20 March 2012

The science of blogging - 1 of 2

Image courtesy - Salvatore Vuono of Free Digital Photos

The idea of this article is similar to that of my guest post on Problogger.

My guest post had received a very positive response - 469 tweets at the time of writing of this article. In fact the Content Manager of Problogger Ms. Georgina Laidlaw e-mailed me personally after the publication of my guest post and congratulated me for "the great feedback" my post had received.

Hence I think it's appropriate to discuss this topic in more details.

Science and scientists can really tell us a lot about websites and businesses. Don't believe me? I guess you'll believe Sergey Brin - the co-founder of Google. Once he was asked that were there any particular books that were especially important to him along the way?

Sergey Brin's reply:

"I remember really enjoying Richard Feynman's books. He had several autobiographical books, and I read them. It seemed like a very great life he led. Aside from making really big contributions in his own field, he was pretty broad-minded. I remember he had an excerpt where he was explaining how he really wanted to be a Leonardo, an artist and a scientist. I found that pretty inspiring. I think that leads to having a fulfilling life."
- Source
Richard Feynman was the Nobel Laureate of physics of 1965 and is considered by many as the best brain since Einstein.

What did Sergey Brin, a software expert and a businessman find inspiring in a physicist? I have attempted to answer this question in the following quotes.

These quotes do not refer specifically to blogging but I think they can teach us a lot about it.

Most of the quotes are self explanatory. Explanations have been provided wherever confusion may arise.

It would be possible to describe absolutely everything scientifically, but it would make no sense. It would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.
— Albert Einstein
Attributed to Einstein by Frau Born. Paraphrased words as given in Ronald William Clark, Einstein (1984), 243.
Explanation – Beethoven symphony is considered by many as one of the best musical works of all times.

Sound is actually a wave generated in matter which travels because of the compression and expansion of the material particles which results in a variation of pressure from place to place.

Blogging equivalent – Let’s say you have a blog about blogging and you wish to describe how to promote your blog post’s link on Facebook. You may describe it just by saying that copy the URL from the blog, paste it on your Facebook page and click “share” and your link will appear in the news feed of all your followers. This is a simple and easy method.

But you can also describe it by delving yourself into the advanced HTML and CSS coding of Facebook, informing your readers about the real machinery behind this sharing process. You can tell them, if you are a web designer, that how Facebook’s servers share a link, what exact programming is under operation while sharing and things like that but that will be of no use because the same result can be achieved without a knowledge of these technical details.

No one wants to trap himself into complications if there is an easy way out. As they say – just hit the nail on its head.

Man has an intense desire for assured knowledge.
— Albert Einstein
Quoted in P. A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell (1971), Vol. 1, 285. 
Blogging equivalent - The catch is in the word “assured”. Readers want assured – authentic knowledge. You must make all attempts to make your posts as reliable as possible. For this your sources of information must also be authentic. Revise and think many times before hitting the “publish” button.

You can develop assurance amongst readers in a number of ways.

1) Tell them about your educational qualification. If you are a PhD from Harvard and are blogging in the same niche as your PhD subject; most people will blindly trust you and it should be your responsibility never to break their trust.

2) Display your number of followers. If you have a very large fan following you should display the number on your home page. Don’t just put a “follow us” button. Take advantage of your numbers. Also, display the total number of followers. For example if you have 2101 followers on Twitter, 4097 on Facebook and 3012 people have subscribed to your RSS feed (so the total number becomes 9210) then write something like “Join more than nine thousand readers.” Having a great number of followers builds up trust with your readers – especially the new ones. People who visit your site for the first time usually look at the number of your followers before even reading a single post.

Take a simple analogy. If you want to buy an iphone and you walk down a new street and find two shops there. One is virtually empty and the other one is crowded with customers. Which one will you chose to buy from?

3) Give references to original sources wherever possible. References serve two main points. One, the readers would think that you are well informed and hence you would prove some authority on that topic.

Two, you’ll prove your honesty as you are not cheating from other people’s work.

I have never had any student or pupil under me to aid me with assistance; but have always prepared and made my experiments with my own hands, working & thinking at the same time. I do not think I could work in company...
— Michael Faraday
Letter to C. Ransteed, 16 Dec 1857. In L. Pearce Williams (ed.), The Selected Correspondence of Michael Faraday (1971), Vol. 2, 888.
Blogging equivalent - I have an acquaintance who is a good for nothing fellow. Despite being 26 years of age, he sleeps for 14 hours a day, is 108 kg, and does a menial job that barely pays off anything. I told him once about some different ways in which he can earn money but he rejected everyone with nonsensical arguments. Then I suggested him blogging and told him what it was all about. He said he can’t afford a graphic designer to create a logo, a web designer to create a professional looking website and doesn’t have enough money to buy a domain name. I said such things are not necessary and many people have succeeded by designing their logos and blogs themselves and buying domain names later when their blog started to earn money. He replied; “They are all God gifted.” Obviously this is a pathetic answer and let's leave this acquaintance of mine with his rubbish excuses on his own.

Take a look at this blog - Zenhabits. This is one of the most popular blog on how life should be lived. The design and logo of this blog is so simple that even a person with virtually no design skills can create it. In fact Leo Babuta, the owner of this blog and a former journalist created the design on his own. Yet it was featured in the Time's “The 50 Best Websites of 2011” list.

I quote below a passage from a guest post by Liane on ProBlogger who is a professional logo designer. The heading of the post is “The Ultimate Guide to Creating Your Blog Logo”.

If you have only the most basic design skills, don’t worry. Who says logos should be complicated, or loaded with effects? they don’t! Simplicity is your best asset. If you have average-to-above average design skills, lucky you! However, if you don’t have any knowledge at all in the field of design, don’t lose hope yet. There are many fool-proof design software products out there: just search for a few basic tutorials, and you’ll get the hang of it.
I’m not saying that you must do everything on your own. I mean to say that you can do everything on your own and if you have low finances then you should do everything on your own.

           It's going to take a long time to explain all the things I want to.
            - Richard Feynman
           QED The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, Chapter 1

Blogging equivalent – No matter how good your blog is, it takes at least some time before the word spreads and your blog becomes successful. Also, you cannot write everything in one night.

You have to be patient. Don’t expect to get rich in one night. Sites chanting slogans like “Get Rich in 3 Days by Reading My Ebook” are all scams.

You may have to face a lot of failure in the beginning and the odds are that you will not get instant success until of course you have an idea like that of Mark Zuckerberg.

Take the example of Farouk Radwan of 2knowmyself . He says in this video that he created six websites out of which five were an utter failure. The sixth one made him a millionaire!

My next post "The Science of Blogging - 2 of 2" continues the discussion presented here.
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