So after 88,000 visitors, 225 articles, press visits, interviews, guest posts, and a wide range of other things – joereddington.com is one year old today! (Which is why this is a Saturday post, when you might have expected it Friday…)
It’s been massively more successful than I expected it to be. I had generally intended it as a repository for spare-time projects, but it’s been a really nice place to develop thoughts, share opinions and engage with people.
For an anniversary post I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned over the year in terms of making a blog self sustaining.
This is joereddington.com. It could have been accessibletech.com, or projecttoomanycooks.co.uk, or projectgrin.org or a reference to an obscure 1990s Sega megadrive game. It’s joereddington.com. And that turns out (entirely accidentally) to be a very powerful thing because it lets me write whatever I want. I write posts on literally whatever I happen to find interesting at any given time. Quite regularly I’ll leave a subject for months at a time (it’s been months since I wrote about memory palaces for example).
If I had tried to make a blog about a particular interest I would have failed badly. But because I made it joereddington.com it can be *mostly* about some of my interests. So it’s *mostly* about disability because that’s something I’m very interested in. It’s regularly about narrative. It’s equally regularly about random bits of code that I think might help people. A lot of the links that point to joereddington.com turn out to be my productivity posts. It’s clear that if I’d picked any one of those interests to specialise in I really wouldn’t have got beyond 10 posts.
I’ve ended up as a disability focused blogger – that’s certainly the reason that most of my subscribers subscribe, but I guarantee you that if I had started out intending to be a disability focused blogger, then I never would have become one.
Being Most of the way there
I was quite lucky when I started joereddington.com that I already had stuff. I already had a certain amount of presence on the web. There was things like the 418 Teapot on it’s own page on the computer science servers. There were things like TooManyCooks that were rattling away in the background, and there was a pile of things hanging around my hard drive that were only a small distance from being ready to put online. This all meant that when it was time to populate joereddington.com with *things* I really could. The blog literally came free with the WordPress engine and I started using it. Had I started with just a few blog posts I would have got disheartened quickly, but when you know that your other content will attract people (particularly things like the Domesday Dataset) you are motivated to keep writing things.
Blogging turns out to be a relatively easy step if you already have a lot of stuff online – the teapot, the stress graphs, various projects, small things of note. While I laugh at people who put stuff in storage ‘because they might need it some day’ I’m *still* transferring digital things that probably should have been unpacked within a week.
Cutting your teeth
Cutting your teeth somewhere else first really helped. I was active at SE a lot before I started blogging, I also vaguely wrote for a living (academically that is), but that’s a very different kettle of fish: reddit, wikipedia, SE, tumblr, are all places where you can work out what your voice is while adding value somewhere else. Even though I was establishing myself as a blogger already when I started to write for liveforfilms.com I got a lot of value out of, partly seeing the setup that Phil has over there but also for being able to get used to going to events and being officially there as ‘a journalist’.
Setting the bar very low
One of the major reasons that I ended up with a blog was because I kept finding that I wanted to post a link, but that it needed a little more than 244 characters to put some context around it. So quite a lot of my posts earlier in the history of this blog are exactly that – a link, a short quote, and a paragraph telling you to visit the link but to bear in mind aspect X. This added value to the people coming in from Twitter and helped me feel like I wasn’t just throwing information at people. Over time the context got larger and larger and shortly afterward the links disappeared. I made a deliberate and public effort to move to more of an article style a few months ago and that’s been pretty successful. Comically this has meant that I’ve once again found that I’m wanted to post twitter links but need a little bit more context with them. Maybe at some point I’ll move to doing both but I suspect that will degenerate fast. The point is that for the first three months almost all of my posts where a link and a paragraph of my opinion. Everything was transient and quick but it ended up building a foundation for much more serious stuff.
(page image is from wikicommons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Fireworks#mediaviewer/File:Lotto_Skyworks_Applecross.jpg)