Becoming a better blogger

(The following is a condensed version of my talk on how to improve your blogging skills during the Visayas Blogging Summit last Saturday. The summit was well-attended and had several corporate sponsors, an indication that blogging has indeed gone mainstream in Cebu)

WHAT’s the goal of effective blogging? What should you strive for if you want to build a blog following beyond your circle of family and friends?

Make it worth readers’ time

Why should readers take time to visit your blog? Why should people read your article? Today’s high-paced, technology-driven culture offers a lot of distractions. There are billions of web pages on the Internet. Why should people, who are not your friends or relatives, take time to read your blog?

People visit a blog or read an article because of either or both of two things: 1) they’ll learn something from it, or 2) they’ll enjoy the experience of reading it. Strive to provide both but one out of two isn’t bad.

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Poynter lists tips on how to build an engaged audience

Poynter associate editor Mallary Jean Tenore lists tips for online journalists to build an engaged audience online in her post “5 small steps journalists can take to build a bigger, more engaged audience.

The post provides great pieces of advice on getting the word out on your article like letting your news sources and people who may have a stake in your article know about the piece through the social networks. To be effective, Tenore suggests that you include their Twitter and Facebook names in the update so that they can be notified.

She also suggests linking to the work of other news sites and informing them about it.

Tenore also suggests engaging with others covering your beat and tweeting follow-ups “that help advance the discussion about your story.”

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Building with WordPress: From sketch to prototype to company website in 5 hours

Aside from being a good blogging tool, WordPress is also a lightweight content management system that can be used to run such diverse sites as news or magazine publications, personal and organizational websites.

I recently started accepting paid web development work and website management. Several weeks back, I bought a domain, Tugkaran.com (from the Bisaya word for staging ground), and created a static HTML page as placeholder because I did not have time to configure WordPress to run the site.

Building with WordPress FROM SKETCH TO WORDPRESS DESIGN. The steps I took from planning a site to deploying a custom WordPress theme for it using Yahoo UI Grids Builder, Aptana, and Bluefish.

But when one of my projects was about to go live, I needed to quickly build Tugkaran because I already placed a link to it in the footer. I spent whatever time I could spare from newsroom and web development work building Tugkaran, 30 minutes or so here, an hour there, a few minutes here.

It took me five hours to go from sketching the site on paper, protoyping the design in HTML, and setting up WordPress with the custom theme. The site was designed “live.” Developing it locally and then replicating the work in the server would take more time—which I didn’t have.

The Tugkaran website still needs a lot of work but it will do for now. I’ll polish it when I have more time. If you want to study the files I worked on, you can download it at the end of this post.

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BLOGGING MEET. Blogie Robillo (2nd from right) talks about his experience organizing events for Davao and Mindanao bloggers. With him are (from left) Kevin Ray Chua, Xerxes Bernadez, and Wilson Ng.

Davao, Cebu bloggers meet

A dozen or so Cebu-based bloggers met in Bo’s Coffee Club on Osmeña Boulevard in Cebu City yesterday afternoon.

Winston organized the gathering by posting an invitation in his site for a meet-up. Winston and Blogie Robillo then shared with Cebu bloggers how they were able to organize the Davao blogging community.

DAVAO, CEBU BLOGGERS. Wilson Ng talks about plans for the coming Mandaue Business Month during the meet-up of Cebu-based bloggers. The business activity in August will have several tech-related events.

DAVAO, CEBU BLOGGERS. Wilson Ng talks about plans for the coming Mandaue Business Month during the meet-up of Cebu-based bloggers. The business activity in August will have several tech-related events.

I came into the meet-up from a meeting with Wilson Ng and Rio Calle on a web development project related to the Mandaue Business Month in August. During the meet-up, Wilson presented his plans for the Mandaue activity, which will include several technology-related events.

During the meeting, the bloggers agreed to meet regularly for coffee on certain weekends. Winston gathered contact details of those present and will be setting up a mailing list to centralize discussions related to Cebu blogging meetings and events.

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Cebu bloggers to meet tomorrow

Several Cebu-based bloggers are set to meet tomorrow
at 2 p.m. in Bo’s Coffee shop near Capitol and Cebu Doctor’s Hospital. The meet-up is being organized by Winston, the blogger at BatangYagit.com.

Quite a few Cebu-based bloggers have already confirmed their attendance. I’m also attending the event and, if I can remember to bring them, hand out the remaining Ubuntu CDs still not claimed by Sun.Star Cebu readers.

Many of those attending use WordPress to run their blogs. The meet, organized by Winston so that he can meet Cebuano bloggers, might be a great time to start a local WordPress users group, what with Blogie Robillo attending.

If you’re a Cebuano or a Cebu-based blogger, let’s meet tomorrow
at 2 p.m. Manny Pacquiao‘s gonna win anyway. If not, we can drown our collective sorrow on espresso.

Escribitionism with Twitter and Fring

I never thought that I’d be enjoying it but here I am, using Twitter regularly for the past week. Twitter is a micro-blogging service that has become all the rage among tech-savvy folk and many connectivity addicts since last year.

With the service, you can write short (140 characters) updates about yourself and have these published in your Twitter account or your website and blog. These updates can also be sent as text message or instant message (IM) notifications to your friends and anyone “following” you.

I signed up for a Twitter account last year but never got around to using it regularly. I sent a few messages to the account as a demonstration on the use of various media during a seminar for Salesian priests.

The main reason I wasn’t using it regularly was the price for each message you send via SMS. To use Twitter via SMS, you send your update as a text message to an international phone number. For each Twitter update, you are billed one international SMS charge.

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Cebu bloggers meetup

If you’re a blogger based in Cebu, please drop by at the iBrowse Internet Cafe near Cebu Doctor’s University at the North Reclamation Area on Thursday, Feb. 7 at 6:00 p.m. We are organizing a short blogger meet-up there with the indefatigable DigitalFilipino founder Janette Toral.

Janette will be in Cebu for a workshop on Web 2.0 applications and Internet marketing on Feb. 7 and 8. She is also working on a project for bloggers’ involvement in the 2010 elections. We talked about it last year and agreed it would be great to gather Cebu bloggers to talk about blogging and the elections.

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Enhancing blog comments with avatars

I’ve just re-enabled Gravatar support for this blog. Gravatar, for globally-recognized avatar, is a service that publishes avatars or graphic representations of people who comment in your blog. Check out my previous posts to see gravatar in action.

I used the service some time last year but stopped it after a few months when I encountered problems.

To get your own Gravatar, just sign up for an account at the Gravatar website. Prepare a square image and then upload it to the site. Associate the image with your e-mail address and you’re done.

gravatars1
SIGN-UP for a gravatar account to have images show up next to your comments.

With the service, the image you picked will show up whenever you leave comments in blogs and websites that support Gravatar. Make sure you use the e-mail address associated with your account when you post comments.

If you are a website or blog owner, check these guidelines at the Gravatar website on how to implement the service. The service has its own WordPress plugin but I’m using the plugin written by Skippy and now maintained by ZenPax. The plugin allows local caching to deal with problems on server congestion in the main gravatar site.

You want someone to represent the Philippine blogosphere? Get Sybil

Blogger Jayvee Fernandez caused quite a ruckus in several Philippine blogs recently when he accused Janette Toral of “misrepresenting the Philippine blogosphere” for her own merit.

Clueless that I was, the first person I asked, via IM, about Jayvee’s “Bloggers, MISrepresent” post was Janette. She then told me that she suspected that she was the subject of the post. The two, it seems, have now settled the issue. Disclaimer: Janette writes a weekly column for the newspaper I work for but I do not deal with her.

I will not deal with Jayvee’s criticisms of Janette’s presentation. But I don’t think his criticisms are enough to support his allegation that Janette misrepresented “the Philippine blogosphere.”

But a core issue in the whole exchange is something that I feel strongly against. Some people have this unfortunate tendency to box blogging–and the people who practice the craft–in.

Bloggers, including Filipinos, are a varied lot. We’re not a clone army.

Some make a living off their blogs, others don’t. Some are journalists who blog, others are bloggers who are now also journalists. Some blog to get laid, others get laid off because of blogging. Some are atheists, others are devoutly religious. Some use WordPress, others Blogger, Multiply, Serendipity, etc. Some are link whores, others are plain whores (and I love them for it). Some are good cooks, others are kitchen disasters waiting to happen.

To represent such a diverse group of people, you need to have an extreme case of schizophrenia.

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Upgrading WordPress Lightbox plugin

I just upgraded the Lightbox 2.0 plugin I use for my WordPress installations. I use Lightbox 2.0 extensively for snazzy image loading effects in my blog and all the other sites I run. The script loads images in an overlay window and dims all the other parts of the page.

Lightbox plugin LIGHTBOX FOR WORDPRESS. The Lightbox plugin I use for my WordPress installations now works with the WordPress post editor. Click on photo to preview Lightbox effect in loading larger version of image.

You can try it out with the photo that comes with this post (it won’t work, though, if you read this on an RSS reader or in your e-mail, you have to go to my blog).

In the new version, WordPress Lightbox 2 0.6.3, the lightbox button now works with the WordPress post editor, albeit only in the code view. In previous versions, you had to save the post before the lightbox button appeared. The new version only supports WordPress 2.1 and higher and uses the Prototype and Scriptaculous library that come bundled with WordPress. The new version now allows you to easily enter group names for photo sets.

In upgrading from earlier versions, I suggest you disable the plugin and then delete the entire folder before uploading the new version. I tried just overwriting the plugin and encountered errors.

For more on how to use Lightbox to implement snazzy image loading in your blog, check my tutorial in this post.