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Archive for the ‘Professional Development’ Category

Blogging: the three main options and platforms for hosting a blog

17 Jun

The issue of where to host a blog is fairly complicated for people new to the medium – particularly the differences between wordpress.org and wordpress.com. I often have to write a condensed version of the advice below in emails to people as follow-ups to blogging workshops, so I thought I’d put it all in one blog post in case others find it useful too.

CC Image by Orin Zebest – click to view original on Flickr

Why does the platform matter?

Every blogging option comes with its own advantages and drawbacks. On a basic level they run on a sliding scale from quick, logistically easy, and ugly / annoying to use at one end, to more complicated, faffy, and nice to look at / simple to use at the other. Often the more basic solution starts off okay and then becomes problematic later on, but you can migrate blogs to new platforms without too much fuss, so if you set up a wordpress.com blog on a whim and it turned into something significant and valuable, so now you want to upgrade to wordpress.org to get rid the weight-loss ads which have started appearing on your posts, then fear not, you can do exactly that.

All blogging platforms have some things in common. They all have a basic word processor interface for typing in posts, they all give you stats on how many people are reading your posts, they all give you ready-made options to help readers subscribe to, search, and share what you’re blogging. All allow you to pay for a URL and so call your site the slightly more credible-looking yourname.com rather than yourname.wordpress.com or similar.

You could show all of them to someone in the year 2000 and their jaw would drop open at the sheer POWER and SIMPLICITY of what you can do in 2014 FOR FREE and with no knowledge of code / building websites. They’re ace. They’re an opportunity.

I have not included Typepad in this list because it’s a paid for service – it’s very good but, having tried it out, I don’t believe it represents the kind of step up from the free options below which would warrant a monthly cash investment.

Blogger

Blogger.com is a Google product. It is sometimes frustrating and pernickety to use, and is the least aesthetically pleasing option. It looks dated, both to the author and the reader. However, it is free – and at the time of writing, you get no adverts on your blog posts unless you choose to put them there yourself.

Setting up a Blogger account is the most straightforward – if you have a Google account, you effectively have a Blogger account whether you’ve made use of it or not. Just go to blogger.com, log-in, and click create blog (further instructions here). I use Blogger to power my Library Marketing Toolkit website – I chose it because it is free, doesn’t require the logistical hassle of self-hosting, and won’t display unwanted ads. It took ages of tinkering to make the site look relatively nice though, and it still looks pretty 90s.

A blogger.com site

A blogger.com site

Blogger is quickish, powerful and a relatively straightforward way to build a website – you don’t HAVE to use it as a blog, even. 10 years ago this would be the greatest most useful thing ever – it’s only because there are easier and more attractive options now that we don’t now celebrate its glory.

I recommend Blogger to people who are dipping their toe into blogging but aren’t yet sure it’ll be a major part of their professional lives, and who need the credibility that comes with not having ads. If you don’t mind the potential ads on your posts, then option two, wordpress.com, is a better bet.

WordPress.com

WordPress.com is, like Blogger, free and easy to use. WordPress hosts the blog for you, so there’s no need to self-host the website. Compared to Blogger, it is basically easier to use, less frustrating, more flexible, more fresh and modern and nice looking, and great.

The only major downside is that after a certain popularity threshold (I’m afraid I’ve not been able to pin down exactly where this threshold is) you get ads on your posts, which you can’t control or turn off. As I say, if this isn’t a problem for you, go for this option, it’s great. A second more minor downside compared to Blogger: at the moment you can’t use Google analytics with it, and there are occasional issues around embedding dynamic content.

I used wordpress.com to power the Buy India a Library site – it was ridiculously simple to create that, literally in less than an hour, and without needing any knowledge of HTML etc. I also used it for my band’s website, below – again, this took a tiny amount of time considering it looks nice and works well.

Website created in under an hour using wordpress.com

Website created in under an hour using wordpress.com

WordPress.org

In many ways wordpress.org is the gold standard option – it affords the most flexibility and the most control. You can set your site up any way you like using a greater number of free themes, or by paying for a ‘premium’ theme, or by designing your own – this thewikiman site is a wordpress.org blog, with a theme I created, writing the HTML.

Two other things there are much more of with wordpress.org than with .com or Blogger are analytics – you can get hugely detailed statistics about who is visiting your site, for how long, when they’re from, what makes them leave and so on- and plugins, which is to say the little widgets which appear in the column down the right-hand side. Whether it’s Twitter and Facebook sharing buttons, or embedding a Twitter feed or YouTube account, or being able to print these posts to PDF, or displaying the most commented upon posts – all of these are plugins which I didn’t create myself, but which already existed and I just applied them to this blog. And you never get ads, or indeed anything, placed on your blog, which you don’t put there yourself.

There is only one downside: HASSLE. It is a hassle to use wordpress.org because it is ‘self-hosted’. So while Blogger and WordPress.com blogs sit on the blogger.com and wordpress.com sites without you having to do anything, you need a host server for a wordpress.org blog, onto which you have to install wordpress software. It is possible to find free hosting, but it will put so many limitations on its not worth having – so that means paying for hosting, and paying for the domain name. In my case it’s £96 per year for the hosting, and £20 for the domain name. I used to have a cheaper hosting package, but I used up all the bandwidth before the end of each month (due to the amount of people visiting this site) so had to upgrade – although now I hardly blog anymore, I should probably look at going back to a cheaper package.

WordPress recommends these hosting companies, but personally I recommend Clook very highly indeed. Great service, good prices, wordpress.org can be installed automatically without any technical know-how, and the tech support is completely fabulous. I once tweeted in passing about how my blog was down due to server maintenance, and Clook saw the tweet, looked into it, saw there was a problem with my blog specifically, fixed it, and THEN tweeted me back to say it was sorted! All without asking me any questions or telling me to stand by while they investigated; I hadn’t even logged a request with technical support online or actually solicited their assistance. They’re ace.

The other hassle is maintenance. WordPress.com blogs get everything taken care of by WordPress – the .org version you have to upkeep yourself, installing updates (which is a simple, automatic process) of both the software itself and your plugins.

In my view all of this is worth it for this, my main site – but not for any other projects I’m involved with thus far. If you don’t mind the fact that you have to be more proactive in set-up and maintenance, and can afford hosting, it’s the best option by far, in my view.

How this blog-post looks in edit view -  a wordpress.org site

How this blog-post looks in edit view – a wordpress.org site

(Bonus option: Tumblr)

Tumblr began as a short-form blogging platform, somewhere between a traditional blog and the instant communication of Twitter. People can use it however they want, but personally I think you need to be on Tumblr for a reason - it’s not a direct equivalent to the options listed above, but something a little different. (The BL’s mechanical curator is my favourite reason for a tumblr so far…)

Tumblr is a self-contained community in the way the others are not. There is a ready-made group of people for you to join in with, and by far the fastest growing group of users – because it massively popular with a younger demographic, Tumblr continues to grow incredibly rapidly. But you need a Tumblr account to comment on a Tumblr post, so it’s not the ideal medium for reaching and interacting with as wide a group of people as possible. By all means set up a Tumblr if you have something offbeat which suits the ‘brief and often’ nature of the medium, but if you’re setting up, for example, an academic blog, I would recommend choosing wordpress or blogger.

So! There you go. I hope someone finds this helpful. Any questions, leave me a comment.

Good luck.

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Twitter tips for improvers

10 Jun

Here’s a new set of slides I’ve just uploaded to my Library’s slideshare account:

 

I think the key to good feedback in a workshop is probably 10% about the content, 10% about the delivery, and 80% about whether it is pitched at the level the participants expect and require. That’s probably an exaggeration but you get my point. I’ve blogged on here before about how I run sessions around Web 2.0 and academia for the Researcher Development Team at York, and in the last couple I’ve really felt for a small number of participants who were at a stage beyond the level I was pitching at. The workshops are introductions so participants literally set up, for example, a Twitter account from scratch – so anyone who is already past that point but wants to know about content and tone, is doing far too much thumb-twiddling for my liking, until later in the session.

With all that in mind, as of next academic year we’re reworking the workshops, and in each case I’ll run one ‘A beginner’s guide to’ type session and one ‘Improvers’ type session, so people can get exactly what they need out of the workshops. We didn’t have time to arrange that for this terms’ workshops, so I produced the slides above to send on to participants of my introductory workshop, for those who wanted to go further. In January when the next set of workshops run (I don’t do any in the Autumn term, because AUTUMN TERM), I’ll flesh this out into a proper interactive 1.5 hour session.

Have I left anything important out? One of the things I love about Slideshare is that you can update and reupload slides over the same URL, so you don’t lose that continuity (and your statistics). So if there’s anything you’d add to this, let me know in a comment, and I can eventually make a new and improved version to put online in place of this one.

My advice to Tweeters: ignore advice to Tweeters…

If there is a slide in the deck above that could be considered in some way controversial, it’s this one:

 Slide 16 from http://www.slideshare.net/UniofYorkLibrary/twitter-for-improvers

I think guides for tweeting well are most important for organisations – it’s key that companies, businesses and public bodies get this stuff right, and they often don’t. For individuals though, I’m increasingly of the mind that unless you specifically want Twitter to DO something for you which it currently isn’t doing (and the slides above are aimed at researchers who specifically want to grow their network in order to find more value in it), it’s not worth reading ‘how to tweet’ guides (of the kind I used to write myself) and trying to change how you approach it. There’s plenty of good advice to be had in these, but it’s not necessary to follow any of it – apart from not being unpleasant or otherwise making people bad about themselves. If you want to tweet about your lunch every day, why should you stop doing that just to retain followers? I think it’s better to be yourself and have a group of followers who are prepared to put with that, for better or for worse…

Number of followers isn’t an end in itself. A smaller group of engaged followers who want to interact with YOU is far better than a huge group for whom you have to put on any kind of show. So while when writing in print it’s important to adopt a style appropriate for the medium, I consider Twitter to be much closer to spoken communication. As long as you’re prepared to deal with the consequences, why not just be yourself?

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10 things to make a conference great

16 Dec

What makes a conference great? Andy Priestner posed the following question on Twitter today:


I found my answer wouldn’t fit even across loads of tweets. So with that in mind, and following on from the previous post on inspiring conferences, here’s my personal opinions based on conferences I’ve attended.

  1. The other delegates. This is very tricky. Much like what makes a good school experience isn’t really the Ofsted report and the facilities so much as the other kids and whether they’re nice, and a good job experience has (probably) more to do with your colleagues and line-manager than your salary and objectives, a good conference experience has a lot to do with the kind of crowd the conference attracts. If you get open, enthusiastic and practical people to hang out with, the presentations themselves are really just a springboard rather than the focus of the conference. What I remember most about SLA was the other delegates.
  2. A good keynote from outside the industry. LILAC gives fanstastic keynote – and part of the reason is they bring in someone from outside of libraries, who knows enough about them to make their talk relevant without just pandering to librarians. Spare me people saying ‘A library without a librarian is just a room’ – guess how much that helps me? Correct: not at all.
  3. A variety of formats. There’s no excuse just to have a bunch of people doing long presentations, these days. I want to see Pecha Kucha 20/20s, I want to see Teachmeet style sharing, I want to see panel discussions, I want some unconference style rewriting of the hierarchy. Ideally, I’d like to see something not listed here because I’ve never seen it before. Surprise me.
  4. Speakers who understand speaking rather than just the subject they’ve been asked to speak about. Don’t tell me all about your methodology at the start – if you have to tell me about your methodology at all, do it after you’ve told me WHY I should care about it (i.e. give me the results first). On the subject of results, if you’ve not yet finished your project and can’t tell us your conclusions, why are you here? And of course, don’t get me started on presenters who can’t be bothered to make decent presentations, or go over their time slots.
  5. A mixture of the cerebral and the immediate. I want to be inspired, uplifted, and invigorated. I ALSO want to be able to go back to my desk when the conference is finished and change the way I work, for the better, right away.
  6. New blood. I want there to be new professionals at any event I go to, because apart from being, obviously, The Future, they’re often the most enthusiastic and passionate. So make sure your event offers hard-up new profs the chance to attend and ideally to present too. (On a related note, I’d recommend going to New Profs events even if you aren’t so ‘new’ anymore; it restores your faith…)
  7. A lead organiser who really has their shit together. I’ve been to conferences where the person effectively chairing the event seems completely at sea, or not to be invested in the success of  the day at all. Organising conferences is REALLY hard (I’ve done it, enjoyed it, but resolved to stick to speaking from then on because that is MUCH easier) so you’ve got to be completely committed and quite sharp, and creative, and good at logistics, to make a success of it.
  8. An appropriate level of resource. It is possible to organise conferences and unconferences very cheaply, but that needs to be built into the DNA of the conference. A hugely ambitious conference shouldn’t be attempted without a hugely ambitious budget. I’m quite happy to sleep through 15-minutes of sponsor-talk at the start of each day if it means the event is well financed and everything works.
  9. Technology. If the wifi is no good, find another venue. If the screens are small, find another venue. If the presenter PCs are positioned so the presenter has to look away from the audience to present, find another venue. If someone is doing a presentation via Skype or a webinar software then by God they’d better give a transcendent and truly transformative talk if we’re to suffer through the 100% inevitable bad sound quality, visual glitches, and delays where the screen goes blank.
  10. Downtime. I’m an introvert. Most people going to library conferences are introverts. Introverts need time to recharge, away from the crowds, or we go a bit loopy. So the best conference schedules, for me, are the ones brimming with activity – but with some downtime built in too.

achievement via says-it.com

Anything you’d add?

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Why don’t English conferences make you feel like this?

16 Dec
Library badges

Creative Commons image by Michael Porter (aka Libraryman!) – click to view the original on Flickr.

 

Back in 2006 when I got my first position in a library, in a job-emergency and with no intention of staying in the profession, one of the many many things I didn’t expect librarianship to involve was exciting foreign travel. But so far it’s taken me to Philly, to Latvia, to South Africa, and next year to Vancouver.

In part 3 of my posts about Cape Town (part 1, including a presentation on professional brand, can be read here; part 2 about the trip itself can be read here) I wanted to discuss something that the LIASA 2013 conference made me think about: English conferences have something missing. They don’t seem to make people feel inspired and uplifted like other conferences do. Why is that?

NB: I originally, erronously, entitled this post ‘Why don’t UK conferences make you feel like this?’ – but one thing which came out of the Twitter discussion I had about this subject while in SA is that there are plenty of people who’ve been inspired by conferences in Ireland, Wales and Scotland; this is borne out by the Storify embedded below. Apologies, rest of the UK…

English reserve

LIASA in Cape Town was on a pretty large scale – several hundred librarians from several countries. Here’s how it made me feel: excited, uplifted and optimistic. This is exactly what I want from a conference: you come together with your peers, you share ideas, you go away not just with practical ideas to apply to your job, but feeling inspired about librarianship. This is how I felt after SLA2011 in the USA, too. Interestingly, this is how I felt after the New Professionals Conferences I’ve been to, and this is how, judging from the Twitter reaction to them, people feel after attending LibCamps. But this is not how I’ve felt after, for example, Umbrella, or LILAC, or various JISC-related things I attended as part of a previous job, or smaller events I’ve been to organised by ARLG or CDG. That’s not to say these events weren’t good events, or weren’t useful to me – they were mostly both of those things (LILAC particularly). They just didn’t send me home beaming on the train / plane with optimism and uplift.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that English reserve and cynicism is what stops some events reaching the heights I’m describing. The events I’ve been inspired by have either been on foreign shores where English reserve and cynicism aren’t applicable, or for New Professionals conferences where the delegates haven’t been around long enough to become cynical or reserved. People seem to get very inspired by unconferences such as Mashlib and Libcamp, and Radical Libcamp – and by definition unconferences should be populated by a self-selecting group of engaged and non-cynical (about the profession, at least) delegates. So basically in situations where the English reserve and cynicism can’t get a proper foothold, the conference can flourish and leave everyone feeling reinvigorated – is it that simple?

Now, I’m aware not everyone agrees with me on this. Colleagues of mine, my boss for example, have been to English conferences and come away inspired, so maybe I’m either a: going to the wrong conferences, or b: approaching them in the wrong way? If you have time to leave a comment, I’d be interested in your thoughts.

What’s the most inspiring library event you’ve ever been to? Storify time

Finally, I conducted a brief and unscientific poll on Twitter this morning, so you can get some other perspectives on peoples’ most inspiring library events. Thank you to all who took part and RT’d my request for input. I was going to total up the ‘traditional UK conferences versus other types’ votes, but the waters are murky there as there’s plenty of responses from people not in the UK in the first place. So I’ve attempted to categorise the answers but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. If nothing else, make a note of these as events to try and attend in the future (be sure to press the ‘read next page’ button at the bottom – there’s loads of good stuff here)…

 

This will automatically update here as I add things to the Storify. (Storify is great, by the way.)

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