So you want to start blogging…

So you want to start blogging? You’re in luck. There’s never been a better time to blog than right now. The costs are low. The tools are easy to use. And the rewards can be great. Sit back and relax as I walk you through the basics of blogging.

But first, what is a blog? According to Google, a blog is “A web site on which an individual or group of users record opinions, information, etc. on a regular basis.” Blogs were originally created as a mechanism for people to publish their thoughts. Blogs were seen as a fringe tool used by average Joe’s to share their opinions online. But over time, blogs have become dominant websites on the internet.

Alexa provides a great list of the top sites on the internet. You’ll see that many of them are sites you use every day: Google, Facebook, YouTube, etc. No blogs here. These are transactional sites that serve multiple purposes.

But, when you look at some of the top media sites in the world, you’ll notice an interesting trend. Pingdom, an internet monitoring company, has provided an interesting snapshot: WordPress completely dominates top 100 blogs. This report mentions a bunch of sites that most of us instantly recognize: The Huffington Post, mashable, various Wired Magazine, New York Times & CNN blogs, etc. The key thing to understand here is that these are HUGE sites with TONS of traffic. And what do they all have in common? The publishers communicate with readers via stories (called blog posts). Readers interact with the content by reading, commenting and sharing that content with their friends.

All of this reading and writing and sharing generates tremendous website traffic, which translates into premium content sales (ebooks, subscriber only access) and ad revenue (sponsorships, display and text ads wrapped around the stories).

What does this have to do with you and blogging?

A lot – actually. These tools that are used by large multi-national, multi-million dollar organizations are available to each of us. And most of the same features are available for free. And the remaining features are available at a nominal cost. So, with a little bit of talent and a whole bunch of effort (don’t fool yourself, writing well is tough), each one of us can build an audience and reach our blogging goals.

Stick around… over the next few posts:

  1. I’ll give you a tour of the “tools of the trade“;
  2. I’ll teach you how to “build your Tribe”;
  3. I’ll show you various methods of monetizing your blog; and
  4. I’ll show you how to measure the success of your blog;

Talk soon!



Hamilton Spectator – now with a paywall

I stumbled across an interesting development this morning. The Hamilton Spectator, my hometown newspaper, recently erected a paywall. A quick google search told me that the paywall was installed a month ago (On or around September 13 2011).
The Spec paywall
This appears to be Torstar’s first experiment with the paywall model. (I could be wrong, so feel free to provide me with additional info in the comments below). Similar to Postmedia’s paywall experiment and the paywall experiments of the NY Times and others, Torstar is now entering the fray to try to monetize it’s content.

I’m curious to know why it took a month for the paywall message to appear for me – I am a regular reader of The Spec online and I should have received a notification on earlier visits to the site as well, no?

One thing that strikes me as a bit odd is the cap on free stories each month: The Spec is offering free access to 35 stories a month, after which visitors will be required to pay $6.95 a month ($2.95 a month if you are already a print subscriber) to read additional content.

35 stories a month? That’s almost double what the New York Times and the Postmedia papers (the Montreal Gazette and the Victoria Times Colonist) are capping. And, Torstar’s flagship paper, The Toronto Star, has no paywall. For years, my dad used to complain that The Hamilton Spectator was “full of yesterday’s news. Why should I read about it again?” And that was 15 years ago! I really enjoy the crime reporting in The Spec (go Susan Clairmont!), but I think I’ll be hard pressed to find 35 stories that can only be found on, and that will thus force me to embrace the paywall.

Might we infer from the 35 story cap that The Spec is inferior to other major papers? If that’s the case, then is this a good test of the Paywall model for Torstar? Alternately, is this a different test of the paywall model with a higher cap? If so, I hope that site visitors will be sufficiently tempted by unique content to want to read 35+ stories on the site per month. And, I also wonder if there’s a way around the paywall, similar to the NY Times’ unfortunate paywall sidestepping issue (is that a bug or a feature?).

One last thing: It would be great to see some metrics from the companies that are testing the paywall model. Similar to the old high school “hypothesis, test, analyze, report” way of doing things, I’d love to see some objective reporting on the true measure of paywall effectiveness. Does such reporting exist yet? If so, can you please provide links to that kind of research in the comments below?

It’ll be interesting to see how this experiment pans out. I’m all for trying to monetize content, and time’ll tell if this model works. Good luck to Torstar and their paywall experiment!



Why I bought a Kindle instead of a Kobo or a Sony Reader

Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, 6" Display, Graphite - Latest GenerationFull disclosure: I use an Amazon affiliate link in this post. See my disclosure page for more info on my use of affiliate links.

I bought one of the Kindle Wireless Reading Device, Wi-Fi, 6″ Display, Graphite – Latest Generation when they first came out at the end of September 2010. As a result (and because I’m a geek in general), a few people have asked for my recommendations on which e-reader to buy. Here’s my “pitch” to them: My two cents (or, why I bought a Kindle instead of a Kobo reader or a Sony Reader):

  1. Kindle’s form factor, with the keyboard, is the nicest of the bunch (yes, that’s subjective);
  2. Kindle’s e-ink screen was the best available when it first went on sale;
  3. Sony has a touch screen, but, according to reviews, it degrades the reading experience – the screen isn’t as clear apparently;
  4. Kobo reader was reeeeeally slow – I was excited by the sold-in-Canada Kobo, but it’s performance was terrible!
  5. Kindle has amazon’s back-end system behind it – my favourite feature is the ability to email content to your Kindle device it will even convert content when you email it. See here for more details:
    1. Kindle Personal Documents details
    2. Full Kindle feature-set
  6. Amazon’s inventory can’t be beat. They have a HUGE selection of books;

I bought my Kindle (the latest generation one that went on sale Sep 27) a couple of months ago and I love it. Primarily, I love it because of the reading experience. I have been a heavy reader on my ipod touch and my palm pilot before then. I find it easier on the eyes than a backlit screen. And, the battery life (almost a month!) is awesome. The killer feature for me though is the ability to email content to it. In fact, I have never synced my kindle with a computer. All content has been delivered wirelessly via email.

The Sony Reader is expensive for what it does. And, the fact that you need to sync with a computer makes it cumbersome to manage content. Those two factors alone put the Sony device out of the running for me.

Oh, and I only bought the Kindle with WiFi. I didn’t see a reason to invest in the 3g support.

One last thing… Calibre: If you’re a geek, if you like managing your book inventory on a PC, or if you simply like to tinker, I can’t recommend Calibre enough. It manages all of your books locally on your PC. It will convert them into different formats (EPub to Mobi to pdf, to whatever). If you don’t care about this, don’t worry about it. But, if this is something you’ve been looking for, then look no further.

Oh, as a bit of a footnote, CNet has provided a very informative post that provides some additional info and context required to make a decision. Don’t just take my word for it. See what they’ve got to say as well.

I think that’s it. What do you think? Why’d you buy the device that you bought? Or, what features are you waiting for before committing to an e-reading device? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.



Using Google Reader’s “Send To” feature in WordPress

I’m a heavy user of Google Reader (GR). In fact, I pretty much read all of my web content from GR. I rarely visit a blog directly. It’s so much easier to aggregate all of my favourite blogs in GR and read them that way. It makes me more efficient, as I can quickly skim through tens or hundreds of posts. And, I can email interesting posts to friends. I use gmail, and Google has integrated the ability to send to people in my address book directly from GR. Easy peasy.

A new-ish feature of GR is the ability to “Send To”. Basically, within a post in GR, I can send some content to another app. Some default places a post can be sent is Blogger, delicious, Digg, Facebook and Twitter. But I use WordPress. What’s a person to do? Well… there’s good news. The good folks at Google have opened up the API to allow additional “Send To” locations to be added. So, a bit of tinkering and I was able to build in a custom “Send To’ so that I can submit stuff I read in GR directly to my blogs. This makes it much easier to blog about items that I find in my reading within GR.

And, to help you out, here are the steps to add your own custom “Send To” for your WordPress blog:


  1. In Google Reader, go to “Settings” (top right hand corner of the screen);
  2. Click the “Send To” menu option in the top nav bar of the settings area of GR;
  3. Select any default “Send To” places;
  4. To add your custom “Send To” destination, click the “Create a custom link” button at the bottom of the screen;
  5. Here are the settings that I used to get my wirepaper blog set up:
  6. Name:
  7. URL:”${url}&t=${title}&s=${source}&v=2” (without the quotes and obviously, replace the “” with your domain name)
  8. Icon URL: (this is my custom avatar – feel free to substitute it with your favourite)
  9. Click “Save”.
  10. Voila! All done.

Go back to GR and give it a try. Let me know how this works out for you.


Making money using Amazon’s affiliate program – some advice from ProBlogger

ProBlogger Blog Tips offers some great advice on making money using Amazon’s affiliate program. It’s worth the read. Here are Problogger’s tips, broken into three posts:

 11 Lessons I Learned Earning $119,725.45 from Amazon Associates Program

10 More Amazon Associate Program Lessons I Learned on My Way to Six Figure Earnings

10 Last Tips on Making Money from the Amazon Affiliates Program

What’s your experience been like using Amazon’s affiliate program?