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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How Do I Evaluate A Blog?

Wordle "How Do I" by C.B. Whittemore
How Do I Evaluate A Blog? is a topic I address whenever I discuss the tools of social media and exploring what's out there.

First some basics that routinely come up in conversations.

What is a blog?

A blog is a web-log or an online journal with frequent articles on related subjects. A blog does not refer to the individual articles; those are blogposts.

You'll notice that the most recent blogpost or article appears first, that -usually- you can leave comments at the end of each post, making the content interactive and social, and that content is searchable.

Blogs are relatively easy to get started with. Popular platforms include Blogger [my favorite], Wordpress, Typepad and others. Some are free, some have costs associated with them.

Some blog URLs include a reference to the blog platform [e.g., the 'blogspot' in http://FlooringTheConsumer.blogspot.com refers to Blogger] and some don't [e.g., http://SimpleMarketingBlog.com]. In terms of evaluating a blog's worthiness, where or how you publish the blog is irrelevant.

What does matter is the blog content, its quality and its credibility.

Which parallels an important reality: it doesn't take much time to start blogging. What takes time - and this is where and why many blogs languish - is determining purpose and strategy for the blog and its content: planning for it, organizing it, researching it and writing it in a compelling manner.

I often refer to a blog as a "self-publishing platform." By that, I mean it is your means for publishing content that you create. In other words, it's like having your own printing press.

And, as with any book or magazine or newspaper that a printing press generates, if the content isn't compelling or relevant, no one will read what you have to say. But, if it is, then people you have never met before will find your content and start to engage with it and you.

I love blogs. Blogs are where many ideas develop and cutting edge thinking takes place. They represent valuable resources for relevant information, inevitably leading you to other sources of inquiry. Via blogs, you also have the opportunity to engage in conversation with those who are passionate about the blog's topic. Blogs are vibrant!

Although many people tell me they've never read a blog, chances are that they have and frequently! You see blogs appear prominently in [Google] search results especially if their content is relevant to the original query.

However, not all blogs are created equal.

Here's how I go about determining whether I consider a blog credible and worth exploring. When I evaluate a blog, I examine the following:

1. The Sidebar
I look at the blog sidebar; that's the column alongside the main body of text. It can be on the left or right. Is there a photo of the author[s]? I really want to see an image of a person. If not on the sidebar, than in a post. I'm suspicious when I can't associate a person with a name and an image.

Is there information about the author[s]? Is there a link to more information? I want to know who this person is and how s/he connects to the subject of the blog. If there's information, I can trust that I'm reading the words of a real person and I get a feel for the perspective captured in the blog.

Is there an email address available for contacting the author?

I want to see archives, category topics and links - links to additional resources, books, information relevant to what this blog and author address. The archives give me a sense for how actively managed or nurtured the blog is. The categories tell me about the blog's themes and subthemes.

I also expect to see subscription options - both email and RSS [i.e., Really Simple Syndication for feeds you read in a feedreader like Bloglines or Google Reader]. I am astounded at the number of blogs that don't include a means for visitors to stay in touch and become regular readers.

2. The Content
When I examine a blog's content, I look for relevance. As I consider relevance, I also evaluate how well written the blog is in terms of idea development and flow. This is a conversational medium: does the blog read as such?

What is the tone of the content? Is the 'voice' stiff and distant or is it relaxed? Does humor come through? Does the content read like a marketing brochure or is it conversational and more like a letter from a great friend? The magic of a blog is that it allows an individual's or the people who make up a company's personality to shine. A blog's credibility is a function of how authentically engaged those writing it are and how relevant the content is.

Next, is there constant self-promotion or is this thoughtful observation or analysis?

The more self-promotional, the less appealing it is to others. I look to see if the blogposts include references to other resources and perspectives. The more generous the author is in sharing links to others, the stronger the signal that this blog welcomes a variety of perspectives.

I like to see at least one visual element per blogpost. Something that relates or adds an additional dimension to content. Often, if I can't find the right visual representation for the idea I am about to discuss in a blogpost, I'm stuck. That's how important a visual element is to my creative process and that's how critical that visual element is in helping convey the blogpost's message.

Comments. Comments are wonderful, but judging a blog's worth based on the number of comments doesn't always lead to the right conclusion. I've noticed a big difference in comments depending on the subject and audience a blog addresses, and how comfortable that audience is with online interaction. My personal blog - The Smoke Rise & Kinnelon Blog - generates lots of conversation via email and in person, but few comments. I've also noticed more comments taking place on Twitter. So, it depends.

To find blogs of interest worth discovering and exploring, I recommend these Blog Search Tools:

+ Google Blog Search
+ Alltop
+ Technorati
+ BlogPulse
+ and, in Flooring, the Social Flooring Index.

Once you find a blog you like, consider bookmarking it in your browser [e.g., Chrome, FireFox, Explorer] or subscribing to it for email or RSS updates.

What would you add to this list? What else do you look for when you evaluate a blog?

For more perspective, definitely read A Mack Collier Blog Review.


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