What kind of day has it been

Warning: This blogpost has been posted over two years ago. That is a long time in development-world! The story here may not be relevant, complete or secure. Code might not be complete or obsoleted, and even my current vision might have (completely) changed on the subject. So please do read further, but use it with caution.
Posted on 14 Dec 2010
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For the readers who get the Aaron Sorkin reference in the title, do not be alarmed: this will NOT be my final blog post, just the last of the season. One year ago I’ve decided to do some (active) blogging about all tech related things I encounter in both my professional as my private life which I find interesting enough to share with the world (or at least with google). So, after blogging one year, was it worth it?

tl;dr: yes

Blogging the last year was definitely worth the time and effort. And time and effort it has cost. Don’t expect to maintain an active blog with just an hour per week. That’s not going to happen and that’s the reason most bloggers will only have a few articles before they stop completely. It’s hard work but I noticed that after a while things gets easier.. You just have to hang in there.. :)

For me personally, blogging is a good method to dive a bit deeper on subjects I’m already interested in. But to actually write something AND making sure you have all the facts right is another story. Your posts will be read by an unknown amount of users who probably know more about the subject as you do so make sure that what you type is fact-checked, which is hard :)

In the first nine months i’ve only did a few posts, just like any other blog waiting to die. It’s hard to maintain interest in blogging when you get absolutely no response, and it can be frustrating. I think the last month or so that blogging actually started to be really fun for me. I get more and more response in the form of comments, (re)tweets and my articles get linked more often at the “big sites”, which means more visitors than before.

The last month or so was absolutely fabilous for blogging. Lately, I roll out a blog post per day or so and there are still too many in draft which I really don’t have the time to complete right now. Off course, the holidays are lurking and other things will cross my path so the blog-activity will decrease sooner or later, but at least I’ve still got some drafts that will be published some day.  I rather do 1 post per month that actually is worth reading, than doing 1 per day about absolutely nothing.

Having a good blog serves multiple purposes. First of all, it’s about sharing knowledge and that’s always a good thing :) Whenever I’m stuck with a problem, I google it, find someone who encountered the same problem AND TOOK THE TIME TO BLOG ABOUT IT.  Did you had a problem you solved by yourself? Write a blogpost about it! It doesn’t have to be a lord-of-the-ring triology sized post. Maybe a few paragraphs defining the problem, how you came up with the solution and the solution itself is more than enough. Something like i’ve done here. It can be done in less than a half hour and you will save others a lot of work (which they can spend blogging about solutions they have found themselves), and.. it promotes your blog…

Another reason to blog: It ABSOLUTELY beats every resume you can come up with. It will show your current employer or future employers what you knowledge actually is. A zend php 5.3 certificate is all nice and dandy, but having a lot of posts about (complex) OO solutions you came up with, or your Solr implementation in PHP or whatnot gives everybody a lot more insight in your expertise-level.

So thanks

To all the visitors of my blog from the past year: Thanks for taking the time to read (and comment) to my articles. Also many thanks to my girlfriend Esther, who actually tolerates the fact that I spend so many hours per day behind the laptop. And finally, thanks to all other bloggers outthere who take the time to talk about subjects they find interessting enough to fill the internet with, and the bloggers who have shared the solutions for their problems. You rock..

Tips for starting your own (tech)blog

Did I inspire you to start your own blog? Hope so, but where do you start? Here are a few tips for starting your own (tech) blog:

Tip 1: Finding stuff to blog about

This is the most difficult thing to learn actually. Everybody can install wordpress or create a livejournal account, but what to write? In the begin this will take up most of your time..  It’s really hard to find stuff because you have the feeling that everything is already said. And it’s true.. there is no subject on the internet that you can’t find a blog about (ok, so I didn’t find a blog about albino-cats with a fetish for 5.25” floppy disks, so there is still hope). Finding stuff gets easier by time but it depends on your range you want to blog about. For instance, I like to blog about system admin (Linux in general), PHP and MySQL. So that makes 3 different area’s to get inspiration from. These days, I place about 2 or 3 subjects per day in draft-mode. Those are things I overhear or see on the internet which looks interesting enough for me to blog about. Take your time, after a while you’ll do the same, and you probably delete most of them even before they are born…

But how to start? Did you come across a problem you have solved? Most probably you did. Blog about it. Blog about how you extended Zend_Db_Table, blog about some design patterns you have used. Blog about how you use or misuse some php functions. Talk about some functions you really like. Talk about a functions every php’er should know about. Make top-5 lists.. Everybody loves top-5 lists.. Create a top-5 list of the best top-5 lists you have found… The sky is the limit.. really..  Think about it: I’m currently writing a blogpost about writing blogposts.. how hard can it be? :-)

Tip 2: Write, read and rewrite.. and repeat..

Your first draft will suck. Your second draft will not be much better, but at least you can start to discover a storyline inside. So the third version will be getting close to the post you actually want to publish. And maybe you will get there in the fourth or fifth draft. Yeah I know.. that sound pretty depressing, but that’s how your life looks like during the first few posts you want to write. After a while things will get better and even a bit further along the line you will need only one rewrite or so.. If you’re really good, you can start typing away, read the post, fix a few mistakes here and there and publish it…

Tip 3: Read other blogs

I’m definitely not an expert in writing blogs but I read a lot of them. Everybody does it differently. Some will add a lot of example codes, other absolutely none. Some blogs will assume you know your stuff so there is not a lot of background info, while others are ONLY background info. It is hard to come up with your own standard, but it’s something that will grow over time. For instance: when you blog about SSL, do you assume that the reader has knowledge about how TCP communication works? Or what encryption is? And how far does that go? Do you tell about AES or do you assume that a user knows that already? You have to define a level of understanding for your visitors when you write your post. A good way is to have a few levels (basic, intermediate, advanced) and depending on the level you can leave out background info or not..  Just try what works best for you..

Tip 4: Don’t force users into your way of thinking,

Let them decide for themselves. I really don’t like window systems but I will not write blogs-posts on how good or bad an operating system is. Actually I did, but you shouldn’t tell that X is bad and you should use Y. Just give your opinion, together with some pro’s and cons and let the user decide for themselves. This I think marks a good blog.

Tip 5: Don’t expect anything

You are one of the million of other bloggers on the internet. You are not special. Not even your cat is special even though you think he is. The first year your blog will only be visited by your mom but mostly by yourself. Don’t give up. Google will index your blog, people will type keywords that lead them to your blog and someday somebody WILL take the time to post a comment that the article is great. It’s a great feeling knowing that you helped somebody else, trust me..

Tip 6: If you book them, they will come

Ok, a cheap Wayne’s World quote, but it’s true.. Not all your posts are interesting, but some of them will be. They will be linked by others, which gets even more visitors in. Keep an eye on the referrers in your statistics to find out where your visitors come from. And keep an eye on those blogs or link sites. They might be interested in more of your posts, so submit your posts to those sites as well.

Tip 7: Post to social media sites

Which brings us to this tip: Social news media sites like digg and reddit are the best places to promote your blog to the big public. If your article is published on the frontpage, expect a LOT of visitors. Most of them read the first few lines, think it’s not interesting enough and move to the next article. Some will read your post, spot a flaw here or there, spend 15 minutes complaining about how your blog sucks and then move on to the next article. Others will praise your blog, post a comment that this blog has changed their way of life, and also move on to the next. Whatever kind of visitor you get, try to learn from their comments, try to sift the BS-comments from the really constructive comments and make your next post better… rinse and repeat..

It can be very scary to post your blog to sites like these. Make sure your blog is up and running, you have created at least a dozen or so of posts so you are comfortable enough to actually write something.. After a while pushing your blogs will be something you do automatically..

And last but not least: have fun blogging…