One problem with the blog space is that there is a lot of negativity. Many people seem to think that if they don’t like a blog post then the thing to do is to write a post complaining about it – or even worse a complaint that lacks specific details to such an extent that the subject of the complaint would be unable to change their writing in response. The absolute worst thing to do is to post a complaint in a forum that the blog author is unlikely to read – which would be a pointless whinge that benefits no-one.
Of course an alternate way for the recipient to taking such complaints as suggested by Paul Graham is “you’re on the right track when people complain that you’re unqualified, or that you’ve done something inappropriate” and “if they’re driven to such empty forms of complaint, that means you’ve probably done something good” (Paul was talking about writing essays not blogs, but I’m pretty sure that he intended it to apply to blogs too). If you want to actually get a blog author (or probably any author) to make a change in their material in response to your comments then trying to avoid empty complaints is a good idea. Another useful point Paul makes in the same essay is ““Inappropriate” is the null criticism. It’s merely the adjective form of “I don’t like it.”” – something that’s worth considering given the common criticism of particular blog content as being “inappropriate” for an aggregation feed that is syndicating it. Before criticising blog posts you should consider that badly written criticism may result in more of whatever it is that you object to.
If you find some specific objective problem in the content or presentation of a blog the first thing to do is to determine the correct way of notifying the author. I believe that it’s a good idea for the author to have an about page which either has a mailto URL or a web form for sending feedback, I have a mailto on my about page – (here’s the link). Another possible method of contact is a comment on a blog post, if it’s an issue for multiple posts on the blog then writing a comment on the most recent post will do (unless of course it’s a comment about the comment system being broken). For those who are new to blogging, the blog author has full control over what happens to comments. If they decide that your comment about the blog color scheme doesn’t belong on a post about C programming then they can respond to the comment in the way that they think best (making a change or not and maybe sending you an email about it) and then delete the comment if they wish.
If there is an issue that occurs on multiple blogs then a good option is to write a post about the general concept as I did in the case of column width in blogs where I wrote about one blog as an example of a problem that affects many blogs. I also described how I fixed my own blog in this regard (in sufficient detail to allow others to do the same). Note that most blogs have some degree of support for Linkback so any time you link to someone else’s blog post they will usually get notified in some way.
On my blog I have a page for future posts where I invite comments from readers as to what I plan to write about next. Someone who prefers that I not write about topic A could write a comment requesting that I write about topic B instead. WordPress supports pages as a separate type of item to posts. A post is a dated entry while pages are not sorted in date order and in most themes are displayed prominently on the front page (mine are displayed at the top). I suggest that other bloggers consider doing something comparable.
One thing I considered is running a wiki page for the future posts. One of the problems with a wiki page is that I would need to maintain my own private list which is separate, while a page with comments allows only me to edit the page in response to comments and then use the page as my own to-do list. I may experiment with such a wiki page at some future time. One possibility that might be worth considering is a wiki for post requests for any blog that is syndicated by a Planet. For example a wiki related to Planet Debian might request a post about running Debian on the latest SPARC systems, the first blogger to write a post on this topic could then remove the entry from the wish-list (maybe adding the URL to a list of satisfied requests). If the person who made the original request wanted a more detailed post covering some specific area they could then add such a request to the wish-list page. If I get positive feedback on this idea I’ll create the wiki pages and add a few requests for articles that would interest me to start it up.
Finally to encourage the production of content that you enjoy reading I suggest publicly thanking people who write posts that you consider to be particularly good. One way of thanking people is to cite their posts in articles on your own blog (taking care to include a link to at least one page to increase their Technorati rank) or web site. Another is to include a periodic (I suggest monthly at most) links post that contains URLs of blog posts you like along with brief descriptions of the content. If you really like a post then thank the author by not only giving a links with a description (to encourage other people to read it) but also describe why you think it’s a great post. Also if recommending a blog make sure you give a feed URL so that anyone who wants to subscribe can do it as easily as possible (particularly for the blogs with a bad HTML layout).
Here are some recent blog posts that I particularly liked:
- Security Anti-Pattern: Path based access control from Joshua Brindle (feed). A fairly strong criticism of path based access control (as used in AppArmor). I’d have written something about this myself but Joshua did it so well that there’s no need. His post about Status Quo Encapsulation is also a good read. It’s a pity that Joshua doesn’t write more than two posts a month.
- Federico’s post about concrete for housing. Some technical data and some good pictures. (feed)
- Tim Connor’s blog posts about Australian politics (feed), particularly this post about interest rates (especially his latest comment). It’s a pity that Livejournal seems to offer no good options for searching and the comment in question has broken links. I would be happy to offer advice if Tim wanted to switch to a self-hosted WordPress installation (as would some other bloggers who are members of our local LUG).
Here are some blogs that I read regularly:
- Problogger (feed), I don’t think that I’ll be a full-time blogger in the forseeable future, but his posts have lots of good ideas for anyone who wants to blog effectively. I particulaly appreciate the short posts with simple suggestions.
- Mega Tokyo (feed) – A manga comic on the web. The amusing portrayal of computer gaming fanatics will probably remind most people in the computer industry of some of their friends.
- Defence and the National Interest (feed). The most interesting part of this (and the only reason I regularly read it) is the blog of William S. Lind (titled On War. William writes some very insightful posts about military strategy and tactics but some things about politics will offend most people who aren’t white Christian conservatives.
It’s a pity that there is not a more traditional blog feed for the data, the individual archives contain all posts and there seems to be no possibility of viewing the posts for the last month (for people who read it regularly in a browser and don’t use an RSS feed) and no search functionality built in.
- WorseThanFailure.com (was TheDailyWTF.com) (feed) subtitled Curious Perversions in Information Technology. Many amusing anecdotes that illustrate how IT projects can go wrong. This is useful for education, amusement, and as a threat (if you do THAT then we could submit to WorseThanFailure.com).
- XKCD – a stick-figure web comic, often criticised for the drawing quality by people who just don’t get it, some people read comics for amusement and insightful commentry not drawings. It’s yet another example of content beating presentation when there’s a level playing field.
Finally I don’t read it myself, but CuteOverload.com is a good site to refer people to when they claim that the Internet is too nasty for children – the Internet has lots of pictures of cute animals!