Typepad: Often the best choice for serious but non-geeky bloggers

TypePad
If you want to start a serious blog and you’re not a geek, you’d probably want to use Typepad rather than WordPress. (Image via Wikipedia)

Right now, a lot of my colleagues (especially journalists) want to start building an independent online brand for the first time. Thus, they want to launch their first serious blog or site.

My universal advice in this case is: Don’t start from scratch (i.e., build a static site in Dreamweaver, FrontPage, or GoDaddy’s Website Tonight or SmartSpace). Instead, build your project with a popular professional-level blogging platform, even if you don’t want to blog at first.

Good blogging tools allow you to create static pages (which can comprise your whole site, if you like) and implement nearly any design strategy — while also playing nice with search engines, making your content easily linkable, and leaving your options open for more interactive approaches without having to totally rebuild the site.

Also, get a good domain for your site and use it. Over time, this provides far more search visibility and brand recognition (which benefit your career) — as well as options for easily switching platforms without losing those benefits — than a site bearing, say, a blogspot.com or WordPress.com domain.

Another reason to avoid free blogging platforms like Blogger for serious sites is that these tools are very limited. Once you get into blogging, you’ll quickly outgrow these tools — and moving a site is always a hassle.

After this, my colleagues typically want to know which tools to use to build their blog or site.

Personally, I’m a big fan of WordPress, the free open-source content management system. (It only started as a blogging tool; it’s grown.) I’ve used it for Contentious.com for many years. It’s flexible and offers just about any design theme or plug-in option I could possibly want — which encourages me to learn and experiment.

But let’s face it: I’m rather geeky. I actually enjoy spending time playing with new online tools and seeing what I can make them do. That’s not true of everyone — especially many journalists.

So to someone who’s not inherently techno-geeky and who wants start a serious blog or site for the first time (and who may want to start multiple blogs or sites), I actually recommend a different tool: Typepad, the inexpensive hosted blogging service from SixApart.

Here’s why… Continue reading

How to start a Twitter hashtag

More and more people are covering live events and breaking news via Twitter — and usually there are several Twitter users covering the same event. Hashtags are a handy tool for pulling together such disparate coverage.

A hashtag is just a short character string preceded by a hash sign (#). This effectively tags your tweets — allowing people to easily find and aggregate tweets related to the event being covered.

If you’re live-tweeting, you’ll want to know and use an appropriate hashtag. Earlier I explained why it’s important to propose and promote an event hashtag well before the event starts. But where do event hashtags come from?…

Doyle Albee, maven of the miniskirt theory of writing, asked me:

“I’ve used hashtags a bunch, but never started one. If, by some chance, there are two events (or whatever) using the same hashtag, does everyone searching just see both until one changes, or is there some sort of registration or vetting process?”

Here’s my take on this…

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Live-tweeting an event? Set your hashtag UP FRONT!

I do a lot of live event coverage via Twitter, and I also follow a lot of events (especially conferences) via Twitter. One thing I’ve learned: It helps your Twitter audience immensely if, before the event (or at the start) the people tweeting it develop a consensus on the hashtag for the event.

That’s what Horn Group VP Susan Etlinger did earlier, for the PR/Blogger panel her company is hosting tonight. She’s one of several Twitter users who helped launch this hashtag simply by adopting and promoting it:

Susan Etlinger helps launch a hashtag by using it.

Susan Etlinger helps launch a hashtag by using it.

And here’s the fruit that this kind of coordination can bear: Check out the #PRblog hashtag

…So: what’s a hashtag, and why is this so important?…

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Knight News Challenge: 10 Tips for Submitting Your Grant Application

UPDATE 10/31: It’s come to my attention that some applicants have already been rejected from the Knight News Challenge — which may seem odd, because the Nov. 1 midnight application deadline has not yet passed.  The Knight News Challenge just clarified, “Applications that were submitted instead of saved for later editing have been reviewed and either declined or accepted.”

So I’ve amended this post to reflect that information. My earlier advice to submit even if you still wanted to tweak your application was wrong, and I’m sorry for any confusion I caused.

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This year I’ve been mentoring several people who are applying for Knight News Challenge grants. The deadline for applications is midnight on Saturday, Nov. 1 — so this is your last chance to toss your hat in the ring for this year’s round of funding.

I’ve noticed a few idiosyncrasies of the submission process that may confuse some applicants, so here are 10 tips to help you get your application in order…
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Twitter Basics for Journalists & Recovering Journos

On Saturday, at the annual conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists, I gave a talk to an audience of mostly journalists explaining the basics of blogs, social media, and search visibility. People had lots of questions, more than I could get to in the session. I was getting stopped in halls, at parties, and even in bathrooms, to be asked things like, “Does it really make that big a difference if I blog under my own domain?” (Answer: Yes!)

OK, I don’t mind answering those questions. That’s really why I went to this conference — because I know that journalists (many of whom are facing potential layoffs, or who have already been laid off) are in dire need of online media awareness and skills.

So I’m going to do a bunch of posts answering questions, because it’s more efficient to do that via blogging. This is one of those posts.

By now you’ve probably heard about Twitter, the social media service that allows you to publish posts of 140 characters max.

What Twitter does, in a nutshell: This service allows you to receive posts (“tweets”) from other Twitter users whom you choose to “follow.” Likewise, other Twitter users can choose to follow you. When you follow someone on Twitter, their tweets show up in reverse chronological order in the “tweetstream” that scrolls down the Twitter home page when you’re logged in. The effect is somewhat like an ongoing Headline News version of what’s happening in the minds and worlds of people you know or find interesting.

Twitter also supports rudimentary public and private conversation between users.

THE VALUE OF TWITTER

In my experience, Twitter’s biggest payoff is that it allows you to gather a personal posse who can support you in powerful, flexible, speedy ways.

Also, if you’re choosy about the people you follow, Twitter can be quite an effective radar screen for news or relevant issues.

But there are many other potential benefits, especially for journos…

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Twitter for Newshounds: My New Strategy

Today I set up a new Twitter account just for following the news. It helps.

I’m both a media/news geek and an avid Twitter user. Also, several news organizations post their current headlines and breaking news updates to Twitter. These facts have dovetailed nicely for me — I follow several news orgs on Twitter.

But this morning, I had to make a change. The news orgs were drowning out the people on Twitter. And I want — and need — to hear both.

Most news orgs that post to Twitter do so with a minimum of effort. They use Twitterfeed: a free service that automatically converts items from your RSS feed into Twitter updates (“tweets”) to your account. News orgs generally update their sites — and hence their feeds — very often. Therefore, it’s common for several tweets from a news org to hit Twitter all at once. The problem is that in a scrolling display like Twitter’s (and most third-party applications for accessing Twitter), this can have the effect of visually crowding out posts from individuals. This only gets worse if you follow more than one or two news orgs via Twitter.

I have several Twitter accounts, which I use for different purposes, so I mainly access Twitter using Twhirl — a popular Twitter application that supports multiple accounts. So I just set up a new Twitter account (newsamy) specifically for managing my news subscriptions. I then “unfollowed” all news orgs at my main Twitter account, and started following them (plus several new ones) at newsamy instead.

Now, when I want to keep an eye on Twitter, I keep a window for each account open in Twhirl. This makes it much easier for me to see what more people and more news orgs are saying. I can close either or both windows when I want less background noise. So far, I really like it.

My plan is to not post any tweets at all from my newsamy account — it’s strictly a listening post for me. So there’s no point in anyone following me on that account, nothing will be happening there. But here’s the list of news orgs I currently follow there. (UPDATE: LOL, I already changed my mind about that. Had to complain to USA Today about a particularly useless tweet of theirs.)

Does your news org post to Twitter? If so, you might want to leave a comment telling Red66, so they can add you to their list. If you want me to follow you, send me an “@ reply” on Twitter to my main account (@agahran) and I may check you out for awhile. (Don’t send a reply to @newsamy, I don’t receive replies there.)

UPDATE: Matt Sebastian mentioned that another Twitter application, Tweetdeck, can help accomplish similar goals by allowing you to create groups within your list of Twitter friends (people you follow). That’s another great solution. However, at this time it doesn’t appear that Tweetdeck supports multiple Twitter accounts. Personally, I need to use multiple accounts (especially since I have amylive for live event coverage via Twitter) — so Twhirl is a better option for me at this point.

NOTE: I originally posted this to Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.