The Struggle to Find your Niche

One of the keys to a successful blog is to find your niche. Original content is what makes a blog unique and worthwhile. It is what makes a blog a ‘must read’. It is what makes someone subscribe to your RSS feed.

Bloggers who get to ‘break stories’ or have the ‘first scoop’ on the latest news have incredibly large audiences. The same holds true for bloggers with name recognition who provide original opinion or analysis pieces. Both types of bloggers are the movers-and-shakers of the blogosphere, often shaping what others blog about (as I mentioned on Friday).

Fortunately, businesses, organizations, and a good number of individuals can avoid this blogosphere struggle because many of them already have found their niche – they already have captivated audiences in the real world.

For example, a health and wellness business with a relatively established customer base could use a blog to speak about the benefits of new products or tips for healthy living.  A pastor of a church could connect with his congregation throughout the week and not solely on Sunday mornings. Authors could also make the ideas behind their books much more ‘alive’.

This struggle really boils down to how you add value to your readers. There is no better way to find that out than to ask them. Their feedback should help you fine tune your content strategy and ensure that your blog maintains relevance in an ever growing blogosphere.

Leveraging the Power of RSS

Earlier this week Steve Rubel of Micro Persuasion detailed some of his best RSS tips and tricks in a post entitled Ten RSS Hacks. Steve’s post shows that RSS offers much more than simply streamlined reading of blogs and breaking news stories.

Although Steve took some of the better tips, I’ll share three of my own

  1. Track job searches using RSSIndeed, SimplyHired, and craigslist provide RSS feeds for keyword and location searches.

  2. Create a custom Google News page and subscribe to its feed – Go to Google News and create customized sections via keywords (you can also remove standard sections). Subscribe to the feed.

  3. Use Findory to create a personalized RSS feedFindory learns from your reading habits. You can subscribe to a feed that is personalized for you once it learns what you like.

Introductory Post: Blogs vs. Wikis

Blogs and wikis are two specific types of content management systems (CMS). While these two buzz words share many commonalities, there are also a number of very important distinctions between the two. I’ve created a visual to quickly summarize some of the differences.

I encourage you to compare the MSNBC blogs to Wikipedia to see these technologies in action. Please note that what I provide above is simply a framework to think about how blogs and wikis are used.

Questions or thoughts are most welcome.

Monitoring the Conversation

I recently wrote about how the online conversation is real. The basics of that post is that blogging fosters interaction. No surprise, to be a successful blogger, reading, writing, and responding to others within the larger community is an absolute must.

There are a growing number of ways that users can keep track of online conversations. David Teten spoke to one of them in the previous post- PubSub. PubSub is a prospective (forward looking) matching service that provides new information to users as it becomes available. So, for example, if you want news or information on social software, you would create a PubSub subscription with keywords “social software”. You can view a subscription like social software on PubSub or simply by copying the feed they provide into your favorite news aggregator.

Other ways to monitor the conversation include keeping track of “tags” that interest you. Tagging is a growing trend in the social software world and is closely related to “social bookmarking”. I’ll first speak to social bookmarking because it is similar to a word most people are familiar with – bookmarks.

Social bookmarking builds upon collaborative efforts, in that an individual’s bookmarks (or “favorites”) are no longer just their own. Rather, they are shared with the larger community. Unlike storing a bookmark under a particular folder in your browser, social bookmarks are saved online and are not categorized by folders, but are instead “tagged” by keywords. Users (and not computers) select appropriate tags for articles or sites of interest, as they come across them through their surfing of the web.

This post, for example, might be tagged with the word “socialsoftware” on any number of social bookmark sites. The most popular social bookmarking tool to this point is del.icio.us. Take a look at the socialsoftware tag or at my social bookmarks. Each tag also has an RSS feed, so that you can keep track of them in your favorite news aggregator (I’ll provide some more info on how to actually do that in my next post).

Tags can help you stay informed and introduce to information you might not have found otherwise. For a more advanced use of tags, take a look at what I am doing with my first blogoposium.

update: a good reference on social bookmarking basics (via Jyri Engeström) by Tony Hammond, Timo Hannay, Ben Lund, and Joanna Scott; and a very academic piece by Clay Shirky entitled Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags (via David Teten’s suggestion)

What is 'CMS' (a Content Management System)?

Historically, the content and design of a website have been inseparable. In more technical terms, that means that the data (‘content’) and the presentation (‘design’) elements have typically been mixed together in one document, that document usually being a web page (such as “index.html” or “about.html”). In order to create and format the content of a page (i.e., use different positioning, font styles, colors, etc.), it was necessary to know HTML mark-up, thus limiting the ability to create a web site to a select few. The role of the webmaster was born.

Software expanded the ability to manage and design websites to a larger number of users yet still demanded a level of technical expertise. Creating and managing content on the web boiled down to two major problems – the ‘architecture’ of a web page and technical aptitude.

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The Conversation is Real

As I recently wrote in an earlier first technology brief, one of the key benefits to blogging is to “join the conversation”. Blogs are providing a new forum for people to communicate that consists of a much larger base of opinions and ideas. Popular bloggers are engaging and learning from their readers. They are participating in the larger conversation that is the blogosphere and weighing in on the subjects that the public and their readers want to know about.

A conversation is a two way street – at least a good conversation is. In blogging terms, that means that a successful blogger will need to do more than just write, they also need to read. Blogs that consist of someone yelling from a mountain top about how good a product or service is or about how smart they are, remove the quintessential element to blogging – interaction.

The conversation is real. It is not just a selling point to get you blogging. I’ll provide two really neat examples I recently came across in my daily scouring of the web:

  1. TechCrunch is becoming the source for Web 2.0 product updates. They are “dedicated to obsessively profiling and reviewing every newly launched web 2.0 business, product and service.”

    Just over a month ago, they profiled a new social bookmarking tool called BlinkList. BlinkList joins a number of other similar services including del.icio.us (the leading social bookmarking tool to this point), Furl, and Simpy, amongst others.

    After reading through the profile, I noticed that there were a total of three comments. One was from a Simpy representative, the next was Mike Arrington of TechCrunch, and the final was by Ozzy of Blinklist. The conversation is real.

  2. As TechCrunch is the Web 2.0 product source, Richard MacManus of Read / Write Web is the de-facto Web 2.0 knowledge source. Richard is in many ways the pioneer in setting up a framework to describe and understand Web 2.0.

    In his latest Web 2.0 Weekly Wrap-up, Richard examines Web 2.0 in “the real world”, a new feature to his informative weekly summary. There he details a Web Ministry that is focusing on using the web to make “an eternal impact on the lives of individuals.”

    Of course, not long after that post went up, Rob, the author of that same Web Miinistry, commented on the Read / Write Web blog.

    David Teten commented to me: “Technologies like Pubsub make it easy for you to monitor in the blogosphere who’s talking about the subjects that most interest you (particularly your name!). One of the great advantages of online conversation is that you can have a conversation that transcends time and space limitations, while at the same time creating an instant community of people who share similiar interests, e.g., Blinklist and like technologies. That’s one of the advantages of blogs, as opposed to traditional walled vertical communities. Out of the enormous number of blogs, I can converse specifically with those people with whom I share interests, and I do not need to predefine with which people I share interests. If I only participate in a mailing list for graduates of my college, instead of using a blog, I’m much more restricted in the number of people I can build relationships with.”

These are just a couple of quick examples of showing that “the conversation is real”. There are many, many more. Feel free to share some of the examples you have seen by commenting below.

Getting a Feel for RSS

One accepted definition of RSS is “Really Simple Syndication”. While not necessarily used in everyday language, the last word of RSS – “syndication” – should not be a foreign concept to people. What exactly is RSS?

Radio talk show hosts are often syndicated. Their shows are picked up by local radio stations, so that a host based in Los Angeles has airtime on a station in Orlando. Similarly, popular newspaper columnists are often syndicated – their columns are reprinted by a variety of local newspapers, making their writing often available to readers nationwide. From these examples, follows the first important element of syndication –

to magnify the effect of a thought or idea
by making it available to a much larger audience
.

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