Home > Musings, Personal > Thoughts on Blogging: “Turn Up The Good, Turn Down The Suck”

Thoughts on Blogging: “Turn Up The Good, Turn Down The Suck”

September 3rd, 2008

The factors described in this post loosely determine which types of blogs I've been subscribing to.

Quality over quantity: Some blogs adhere to rigid posting schedules. I've never paid attention to a blog's schedule and wonder if anyone (beside the author) does. I find scheduled blogs result in diluted content and that their posts become daunting to sift through. Eventually I start skimming all their content and might unsubscribe altogether.

Consolidated feeds are bad mmmm-kay: Occasionally blogs consolidate posts from multiple authors, or group similar topics into a single feed, this results in excessive noise with no granular filtering capabilities. I won't subscribe.

Personality is important, Professionalism is dull: Personality should permeate your posts. Software development is kind of boring, live it up, inject some originality, show your true colors, try to be funny, take the risk. We're all human, your readers aren't robots and zombies. As a subscriber I'm more interested in getting to knowing you (the developer) than how professional you're trying to be. Professional flavoured blogs run the risk of being too sanitary – a lesson learned the hard way *yawn*.

Easy on the code: I look at code every day. I'd rather read something funny, inspiring, thought provoking, philosophical, or related to the human factor of software development. Code in blogs can often come across as filler, if I really needed more code I'd head down to Google Code, CodePlex, and download one of the many projects (take a look at Chrome). With code, there's a million ways to do the same thing, if you're code isn't in my specific problem domain, then I'm falling asleep already.

Subscribing and reading blogs is important for software developers and knowledge workers in general. Blogs offer cross pollination of ideas between problem domains, organizations, and people. What factors determine the blogs you read?

Author: Adam Kahtava Categories: Musings, Personal Tags:
  1. September 12th, 2008 at 05:36 | #1

    Injecting personality into a technical blog seems like a mistake to me. You can liven up the writing somewhat but the blog is ultimately not about you. If you go too far in one direction you end up with Justice Gray. Anywhere in the middle and you just sound like everyone else. Which might be okay, but rarely is a blog a good place to "be yourself". I’ll unsubscribe if the ratio of technical content to pet photos isn’t 1:0.

    I can’t agree with your last point. Why would we advocate less code on a blog and not more? If we can agree that blogs are a better source of relevant, quickly decaying information than technical books are, we should want more snippets, examples, and explanations, not less. We are rarely innovators, more assemblers, and with the exception of a few exceptional people who focus daily on human factors issues, I don’t get a lot of value out of bloggers waxing on development.

    If the code on my blog isn’t in your problem domain, you don’t subscribe to it, you subscribe to one that is. The value of your blog as a niche or a particular topic means it doesn’t matter how many people read it. If you care about that statistic you’re not blogging for the right reasons.

  2. Adam Kahtava
    September 12th, 2008 at 05:36 | #2

    This isn’t a definitive guide to blogging, instead it’s a personal reflection on what types of blogs I’ve been subscribing too. I’m not suggesting anyone to literally adhere to these guidelines, it’s more food for thought.

    Personality in a technical blog is a personal choice… :) I find myself favouring blogs with personality. In the past I would occasionally get upset with the poor level of "professionalism" of some blogs. Things change, now I see them as a way to liven things up, share some ideas, and have fun. I don’t suggest anyone to inject their personal life (pets, relationships, …) into their blog. I do enjoy reading personal stories tied to relevant issues though.

    While blogs can be a better source for code then books, active source code repositories can be even better. I think there’s a point where code in books, and blogs becomes irrelevant. If you can read code, why not just dig into the real source code? Perhaps code in books and blogs are specific to a certain type of developer? I dunno – again just a personal observation.

    For the record, I do read most of your code. ;)

  3. September 13th, 2008 at 05:38 | #3

    I actually didn’t have much to say other than I obviously agreed quite vociferously with Adam; however, since my name has now been thrown into the mix I thought I’d respond.

    > You can liven up the writing somewhat but the blog is ultimately not about you. If you go too far in one direction you end up with Justice Gray.

    First of all, I definitely disagree with the statement that "the blog is ultimately not about you". A blog, technical or not, is also about the developer in question. Otherwise it simply becomes another bland regurgitation of facts or links like 90% of the other "technical" blogs out there.

    Now, keep in mind I also come at my own blog from the perspective of a consultant where there is much more to a successful career than strictly coding, like personality and ability to effectively communicate ideas in a *memorable* way.

    Admittedly, this does depend on your motivations. I started my blog simply because I like to write, not because I necessarily wanted to set myself up as God’s gift to software development, though of course we can take it for granted that I am. ;) Just as an anecdotal thing, my blog has actually *never* interfered with my ability to get work, and in fact if anything has helped it immensely. It might not work for everyone but there’s a careful balance (notice for example that I never use foul language on my blog nor do I denigrate any employers past or present).

    Obviously, Daniel, given your post above people like myself are not your cup of tea (although I have yet to post pet photos). However, there is a sea of fairly boring technical blogs and for those people who are thinking about "how to blog" I think, like in work or in life, being true to yourself is the best recourse.

    My goals in blogging I feel are fairly obvious, primarily focusing on some commentary on our industry as well as expanding my network of peers and friends through my involvement online. However, what about you two (Adam and Daniel)? I’d be curious to hear more.

  4. September 14th, 2008 at 05:39 | #4

    Let’s see if I can find a common theme among us here. First, on the topic of code in books and blogs being irrelevant, I agree, and it’s something I struggle with, and why I’ve been spending more time planning a new approach for my blog than blogging itself, which fits in nicely with Adam’s point about avoiding a fixed deadline for the purposes of appearing relevant or prolific. Justice is considering this from the more contributory "How should I get started with my own technical blog?" and in that light you definitely don’t want to encourage false passion by, say, writing a post every single day, which I’ve read as a suggestion on other posts. I don’t think it fits in our genre.

    Adam and I both want to steer source code examples, whether they’re in a book or online, towards a "story" or context. This means that we’re not looking at a code snippet or a contrived demonstration, we’re looking at code with a purpose, solving a need whether it’s my specific one or someone else’s, and trying to extract the useful principle or pattern out of it. This is a great way to learn, and for my own goals I want to wrap my blog around a central theme, with post content, screencasts, an on-demand print book, an open source repository or two, anything that establishes a connecting line between problem, solution, and hopefully someone learning something. All the same, some people might need a walk-over-run approach to learning, so sometimes a snippet or two will help them along where a URL to an SVN repository will just invite avoidance.

    Next we’re talking about personality, though I believe we’re also talking about audiences at the same time. I’m not sure any of us are "getting it right" with our respective blogs, but, I’m not sure it matters much, either. While Adam has amped up his philosophical style, the balance of his content is similar to mine: demonstrative code examples, promoting involvement with lots of use of the words ‘you’, ‘we’, but rarely ‘I’, solving issues in web technologies, trying to get a conversation going. Unfortunately for us, comparing selections of our posts we actually sound like the same person.

    Justice sounds like nobody but Justice. When I said that if you inject personality on one extreme, and you end up with Justice Gray, I meant that you get a blog that is about the person and not the code, or more idealistically not about a coding theme. I’d guess that the vast majority of Justice’s audience are senior developers, team leads, and architects; the audience knows the drill, and comes for the humour and insights beyond the funny. I’m definitely not "all business" when it comes to my blog subscriptions, I enjoy Justice Gray, Ted Dziuba, and Fake Steve Jobs in moderation, but I thought that we were discussing technical blogs, with a technical audience, whereas these other blogs are definitely development-related, but I’d categorize them as "developer culture".

    Now the interesting bit for me is that I get almost 300 times more traffic on philosophical posts without source code. So while I may strive to provide a rich thematic experience with tangible benefits for readers, the kind of people that make use of my code posts are hitting Google and searching for "LINQ data layer", finding the relevant code, and then disappear into the night. The people that stick around want to hear more about what to do, not how to do it. Since I got into the blogging game because I love to teach, this requires an adjustment for me.

    I can’t possibly be sure Justice’s blog has helped or hindered his consulting career (it’s quite possible that it helps a great deal) or whether it doesn’t factor in at all, just based on the idea that people who confer consulting contracts aren’t necessarily the audiences that read our blogs, rather than our resumes. We are likely talking exclusively to other developers that share our story. I have experienced receiving a comment about a post from a developer in my own company, who had no idea who I was, but wanted to ask a question about code I was demonstrating. I don’t believe that our blogging activities are making much noise on a business radar, but for me it remains a valuable exercise to help frame my own development goals in terms of providing value for other people. It forces me to think about the design from that angle and lets me provide guidance for people trying to accomplish the same thing.

    So I think I over-generalized and framed Adam’s post as an admonishment of technical blogs, asking that they be effectively less technical. I don’t think that adding personality always means "try to be funny", and I don’t know what the magic formula of personality over professionalism is, though I’d hope that both would always exist together. Developers often have the same sense of humour, so if I attempt to liven up my posts with things I find funny, I take a more pronounced step towards uniformity than if I had left it out. That, and I’d rather not get into the ring with the hilarious and astute two-punch button-smashing combo that is Mr.Gray. I just don’t have the legs to write in that world.

    Each of us has a different reason to blog, a different subject to blog about, and a different audience that reads our blog.

  5. Adam Kahtava
    September 14th, 2008 at 05:41 | #5

    I started blogging to for the sake of having a blog, and to impress recruiters, HR managers, and perhaps even become an MVP. The blog was boring to maintain, read, and embarrassing when connecting with established bloggers.
    Things have changed since then, I try to share personal experiences, and lessons I’ve learned along the way. For me software is about people, creativity, team work, passion, and promoting heuristic approaches. I value transparency, humility, and integrity and try to exude these values in my writing while having some fun.

    Jay Feilds’ has an interesting post reflecting on his maturity progression, I think it’s similar to what I’ve gone through:

    “The difference between passionate and dogmatic is slim, but the result is dramatic. … It’s easy to spot the difference between a dogmatic entry and a passionate entry. … Passionate entries are much more likely to see successful application, even if they don’t make the top of reddit.
    - http://blog.jayfields.com/2008/09/passionate-not-dogmatic.html

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