Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for February 2008

Duff: Quick tips for better blogging

Quick tips for better blogging, grain of salt not included

Quick tips for better blogging, grain of salt not included

Blogging is more of an art than a science, but good strategy can still give you a leg up. Once you’ve mastered the basics, these tips will help you bump your traffic and keep your sanity.

1. Your best work won’t get the most comments, or the most hits. People tend to comment when they disagree or when they think you’ve missed something. A smart post that everybody agrees with isn’t that exciting. Sharp posts that challenge conventional wisdom and still have the ring of truth – those are the things people pass around.

2. Your biggest fans won’t write comments. The Internet is full of “lurkers” – people who read blogs but are too shy (or too lazy) to comment. I’ve had dozens of loyal readers who only surfaced when I called them out. These quiet regular visitors are the core of your audience. They don’t make a lot of noise, but they’ll be the first to leave when you sensationalize your blog or get bogged down in a flame war.

3. The post you spent hours of work on will be ignored while the stupid video you threw up on a whim will get linked by a top-tier blogger and generate 10,000 hits. Then, next week, when you try to post a stupid video on purpose, it won’t get any hits at all.

4. Don’t be afraid to delete posts and ban troublemakers. Bad commenting crowds out good commenting, so if you let the hecklers thrive unchecked, you’ll drive away the readers you really want.

5. If posting to your blog starts to feel like work, you’re writing about the wrong subject.

6. Be generous with your links and trust the golden rule. If you want people to write smart, detailed critiques of your work and link back to you, go out and provide that service for someone else. Read a wide variety of blogs and write the kind of responses you would want to have written about you. Eventually, this effort will pay off.

7. Be patient. The best way to grow traffic is to stay in one place and post regularly. Don’t change subjects, don’t change addresses, and don’t go too long without posting. Every time you change your Web address, you will lose 20 percent of your audience. Most of these folks will never come back.

8. Sell yourself, but don’t sell yourself cheap. When you start a blog, send out an announcement and put the address of your blog permanently in your e-mail signature. Everybody starts with a social network of family and friends. Send up a flag to let them know you’re out there, but don’t spam them with updates. Share your address and let the people come to you.

9. If a popular blog links to you, enjoy the hit spike but don’t expect people to stay. Most of the new visitors will read the post they came for and vanish.

10. The primary motivators for Web traffic are titillation, controversy and expertise. Write something sexy, make people angry, or teach them something they don’t know. Maybe all in the same week. You can coast for a while by reinforcing prejudices and telling people what they want to hear, but eventually you’ve got to give them something new.

11. You can go wrong appealing to the lowest common denominator. It’s possible to generate traffic with viral videos and Lolcat pics, but the people who visit for those things won’t stay, and there are already dozens of sites that do those better than you. Too much fluff will drive off your regulars, while too much pedantry will wear them out.

12. Give people something unique – personal stories about things you’ve done, obscure bits of trivia that make you an expert or sharp opinions that are just a little off the beaten path. Your opinion can make you special. Don’t be afraid to share it.

13. Blogging is a relationship between you and your audience. Respect your readers, but don’t pander to them. Give them what they want, but don’t give them everything they want.

14. Have fun. If it stops being fun, quit. Then, if you miss it, start again.

15. The author of this column has broken every rule on this list and frequently has trouble following his own advice. Trust your instincts and don’t let the gurus push you around.

Written by Not Jaffo

February 22, 2008 at 13:35

Posted in Columns

Technology 1, Burka 0

Here's the problem. You want to strut your stuff and attract men, but you are required by law and/or faith to wear a Burka.

Now there's a solution.

The CharmingBurka sends a picture of the wearing person to every mobile phone close to it. Potential suitors can check you out without violating holy law.

This may also be useful for people living in cold climates.

Written by Not Jaffo

February 15, 2008 at 15:47

Posted in Politics

Duff: Artist blogger fakes suicide plan online

Duff: Artist blogger fakes suicide plan online

My first draft of this was much better.

It had passion, drama, suspense and real human feeling. It was also based on a lie. When I wrote my first draft of this column, I thought Jane had 84 days to live. Then, less than 24 hours later, I found out the whole thing was a hoax.

90DayJane was an art project based on an anonymous blog. “Jane” set up a blog and announced that she had given herself 90 days to live. She was going to count down every day and kill herself at the end of it, taking suggestions about how she should kill herself and what she should do with her last days on Earth.

The premise is Hollywood gold, and that made everybody suspicious. At first I thought it was a corporate marketing scam or maybe even a suicide prevention campaign. The next day I found out it was an art project started by a blogger who never expected to get famous and didn’t really understand the power of the concepts she was dealing with.

That’s the problem with trying to find great news stories on the Internet. Readers are drawn to clear narratives with whiz-bang Hollywood premises, but real life doesn’t follow screenwriting conventions and most people who do dramatic things aren’t talented enough to write about it.

The author was overwhelmed by the sympathy and the rudeness of readers on the Internet. Many commenters poured their hearts out trying to save Jane while others jeered and egged her on.

In her confession, Jane said, “I feel a massive sense of responsibility to my art, but more importantly the readers of this blog. My closeness to this project must have made art seem like reality to many people. That is not a reaction that I expected nor can I morally justify.”

Not the clearest apology I’ve ever read, but Jane makes up for it by showing real character in her confession. Toward the end, she says, “I do want everyone to know that I accepted no money for 90DayJane despite multiple offers from television, film, books, etc … . I will not release my identity and I ask not to be contacted for any type of promotion. I want only for the people who wrote to me to know that I hear them and feel the same way.”

I’m glad the author is not trying to profit off this project, and I hope she can stick to her guns as the offers continue to pour in.

As we read this, we should remember that “Jane” is not the first person to consider ending her life on the Internet, and many other bloggers have followed through on their threats. The first recorded attempt was in 2001, when a popular camgirl blogged her suicide note and broadcast a live cam feed of herself slumped over a toilet surrounded by pill bottles. Her audience got to watch as police entered her apartment and paramedics took her away.

London’s first webcam suicide was broadcast in March 2007. A 42-year-old man named Kevin Whitrick climbed on a chair and hung himself as chatroom gawkers egged him on.

Hoaxes like this are a problem because they inspire copycats and mute our reactions to other people who threaten suicide. Suicide threats should always be taken seriously. Truly suicidal people would do it quietly, without giving any hints. People who talk about it are implicitly looking to be talked out of it, so every off-hand remark is an open door.

If you are actually considering suicide, I would offer this piece of advice. Depression isn’t just a feeling added on to your normal set of daily emotions. Depression is a filter that actually changes your perception of the world.

You think you’re being rational and normal, but the depression is changing how you react to things — not just changing how you feel about things that happen, but actually enhancing your perception of bad things and filtering out the good.

Whatever your situation is, I promise, there is a way out. There are facts you haven’t heard yet, alternatives you haven’t thought of. And if you’re really prepared to kill yourself, you’ve got nothing left to be afraid of.

If you’re brave enough to end your life, you’re brave enough to make a phone call. No matter how bad your situation is, take a moment and consider, maybe you don’t have all the information yet.

Maybe there’s a treatment you haven’t tried. Maybe there’s another way to pay the bills. Maybe there’s a friend you haven’t called. Maybe you’re not the person you think you are.

Consider that your basic perception of reality is being distorted by a disease and do a little research before you give up.

Even if you don’t “feel crazy” the depression is twisting things so you can’t be objective about your own life. You’ve got to reach outside yourself. Talk to a counselor, a priest or a friend. Your brain is sending you the wrong signals and screwing up how you see the world.

Don’t make your last decision based on bad information. Pick up the phone and get a second opinion.

Written by Not Jaffo

February 15, 2008 at 13:36

Posted in Columns

Suicide blog was a hoax

The author of the 90 Day Jane blog posted an explanation and an apology on the site, right before she took it down.

Here's the good news. It's not a corporate publicity stunt and nobody is actually planning to kill themselves. The author's apology isn't as direct as I'd like, but it is an apology. Most impressive, she has (so far) turned down book, film and publicity offers.

Here's the author's explanation:

90DayJane is a personal art piece about me. It was meant for me and (what I ignorantly thought would be) a small number of people who might find it on BlogSpot. It is the result of me tapping into the darkest part of myself and seeing where it led.

What I have written and filmed, at its core, is from a place of truth. I am the girl in the videos. I have great disappointment with my generation and its obvious obsession with celebrity culture rather than their fellow man, thus the former Chuck Palahniuk reference.

I wanted this blog to be about personal discovery and truth. But the correspondences I have received have taught me more about those qualities than I could ever express. 90DayJane has become its own entity and has influenced me. In fact, it has changed my perspective as a human being.

I feel a massive sense of responsibility to my art, but more importantly the readers of this blog. My closeness to this project must have made art seem like reality to many people. That is not a reaction that I expected nor can I morally justify.

This is why my project, 90DayJane, will be taken down in the next few hours.

90DayJane was meant to mirror the tragic figure, Christine Chubbuck. Newscaster Christine Chubbuck committed suicide in 1974 by shooting herself in the head live on air. She was very vocal about her depression to those around her and gave every indication of her exact intentions leading up to the event. Sadly, no one reacted or helped Christine and those left behind could only ask

Written by Not Jaffo

February 13, 2008 at 10:20

Posted in Culture

Blogger promises to kill herself in 90 days

A blogger calling herself “90 Day Jane” is keeping a blog of her last 90 days on Earth. And if your first reaction is to assume this is a marketing gimmick, you are not alone.

Jane assures us this is not a cry for help and insists that she is not depressed. She also quotes 'Fight Club', never a good sign, and has taken to posting videos of herself on YouTube.

We live in a cynical times. On reading this, my first thought was to assume that the public sector had just discovered viral marketing.

This sounds like a publicity stunt for a suicide prevention campaign. Frankly, I hope it is. I hope this is some kind of cynical marketing ploy and that we're not gambling with an actual human life.

There are plenty of places to look for sympathy and counseling online, but if you're looking for a reason to live, you're not going to find it on YouTube.

Ironically, by allowing herself 90 days to think about it, Jane is actually following some good advice. Counselors often encourage patients to give themselves some distance, to hang on and wait for their natural defenses to kick in.

If Jane is serious, I would offer her this one piece of advice. Depression isn't just a feeling added on to your normal set of daily emotions. Depression is a filter that actually changes your perception of the world.

You think you're being rational and normal, but the depression is changing how you react to things — not just changing how you feel about things that happen, but actually actually enhancing your perception of bad things and filtering out the good.

Whatever your situation is, I promise, there is a way out. There are facts you haven't heard yet, alternatives you haven't thought of. And if you're really prepared to kill yourself, you've got nothing left to be afraid of.

If you're brave enough to end your life, you're brave enough to make a phone call. No matter how bad your situation is, take a moment and consider, maybe you don't have all the information yet.

Maybe there's a treatment you haven't tried. Maybe there's another way to pay the bills. Maybe there's a friend you haven't called. Maybe you're not the person you think you are.

Consider that your basic perception of reality is being distorted by a disease and do a little research before you give up.

Even if you don't “feel crazy” the depression is twisting things so you can't be objective about your own life. You've got to reach outside yourself. Talk to a counselor, a priest or a friend. Your brain is sending you the wrong signals and screwing up how you see the world.

Don't make your last decision based on bad information. Pick up the phone and get a second opinion.

Written by Not Jaffo

February 12, 2008 at 11:33

Posted in Culture

Duff: Finding an audience for your blog

Duff: You’ve got a blog here’s how to find an audience

So you’ve started a blog. You’ve selected some blog software, staked out your subject matter and written your first few posts.

Now you just have to get a segment on the “Today” show and retire off your advertising revenue.

I could give you my obligatory speech about the purity of amateur blogging and the spiritual poverty of fame, but you won’t hear me. You’ve got that gleam in your eye. You want the brass ring, and you want it now. You want astounding overnight success – thousands of eager participants writing comments and admiring you from afar.

I have to admit it’s possible. The Internet is full of overnight sensations and improbable success stories. But events like that are like lightning strikes: violent, brief and totally unpredictable.

Most successful bloggers start slowly and build a community over time. The real key to success is patience. Produce smart, high-quality posts day in, day out for a year or two, and readers will slowly build a community around you.

The Internet is an infinite medium where anybody can link to anybody else, but building an audience is like a rolling a snowball down a mountain. There is no sure method that can bring you overnight success. And even if you manage to get a link from a high-profile blog, most of those readers will read you once and vanish into the ether. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of getting 10,000 hits in a day, and nothing quite like the letdown when your traffic goes back to normal in a week.

Think of the blogosphere like an ecosystem of marine life, swimming around in the ocean. Your new blog is like a goldfish, swimming in circles in a corner by yourself. The successful blogs are like whales, sucking up vast amounts of audience, carrying gangs of smaller fish in their wake.

If you look around, you can find bloggers at all the stages in between. As a new blogger, your goal is to get individual links from as many high-profile blogs as you can. Each link to your blog is like a vote for you in the search engines. Building a blog audience is a lot like running for office. You need to smile a lot, shake hands, and be seen in all the right places.

First, be a good commenter. Find out who the most successful bloggers are in your marketplace and become a regular fixture in their comment sections. Most comment software allows you to share a link to your blog every time you write a post. Get a reputation for writing good comments and people will use those links to visit you.

Second, start a blogroll. A blogroll is a list of your favorite blogs, permanently linked in the sidebar of your blog. Make a comprehensive list of your favorite places, and don’t just focus on the big boys. Find obscure, lesser-known blogs run by people you like and give them some free advertising. Most of the time, smaller blogs will return the favor and give you a link in return.

It’s hard to get a link from top-tier bloggers. These blogs get so many submissions from so many different sources it’s hard to make a single post stand out. The key is to concentrate your effort on the mid-list bloggers – people who are not terribly famous but who still have a bigger audience than you. These bloggers are hungry and are much more likely to give you a link back.

Here’s the real key to success for new bloggers: The blogosphere is a conversation. Find a smart, provocative post written by a blogger you like. Link to that post in your blog and explain why you like it. Compliment them on what they got right and disagree politely with what they got wrong. Add your own points and be as specific as possible.

Do that over and over again, day in and day out, and your blog will slowly become part of a community.

Most of the time you won’t even need to bother sending e-mails telling people you linked to them. Your average blogger is obsessed with his traffic stats. They check their numbers constantly throughout the day, looking for links in their referrer logs. These are log files that tell you where your incoming traffic is coming from.

The people you link to may be too busy to check their e-mail, but if they see a dozen people coming to visit from your blog, they will rush over to see what you said about them. It’s human nature, and it works every time. I’ve had top-tier bloggers leave comments literally seconds after I’ve posted links to them.

An e-mail notice may take days or weeks to get read, but referrer links are like money in the bank.

Written by Not Jaffo

February 8, 2008 at 13:36

Posted in Columns

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