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Can Online Discussions Always Be Positive?

I noticed a thread today on Geeks that is talking about how discussions always end up turning negative in some way. This got me to thinking about conversations I have all over the web – on Geeks, over at Lockergnome, here in my blog, and even on sites like Twitter. It seems no matter what you’re trying to talk about, someone is going to be negative in some way. The people in this particular thread are right – it truly is annoying.

I’m not talking about differing opinions. Those are great, and I welcome them. Hopefully, you like hearing them as well. Having different viewpoints on things allows us to stretch our minds in directions they may not have otherwise gone. It can make us look at things in a whole new way, from a completely different perspective.

The negativity I’m referring to is exactly as it sounds – negativity, for no reason other than to be rude/demeaning. You’ll be having a conversation that’s going along nicely, and some person pops their nose in and starts going off on a tangent about something that may or may not relate to your discussion. They may even be completely rude about it, or directly “attack” someone involved in the thread/post. I really hate that. What’s the point of it? Why must Internet trolls even exist? Can’t we just like shoot them out of a cannon or something?

Seriously, though, why does it seem so difficult these days to have a completely intelligent conversation with others without the fear of someone taking it down a road it should never go? What are your thoughts? Are you seeing more and more of this lately, and how do you get past it to continue your discussion? What else are you reading and/or participating in online that has your mind stretching?

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I Get By With a Little Help from my Friends

Do you remember that song? If you’re as old as I am, then I know you’re singing it in your head now, simply from reading the title. It’s true, you know. We ‘get by’ with the help of our friends. Sometimes, they may not even realize they are helping us, yet they do – simply by being there. Life is full of unexpected surprises, both good and bad. We can’t always be superman (woman!) and just handle everything on our own.

It’s ok to reach out to someone when you’re hurting/mad/confused/pissed off. It’s ok to need someone to talk to. It’s ok to need your friends! After all, they need you, too!

So why am I writing about this, anyway? It’s not some deep thought, nor a cry for help, I promise! I just happened to hear the song on the radio a bit earlier, and it made me remember how thankful I am to have such an awesome circle of friends surrounding me. I hope that you have that in your lives, as well!

One great way to make new friends is to reach out to like-minded people on social networking sites, like both Lockergnome and Geeks. Search through titles of posts and read things that interest you. Here, let me make it easy on you!

Is your Blog Usable, or a Jumbled Mess of Information?

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When someone visits your blog, can they find their way around easily? Is everything neatly organized on your site… or is it more of a jumbled mess of information, links and text? Here are some excellent tips to help you get (and keep!) your blog organized.

  • Be predictable. When we want to know what a site is about, the first thing we look for is an ‘About’ page. When we want to contact the owner of a site, the first thing we look for is a ‘Contact’ page. When we want to leave a comment, we usually look to the bottom of a post. When we want to subscribe to a blog, we look for the subscribe button at the top of the sidebar. These things are so common that they’ve become standards… things we expect. When we can’t find the standard, we look for the next most similar thing. By adhering to these predictable standards, you’re actually making it as easy as possible for your blog’s visitors to do exactly what you want them to do. Sometimes being predictable is not a bad thing!
  • Be obvious. Look down at your keyboard, and you’ll probably be able to spot at least one key that you’ve never noticed before. This is either because you have no need for it, or you don’t know what it does. It could be the most useful key ever, but your hesitation when confronted with the unknown has probably stopped you ever pressing it before. What if it deletes everything you just wrote? We don’t like not knowing what the result of our actions will be, and so it goes with your blog. Non-obvious links and buttons will very rarely be clicked. Would a new visitor know what this does, or where it leads?
  • Subtract the unimportant. By hiding important elements (your most popular posts, your feed icon, your comment button) amongst a dozen other unimportant things (widgets and recent comments), you’re making it harder for readers to do what is truly important to you.
  • Limit options. A category list with 10 categories is a lot more usable than a list with 50 categories. Too many options creates overload, which leads to deferral: a visitor will not engage with that element at all. Your list of 5 most popular posts will get clicked more than your list of 20, and so on. Simplified options make it easier for the visitor to decide where they want to place their attention. Too much choice will actually hurt your blog’s usability.
  • Do the little things. A usable blog, aside from the above, is also made up of many little touches that make your visitor’s browsing experience easier, such as:
    • Does your header image link back to your main page?
    • Does your blog have an about page?
    • Does your blog have a contact page?
    • Do your headlines match your content?
    • Is it clear where your links will lead?
    • Do you use frequent paragraphs in your posts?
    • Do you have comment links at the bottom of your post?
    • Do you use sub-headings?
    • Are your posts less than 2/3 screen-length wide?
    • Are you making your best posts easily accessible?
    • Are your links easy to pick out?

    All of these are things you should think about, and improve upon where needed, if you want your blog to be successful.

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Are you the only Person who Isn't Blogging?

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Thomas is a 14 year old who recently tried to start a Tech blog to make money via AdSense. He didn’t do so well, but learned a lot along the way. He is passing along his tips for starting and maintaining a more successful blog.

  • Don’t think you are going to get rich quick. Blogging takes a ton of effort, work and time. You’re not just going to start a blog, write a few posts, throw in Adsense and make a million dollars! So keep that in mind. I do it because I enjoy it as well, not just for money. But of course, I’m only fourteen and I don’t need to feed a family.
  • Do choose a niche! And no, tech is not a niche, unless you are somebody like Chris. Tech is just too wide of a topic, trust me… I tried it. Also, “about me” is not a niche. Unless I’m your friend, I’m most likely not going to read your personal blog, and it certainly will not make money. Make a list of your top 5 things to do. Those are all potential blog topics. Blog about what you like and know, otherwise it will get boring and become a chore.
  • Do read other blogs in the niche you choose. This is very important. It keeps you up-to-date on the latest news in your niche, and will give you ideas for posts. A feed reader is a good way to do this. I would also recommend reading ProBlogger or LockerGnome for more tips on making money blogging.
  • Do comment on other blogs in your niche. This will help get your name out, and drive traffic to your blog. News Flash: “cool post man!” is not a comment. Comments are well-written tips relating to the post, or an answer to a question in the post or other comments. It’s a conversation.
  • Don’t rush into it. Plan ahead. This is probably the single most important thing when you start a new blog. Choose a name for your blog, get a domain, get a design and get hosting. I would also recommend writing a couple week’s worth of posts to get you started. Do all this before you launch. Also, budget in a little money. You’ll need it for hosting, and you may want to buy advertising.

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How to Start (and KEEP) a Blog

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It happens to the best of us. We start a blog with every intention of keeping it up, and then things get in the way and we forget it. Maybe you don’t know what to write. Maybe you just don’t have time… many things come into play. Here are some excellent tips to help you get started, and stay focused.

  • Decide what it’s about If you’re writing for a particular audience, write what that audience wants to read. If you’re trying to reach out to D&D fans, don’t start writing about the Civil War. Only write about D&D and related topics. If you’re going for a more general audience, research what you’re going to update about and see if it’s already been blogged to death. Everyone blogs about politics, so stay away from it, unless your story is less than 12 hours old.
  • Don’t be concerned about comments. Just because someone doesn’t comment on an entry, that doesn’t mean people aren’t reading it, it most likely means they didn’t have anything to say about it. I’ve read tons of articles and blogs that I’ve never commented on, because I felt everything that needed to be said had been said in the entry itself, or was already in the comments. This doesn’t mean completely ignore comments – if no one ever comments on your blog, that almost certainly means no one is reading. I prefer to have comments disabled on my LJ, so I don’t have to worry about it. Instead, I let my readers comment me by email.
  • Let readers know when you’re gone. If you’re going on vacation and won’t be updating for a while, let your readers know. They may think that you’ve abandoned the blog and didn’t update about it, and remove you from their RSS subscriptions. This will decrease the number of readers of your blog.
  • Make sure you like your blog If you don’t like the way your blog looks, or your URL, change it. If you think there’s something wrong with it, there probably is. I’ve gone through this myself, and I changed the look of my previous journals countless times before I became completely happy with it. However, you may just think other people don’t like your look, so you need to get opinions. If you change the look of your blog, people may stop reading due to lack of familiarity.
  • Get a life Instead of worrying about what your next update will be about – get out and do something. If you just sit on the computer all day and tweak with your blog, it’s going to be a very boring read. I’ve learned that the less time you spend worrying about your blog, the more content you’ll have to write about. But make sure it’s interesting, because quantity does not equal quality.

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