The blog. Originally a shortened form of “web log”, the blog has become a staple of the digital information age. Less formal than an essay, more casual than reporting from a mainstream news organization, the blog is a unique medium for people with a deep interest in a subject to share that interest with others.
Today we’re discussing a sub-genre of this medium, the technical blog. Lots of people do it. You could do it too. Is this a good idea? How does one get started? Are there any benefits?
We’ll focus on the good, the bad, and the ugly of technical blogging. We’ll talk about processes, content, feedback, and outcomes from spending years raving on our respective blogs, and the risks and rewards of writing things down for other people to read.
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Part 1 – Thinking About Content
- How do you come up with content?
- There’s no real reason to scour the Internet to see if someone else has written about the topic you’re learning or wish to share.
- The answer is pretty much always: yes, someone has written about it.
- It’s OK to also write about it.
- If you feel like a piece of content was helpful, say so – and add a link to the content. Links are a great way for the author to see that you are writing about them via a Pingback (essentially a comment that generally appears on most websites saying “Hey, I created a link to you!” in their feed).
- Content comes and goes
- Some days you’ll have more ideas than others
- Use a tool to help jot down these ideas.
- Chris just saves new ideas a blog posts drafts. This is where links, images, and what-not are saved for later. I usually have half a dozen just sitting around in various stages of formation.
- Use the Pomodoro technique to write
- Content from work
- You’re always within your rights to share ideas and thoughts that are original.
- But be careful what you are bound to from an employment perspective. Some employers retain intellectual rights on everything you do.
- Never share information about your clients or your specific day job work unless you are 100% sure it’s OK. I often advise having written permission. Even then, talking about a client is risky. It’s pretty much best to generalize the client and abstract the problem, your understanding of the technology, and the solution.
- Don’t even use muddled wording, such as “the best provider of widgets in the South” to obscure the client – because someone will probably figure it out.
Part 2 – Digging Deep Into Technology
- It used to be all about the hardware and labs
- Home labs are expensive but also fun
- It’s a great way to dig deeper into the layer 1 problems, which are masked by virtual or cloud labs.
- Require a lot of thought to do right, although there’s no right way to do them. It’s obvious, however, when you do them wrong – because the lab doesn’t meet your needs!
- Software is king!
- There’s lots of great new ways to get your hands on something to write about it. Especially if the something is software.
- For example, VMware has the Hands on Labs.
- Free for EVERYONE.
- Vendors often have learning labs for their partners.
- Amazon Marketplace vendors will let you “rent” their software or solution for a relatively low price.
- Set a budgetary goal and make sure you stay within that range. Then have fun!
- Make sure to spin down or turn things off when you’re done with them. Or, make “burner” accounts that you disable when done – this is a nice catch-all to ensure that nothing is passively billing you.
- Paired learning
- If you’re digging into something new or interesting, take notes and screenshots.
- Or just record your monitor as you go through, then go through the footage for images.
- It’s often quite interesting to take a look at something through the lens of a new person, because they see all the quirks and oddities that other folks who are “in the trenches” will miss. But you only get to be new at something once, so notes are quintessential.
- Break down your process into logical parts to assist in writing (and learning)
- How did you find out about the technology or solution?
- How did you approach the information?
- How did you set up your environment?
- What were you missing that caused issues, if anything?
- How did you configure the stack / lab / solution / everything?
- Did it work? If not, why not – and how did you get it working?
- Describe your thoughts.
- It’s rather boring to just hear about the next, next, next process (although important if you’re trying to write a technical document). Usually, a user guide already exists.
- Instead, tell your audience what it is that you’re learning or find interesting / annoying.
- How do you plan on using the tech now, in the future, or for others?
- Do you find other tech complimentary, beyond, or behind this technology?
Part 3 – The Right Platform
- It’s important to remember that the goal is to generate content that can be shared and indexed by the major search engines
- Otherwise, no one can find your thoughts
- WordPress is a popular platform because it allows you to simply “get going” without a lot of messing around.
- There’s been a fair bit of interest in using GitHub pages because it also teaches about committing changes using a simple markup language called Markdown (MD files).
- Don’t let the platform get in the way. You’re in the blogging business, not the hosting business.
- Determine your place on the Internet and carve out a home.
- Go ahead and buy a domain name now via a registrar in which you are comfortable. It’s a $10-20 annual spend. It gives you enough “skin in the game” to feel like you need to stay committed in the short and medium terms.
- Chris has been using 1&1 for over 10 years. I don’t recommend having your registrar and your web host being the same person; too much power in one endpoint. Plus, it means you have to change two things if you decide to move your content, rather than just re-pointing to a new server or updating your DNS records.
- Try to aggregate your content across a number of social media platforms to help people find your ideas.
- Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook are popular.
- Use a consistent naming and brand model. Register accounts everywhere possible.