on to write many articles, often on the most trivial and unnecessary issues, in a bid for popularity and advertising revenue. Continue reading

Slow blogging reinitiated

Three years ago I wrote about joining the slow blogging movement. Slow blogging is a practise that aims to take blogs back to yesteryears, where a group of people wrote thoughtful articles and the web, by and large, read them. These people were not journalists, but regular folk who had worthwhile comments to make and their blog was their platform. And there was no competition.

Like everything else this soon turned into a business: someone thought of ways to make money, someone else thought of ways to appease Google, still others thought of banding and writing hordes of articles with a frequency individual writers could never dream of matching and we got to a point where people started comparing blogging to journalism. And there came with it unhealthy competition.

In three–years’ time I have most certainly deviated from my original intentions of “slow blogging”. But I think the fact that I took three years is appreciable; I for one expected to deviate within three weeks. But it is important not to take the term “slow blogging” too literally. In fact, it means blogging intentionally or purposefully rather than slowly, and pace itself comes merely as a footnote. The idea is that we bloggers will do well to leave marketing and strenuous schedules of writing to magazines and journalists and embrace something media houses cannot offer — individuality. And that when you blog only when you have something worthwhile to say, your frequency of writing tends to drop.

“You don’t work for your blog — your blog works for you and your goals, and the most important thing we can do is let it,” says Jen Carrington. Continue reading

You should start a blog

For as long as I can remember, I have been recommending to people that they start blog; to write as frequently as possible, no oftener, no rarer. And to have the patience to let blogging become your hobby more than your habit because that is when the many dimensions of the craft become clearer, and that is when it starts to have a profound and lasting impact on your life. Blogging, once nurtured as a hobby, has the potential to have an impact as deep as reading itself and all this is simply because blogging is not entirely different from journaling or essay– or diary–writing and the like: a common art that have been around since mankind itself in different manifestations.

There are two ways to look at this: the first takes a mechanical outlook where you realise blogging can help you to publish books eventually and so on, to grow a community, to gain subscribers and, at the end of the day, ears to listen to what you have to say. These are what some call niche blogs. The second perspective looks at it from an entirely selfish angle, but one that I, myself, would recommend: blogging makes the writer (or blogger if you will) a better person.

It helps you grow and opens you up to several ways of looking at something and as a result makes you a better person. From its humble start as little more than a way to make daily logs on the web (hence web log, hence blog), to its eventual growth into a journal, an essay book, even a personal diary, and at the height of it all, a form of journalism, the root of blogging has remained intact in spirit, but has otherwise been largely forgotten. Continue reading

On writing quirks

We all have quirks. Some subtle, some obvious, others comical. In writing too, like in everyone’s fingerprint, I think there is a considerable degree of uniqueness. One might be able to mimic another’s writing, but never to perfection. Call these writing quirks, but we all have them — one might even be prompted to call them worn floorboards on which we trip, but I take a jauntier approach: they’re my signatures. And I am aware overuse may trip some, but I have, myself, become so accustomed that I do not believe I will let them go anytime soon.

I almost use the tironian et, or what some call the grandfather of the ampersand — but not quite. To anyone familiar with me, it comes as no surprise that I write the ampersand (&) symbol unlike others. What I do write is a more basic, possibly even crude, form of the ampersand consisting of an e and a t stuck suffocatingly close to each other. This is not strictily the tironian et, but is related to it. In related news, it was not this old symbol, even though it rather looked like a seven, that led to the modern ampersand being placed above the digit seven in a standard QWERTY keyboard. The English language and usage forum on Stack Exchange solved this swiftly last year.

I also use the diaeresis extensively. Propping a hyphen halfway through a word looks stupid to me, so it is always coöperate and not cooperate (Cooper ate?) or co-operate. Continue reading

How I threw SEO out the window

Like a bane, search engine optimisation, (SEO) has long driven bloggers looking for visitors towards a meta-tag-heavy, Flesch points-restrictive style of writing. That needs to change.

When I started blogging seven years ago, I had to adopt the same practice and, while there is no doubt it worked, I always felt it hindered my style of writing. There is some sense in such optimisation, but the actual method of weighing writing is far too inhuman. Continue reading

Do not use big words, but the right ones

An impressive vocabulary is like a charming cup of tea. An exhibitionist vocabulary, on the other hand, is about as discombobulating as it is feckless. And it often works against itself, failing to make a point.

Big words

I have often noticed a trend in starting writers and — worse still — in those who have a newfound admiration for reading fat books they really could not care less about if it were not for that one peer they hope to impress.

People got out of their way to use big words: words not often used in daily life, with usually an extremely-specific meaning, and which preferably have complex pronunciations and/or spellings.

I attribute this to a sense of pride for, firstly, having come across that word; and, secondly, for assuming a lot of others do not know it. To many, however, it is usually a case of using a perfectly common word which they think is special simply because they had never heard of it before. Continue reading

Ideas of March

As much as I want it to be, the title you see above is not my own. It comes from Chris Shiflett, a wholly interesting person, whose blog I have been following ever since he spoke of Svbtle and Obtvse last year, which I found because of an article Daniel Howells wrote which I have no idea how I found, but I remember thinking it was worth my while.

Ideas of March

In any case, things like these are what define blogs: in essence, peepholes into people’s minds. This made me want to re-visit an article Chris Shiflett had written almost exactly three years ago, where he spoke of a “blog revival” that was needed as a result of many conversations (for good or bad) moving from blogs to Twitter.

Dustin Curtis wrote about something similar happening on his own blog as a result of Twitter. While I tweet too, I have thankfully not been drawn away entirely from my blog (for some of the reasons I will mention below). The ‘idea’, for lack of a better word, is to write a post called the “Ideas of March”, list why you like blogs, pledge to blog more and use the hashtag #IdeasofMarch elsewhere on the web.

Why do I like blogs?

There are many reasons why I like blogs. First of all, I would not be blogging if I did not like to do it. But here are some deeper thoughts:

  1. A blog is your house on the internet. You may be on Twitter, Google+, Facebook or wherever else, but none of those websites are truly ‘yours’.
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From start to finish: details and tips on how to write a blog post quickly, yet thoroughly

As promised in my recent article, I am going to dedicate this one to detail my blogging method. Generally, how to write a blog post so that it saves time, not takes it all away. Many people have asked me specifics before, and, over conversations with other bloggers, I learnt that this is one of the most frequent questions established bloggers get: how exactly do you blog?

When you come down to it, the thing is pretty simple; but some dumb it down so much that it loses meaning. A lot of thinking does go behind a blog post, and my intention today is to explain to you exactly what I do and how I do it. Particularly, the physical process of turning an idea into an article.

If, in my last writing I was unclear that I would talk about the mental approach rather than the physical technique, I apologise. In this one, we will surely talk about doing things — typing and things along those lines, yes. And I hope to keep this article quite short.

(Also note that, in an attempt to address the largest possible group of people, I will be focusing on writing on a WordPress blog. Except for a couple of specifics, however, the process should largely be the same.)

An idea strikes

Like everything else, blog posts too begin with ideas. At the start, it is one at a time; then it floods like a barrage gave way.

That is when you will need two apps I strongly recommend to all you serious WordPress bloggers. Continue reading

Personal blogging ethics and know-how

Two things prompted me to write this article: a couple of blogs that I follow, and the fact that I have never addressed the personal blogging scene very often in my considerable years of blogging.

Firstly, I will not detail the incidents themselves, but you might gather they broke or gravely bent these rules; and, secondly, I believe strongly in sharing what I have learnt with people who can put aside their ego and listen.

What can I expect from following all this, and when?

Now that that is done, here are a bunch of things most personal bloggers will never bother to practice because they are not blogging on a professional capacity. But these are things that you, as a personal blogger, should adopt.

Following what I detail below will help you create a more targeted community. It will help robotic evaluations better grade your blog and hence what you write will reach people you meant it to. It will, in general, make you blog more active and keep you on the safe side of the data gathering line i.e. those rules which are used to determine, across the internet, whether your writing is worth others’ time and is to be shared, or whether it is to be blocked.

What will I gain from all this?
Photo courtesy: Jacob Botter

How long will it take for results to show? Well, that depends on you and how strictly and closely you follow this.

Does it really work? It worked for me. Continue reading