8 Principles for the Modern Blog …at least for 2009

A few years ago, Julio Garcia suggested I redesigned my blog, I should have listened, he was right. Yesterday, I finally took his advice and launched a new blog design, in which I contracted Web Designer and Developer Mitch Canter to complete.

We involved the community in the iterations of the design, and frequently asked for feedback. I even used controversial crowdSPRING to crowdsource my banner design, (thanks to Dragos Mirica, see his site)based on Mitch’s wireframe and logo creation. In the end, a majority of it came from my vision, a great deal from Mitch, and the rest from the community.

Although this blog redesign process has taken a few months (I’ve been very busy, as has he) I’ve come to learn there’s a few principles that have changed since I started my blog back in 2005. (BTW: Here’s the old version, if you want to jog your memory) Here’s what I think are appropriate for 2009, yet I expect this list to change in just a few years as new technologies and the media landscape shifts.


8 Principles for the Modern Blog …at least for 2009

1) Baseline: Have Valuable Content
This one isn’t anything new. You have to have relevant content that’s either helpful or interesting to your audience, or you can forget the rest of the principles. Content still rules the royal court, and without it, you can’t move forward. Ideas, insights, perspectives aligned with an appropriate publishing frequency to your market is baseline. Don’t read ahead ’till you do that.

2) Know your Audience
If you’re just writing for yourself, this principle doesn’t matter. A few years ago, blogging didn’t have a strong business objective, but now we see many companies involved in blogging, so it must impact company in a positive way. So, if you want your blog to grow and spread your ideas and knowledge, then you likely have an objective. In order to be successful for your ideas to be effective, you should first know what your readers want. I know through a formal survey that most of my readers are interactive marketers, so I’m attempting to give them what they want through content and website experience.

3) Distribute the Content…
In the end, I believe web destinations are irrelevant, as we should fish where the fish are. The goal of a thought leadership blog, is often to get your ideas to spread to other locations. In the most extreme example, take Jason Calcanis, who temporarily stopped blogging and shifted to a dedicated email newsletter, it worked, as people ended up blogging his content for him. I’ve highlighted email subscription, and a host of tools at the bottom of each post that enable you to share the content elsewhere.

4) ..Yet Aggregate the Conversation
If you’re successful because of the two principles above, your content will start to spread to other locations on the web. It’ll be discussed on Twitter, tagged in Delicious, rehashed in Friendfeed, talked about in Facebook, and maybe event submitted to Digg. As a response to content distributing (Principle 3) then as a response to help to re-centralize your thoughts, you’ll need to aggregate your social content. This builds a reef for the fish to centralize around. As a result this accomplishes three things: 1) Helps people to find opinions in a single place 2) Helps you to manage the conversation 3) Provides a social reward to those who spread the content.

5) Highlight Community Conversation
While I know that in Principle 1 it’s about the content, for some blogs, highlighting the community around you is key. For example, in this blog redesign, we’ve given nearly equal attention to the comments and conversation. We’ve aggregated Friendfeed conversation (and soon Facebook), as well as given each commenter the ability to show their icon. (sign up to Gravatar if you want your smiling picture to appear in the comments), you’ll even notice the prominent comment bubbles next to each blog title. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that the collective commenters say some really brilliant stuff –let’s focus on the collective voices.

6) Reflect a Personal Brand
Whether you like the concept or term, expect the desire and need for personal brands to increase during a global recession. As people become sensitive that they may be positioned against a dozen other candidates, demonstrating thought leadership to be found, a built in audience, or a living resume of their knowledge and how they interact with others is key. We’ve provided a variety of ways for people to connect with me via email, social networking sites, and even an embedded Twitter ticker tape below the header. This means that having a visually aligned personal brand with your goal is important, why? The way you represent yourself is an indicator of how you’ll represent your employer and clients.

7) Get Serious, Hire a Pro
This project was more ambitious than I could have taken on in my busy schedule or antiquated UI design background. Therefore it’s important to hire someone who knows what they’re doing, in fact read Mitch’s behind the scenes guest post, there’s only 7 images on the blog design, in an attempt to optimize the site. Mitch does this professionally, and it was worth the money to hire him to lead this project. I don’t have the time to learn it, nor do I want to risk messing up the blog.

8] Got an Principle to Share? Leave a Comment
I won’t profess to knowing all the principles, so I’m leaving this one open to the community. What principles for the modern web blog need to be factored in?


By the way, I’ll be working on the popular posts section, making it a quick reference guide to those that quickly need the most helpful content. Stay tuned.

66 Replies to “8 Principles for the Modern Blog …at least for 2009”

  1. Jeremiah:

    Follow your own advice — hire a pro. At least, do what the pros do — have an editor review your copy BEFORE it’s posted.

    Writing is thinking on paper, and sloppy writing (e.g., three errors in the first line) doesn’t suggest clear thinking.

    We live not in the Design Society, but in the Information Society. Information has value; pretty is nice.

    :Thorne

  2. I agree whole-heartedly with Thorne. We don’t hesitate to hire professionals for design, IT, research and other activities, but too many people whose core competency is not writing not only produce less than stellar writing but also waste their own valuable time. So many people who have great expertise in their heads, but neither the time nor talent to share it more effectively with the world.

  3. You need to insert another principle – probably around number 2: PROOFREAD. At least at that point you’ll have 8 principles… Your content is good (point #1) but it is completely lost by the errors. Aside from what Thorne mentioned in the first line:

    2)impact company?
    2)to be successful AND for your…
    4)maybe event submitted

    Personal publishing – or even more important a company marketing campaign – requires more diligence in editing. A spelling or grammar mistake like those throughout your article can ruin a campaign and cause the audience to completely disregard what might otherwise be very valuable insight.

    I recommend you edit this post and then delete my comment. And if you find that you can’t catch your own errors, hire a pro to clean up for you. Your information had value, but it was lost. Pretty isn’t just nice. These days it is crucial.

  4. Thanks for the pointers.

    The comments on editing and proofreading are spot-on. Sturgeon’s Revelation is absolutely borne out by the social web, and the abundance of misspellings and grammatical errors makes it even more difficult and frustrating to find the 10% of useful material that is hidden in plain sight.

    By the way, nice design.

  5. Barb

    Thanks, no need to delete, I’m open to improving and your helpful feedback. The one challenge with hiring an editor is that I don’t generate direct revenue from this blog beyond server costs, so any expense would come out of pocket.

    This is interesting, what if every blogger had to hire a copy editor? Would that change the personal voice that first captured our attention about blogs?

    I agree with you, one should improve their writing before hiring an editor.

  6. I like your advice for aggregating the conversation. I think you should not just look at blog comments as a litmus test for success but much like all marketing you should approach measuring in a multi-tiered manner.

  7. In geek communities like slashdot.org theres a term used – “grammar nazis”. 😉

    I don’t intend to hurt anybody’s sensibilities/emotions here! Just referring to a term used elsewhere!

    BTW, I side with the view of not having to be too concerned about grammar and/or spellings in blogs, especially in personal blogs that are not set up for monetary gains or academic purposes!

    Once we start getting copy editors, the spontaneity dies. Blogs are more spontaneous than articles published in magazines, journals, etc. Tweets are even more spontaneous than blogs.

    The time taken to ‘thinking’ before publishing each of them also diminishes from an article to blog to tweet.

    The number of people involved in the review of the content too decreases. For an article there will be someone other than the author. Blogs, usually its just the blogger, especially so with personal blogs (like this one or mine). Tweets, heck they don’t get reviewed even by the author! 🙂

  8. Scorp, I’m going to agree with you.

    I do have editors for my very refined Forrester reports. A lot of my personal voice is paired down.

    This is my blog, a conversational tool where I share, learn, and hope to spread ideas. I have to weigh quickly sharing with the community in my limited time (I have up to 10 meetings a day, and usually spend time on blog before the sun comes up) vs refined writing.

    If you’re going to nitpick on the grammar, I’m going to suggest you’re missing the point. I’m sharing insight from an industry perspective, the bigger ideas are what’s more important.

    I’m going to continue to improve the quality of writing, but remember, it’s a blog, and I’m using the tool as it’s designed.

  9. RE: This is interesting, what if every blogger had to hire a copy editor?

    What if everyone had to pay for their own haircuts and dry cleaning?

  10. Jeremiah,

    Blogs are more about “authenticity” than correct grammar and spelling. Your blog does a WONDERFUL job of illustrating the breadth and depth of knowledge you posses on the subject of social media and web marketing.

    I once had someone write to me and inform me that I had double spaced X number of times at the end of a sentence and then single spaced at the end of a sentence X more times. I was asked when I planned on addressing the very serious editorial faux pas!

    I guess what I’m saying is that if you were “selling” your services as an editor, then I’d be concerned about the typos, spelling or grammatical errors! 🙂 However, when it comes to imparting your knowledge and understanding of using the new “social” web as a marketing – you do an OUTSTANDING job.

  11. The only suggestion I have: Ask yourself the following questions-

    1. How will my content look on a mobile phone / smart device?
    2. What can I do to improve that user experience?
    3. How can I integrate my efforts further with the mobile / smart device experience?
    4. Can I integrate better with location based services?

    To me, that is the coming trend as more users around the world prefer their mobile devices over laptops to sift through content. A great example of this would be the recent Nine Inch Nails iPhone App.

  12. Thorne

    Heh, good one. I’d suggest it would be more related if I asked,

    “What if I had to run every sentence by my PR agent before engaging in a conversation at the coffee shop?”

    As we’ve discussed, I know that copy editing is important to you, in fact it’s your career, but for me, I’m going to focus in on the ideas, and convey them efficiently given my time and other priorities.

    I agree with you, it’s important, but I don’t put the same value on it that you do. We’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

  13. Thanks Kathy, that’s reassuring, you understand my goals.

    Brandon good one. Maybe, if I get time, I’ll create a mobile version of the site using RSS in a less graphic intensive version.

  14. Perhaps you are correct.

    Perhaps I am acting the grammar nazi (hey scorp, you’re absolutely right, but take responsibility for the name calling, don’t blame it on “someone else said…”).

    I think I did miss the point because I was hung up on the grammar and spelling mistakes. I think I wanted to find good information from this post – but yes, as you quoted tomewing, I’m probably too detail oriented to benefit from the content anyway.

    As I read my comments and how they were taken, I apologize for the tone and presentation.

    I was caught up in the desire to improving personal publishing – as you say in Principle 6: “The way you represent yourself is an indicator of how you’ll represent your employer and clients.” We are inundated with the laziness people have with communication – and I’m not talking about twitter/text abbreviations or single/double spacing after the period. I’ve been handed large marketing accounts simply because I used “their” and “there” appropriately as opposed to the previous marketing person who had much more style than I.

    I do still believe that proofing should be one of your principles. Yes, hiring an editor is beyond the scope of a personal blog – even a “thought leadership blog.” We can’t all write like Shel Israel, but take pride in what you have to say. Good content deserves the slight extra time to find the blatant mistakes (again – speaking to the double/single spacing on the period – that’s just too much!).

    Again, I apologize for coming off so harshly. And, to further your point, I’ve spent far too long writing and editing this comment before posting.

    I look forward to seeing more excellent content in your newly designed site.

  15. Jeremiah:

    RE: “I agree with you, it’s important . . . .”

    Is it? You make beaucoup errors, but your blog is incredibly popular. Technorati ranks it at #1,756; it ranks mine at #303,760.

    So, does good grammar really matter (in your line of work)?

    If it don’t mater, Y bother with it?

  16. Jeremiah – Really enjoy reading your blogs. Your blogs always have relevant and useful CONTENT and that’s why I read them. Appreciate the time and effort you put into writing these blogs – THANK YOU!

  17. Roger, no worries, thanks for coming around and taking the time.

    Mr Thorne,

    Does it matter? My blog is actually ranked less than #400, if you use the full url including the web-strategist.com/blog.

    http://technorati.com/blogs/www.web-strategist.com/blog?reactions

    It means, perfected grammar at the level you desire, really matter as much as you think it does. This doesn’t mean I won’t improve, but I’m doing what’s working for me over the last 4-5 years.

    I’m done with this topic, and I’m going to suggest two options for folks who can’t bear it anymore: 1) Let it go and focus on the topics at hand (web strategy). If that doesn’t work: 2) Find another blog to read that will meet your writing expectations.

    Sorry to be so harsh, but I’m going to continue to write this personal journal written by me in the first person, human errors and all.

    I’ll keep the refined writing process for my analyst reports, but here, I’m going to keep it conversational.

    …ready to move on.

  18. Another great post. In particular, you’re spot on with items 3 and 4. Intelligently distribute the content of a blog causes disparate commentary. Bringing all that back home (4) is essential for a current and flourishing conversation. Good work!

  19. Man those guys should lighten up on the spelling stuff. Don’t worry about hiring a copy writer just get a friend or someone to look over your posting before you put it up. I always think way faster then I type and miss words etc (I probably did it here), so don’t worry about it.

    Penelope Trunk wrote something about that a while back… http://tinyurl.com/6h8ojm

  20. I’m very surprised at all the editing-related comments. There clearly are grammatical errors but none of them takes away from the message Jeremiah is trying to get across. This is not an English teaching or a creative writing blog it’s web strategy. If the meaning is not lost small grammatical errors are not a big deal and it is definitely not worth hiring an editor which would change the voice of the posts as well as delaying their submission.

  21. Mark good find.

    Glenn, what I’m wrestling with now is how far do I need to take it to aggregate content? Hopefully, in a few years, we’ll have fewer ID systems and it won’t look like patchwork.

  22. Thanks Alexis, that’s a good point. One should also point out that often the blog content is consumed in a feedreader, so the usability may not even mater for a large chunk of readers.

  23. I think the vast majority of your readers are in it for the content and appreciate the personal voice. I always struggle with my own blog b/c I am worried that people will not read the content if the spelling and grammar are not perfect. I’ve settled on a “best effort” approach.

    Keep up the good work Jeremiah! You add a ton of value to the community.

  24. Craig

    Don’t worry about the grammar experts critiquing you, keep on sharing your ideas. As I read the blogs of others, I focus on the overall message and ideas they’re trying to convey.

  25. I have to agree with comments that basically support the “ease up on the spelling and typos focus.” We do live in an information society, and major errors in syntax, grammar, etc can detract from your message. However, typos and the occasional spelling or typographical gaffe are a part of life. As bloggers, shouldn’t we be looking at authentic communication, rather than sterilized transmissions? By all means, proofread – but there is a law of diminishing returns with editing. The more you do, the less you are “you” in your writing, especially if you hire a third party. With too much editorial intervention, I think one can move from stimulating conversation as a human, approachable blogger to publishing a voice-neutral magazine. But that’s just me. 🙂 Great content Jeremiah, I very much enjoy reading your work.

  26. Jeremiah – Like the posts and the new look of the blog. Obviously you will be continuously improving as time goes on, you receive feedback and just want to add more features like improving content delivery to mobile. I think the more interesting thought is around where are blogs going in general, not just in 2009. Feels like we are in the midst of a transition to something new … not sure exactly what yet and is this any different than any other time in the last 20 years ….

    But it feels like a more integrated view of our content/information/data is on the horizon. I just finished reading an excellent article from Prof. Michael Wesch, Kansas State University – From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able: Learning in New Media Environments – http://www.academiccommons.org/commons/essay/knowledgable-knowledge-able – Check it out when you have some time. It is focused on education, but the points are relevant to all of us.

    Whoever cracks the nut of true, seamless integration between the variety of content (text, video, graphic, contacts, etc…) I think will provide a big leap in the evolution of the Digital Ecosystem.

    Great post as usual. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights.

    Bert DuMars
    VP E-Business & Interactive Marketing
    Newell Rubbermaid

  27. I think this has more to do with pride than anything else. I am astonished that people who are intelligent enough to nit pick the blog to such a mind numbing degree, can’t understand that blogs are about sharing useful information.

    Based on the ideas they shared, I’d never read their blogs. What could I hope to gain? If their comments are that self-rightness, can you imagine what their personal content is like?

    And unfortunately, my comment is another comment that took us away from the initial topic. Maybe that does give credence to their critiques, who knows?

  28. Would you say that Seth Godin (for example) is not a successful or good or modern blogger because he doesn’t “aggregate comments” on his blog? I’d say he’s still a very successful blogger.

    This general argument can also be extended to distributing content, having a personal brand, and so on.

    It depends what your goals are. If you want to influence minds, that’s one strategy. If you write things – maybe even great things – mainly for yourself, with a secondary strategy of having other people read it, that’s another. If you’re interested in metrics like how long people stay on your site reading (potentially looking at ads) that’s yet another.

    Seems like when gurus now think about “the right way to blog in a Web 2.0 world” they think of sites like Mashable, TechCrunch, etc. that get lots of eyeballs, many comments, and sell ads to make money. And that’s fine. But when did selling ads become the right way to blog? It seems to be that this is like saying NBC is the right way to do television. But one could easily make an argument that HBO, or PBS, has better content. I say, it’s all good.

    With “Government 2.0” the mantra is “right tools for your mission” – so when it comes to blog styles, formats, plugins, and so on, ask yourself: What’s my mission?

  29. Mark

    Yup, an objective is key. My objective is to be part of the living and breathing ecosystem and community. Why? That’s where the web is headed, destinations are less important that the content moving and shifting.

    Seth Godin could be even more powerful if he then aggregated the content, and encouraged it to spread.

    I’m with you, define an objective first. One of my objectives is to interface and integrate with the community.

  30. Hey Jeremiah,

    Nice post. Good advice as I’ve been thinking about streamlining my own blog from a range of useful ideas, observations to my nonsense rantings and sometimes dumb statements. In other words, it’s full of rubbish.

    Your blog is the 1st RSS that I put on my outlook. I read this almost as often as I read my customised Google News.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  31. Thanks, I was thinking about setting up my own personal blog myself. Been blogging on other peoples pages for ages wanted to try it for myself..downloaded wordpress, gonna get my head around it then start my own ramblings.
    Is wordpress the best? Heard only good reports from other users…

  32. Perhaps one more principle to consider — be humble. Realize that most people aren’t pondering over every word that you write, nor are they reading every blog post. Aggregation isn’t important, unless you honestly believe that much of what you write will be considered profound.

    IMHO, the egalitarian online personal publishing model creates an abundance where the content is more important, and the author is less important. People will discover the good, scan over the okay, and likely ignore the rest. I enjoy reading *some* of your posts, Jeremiah — including this one.

  33. great post. as a writer, i have to agree with the need for better proofreading, here and elsewhere on the web.

    the average blog can be average, with a few glitches now and then. but you’re a thought leader. your words are routinely forwarded to decision-makers. your words matter. so you need to proofread.

    btw, a good copywriter or copy editor will learn your voice and find ways to incorporate your speaking and writing style in the final product. if you see your style being scrubbed away during the editing process, find a different writer.

  34. Let’s get back to the content folks.

    Thought provoking and clear … that’s how I read it.

    As a long time reader of your blog I really like the new design.

    It’s beautiful and functional.

    You also provide a range of ways for people to connect and communicate with you.

    Keep speaking with your own great voice.

    slan

    Liz

  35. Наткнулся случайно на Ваш блог. Теперь стану постоянно просматривать. Надеюсь, не разочаруете и дальше

  36. Да таков наш современный мир и боюсь с этим ни чего невозможно поделать:)

  37. This is interesting, what if every blogger had to hire a copy editor? Would that change the personal voice that first captured our attention about blogs?

    I agree with you, one should improve their writing before hiring an editor.
    http://www.staffingpower.com

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