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Smashing Magazine’s Tipping Points

Smashing MagazineToday Vitaly Friedman, Chief Editor of Smashing Magazine shares the tipping point/s of that blog.

Since the very beginning of our magazine we had only one goal in mind: helping out fellows designers and developers, smashing them with the information that will make their lives easier. Since then we have explored a number of different ideas and topics in our magazine. Some of them were extremely popular, some haven’t interested our audience at all. Probably the first “tipping” article has been the post 53 CSS-Techniques You Couldn’t Live Without which appeared in January 2007.

This was the point when we realized that what we do is actually considered valuable by thousands, literally thousands, of designers and web-developers across the globe. We have received numerous e-mails then. Some of people who contacted us then still have contact with us, support us and send us useful stuff which they consider to be useful for our readers. This first tipping point brought us a lot of backlinks and strengthened our community which we’ve started to build in the beginning of 2007.

With the post Data Visualization: Modern Approaches we’ve managed to achieve something we have never achieved before: gain support for our research and respect for the work we invested in it. This post has become popular in scientific circles, in academia, professors have linked to us in their blogs, popular bloggers have mentioned us in their articles, even some article in New York Times has mentioned us. It was August 2007.

We realized then that we shouldn’t be afraid of rather complex issues and topics, research them being hard and stubborn, find relationships, identify important issues, think about them, evaluate them and come up with our personal opinion about what is best and what should be avoided. Today we still continue to research intensively, identify ideas, evaluate them and present them to our readers. This is how our Monday Inspiration series was born – and we have 28 issues so far.

The third tipping point was the post Wanted: Your 404 Pages where we’ve asked our readers to create beautiful, functional and user-friendly 404 error pages for their own web-sites. Afterwards we’ve collected the most creative, usable and elegant solutions. This post was a tipping point, because we’ve finally managed to involve our community in making the Web better, prettier, more useful and more effective. We continue to do it today. And we’ll make sure our readers will have something to do in the future as well. ;-)

More Blogger Tipping Points

ProBlogger The Book – Readers Pictures Round 1

Last week I asked those readers who have bought a copy of the ProBlogger book to send in a picture of them with the book. I put up 3 prizes for my favorite pictures (a book at Amazon to the value of $20). Below you’ll see all of the submitted pictures. The first three are my favorites and win a prize.

If you’d like to send your photo with/of the ProBlogger book simply upload it to your blog, Flickr or some other online photo sharing service and then share the link in the comments of this post.

In another two or three weeks I’ll do another mashup of the photos. You’ll get a link back to your blog and the chance to win one of three books (to the value of $20) from Amazon (this should give time for most people to be able to get a copy).

problogger-book-1

from Tim and his very cute dog

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from Kelvin

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from Charles (who seems to have eyes in the back of his head)

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from Chappysmom

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from Lowell

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from Benjami (who is reading the book on holidays)

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from Rui who bought one for him, two to give away on his blog and one for a friend.

problogger-book-8

from Panzer

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from Melody

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from Chris Brogan

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from Enrique

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from Mike and his pets (never thought I’d see a pig reading ProBlogger)

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from Umm Yasmin

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from HH

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from Nick (with his review)

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from Barney (his review)

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Livecrunch – see his mini video review here

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from Claire

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from JEMI

Thanks to everyone who took part – looking forward to seeing the next batch!

12 Traits of Successful Bloggers

I was just doing an interview on an Aussie radio station and was asked to name some traits of successful bloggers. My initial reaction was to giggle – because no two successful bloggers are the same – however as I began to answer I realized that there are some common traits among bloggers who gain popularity. Here’s a list, presented in no particular order, of some of the traits of successful bloggers that I observe:

1. Creative and Playful

PlayfulnessOne of the things I love about blogging is that it can be a very playful space. Bloggers who find new ways to communicate old truths and that have the ability to surprise their readers with fresh perspectives and means of communication often find themselves on a fast track to a wide readership. Also, in the midst of ‘playful’ experimentation new discoveries come that help a blogger to develop in maturity and influence in their niche.

Image by Yelnoc

“There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.” – Edward de Bono

2. Innovative

InnovationOften ‘innovative’ is used to describe a blogger’s use of technology – but it goes well beyond this. Innovative bloggers are those that are able to extend and explore their topic in ways that others are not. They are thought leaders and forge into new ground not only in the way that they present in what they say.

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs

3. Connectors

ConnectedMost successful bloggers that I’ve interacted with have an insatiable desire to connect with as many people as they can. They have an ability to connect not only with their readers but other bloggers and key people in both the online and offline world. Their networks are often far reaching – enabling them to draw on all kinds of relationships when needed.

“It’s not what you know but who you know that makes the difference.” – Anonymous

4. Community Enablers

CommunityThere are many blogs with great information – but it’s those that are able to draw in and build up a community of passionate and energetic people that often go to the next level. Readers are no longer satisfied just to consume content – they want to participate and belong online. Successful bloggers don’t always actively participate in or lead the community aspect of their blogs but they do have an ability to attract other community builders and to empower them to build a community around the content on the blog.

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” – Jane Howard

5. Information Mavens

MavenSuccessful bloggers are often quite addicted to the gathering of information. What sets them apart from other information gatherers is their ability to filter the vast quantities of information that they collect and to identify and communicate that which applies to others.

Image by dsevilla

“What sets Mavens apart, though, is not so much what they know but how they pass it along. The fact that Mavens want to help, for no other reason than because they like to help, turns out to be an awfully effective way of getting someone’s attention.” Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point).

6. Communicators

CommunicatorSome might think that this point is all about bloggers having the ability to write well – but that is only part of being a good communicator. Successful bloggers have a knack of knowing connecting with readers that goes beyond the way they use words. Good communication has more to do with knowing your audience and connecting with their needs and desires. Successful bloggers have the ability to trigger some sort of response in their reader.

“The two words ‘Information’ and ‘Communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” – Sydney J. Harris

7. Interest

InterestedBloggers know how to be interesting – but being interesting starts with being interested. Most successful bloggers that I’ve met would blog on their chosen topic for free – because they have some kind of passion or interest in it themselves. This energy that they have for their topic shines through and is infectious to others. It’s one of the main reasons that readers are drawn to them.

“There are two levers for moving men: interest and fear.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

8. Entrepreneurs

EntrepreneurSuccessful bloggers are always on the look out for opportunities to go to the next level. They leverage what they currently have to grow something more. They don’t just rely upon others to make their dreams a reality but are self starters and ‘doers’ that go and get what they want.

“The entrepreneur in us sees opportunities everywhere we look, but many people see only problems everywhere they look. The entrepreneur in us is more concerned with discriminating between opportunities than he or she is with failing to see the opportunities.” – Michael Gerber

9. Originality

OriginalityIt is difficult to be unique in the blogging space but successful bloggers find ways to make what they do stand out from the crowd. They develop a distinct voice, use media in different ways and develop their own unique spin on life that sets them apart from the rest.

“Eveyone is a genius at least once a year. A real genius has his original ideas closer together.” – Georg C. Lichtenberg

10. Perseverance

StickabilitySuccessful bloggers know that it takes time to grow a blog and look past those initial awkward months (and longer) after a blog is launched to motivate them to persevere. They do know when to give up when something isn’t working but also have an ability to develop their blog’s with focus and discipline and unswerving conviction over the long haul.

“If at first you don’t succeed, get a bigger hammer.” – Alan Lewis

11. Focus

Focus-1What strikes me about many of the most successful blogs out there is that in a time where there’s an incredible development of new technology happening that many of them don’t allow themselves to get distracted by it. Yes they experiment and play with new ways of delivering content to readers but they don’t become distracted from their core task of producing useful and engaging content for readers. Being able to identify what matters most and sticking to it is so important – particularly in a medium with so many time sucking distractions.

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.” – Swami Vivekananda

12. Curiosity

CuriosityLastly, one of the traits that I see in many great bloggers is a restlessness and a dissatisfaction with the current state of play in their world/blog/industry. They are not content to sit comfortably but are always exploring, pushing boundaries and experimenting. They are curious people who are always asking ‘what if….?’ – a question that leads to all kinds of discoveries and possibilities that the rest of us could only dream of discovering.

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” – Walt Disney

What Are The Unspoken Rules of Social Networks?

Bruce Simmons asks:

Social Network sites like Digg and StumbleUpon and what not seem to have unspoken rules about who can promote a blog. What I mean to say or ask is: OK, with Digg, one cannot submit their own blog. But Twitter, you can chest thump all day long.

Do have a list of what sites you can ‘chest thump’ on and other sites that you are reader dependent on?

What are social networking sites?

This is an interesting topic, and I feel that we should start with some very basic information. Contrary to what some people might think, social networks were not born online with Friendster and MySpace. Social network, in fact, is a very old term used to describe any social group where individuals and/or organizations form a specific structure with nodes and connections. Here is the Wikipedia definition:

A social network is a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as values, visions, idea, financial exchange, friends, kinship, dislike, conflict, trade, web links, sexual relations, disease transmission (epidemiology), or airline routes. The resulting structures are often very complex.

The Internet completely changed the way people used to communicate and interact, so it was a natural step to create virtual social networks, or social networking websites. Back in 1979 Usenet, a global Internet discussion system, was already attempting to accomplish this.

Then in 1995 you had perhaps the first online social network as we known them today, ClassMates.com, which the purpose was to allow school mates to connect.

What about social bookmarking sites?

While websites like Digg and StumbleUpon do have a social factor, I don’t think we can classify them on the same level as MySpace or Friendster. Mainly because they have different scopes: the first two aim to let people share and discover new websites and online stories; the second two aim to let people with similar interests connect online.

You could consider Digg and StumbleUpon a sub-category of social networking sites, for example. Social bookmarking sites is what I would call them, but you have many other definitions floating around, including community bookmarking sites and social news aggregators.

Centralized vs. Decentralized Social Networks

Now that we have a clear understanding of social networks and social bookmarking sites, let’s get back to the central question. What are the unspoken rules of these websites? When someone can promote his own content directly, and when one should refrain from doing so?

In order to draw the line that divides the accepted and unaccepted behaviors, I think that we need to classify those social networking sites under two different groups: centralized social networks and decentralized social networks.

Note: That is a classification that I came up with, so I am not sure if it has being used in the past or not, and if with the same meaning. Feel free to suggest other interpretations or to disagree with my theory in the comments below.

Centralized social networks are those where the actions of the single elements will inevitably affect the whole community. That is, all the actions flow to the center.

Digg is an example of a centralized social network. Every time you submit a story, digg or bury a story submitted from another user, ask for votes or try to manipulate the system in your favor, your actions are inevitably affecting the whole community.

Centralizednetwork

That is because all members of Digg use the front page of the different sections to stay updated with the hot stories around the website.

The same principle applies to StumbleUpon. The central part of their system is the “Stumble!” button on the toolbar. Virtually all the members use that button to discover new and interesting websites. As a consequence, whenever you give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to a particular story, and whenever you share the stories you liked with friends, you are affecting the experience of all the other members of the community.

Twitter, on the other, is a decentralized social network. There is no central or core location where the actions of the single elements flow to. The system allows you to create you own micro communities, and your actions inside those communities will not affect people outside of them.

Decentralizednetwork

That is, you can decide who you follow, and other people in turn will decide if they want to follow you back or not. Suppose someone starts using Twitter solely to promote his own website. Users that are not following that person will not even notice what he is doing, and the ones that are following him can simply remove the follow to stop receiving his messages if they find them annoying. Finally, if someone likes to receive the promotional messages about the website of this person, he can keep following him.

Now you might ask me: so are all social bookmarking sites like Digg or Reddit centralized, and all standard social networks like MySpace and Facebook decentralized?

That is a good rule of thumb, but it is not always the case. Most social bookmarking sites are centralized, including Digg, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Mixx and Propeller. Some, however, are not. Del.icio.us is an example of a decentralized social bookmarking site. Provided you use the service to save your own bookmarks or to share them with friends, the actions of other users will not affect your experience.

As for standard social networking sites, I would say that most of them are indeed decentralized. Of course you have people trying to spam and manipulate those websites nonetheless, so the action of abusive users can end up affecting the whole community. But that is the exception and not the rule.

Conclusion

By now you should already know the answer to the original question. Whenever we talk about decentralized social networks, you can use them in whatever way you desire (well, excerpt for spamming). You can promote your website, yourself, express your opinions and what not. You will create your own micro community on those sites, and your actions there should not affect the other members, so they will hardly care.

Consider Twitter again. There are people who use it as a micro blogging tool. Others use it as an instant messaging utility. Others yet use the tool to promote their websites, and some people are even trying to sell their Twitter accounts on eBay! It is all good though, because each user has the autonomy to decide who he will follow, who will be able to follow him, and what micro communities he will join.

As for centralized networks like Digg or StumbleUpon, you will need to play under the rules of the community. Usually these rules will encourage you to be active in the community and to actually help it grow. Self promotion and system manipulation are frowned upon.

Practically speaking, can you get away with the occasional submission of your own stories? Yes. Can you use it over and over again solely to promote your own stuff? No.

Over to you

Do you agree that some social networks are centralized, while others are not? Do you think people should avoid completely promoting their own content, or there are exceptions?

Daniel Scocco is the author of Daily Blog Tips. You can stay updated with his blog tips by subscribing to his RSS Feed.

Monday Morning Coffee with Darren and Guy

Filename-1Over the weekend one of the more comprehensive interviews that I’ve done of late went live over at Sun.com. The interview was with Guy Kawasaki (he interviewed me) and covers everything from:

  • Small Business Blogging
  • How much bloggers can make
  • Seth Godin’s “no-comments” policy
  • ValleyWag’s “ask us permission to comment” policy
  • Blogging tools
  • RSS Feed Readers
  • Some of My favorite blogs
  • Google PageRank
  • Six Figure Blogging
  • Technorati and Yahoo’s future
  • And More

There’s 18 questions in all – enjoy.

Take the Blogging Survey

Chris Garrett is running a Global Blogger and Blogging Survey which I can’t wait to see the result of. Take the survey here.

Wendy Piersall Shares her Blog’s Tipping Point

Today Wendy Piersall from Sparkplugging answers my question of about when her blog had it’s Tipping Point.

This is actually a difficult question for me, because there were several tipping points. The first one was the first link I received from an A-List blogger – you. It opened up a lot of doors for me. But obviously, links from A-List bloggers can only take you so far, and can’t really act as a tipping point in and of itself.

Thinking back, it would be an obvious answer to say that when I switched from a blog to a blog network was the major tipping point. But in reality, I was already the top blog dedicated to working at home before that. So I can’t really pinpoint one singular tipping point as “THE” thing that happened to put me on the map.

Instead, there were small, but important, tipping points that worked together along the way:

  • The day I changed my editorial decisions from what I wanted to say and based them instead on what readers wanted to read as determined by analytics and reader feedback
  • Winning a ticket and going to Elite Retreat, allowing me to meet and work with some seriously talented marketers
  • Announcing that I landed a writing gig with Entrepreneur.com based on my previous blogging track record
  • Speaking at my first blogging conference, SOBCon ’07
  • Changing to a blog network in September ’07
  • Changing from eMoms at Home to Sparkplugging in April ’08

Honestly, any one, or even any two of these things wouldn’t have likely been a singular tipping point. It’s the fact that I worked incredibly hard to reach continual milestones, never ‘resting on my laurels’ so to speak. And even now, I’m still thinking “OK, mission accomplished on name change and network expansion. What’s next??”

OK, so there you have it, I think I found it while writing this. The tipping point comes daily when we ask ourselves “What’s next” while simultaneously allowing ourselves to take credit for a job well done. :)

Understanding the Blog Lifecycle To Prevent Common Downfalls

In this post Jeff from BuzzMyBlog.com examines the life cycle of a blog and gives some tips on how to buck the trend and keep your blog growing over the long haul.

The average blog does not stick around for a long time. Sure, a couple big name blogs continue to reach new heights year after year. Out of the 175,000 new blogs created each day, however, very few will make it past three months. In order to figure out why the blog mortality rate is so high, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the life cycle of a typical blog. Perhaps by studying common blog activities that occur over time, we can get a better idea of why blogs fail and what can be done to keep them alive and growing.

Blog Traffic Over Time

The graph below represents the amount of traffic a typical blog receives over time. The yellow numbers on the graph represent “hypothetical posts” with certain activities that a typical blogger will engage in along the way. These activities are important in determining whether a blog will fail or flourish. Each one is discussed below.

Traffic V Time

The lifecycle of a blog

1Hello World, Welcome To My Blog

Without a doubt, this is the very first post every single newbie blogger makes. Basically they are announcing to the world that they do, in fact, have a blog. It doesn’t take very long before the blogger grows concerned and wonders why no one has visited it, not realizing that there is practically no reason on earth why anyone actually would.

2EntreCard Is The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

Not long after their first creative masterpiece kicks off their journey into the blogosphere, the typical blogger actually begins to learn a few things. They start reading other blogs in their niche and realize just how crowded their niche really is. They post a few articles that contain the exact same thing that every blog before them also wrote about after two weeks. Usually it has something to do with how great EntreCard traffic is. It usually includes a screenshot of their first spike in traffic. The blogger is ecstatic because people are actually visiting his or her blog. Whether people are actually reading it is another question.

3Top 10 Ways to Skin a Cat

At this point, the blogger is really picking up a few tricks of the trade. Perhaps they have discovered Digg or StumbleUpon and begin their quest for the illustrious viral post. They realize that top ten lists are often popular with social media sites and are good for a quick whirlwind of traffic. A few of them might even get lucky here and experience their first server crash because their $3.99 hosting plan can’t handle a few hundred visitors from Digg.

4Win a Free Xbox 360

Jackpot. After a month or two of blogging, the not-so-newbie blogger has discovered the holy grail of attracting visitors – bribe them with the promise of gold and riches. They hold an exciting contest on their blog asking visitors to comment, subscribe to their feed, link to their site, and sell their soul for a chance to win one of $263.00 in prizes. Unfortunately for the rest of us, it actually works. Traffic is at an all time high, the blogger is pumped, they are ready to take down the A-Listers.

5Why I Hate EntreCard

At this point, reality starts to sink in. The blogger has used up all the tricks in the book and is no longer attracting a record number of visitors. Traffic starts to decrease as the blogger realizes that he or she actually needs to publish something of substance. Perhaps in their moment of clarity they see the light and realize that social media traffic isn’t always that valuable. In fact a third of their traffic might have been nothing more than “drive-by clickers” trying to rack up credits for the latest and greatest social media racket. To prove to the world that they have seen the light, they vow to focus on quality content and avoid time consuming gimmicks. Traffic decreases further.

6Britney Spears Is My Baby Mama

The blogger is now desperate. Unable to think of anything inspiring to write about, they resort to off-topic drivel that has nothing to do with their blog. Their blog is on its last legs and gasping for air as the author starts to become frustrated and loses interest. Blog posts become less frequent and traffic continues its downward spiral. The blog is at a critical point – will it fight to see another day or will it continue its slow death and become another statistic. Its three months are up.

How To Keep Your Blog Growing

At point 6 and beyond, it is up to the blogger as to whether their blog will live or die. They can give up and move onto the next thing that catches their attention (Guitar Hero?). Or they can decide to stick with it and fight through the difficult times. Those that choose the latter option will find that with some patience, determination, and yes unfortunately…some hard work, their fledgling blog can develop into a solid online presence that that people enjoy reading day after day. With time and patience comes practice. Eventually writing becomes easier and topics are not as difficult to uncover. The blog finds its voice and writing can become passionate again.

It is not easy to maintain a successful blog. For those who are willing to put in the hard work and dedication, the following tips might help them prevent the downward death spiral.

  • Focus on quality content. Stop wasting all your time discovering the latest and greatest Web 2.0 app. All the time you spend messing around on the web you could be using to focus on your blog. I don’t care what anyone else says. Ultimately, the very best thing you can do for your blog is to focus on writing something people will enjoy reading and want to return for more of.
  • Schedule Routine Posts. After time it does become difficult to think of new post ideas. Setting a schedule of post topics is a great way to make it easier on you. For example, every Monday my blog publishes its Weekly Buzz blog review. Wednesdays I try to publish serious articles about improving your blog. Then on Fridays I like be a little more interactive and post something to involve my readers, like a poll, an interview, or something that sparks a discussion. Knowing what theme you should write about that day helps narrow down the options and keeps you focused.
  • Write A Blog Series. This technique is very helpful and is used often here at ProBlogger. Write about something that cannot be covered in a single post. This gives you a chance to get your readers hooked and anxious to come back for more. It gives you, the author, the chance to prepare posts for the next five or six days. A perfect example is Darren’s recent series on increasing your AdSense earnings.
  • Run a Worthwhile Contest. Contrary to what I said earlier, contests actually can be a good way to build and maintain your blog’s momentum. If you run a contest though just make sure it is done for a good reason. Don’t just ask your readers to write about you or subscribe to your feed. What is in it for them? Ask them to take a survey or to participate in an experiment, or something else that you can then write about after the fact. Your readers will appreciate that they actually get something out of the contest even if they don’t win.

In the end, it really is up the owner whether the blog will survive beyond the typical three month lifespan. I hope this article was helpful in pointing out where many blogs tend to fail and what can be done to prevent that from happening.

Happy Blogging!

This post is a guest post from Jeff at BuzzMyBlog.com, a blog about bloggers helping bloggers to become more successful. It is the home of the Weekly Buzz offering free blog reviews and weekly prizes. Sign up for the RSS feed to stay up to date on the latest buzz.

On Making Your Blog Design Work For You

I’m doing most of my linking out to the great posts that I read over on Twitter these days but today a post by Chris Brogan got my attention that I’d particularly like to highlight. You can read it at:

Make Your Blog Design Work For You

What I like about the post is the intentionality that Chris emphasizes in his post. He starts the post with the key in my mind:

“Everything I’ve done with my blog design is intentional.”

He goes on to emphasize that everything on your blog needs to come back to the goals you have with your blog.

I think this is really important to get your head around. I’ve chatted to many bloggers who get sucked into designing their blogs to be ‘cool’ or ‘look great’ – but who fail to consider how their blog’s design takes them closer to reaching their goals as a blogger.