Things I have learned from writing 500 posts here

With Thursday night’s post here, I joined the 500-post club. That club is nowhere near exclusive, should not confer any special benefits and hopefully has no existence outside the 500-post badge popped up on my phone. But writing 500 posts still seems like a notable milestone, even if it took me close to five years to reach that mark.

500Here’s what I’ve learned from it–or, if you prefer, how little I’ve learned from it:

Write regularly: Apathy is the death of all blogs, and after the first few months I found myself letting two weeks or more go by without a post. I seized on the idea of writing a weekly recap of where I’d written, spoken or been quoted, and that in turn meant I’d have to write something–anything–else each week to avoid having this become a completely self-promotional exercise. That’s mostly worked since, except that I often wait most of the week to write that extra post.

Write quickly: This is the one outlet I have online where whatever I write gets published instantly, with no further delays because an editor wants to look it over again or schedule it for a better time for reader traffic. I have no minimum or maximum word count. And yet I still overthink a lot of posts here, as if it’s still 3 p.m. on a weekday in 1998 and I have another two hours before my editor will want to see the top of the story.

(As my editors in this century can attest, this happens often with my paid assignments too.)

Popularity can be a total mystery: It’s been wonderfully instructive to see my how site’s stats change (most of my paying clients provide no such insight), then to realize how little those ups and downs match my own efforts to promote my posts on social media or by adding a link to a story elsewhere. Instead, my most-read post this year was an item about setting the time on my wife’s sports watch that I wrote on my iPad in a fit of nerd rage (note what I said above about writing quickly), and which I don’t think I’ve ever bothered to promote since.

WordPress 500-post badgeOther booms in popularity have come about when other sites have pointed readers my way (thanks again, Loop Insight!) or when enough other people on Twitter have shared a link to something here.

Try not to anchor yourself to one site’s algorithm: The emphasis is on “try”–Google’s search drives an overwhelming amount of the traffic here. But at least this site exists outside Google’s orbit and those of Facebook, Apple, Amazon and other first-tier tech giants. That’s what I wanted when I set up shop here: to have a home base, as Dan Gillmor has been saying for years, that isn’t the property of a company vying to create its own online empire. ( is still big, but it’s not trying to become everybody’s social network, messaging system, or shopping mall.)

Ads can be annoying for publishers too: I don’t like seeing schlocky or noisy ads anywhere on the Web, but I really don’t like seeing them here. But I have no more and maybe less control than many other small publishers–my only options are to hide ads from logged-in users or to show “additional ad units,” with no option to decline auto-playing video or those “around the Web” remnant ads you’ve seen at 50 other sites this week.

And yet I keep the ads on, because they make me a little extra money–and they continue to educate me about a part of the business I have little to no visibility into at my regular outlets.


My Sulia experiment, three weeks in

If you follow me on Twitter or you’ve liked my Facebook page, you may have spent the last three weeks wondering “What is this Sulia site and what is Rob doing there?”

Sulia logo

Fair enough. Sulia bills itself as a “subject-based social network” that “connects you to the top social sources on subjects you care about,” both by curating links to postings elsewhere and inviting contributors to post their own short updates.

The New York firm also provides curated feeds to news organizations; I first encountered it as a source for the “Live Topics” section in the Washington Post’s iPad app. It’s gotten some coverage from places like AllThingsD and Mashable but otherwise hasn’t risen to an “oh, that” level of recognition.

Anyway, back in August I got a pitch from Sulia inviting me to become a technology contributor. Its mention of compensation intrigued me, but then I spent most of the next month and a half traveling and I forgot about it until Sulia showed up in this blog’s stats in December. I inquired further; after some negotiation and the realization that I might need an extra outlet for my CES coverage, I signed on for a one-month trial.

Sulia posts should fill a gap between tweets and blog posts: you can’t write anything longer than 2,500 characters, headline included, and you can’t format it beyond adding an  image or a YouTube embed.  The headline and a link to the rest of each update then go out automatically on my Twitter and public Facebook feeds. It’s not Twitter’s microblogging but more along the lines of Tumblr-style mini-blogging–except that unlike those sites, Sulia pays contributors.

It’s not a huge sum. As a per-word rate, this stipend represents the second-worst I’ve accepted after my paltry WordAds income here. (Another Sulia contributor described it as “a bit of extra bourbon money”; I’m doing a little better than that each week, unless we’re talking seriously high-end hooch.) But it’s also infinitely more than the $0.00/word Twitter pays me, and I don’t have to bother with invoicing either. Hence my motivation to post a thought on Sulia that might otherwise require serializing over three or four tweets.

For example, I have used Sulia posts to:

Few of those items would have merited a story of their own for my clients at the time. Some could have surfaced here, but that would have involved more work–I can’t resist the urge to tinker with prose and its presentation using the tools available here–and even less income.

So in that sense, it’s worked well and slotted neatly into my workflow.

I’ve been less happy to see glitches deprive some updates of images I’d uploaded (it seems I found a Safari compatibility issue) and, less often, strip out line breaks or even some of my words. With no editing after posting, my only recourse is to delete an update and rewrite it.

I also need to work on my own approach: I’ve often found myself fiddling over Sulia updates as if they were mini-articles instead of really long tweets, and that same inability to focus has also led me to miss chances to jump on breaking news.

Three weeks in, I can certainly attest that I’m still figuring this out.

What about you? Do you find this exercise in compressed prose worth a click over from Twitter or Facebook?

A side project

I’ve been blogging for the Post since 2007 or so. Why bother doing another blog on the side now?

One reason: Writing in a system maintained by my employer for its own purposes shuts me out of many parts of the typical blogging experience, such as playing around with the basic design of the page whenever I like or seeing real-time readership statistics. Plus, the paper just switched to a blogging system that the ombudsman, in a fit of charity, described as “a bafflement to most of us trying to figure it out.”

Another reason: While I’ve enjoyed using my public Facebook page as a blog substitute for sharing my thoughts on journalism, technology and other issues that don’t fit in my work blog, that site isn’t set up for writing longer posts. It’s a pain to find older notes I wrote there. And, more important, it doesn’t seem such a good idea to use one site that I report on all the time as my primary outlet aside from work. I’d rather write those longer notes here, then link to them on Facebook.

Most of these reasons applied a year ago; I don’t know why I didn’t heed them then. In any case, please keep reading. I’ll try not to make this boring.