Blookist — not just another blogging platform

Visit Blookist and the most inspiring part of their website is in an obscure place — the address bar. “You don’t need an excuse to be creative”, it reads. Still in beta, Blookist is a new kind of publishing platform. That was how its co-founder and CEO, Adrian Zuzic, described it to me when he got in touch recently, asking if I would be interested in reviewing their startup.

Blookist is the content-appreciative publishing platform we had all been waiting for.

At first, I was confessedly disinterested: was this just another Obtvse, another Svbtle, or another Ghost? At a time when blogging platforms seem to be cropping up at every nook and cranny, why did I have to pay any attention to Blookist? Was this another ambitious platform started with enthusiasm that would lose direction halfway through?

As I looked around, however, it was hard for me not to realise this was not a blogging platform; it was something more, something unique, and, most importantly, something promising. I signed up for free immediately and over the next couple of days began to explore this further. It had caught my attention. Continue reading

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. Firstly, get the WordPress app (download for Android or for iOS — or download your blogging platform’s app; Blogger, Tumblr, they all have one). Secondly, get Pocket (download for Android or for iOS — other options like Instapaper may serve just as well, although not on your pocket).

It is a universal rule that you get topics to blog about when you are in no position to actually blog. So twist this rule of nature using the two apps above. Ideas that come from offline go straight into your WordPress app: create a new post, title it and leave a note to yourself in your blog. Here is the screenshot I had used in my previous post, just to jog your memory:

Title your post, leave your idea as a note to yourself in the post body. Do not forget to save it as a draft before exiting, lest your post be published.
Title your post, leave your idea as a note to yourself in the post body. Do not forget to save its status as a draft before exiting, lest your post be published.

When you have time to blog and you sit before your computer, voila, WordPress is updated.

Some prefer to use dedicated note-taking applications for this. But in this case I find that complex and unnecessary because you end up noting down in one app and having your phone around when you blog, and copy things over between your blog and computer (or even across apps within a computer if that is the case). The method I have explained above works beautifully.

But what if your idea strikes while online? You can use the Press This bookmarklet in your WordPress Tools > Available tools menu if you are on your PC, but, if you are on your phone, switching to your WordPress app may not be the most time-saving option.

You can instead save to Pocket using a pre-determined tag. I use the tag #ToBlog which is not intuitive, so I never use it anywhere else by mistake. When I need to look things over, I quickly search for all #ToBlog saves and I have the stuff I want.

Organise your dashboard

This is an integral part of blogging. Other services may call it different names, but as a namesake I will call it the dashboard (which is what WordPress users are familiar with).

To focus on your blogging, let no part of your dashboard cry for attention. I have gone the extreme minimalist way and re-designed my dashboard to look something like this (hold on while I jump to my administration home and take a screenshot — there you have it):

Screenshot (115)
The VHBelvadi.com desk is the same as the WordPress dashboard, but it has been fully customised to suit my needs with lots of quick access links. Please click to view it large.

You may not be able to make yours look exactly like this without some unnecessary effort (for most personal bloggers, anyway) but the point is not so much in the looks as in the pending notifications, alerts, messages, errors and the like. Deal with it as they come. Approve comments, make them private or public, reply — the whole aside process.

Now you are set to write and do nothing else.

The writing process: how to write a blog post

a. Where to write

This is a big question to many bloggers. Some of us bloggers hated the original WordPress writing area. And most bloggers hated it because everybody else hated it too. The new version, with the distraction-free writing option, is something I am quite fond of. But I never use the distraction-free editor because I cannot add tags, featured images, excerpts without switching around and that takes time. (I sometimes do these things halfway through an article.)

If you still hate the WordPress editor, try an alternative such as JustWriteBlog for Chrome. I do not use it myself, but have tried it and found it usable on a regular basis. (Why do I not use it then? I do not see the need for an alternative to my VHBelvadi.com desk — not yet, anyway!) Alternatively, ScribeFire for Firefox is an equally trusted and (perhaps better looking) option. It is also available for Chrome as well as for Safari.

b. Know your WordPress editor shortcuts

If you use an alternative editor to the default WordPress editor, skip this section; if not, you will have some fun here.

When typing an article, know that all the regular shortcuts work. But make sure the cursor is clicked within the visual editor area. Hit Ctrl+B to embolden; hit Ctrl+I to italicise; hit Ctrl+Z/Y to undo/redo; similarly Ctrl+C/V/X will copy/paste/cut; and Ctrl+A will select all text.

Deeper shortcuts include several things you can do with the combination of Alt+Shift+shortcut where the shortcut (key) can be any of the following: D to strikethrough, N to spell-check, U to start a bullet list, O to start a numbered list (that is O, the letter, not 0, the number), M for image, and Q for quoting.

This is what my editor looks like. As you see, it is not the distraction-free mode because I then lose access to the areas on the right here. Besides, I have re-designed it to be pretty minimal, so there is not a lot of distraction stemming from this screen. More details typed into the screenshot (including a type -- sorry) so please click to view large.
This is what my editor looks like. As you see, it is not the distraction-free mode because I then lose access to the areas on the right here. Besides, I have re-designed it to be pretty minimal, so there is not a lot of distraction stemming from this screen. More details typed into the screenshot (including a typo — sorry). To view it exactly the way I do, please click on the image.

You can also hit Alt+Shift+W to go full-screen (distraction-free editing) and once there, special shortcuts work, such as Alt++ to increase width of the text area, and, conversely, Alt+- to decrease it. If you messed it up, Alt+0 will return it to the default dimensions (and it is 0, the number, here and not O, the letter).

Hitting Ctrl+number will quickly format your writing. 1 goes to heading 1 style, 2 goes heading 2 all the way to 6; then 7, 8 and 9 will turn it into regular paragraph text, pre-formatted code or address text.

Also make it a habit to hit Ctrl+S to instantly, temporarily save as you write, so that you do not lose your work.

Mac users, remember the eternal lesson: Ctrl = Cmd. Also, not all of these may work on all browsers.

c. What single button do I use most?

I am a big fan of the preview button at the top-right. Some lucky people can hit Ctrl+Alt+I to preview instantly. This gives me an idea of how my post will look once it is published for the world to read. I do not have to return to bulk-edit my work after publication, because that would be a foolish thing to do.

Using the preview capability helps not only to keep track of the post length (sometimes 2,000 words seem short in the editor) but reading in the actual format and design that the article would ultimately be read in, in my experience, makes it a lot easier to manually spell-check.

d. Add any images

It is generally a good idea to add images to your writing. It acts as a buffer between large chunks of text and gives your reader some rest. Five images in a 500 word article is too much, but three or four for a 1,000 word article is a good measure.

I add images at the very end, because doing so while writing is not only distracting, but also time-consuming. This, of course, is unless I have to make references to any content inside the image.

e. Tag, file and save

Finally, tag your post. My limit (and a good limit, unanimously accepted) is no more than five tags. Two things to remember when you tag your posts are, first, whether each tag represents the whole article rather than a portion of it. If you have only two words that truly represent your article, tag it with just two words.

Second, avoid long, spaced out, phrase-like tags. These are not only unnatural but may backfire by narrowing down your results too much; on the contrary, try not to be too vague either. For instance, I have tagged this article with the words blog, wordpress and technique.

h. Copying from elsewhere

I know a few people write their articles on text editors like Word. When you copy and paste across softwares, things get real jazzy. But the dangerous part is sometimes code is added to your copied text that does not make a visual difference when you look at it, but its presence is quite harmful for robots indexing your website.

Once you paste, WordPress has a handy tool called the remove formatting button. In the kitchen sink (Alr+Shift+Z) it is the sixth button (next to the paste from Word button with a W). Hit that and, even if you noticed no changes, you are good to go.

Publish or schedule it

Ah, the end.

You can publish your article right away, of course, but if you were feeling particularly energetic and wrote three in a day, you would not want to throw them all out at once, so hit schedule to post at your preferred time and date.

Then sit back and talk to your readers. It’s the second most rewarding part of blogging.

 Cover image: Flickr/Christine and Hagen Graf  VHBsign

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. I have several thousand people reading what I write, among my daily unique visitors, visitors who stay to read multiple articles, subscribers and other contacts, minus 40% of the total of them. So, if it worked for me, I do not see how it will not work for you.

You can continue reading, or stop right away for one of two reasons: you doubt me, or you hate me. I doubt you’ll doubt me given that you are on my website. But if you stop reading before the first point here because you posses a heated feeling of dislike towards me, you are the loser. (Look at what I did there.)

1. Site indexes and sitemaps

Amidst the enthusiasm of creating a blog or website, many first-timers (including me several years ago) think the work is done when the site is live and people are visiting it every now and then. What gets you more public attention, however, are robotic elements that cannot read your wonderful, flowery English.

Sitemaps literally tell these robots something like, “Here, this is my site and these are all the places you can go from all these places. These are interesting bits, so make sure you keep them on your list.” Well, not quite, but you get the point.

How do you make one of these sitemaps/indexes? If you are on WordPress, a sitemap is already made for you at /sitemap.xml and it conforms to the Google protocol.

In spite of this, it is always a good idea to create a human-readable site index if your blog has a complicated set up. To create a site index for a blog that is laid out, say, with a static home page and a blog page with five categories and three pages and some custom organisation, create a formatted list like I have done below and save it at /siteindex.

  • Home
  • Blog
    • Category 1
    • Category 2
    • Category 3
    • Category 4
    • Category 5
    • Custom organisation
      • Category 2
      • Category 5
  • Page 2
  • Page 3
  • Page 1

 

Ooh, sitemap!
Photo courtesy: INPIVIC

2. Revisions after publication

Depending on your blog (its size, popularity and so on) different robots index it at different frequencies. For instance, larger group blogs are indexed almost continuously, personal blogs with larger readerships, such as this one, are indexed anywhere from once to several times a day; smaller personal blogs may often only be indexed weekly or if you blog at a snail’s pace (nothing wrong with that) your site will be indexed just as fast — or slowly, perhaps.

This means, first of all, that smaller blogs have greater latitude in terms of how often they can keep correcting and rewriting their posts. Larger blogs almost always cannot. So far, I have never done it myself.

This is also an ethical question. Spend enough time in the blogosphere and you will learn a very important practice: once a structural or contextual change has been pointed out, mark it down at the head or tail of the article; making revisions or corrections after the fact is frowned upon, and rightly so. It is often equated to denying a statement made publicly.

If you have made a mistake that has been spotted, once you acknowledge that mistake; and if it is something all your other readers should know as well, simply add to the article a small note or update. Adding will not hurt site indexing as much as overwriting or completely re-writing.

3. Never lose target

You may be a personal blogger, but a targeted website gives authentic reason to follow you. If you write about your day with your stationery very often, do not give it up in favour of metaphysical posts.

Sometimes you just have to hit within the dartboard.
Photo courtesy: Raghul Selvam

This is something I myself had to do very recently. Ever since I shifted my focus to increasingly personal-style articles, I have been confusing readers, robots and aliens alike. For instance, several prestigious and lesser-known educational institutions alike have linked to my articles on how I use various software and hardware for college, especially this Evernote for college article. Why link to me and not just as often to, say, Engadget or Mashable? Authenticity and consistency.

Authenticity in that I am in the same position as my readers and it only makes sense to read a thing or two about college from a college-goer rather than a forty-year-old man who went to college when things were radically different and could not wrap his mind around how things work no matter how tech-savvy he may be.

Consistency because it has helped me establish my blog as a trusted source. It has been verified by Google, the largest indexer around, and several blogging communities; what this means is that people trust what I write (and it is a responsibility to keep that), and people will read what I write.

This helps gain an audience no matter how small you are as a blog or website. I, for one, enjoy hearing more real people’s opinions about gadgets and their experiences than that of a large website with 70 articles a day frequency. Why those large websites then? There are some things smaller bloggers cannot cover, like exclusive WWDC updates or live blogging of some uber-costly events.

So you get the point: write with a scope and stick to it. Because, no matter how differently you may think, a single bloggers views are not only considered more connect-able with than an organisation’s, but also more trustworthy. Think of it as listening to an opinion about company X’s product from a lay user as opposed to an employee of X.

4. Article length is extremely important

Google is getting intelligent by the month. Why do I fixate on Google? Because Google is the largest, and often, what Google creates other search engines try to follow in a bid to keep up. And a key element of Google’s verification of content trustworthiness is article length.

If somebody asked you a question with an answer simple enough, you would hardly try to point them to a 600 page book to read. Similarly, Google not only checks frequency (too often is as bad as too infrequently publishing) but also on word length. For starting blogs with lesser readership, you will need to work on serving readers’ interest as quickly as you can.

Would you read an advertisement this long?
Photo courtesy Charles R. Forker

As your reader base grows (and by this I refer to your regular reader base) you can increase your article length. This not only is a surefire indication of trustworthiness, it also ranks you higher when indexed. That is why I have come to view writing longer articles as a privilege more than anything else.

My articles are routinely 1000+ words in length. My important articles (those I know will attract more readers) have gone as high as 3000 words, or are at least 2000 words on average. Why bother writing so long if nobody reads it?

So start with a modest length of 500. Try not to go below that. 500 to 600 at first and go as far as 1000 once you have readers. Readership coupled with long articles that are actually read implies credibility.

5. Categories and tags are your both friends and enemies

Now watch me. Michael Schumacher. Because I said Michael Schumaker (and there, I said it a second time) it does not give me the right to tag my article as Michael Schumacher.

This is known as false tagging or (in case of categorisation) false categorisation. You may have a genuine reason for doing this (e.g. it’s April first) but the rest of the world cares little. Misrepresentation of data contained in your article will give you the blogging equivalent of a jail term.

Most services briefly ban you from being listed, so the only way people will find out about your blog over the next month or even year is by your telling them — not very promising.

Looking for a nudge in the right direction? I have tagged this article blog, personal, sitemap, and word count; and I have filed it under blogging.

Your everyday blogger isn’t filthy rich.
Photo courtesy Happy Bushra

6. Squash your expectations

I’m sorry to disappoint you, but whatever high expectations you had about blogging are not going to come to you anytime soon. The only reason I have no problem blogging religiously is because my blog can pay for itself, or at least because I come from a background of blogging for both a larger conglomerate and having run for many years an established popular science website.

But of course, that was not in my nature, so I handed the reigns to somebody else, shut down that website and decided to concentrate on building my personal website here on VHBelvadi.com. It is also why I never state that I was editor of a popular science website before. I wanted to build this one on my own, not by stealing readers.

What I mean to say is that unless you had been blogging for profit or had been a terribly popular blogger within your niche, the chances are slim that you will get more than a few hundred readers even at your peak. My average, at the start, was a puny 500 readers a day. And, ads or no ads, you will not get enough money to do anything right as a personal blogger.

My overall point is that by putting aside these unrealistic aims, you will be able to concentrate on realistic ones and gain a community around your blog. Also, do not go by comments: they do not mean a thing, really.

You can also read my previous collection of tips targeted towards personal bloggers. Or you can disregard my advice completely. But these are simple no-brainers that just work. If you don’t feel like blogging, you will enjoy this article I wrote a long time ago, aptly titled, “I don’t feel like blogging.”

Happy blogging. Send me your blog addresses and I’ll definitely drop by sometime!

  Cover image by Lisa Risager from Denmark   (CC-BY-SA-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons  VHBsign

What is your blogging approach?

Yesterday I received an email asking me what my blogging technique was. Apparently, “it is clear that [I am] doing something right” according to my sender, and he was interested to know what it was.

A conglomeration

I think blogging is a combination of many things, not the least of which is writing. When you come down to it, blogging is writing, but on a very different platform. So, when I was asked my blogging technique, I was at a loss of words.

Then I began to think about it systematically. When we talk of a blog, we talk of a post. So I would define blogging technique as the process of transforming a post from an idea, or an inspiration, or an opinion — generally, from something only existent in the writer’s mind — to something that is shaped and formatted in a way that a large number of people will like to read.

So where do we start?

The idea, uncatalogued

An idea strikes anytime. While conversing, while reading a book, while playing my violin, while sprawled on the swing, while playing with my dog, even while eating. You’ll never know.

But it would be crazy to get up and type an entire article. It is possible, but that would be a shoddy job.

All blogs start with a clean sheet: use it wisely, you will never get that chance again.
Photo courtesy: Flickr/guudmonring!

Secondly, I make it a point to read the writings of those around me. I have a friend and a handful of acquaintances who blog. Perhaps their reader base is smaller than mine (or they are lying to me!) and perhaps they are not the authority on anything on the planet, but I still make it a point to read what they write. I follow all their blogs, almost immediately know what updates they put forth and will definitely make some time to read their articles, word-to-word, start to finish.

Most times I’ll even leave a comment. It may not be a rambling one, but it’s a gesture. It shows I care, it shows I read, it shows the blogger they may be an individual, but they’re not unimportant to somebody else. This also helps to keep better perspective, fuels my own desire to blog and, maybe, I’ll even learn a thing or two in the process.

Catalogued and filed

Once an idea strikes my mind, I make note of it, because I write my articles at a set time and day and schedule it. Writing everyday may not be feasible. Break the habit one day and your blog starts to dry up.

Also, I do not believe in writing everyday. I no longer even believe in publishing x times a week or month. Having joined the slow blogging movement, I have come to view blogging increasingly as a responsibility rather than a hobby. But not responsibility in terms of regular publishing; rather, responsibility in terms of better thought out articles.

That is not to say my older articles were not well thought out. Had that been the case, individuals, larger tech blogs, universities and my own subscribers would not have been linking to my work from time to time. But I decided to choose between dividing my attention between a bunch of articles and a single one and now, the latter seems to hold more appeal.

Screenshot_2013-12-10-10-04-38
I was out when I received Greg’s email (I’ve mentioned Karen’s email at the end again) so I made a draft straight into my dashboard: no other app or transferring of notes involved. I can access the draft when I sit to type my articles later. This is just a simple, not very time consuming approach I use; you might like to adopt it as well.

Write

That is the biggest secret there is. Sit down and write. Your writing voice may be strict, formal, thrown about, uptight, lazy, comedic, stiff, sarcastic, honest or vague. It does not matter. All styles have followers.

Nearly everybody I have met has described my style of writing as formal (or some word that intends to mean formal). I do not try to write formally; that is my voice, how I speak, how I think. And you cannot be trained to think in a certain fashion.

So write how you will (wrong language/grammar is still no excuse) and what you will (again, slander/libel cases are a dime a dozen against bloggers, so tread light). People will read. The blogosphere is such that, like it or not, a few people will stumble upon your blog everyday. Maybe even 10 will come, or 50, or 100. None of that matters.

True dat.
Image courtesy: Flickr/DonkeyHotey

Your traffic isn’t your traffic

When you start blogging, remember that 100 man traffic you used to get? Well, about 20 of them never read anything, 10 of them had no idea how they came to your blog and another 10 very likely blocked you. Whenever I get my daily stats, I therefore cut out 40% from it. So on a gloomy day, my 10-15k visitors may be the remaining 60%. On a particularly good day, and on a particularly good article, the number may double.

The biggest change in such traffic is your own writing and it features heavily in my blogging technique/approach. People will contact you by e-mail. Yes, a lot more people do than you think, and it’s very rewarding. Why else to large websites declare that they do not interact to email queries? Because so many people do it. Conversely, I love to interact via email. It feels more personal than some lost cause comment at the bottom of a page nobody is going to scroll to.

So when you blog with a lot of readers, you get more criticism, hate, appreciation and responsibility to not waste others time. That is one of the reasons why, as a blogger, I highly value the formative years of my blog (as well as my website) when my readers were my friends and family. Only.

Wash your hands once you’re done

After I write an article, I forget about it. Some will tell you not to do this ever, but I say go for it. What good is an article in your head after it is out for the world to see? All you really need is to remember you wrote on such and such a topic, so when you need to cross-reference (or when you get a faint doubt) you just have to look back and you will find it.

David Weinberger at the Edelman Blue Hour Blogging
Photo courtesy: Flickr/Udo Herzog

Take time to write as well. Formatting may not be important enough to command even half-an-hour a day, but its importance cannot be underestimated. Use headings, spaces, embolden, italicise, underline, strike through and whatever else you can think of to make your point clear.

Use images as well. Mention living, breathing, existing people; it will make them shy away as a spotlight always does, but that is part of acknowledgement. So, as a last piece of sound advice, learn to acknowledge. Did somebody inspire you to blog? Say it on your blog, it will not belittle you. Did somebody’s harsh words prompt you to write a blog post? Write it and then discard it. On the long run, when the fury has died, you will wish you had never published such articles.

Such things happen. Years of blogging experience tell you a thing or two. And, lastly, remember, people know large tech blogs because they advertise, have a team of writers and throw out tens of articles a day. But the blogging scene was always built around the single blogger and we command 434% greater indexing. Doubt me? Check it out yourself. And the next time you think of skipping a blog, ask yourself if you are being moved by branding.

The biggest gems are found with single, personal blogger such as you (?), me (serious) and this guy (weird) and this lady (funny). Embrace it.


P.S. I had received another email much before this one, which I had, unfortunately, forgotten to attend to. I was reminded about it because of its similar nature. So probably in another article on another day I will address the issue of the tools I use to actually write an article and how I make the process less time-consuming. It focuses on WordPress, so if you are interested, drop me a word and I’ll write the article earlier than planned.


 Cover image: Flickr/Bombardier  VHBsign

“Just write”, or, what is Swiss style all about anyway?

To mark my seventh year in blogging, as of 2014, I decided to go over my approach to writing posts, hitting publish and interacting with my readers.

Part of that necessitated stripping down my blog to the bare minimum — minimalism, as we know it — which I have always loved, (and which runs in my family, as I learnt on my last trip to Europe). Further, I have taken time to re-evaluate and re-think my approach to blogging.

Honestly, if you have ever caught your blog going stale, or through a rough time (and let us be honest, we all have) then you will be surprised how much good taking time off to come at it in a whole new way will do.

What is Swiss style?

If you have been following me for a while now, you will know I am a big fan of minimal design. I got so many emails about this that I decided to clarify things here.

Swiss style has little to do with Switzerland. It’s an avant garde art movement started in post-WWII Switzerland and quickly spread everywhere else. Key elements of this style, more technically called the international typographic style, are the use of left-aligned sans-serif fonts and lots of supporting photographs, like this photograph of me writing this article.

Blogging at my desk, with my laptop over an insanely precarious edge
Blogging at my desk, with my laptop over a precarious edge

I love typefaces as much as Lasagne Verdi al Forno. No, really, I do. Helvetica is one of my favourite sans-serifs, as you can probably tell by looking around this screen. And Swiss style (I call it that because saying international typographic style every time is tedious) uses sans-serif type exclusively.

In short, the style of this website as you now see it, is Swiss style. But, of course, various (albeit at a limited amount a time) solid colours are used as well. I like minimalism partly because it’s as difficult as it seems easy. It is hard because the thing boils down to deciding what to throw away; and, confessedly, I’m a hoarder, and I find it hard to throw something away because “you’ll never know when you’ll need it!” so minimalism lets me practice throwing away.

This page, and this blog and this site, in its current form, is about as minimal as I have ever got and I’ve really come to love it much like physics and music: the simplest stuff is always the hardest, the most correct and the most beautiful.

A note on Helvetica Neue

I’ve spoken so often about Helvetica, that I thought I would dedicate a short note on it’s ancestry and correct pronunciation.

History

Helvetica is a classic typeface which is a slight alteration on the original and the first widely-used, probably Swiss, type known as Akzidenz Grotesk from the 1890s.

To compete with this, in the 1950s Swiss type scene, a new typeface was released called Neue Haas Grotesk, or the new Haas Grotesk, since it was developed in the Haas Type Foundry and was based on Haas Normal Grotesk and inspired by Akzidenz Grotesk. Neue Haas Grotesk later came to be known as Helvetica.

Later, in the 1980s, a team of type designers sat down to give the letters in Helvetica, now more popular than ever, a more unified height/width ratio. This altered version of the typeface came to be known as Helvetica Neue.

Pronunciation

Many people I know (and certainly more than half the world) pronounce these Swiss/German/French typefaces wrongly. So here is a quick guide to saying it right:

Akzidenz is not pronunced rhyming with accidents; it goes aak-szi-DANCE.

Helvetica, I have heard many say as hell-vet-ica. It’s actually (h)ell-VEE-tica.

Neue, is not pronunced new or nui; it’s NOY(a).

In each case the text in capital is stressed and letters in (parentheses) are sort of semi-silent. The r is throtal, like the french r, and rhymes with air.

No more comments

A second major (almost elephantine) change I have made is turning off comments. I no longer allow comments on this website. First of all, I almost always reply to comments via email. I get them in my moderation queue, I reply by email. I get them in my email, and I do likewise.

I did this mostly because I do not see the need of a comments stream. A fraction of readers actually ever comment anywhere; and moderating discussions that arise out of comments can be very strenuous. It is one of my principles: if it is strenuous, something is not right; if it is strenuous, it can hardly give delight. Nobody said that.

Black guy asks nation for change - the Onion
Change: (Oh, the Onion!) If you want to read the article, click here.
Image courtesy: Flickr/Unlisted Sightings

Now I have no interest in getting into an argument over the use of comments. Yes, they help discussion; and, yes, as Rich Polanco points out rightly, they help readers ask and explore questions they were probably hesitant to ask right away for whatever reason. But comments also come with a weight. As a blogger with a lot of other things on my plate, comments simply take too much of my time.

If you have something to say, use the multitude of sharing options I have provided at the head and foot of this (and ever other) article, and speak your mind in various social networks. Get the word out, get a-discussing with your social circles too. If you share it, I will know, and I will track the link like I always do and if I come across some interesting discussion going on, I will, most definitely, participate.

On Ghost

If you have followed me on Twitter, you will know I have said a couple of times already, how WordPress as a blogging platform was something I loved; and how the current direction WordPress is moving in is sidelining bloggers to make space for large CMSes.

I suppose it comes down to how nobody likes change at first, and how WordPress’ current progress might very well have been the intended one, but to satisfy my urge for a clutter-free, minimal blogging platform, a new kid just arrived in town:

Ghost is John O’Nolan’s brainchild, but really a product that many of us bloggers had dreamt up at the back of our mind. To put it more simply: Ghost is what WordPress started off as (and will hopefully stay that way).

Currently, Ghost’s installation, although based on a much more advanced and contemporary platform of node.js, is complex for the average user. It is something the Ghost team will have to change if they want to get things moving (and they are working on it, as they say on their website.)

But from what I have seen of Ghost, having installed it on my Linux machine, it fits scarily well into my imagination of a minimal blogging platform. I like to write my blog posts in html and Ghost’s Markdown supports it; not to mention that Markdown is, in my opinion, downright the best way to write an article if you want to spare yourself any distractions.

In fact, I like it so much that I have decided to move my upcoming Essays subsection/sub-blog (as I call it) from a fully set-up WordPress.com blog to a Ghost blog. For obvious reasons, my current website, i.e. this one, will stay on WordPress.

Joining the Internet Defense League

VHBelvadi.com is now an official member of the Internet Defense League, a non-profit political activism movement against government control/take-over of the internet. I believe that the internet was the last good thing to happen to humankind, and not least because no single government controlled it. Or, to put it blandly, why fix something that is not broken?

The IDL cat: brought to you by Fight for the Future.

Other member of the IDL are WordPress, La Quadrature du Net, Cheezburger, Overblog, Reddit, Open media, IMGUR, OTI, EFF and Mozilla, with whom this website has sponsorship/affiliation (move your mouse or finger to the bottom left of your screen.) Why? Because it’s right.

Looking forward

I have been blogging for seven of the twenty years that the concept of weblogs has been around, and for seven of fourteen years since it came to gain substantial mainstream use. That is 50% of the time.

I started off with a Vox and a Blogger couple running simultaneously, was dissatisfied with Blogger for reasons I will not go into, and moved finally to WordPress as Vox shut down and then to this admittedly larger website. So far, the writer in me has liked it.

I was excited when WordPress introduced the full-screen writing option, and have only been as excited about a back-end change when Ghost 0.3 was released publicly. Where do I want to go from here? I cannot say. I love writing, and sometimes it involves guiding readers, sharing my experience, sharing my opinion, introducing products, decently commenting on other’s articles (only because I respect it highly and think it deserves a post all by itself), taking readers through my everyday learning and then some.

I see no reason to stop. And I do not see anything better than blogging rising up in the distance either. I still tweet, I still write on Google+ and elsewhere, I still contribute to moderated debates; but blogging has been in a league of its own, and will continue to be, as far as I can tell, in the short, visible future.

It might be with new additions like my design (which took me a full month to make responsive!) and Ghost, which beckons me as an early adopter, and it may be with a lot of other changes which neither you nor me like; but it is really that blogging will remain blogging, and I will remain blogging.

I know it is still a month before we welcome 2014, but I’m generally excited by everything, which is exactly what I am as I unveil my redesigned website. And the best part of this redesign, and how it is different from previous iterations, is that things have been changed from the inside-out. The code running this huge system has been refined. Everything should not only be much faster than ever before, but also much sharper and much, much smoother and pleasanter.

To put numbers, my move from WordPress to VHBelvadi.com was termed VHBelvadi.com 2.0. In that spirit, the move made here is fantastic and substantial enough for me to declare that, with a Swiss design and ultra minimalism focusing my readers’ attention on content, with a more thoughtful back-end and faster front-end, this is VHBelvadi.com 3.0

Well, then, I’ll see you on the other side.

VHBsign

7 Tips for Personal Bloggers

Blogging can be viewed as one of several things — an art form, a means of income, a means of trolling and a waste of time — but one thing is certain: blogs are taking an increased amount of importance on the Web space and, not surprisingly, offline too. Needless to say, while it is of absolute importance for brands to have blogs, it would not hurt a single person to maintain one either.

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Defining personal blogs

A blog can serve as a portfolio of things you are good at (or you think you are good at,) a collection of your thoughts or stories or even a public diary.

This is where worldly misunderstandings come in. Most people who begin blogging (or have been doing it for some time) have large misconceptions about the concept of blogging itself; so large, in fact, that it can be the end of their blog. So if you are starting out on a blog (and it is most likely to be a personal blog) or if you have already been blogging since a while, you can benefit from these seven tips.

Before we start off, let us take a moment to define personal blogs, so we know exactly what we are talking about.

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personal blog is a blog or online journal that serves as a means of expression for the blogger, on their own platform, with their own community, independent of the type of sharing and the size of the community.
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 1.  Traffic means nothing

Anybody knows blogging is almost entirely based on traffic, do they not? It turns out that is a load of poppycock as far as personal blogs are concerned.

As a personal blogger, start thinking about your blog as a window of expression and look out from the safety of your house. Your major traffic will be your friends and family, but that does not mean you will never see anybody else visiting your blog.

To you, what is important is expressing your inner thoughts to people who care. If you are looking for traffic, or have monetary enhancements on your website or blog, you are probably mistaken about running a personal blog in the first place!

So, lesson#1, counting visitors is pointless.

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 2.  To SEO or not to SEO

A big word floating around the blogosphere is SEO. If you walked straight up to somebody and asked them to define the term, they would probably say it is all about getting your website ready for search engines like Google.

The truth is, nobody really knows what SEO is all about. If we do have to define it, it is merely a bunch of good blogging practices some of us maintain in order to make the content on our website, and its structuring, easily detectable by bots.

As a personal blogger, should all this pro-blogger stuff matter to you? Not quite. Personal blogging is more about how a website looks to humans and not bots. (Pro-blogging is all about striking the right balance between the two.)

The next time somebody tells you about Search Engine Optimisation, forget it, crush it, step over it and do not bother looking back. Worry about great looks, readability and design instead.

So, lesson#2struggling with SEO is also pointless.

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 3.  Personal bloggers = I see you be you

You can either call yourself in plural or do the clever thing and make it open that you are just another human being, sitting on a chair, laptop before them, typing (sense) away.

The point here is also a peck at the very definition of personal blogging. A company blog (or a blogging company!) will refer to itself in plural. You do not have to; in fact, you better not. Readers prefer talking to real people, not a bunch of mysterious men who draw ultra-formal pictures about themselves.

On the other hand, if you are working with somebody behind the scenes, to bring out something to your readers, feel free to use the plural; just do not make it overly officious.

So, lesson#3, by a single person, not the face of an organisation.

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 4.  Choose the right platform

Here again we come to crossroads. While having a blog anywhere would not matter, having a blog around the friendliest community does help immensely. Here we shall consider three currently major platforms: Blogger, Tumblr and WordPress.

As I have said before, there are several reasons why Tumblr is great for a community, but it has its drawbacks. WordPress is fusing several Tumblr-inpired features into its platform. And I am pretty sure something is happening with Blogger, or Google would have long gotten rid of it.

Here are things to consider and choose a blogging platform based on:

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Blogger

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  • Absolutely new to blogging (it is better to start with Blogger’s basic features and evolve to WordPress’ advanced features.)
  • Google’s your alleged friend if you use its blogger platform. Alleged.
  • Easy monetisation with products like AdSense (if you are hellbent upon monetising even your personal blog.)

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Tumblr

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  • You hope to blog on the fly with quick updates, pictures, videos and very remain light on text.
  • You are looking for a quick (not to mention surefire) way of gaining a community.
  • You want to be able to make your own design, domain name changes etc. without having to pay every step of the way.

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WordPress

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  • Hands down the most powerful blogging platform there is. But it may need some coding knowledge.
  • You are hoping to share dedicated, text-heavy posts (and few photos, audio, video etc.)
  • You do not mind building your own community with a little effort, but a good guarantee it will happen.

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So, lesson#3, pick the platform that is right for you.

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 5.  Tell people

Let us face it, you are no god in any field. Nobody is going report your opening a blog in any media. You have to do that work yourself.

While it is pointless bothering yourself with the optimisation we saw in #2, you still have to work towards getting the word out. What this means is that you need not spend hundreds of dollars advertising on other sites (you do not have to spend even a penny) but you will have to learn the magic of word-of-mouth publicity.

This actually works. I did it for one of my first blogs and it proved to be a great stepping stone to my current website. So start telling people everywhere. Talk about it in social networks, talk about it over a cup of coffee. Perhaps even tell a stranger you start a conversation with on the subway.

So, lesson#5you are your own publicity agent.

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 6.  Know your competition

The best part about personal blogging  is that you so not have any competition. You know those websites that get a hundred-thousand visits a day? You are not going to beat them, so stop trying and go write a blog post instead.

The so-called ‘big websites’ are not in a bigger league than you are, they are in a different league. They have a host of contributors, each one doing his own publicity, and are most often a corporation of some sort (although they choose to call themselves blogs.)

This does not mean you do not matter. The Web is all about fresh perspectives and original content. If you keep at your blog and speak your mind, the Web by and large will value your blog more than a steamy cog whipping out a hundred articles a day.

So, lesson#6you do not have to compete with anybody.

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 7.  Share the love

Let me tell you a law that runs on the Interwebs: you get what you give. You share more articles, your articles get shared more often; you like more posts, your posts get liked more often; you visit others’ blogs, you blog gets visited often; do you notice a pattern here?

This is no big magic trick. The more of something you do (such as, say, sharing others’ articles on Twitter) more agents around the internet realise you are active; people start following you, bots notice you interact, everybody zeros in on what you produce and then the same sharing and liking starts on your posts.

At the end of the day, look at it from a broader perspective: just as you want people to visit your blog and interact with you, others want the public to do the same on their blog too. Who knows, in this fuss you might even strike up a nice inter-blog relationship with other personal, or even pro-, bloggers.

So, lesson#7you get from others what you give them.

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These are our seven tips for any personal blogger. Whether you are new or seasoned, it would be worth your while to re-visit these tips and make sure you are following them well.

Do you have your own points to share? Comment below or drop me an email.

[hr_padding] [notice type="red"] Want more pro-blogging tips for free?

Download your copy of the latest edition of my well-received ebook, The Mainstream Blogger, for free. Click here to find out more.
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Cover image: Flickr / Hey Paul Studio

What is mondegreen?

Mondegreen – /m?n’d?-gr?n’/ n. A series of words that result from the mishearing or misinterpretation of a statement.

I have shifted through many blogs in the past, gaining an equally huge number of readers each time. This made me realize that what I post here is far more important in reaching a large audience than any advertising gimmick. Mondegreen is my personal blog and will stay so for a long time to come. Continue reading