Friday, January 12, 2007

Blogs, Wonderful Blogs!

I missed an opportunity to post...but never late than never! Right? Right!

I recently listed several of my favorite international blogs in a seriously-overdue Feeds Favorites list here at Resolution. I read most of them frequently. Since posting those, I've gone on and found several more blogs --I happened to be in a Kenya mood... Once I've had a chance to find some more favorites, I'm sure I'll add to my list.

I encourage you to check them out. You can gain great exposure to what the world is like in some third world countries. Here are a couple of favorite posts as examples, from Togo, Kenya, Togo and Indonesia:

How are white folks perceived?
How are black folks perceived?
What kind of education is available in developing worlds?
What, er, sort of facilities are there in these places?

Now, keep in mind that these are NOT all typical, which is why I remember them. But they are nevertheless enlightening, and actually very fun to read. I'm seriously amazed at how good some of the writers are. (Maybe I shouldn't be so amazed, because of how the magic of technology and networking works... You never hear about the zillions of crummy blogs. Even searches will tend to find popular blogs, which tend to be popular because they're better written than other blogs.)

For my less blog savvy friends, here are some suggestions to make blog reading simpler and more enjoyable.

1) Subscribe to the blogs you like. There are many many ways to do that. What I think is simplest and most effective is to have the "feeds" delivered to your home page.
2) If you haven't already created a home page, well then I would suggest that this is yet another good reason to have a home page. I've chosen Google, but I used to use Yahoo, and they're both pretty flexible. In either case, you can have your computer remember all the right stuff and easily view new blog entries with little effort.
3) An advantage of Google is that subscribing to new blog feeds is made very easy if you have installed the Google toolbar. Somehow, the toolbar knows what sites have "feeds" and turns on a subscribe button. Clicking that button adds the "feed" to your Google home page. (Sometimes, there are multiple feeds to choose from. I pick one at random and can't tell the difference.)
4) Read. Read the new posts that pop up on the feeds. For the more interesting posts, you'll probably enjoy comments that others have left. Click on them. You don't have to read ALL posts or ALL blogs or ALL comments.
5) Leave comments. Bloggers love them and you get a chance to join the conversation.
6) Follow links from one blog to another
7) Check blogger profiles for blogs that you find interesting. Amazing what you learn about people and perspectives. You think a blog is written by a resident of Nairobi, but, nope, turns out they live in London. Or similar. You thought they were Christian, but turns out they're Buddhist.
8) Share! Email your favorite blog posts to your friends. There are some wrinkles here... Blogs have their own URL (i.e. web address), but what appears at that address may change quickly. If you want to share the whole blog, then use the blog address (usually that's the shortest address). On the other hand, if you want to share a specific post, then you will want the "permalink". How do you find that? Sigh. Well it depends... If you see the name of the post under "recent posts", you can click on that and you'll usually get the "permalink" in the navigation bar of your blogger. In "blogspot" blogs (like this one), the permalink is available, rather cryptically, in my opinion, by clicking on the time marking just following the post. In my browser, hovering the cursor over the time causes a little message to pop up, saying "permanent link".
9) Want a different perspective on something? Anything? Search for the topic using a blog search tool. True to my Google bias, I use Google Blog Search. Pick a tool (or two or three) and bookmark them for easy reach.

So now you know everything you need to know! But maybe not. I've probably lied a bunch without knowing it. If I have, and you know it, then please leave a comment for the benefit of me and others. If you think I told the truth, but aren't sure, read the comments! Wiser folks than me will tell the real story!

Welcome to the Borg

Been away. I'll spare you the excuses. The good news is that I've got great news, and that has compelled me to return and post! Be patient, the "Borg" thing comes toward the end...

From September through December, my favorite pastime has been working at Appropedia. During that time, the site has grown, and I can see my own impact in helping that happen. The three core activists at Appropedia finally managed to have an actual phone call, with all three participating, late in December, and at some point I was celebrating the progress and the traffic at Appropedia and casually projected 10x growth over the coming year. Lonny, the actual founder of Appropedia (Chris and I both founded our own wikis before deciding to jump on board Lonny's), countered that he believed we need to be at 100x by the end of 2007.


Well, after the call, I decided to do some math (that's what you do if you have a BS in physics). I had already captured some Appropedia statistics for a few months, so I had some numbers to work with. It turned out that, as long as we continued to grow as we had been growing, Appropedia would very likely hit the 100x traffic target Lonny had suggested. Well, that was very encouraging on one hand, but really just changed the question around. Okay, so how the hell are we going to keep on growing like we did before? The way a little bitty site grows 50% is not the same way that a bigger site grows 50%. Great. How do we achieve the NEXT level? I started wondering what the New York Times charges for ads.

A day or two later, Chris shoots an email thread with notes he had swapped with Eric, cofounder of WikiGreen, a larger but much less active (essentially hibernating) wiki with nearly identical goals and motivation. (The reduced activity at WikiGreen seemed to be a result of very limited "marketing" activities on their part compared to Appropedia.) The discussion was, basically, what might we do together? Eric mentioned that he had been in extended discussions with another semi-aligned group about the possibility of them hosting or joining WikiGreen. Or something. Seemed like the other group was finally interested. At the same time, Eric made several inviting comments with respect to WikiGreen and Appropedia joining forces. At the end of the thread, Chris suggests that we try to engage with the third party since that would be the best outcome.

Boy did I squirm!

Here we had two parties very much aligned and ready to rock & roll, plus a third party who had demonstrated extended reluctance. I could see where Chris was coming from, but I figured, hey, if those other guys are truly interested, it won't matter which partnership comes first, right? But I carefully checked in with Chris first, and he asked for my patience. So I was extremely patient and basically waited an entire day. Maybe it was two. At some point, Eric sent a reply to the thread. I couldn't help it. I blurted out a reply suggesting what a great opportunity there was, since Appropedia had good marketing, but WikiGreen had more content. Wouldn't it be great to get both at one site? How about partnering first and checking in with the other group later? I proposed Appropedia as the destination, but left open the WikiGreen option.

Well, it turns out that Eric was online when I replied, and felt quite the same way, mentioned that he felt Appropedia made more sense as it was better known, and things got busy quick. Several ensuing emails were all about how to do it. By the time Chris checked his email, the migration was nearly complete. (Okay, I exaggerate, but the plan for migration was pretty baked at that point; I think that was late Thursday, January 4th. By late Friday all the images had been transferred and about half the article text. It finished on Saturday, except for the large number of loose ends.) Chris very kindly forgave me before I even got a chance to ask forgiveness, and he even expressed his joy that I had been so bold. Anyway....the point is, we had decided that Appropedia was the Borg, and WikiGreen would be assimilated.

Voila! Bingo! Bob's your uncle!

Suddenly, Appropedia has 5 times the number of articles!

It didn't occur to me to do a few before-and-after statistics captures, so I don't know precisely when and how much changed as a direct result of the merger, but thanks to some help from Lonny and his Google Analytics, we can say that overall page views at the site are up about 150% (so about 2.5 times what they were), and distinct visits are up 200% (3x what they were).

This is stunning!! The totals are a lot more than the sum of the independent wikis. I had suggested as much in my promotional email, but I figured it would take a lot longer. So, at this point we are well ahead of schedule toward the 100x (that was assuming a nice steady monthly growth rate, roughly 42% month-over-month...turn your textbooks to page...zzzzz). But now I seriously AM thinking of NY Times ad rates, or who to acquire or something. And gee, there sure is a lot of work to do, too!

Wanna join the party? We can use you! Come visit the site, or leave a comment, or send me an email. See ya there!