Here are some key lessons I have learned from 12 years of blogging that has produced 1842 posts and 1,281,326 words. This post was also sent as the SKMurphy newsletter for October 2018.
Lessons Learned from 12 Years of Blogging
“To base thought only on speech is to try nailing whispers to the wall. Writing freezes thought and offers it up for inspection.”
I started the SKMurphy blog on Oct-1-2006 with “Welcome Entrepreneurs” which still reads surprisingly well, better than many of the 1842 posts and 1,281,326 words–averaging 643 words per post–I have written since. Here are some key lessons learned.
I engage in many different kinds of writing
- business emails to clients, prospects, and partners
- personal emails or letters to friends and relatives
- rough drafts of or edits to articles, proposals, or business emails for clients to revise and take final authorship of
- postings in on-line forums and newsgroups, typically in response to a question or comments by another participant
- comments on articles and blog posts left on other sites.
- contemporaneous note taking during a meeting or call with clients, typically either shared with them in real time during the call or immediately afterward
- a summary of findings from a customer interview or office hours session
- handwritten thank you notes
- private journal entries
- handwritten notes and to-dos captured on 3×5 cards I carry with me during the day or on a pad of writing paper I keep next to my bed
- an endorsement either as part of an email introduction or on LinkedIn
- blog posts
When I write a blog post it’s intended to be a public persistent article that help an entrepreneur detect, diagnose, explore, mitigate, or solve a problem they are facing in their business. Writing allows you to capture your thoughts and subject them to review and improvement. I frequently use business emails, on-line postings, and comments left on other sites as starting material for blog posts. This contributes to my high draft count. I will sometimes take findings from a customer interview or office hours sessions that are a general nature and use as draft material. I will often incorporate a link to blog posts and/or an excerpt from one in business emails and online posts or comments.
Blogging is complementary to your other writing and it’s on a platform you can own
I think you have to look at blogging as complementary to the other kinds of writing that you are doing. In the last fifteen years since I started SKMurphy in August of 2003 I have stored content on a number of sites, many of which have disappeared. I have linked to dozens of sites that have disappeared since I started blogging in October of 2006, archive.org can help recover some of those links.
The challenge of perfectionism
Which does not take into account the 1243 drafts (with another half a million words) I have started but not been able to complete–but I do continue to rework and publish them on an ongoing basis, in about a third of the cases deciding to abandon them entirely, in others salvage a paragraph or two for incorporation into a related draft. It’s funny, my own perfectionism helps me to relate to it in others: I recently emailed a client who wanted to go for one more revision to an overdue article, “This is a very good article, we have to stop improving it, freeze and publish. Crappy content published today is beating our fantastic unpublished article.”
One of the benefits of blogging: a searchable collection of narrative insights
I write to clarify my own thinking, to collect not only my insights and but those of others. Forcing them into a succinct narrative requires me to consider how to apply them to one or more challenges that entrepreneurs can face. Cory Doctorow suggested a similar motivation in “My Blog, My Outboard Brain” (May-31-2002)
Writing a blog entry about a useful and/or interesting subject forces me to extract the salient features of the link into a two- or three-sentence elevator pitch to my readers, whose decision to follow a link is predicated on my ability to convey its interestingness to them. This exercise fixes the subjects in my head the same way that taking notes at a lecture does, putting them in reliable and easily-accessible mental registers.
The nuggets I‘ve mined are at my instant disposal with Blogger’s search interface when I am preparing a speech, writing a column, or working on a story — it’s my personal knowledge management system, annotated and augmented by my readers.
Cory Doctorow suggested a similar motivation in “My Blog, My Outboard Brain” (May-31-2002)
You Have to Please the Google Spider, Who, Like Shelob, is a Demanding Mistress
We completed our second major upgrade to the website earlier this year. We have cut the page load times, switched to SSL (https in every URL now instead of http) and are now in the process of adding images to older blog posts that we still reference. I continue to upgrade older posts for new SEO requirements: 1,119 now have handcrafted summary suitable to framing in the Google search results–the better to entice visitors to click through and see the wonders that await you beyond the threshold. And we have started to add at least one photo, diagram or image to not only every new post but many of the older ones to appease the lesser demons of Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media sites where we or others may post links to our posts.
Current Tools We Use
- WordPress for authoring and content management. We are not optimistic about their upcoming Gutenberg interface and do not see adopting until a number of serious defects are corrected.
- Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress. Very helpful in looking at a site through the eyes of the Google robot.
- CheckDog for ongoing spell checking and link checking of the site. Strongly recommended.
- Libsyn for audio / podcast storage.
- Vimeo for video storage
- Rev.com for transcript generation and editing. Strongly recommended.
Emerging Challenges: Digital Asset and Metadata, Interactive Content, and Books
I think we face three challenges over the next eighteen months to three years:
- Getting better at managing all of the digital assets and metadata related to the content we produce.
- Incorporating more interactive content and tools to make the content not only engaging but customizable by the reader to their particular needs or situation.
- Finding and integrating tools that make the curation of existing content into longer form books less cumbersome.
Digital Assets and Metadata Management
The images used on this blog are stored by WordPress but are hard to search or discover. The attribution needed to satisfy creative commons use (e.g. author, link to original source) and licensing is not stored or managed directly by WordPress. The audio files we author and are currently stored by Libsyn while the video files we authored are stored by Vimeo. There isn’t an integrated view of all of the assets, where they are used, and their related permissions and relevant metadata that might make them more discoverable. Many of the blog posts that embed an audio or video file also include an edited transcript, we don’t have an easy way to provide time code links from the transcript to the original media. We are working on video building blocks, for example animated logos and three-dimensional animation models, and don’t an easy to curate them or determine where they are used in longer video content.
Interactive Content and Tools
We are starting to deliver assessments and on-line spreadsheet tools and plan to embed them in blog posts. It’s straightforward to link to explanatory content embedded in existing blog posts, we would like to create interactive diagrams (potentially SVG or Unity3D) with these models to provide both richer explanatory power to the text in a blog post but also to allow entrepreneurs to engage more directly with the content. I remain a very strong believer in the value of “serious games” for teaching and problem exploration, we have to take advantage of this paradigm in our content.
We published two workbooks in 2006 and 2007 and used the Imeetcentral wiki system as an intermediate environment (a refinery?) for collaborative editing. We published a book of quotes in 2009 based on a series of blog posts using a third party tool that was developed for that purpose but alas not really ready for production use with a team not really interested in customer support. The end result for the two workbooks was quite good but unsatisfactory for the book of quotes. We are now developing several books in a form factor that is 5.5″ x 8.5″ and 24-80 pages in length that will incorporate about 80% of their content from blog posts but I am using Microsoft Word as the development vehicle. I feel like there must be better platforms but debugging the final content, the distribution, and the packaging is enough of a challenge.
Three Areas Where I Can Use Your Help
Please contact me if you would like to assist with any of these:
- Good Topics for Blog Posts: I am always interested in questions or topics related to real challenges entrepreneurs face: please contact me with your suggestions or questions and I am happy to answer them in a private e-mail that I can rework in to blog post. If a Q&A format is more appropriate I am happy to collaborate with on that either in a Google Doc, a skype chat, or a call that is taped and transcribed.
- Feedback on “Sales for Entrepreneur” book: the title and the book are a work in progress but I am happy to share with you a PDF version as well as a final if you provide a short critique or some suggestions for improvement.
- Feedback on “Finding a Cofounder” book: again the title and the book are a work in progress but I am happy to share with you a PDF version as well as a final if you provide a short critique or some suggestions for improvement.
Special Thank You to Dave Horner
I want to thank Dave Horner of Silicon Ridge for all of his assistance and support over the last twelve years of blogging: he helped us to launch this as a WordPress based site and has shepherded us through two major upgrade. We value his insights and and technical assistance in maintaining and improving it.
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Earlier retrospectives from 12 years of blogging
I re-read these earlier retrospectives in preparation for writing this set of lessons learned. They also contain useful insights that I have tried not to duplicate in this current review.
- Lessons Learned from 9 Years of Blogging
- Lessons Learned Blogging: 1400 posts in 8 years
- 7 Years, 1226 Blog Posts: Lessons Learned So Far
- First Major Website Upgrade in 7 years
- Entrepreneurs Still Welcome: 700 Blog Posts in Four Years
Image Credit Vic Sanborn at Jane Austen’s World “The Noble Goose and Its Many Uses by Man Over the Centuries“