I realised at the weekend that it’s been about 5 years since I started blogging properly, having got into my groove sometime in November 2005. Back then, as a classroom teacher, I wrote at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk about education and educational technology. What got me started was reading and commenting on the high-quality blogs of a small number of international educators, the dilution of which I lamented a few years later.
In the past 5 years I’ve gone from History teacher to E-Learning Staff Tutor to Director of E-Learning to working at JISC infoNet. I’ve also cultivated increasing amounts of stubble, as this video of me as a 24 year-old demonstrates! Hopefully, as I’ve read, learned and understood more about the world, my style of writing has improved. Well, one can hope.
The following are the things that I think anyone with a blog would do well to heed. I’d be interested in your take. 😀
1. Comment count != quality
The quality of a blog post has almost nothing to do with the number of comments you get – and everything to do with the zeitgeist, the way you phrase questions and how you structure your blog.
2. How to get more readers
To get more people visiting your blog, go and comment on other people’s and autotweet your blog posts via Twitter. This works up to a point, after which you can either keep it real or become a cynical marketing machine. I prefer content over style. Most of the time. 😉
3. WordPress and Bluehost rock
I’ve tried lots of different blogging platforms and webhosts, but have found WordPress to consistently do what I want of it and Bluehost [affiliate link] to be cheap, feature-filled and rock-solid.
4. Have an ‘ideas garden’
I’ve blatantly appropriated this term from someone who used it in conversation with me a while ago. Sorry if that was you – I try to credit the sources of ideas I share as well as images I use. An ideas garden is simply a collection of draft blog posts that you come back to, adding pictures, further ideas, etc. until they form whole posts. It can also stop you ranting when you’re in a bad mood. :-p
5. Digital footprint
I used to have a link to my curriculum vitae on my blog but, in fact, the whole thing is a digital portfolio, with my last three positions secured to a great extent because of my online presence. SEO is important, as is attempting to control the first page of Google search results (so that they’re all positive): my digital footprint is more important to me than my credit score. Fact.
I’ve been impressed at the way Tom Barrett moved effortlessly into his new home at http://edte.ch and has set up a really engaging blog. He’s also adapted his blog writing style to be even more relevant and collaborative. 🙂
During the couple of days I’ve been off work ill this week I’ve transferred teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk from a UK-based webhost to Bluehost (which hosts this, among other sites). It was about time my former blog (active 2005-2007) had some TLC as it was becoming progressively broken.
I had a 42MB MySQL database backup – the file that contains all of the blog’s important information (post and comment text, etc.) – but every time I tried to import this into a new database at Bluehost I kept getting timeout errors. It was then that I remembered I’d had this problem before and I’d managed to solve it with some sort of script that breaks the file up into smaller chunks to feed to the database incrementally.
After a while searching, I came across it again. It’s called BigDump and the process, if you’re familiar with installing WordPress manually, is fairly straightforward:
Go into phpMyAdmin and execute DROP_TABLES on your target database.
I’m not a huge fan of spending money on software and digital services. There’s a couple of reasons for this. The first is that I’m an advocate of Open Source Software (see Open Source Schools, of which I’m part). As such, I believe that making software available free of charge – with the source code inspectable – makes for better software and communities built around the functionality the software provides. The second reason is that I tend to like to have something tangible as a result of any financial outlay.
All this is by way of explanation as to why the following are services that persuade me to part with some of my hard-earned money. I follow that with those I use for free but would happily pay for! 😉
Things upon which I *do* spend real cash
I have a number of websites and blogs, all of which need a home on the Internet. I’ve found Bluehost to be reliable and very reasonably priced. They’ve got CPanel installed in the admin interface, which makes installing web applications such as WordPress and forums a breeze!
Flickr ($25 = c.£17)
Photographs are incredibly important things. They are a snapshot of a time that can never be recaptured, and evoke powerful memories. Despite backing up regularly via my Apple Time Capsule, it’s important that I never lose the most important of my photographs – especially those of my son. That’s why I upload all the ones I consider important to Flickr.
Purchasing a yearly Flickr Pro license means that more than just the last 200 of my photographs can be seen and that I can create an unlimited number of ‘sets’ in which to place them. 😀
Remember The Milk ($25 = c.£17)
You may wonder why I’d spend good money on what is, essentially, a glorified to-do list. It’s because Remember The Milk (RTM) is so easy-to-use and fits in with my way of working. The free account is fine if you just want to organise yourself via the web-based interface, but the real power comes if you’ve got an iPhone. The app for the iPhone is only available to those who have a Pro subscription. It’s a work of art in terms of simplicity and adding to your productivity. Great stuff. 😀
Things upon which I *would* spend real cash
Gmail & Google Docs
Gmail features c.7GB of storage With Google Docs providing an online, collaborative suite of office applications that are just a joy to use. Every time I reflect on the fact that I can use this for free, I count myself fortunate. Marvellous!
Super-quick synchronous Internet connection
We currently get broadband free from Orange as a benefit from my wife’s mobile phone contract. We pay an additional £5 per month to upgrade the speed from 2MB/s to 8MB/s. But that’s only the (theoretical) download speed. We get about 6MB/s download and 512KB/s upload.
I’d pay about £25/month for 20MB/s synchronous DSL and would even consider £50/month for 50MB/s. That really would mean ‘cloud computing’! 😉
Twitter is a micro social networking/blogging service with a 140-character limit. I’ve connected to even more people than I had done previously via blogs in the Edublogosphere. It’s real-time and very, very powerful. Some people call it their ‘PLN’ (Personal Learning Network). I’m not one of them. I just think it’s great. 😉
If, for example, Twitter charged the same amount for a year’s service as Flickr does (i.e. $25) I think it would be hugely profitable very quickly.
WordPress is the software that power this and, to be honest, most blogs on the Internet. It’s developed rapidly – mainly because it’s Open Source – and very flexible and powerful. If you don’t as yet have your own blog, I’d encourage you to sign up with Bluehost and install WordPress on your own domain via CPanel. You can, of course, just use WordPress.com…
Which software and digital services do YOU pay for? Why?
Last month when I opened up our credit card statement, I looked with horror at the amount I was being charged for webhosting. It said that MediaTemple, my current web hosts for this blog, learning.mrbelshaw.co.uk, edte.ch and historyshareforum.com were charging me almost £20 per month for the privilege. This, apparently, is due to the ‘amount of MySQL activity’ on my account. 😮
Last summer, I transferred from Bluehost – with whom I’d been very happy – due to MediaTemple’s well-publicised ‘Grid Hosting’ and their ability to host domain names such as .ch (needed for edte.ch). Now, however, I find that my websites take longer to load, their customer service is below average, and they’re over-charging me.
I’d love to simply go back to Bluehost. That’s not really an option, however, due to their inability to host .ch domains. I had a look at going with HP-backed and much-advertised One.com, but they don’t allow ‘download-related’ sites – historyshareforum.com is for the sharing and downloading of resources.
So I’d like your recommendations please. My criteria are:
Good value (i.e. reasonably cheap!)
Good customer support (quick response time)
Support for a wide range of domain extensions
Ideally, I’d also like the servers to be based in the UK. It makes fast loading times of the websites for the majority of my visitors more likely, you see… 😀