20 March 2012

The science of blogging - 2 of 2

Image courtesy - Salvatore Vuono of Free Digital Photos

This post is a continuation from my earlier post headed "The Science of Blogging - 1 of 2".

Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things. — Sir Isaac Newton
"Fragments from a Treatise on Revelation". In Frank E. Manuel, The Religion of Isaac Newton (1974), p.120.

Blogging equivalent – Keep your posts simple and succinct. Never repeat (“multiplicity”) yourself until its extremely important. Chose a big, clearly legible font size. Divide your post into as many sub headings as possible. Try your best to avoid all confusion.

I strongly recommend this post on Copyblogger about writing content.

Don’t use big words if any simple word would go.

Let me give you my practical example. This is my post on Problogger.

In the original transcript emailed to ProBlogger I had written in one place; “Keep blogging disputatiously.” They edited “disputatiously” to “diligently”. Well, I used that word because I couldn’t think of any other word that would convey my message. But I admit that “disputatiously” is a little heavy word and most people won’t know its meaning.

Here I would like to clear a common misconception. Many people believe that synonyms are words that have exactly the same meanings. This is wrong. (Please see the quote below for a full explanation.) Synonyms are two words that have approximately the same meanings. In fact, linguists say that no two words have exactly the same meanings. The existence of another word is evidence itself that it doesn’t have the exact same meaning as any old word since it would not have been invented if the old word was doing the job. G. H. Vallins writes in the second chapter of The Best English:

It is sometimes said that since no two established words are identical in meaning and use - that is, since there are no absolute synonyms - one word, and one word only, will be appropriate to any given context. As a rough principle enjoining on the ordinary writer the necessity for a careful choice of words, this statement contains a modicum of truth. But only a modicum. The words in any group of synonyms so far correspond in meaning as to be capable of use indiscriminately in some contexts; yet at the same time each will have a nuance of meaning, or a peculiarity of syntactical construction, that for a particular context renders it suitable above all others.

I never pay any attention to anything by experts... I calculate everything myself.
- Richard Feynman
Surely You're Joking. Mr. Feynman! (New York: Norton, 1985), quoted in Root-Bernstein, p.418.

Blogging equivalent – The experts can be wrong. After all they are only humans. So don’t accept the words of any successful blogger blindly. Just because he has made a successful blog doesn’t mean that he is a superman. Keep applying your brain. Do your own online experiments. Try out new things. See what works and what doesn’t for you.

Below I am sharing one practical example of mine.

When I set up my Twitter account, I didn’t follow anyone whom I didn’t want to. You see, there is a common tradition on Twitter that “you follow me and I’ll follow you.” I thought what is the use of having a follower who is not the least interested in my blog? Who is following me merely because I am following him? And I’m following him merely because he is ready to follow me. I am not following him because I am interested in his tweets.

But I saw people like Darren Rowse following more than seventy thousand people and in turn he had more than one lakh followers. Since he is a successful blogger therefore I trusted him blindly. Besides I thought that since I was new to Twitter there may be some advantages of following people randomly which I was until then not aware of. Hence whenever someone used to follow me, I immediately followed him back. (If I didn’t follow him in the next twenty four hours or so of his following me then he unfollowed me.) This way my number of followers began to increase.

Though the number reached to about thirty five from zero, I still wasn’t able to understand the advantage of having such unworthy followers. I say “unworthy” because those people never used to give any feedback on any of my posts and never replied to any of my messages.

Then something happened.

Darren Rowse gave a post on Google+ in which he said:

I have just taken the decision that in the next day or so I will be unfollowing every follower I have on my @ProBlogger Twitter account and starting again with following people... In the past few months I've realised that in trying to please everyone I am ending up making Twitter less useful to anyone.

See? My intuition was right and the expert’s view was wrong. I too then unfollowed all useless followers of mine and my number of followers decreased to about 20.

The following quote of Nobel Laureate of chemistry is worth mentioning here:

When an old and distinguished person speaks to you, listen to him carefully - and with respect but do not believe him. Never put your trust in anything but your own intellect. Your elder, no matter whether he has grey hair or has lost his hair, no matter whether he is a Nobel Laureate, may be wrong. The world progresses, year by year, century by century, as the members of the younger generation find out what was wrong among the things that their elders said. So you must always be skeptical - always think for yourself.
- Linus Pauling
1955 Advice to Students

And another quote of Feynman is fitting here:

The principle of science, the definition, almost is the following: The test of all knowledge is experiment.
-Richard Feynman
Lectures on Physics, Volume 1
See? The test of all knowledge is experiment. So someone’s words shouldn’t be taken blindly.

In giving these lectures there was one serious difficulty....
there wasn’t any feedback from the students to the lecturer to indicate how well the lectures were going over. This indeed is a very serious difficulty and I don’t know how good the lectures really are. I had never presented the subject this way before, so the lack of feedback was particularly serious ....
the best teaching can be done only when there is a direct individual relationship between a student and a good teacher.
-Richard Feynman
Preface, Lectures on Physics, Vol 1
Blogging equivalent: People will visit your blog only if they find it useful or enjoyable. So don’t give them what you like, give them what they like. Feedback is the best way to know what they like. Make accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc and talk to as many readers as possible. Seriously engage with your readership. Run polls. Ask them what they liked on your blog. Ask them what they will like to read on your blog. Tailor your future posts accordingly.

With this I come to an end of my two post series.I hope you enjoyed it.

This list could have gone on and on but I selected only those quotes that I thought could teach the most about blogging.

You may have noticed that while writing the blogging equivalents of quotes I have rushed through the material. A lot more could have been said on each scientist's quote but for the sake of conciseness I intentionally didn't write much.

These are just a few basic outlines that you should know while working on a blog. Usually many successful blogs about blogging say most of the above points over and over again. I have just presented an old wine in a new bottle.
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