Dispatches From Blogistan

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the book
Dispatches From Blogistan
by suzanne stefanac
peachpit/new riders
voices that matter series
shipping now
> amazon
> barnes & noble
from the book
> table of contents
> chapter 2 history of open discourse
> chapter 6 history of journalism
> 10 blog design tips
> what is this long tail?
> trackback demystified
> blog ethics primer
> glossary
> resource hotlinks


> cory doctorow

> farai chideya

> bruce sterling

> denise caruso

> craig newmark

> jamais cascio

> laura lemay

> christian crumlish

> jon lebkowsky

10 habits for better blogging

05.26.06 @ 01:41:56 pacific

focus, focus, focus
The most successful mid-tier bloggers don’t try to be all things to all people. Their intent is well-defined and intelligently supported throughout their sites. They carefully target a community that shares their interests, tailoring the look-and-feel, writing style, and content of their blogs to that audience. It’s true that the Long Tail distribution of blogs means that only a very few blogs will ever be ultra-popular, but at the same time, an ever-increasing number of blogs along that Long Tail are finding active and faithful communities. The bloggers who stand out within each of the many niches generally do so by consistently satisfying the interests of like-minded others.

craft a clear identity
To avoid getting lost among the millions of other blogs, it’s important to craft an identity that appeals to your targeted audience and reinforces that identity throughout the life of the blog. To begin with, this means choosing a blog name that will mean something to potential readers who come across it on search pages or in links from other websites. It’s best to own your domain name, both as an anchor for your identity, and as a guarantee that your permalinks remain valid, should you ever choose to change blog services. Choose a blog design that is graceful, easy-to-navigate, and that doesn’t compete for attention with your finely honed posts. Include an “about me” page that offers readers a window onto your background and intent. As your blog evolves, continue to cultivate a voice that is plain-spoken, friendly, and clear. Take advantage of the fact that the informal style of most blogs allows you to mimic your conversational tone. If you’re in doubt about a post, try reading it aloud. It’s good to remember that personality distinguishes the best blogs. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Read the rest of this entry »

cory doctorow interview now online

05.25.06 @ 01:06:53 pacific

Icap.gifn this interview with Dispatches from Blogistan, science fiction author, online rights activist, and longtime blogger Cory Doctorow covers the gamut. Cory touches on the history of Boing Boing, provides background and context for questions of fair use and copyright, explains why open source is to our mutual benefit, discusses the value of tagging as a means to discovery, and talks about how blogging and associated social networks may facilitate healthier democracies. It’s a big bill but Cory fills it well. Read the interview here.

what is this Long Tail anyway?

05.24.06 @ 02:14:43 pacific

/feed/Dcap.gifiscussions about “long tail” distribution patterns among blogs are popping up everywhere. The concept, sometimes referred to as “power law distribution,” grew out of research in economics and linguistics. The economist Vilfredo Paredo showed that wealth in most populations follows an 80/20 rule in which 20 percent of the population controls 80 percent of the wealth. Similarly, linguist George Zipf showed that word frequency follows a similar Power Law curve with a few words like “the” and “a” occurring with enormous frequency, while instances of other words occur with decreasing frequency. Graphing a Power Law distribution results in an L-shaped curve with the few, high-volume instances forming the “head” of the curve and the many, lower-volume instances trailing off along a “long tail.” (See diagram below, “The Long Tail of Blog Search Results”)

Clay Shirky, a professor of new media at NYU, first applied the concept to blogging in an early 2003 post to the “Network, Economics, and Culture” mailing list. At the time, bloggers were beginning to voice disgruntlement because a few “A-list” blogs consistently dominated any listing of popular blogs. Shirky pointed out that the phenomenon fit Power Law distribution patterns and that the concentration of links and resulting popularity wasn’t a case of ill will or collusion, but rather an consequence of scale. He wrote, “What matters is this: Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality.”

Chris Anderson, Wired magazine’s editor-in-chief, took the concept a step further. First in a magazine article titled “The Long Tail,” and then in a book of the same name and a website (longtail.com), he began by applying Power Law theory to the distribution of cultural artifacts like books and movies. Traditionally, book sales were limited to the number of titles the largest bookstores could fit on their shelves. Similarly, movie rental options were constrained by the shelf space available to brick-and-mortar outlets. This dynamic forced a hit-driven economy that essentially limited distribution to products populating the head of the curve.

The introduction of services like Amazon and Netflix altered the dynamic dramatically. Because they take advantage of centralized warehouses and online ordering, they require no physical outlets and can afford to carry more niche products. The surprising result, as reported by Anderson, is that Amazon now cumulatively sells more niche products along the tail than the more popular books and movies still populating the head of the curve. Sales for any individual item along the tail may be low, but the overall dynamics of the system now justify distribution. “When consumers are offered infinite choice,” Anderson writes, “the true shape of demand is revealed.”


speaking at stacey’s books may 18th

05.16.06 @ 12:51:32 pacific

Icap.giff you’re in the Bay Area, the Independent Press Association has invited me to be the guest speaker at their upcoming Indy Press Thursday, May 18th, at Stacey’s Bookstore, 581 Market Street, San Francisco, 5:30-7pm. I’ll be discussing the role blogs and social networks are playing in today’s publishing world. It’s a daunting topic. I’ll only have time to touch on the most important areas of interest and hope to learn from the publishers generally in attendance at these events. If you’d like to attend, the IPA asks that you RSVP either by phone (415.445-0230 x100) or email (members@indypress.org).

10 practical tips for great blog design

05.16.06 @ 12:51:20 pacific

(from Chapter 9, Anatomy of a Blog Page)

/feed/Scap.gifome blogs are a pleasure to read and navigate. Others are a pain. No matter how brilliant your commentary, if the look and feel of your page is forgettable, plug ugly, or difficult to navigate, your visitors are less likely to return. There are no absolutes in the world of blogs, but a familiarity with the general rules of good online design makes it easier to break a few of those rules and still attract new readers. Whether you plan to use default design templates or employ formidable CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) skills to tweak your blog to your exact specifications, here are some useful things to keep in mind.

look around

Visit your favorite blogs. While the editorial content of the blogs will probably be the greatest unifying aspect, spend some time analyzing how each presents its content and organizes navigation. Take notes on unique or particularly graceful linking solutions or informational blurbs. Note color combinations that you find pleasing (or horrific). The smart grasshopper learns from those who have gone (and stumbled) before them.
Read the rest of this entry »

syndicating blogs: creating and subscribing to newsfeeds

05.8.06 @ 05:12:04 pacific

(from Chapter 8, Packing Your Toolkit)

/feed/Ocap.gifne of the decisions any blog author must make is whether or not to allow readers to subscribe to your updated content via syndicated newsfeeds. More and more blogs sport buttons or links labeled RSS, Atom, XML, newsfeed, or simply feed. Click those links and you’ll often find yourself abruptly presented with a web page full of dense, incomprehensible text. What’s this all about?

First of all, newsfeeds aren’t exactly new. Many of us have been subscribing to them for years, often without knowing it. If you have a personalized web page on Google, My Yahoo, or MySpace, the headlines and stories from the various news organizations you’ve selected arrive as newsfeeds. So do most podcasts. Additionally, newsfeeds are often used to distribute newsletters and track packages, as well as provide marketing, weather, and stock updates.

Essentially, newsfeeds are syndicated web content delivered to subscribers’ news aggregators, also called newsreaders, in real time. Besides being able to subscribe to the content of blogs, many of the newer search engines allow you to subscribe to updated results of specific search queries. If you wanted to track all the blog posts that include the word “bogosity,” for instance, you could conduct a search on Bloglines or Technorati and then subscribe to future search results for the term. Now, each time your newsreader updates your subscriptions, you would receive a list of links to each new blog post containing the term.
Read the rest of this entry »


05.8.06 @ 04:29:16 pacific

n. Web. Code embedded by a website’s software on a visitor’s computer and used to store preferences, track purchases, or otherwise monitor activity. Can be benign, useful, or malevolent.


05.8.06 @ 04:25:51 pacific

Content Management System. n. Software that facilitates the storage, organization, and retrieval of data. Examples: wikis and most blog authoring systems.


05.8.06 @ 04:24:09 pacific

n. Blogs. In some blog applications, a feature that allows an author to group similar entries, generally by applying freely chosen descriptors or tags. Past content is generally easier to retrieve from categorical files than from chronological archives.


05.8.06 @ 04:22:47 pacific

Abbreviation for robot. n. Small, artificial intelligence software programs that run automatically and act autonomously. Example: Search engine spiders.

Boolean logic

05.8.06 @ 04:21:35 pacific

n. Search. A technique that allows a user to refine search parameters by including operators such as AND, OR, and NOT. Examples: blogosphere OR blogistan; ravens NOT crows. [Named for nineteenth century mathematician George Boole.]


05.8.06 @ 04:20:50 pacific

n. A small web browser extension that allows a user to access a web-based service from a browser bar or tab. Sometimes called a favelet.


05.8.06 @ 04:20:18 pacific

n. A list of links to other blogs that bloggers regularly visit or with whom they’ve exchanged links. [Related to the American political term logrolling, meaning reciprocal legislative support; also from Spy magazine's use of the term to describe reciprocal reviews by book authors.]


05.8.06 @ 04:18:05 pacific

n. Term used to describe better-known bloggers. Sometimes called blognoscenti or blogsnobs.

anchor text

05.8.06 @ 04:17:13 pacific

n. A word or phrase on a web page that constitutes a hyperlink. Used by some search engines in the calculation of rank for a web page.


05.8.06 @ 04:16:43 pacific

n. Web. An XML-based format used to generate a newsfeed. Blessed by the IETF, Atom is the most likely successor to the more popular but less flexible and no-longer-updated RSS format.


05.8.06 @ 04:15:03 pacific

n. Software. Traditionally, a limited period of time during which a select body of users test commercial software before public launch or the release of major updates. Web 2.0. Used to describe browser-based services, generally free of charge, that launch and remain in a development phase, openly soliciting user input and making constant, incremental changes to the infrastructure, feature set, and interface. Sometimes called perpetual beta or live prototyping. Examples: Flickr, Froogle, and Gmail.


05.8.06 @ 04:12:43 pacific

n. The community of readers who leave comments on a blog. May require bloggers to thicken skin.


05.8.06 @ 04:11:29 pacific

Cascading Style Sheets. n. An HTML extension that allows greater control over web page display by defining style sheets that determine the look of page elements such as body text, headlines, and links. Because multiple style sheets can be used on the same page, they are said to cascade. Most blog authoring software allows CSS personalization of blog pages.


05.8.06 @ 04:10:11 pacific

n. Computer science. A hierarchical index of the files and subdirectories on a hard drive. Web. A web server listing links to other web pages organized by topic, sometimes including short descriptions. Generally compiled by human editors using hierarchical taxonomies. If generated automatically and solely for the purpose of inflating search rank, may be penalized as a link farm or bad neighborhood by search engines.

domain name

05.8.06 @ 04:08:30 pacific

n. Internet. The unique text name associated with a numeric IP address. Locates a computer or other device on the Internet. Example: dispatchesfromblogistan.com.


05.8.06 @ 04:05:58 pacific

Internet Engineering Task Force. n. An open, international community of network designers, operators, vendors, and researchers responsible for defining Internet standards and protocols.


05.8.06 @ 04:04:48 pacific

n. Blogs. Individual blog items. May contain, among other elements, a headline, body text, photos, video, audio files, author name, date and time stamps, permalinks, trackbacks, archives, categorical tags, and reader comments. Sometimes called a post or an article.


05.8.06 @ 04:04:16 pacific

Portmanteau for favorite and icon. n. A small icon, 16 pixels by 16 pixels, that may appear to the left of a web page’s URL at the top of many browser windows.


05.8.06 @ 04:03:42 pacific

See news aggregator.