The richness of WordCamp London 2015

This past weekend, as many as 600 people got together in North London to talk about things WordPress, the content management system that is the platform of choice for more than 75 million websites worldwide, and is in a market-leading position with blogs.

It was WordCamp London 2015, a three-day event comprising a contributor day on Friday, and the two-day conference over the weekend that I attended, with speakers from across the WordPress community, with talks for designers, developers, writers, business-owners, freelancers, anyone who is at all interested in WordPress.

As a blogger whose blogs run on WordPress – and who first experimented with WordPress in 2004 and launched this blog on the platform in 2006 – I took part in the event to listen, learn, meet some interesting folk and generally increase my knowledge of what you can do with WordPress.

It was actually the third WordCamp I’ve attended in the UK, the last time being some while ago in Cardiff in 2009. That one was especially memorable as it included WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg giving a talk.

In any case, I am very pleased with the time I spent at WordCamp London 2015. The event itself was an excellent example of terrific organization, very professional with no obvious gaps in anything that I saw. It illustrates how things have moved on in just a few years where a seamless experience is what you expect even from a community-focused event like this – and that’s precisely what you got.

It included a delight or two, over and above an expectation. The official swag, for instance – not just a t-shirt but also a very nice woollen scarf. That was unexpected and wholly delightful.

I was impressed with the sheer number of people taking part. Men and women, young and old, coding geeks, developers, designers and “regular folk,” WordCamp London 2015 included everyone who represents today’s WordPress community. It’s quite clear to me that WordPress is now part of the mainstream of what makes up the internet, not just the social web. And everyone knows it.

In the early days (pre-2010), it was just a few who really understood how WordPress works, how to make the most of its capability with themes and plugins, and how to create those themes and plugins. Now, such knowledge is widespread. What’s more, as more people learn about, use and become familiar with WordPress, so overall knowledge increases and spreads and becomes widely accessible as the WordPress ecosystem grows. That means getting help for your questions, or sharing your own knowledge and experiences, is so much easier today as the pool of knowledge continues to expand.

A few highlight impressions from some of the sessions I attended on Saturday and Sunday plus other experiences:

I had an opportunity to get some questions answered about a new feature in the Jetpack uber-plugin for WordPress when I encountered the guys from Brute Protect, a company that makes a security plugin that was acquired last year by Automattic, the people behind WordPress.com.

There was a really good presentation by Luke Wheatle and Sophie Plimbley, two of the key individuals behind a huge WordPress presence at News UK, who talked about building a scalable WordPress. Best phrase I heard: “WordPress is great for news, it’s so easy to use.”

SEO expert Jessica Rose led a great talk about search engine optimization in a packed session that ranged from how to optimize a WordPress site for search to the fundamentals of how search engines rank content. Most useful. Best phrase I heard: “Wow, this is the only time anyone has asked me for help with Bing!”

Tibdit, a service to make and receive micropayments or donations on your blog using Bitcoin, was one of the companies presenting their wares in a small exhibition area in one of the venue buildings. It could be an interesting tool for bloggers looking for small-scale monetization. I plan to try it out to see how it works, etc.

Dave Walker had a good perspective on things:

Two standout messages from Jon Buchan in his most refreshing session on content marketing – “How much money is wasted by experts creating crap?” and “It’s not what is given, it’s how it’s given that matters.”

I learned quite a lot in Bruce Lawson‘s session on responsive images, starting with that very phrase, “responsive images.” He is a good story-teller and his entertaining session was highly popular and pretty full in the largest presentation room. Best phrase I heard: “Safari, the North Korea of browsers.”

A thought-provoking session on user experience in WordPress was led by UX expert Sara Cannon who also shared her knowledge and experience of some really terrific-looking plugins, all of which I will check out:

And she shared her presentation deck.

It’s also worth highlighting a feature of just about any event these days where everyone and everything is so connected. Good friend Christopher Carfi in California noticed that I was at WordCamp London and tweeted to me and his colleague, Mendel Kurland, suggesting we ought to connect.

And so we did…

That’s what I call serendipity!

Check the hashtag #wcldn for all the Twitter chat and for news on other posts, picture uploads, etc, that undoubtedly will come from others in the coming days.

The evolving conversation ecosystem

Social share

One of the prime reasons to start and maintain a blog, especially for business purposes, is the conversation that might happen when you publish a post.

You have something to say that others might have some views on, in agreement or disagreement, perhaps branching out in a related topic direction. Enabling others to add their perspectives to your post in the form of a comment is the foundation point for making a conversation happen, and connecting all the points of view in one place so you can, well, follow the conversation and add your views if you wish to.

The advent of third-party commenting systems like Disqus, Intense Debate or Livefyre – and more recently, with Facebook and Google+ – has offered bloggers myriad features and levels of service to manage commenting way beyond the native commenting features of a particular blog platform. (I’ve tried all of these at one time or another, but have reverted back always to native WordPress commenting features enhanced by Jetpack, the uber-plugin for WordPress blogs.)

What’s been an interesting development in the past few years is how the means of conversation is changing from comments made directly in the place where a particular post is published, to almost anywhere else on the social web and linked to the place where the post is published.

The nature of a comment has changed, too. In the past, you’d write a paragraph, perhaps, certainly a line or two with your perspective. Now, a tweet will often do. Or a Facebook like and a Google +1.

Today, comments happen anywhere and everywhere, all connected in a searchable, discoverable and shareable ecosystem.

As an example, take a look at one of my posts last year that has 120 comments.

120 comments

If you look closely, you’ll see that there are 42 actual comments, ie, responses to the post made directly on the post via the commenting facility offered by the blog.

The rest comprises a mixture of tweets, retweets, Facebook likes, Google +1s or shares, and trackbacks. Jetpack treats all of it simply as ‘comments.’

While you should treat the precise numbers with a slight pinch of salt – I always see discrepancies reported in the adding-up – the important point is that all of the comments made, wherever they take place, are linked and connected to the blog post that prompted someone to comment somewhere.

What’s equally interesting is seeing how comments elsewhere now usually are greater in numbers than comments made directly on a blog post. There are multiple reasons for this trend, including shifts in behaviours about commenting – a ‘like’ is a good as a thousand words – more places where you can make a comment, in tune with your own preferences; and less time these days for lengthy discourse.

So I found it most interesting when I read of the plans by CopyBlogger to do away with native commenting and, instead, encourage comments elsewhere that would be linked to a blog post on the highly-trafficked CopyBlogger blog.

Here’s the rationale:

[…] If you’re going to put the work in to articulate your thoughts, to make an intelligent argument, and to bring something fresh to the conversation … you should be putting that work into your site, not ours.

Not that we haven’t loved having you! We absolutely have. But now I want to challenge you to take that great thinking and writing and use it to build your audience rather than ours.

Something in one of our posts strike a chord? Something you disagree with, or think is powerful, or could be amplified? Make those points … on your site.

Now if you want to link back to us, of course we would love that. But the main goal here is to make the ideas your own — to create your own expression, your own take. (Which we can’t wait to see.)

It’s an interesting idea, and Copyblogger’s push is admirable. They also say that managing spam comments has become a major issue, which was a factor in their decision.

What’s key, I believe, is that comments, wherever they’re made, connect with the subject of the comment, in this case, blog posts. That way, you get to see the entirety of the conversation, the discussion, the exchange of views.

I remember in 2008 when Twitter in particular started becoming a tool that people started using for commenting about content published on blogs and other places. Then, there was no easy way to connect the dots, as it were, until a pioneer like Shannon Whitley created a brilliant WordPress plugin called Chat Catcher that captured those tweets and added them to a post as comments.

In one stroke, Shannon’s workaround solved the disconnect problem that was beginning to be a concern. Sadly, Chat Catcher finally met its sunset in late 2010.

Today, though, there are many ways to ensure that a blog post and subsequent comments – be they replies on a post, tweets, Likes, +1s, whatever – are connected automatically and more or less seamlessly, such as tools I’ve mentioned earlier, if not (yet) wholly accurately in terms of numbers.

I won’t follow Copyblogger’s example and disable commenting here as I believe it’s part of your choice as a reader and would-be commenter where you want to join the conversation. Commenting directly here is just one of your choices.

As long as all the dots connect, the freedom of choice in the method of commenting is entirely up to you.

The future of blogging is rosy

Read my blogBack in the day when blogging was social media, in the decade of the 00s, you were pretty limited in the methods you could use to publish your thinking and ideas.

Then, you only had blogs, the websites that enabled anyone with a thought to create a web page (a post) and publish it. But those websites and those who blogged kick-started a near-revolution in how people expressed themselves and who did that self-expressing.

That time is epitomized in Hugh MacLeod’s “Read my blog” cartoon from 2005.

Today, the blogging landscape has changed radically, with myriad tools and channels that offer platforms for you to to create and communicate something online in ways that not only present words (and audio, video) to others to read and maybe comment on, but also potentially reach audiences that exceed the circulations of traditional printed newspapers.

Today, your content is shared, discussed, criticized, praised, retweeted, repurposed, plagiarised, republished, and otherwise spread far and wide – yet the chain of links usually connects everything back to your original thoughts.

So what do others think about blogging, what it offers you, and where it’s going?

Recently, my friend Stephen Waddington – @wadds to his legion friends, fans and followers online – emailed a group of his friends to ask them about the future of blogging, and to share the benefits they’d experienced from blogging.

That ask has resulted in a 27-page ebook that Stephen edited and published yesterday entitled “The business of blogging.”

It contains short essays from bloggers Richard Bailey, Heather Baker, Stuart Bruce, Judy Gombita, Andrew Grill, Neville Hobson, Chris Lake, Rich Leigh, Rachel Miller, Mat Morrison, Lee Odden, Dan Slee, Heather Yaxley, and Philip Young.

It’s a terrific collection of experiences and future thinking from people who have been blogging for business for years, a worthy reference/source of inspiration if you’re thinking about blogging or would like to be inspired by what others have done.

Here’s the full table of contents:

INTRODUCTION

01 Welcome to the Business of Blogging | Stephen Waddington

BUSINESS

02 A Building Block for Business | Lee Odden
03 A Shop Window to the World | Stuart Bruce
04 Building a Network and a Business | Rachel Miller

COMMUNITY

05 Thinking, Connecting, and Sharing | Dan Slee
06 Blogging with a PR-Specific and Global Mindset | Judy Gombita
07 Building and Serving a Community Better Than Mainstream Media | Rich Leigh

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

08 Your Start with Blogging | Neville Hobson
09 Open and Transparent Thinking | Mat Morrison
10 Reasons to Keep Blogging | Heather Yaxley
11 A Career Development and Personal Reputation Platform | Andrew Grill

THE FUTURE OF BLOGGING

12 Blogging Reframed | Richard Bailey
13 Creation, Curation and Community | Philip Young
14 Excellence is Hard to Find | Heather Baker
15 The Evolution of Blogging | Chris Lake

Read it right here or download it from Slideshare:

As Stephen notes in his introduction to the ebook,

[…] The business of blogging involves learning, professional and
personal development, networking and profile. It is evolving but for those individuals and organisations that are prepared to invest the effort it has a strong future.

Spot on.

My contribution includes some thinking that I’ve written about in this blog recently, especially these six steps to get started:

  1. Blogging is about the content not the platform. The primary point is your content not where it’s published.
  2. You’re telling a story not writing a press release or a sales brochure. Write informally, conversationally, avoiding jargon, and with passion.
  3. Be selfless and generous in your references to others. Attribute, cite, link.
  4. Disclose any conflict of interest. If in doubt, always disclose.
  5. Make your content eminently shareable. Eg, enable sharing buttons, make your headline concise enough that it’s simple to tweet it. Make the place your content is published on easy to use: a blog, in other words, not a corporate website.
  6. Be clear on your strategy and the measurable goal you wish to achieve. This is all about clear business intent.

“The business of blogging” is a great resource you should download right now.

How to be smart about guest bloggers

Guest Bloggers Ahead!Every week, I receive two or three requests to publish guest posts on my blog.

The requests come by email from people I don’t know who almost always have a Gmail address, not a recognisable company domain. And there is usually nothing in the email about the person other than a name (which often doesn’t quite match the name in the email address), and no links to any presence on the social web.

They offer to be guest bloggers, writing posts for my blog on a wide variety of subjects, some of which match topics I am interested in and/or have written about myself in the blog. More recently, many of the emails that arrive offer to create or post infographics.

Are such requests worth considering, even accepting?

In a word, no. I’ll explain why in a minute.

The typical email I get is like this one I received this week:

Hello,

My name is Chris and I have been a pro guest blogger for a number of years. I currently have a couple high-quality original posts that I think would be a good fit for your site. One is called “Social Marketing Trends in 2014.” The other is called “Copywriting Tips and Tricks in a Digital World.” So if you’re interested in either one, I can send it right along.

Thanks for your time,

Chris

That was it. No links to anything, just the email text. Nothing to make me drop everything and get back to Chris.

And this one:

Hi,

As an energetic writer and keen web enthusiast, I have the habit of browsing through informative and well-written posts and articles. I have recently come across your website (nevillehobson.com) thought that the posts are quite interesting and informative.I was just wondering, if I could contribute something to your site or not. If yes, then as a guest blogger for your site,I promise that I will be producing articles that will be entirely unique, written just for your blog and will not be posted elsewhere.

I also promise that I will comply by your rules and regulations meant for guest posting and hope that I can produce work that is in conformity to the desired quality sought by you.

Will be eagerly awaiting your response. Looking forward to forge a meaningful collaboration.

Thanks & Regards,
Samantha Jones | Writer & Editor

Samantha Jones included her Twitter handle. But no profile information there, no photo, no link to anything anywhere… nothing there would prompt me to get in touch.

And this:

Hello,

My name is Angelina and I’m a writer and editor that has a real passion for Infographics. I am associated with many communities and sites and have been providing them infographic based content on finance since quite a long time now.

I came across your site http://www.nevillehobson.com/ and I really liked the way you have presented it. So I was wondering if I can contribute an infographic for your site too?

The infographic would be designed by me with a short description and a link to my site [redacted].

If you agree, please let me know and I can start working on it.

Awaiting your positive response.

Until about a year ago, I used to politely reply to such emails thanking the sender but declining the offer.

I soon realized that this was a waste of time. It became obvious to me that nearly all of the people sending me email about guest blogging weren’t really interested in my blog at all – this is purely an outlet for their content that would enable them to ride on the reputation this blog offers, its readership (and content syndication via RSS and other means), and potential traffic-driving to wherever any links would take a reader.

In short, I soon figured it was more about search engine optimisation and manipulating Google PageRank than supposedly creating great content for my blog.

Now I either ignore or delete such emails that make it through the email spam filters (and you’d be surprised at how many don’t make it through: more than 60 percent).

All of this comes to mind after I read “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO,” by Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, on January 20 in which he rings a loud alarm bell on the risks to bloggers of allowing guest blogging on their blogs, and engaging in guest blogging themselves.

[…] In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well. Likewise, I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.

[…] I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there.

[…] I just want to highlight that a bunch of low-quality or spam sites have latched on to “guest blogging” as their link-building strategy, and we see a lot more spammy attempts to do guest blogging. Because of that, I’d recommend skepticism (or at least caution) when someone reaches out and offers you a guest blog article.

Cutts makes it clear where the risk is. It’s not guest blogging per se, it’s SEO and Google PageRank manipulation that’s the issue. And doing that can have serious consequences for the blogger on whose blog the ‘bad’ content is published.

I encourage you to read Cutts’ post in full, and watch the four videos he made that are embedded in the post. You will get a clearer idea on the full scope of guest blogging and the pros and cons.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t usually take guest posts on this blog. The few times I have, I either know the person who asks or they made a pretty good case for doing it.

I would consider one from a guest blogger I don’t personally know who has credentials and fits this profile:

  1. The first thing I’m going to do is Google your name. So I’d expect your name to show up in a Google search, with links and references to it and your work across the social web, suggesting a credible presence that I’d expect to see for someone who says they’re a “long time guest blogger” or similar.
  2. If you say you have written guest posts for other blogs, I want to see some of the posts on those other blogs that show that your content is a good contextual fit for those blogs and what they cover.
  3. Any links in guest posts to relevant content or specific sites elsewhere on the web are full links, not shortcode links, and do not include the ‘rel=dofollow’ attribute.
  4. A presence on the social web – you should have at least a Twitter handle complete with profile info, a photo and a link to another presence online, and with some longevity of being on Twitter, plus a good balance of followers and following.
  5. A presence on a mainstream social networking site such as Google+ or Facebook in addition to LinkedIn.
  6. I give more credence to someone with a domain email address rather than a Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook or Yahoo one.
  7. If your email is a mail merge one, at least make it look kind of personal, eg, consistent font formatting, no spaces between words and punctuation in the merge fields, etc.
  8. Last but not least, there must be something in your email that suggests you have at least read my blog and demonstrate that you have a pretty clear idea of the relevance of your proposed content to it.

I wonder what the next email that makes it through the spam filter will propose.

[Text updated 9-Mar-2015.]

Connecting content and the social conversations

Blog comments

A topic Shel and I discuss in this week’s FIR podcast episode 715 is commenting on blogs.

More specifically, about the conversation that can happen in response to a post someone writes and publishes on a blog, and where the conversation actually takes place.

Increasingly, it’s not on the blog itself – it’s on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, anywhere across the social web except in the comments section of the blog post that prompted someone to add their two pence-worth.

Here’s an example: as the screenshot above illustrates – from a post I wrote last week about The Sun’s new paywall – there are no comments to the post directly, but ten comments across Twitter and Facebook that reference the post.

You might be wondering how those external comments appear on the blog. They do thanks to a nifty WordPress plugin called Social from Crowd Favorite that automagically finds and connects comments to a particular post where they appear on the major social networks

Actually, that’s not strictly true as conspicuous by its absence is Google+ and any comments about the post anyone makes on that social network. So conversation on Google+ is disconnected from content elsewhere, eg, on blogs.

But now there is one way in which you can connect Google+ to posts on WordPress blogs – albeit not in as integrated a manner as you might wish – via Google+Comments, a WordPress plugin developed by Alex Moss.

What this does is add a Google+ comments area below your post that’s additional to the blog comment area of what shows from a plugin like the Social one I have installed. So it’s a separate area. It’s similar to what you can do with Facebook commenting via plugins.

You can also manually add Google+ comments anywhere to a post, such as within it like this:

Google+ Comments

Powered by Google+ Comments

Try it – leave a Google+ comment!

From what I can understand in how it works, it doesn’t behave like Crowd Favorite’s Social plugin – that brings in links to comments made elsewhere – but is a full-blown comment system, as it were, in which you write and post your comments to Google+ and see related comments others have made on Google+.

I think it’s a good concept and could be a credible complement to third-party commenting platforms like Disqus, Livefyre, IntenseDebate and others, as well as to native blog commenting.

Although I do have the Google+Comments plugin installed and activated, I haven’t enabled it for all posts. Not yet: I want to see how it works in practice, what others do with it and how people feel about it. Plus it look like it has some display/CSS styling issues with how content is presented in this blog.

Until knitting together the online conversation stream becomes more seamless – in essence, joining up all the dots that form online conversations centred on a blog post – and simpler and easier, and doesn’t require workarounds like plugins and other tools and services that perform the necessary connectivity, this at least enables Google+ to be part of the overall conversation.

The nature of commenting has shifted, too, along with the proliferation of places where you can add a quick opinion and the growth of short-form posts that almost resist anything longer than a quick tweet or a Facebook like.

Still, whatever the length of a post and a comment, Google+Comments will likely connect more of the dots. On WordPress blogs, at least.

(Via Debi Davis)

Bloggade 2013: the nuts and bolts of blogging and WordPress

Timico data centre

Have you ever wondered what goes on at a data centre, perhaps one that hosts your website or blog?

If that’s a question you’ve asked before, then here’s your chance to get the answer.

A tour of a state-of-the-art UK data centre in Newark is a central part of an event taking place on August 21 that will focus on the underlying technology that powers many WordPress blogs.

I’ve joined Matt Russell, CEO of WebHostingBuzz (the hosting service that sponsors and hosts my blogs) and Trefor Davies, co-founder and CTO of Timico (the owner of the data centre) to put together Bloggade 2013:

The focus of this first Bloggade is on the underlying technology that powers many WordPress blogs. You’ll experience a tour of Timico’s £5m Midlands datacentre that opened in 2012, and see at first hand the technology that powers the web including many WordPress blogs hosted with WebHostingBuzz at the datacentre.

We have round table discussions planned on WordPress hosting, hardware, search engine optimization and more, all addressing the topics from a non-technical perspective, but in the true round table spirit – anything and everything to do with WordPress is up for discussion.

Bring your questions, comments and experiences!

You’ll also get ideas and insights from experiences and blogging best practices in a panel discussion with Andrew Grill and I  – Andrew’s blog is also hosted by WebHostingBuzz – as well as from others there, all designed to help you get the most from the WordPress content management system, especially the new version 3.6.

Thanks to Timico, the half-day event is free to attend: the only condition is that you must have your own blog, whether it runs on WordPress or any other platform.

Sign up for Bloggade 2013

Sign up for your free ticket and join us for an afternoon in Newark – an historic town within easy reach of major towns and cities in the Midlands, East Anglia and the Northeast (and less than 90 minutes by fast train from London).

It’s a great opportunity to talk about the nuts and bolts of blogging and WordPress, see inside a modern data centre, and conclude things in a local pub.

What a pleasant way to spend a Wednesday afternoon! Hope to see you there on August 21.

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