Monday morning thoughts: on starting blogging
In this post, I think about what it is that made me start blogging, and about the reasons to start blogging that might resonate with you, if you’ve not yet made that step.
Deep down I’m a shy person. I’m not great at casual conversation, and, via a wonderful SAP Inside Track session a few years ago from the great Thorsten Franz I worked out that I’m an introvert, in that I recharge alone, rather than in a crowd. So blogging for me has become one way of expressing myself.
Like everyone, I have things to say, ideas to share, and writing in blog post form is one way I speak. To communicate is natural, and today we have many ways to do that.
The early days
In fact, that reminds me of why I started blogging in the first place. Back in the day, when the Internet was younger, there were different channels in which we interacted. In the early days, there was Email of course (via the SMTP and POP3 protocols) which gave us the venerable mailing list concept. There was also Usenet (via the NNTP protocol) with a wider array of subject-based groups than you could shake a stick at.
In both these communication scenarios there was an etiquette which involved the idea of deliberately “lurking”. According to various dictionaries, to lurk is “to read the postings in an Internet forum without actively contributing”. The etiquette was that one should lurk long enough to get the gist of what was being discussed, to understand what was implicitly expected, to breathe rules of engagement unspoken or explicit; generally, to be better prepared to contribute appropriately.
With today’s Web (via the HTTP protocol*, to complete the picture) the concept of lurking has declined, as the gap between producers and consumers has widened. But early on in the days of the Web we saw another mechanism for multi-way communication: blogging.
*the distinction between Email, Web, Usenet and so on, each being provided by different protocols on the Internet, gives me a reason to continue to be doggedly pedantic about the difference between the Web and the Internet.
While pretty much all forms of communication on the Internet are asynchronous, the protohistory of blogging exemplified an extreme asynchronous communication style, certainly the most loosely coupled. With the Web in general, and blogging in particular, to participate in a conversation, you’d read someone’s blog post and then respond by writing a post of your own, on your own blog*. And you’d connect the two using trackbacks and pingbacks and other related mechanisms, whereby the author(s) you were responding to would be notified that you’d written a response. Often, their blogging platform would also display any trackbacks automatically at the end of a post, too.
*this time I’m using the word “blog” because it’s appropriate here – a *collection* of posts, not an individual post!
This is one of the main reasons why I started blogging – to be able to participate in conversations and to contribute, to give value back.
The new blogging
And as we moved from the world of mailing lists and Usenet to the world of blogging on the Web, so too did the concept of lurking (as a deliberate passive period before diving in) fade away. Moreover, as time progressed, two-way communication between blogging became even more asynchronous (and trackback systems started to disappear) to the point of morphing into publishing platforms with conversation in the form of comment systems at the end of each post (like we have now in the SAP Community).
So while blogging today is still predominantly about sharing and expression, it’s also completely normal to see posts starting new subjects each time, starting new conversations.
Mostly unrelated to this post, but a nice picture nonetheless, I think. The view I got when looking up from my favourite bar in Barcelona (La Més Petita) – a quiet place to recharge.
Tips for starting
If you’ve not taken the plunge yet, you might want to consider doing so. Previously in this Monday morning thoughts series I wrote about what makes a good blog post, and also what writing such a post does for the author – see “Monday morning thoughts: a good blog post“.
But I thought it might be useful to give some tips that are worth considering, and that might persuade you to take the plunge and write your first post.
- Express yourself: Everyone has a voice, everyone has something to say, some experience to share. As I mentioned in the earlier post, and amplified by Chris Paine in the comments, find your own voice. This will make it easier to compose what you have to say, because you’re not trying to be someone else.
- Be original: This is related to “Express yourself”, but has a greater focus on content. Avoid regurgitating content that exists already. That doesn’t mean avoiding subjects that others have covered — while there’s only a limited number of subjects, there’s a much greater number of angles and experiences. If you’re going to write about something, make sure the piece adds some value.
- Allay your fears: You may have an element of trepidation if you’re about to write your first post. That’s not unexpected. But remember that everyone has to start somewhere, with the first step. Remember also that you’re writing your own journal, your own articles. Yes, if you write them on the SAP Community they have to have some relation to SAP and follow the rules of engagement, but that’s about it. The first two tips here should help you remember that you’re constructing a narrative with your own voice, which is grouped in a blog — a collection of content — for easy consumption. Mine, for example is here: https://people.sap.com/dj.adams.sap#content (and also here: https://people.sap.com/dj.adams#content as I switched users when I joined SAP). It’s also here: http://pipetree.com/qmacro/blog/ and here: http://langram.org and some other places scattered over the Web.
- Listen to the moderators: If you’re just starting out, the moderators will get to look at your post before it’s published. That’s so they can guide you and suggest adjustments before publication. They’re not trying to make it difficult, rather, they want to help you create good content. They won’t necessarily police the content itself – the community as a whole is great at doing that, through the comments system (which makes the conversations so much richer).
- Solicit feedback: One technique I see some folks using is to write a draft post and ask friends to review it. Even great writers such as Paul Graham do this – it’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. So if you get the chance, and have the inclination, share your post content with colleagues and ask for their feedback.
- Go for it: If you’re a member of this SAP Community and are reading this, chances are that you have experience in certain areas of SAP. Use that experience as a basis for your writing. If you’re not inspired that way, have a look at content that’s already out there – whether that’s blog post content, Q&A content or even SAP TechEd replays – and write down your thoughts. If nothing else, the process will help you organise those thoughts in your head. As a wonderful bonus, those same thoughts may inspire others, teaching them something or at the very least, pointing them to some interesting content that they may have otherwise not come across.
Go for it
I’d like to end this post by reiterating the last tip. Go for it. A journey into blogging starts with a single step – that first blog post. Find your voice and start writing.
Read more posts in this series here: Monday morning thoughts.
Update 05 Nov: Audrey Stevenson has published a nice post “Hello World! Three Easy Ways to Get Started with SAP Community” which is a useful resource for beginners and fits well into the context of this post.