A few weeks ago I stumbled upon one of the most helpful discussions (audio/visual link) I’d heard or read about Entrepreneurial Blogging for quite some time. It was by a guy named Glenn Fleishman who I’d actually read the blogs of numerous times but whom I’d never really heard speak about blogging before. I wrote up my impressions from his session at BBS and have found myself coming back to it numerous times since. I immediately knew that Glenn was someone that I’d like to feature on my weekly interviews and so approached him.
Glenn has gone above and beyond the call to do this interview and has put a lot of time and energy into his answers for which I’m grateful. This is an interview I’m very proud to post here and hope that you find it as helpful as I have to hear the experiences and advice of a Pro Blogger who has been making a living (at least part of one) online for some time now.
ProBlogger – Glenn can you briefly tell us a little about yourself – how do you introduce yourself to new people?
Glenn – Sure. These days, I say I’m a journalist. I divide my about 30 to 40 percent writing for print, 30 to 40 percent writing for online (my own and others sites), and the remainder on projects like isbn.nu, a book-price comparison service I’ve run since 1999.
I’ve been lucky enough to follow my bliss. I started as a graphic designer, getting a degree in art as an undergrad at Yale in 1990, working for Kodak’s miraculous (and brief) Center for Creative Imaging in Maine from 1991 to 1993, and then getting into publishing as a managing editor of a small computer book firm.
I’ve always wanted to write, and I was eventually able to connect with enough people who encouraged me and introduced me to the right folks to start working for trade magazines, and then break into The New York Times, Fortune, Wired, and Business 2.0. During the dotcom heydey, I was sometimes in several magazine issues on the newsstand at once, which really boosts the ego.
Glenn – Paul Andrews, a fellow Seattleite, was a relatively early journalist blogger, and he convinced me by example that a blog made sense. I started my own combination of personal and professional blog at blog.glennf.com (then a different URL) in fall 2000. I continue to write about all manner of things there.
But Wi-Fi Networking News arose because of reporting I had done from Oct. 2000 to Feb. 2001 that led to a cover story in Circuits in the New York Times. I wrote the first mass-market feature about public Wi-Fi hot spots. That article captured some of the business and individual excitement about what was going on in that space.
The Times published nearly 1,500 words of what I wrote, but I had piles of interviews and interesting information lying around that were my own. I wound up starting the Wi-Fi blog as a way of running the overflow research into something useful. Even at that time, there was a fair amount of news–mostly consumer–about Wi-FI.
It turned relatively quickly from a side project into a labor of love. After I started to see thousands of daily page views, I attracted sponsors which led to some real revenue, making it affordable to devote more time to it. I eventually added Google AdSense, which has been a very nice source of revenue that’s required no effort, and have a partnership with Jiwire, an editorial site on Wi-Fi with a vast hotspot directory. They pay me certain fees in exchange for selling ads on my site and our cross-linking arrangement.
But here’s the kicker: my authoritativeness in writing about Wi-Fi for print came out of the site. At the point at which I wasn’t sure I would have time to keep writing the Wi-Fi site, I found I was getting work because of it. Some of my editors reader it, but, more importantly other writers read it and referred me to editors. I am a very collegial guy to begin with and have started some real friendships from exchanges that started through work I was doing on the site.
Our average weekday sees 8,000 to 10,000 page views and several thousand visitors, and I know that when I call a company in the Wi-Fi space, they know who I am, and may have even read what I wrote that morning. It’s great.
I started Droxy with Weblogs, Inc., because I’m interested in digital radio and felt there was a gap in the online coverage of it. So I’m bringing the same approach to that burgeoning field. Wi-Fi Networking News has a lot more original coverage and reportage at the moment, but I’ll eventually start interviewing and doing other work on Droxy.com that isn’t just commenting on other folks’ stories. Right now, it’s a clearinghouse, but it will become a site that mixes news and commentary on on stories.
I’ve been able to break several major and minor stories at Wi-Fi Networking News, and that’s been exciting, too.
ProBlogger – Are you (have you been) involved in other website projects? What advantages and disadvantages do you see in it in comparison to other formats of websites.
Glenn – I haven’t written much online except for other established editorial sites that are typically either a large network (like O’Reilly or CMP’s Pipeline sites) or the online adjunct to a print publication, like Macworld.com. I just wrote an article for Macworld.com that will run online and then be slightly condensed for the print issue.
ProBlogger - Did you start your blogs for commercial reasons or because of your interest in their topics (or a combination of both)? Do you think a blogger needs to be passionate about a topic to blog successfully on it?
Glenn – It all started with passon and obsession. The Droxy.com site is a little less passion and more interest. But I was fascinated by Wi-Fi and didn’t find it strange to spend hours each day writing about it.
I should mention that I’ve started a few other entirely uncommercial sites about areas of interest. Regular Sucking Schedule is about RSS syndication and bandwidth problems. It had a flurry of activity and I’m waiting to see more news or come up with more ideas.
And ISBlogN is a meta-information site about books. I’m writing about the business and details of managing information about book information. It’s fascinating, and I’m thinking about starting a bibliographic Wiki to store openly available details from page count to plot summary for books.
ProBlogger – What do you see as the potential for blogging? Do you think its got a shelf life or do you think its here to stay?
Glenn – Blogging has so many forms already that it’s part of the landscape. If someone were to question whether blogging is a fad or a permanent part of Web life, I’d ask if Web pages are a fad or a permanent part of society now. Blogging is a great rubric that encompasses a huge amount of activity that involves chronologically based entries often focused on extremely narrow topics that spread ideas through blogospheric tools like RSS syndication, trackback, and Technorati.
ProBlogger – In your presentation at BSS you said ‘Links don’t bring Bucks’ or blogging that is just about linking up to what others are writing is not really a commercially viable business model for blogging. Can you expand on this for us? Is there a place for ‘link blogging’ in combination with original content?
Glenn – Link blogging is a great shortcut to find things of interest that you know that people who follow a field will point you to. But I don’t see many sites that just link and don’t write original prose having any commercial appeal even if they have a number of regular readers.
The minute you link and then write 200 words explaining the story or deconstructing it, then you’re doing something different. Some people move seamlessly back and forth between linking and commenting and original writing. Kottke does a nice job in throwing in piles of links on his blogs between longer bits.
ProBlogger – In that presentation you also spoke about ‘finding an empty space’ to blog in. The blogosphere seems to be getting more and more congested –are there any commercially viable ‘spaces’ left and how do you go about finding them?
Glenn – Trickier and trickier. If you’re obsessed and a space is filled, you’re a little out of luck unless you can bring a new, unique edge or voice to the area. The Internet is a big place, so it is possible to make a name for yourself. I wouldn’t start a general gizmo blog right now: Engadget and Gizmodo are the 1,000-lb gorillas of the space and there are literally thousands of other sites that specialize in slices of that, like phone cameras or keychain-based games or Japanese schoolgirl leading edge electronics.
But that doesn’t mean that if your obsession is flash based devices like MP3 players, cameras, and biometric recognizers, that you can’t carve out that space.
ProBlogger – What would be the main advice that you’d give someone just starting out with entrepreneurial blogging?
Glenn – Plan to devote 5 to 10 hours a week to it for three months. If you can’t commit to that, you’ll never turn it from a personal site with a few posts into a hobby.
Use photographs. There are almost always legitimate press photos that can be used without problems of products. It’s trickier with human beings: photos of people tend to be owned, and it’s much more compliate to “borrow” them even if linked back to the source. (In those cases, using a detail of a photo linked to the original is seen as appropriate as you are referencing instead of replicating). But photographs jazz up a blog and make it much more appealing.
Use a blogging tool. There are many tools for posting to a blog outside of a Web interface, and they all help you spell better, post correctly, have well-formatted HTML, and many help upload photos, too.
ProBlogger – What is your favourite blogging tool or service?
Glenn – I’m stuck with MovableType for better or worse. It’s pretty good, but I’d like some more tectonic changes to it instead of the incremental ones. I expect there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that will surprise us when it reaches public beta or release, though. They’re clever folks.
I say stuck because there have been various problems and irritations with how it stores and represents data that I have coped with in migrating from one server to another and other issues. But it’s, on the whole, very robust now and works just fine. I don’t want to migrate again.
I use ecto, which is now available on Mac and Windows, for posting to my blog. It’s a great simple tool that I find quite lovely.
ProBlogger – How much time do you spend each day blogging? Do you ever get sick of blogging? If so, what keeps you going?
Glenn – Wow, I hate to think of it. This week, I’ve been writing excessively about a strange report on municipal broadband that turned out to be published by a group that’s funded by companies in opposition to municipal deployment of data and cable services. So that’s taken up maybe 20 to 25 hours. It’s been worthwhile, though, and I was both Slashdotted and BoingBoing’d today for my troubles.
Most weeks, I spend between 5 to 10 hours blogging. Many times it’s hard to split blogging from print/online journalism. I’ll often be able to use a detail from an interview or review to expand on in my blog that’s part of a piece I wrote. My rule is that the piece has to appear in print before I supplement it. Since I drive more traffic to my journalistic outlets by blogging about it, it’s actual a bonus for them that I write more than they can fit.
ProBlogger – What are your favourite 5 blogs (daily reads)?
Glenn – I have about 200 feeds in my RSS aggregator. Top 5, huh? GigaOm is number 1. Dan Gillmor is a must read. Everything at Corante has to be perused, at least. David Weinberger (JOHO). Buzzmachine. Hey, I did come up with five.
ProBlogger – What are your hopes and dreams for your blogging? Where would you like to see it take you?
Glenn – I’m enjoying the ride so far, and I don’t know that I have an end goal. This year, I’m trying to see if I can launch a few new related blogs to subjects I already write about in the hopes of increasing traffic and revenue to a point where I can write more for myself than other publications. We’ll see how that works out, but long term, I’d like to be writing primarily for myself and contributing feature-length articles to publications in which I can write in depth about my niche.
ProBlogger – What do you think will be the main changes/advances/challenges to blogging in the next 18 months.
Glenn – Podcasting is a big trend, and I wonder if it’ll stick. I think it will. But producing audio is hard, and so we’ll see a lot of frustrated people try and give up. I think the more general notion of enclosure syndication, which was pioneered by folks like Adam Curry and Dave Winer years before I understood what it meant, might help alleviate the email problem.
If every email program built in or offered plug-ins for RSS/Atom syndication, and if publications that now deliver via email used enclosure tags to deliver full text via this mechanism, then you eliminate email subscription as a necessity.
We need a tool that lets individual and groups connect through a secured feed stored on a server so that I can “email” you via my email client, but it actually pushes text to a server that your email client retrieves. This is a very primitive version of email in some ways, but we have the mechanisms now where this point-to-point or spoke-hub-multi-spoke delivery system might be better.
The more sophisticated syndication becomes, the better it is for bloggers who live and die on how many people are reading them through RSS readers.
The ongoing challenge is a social one: the general media seems challenged by blogs, and wants to stick simple labels on them as a whole. So there’s a possibility of an even bigger blog backlash than we’ve seen, but I don’t think it will stop people blogging.
People want to read and hear a real voice. This is why marketing is doomed to failure. No one believes it except the marketers. Real voices trump canned voices. That’s part of the Cluetrain Manifesto (paraphrased) and it’s why blogs have taken off in all realms.
ProBlogger – What has it been like working with Weblogs Inc? What are the benefits of joining a network like this as distinct from your own personal blogging? Do you see it as the future of blogging?
Glenn – They’re great. It’s neat to be part of a group of literally dozens of people all with overlapping content areas, all excited about writing. The financial part is interesting, but it’s kind of detached. We aren’t worried about money or technical details (unless the site is down due to overwhelming traffic as happened during the Consumer Electronics Show!) or business relationships. We’re writers. The biz and tech folks deal with all the sponsors and ads and servers. We’re not told what to write. (We’re asked to do some cross-promotion, but that’s part of the blogging game.)
I’d like to thank Glenn for the obvious time and energy he has put into this interview and hope that you have found it as helpful an interview as I have.