Posts Tagged ‘Blogging’

My blog confessions and non-resolution

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

If you read this blog with any frequency, you already know that I’m in a bit of a “blog slump.” It’s gotten so bad, that the recent series that I wrote took me nearly a month to complete. A month! I didn’t even realize it was that bad until I just went back and looked at the dates. I should have realized that things were dire when people started alerting me to the fact that I completely missed my promise of a second post being “up tomorrow.”

Writer's blockSo here’s the thing – I have a blogging problem. Actually, I have a few of them. First, I write long posts. Again, this is not news to anyone who reads this blog, past English teachers, or anyone who has ever received an email or a greeting card from me. I’m wordy. I don’t think that this is an inherent problem; the issue is that it takes me too long to write a blog post. When I was in the early days of blogging, I had time on my hands. Now, my business obligations are taking up a great deal of time and I need to cut back on the amount of time that I spend blogging without cutting back on blogging itself – this has been tricky. Actually, it’s been more than tricky. I’m totally bombing at it.

Second, I have heard from a lot of people that the posts that they enjoy the most are the ones that bring in my personal experiences with starting a business. So I’ve been working on trying to figure out a format that I could use that would incorporate more of that type of content. But I’ve been struggling with trying to figuring out the balance of how to write about what I’m doing without a) sounding like a total prima donna and b) actually including information that will be interesting and/or useful to people. If I start writing about my day-to-day experiences, I am more than a little concerned that it will bore all of you to tears.

Finally, I do enjoy the long-form, analysis and informational writing that I have been doing all along, and I don’t want to give it up.

Those are the confessions.

So starting today, I’m going to try something new. I’m going to start adding a different kind of post to my blog repertoire. I stole this idea from one of my favorite blogs, Dooce. In her blog, Heather Armstrong includes a post called Daily Style, which is a short, daily post that includes a photo and a description of some kind of product that she likes and uses. The idea is that she takes something from her everyday life and writes a bit of commentary about it and includes a picture. The end.

Let me first say that Heather Armstrong does this incredibly well. So well, that this year she won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bloggies. She’s been copied many times before and will be many times again – and what I do will be a cheap rip-off imitation and probably slightly embarrassing, especially if it is compared to her site.

But here’s the thing. Starting a business is a risky thing. It involves a lot of borrowing nuggets of ideas from people who have gone before, mixing them up in a new way and throwing them out there for the world to see, comment on, reject or embrace. The start-up world isn’t pretty or neat. And nothing would ever get done if someone didn’t get an idea and just decide “What the hell. It’s worth a try.”

So here I go with my experiment in blogging more personally about my start-up journey. This is not a resolution – I am not promising a certain number of posts per day or per week, and I’m not sure that I’ll stick with this format forever. After all, an entrepreneur must be flexible and willing to make quick strategic changes. But based on my confessions, I need to try something new. And although I can’t be sure that this plan will work, I can at least remind myself that the experiment is part of the journey.

Photo by miss pupik

Sign up for Blog Action Day 2008

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Just a quick heads up to all you bloggers out there that signups are now going on for Blog Action Day 2008. 16th Letter participated in this last year, and it was a very cool thing to be one of thousands of blogs all writing about the same topic on the same day. Last year’s theme was the environment, and this year we will be tackling the issue of poverty. Head over to the site to sign up your blog. This type of event is one of my favorite things about the Internet – doing something small that turns into something so much bigger than just myself because of the number of participants. Anyway, hope that you’ll be a part of it!


Blog Action Day 2008 Poverty from Blog Action Day on Vimeo.

My greatest weakness

Monday, July 21st, 2008

WeaknessAnyone who tried to visit any page on this site since last Wednesday already knows what I am about to tell you – my blog has been down for five days. It’s back up now, working just fine, but it appears that the damage has been done. My good SEO ranking on some good terms has been lost, 1/4 of my readers have unsubscribed.

I just wanted to send a quick note out to all of you who have stuck with me through the downtime – thank you! And I’m sorry for the technical difficulties. The short explanation is that this blog is using a technology that one of my new businesses/applications is also using, and when the developers made a change to that application, they managed to take down my blog at the same time. It appears that everything is now fixed and working like it should, hopefully there won’t be any more issues.

This outage really brings to light what I think is my biggest weakness as an entrepreneur - I am not technical enough. I know a bit about technology, definitely enough to talk about it and to understand the concepts, a smattering of HTML. But I am not a “do-er” – and so, when things like this happen, I am at the mercy of others. This fact is hard to take.

I am honestly not sure what the solution to the problem is, either. As the president of my company, I shouldn’t be the one who is doing all the nitty gritty work – that would be a waste of time and resources. I also don’t have the time to go back to school and to take classes to learn all this stuff that I wish I already knew. I could regret my college major (maybe computer science would have been a better choice than English, no matter how much I loved reading those books), but then again, if I had majored in computer science, who knows where I would be now. Maybe the influences of Maya Angelou (On The Pulse of the Morning), Sylvia Plath and Ralph Ellison are part of what has inspired me to be the person I am today, to do what I am doing right now. And regrets aren’t helpful, anyway.

So I put my lack of technical expertise in the category of unavoidable things that suck. At least for now. And I try to use this weakness as a reminder that I can’t build this business on my own, that I need help and input from a wide variety of other people to be successful. And I breathe. Slowly.

Photo by solidstate

"You should write about this on your blog"

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

One of the best ways that I get new ideas for businesses is to listen to what people suggest I should write about on my blog.

The following scene happens all the time. 

wine glassI’m out with friends, having dinner, a couple of glasses of wine. We start talking about something, which leads to something else, which leads to a topic of interest that everyone at the table knows a little bit about – but not enough to be a real authority on the topic. Once that happens, someone usually pulls out an iPhone to look some stuff up. We either find out the answer to the question and it’s incredibly interesting, or we don’t. Either way, someone turns to me and says: “You should write about this on your blog.”

Sometimes I manage to figure out a way to work the topic into my blog – such as when I wrote about avatars, Web 2.0 and Twitter. But most of the time I don’t because the topics are so random that I can’t immediately figure out a good way to incorporate them – or I don’t have the time to do the research to write an adequate blog post.

And sometimes, when everything comes together perfectly, the topics get turned into ideas for businesses.

Think about it – the ideas that are coming from your friends and family and acquaintances are ideas that are coming straight from your future target audience. And one of the best ways to come up with an idea for a new business is to discover a need and work to fill it. Or to determine an area of widespread interest, and attempt to provide information or a tool or a service to fill in the gap.

Of course, the kernel of the idea isn’t enough substance around which to start a business. And I am certainly not suggesting that anyone should quit their job and start a company after a night out on the town with friends, based on a harebrained scheme cooked up over cocktails. My only point is that if you listen, and filter, you might be able to glean some really good ideas – not only for your blog, but also for your business.

<<As a side note, here is one random thing that someone suggested I write about on my blog, which came up recently during a discussion about the outrageous price of gas. If you look at your dashboard, where the gas gauge is located, there is a small arrow that points to the side of the car that the gas tank is on. No more straining to look in your side mirrors as you pull up to the gas station. Anyone see a business idea here? I didn’t, which is why I picked this one to share. >>

Gas gauge

 Gas gauge 2

Wine glass photo by emdot

Slow technology adoption = adoption nonetheless

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

I spent the weekend in my hometown with my family. It was a great weekend filled with events. Not surprisingly, the hot topic of conversation was my cousin’s newborn triplets.

Anytime someone has three babies in one shot, it’s probably big news. But the conversations about my cousin and her babies were incredibly detailed and informed – because she and her husband kept a blog about their experiences. Every event I attended this weekend, another family member was asking me to pull out my iPhone to show pictures of the triplets “on the blog.”

Blog. My family now uses the word “blog” in everyday conversation. I have a very smart family, but not one that is at the bleeding-edge of technology adoption. But they now use the word blog (and know how to scroll through a Web page on the iPhone).

Book coverI have one other cousin with a blog. Hers is about writing romance novels. (By the way, her latest book was just released, please go buy it, read it and somehow give me the credit. This weekend she was signing autographs and happened to mention that I wasn’t her favorite cousin and I’m on a campaign to correct that terrible error.) At the family’s Memorial Day picnic, a conversation about “stripper names” broke out because of this post on her blog.

Blogs are beginning to become more mainstream. This will happen more and more quickly as people’s sisters, friends and fathers start blogging, and as more and more people see the benefits of being able to stay connected to each other – and involved in the conversation – by reading what each other writes.

There was an article in Business Week last week titled “Beyond Blogs,” about the social media phenomenon and how it no longer involves just blogs. I have written in the past that Twitter might be too difficult to use to get mainstream adoption. But after this weekend, I think that I’m changing my mind. My family might not know what RSS is yet, but they know what blogs are. And many of them were talking about how they visited the triplet’s site multiple times per day to find out what was new – they are only a small step away from finding out about the joys of RSS. From there, it’s not too far to Twitter and FriendFeed. Granted, the services will have to exist for many more years for widespread adoption to happen, but if the services make it that long, I predict that the masses will catch on.

Because my family is interested and informed, they will follow the conversation, wherever it takes them.

Which brings up another point about conversations – they aren’t just happening online. Conversations are happening on blogs, on Twitter, on FriendFeed, as well as in bars, at grocery stores and on walks through the woods. People who try to own or control the conversation, whether by requiring a complicated registration processes or demanding that the conversation happens when and where they want it to, are going to fail.

Don't sacrifice your blog in the name of productivity

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

I have been working more than ever lately, but my blog posts have been scarce. This is no accident. But it is a mistake.

A couple of weeks back I wrote this post about productivity on Tuesdays. That realy got me thinking about my own productivity and what days of the week I am able to get work done. The initial inspiration for the post was this one by Penelope Trunk, which suggested, among other things, that if Tuesdays are the most productive day of the week, we should focus more on Wednesdays and Thursdays to try to make those days equally productive.

So I’ve been trying to consciously think about my productivity. And I have hit upon a great way to make myself productive. The past two weeks I have been picking one major (or difficult) item on my to-do list, and working on it the entire day until it’s done. That way, at the end of the week I will be able to cross five major items off my list. Any time that I have left in a given day, I work on the odds-and-ends that are left. Including my blog.

This strategy has worked great for getting those major projects done. (I finished four last week, one was so big that it took two days.) But the problem is, the other stuff – the everyday work – isn’t getting done. As evidenced by the sparse posts to this blog.

GrowingSo this week I am going to try a new tactic. I’m going to schedule only 3 major things to get done this week and see if I can get caught up on the rest of my stuff. Because sacrificing my blog in the name of productivity is a bad idea.

This blog may be fairly insignificant in the scheme of things, but as far as my business goes, it has been essential in ways that I couldn’t imagine.

1. I have gotten consulting jobs because of my blog. Multiple jobs. When I hand out my business card, it has my company Website and my blog URL. People usually go to both. When they read the Pure Incubation site, the first question is usually “What do you do?” Followed by the statement “I don’t get it.” This is understandable because what I’m trying to do is uncommon and unusual, and I am trying to be vague on my site until I launch some products. But people get my blog. And my blog gets me jobs.

2. I am more engaged with the business community because of my blog. I don’t live in Silicon Valley, arguably the heart of the Internet Web 2.0 world that I’m trying to play in. But by blogging, and commenting on other people’s blogs (and have them commenting on mine), I am able to get involved in the conversation in a way that I wouldn’t be able to be involved if I wasn’t saying something. This recent post about women technology start-up founders sparked conversation from lots of interesting folks, including two who I really admire: Sarah Lacy, who released her first book last week: Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0; and Penelope Trunk, who I mention all the time in this blog and who is really my blogging idol, if there is such a thing.

3. My family and friends read my blog. Not everyone I know reads my blog, but the people who do have a better understanding of what I’m doing. I talked to my dad last night, and he told me that he follows what I’m up to with my business through the blog. And my Aunt Mary told me that she feels like she is more connected to me because she reads what I’m up to and thinking about at work. I’m glad that my dad and aunt are reading. When I go home to visit this weekend, they won’t look at me with blank stares when I talk about my business and how things are going. I like that.

4. Blogging helps me be more creative. I love writing, I always have, so the process of coming up with a topic and writing about it helps to get all of my creativity churning. I find that the process of writing a blog post often helps me think of new things to work on for my business, and often helps me discover new business models and stuff that’s out there that I wouldn’t otherwise have found – like Gary Vaynerchuk and Wine Library TV. If you’re not watching, you should be.

5. When I write a blog post, things happen. I’ve noticed this past week that my email from random people has slowed down, my traffic stats are a bit stagnant and I feel generally down about my business. This is a normal feeling for entrepreneurs to have on occassion, but I realize now that posting to my blog helps to lessen this. Because when I blog, I reconnect with my community, get support from the other entrepreneurs out there, and things happen. And it’s that thrill of activity that keeps me going when things get hard with the business, which happens all the time.

It turns out that I learned a bigger lesson this week than just the one on productivity – I realized just how important my blog is to my business. So if you have a blog, keep writing! If you don’t have a blog, go get one today. And then check back in three months to let me know how it changed your business (or life). I know it will.

Photo by Editor B

Why I'm kissing Tumblr a sad, sad good-bye

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

My company has a lot of blogs for the various businesses that I’m starting – 52 to be exact. Most of them are run on WordPress, which I really like, one is run on an old install of TypePad (which is clunky, but might be because I need to update), and one is run on Tumblr.

I love Tumblr. I love the user interface, the way that you can post quick snippets of things. Quotes, pictures, text, links…it is fun to use. And the templates are awesome. The Cara Austin blog is on Tumblr, and it’s a delight to update every day.

Sad Good ByeBut there is a fundamental problem with Tumblr that I wasn’t aware of before I started using it – the search engines don’t seem to like it. In the two months since I have been posting (every weekday starting March 13, 123 posts total), the blog has only received 17 visitors from Google. Every one of those visits, except one, had the term “Cara Austin blog” or “Cara Austin Tumblr” as the search term.

This is a major problem for a commercial blog. I have a personal Tumblr that I use for my own things, notes, things I want to remember – and I don’t care if no one ever comes to that site. But for Cara Austin, a musician who needs to get her name out there and needs to sell albums, this is a big issue.

I didn’t know this about Tumblr. I didn’t know that the pages wouldn’t be indexed well (or show up high) on Google. I knew that Tumblr doesn’t have comments. And I knew that Tumblr didn’t have a search engine built in. These things I decided to live with.

But I didn’t know that Tumblr had a search engine optimization (SEO) problem.

I could no longer ignore the fact after I launched another new blog on WordPress on April 23, put up a few posts, and that blog starting receiving more traffic, from a wider variety of search terms, in a much shorter time period.

Here’s a little chart to illustrate:

Tumblr SEO chart

And so I’m leaving Tumblr. I’m leaving with a tear in my eye, but I’m leaving nonetheless.

Photo by Jaye_Elle

Blogging while delivering triplets!

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

This post is obviously off the topic of work, but my cousin is very close to giving birth to triplets, and she is blogging from her hospital room! That’s right, she is scheduled to give birth on Wednesday, was admitted into the hospital last night, and she and her husband have been able to post about the pending-birth from their room. Their blog has really been cool for our family, which is spread all over the U.S. and is obviously very interested in how everything is going.

Count this as just one more way that the Internet has completely changed how people are living their lives.

Two sites where you can get great free images for your blog

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

People ask me all the time where I get the images that I use on my blog. There are two sources – and one tool – that I use to find and manipulate the images.

1. Flickr – This is by far my favorite site for free images because of the wide variety and types of images that are available. The community of users that upload their pictures to Flickr – from all over the world – ensures that there is a vast collection of images of varying quality (some are incredibly good). The trick with using Flickr images, however, is that you need to use images that are governed by the Creative Commons license that fits with what you’re doing.

Attribution licenseHere is a list of Flickr’s Creative Common licensing policies. Basically, the “Attribution License” is the most liberal, and allows you to use anyone’s image, manipulate it how you want to, and do most things that you would want to do with it – as long as you give the author of the image credit. My suggestion if you don’t want to get into the intricacies of Creative Commons licensing is to stick with these images. As of today, there are more than 7.5 million images with this license on Flickr, which is certainly a big pool of images to choose from.

Here’s the link to the images with that license.

Just make sure that whatever you do, you give credit back to the photographer. I use “Photo by photographer” with a link to the Flickr page at the bottom of posts. You can do that attribution any way that you want, however. (Hat tip to Skelliewag.org)

Young photographer
Photo by muha…

2. stock.xchg - This site has a database of very good free images that you can use for your blog. Just type in your search, and look to see what you can find. You will have to register to download images, and make sure that you check the “Availability” of each photo. If it says that “standard restrictions apply,” you can use the image. Sometimes, however, the photographer must be notified or approve the use of the image before you post it. So be careful to check this out.

BONUS- A great cheap tool for screenshots and minor editing of photos

If you have Photoshop or another major image editing tool, use that. But if you don’t have a great image editing tool, consider using SnagIt from TechSmith. There is a free 30-day trial and the tool is only $39.95 for a single-user license. I use this tool ALL THE TIME and it’s been really helpful. The learning curve is short and it can handle all the simple editing tasks that I do on my blog.

Do any of you have any other great free image sites that you use? If so, please post them in the comments.

The top 30 blogs and the domain name lesson they teach

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

I recently was doing research for a project that led me to the Technorati Top 100 – the list of the 100 most popular blogs as ranked by Technorati.

TypoFor my project, I was looking at the design of the various top blogs, so I had two browser windows open. In one window, I had the page with the list opened. I looked at the names in that window, closed the window, opened the other window, and then typed the domain name into the address field in the new window. I don’t have two monitors, so this entailed closing the window that had the names listed before opening the other window.

What did I find? I mistyped a LOT of the names.

Here are the ones that I got wrong in the top 30.

Correct URL / What I typed

www.gizmodo.com / www.gismodo.com

www.BoingBoing.net / www.BoingBoing.com

www.dailykos.com / www.dailykoz.com

www.thinkprogress.org / www.thinkprogress.com

www.consumerist.com / www.theconsumerist.com

www.scobleizer.com / www.scobelizer.com 

The interesting thing I found through all of these errors is that none of these mistyped URLs redirected to the correct domain name. They were all owned by domain name speculators who were out to make money off bad spellers who might click on a link on one of the parked pages. This practice entails buying domain names that people might accidentally type into the address bar – like I did with these popular blog names – and then putting a page up on the site that is fed by ads – so every time someone clicks a link on one of those pages, the speculator earns some money. For more on this industry, read this article.

The lesson? Try to consider easy-to-do misspellings of your domain names, and buy those as soon as you can – maybe not when you buy the initial domain name (if you’re trying to save on cash) but as soon as you know that you’re going to do something significant with the domain. And don’t forget to snap up the .com, .net and .org extensions, as well.

Photo by Marcin Wichary