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Reflecting on the future of my blog April 19, 2008

Posted by Raul in blogosphere, friends, personal life, random thoughts, social networking.
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I am by nature a very introspective person. Before you say “wait a second, aren’t you an extrovert?”, let me tell you that both personality traits can be (and in my case are) compatible. Don’t be mistaken. I love flying “by the seat of my pants” when necessary (I did on Thursday) and have no qualms about doing things without thinking much about them. However, as a Virgo, I am analytical by nature. It’s also part of my job description. I ask questions, I look for answers, I find the empirical evidence to back up my claims.

This week, I have had a very, very, very intense work/socializing week. I attended Third Tuesday on Tuesday night, Green Drinks on Wednesday night, Vancouver Tweetup on Thursday night, and had the pleasure of going for drinks with a few blogo-friends (new term that I’ll describe in detail below) to the Tequila Kitchen last night. Today I have a brunch with CS (who is the significant other of one of my best friends, HZ), I’m supposed to meet with AF for crepes and tea at La Bretagne, have to come down to EPIC ’08 to do some live-coverage, and going for dinner with other blogo-friends (DKM and AM). Tomorrow, I have my usual volleyball and JT time routine, with the probability of a brunch somewhere in between, and will try to drop by a 4/20 rally downtown that Phaedra is attending.

Of course, most likely I’ll need to work from home on Monday because I’ll need a break from so much socializing. Yes, even hummingbirds get tired. Which leads me back again to the title of my post. This week, I have been reflecting A LOT on where my blog is headed. My readership has increased steadily, even breaking my own record (when I liveblogged Michael Geist’s lecture) by a good 4 unique views. I know I’m nowhere near the readership of many, many local bloggers, but my writing is getting out there and people seem to be liking what I write.

I need to decide if I’m going to take the next step. I recently shared this idea with Rebecca, with whom I discuss many of my thoughts and ideas on blogging, and who kindly has offered advice and tips when she thinks she can help. I also have grown to develop a very good friendship with Phaedra, and while we were at Tequila Kitchen, shared my thoughts on this issue. And since I haven’t had a chance to talk in person to many of my other blogo-friends, I wanted to share these thoughts with the blogosphere, first looking for feedback and comments, and second looking to examine my thinking (as someone would say, “thinking out loud”).

So here is the thing. My blog is a personal blog. I write about my journey through life in Vancouver and I pepper it with restaurant reviews, movie reviews, some political commentary, pretty pictures, etc. My blog is not monetized (although I have thought about it, and I have seen lots of local blogs who insert ads and are still very classy) and it isn’t a corporate blog. This blog is about Raul and his life in Vancouver, and how his life is inextricably intertwined with that of his friends, new friends and family. That’s pretty much what this blog is about.

A couple of weeks ago, I started feeling the need to upgrade, in many ways. First, my laptop died (I still haven’t contacted eMachines to see if they might be willing to toss a new laptop in my direction). Then, I just had too many pictures in my Flickr account so I had to upgrade to Flickr Pro. And then, I have started to have more of a physical *and* online presence on the blogosphere (I started twittering and if you are so inclined, you can follow me as @hummingbird604) and participating in MANY more social media events. And to top it all off, I went to an absolutely AMAZING party that Tanya organized at her place, which included many local bloggers. At this party, I met many blogo-friends that I had just had very positive and sweet interactions over email AND our respective blogs (some of these wonderful people include Corinna and Adam, MJ Ankenman and Colleen Coplick).

So you’ll see, even though I am very well connected in the environmental field, I am becoming much more connected in the social media field. I want to be able to bring them both together, to make my currently personal writing mesh with my future professional career (as I am in the process of assessing my career path).

THE QUESTIONS THAT I AM MULLING OVER

Basically, I am trying to decide on the next steps for my blog, IF AND ONLY IF I decide to take them. In my view, these steps are as follows:

a) Buy the domain for http://www.hummingbird604.com – that, of course, requires shelling out the cash that I’m not 100% sure I can shell out right this very moment.
b) Upgrade both of my computers (desktop and laptop) and POSSIBLY go Mac. I see how much easier my friends’ lives are with their MacBooks and stuff, I am sure I could adapt.
c) Come out publicly with my last name and include it on my blog. This would mean that a LOT of my personal information would be on the blogosphere, something I’m not 100% sold on.
d) Possibly monetize my blog. Obviously, I wouldn’t expect this to be a steady source of income, but … whatever.
e) Upgrade my technical skills (including learning to code PHP and all that jazz).
f) Geekify myself (I just made up that word, and submitted it to the Urban Dictionary for consideration). That is, I will probably need to upgrade to several levels and scales, including maybe buying an iPhone, or a relatively more sophisticated cell phone (right now I don’t have one). You could argue that that’s the same as (b) but I don’t agree.

I think that geekifying myself would require going beyond what I estimated was my original baseline for blogging. So far, thanks to the kind help of many people (including, but not limited to, Rebecca, Nomade Moderne, Arjana to name a few) my blog is where it is right now. I am very proud of where my blog is now and what I have accomplished, and as Sir Isaac Newton put it, “if I have seen a little further, it’s been because I have stood on the shoulders of giants”.

THUS, IN CLOSING…

As I was wrapping up this conversation with Phaedra last night, I told her what I told Rebecca on Thursday, and my Mom on Wednesday. NOBODY can make this decision for me. I value (and I make a point to tell every one from whom I seek advice) their advice, but only I can decide what is best for me. Rebecca was in fact the one person who brought up the issue of buying the domain for Hummingbird604.com (it was SO cute to hear Lisa say “I can’t believe that I am sitting in the same table as Miss604!” on Thursday at the Vancouver Tweetup). I completely agree with Rebecca. If I want to be recognized as ‘the brand’ Hummingbird604, I might need to switch from a WordPress.com hosted blog to actually going all the way to http://www.Hummingbird604.com. For example, a few other great blogs out there are .com – Maktaaq.com and GusGreeper.com, to give you just two examples. John Bollwitt recently switched from being Audihertz to now JohnBollwitt.com. John Biehler (who was in Hawaii with his wife for a much deserved vacation) is also .Com.

So, the question is out there, and any and all advice will be gladly received, either via e-mail (hummingbird604[a]gmail.com, substitute [a] for @) or Twitter (@hummingbird604) or in person at one of the WordPress camps, Third Tuesdays, Green Drinks and the myriad of other social engagements I have. Thank you in advance.

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Comments»

1. Rebecca - April 19, 2008

I believe it’s in WordPress.com’s terms of service that you are not allowed to monetize/put Google Ads etc. on a WordPress.com account (since it’s their service and their hosting etc.) So, if you were to buy a domain, buy a hosting plan *then* you would be able to monetize, so just group that one in the big package deal 😛

Also, to be a great blogger you do not have to be a geek at all. Some excellent bloggers have others that all the coding, all the site modifications (or use free services ie. they’re still on blogger), and their only involvement with the blog is writing unique and interesting content for their readers.

However, I know that you have a true interest in Geekdom (I can see how excited you get when talking about hnad-coding HTML) so I know your decision will include these factors.

In conclusion, I totally think you can meld the environmental world with social media. NetSquared proved this even with the demos by DeSmogBlog, GreenPages, happyfrog etc. Whatever you decide to do, make sure it’s something you love to do because that will come through in your content. Otherwise there’s no point in labouring over something and pressing yourself to learn things that you ultimately don’t really care about.

2. Gus - April 19, 2008

Raul, I’m like you a personal blogger (though I don’t blog everyday). I don’t think I’m that geeky, in the sense I don’t know a heck about HTML coding, though I have taken computer programing courses in the past.

This year I did purchase my own domain name – Gusdigtal.com and to be honest it didn’t cost as much as thought it would. For $10 you can buy your domain name for a year. Granted I also had to match it up with my WordPress.com account and pay another $10, but what the hell.

I have thought of going onto WordPress.org and getting my own server, but that would require a monthly fee and I would have to know more about coding I fear. I would love to do more with my blog site and make it more personal and reflect who I am, but like everything these take time.

I’m glad I got to meet you and I DO enjoy reading your blog.

3. Raul - April 19, 2008

@ Rebecca – As always, thanks for the great insights. Yeah, I think I’m going to get my certification as Geek-In-Training 🙂

@ Gus – Thanks for the kind words and the pointers. Will have to look into that!

4. Phaedra - April 19, 2008

you know I will support you in any decision that you make on this matter. I feel fortunate that we were able to talk about it last night, and hope that the more you share, the more personal insight on the matter you will receive.

5. John - April 20, 2008

Raul, sorry I missed you at the various social events the past little while….I was planning on attending many of the ones you listed but decided at the very last minute that my wife and I needed a vacation so we just booked it and went. This isn’t something we’d normally do (drop that much money without a lot of thought/planning) but it needed to be done and we’re very glad we did it.

I think a lot of the questions you’ve posed should be considered entirely differently as you’ve suggested.

Deciding to ‘expose’ your real self online isn’t something to take lightly. I had long cultivated an alias online and it was only after I started meeting a lot of the online bloggers/social media rock stars in real life that I realized I there was actually very little about me online which made it difficult to interact with some of these people since I knew so much about them but the reverse wasn’t the case. Not that my site is a huge diary of myself (it’s really just a geek blog). I had bought my domain and used it privately for development purposes and mainly bought it so that I’d have it when/if the time was right to use it. When I started getting back into photography, I figured it was a good time to start using my full name on a site since I wanted to be known as a photographer and wasn’t quite ready to be labled “retrocactus” anywhere my photos appeared. Since then my blog has evolved (I hope) a little from just photography stuff in content (and it may revert back to just that at some point) – but at least the stake is in the ground.

You should definitely buy your domain name(s) if they are important to you. They can be had for next to nothing these days (usually around the cost of a latte if you shop around) so there really is no excuse to grab a few and park them if nothing else. I also think you’d be a lot happier with a WordPress site hosted on your own (shared) server to start….there are a lot more advantages and the cost is also negligible these days. You may also get your domain(s) free with some hosting packages. When I signed up for Bluehost (which hosts many of my sites), part of the package was a free domain registration. Two hummingbirds with one stone if you will.

Don’t worry about the coding parts required out of the gate to set up a hosted WordPress site. Many hosts provide simple, one click WordPress installs that require that you know how to click a mouse button. At least it will be enough to get you up and running about the same as your current setup and you can take your time learning and tricking out your site later. You should also be able to import your current site directly into WordPress using an import script that is included.

I wouldn’t worry about monitizing your blog….it’s hard to do and done incorrectly, you’ll just piss off your readers. A lot of people read sites via RSS readers anyways so spending a ton of effort on ads would probably be pointless….at least in my experience – I’m sure others may disagree. If the purpose of your site is to get ad revenue then focus on that. If the purpose is to get your writing out there, then focus on that. The $/rewards will come if what you’re doing is worthwhile to others. I make more money off hosting referrals than any kind of ads I’ve tried on my sites. (Ping me if you want a referral 😉

Lastly, everyone will assume I’m going to steer you towards a Mac computer….and I will. They aren’t for everyone but don’t believe the garbage that they are too expensive, hard to learn or not compatible with everything. Cost is relative to what you are doing with your computer over the life of it. If you just want to surf the web, check email and Facebook and do a little blogging, sure that $600 Dell laptop will work just fine. There really isn’t much in the way of software that is truly unique to a Mac anymore….the same stuff (or at least very similar) can usually be found on both PC or Mac and even Linux these days. What is unique is the user experience. It’s just better on a Mac. Playing with it for 10 minutes at Future Shop won’t convey this…you really need to have one and use it for awhile. My advice would be to start with one (perhaps a laptop like a MacBook) and try it out. If you buy it from London Drugs, you’ve got 15 days to return it if it doesn’t work for you. Full money refunded with no restocking fees. I usually tell people to give it a week and if you don’t like, can’t get used to it, just return it.

So far, I don’t know anyone that has returned it.

So in closing, it sounds like you have a lot to consider which hopefully is exciting. Good luck and let me know if I can help.

6. John - April 20, 2008

Holy crap my comment was almost as long as your post!

7. gusgreeper - April 20, 2008

i have only ever owned my domain. and i’ve always used both my name and my brand *gusgreper* i like having an alias yet still using my name i am after all a gemini. you’ve been blogging a while now why not? i’ve also always had people to help me run my site most people don’t mind helping and i find other ways to say *thank you* being non techie. good luck. thanks for the props and link love. 🙂

8. gusgreeper - April 20, 2008

nice i just spelled my OWN brand wrong. HAHA gusgreeeeeeeper

9. Raul - April 20, 2008

@ John – Don’t worry about the length, I *really* value your insights. Thanks a lot. Hope to see you soon and will undoubtedly ask you questions 🙂

@ Phaedra – Thanks so much for the support! Have fun at the rally!

@ Corinna – Thanks as well! Have fun at the rally too!

10. John Chow - May 2, 2008

If you want to register hummingbird604.com, I recommend you do it right now. The fact that you just blogged about it means a domain squawker will likely register that name in the next day or two if you don’t.

Good luck!

11. Raul - May 2, 2008

Thanks John. Very helpful suggestions!


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