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Monday, 19 September 2011

Free Speech And Freedom Of Expression

What About Free Speech, Freedom Of Expression?

If and when you ban someone – or even credibly threaten to do so – you’ll certainly be attacked with the Free Speech argument.  Doesn’t everyone have the right to say what they want?

Sure they do, but not in your home, and your blog is your home.  It’s your property.  You provide the service, you set the rules, and just as no one has the right to come into your home and abuse your family, no one has an absolute right to enter into your forums, push fraudulent medicine or imitation watches, and abuse your guests.

That’s why periodically publishing the forum rules is a must.  While it might become necessary to remove someone from the discussion, it is only fair that you set expectations and enforce them fairly and consistently.  The value of the forum is not in the cathartic (or financial) benefits it provides your readers, but in the information and conversation they share.  Allowing your forums to become an abusive free-for-all will alienate the very readers that you want to keep.  Putting out a few obnoxious and abusive guests is a small price to pay to allow the vast majority of your readers, who will have valuable input and discussions, to enjoy their visits to your virtual home

Using XML And RSS Feeds

Using XML and RSS Feeds

As a blogger, you want everyone to have access to your content.  One of the more popular ways to “step out” of the blogosphere is to provide your readers an opportunity to get your headlines without even having to visit your blog.  This is important for one reason: you may not post something that interests them, and after a few days, they may forget you exist.  It can’t be helped: everything you write is going to interest someone, but few will be interested in everything you write.  An RSS feed gives these casual or occasional readers a chance to see your headlines and visit only when they are interested in a particular subject.

If you’ve visited many blogs, you’ve probably seen a small banner like this:   If you click on the banner (and if you have a My Yahoo! page of your own) you’ll find that the blogger’s headlines will appear on your “My Yahoo!” page, allowing you to quickly scan their news without having to go to the blog.  You’ve discovered a blog that provides an RSS feed.  It’s written by a blogger who wants to keep his blog in front of readers.

If you want to really dig into the technology behind RSS/XML, a good place to start is, but the important information is not how RSS and XML work, but rather the work they do.  An RSS feed allows you to syndicate your content, like a syndicated columnist provides content to many newspapers, allowing other bloggers to provide real-time links to your information.  The ability to syndicate your content, moving it out of your blog and onto the blogs of others, is one of the most important features of whatever blog software you use. 

There are many sites which will publish your RSS feeds.  Here are a few easy ones to get you started:

Blog Comments And Input

Blog Comments and Input

In order for your readers to return again and again, it’s important to make them feel like your site is their site.  You need to make them feel at home in your Blog Empire.  One way to do that is by allowing them to make comments, ask questions, and provide information through timely feedback.  This can be done either through the blog-supplied comments, through special free add-ons such as Haloscan or by adding an attached forum through a free service such as ForumUp. Be aware, however, that on the internet as in life, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  Free service providers are actually providing the same service to advertisers that you are by putting ads in front of your readers.  If you send your readers to a forum on someone else’s server, you will generally not receive the advertising revenue that traffic creates.  That’s their payment for providing the service to you without cost.

The comments sections of popular blogs are “where the action is.”  Arguments can last for days, even weeks, and provide consistent fodder for updated or pointed entries.  If you’ve stated something controversial on the front page, your readers will certainly let you know what they think, providing the perfect opportunity to clarify, modify, or expand your argument.  If you’ve listed ways that a certain software package can be modified, knowledgeable readers can provide additional information, making your blog that much more valuable to your other readers.  Comments can also provide valuable feedback to you, and what is sometimes more important, encouragement to let you know that your efforts are appreciated and worthwhile.

If you decide to allow comments and feedback, it’s important to decide how much time you want to spend monitoring the traffic it generates.  If discussions get “off track,” you may need to publish (and enforce) forum rules, which may be as simple as editing content for bad language or as complicated as ensuring – if your blog is related to the stock market, for example - that information presented is not in violation of a myriad of SEC regulations.  Remember, your readers, like the author they read, always come with their own agendas.  If your comments section gets wild and crazy, that’s great for your traffic.  If it becomes a haven for spammers or stock manipulators, you may have to spend more time reading and editing than that traffic is worth.
Banning Readers And Spammers

Once your comments section takes on a life of its own, you’ll certainly meet a lot of well-informed and interesting people who will make your job easier and your content more valuable.  You will see relationships develop and blossom and you’ll get to know your most faithful readers as far more than just words on a screen.  Getting to know your readers will provide encouragement as you see how the content you provide them helps them in real life.  It’s one of the finest pleasures of the job.

But you’ll also attract those readers whom you would rather not deal with.  They may be spammers who use your forums to promote their own sites.  They may be ne’er-do-wells who simply show up to gainsay everything and abuse their fellow readers.  And that means that you may have to ban readers, making it impossible for them to post on your site.

Banning readers is not something that ought to be done lightly.  However, for your forums and comment sections to succeed, they must conform to the goals you have set for your overall site.  If after several warnings, a reader insists that the rules do not apply to him, it may be best for the rest of your readers to remove that reader from the discussion.

Get Noticed Through Public Comments

Letting Others Put Your Name Out There

A final way to generate interested traffic is to send your entries to blogs that talk about blogs.  Slate Magazine features a column dedicated to blog entries about hot topics, and the Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web” daily column provides a daily look at newsworthy and amusing online content.  Sites like these can introduce your content to readers that might never find you otherwise.  As you travel the blogosphere, be on the lookout for anyone who might need your content.  Then provide it to them.  Don’t get discouraged if they don’t feature you every time.  Remember, all your fellow bloggers (the serious ones anyway) are competing for the same attention.

Keeping Readers Interested With Expertise And Humour

You’ll draw your readers, for the most part, by promotion - by letting them know you exist.  But you’ll keep them, if you keep them, by giving them value for their time.  Remember, your readers are ‘paying’ you a visit.  They are ‘spending’ time on your site, and they expect to get something in return.  If your site is an opinion or news site, that something is your valuable opinion on a posted subject.  If your site is an art site, that something is quality content and commentary.

You’re the expert here, or ought to be.  You will be expected to know more about what you post than anyone else.  Being the expert means that you’ll have to work harder and longer than any of your readers.  It means you’ll have to dig and cull and study.  It means you’ll throw away 10 stories or articles for every one you post.  It means you’ll know what your readers expect and you’ll give it to them every time.  That’s the price you pay for readers who value your opinion enough to come back day after day and week after week.

Writing And Publishing Unique and Valuable Content

Your readers expect you to write what no one else is writing – that’s why they’re on your site and not another.  This should not be difficult if you decided wisely when you designed your blog originally.  You’ve got to make every entry a masterpiece: something worth reading and something worth linking to.  Just posting part of a story with small commentary works in small doses, but everyone can read the news themselves.  Unless you have something worthwhile to say about a story, some valuable insight to present or relevant commentary that ties this story to other stories, it may not be worth posting.  Your readers return because they value what you have to say.  Don’t disappoint them by giving them too much unexpected fluff, and don’t simply rehash the opinions of others without giving your readers the satisfaction of your own. 

Writing And Publishing Timely Content

Valuable content is content that’s both relevant and timely.  If you comment on the news, re-hashing an article from 2 years ago is not going to cut it.  If you present the sports, talking about a game from last fall – unless you tie it into the next game – is going to leave your readers uninterested.  Whatever you write, you need to tie it to today, right now, this minute. 

That means, unless your blog is a reference site, at least daily updates.  It usually means several updates a day.  Remember, you are a member of the new media, and the new media is on top of the news.  When your readers return, they expect that you’ll be ahead of them: that’s why they are coming in the first place.  You’ll have to set an update schedule that will keep you ahead of your readers

Search Engines And News Portals

Search Engines and NewsPortals

There are a million sites out there that promise to submit your site to hundreds, even thousands of search engines.  Before you choose one - giving them your money or email address - think for a moment about how many search engines you use.  You probably have a favorite or two, as do most people.  And in many cases, they are the same ones.  That means that so long as your site is listed in the major engines (Yahoo! and Google and MSN, to name a few) there’s really no need to pay for someone to submit it to a search engine no one uses or to give them your email address (which will coincidentally be deluged by spam from that day forward).  It’s worthwhile to manually submit your site – ONCE – to the bigger engines, but once you have a few blogs linking to you, search spider programs find you anyway by following from another site.

A second way to avoid paying for others to submit your site to search engines is to pick a blog host or software that features a blog ping, an automatic submission engine that tells blog search sites that you have updated.  Many of them allow you to choose which sites you’d like to submit your blog to (choose them all, of course) though there may be a restriction on the number of times you may ping the engines per day (e.g. Blogspot has a once-per-12-hours limit) because over-pinging, like multiple submissions to search engines, can result in your blog being blacklisted.  It’s far better to err on the side of caution and let the search engines do their own work.

News engines are a different story.  If you do a search of Google News for any specific subject, you’ll find a number of blogs listed right along with the major media outlets.  Some of these independent outfits, like the Blogger News Network may even beat the major news outlets to a story. If what you write is original and newsworthy, submitting your site as a news source will ensure that someone looks over your content for inclusion along with CBS and the New York Times as a source of news. In this case you have little control – other than to ensure you entries are newsworthy – over whether blog is included as a news source.  However, a successful listing is worth its weight in gold and is definitely worth pursuing.

Some of the more popular news search engines are:

A site’s FAQ will often tell you how to suggest a news site.  Suggesting your own site can result in hordes of traffic reading your blog for the latest.