Consulting, General, Problogging

Guest Lecture About Blogging at UCLan

I had the occasion to guest lecture to Computer Science students at the University of Central Lancashire about the importance of blogging.

The main focus of the lecture was the importance of blogging for computer scientists for their future career. I briefly touched the history of the modern internet and blogging, mentioned the difficulty of making money with blogs online before pointing out the importance of a blog for programmers, developers and designers.
I decided not to release the podcast but publish a slightly more in-depth entry instead

Short History of the Internet and Blogging

Blogging started almost as soon as the ‘modern internet’(1) was created and people started to web log what they discovered online, mainly as an aid for other surfers to find interesting sites. In these times there was no Google, Yahoo (Directory), DMOZ Project, Technorati or Eaton Portal yet helping us to discover what was great, funny and/or interesting. We entirely relied on what others discovered.
The history of blogging is a very discussed topic but a brief version(2) can be found at The Blog Herald.

When in 1996 the MSM(3) started to discover the World Wide Web and online magazines such as Slate were created, the WWW still was a small world where most people knew each other. It was a thriving and helpful community.

The World Wide Web was an invigorating, compelling and, frankly, amazing place in 1996. Innovations were fast, furious and quickly adopted. Clever people did clever things and pretty much everyone noticed, because “everyone” was a rather small and curious community. [...] The Internet of 1996 was certainly nothing like today’s experience. But to suggest there wasn’t much to do is to ignore everything that was being done.(4)

As online magazines started to grow and channels such as BBC Online emerged more and more, the online publishing sector was pioneered in these years. Together with the evolution of open source CMS(5) it became easier and easier to publish online(6).

The Web As A Publishing Ground for Amateurs

With the growing popularity of CMS platforms such as *Nukes and Mambo in the early years of the 21st Century, many students and other geeks started to publish on a regular basis, often more than 5 times/day, on their favourite topic. Online communities became really big and many a freetime author, citizen journalist, started to earn a buck from their website. Several communities were multi-authored and the software platforms were huge, resource hungry and often heavily SEO’d(7). This was the period when I started to publish on a semi-professional basis myself and ran one of the bigger(8) German Windows communities. We fought an eternal battle for page views and usually were hours, sometimes even days, earlier with tech news than the established news sites. The financial factor of running a popular online community was highly rewarding. The technical site of running a website and trying to stay on top of SERPs(9) was a rather difficult battle and many webmasters become online mavens, learning much about server optimization, SEO and waded for the first time through code, modding their platform constantly.

Blog Software Emerges

It was around this period that the first blogging software applications started to be written and released, with Movable Type(10). WordPress, today’s most popular blogging platform, was first released in May 2003 as a fork of the not longer maintained b2\cafelog and would soon become more popular than the MT after Mena Trott announced changes in the MT licensing structure. Blogging software, itself also a CMS platform, could be defined as a ‘stripped down’ version of the popular PostNuke, Mambo/Joomla platforms and became popular because of the ease of use. You only needs to compare the simplicity of the admin backend of WordPress to the backend of the still popular Joomla! to understand why platforms such as WP and Movable Type became popular(11).

Different Types of Blogs

There are three kind of blogs which I will discus and also have a look at their future and importance now.

Personal diarrhea diary

There is not much further explanation needed about these blogs, we all know the ‘OMG my cat just had a poop!’ blog and love to hate them. There is little future in these blogs, in the words of the wise and snarky Paul Boutin:

Writing a weblog today isn’t the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

Multi-authored blogs, AKA Online Magazines

Some of the most popular blogs such as TechCrunch, Gawker and Engadget are multi-authored and rather lucrative online sites. Personally I do not tend to consider these sites ‘blogs’ but rather the perfect example of the web being recursive: they are professional online magazines. Often these blogs have been created by one person, who tried to be a journalist with a carte blanche for snark. Citizen journalism. For many of these sites the main mottos are publish often, publish fast and We’ll fact check later.

These blogs often are mentioned as New Media and A-Listers have fought for several years to receive the same credits as more traditional, MSM, journalists.
Now the MSM have accepted and endorsed blogs, it makes little sense to start a new Web2.0, tech , games, car, movie, whatever blog and hope to become rich. The combination of both classic media endorsing blogs(12) and classic media using similar SEO strategies as bloggers(13) will result in a renewed fight for page views, especially in these financially bad times online. Unless you have PR you can bleed and you can push traffic to a new site you have no chance to rank well in the SERPs. Quality does not matter if no one reads.
The jury still is out on the Long Tail and whether you invest in the Long Tail. Chris Anderson’s Long Tail recently even came under criticism from his own editors.

Your Blog as Your Online Brand

Your blog can also be used as an extended online curriculum. Your blog is your online presence, a hub to your other online profiles. Your own online column.

Why It Is Important to Grow and Maintain Your Online Presence

Times have changed and Computer Science continues to grow in popularity. 20 Years ago there were only few computer specialists and those who were literate in this science could easily get a job. Nowadays everyone thinks they can program, code, design and manage networks/systems and the value of a CV has largely been reduced to some more sheets on the stack of applicants. Your blog can help you stand out from the masses!

In times when companies such as Google screen applications you want to have an extra to your CV. This extra should be your blog, your central hub.
Your blog will link out to other online presences expressing your interest in computer science and related topics, such as your(14):

  • Social Bookmarking profile (fe. Delicious or iterasi)
  • Your ‘coding archive’: if you use platforms such as Github you have to link to these.
  • Your LinkedIn profile
  • Your photo sharing profile/Flickr. More than you can imagine the pictures you take, publish are an expression of your interests.

Programming is much more than knowing a certain language, programming is a way of thinking and your blog offers you the possibility to show off your knowledge. Every time you make an interesting edit to public code, use pastie or have discovered a bit of slick and clean code, you should write about it and explain the reason behind your edit. Your blog offers you the opportunity to show that you can think as a programmer, understand code and are bleeding edge, interested in learning always new things and improve your code.
Many software engineers employed by the major online and IT companies share code, return to the community and if your writing and thinking is great they will discover your entries and start following you. This might even result in companies offering you a position. In our modern age even several open source applications have received venture capital and they also hire people. Your blog is where you can prove how good you are. Much more than by doing a practicum at a company, a company which much not allow you to share your code.

Tought Palace by Jens Alfke(15) is a perfect example of how to use your blog both personally and professionally. In the period after Jens had left Apple and before he accepted the position at Google, he blogged regularly about an idea and for and the thought pattern behind an iPhone application he planned to create, Cloudy. Other great examples of blogs landing people lectures and consulting jobs in their specific areas are Merlin Mann, from 43folders fame, and Chris Garrett a famous British social media consultant(16). Other examples include Swedish Campground by Caius Durling, Brightbox developer, Veerle Duoh‘s blog, designer extraordinaire and Expression Engine evangelist, 456Bereastreet by Roger Johansson, accessibility guru par excellence, and the blog of MySQL guru Jeremy Zawodny.

  1. To keep things simple we will settle on 1994-1995 here, when the World Wide Web became ‘mainstream’.()
  2. Written by one of the first professional ‘bloggers’ about blogging()
  3. Mainstream Media()
  4. David Wertheimer in response to Slate on the Jurassic Web of 1996.()
  5. Content Management System()
  6. Online pioneers such as Merlin Mann might look back on the early day in a nostalgic way()
  7. Search Engine Optimized()
  8. Now defunct()
  9. Search Engine Result Page()
  10. First released in September 2001()
  11. You can try out all different open source CMS platforms here()
  12. Media sites usually have a very high Page Rank in Google()
  13. Mainly linking to each other to keep the Page Rank flow to only well ranked sites()
  14. Do not link to your Facebook profile, just think about why you shouldn’t. Your blog is not a chatterbox()
  15. Creator of the iChat()
  16. Chris’s site is down at the moment of writing()
Standard
  • SamCookTatton

    Brilliant lecture, and great follow up blog, i am now in the process of setting up a site like this, as the idea of a paperless move in the future and the fact HR departments are now aiming to follow blogs and track peoples interests and way of life to gain incite in potential employees and for myself to degree back up my cv and help gain entry to jobs in the computing industry,

    plus personally it would be a great way testing my skills of managing to stay in control of work “n” life in such a complex and ever growing confused/mess of a life style… but an organised mess at that so having something like this as my “hub” would be a great thing to have for many reason.

    only thing now is to try and get this wordpress app working, haha

    hope to keep in touch,

    Tatton.

  • http://ifranky.com franky

    Thanks for your comments. If you start a blog, drop me a line and I will follow your blog and might even occasionally offer you some tips. Obviously this applies to everyone of your class. :)

    Also, let me know if you need help setting up a blog platform.

  • Pingback: ifranky | How much do bloggers get paid and valuable application advice |

  • JayT

    Thanks for the lecture. I was one of the students and am amazed how powerful blogging could be. I’m in the process of creating a blog although I’m not great with ideas that I could share. But I’m sure I’ll think of something!

  • http://ifranky.com franky

    JayT, glad you enjoyed the lecture.

    Start a blog about everything you learn! Compare it to some of the pundits and their material as you move along and discuss things. Use your blog as a base for future study cases, all while starting to work your profile, build your brand.