Blogging as a technical endeavour – it’s coding baby!

Earlier this week a short eBook was released called “Exploring the business of blogging”. It was organised by Stephen Waddington, who sought out the opinion of respected bloggers in his network and asked them about the future of blogging. He also asked them to share the benefits they’d experienced from blogging. It’s an interesting read.

Formidable thinkers such as Philip Young and Rich Leigh were involved. The eBook tells interesting stories about blogging but lacks a significantly geeky voice… mine. However, this doesn’t matter because with blogging I am just as able to contribute to the conversation. It’s the beauty of the blogosphere!

Blogging as a technical endeavour – it’s coding baby!
In Mortality by the late and great Christopher Hitchens, I found these words hit a personal note “I often grandly say, that writing is not just my living and my livelihood but my very life, and it’s true… Without that ability, I feel sure in advance, my ‘will to live’ would be hugely attenuated.” The books ends by including the various notes and random thoughts which were left behind before he finally passed away on the 15th December 2011. You can read my personal memorial here.

Just like Hitchens, without writing my desire to live would drastically suffer. It is an innate need, a simple way of life and that was the spark behind my blogging journey. I didn’t start blogging in the late 90s as my age was still in single figures. However, I soon found my feet at the tender age of 15 – superfluously writing philosophical thoughts on Google’s Blogger and later moving to WordPress. My 9 years of blogging began as a personal journey, which then transformed into a business one. As a dyslexic student blogging taught me to embrace writing and the technicalities of the English Language. Then in 2008 Richard Bailey (my then lecturer at the University of Gloucestershire) recommended that I followed the business path of blogging. I didn’t look back.

Blogging helped me:

  • Build my professional relationships with (then) fellow students and practitioners
  • Helped with ongoing work experience, freelance work and employment
  • Understand the technical aspects of scripting languages
  • Earn some money on the side of my University studies (through advertising and endorsements)
  • Lose religion! My personal journey began by connecting with the large humanist community online. Something I still hold close to my heart today (I’m a member of the Rationalist Association)

Technically speaking…
Blogging is only one online activity; I was creating websites in the late 90s. That’s just the way my brain ticked – I just understood computers. At 5 years old I could navigate my way around MS DOS, nearer the end of Primary School I understood some of the very basics of internet scripting languages (HTML) and then I got comfortable with CSS, MySql, Perl, PHP, Dephi, GML… dabbled with Linux. At University I attended a Cisco Network Engineering course where I was taught how computers networked together – how the internet physically works.

Despite what you think, this is to be considered normal behaviour now! If you think I’m geeky, just wait and see what the next generation will be like (future coding baby?):

Blogging, particular through the WordPress platform, is a great way to build scripting language knowledge (Mostly HTML, CSS, MySql and PHP). You can choose to avoid scripting completely or you can really deep dive and build something different. It’s given me the ability to not only build digital strategies but develop the technical foundations of them too. Online scripting languages drive the whole digital experience – without trying to understand them is ludicrous and a missed opportunity.

One man’s exciting ‘digital marketing microsite’ is another’s coding nightmare! Design runs further than graphics, it’s in the very fabric of a webpage and social media wouldn’t be the same without it. Any PR practitioner who misses the latest technological developments will always be one step behind digital communications. You can wait for a company to come along and take advantage of the latest coding capabilities, or you can learn to code yourself. I know which I find more exciting.

Content marketing is just as technical
Yet blogging isn’t just a coding endeavour, it is about content marketing too. Every day I’m involved in content marketing programmes with Keene Communications. This includes utilising state of the art digital measurement, identifying opportunities (such as the Semantic Web), building SEO strategies… the last 9 years of blogging and being on the web has led me to my current role.

In the specific context of blogging, rather than more widely defined content marketing programmes, it’s difficult to predict the future. Mainly as it’s tough to actually define a blog. In fact, most people read blogs every day without realising that they are. Some of my favourite mainstream blogs are the Financial Times’ and the Economist. In the same breath I could say the Huffington Post or Mashable. Let’s not forget the real business blogs such as ProBlogger or Chris Brogan. All of these are blogs, share similar characteristics but are not always wholly definable as blogs – as a visitor to a website my focus is the content rather than the channel.

Before my time it was understood that blogging may lead to the uprising of the citizen journalism, proudly defying mainstream news sources. You can imagine the hysteria this probably generated in the media industry! In reality this evidently didn’t come to pass. Today too many blogs either republish material from mainstream sources, horribly extend opinion of a mainstream story or offer content which is so heavily SEO optimised it’s impossible for a human to understand.

Each day I look through my Feedly and sigh disappointment when another blogger posts an article which is clearly just written for search engine hits. If you’re blogging for SEO, forget it – focus on writing great content instead. Contribute to conversations and attempt to offer value. This is what blogging is and will continue to be – blogging is about community.

This is one of the rarest coffees in the world, and I drank it

“Write what you know about” advised Jeffery Archer one Cheltenham Literary Festival. “Take in your surroundings and use them to form your story, don’t try to make things up – there is no need too.” This was some of the best writing advice I ever received because believe it or not, all of us live unique lives that tell a story. So naturally I’m going to abandon that handy advice and write about something I know next to nothing about.

Coffee.

Ignore the reams of business ‘self-help’ books because London just would not tick without its coffee. Behind George Osborne’s economic policy is the missed fact that the big smoke only functions because coffee is drunk in droves. Everyone has their favourite coffee places, Baristas are gods commanding eternal elixir (especially at the time I leave for work) and we all melt at the smell of freshly ground coffee beans. If you have ever travelled on the train between Dorking and London Waterloo you will know that fateful spot where the smell of roasting coffee fills the carriages. Even after over two years of working in London, I haven’t managed to spot the source of this awakening aroma – I suspect a Café Nero factory but may be wrong. Coffee is what keeps everybody sane in the city and I suspect it’s the same globally and historically.

There is one coffee in London which you won’t find. It’s grown on St Helena. Located approximately 1,200 miles North West of Cape Town, St Helena is little known. This tiny British Outpost (just 47-square miles) remains one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands – five days at sea from Cape Town! The reason some people may have heard of the island is because Napoleon was banished to St Helena after his defeat at the battle of Waterloo and arguably he put this remote island on the map.

782px-ascension_island_location2

St Helena’s coffee is something special. London’s coffee merchants WM Burnie & Co described St Helena’s coffee as being of “very superior quality and flavour”. Apparently, even Napoleon whilst incarcerated on the island during the early 19th Century praised the quality of St Helena’s coffee. Today St Helena’s coffee lives on thanks to Rosemary Gate Coffee Estate, which is a family run business founded in 1994 by Bill and Jill Bolton. They grow the green tipped Bourbon Arabica coffee, which was introduced to St Helena from Yemen in 1732. Years of growing and perfecting the recipe has resulted in St Helena’s coffee being one of the finest in the world market.

St Helena CoffeeIt is also one of the rarest and most expensive coffees in the world. In 2016 St Helena is going to get its first airport but until then, very little product is exported from the island. Besides, the island is so small that inevitably there will always be a struggle to keep up with global demand. There is only so much space where coffee can be grown. Then last week, for the first time ever, I got the chance to taste St Helena’s famous coffee. For over a year I’ve wondered what this coffee would taste like, focused on how amazing it would be to enjoy product grown thousands of miles away. Holding the 125g packet, I couldn’t wait to put it into the coffee machine.

Now, I’ve never professionally tasted coffee before – nor know the language associated with it. What I will say is that the coffee tasted pure, it isn’t blended with anything else. It is also advisable to try drinking it without milk first. When you drink coffee black you get a real sense of all the flavours, milk tends to water flavours down.

It was earthy, almost floral and slightly nutty. Very different to the coffee around London, although my only comparison would be to the coffee chains.

What I also focused on whilst drinking the coffee is that this is what Napoleon would have tasted. The coffee physically hasn’t changed one bit so I really was tasting three centuries of St Helena’s history. To then write about that experience on this 21st Century blog is something.

St Helena Tourism is a client of Keene Communications. As Keene’s digital bod I assist to plan client digital strategies and was thankful to taste the island’s coffee. To learn more about St Helena then visit the Wirebird Blog.

Keene offering graduates public affairs experience

Keene_Logo

Today Keene is opening its doors to graduates, offering them the chance to experience life in a busy public affairs consultancy. It’s a role with a flexible timeframe and the application deadline is 28 Feb.

The best bit? You’ll get to work in the same office as me! Watch as I crave coffee 24/5, get excited over very geeky technology and most importantly, join me pushing digital to the max.

Full details on the Keene blog:
http://www.keenecomms.com/2014/02/keene-keen-to-help-a-graduate-kick-start-their-career-in-public-affairs/

Key Information:

Your role will be to assist our public affairs account team to provide government relations programmes for a number of our clients. You’ll have the opportunity to gain experience on a range of policy areas and play an important part in executing cutting edge, digital public affairs programmes. You may also have the opportunity to help out our public relations team too, which focuses on the travel sector.

We’re looking for a recent graduate with a 2:1 degree or higher who can start immediately.

Knowledge and Skills Required

  • Demonstrate knowledge of the legislative and policy making process in the UK and EU.
  • Show understanding of the role of government relations in the business environment.
  • Provide proof of a strong interest in or experience of relevant policy issues (see below).
  • Have a demonstrable passion for social media and digital publishing.
  • Have the ability to swiftly absorb complex information and apply this knowledge to seeing opportunities to influence policy and promote client aims.
  • Be able to communicate orally and write to a high standard.

Day to Day Activities

  • Media, political monitoring and intelligence gathering for clients across a range of policy areas including aviation, environment, manufacturing, technology, the public and voluntary sectors, foreign governments.
  • Provide regular written reports for clients on activities and analysis of relevant issues.
  • Draft political correspondence, briefing papers and policy submissions.
  • Report on conferences, select committee inquiries and other political events as required
  • Participate in internal discussions and debates
  • Conduct desk research for new business pitches
  • Carry out general office duties on request

General office

  • This is a voluntary position from which you will receive considerable training and experience.
  • Salary: expenses

Support ‘The Day We Fight Back’

fb4sToday has been hailed as “The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance” and is supported by a collection of activists and technology companies. Names include W3CRedditElectronic Frontier FoundationAmnesty International and Greenpeace.

‘The Day We Fight Back’ marks the passing of activists, Aaron Swartz’s who sadly committed suicide last year after facing a potential $1million in fines and 35 year imprisonment for computer hacking. You may recognise his name from the news. As a talented programmer he was in the teams who invented RSSCreative Commons and Reddit.

Aaron sparked and helped guide the movement that would eventually defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act in January 2012. That bill would have destroyed the Internet as we know it, by blocking access to sites that allowed for user-generated content – the very thing that makes the Internet so dynamic. Follow his passing and the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, The Day We Fight Back is a time for us to protest against NSA-style surveillance.

I’m a supporter of a free and open internet. One that grows organically through social media and peer-to-peer technologies. The beauty of knowledge is that is surpasses rank and superiority, it can be shared and is inherently free. Please support The Day We Fight Back and build a better future for generations to come.

Pub, Rugby… Make-up?

I could be certain of two things whilst sitting inside the Anchor Bankside pub in Southwark last night. Without a doubt I was the only male watching the Rugby who didn’t have a clue what the importance of the game was or how the rules worked. The second, that I was the only guy wearing make-up.

Thanks to the winning streak nature of my girlfriend @kellyware6, we had won a chance for a makeover and photoshoot at Burlingtons Boutique. One of the high-flying professional Central London salons that prides itself on its young team of fashionistas and its evident client list of high-profile models and celebrities. It’s a day unlike any I’ve had before; I’ve always wondered what it would be like taking part in the London ‘fashion scene’ and yesterday I got a good taste of it.

© Burlingtons Boutique
© Burlingtons Boutique

When we arrived we were led to down some stairs to a place underneath the building, this is where the photography studios are. The locked doors, colourful patterned curtains and ambient lighting in places suggested subtlety. Not all people arrive here to play innocent; some choose to have photographs not intended to be seen by their parents! Photos on the walls showed loving families, suggestive models and business worthy poses. The variation highlighted the professionalism of the place, but that didn’t stop me feeling slightly apprehensive.

I’m not what you would call the fashion-type. Nor do I know much about the world which comes with it. Yes, I could roll off the names of a few models but that’s about it. Fashion or the accompanying celebrity culture has always been information that is incompatible with my brain. It’s a shame really because it’s that part of life which is just as instrumental as philosophy of the 20th Century – in many cases fashion made visible what only once lay as concepts in peoples’ heads.

Without a doubt the most disconcerting part of the whole photography studio experience was the hair and make-up. Obviously for a woman, this is the main reason you go. For men (although not all by any means) it’s a little bit different. Hair is something I hope to remember to merely brush in the morning and makeup… really? I had my eyebrows darkened slightly and straightened. Then make-up was used to bring the shine down of my skin (studio lights can be very bright) and the bags under my eyes were reduced (I tend to keep these tired or not). Throughout the makeup experience you get shown the products used which you can buy if you choose. Apparently some men do actually put a little bit of make-up on as a daily ritual. I’m not going to judge, I can see why some men may choose to do that. However, I’m quite happy with my body as it is – taking enough vitamins would probably cure any imperfections my skin may show.

Our photographer on the day was brilliant. Not only very comforting during the whole shoot, but instructed us very clearly and spoke candidly about what makes a good photo. Feeling rather flustered at the prospect of posing on a chair I uttered something sarcastic along the lines of “I’m just so photogenic”, to which he quite rightly corrected,

“What does it mean to say ‘they are photogenic’? Nobody is born photogenic, some are born that are able to portray a whole range of characters and those become models. If you’re a good photographer then anybody can become photogenic.”

After posing in a variety of different positions, with props in different studios, our session was over. It wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought and rather enjoyable. We got two free photos as part of our package, the rest we paid for – although not extortionate amounts in comparison to what we could have chosen. One of the photos resulted in a very ‘Dragon’s Den’ pose – perhaps one day it will be used as part of PR Week’s top 30 under 30? I can only hope.

Michael White Professional

Yesterday’s experience taught me three things:

1)    Some men do indeed wear makeup on a daily basis. I won’t, but I can see why some may.

2)    Some parts of the fashion industry are not nearly as judgemental as you may think. I cannot praise Burlingtons Boutique enough for our treatment and their staff’s expertise.

3)    Being pampered and posing in photography studios is actually quite fun. At first I wasn’t too fond of the idea but the results were brilliant.

There are better ways to make money through social media!

Social media: marketing v selling

“Marketing by social channels is now taken for granted but does social stop there? Our expert discusses the potential of social to manage actual sales and transactions in the future.”

Travel Technology Europe 2014

Come on? How could I resist not attending this talk at Travel Technology Europe 2014 (TTE14) with a description like that? It was just teasing me because every digital PR type wants to hear how to make money via social media. Ultimately everything in business comes down to purchasing a product or service. If social media could drive this process then that is a gold dust strategy.

I won’t say who ran this particular talk at TTE14 because it wouldn’t be fair. I have no idea if his company deliberately crafted such an eye-catching description. The fact it was also part of an exclusive VIP Conference (which persuaded my way into) made the talk even more desirable. Was I really going to hear the details behind a social strategy that can drive sales through social media?

NO.

Instead the talk was all about using data from companies to drive re-targeting advertising campaigns. Boring! The worst part about the talk was that this particular gentlemen believed that this was social media. He has ‘exclusive data’ from travel companies (not social sites), that gets fed into his UBER POWERFUL computer system and this means you can run retargeting advertising campaigns.

I wasn’t the only PR type in the room to give that confused glazed over look. When it came to questions you could hear the whole room just sigh. Such a provoking event title turned out to be an awful sales pitch from a company trying to brand themselves as a groovy social company. How quaint.

Yes, advertising through social media sites was mentioned as an option. Of course you can run advertising campaigns through Facebook and Twitter. If you have a ton of cash you could even run a small Google AdWords campaign. These are all options for making money through social media.

Yet, isn’t it more fun to build something more strategic? Instead of using Google AdWords see if you can use Google+ to generate traffic and sales. Build digital desire paths that will leave consumers parting with cash for your product/service. It’s not a utopian ideal, it is being done right now.

Travel Technology Europe is a brilliant event but the organisers should really make the purposes behind some of the talks clearer. Thank goodness I didn’t have to pay the VIP Conference rate for that talk!

 

 

Intellectual versatility is the compensation for change

It’s an intriguing thought that without a varied or complex environment, that intellectual versatility is gradually lost. It got me thinking to how I behave in life, if I am pushing my mind enough and in the right direction. I commented last year in my post ‘Thinking fast and slow in Mallorca’ that I surprisingly found detaching myself from social networks for a week therapeutic. Of all the different communication channels and platforms available in 2014, none offer more intellectual stimulation than a good old fashioned book.

“It is a law of nature we overlook, that intellectual versatility is the compensation for change, danger, and trouble. An animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism. Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no change and no need of change. Only those animals partake of intelligence that have to meet a huge variety of needs and dangers.”

The above is a quote taken from H. G. Wells’ book ‘The Time Machine’. A book often credited to one of the first Sci-Fi books to explore the concept of time travel, coining the word ‘time machine’. It really is an excellent read and a bargain considering you can download the story for free on Amazon Kindle.

The extract describes the moment when the time traveller witnesses humanities’ evolution and how the world has become so perfect, that the intelligence of man has suffered. Considering that the book was published in 1895, four years before Charles Darwin published ‘On the Origin of Species’, the thoughts of science fiction are oddly close to the reality of natural selection.

H. G. Wells warns us quite rightly that, “… an animal perfectly in harmony with its environment is a perfect mechanism.” If we become too good at our jobs, too comfortable with each day by day process, then we risk slipping into intellectual decay. Never is it too late to keep pushing, embrace change – never lose hope. Although remember your path may not as you planned it:

Planning your life journey

Bloggers: If you accept or write guest posts then you may want to rethink. Google has spoken.

Back in 2006/7 I was proud to be the owner of a blog that received between 4000 – 8000 unique visitors a month. It was a real buzz and although other blogs could boast much higher traffic than this, it didn’t matter. I was blogging for the love it and publishing articles was allowing me to build relationships with other authors online.

Back then Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) practitioners would focus on techniques such as:

Participating in blog carnivals
When blog owners who all wrote on the same subject would take turns to host a series of 20 links or more, featuring all the biggest blog posts from the past month. A particular carnival I frequently featured in and hosted was called ‘Carnival of the godless’; secular thinking and philosophy.

Forum discussions
I used to receive a ton of traffic from various forums; ranging from technology, philosophy to religion. Building authority through frequent insightful posting was a sure way to generate clicks to a website.

Guest posts
Thanks partly to the previous two activities it was possible to build relationships with other subject matter experts online. The climax of these relationships usually resulted in guest posting opportunities – a way to spread online traffic and gain more coverage.

Then Google came along with their Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates and the face of SEO changed. Between 2011 – 2013 many clients who relied on SEO agencies in the past have come to regret their hiring decision. The ‘black hat’ tactics that were used by agencies to provide clients quick traffic gains were penalised by Google. Businesses literally died because they dropped from Google search results. These changes also negatively impacted the blogosphere.

Google saw:

  • Blog carnivals as link farms, purely used to increase backlinks to raise PageRank.
  • Forums as a way people could generate backlinks and high Click Through Rates (CTR), without the need for authority.
  • Guest posting a euphemism for spam article posting, a way marketing agencies could pay their way to Google utopia.

Some of these changes caused so much stir that even PR needed defending with Tom Foremski’s forbidding ‘Did Google just kill PR agencies?’ (to which I graciously responded…). Following on from these changes there has now been another development.

Matt Cutts, a web engineer at Google, has long been publishing a very popular blog among SEO gurus because he makes public a lot of insider information. In his latest post he has pretty much advised everyone to stop using blog guest posting as a way to generate traffic. Why? Because according to him in this article guest posting is a mostly spammy activity.

Could guest posting have received the final nail in its coffin? If so then this could very well spell the end of that wonderful thing that makes bloggers tick – sharing our blog space with other talented authors. Cutts’ reasons are clear in his article, guest posting has become an activity that:

  1. Usually means a company giving a blogger money for publishing an article. In all the cases I’ve seen, such articles are usually poorly written and show poor subject matter expertise. I know exactly how this feels because in the past (on a previous blog) I’ve accepted money for such articles.
  2. Puts some bloggers at risk of having their space exploited by companies who will only drag their site into being delisted.

I’m still chewing over this news because the implications are far reaching. A few of my own questions at this stage are:

  1. Does this now mean that guest posting violates Google’s quality guidelines?
  2. How does Google define what a guest post is?
  3. Is Cutts hinting at an upcoming new Google algorithm update / re-run of Penguin?
  4. How will this change impact the way companies choose to work with bloggers?
  5. Can this change be reversed engineered to negatively impact competitors?

To end, here are a handful of the comments being left on Cutts’ post:

Johan Matt Cutts comment

 

Kev Matt Cutts comment

 

Marko Matt Cutts comment