Tag Archives: blogging

The Life of a Blog

Apost by Diamond Geezer dropped in my Pocket app last week. As Diamond Geezer is one of London’s most read blogs with millions of ‘hits’, I thought I’d better read it, the RSS feed started:

I didn’t mean for this blog to last for 20 years. I thought I’d start it one dull Sunday afternoon in September 2002 with no real thought of audience, content or duration.

This got me thinking about how many good London blogs have fallen by the wayside, and ultimately Diamond Geezer’s remarkable longevity.

Annie Mole’s comprehensive views on the London Underground lasted until June 2014 after the blog came out of a static site about the Tube, GoingUnderground.net which started as a New Year’s Resolution in 1999.
Flora Tonking wrote The Accidental Londoner extensively for a decade, now the link gives you IanVisits.

Pete Stean’s excellent Londoneer, published under a Creative Commons Licence was deleted when he went on an academic quest. And Brian the Pigeon has now ceased to give us his view of London.

Tired of London, Tired of Life existed from October 2008 and by 2nd January 2009 was posting daily, giving birth to books. 17th July 2015 was its last missive.

Some blogs (including this one) are still regularly posting. Should you wish to check out London’s finest websites you can find them here:

International Caps Lock Day

tODAY IS iNTERNATIONAL cAPS lOCK dAY. yOU KNOW…Oh, bugger!

Today is International Caps Lock Day, you know how it is, start typing an important missive and when looking up to admire your prose you’ve depressed the caps lock key.

International Caps Lock Day was the brainchild of Derek Arnold of Iowa who in 2000 decided that he, like so many other internet users, had simply had enough of people using all caps to emphasize themselves on the web. So he created International Caps Lock Day in the interest of poking fun at people who use this abomination of a typing style and to finally bring some sanity to the Internet.

On mechanical typewriters, you would typically hit both lock and shift at the same time. After this, you pressed shift by itself to release the lock. The upper case character was located above the first on each typebar’s face, and the shift key caused the apparatus in its entirety to move, physically shifting the typebars position relative to the ribbon.

The shift lock key maintained the shift operation indefinitely without continual effort. The typebars were mechanically locked in a shifted position, resulting in the upper character being typed when any key was pressed. This reduced lower finger muscle pain caused by repetitive typing because it could be challenging to hold the shift down for more than two or three consecutive strokes before this.

Because the keyboard had assumed a higher position, it was pretty obvious to the typist that the caps lock had been selected. Today this isn’t the case, you just plough merrily along unaware of your error. It should be mandatory for manufacturers to incorporate a spinning red light and Claxton every time the user depressed that pesky key.

Today there are not one but two International Caps Lock Days. The original on 22nd October, and today 28th June, this time to celebrate the anniversary of the death of Billy Mays aka the ‘Infomercial King’ who was famous for speaking in capitals, shouting into the camera about products he promoted.

Shock! Man blogs, aged 75

Getting to become an old man of 75 got me thinking about whether I should be doing this malarky. I’ve been wondering if there is some kind of upper age limit beyond which blogging becomes inappropriate, like online TikTok performing. Oh, and it also appears that being male is apparently a disadvantage too, as, for some reason, like life, everyone looks past your missives, but with acres of thirty-something female ‘lifestyle’ blogs I think it’s time to redress the balance.

Some might say that age is irrelevant, but if that is the case why should I even mention it or write about it? My age is part of me and who I am, it gives me life experiences that I can impart to readers, not available to younger people.

Of course, I understand that ageism is still very prevalent in many industries, and I know that having been made redundant when I reached 50 and having become self-employed some 20 years ago, I have had the luxury of being protected from this. But, without that burden, I don’t keep my age a secret or shy away from mentioning it, when it suits me to do so – like now.

We can still write when we are older, we don’t lose the ability to communicate just because we are in our 70s, not our 30s, fortunately for the likes of me, I don’t have to contend with anyone telling me I’m too old to do the job, or to fit in with the younger cool kids, and I know that makes me very lucky.

Men can blog too, of course, there will be some subjects that will appeal more to one gender than another, so maybe I should start writing about football and cricket, or the 101 uses of a garden shed. But just by saying that makes me think there could be a post in there somewhere about lawnmowers down the ages.

Maybe blogging really is a female-led world? If you go to Top 100 London Blogs and Websites, the list is taken from thousands of blogs on the web ranked by traffic, social media followers, domain authority and freshness, CabbieBlog is at number 48, even top London blogger, Diamond Geezer only makes it to number 26, and yet 33 out of the 75 listed are lifestyle blogs, all by females, mostly about beauty and fashion.

To be honest, I found that to be a pretty dispiriting exercise. It did leave me wondering if this blogging lark really wasn’t something I should be doing. But then I thought ‘sod it, it’s my time I’m spending on it and people can choose whether or not to read what I write.’

The age and gender of the writer are irrelevant to me: it’s what they have to say which is of interest. Of course, their writing will reflect their life experiences, but why should I feel odd if I choose to read them, simply because I’m older or younger, male, not female? Actually, I don’t – if you have a problem with this then I think you need to take a look at yourself and why you blog. Be honest with yourself, it might just surprise you.

Is reaching the grand old age of 40 some kind of barrier? Is it a milestone, beyond which everything changes? Judging by some of the posts I’ve seen, some in their 40s appear to think their lives are in a downward spiral. But even we poor disadvantaged males have a life expectancy in the UK of double that – people, your race is barely halfway run, and you have much to look forward to.

Maybe we need a Post 70 Bloggers website? Or Post 90, or any other age you care to choose? Age shouldn’t be used in a divisive way – ‘I’m not that age so that can’t be for me’ – but people put others into pigeon holes. It’s a form of prejudice, of discrimination – don’t be ageist, please!

We’re all different and have our own uniqueness – I don’t want to be categorised as part of a ‘target market.’ I choose what I want to read, not what I’m told I should read. I would prefer people to read my posts because they enjoy them, find them interesting, believe them to be a good use of their time, and that is how I approach the blogs I read.

People seem to be taking this a bit too seriously and are losing sight of the enjoyment we can feel from reading or producing a well-written piece. Surely, the pleasure we can derive is reason enough to be involved in blogging, without any other need for justification? Simply by putting something out there, we are offering an insight into ourselves – my blog is me, like it or lump it. I don’t mind what your age or gender is, you’re very welcome here, and I hope you feel that it was worth your time and effort. In saying this, I recognise that there are many reasons why people blog, one of these being commercial: I often have some comments here about monetising a blog, but they feel out of place. Maybe another time . . .

Believe it or not, but I set myself quality standards for what I post, and creating a schedule is the best way I know of maintaining the quality of my output.

Reading some of the posts I’ve seen recently makes me think I should somehow be feeling guilty for being male, older, slightly right-of-centre and regular in my postings. I don’t. And I won’t ever apologise for that.

Maybe there is far fewer male than female bloggers, and maybe older bloggers like me are very much in a minority. But if we choose to be here, what we have to say is just as valid to us as anything said by others with different demographics. Don’t lose sight of that, or us. Who knows, you may even find something to like about us.

Buggered by Mister Blocky

In the mid-60s I worked on the Monotype typesetting machine which was driven by a 28-hole ribbon, and by 1982 this was replaced by the Bedford Blue digital typesetting system. Since then I’ve trained on half-a-dozen code-driven typesetters and in 2008 I started blogging, first on Blog, moving to Google’s Blogger, finally settling on WordPress.

So I’m not a newbie to setting words on a monitor so why after a lifetime of writing words do I find the WordPress Block Editor so counter-intuitive?

WordPress describes ‘Gutenberg’ as:

. . . the codename for a whole new paradigm for creating, that aims to revolutionize the entire publishing experience as much as Gutenberg did the printed word.

Well, that’s what WordPress say, Johannes Gutenberg completely changed typesetting and printing making it infinitely easier than the old method of hand-written manuscripts. Not so WordPress’s Gutenberg.

First, this ‘improved’ Block Editor system is slower as the internet has to cope with all the pretty pictures.

The system works with blocks, which is great if you’re just hitting words and spaces. The problems arise when you want to format this text using HTML (next to impossible) or add any illustrations, each needing its own ‘block’. The post then needs a block to add the picture’s caption, and yet another block for subsequent text.

Another option is to type your post into your text editor/Word application of choice and then copy and paste it into the Block Editor piece by piece, block by block, placing images (in image blocks) as you go. And to think before, you had the inconvenience of ‘inserting’ media and voilà completed.

As for the widgets! First, a few minutes elapse as the blocks are generated. Then the CSS block doesn’t show the line numbers or first characters on each line of code on my laptop, and the whole sequence of blocks are doing a jig at the same time.

It’s not just an old man resisting change, over on WordPress.org, the Classic Editor has a rating of 4.5 stars or so, out of 5 stars. While the Gutenberg editor, which was still listed separately last week when I was over there has a rating of 2 stars out of 5. I’m surprised it managed a single star.

The Last Post

I had intended to upload to CabbieBlog until Sunday 29th February 2032 which by then I would have been writing about London for nearly 25 years and had become a mid-term octogenarian, probably writing from the security of my old peoples’ home. Sadly if WordPress discontinue offering the ‘classic editor’ option of their much-derided new method of working I’ll be signing off a lot earlier.

 

Electric Ink Stained Fingers

I started the CabbieBlog more than 13 years ago. Over the years, it has had over a million visitors and I’m very proud of it. Nobody told me the whole thing would be so much fun.

This post, on my approach to blogging, was originally published in September 2009 and I have updated it to reflect current practices and fix outdated information.

Write often

When I started, I tried to write twice a week. Nowadays, with more time on my hands, I now post every day.

Keep a notepad handy

I use the Pocket to capture links; ideas, to-do items get updated to Google Tasks. When I actually sit down to write, I’ve usually got two or three ideas to hand and a bunch of links to explore. It’s useful to have a few stub posts ready to expand or edit in case you don’t have time to write a long piece.

Have time to write

For me, that’s most of the day.

Variety, variety

I prefer to do posts of different lengths and styles to give CabbieBlog a degree of energy. I like to run longer, more formal articles and interviews as well as more personal observations, London trivia and quotes along with ‘humourous’ Dr Johnson’s London. One of the pleasures of the blog is that I don’t have an editor who tells me what to write or how to write it. To this extent, blogging is a playground for me.

Contribute to the conversation

There are an awful lot of sheep on the Internet. With nearly 600 million blogs in cyberspace, comprising 2.5 billion posts with 7 million uploaded every day (up from 60m when I started), you really want to try and be a sheepdog. In my opinion, it’s important to say something new and something interesting to contribute that the conversation.

Just be yourself

Some of the best blogs are the ones that are unique, idiosyncratic, and highly personal. The extraordinary thing about the blogosphere is that whatever you write about, there is an audience for it.

Show your face

I think it’s good to put a picture of yourself (see my caricature), your e-mail address, or at least a means to contact, and a little bit of biographical information about yourself on your blog. Sometimes a nom-de-plume is preferred but turns your blogging alter ego into a ‘real’ person too. Might I direct you to Diamond Geezer, The Gentle Author and Bug Woman?

Get the technology right

If you’re serious about blogging, you need to have a proper website address and not one from a free blogging company. I use WordPress software. Consider using WordPress as a host, for self-hosting you have these additional expenses: domain name, web hosting, WordFence to protect from hacking, yearly costs of a digital certificate, WP Rocket to improve speed optimization and a decent Theme.

Plug into the blogosphere

The easiest way to build traffic is to comment appropriately on other sites of similar interest. The blogosphere is a reciprocal sort of place. Link their blogs and they might read and link to yours. Critical to all this is a good newsreader like Newsify with a good selection of sites.

Linking and loving

I’ve always been impressed by people who reply when I comment on their blogs. Surprisingly, the blogs that I am ‘closest’ to in terms of mutual sympathy and mutual linking are also the ones who are, on the face of it, my ‘competitors.’ They write about the similar stuff I write about. Actually, though there’s no real competition and finding your online community is a good way to start building a reader base.

Regular readers rule

Occasionally, you’ll produce a post that goes ballistic. I’ve had nearly 2,000 visitors a day on occasion. Reddit or some other site picks up a post and you’re away. Only a fraction of those people stay and subscribe. It’s very exciting when it happens but what matters is the number of people who keep coming back, who comment, who link to your site and who enjoy what you write. Write for yourself first, the harder you try to get the traffic monster, the more elusive it becomes so I sort of forget about trying and they keep happening.

Use pictures

Pictures, cartoons and illustrations are essential. Just imagine reading your favourite magazine if there were no pictures.

A good picture illustrates the point you are making and draws in readers. You can use your photos but, failing that, pick good stock photography from sites like my go-to for Creative Commons Images Geograph.

Write for the screen

Be conscious of how people read on computer screens. The use of a theme that can cope with mobile phone screens is essential.

Write strong headlines

Headlines are important because most people read blogs using RSS readers and use headlines to decide whether to read the whole post, hence today’s splash – Electric Inky Fingers. (My favourite: man bites robotic dog).

Give people different ways to read

Make the online visit easy to read – don’t go for crazy colours or unreadable fonts. I use 13.5pt Lato, with a line height of 1.6, described by its designer as “[the typeface has] a feeling of warmth, while the strong structure provides stability and seriousness”, which seems, in my mind, to describe a London cabbie. Lato is a sans-serif typeface designed in 2010 for a Polish bank by Łukasz Dziedzic. When it came to paying for it, the bank said it was too expensive and Dziedzic was left with a type family that he didn’t know if it was marketable. So he released it in 2015 under a SIL Open Font License. The name ‘Lato’ is Polish for summer, the name perfectly fits this warm-feeling sans-serif. As of August 2018, Lato is used on more than 9.6 million websites, including Starbucks and Miss Vogue, it is the third most served font on Google Fonts, with over one billion views per day. CabbieBlog’s headings are now displayed in Raleway Extra Bold, which perfectly complements the text. Many bloggers overlook email but try to offer an email subscription option if you can. For personal blogs, WordPress give a perfectly efficient free email subscription.

Avoid detritus

I would avoid the icon clutter that some blogs display when they try to accommodate every single blog reader and every single news aggregator. It’s your site, not a billboard for other people’s.

Schedule blog upgrade days

Maintaining a blog is not just about writing content. I try to dedicate a day every two to three months to upgrading the site itself. This means recategorising posts, checking for broken links, updating plugins, implementing new features and other engineering stuff. I know just about enough HTML and coding to tinker with a site’s template but not enough to build a new template. However, there are plenty of people who can help with this stuff and one way to stand out from the crowd is to have a unique site design as well as unique content.

Market your blog

Occasionally people ask me to contribute to their sites, perhaps with by-lined articles or interviews. For example, I used to write a weekly post for Radio Taxis and have contributed to numerous magazines, books and podcasts. This brought in a nice stream of new visitors who are interested in London, and London’s cabbies. I also make an effort to comment on sites and posts that are relevant to my readers and my areas of interest. This is probably the main form of blog marketing. It takes time but it pays long-term dividends. I still get new visitors from comments I wrote six months ago. However, the comments have to be appropriate, useful and link to a relevant page on my site. Comment spamming is naughty.

And finally . . .

Then there is the old fashioned kind of discipline, writing regularly posting at regular intervals and enjoying the ride.