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Blog Exercises: Trust the Crowds

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.In an October issue of “Science News,” an article on the “Deep Network” monitoring of the sea floor, reported on how the general public may monitor the sea floor through the Neptune system of underwater microphones and web cams through LIDO (Listening to the Deep Ocean) (requires Flash). New discoveries have been made by citizens watching and listening as well as researchers. A Ukrainian teen watching noticed a mysterious creature through the web cam. He described it as a “sea monster with a mustache” and reported the sighting to the scientists through the site. Examining the footage, they identified it as a Northern Elephant Seal, known to dive deep, but never tracked to a depth of 900 meters. In another example, they discovered the song of a North Pacific Right Whale, thought to be extinct since 1951, giving hope to whale fans and scientists around the globe. A great example of science opened up to the public.

Steve Fossett, aviator and explorer - source Wikimedia Commons.Steve Fossett, famous as an aviator and balloonist, the first person to fly solo nonstop around the world in a balloon, died famously, too. When he was reported missing flying his plane over the Nevada desert, web users turned out to help locate the pilot or evidence of the crash. The flight range covered more than 20,000 square miles (52,000 sq. Km), a nearly impossible area to search on foot or even by plane. Google contributed to the search with new satellite images in Google Earth, encouraging people to “put their eyes” on the area through more than 300,00 278-square-foot images of the area. A week after his disappearance, it is estimated that more than 50,000 people joined the effort, the largest and most complex peacetime search for an individual in US history.

When it comes to crowd-sourcing, there are fewer successful businesses than WordPress. WordPress began with Matt Mullenweg saying “there must be something better than this,” and Mike Little responding from thousands of miles away across a continent and sea. Ten years later, thousands of contributors from around the world use WordPress to help millions manage their websites.

Matt admitted to me once that one of the scariest decisions he had to make was to “trust the crowd,” giving up control and delegating responsibility for WordPress to others, and learning to trust the masses to help make WordPress better. I can’t say that I would have been so brave.
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Blog Exercises: Learning From a Mentor Makes You Better

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.What One of the World’s Great Novelists Learned About Writing from David Ogilvy” on Copyblogger tells the story of how famous author Salman Rushdie learned copywriting and writing in general from another great copywriter, David Ogilvy.

Imagine it’s your job to convey the taste of a chocolate bar in just one word. And by the way, you’re not going to get paid for, “Delicious.”
This was the situation Rushdie was in one afternoon when a panicking co-worker asked him to brainstorm a new slogan for Aero, a British candy bar filled with air bubbles. As they batted around ideas, the unthinkable happened. The client called unexpectedly, demanding results.

This particular co-worker, according to Rushdie, “Had a tendency, when he was panicking, to sweat profusely and to begin to stammer, also extensively.” When the client asked him to do something, he said, “It’s impossib-ib-ib-ible.”

Rushdie says the light went on. “While he was still on the phone sweating and stammering, I wrote down every word I could think of that ended with ‘able’ or ‘ible’ and turned it into ‘bubble’.” Rushdie ended up with “Irresistibubble,” which is still Aero’s slogan, over 30 years later.

Panic can be an excellent tool for creativity.

The article features a list of tips Rushdie learned from working in copywriting and alongside David Ogilvy, and these tips apply to blogging, social web publishing, and self-publishing and marketing today.
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Blog Exercises: Bye Bye to Dumb Drafts

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.Demian Farnworth of Copyblogger wrote a brilliant article, “5 1/2 Reasons You Should Kill a Draft Blog Post. It’s today’s blog exercise.

In summary, Demian’s tips are:

  1. The idea sounds bad to you days later.
  2. It’s likely to create controversy you don’t want.
  3. It looks like something you wrote last year.
  4. It looks like stolen content.
  5. It looks shallow.
  6. It looks like a lunatic wrote it.

On an off day, my posts resembled that before you see them.

And sometimes, you will never see them because they are unfixable.
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Blog Exercises: A Link List Post to Dazzle Readers

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.In blog exercises on making lists and making your lists pretty, we worked on the links, understanding how they work and formatting your styles.

In this blog exercise, I want to focus on the content within those links, the real reason people love those link lists.

I’d like to cite my friends at Daily Blog Tips for their post “How to Put Together a List Post That Readers Will Love” to inspire you.

Author Ali Luke lists the tips to consider when creating a powerful link list. In summary, they are:
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Blog Exercises: Push Your Writing Forward

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.Blogging is about writing.

Let’s not forget that. And now is the time to test your writing skills.

The Tomorrow Project by The Society for Science and the Public is promoting contest for a science fiction story about the kind of future you want to live in when the future comes to call. They are accepting original stories, essays, comics, or video and the deadline is fast approaching on November 14, 2013.

What else is out there to test your writing skills and talents?

Poets & Writers features an updated list of contests, grands, and awards. There are poetry, essay, and manuscript competitions with cash prizes and publishing awards.

WritersDigest.com also features book and poetry competitions. Most are closed for the year, but they will start up again in January, with the potential for publishing contracts and cash awards.

NewPages Classifieds offers another list of writing contests and book contests. The Huffington Post releases writing contest news irregularly, but they often suggest large competitions and articles on how to enter such competitions.

Other similar resources include:

If you have a favorite resource I’ve not listed, let me know and I’ll add to the list.

National Novel Writing Month - NaNoWriMo - poster.Want to challenge yourself even more? On October 31 at midnight, the National Novel Writing Month commences throughout November. The goal is to write 50,000 words in one month. There are local meetups, social events, and prizes planned around the world to help writers meet their 50K goal. Almost 200,000 international writers are participating this year, and you could be one. I’m going to give it my best.

I’m not the only one here on WordPress.com taking the NaNoWriMo challenge in November. The WordPress.com News blog is encouraging bloggers to participate along with some tips. There is even a NaNoWriMo tag to follow in your Blog Reader on WordPress.com to track all the bloggers participating (and using that tag).

As you may notice, today’s blog exercise is about self-competition as well as competition in general. It’s time for you to put your blogging skills to the test and seek out some competition.

Blog Exercise Task from Lorelle on WordPress.Your blog exercise today is to go through the list above or search for your own specialist niche list of contests for writing, comic, video, audio, or graphics, and throw your hat into the ring.

The goals of this exercise are not just for you to feel a sense of spirited competition, and hopefully win some credits and prizes, it is to push you out of your comfort zone.

Writing and publishing for yourself should be a habit now after ten months or longer of these blogging exercises and blogging in general. You’ve gotten comfortable. It’s time to take that comfort and shove it out the door.

Contests and projects like NaNoWriMo challenge us. They challenge our complacency but they also serve to enforce discipline and good habits.

When you get comfortable with your blogging, you tend to get lazy, doing the same thing over and over, the things that work, the familiar. It’s time to push yourself a little and competition is a great place to start.

I’m doing the 50,000 word month-long competition this year to get my writing discipline back in force. I’ve become complacent about my writing. I want to push my skills to their limits. I want to see what I can do when faced with such a challenge.

Will you join me?

Remember to include a hat tip link back to this post to create a trackback, or leave a properly formed link in the comments so participants can check out your blog exercise task.

You can find more Blog Exercises on . This is a year-long challenge to help you flex your blogging muscles.


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen.

Blog Exercises: Trending

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.In social media, trending are topics attracting the attention of most of the people in that moment. Unfortunately, trending topics are self-feeding. If something ends up top of the trending list, it becomes an accident alongside the highway. Everyone wants to slow down and take a look.

Walking by a student glued to their computer, I asked, “What are you looking at?”

Without lifting her eyes away, she replied, “What everyone else is looking at.”

That’s a good definition of trending.

You might think that today’s blog exercise is to find a trending topic and blog about it, but the exercise today is to look at your own trends.

What is on your site that everyone is looking at?

In a lovely response to my blog exercise on naming your favorite things, the author of Tony’s Texts wrote about his favorite things, saying “it made a nice change from the darker posts I’ve been writing.”
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Blog Exercises: Blogging Loss and Grief

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.Loss is a part of life. This year, I’ve lost friends, family, and pets, and some days the sadness permeates everything. Other days, we laugh and smile. As with all things, in time, the balance between sunshine and dark shifts the scale towards sunshine.

Grief is often best when shared, at least during the earliest stages. As a blogger, the challenger is when and where to blog your grief.

The first instinct you may have is to blog your grief and loss across social media channels. This is natural. You want to let your friends know what’s going on. You want their support. You want them to feel your loss.

While sharing your life is healthy, is your blog the best place to share your grief?

Sharing the death of a pet on Google+.

The recent death of one of our cats was a moment to educate the world about bad cat food.

Depends.

Blaring it out across all the social webs might be a good idea, and your natural tendency, but some losses are best shared with those who care the most about you. Sometimes wide-spread notes of something personal and private can back fire, bringing a never-ending flood of positive, and sometimes negative, responses.

If you turn to your blog to share your grief, and it is a personal site, do so. It’s your private space. Share as you wish.

If you decide to publish on your professional site, one focused on your business, professional services and products, that’s not a good place to expose your grief publicly. Possibly. It is all about context. If you’ve set a precedence for sharing who you are opening with your clients and readers, such sharing is appropriate.

Consider limited your social media network exposure to your loss to those closest to you, not everyone following you, if possible.

I believe there is a division between church and state when it comes to social web publishing. Keep what’s privately, truly personal, personal and private.
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Blog Exercises: Priorities

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.A friend’s son was working on a school project when I asked him a question. “Not now, Lorelle. I don’t have the bandwidth.”

Unfortunately, I’ve had to use it over the past month too many times.

Consider this an apology for letting this site lapse recently for these Blog Exercises.

Bandwidth Overload graph.

Research published in “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much” by Sandhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir showcased how focusing on what is lacking in your life induces irrational patterns of thinking, “changing a person’s behavior and laying traps that spring later.”

Research on hunger in the 1994s found that volunteers didn’t just lose weight during the tests, they became obsessed with food, to the sacrifice of other thought. Tests in India with farmers found that before the harvest, when all their attention and worries were about the upcoming harvest, they scored lower on IQ tests than after the harvest when things calmed down. They found that 20-25% of fire fighter fatalities are not in fires but traffic accidents, often on the way to the fire. Fire fighters are trained to concentrate so much on the fire, they forget to put on seat belts and take care when driving to the fire.

When the pressure is on, our focus narrows down to our personal priorities, only motivated by rewards. The researchers found that rural Indians would not find time to get their children vaccinated – until free bags of lentils were offered as incentive. They showed up in droves, making the time.

Thus, when my attention was distracted and prioritizes moved into play, things that brought immediate results and rewards took priority.
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Blog Exercises: Make a List of Everything on Your Site

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.Today’s blog exercise will require a little time, magnifier, and a score card.

Well, maybe not one of those items.

I want you to grab a piece of paper and load up the front page of your site in a browser. Zoom in so you can really see it up close and personal.

Start counting.

Title the first list “Front Page” and start counting every design element, navigation block, text blog, every widget, call to action, and graphic you can see on the front page of the site. Inside and around the content.

Don’t count words. Count visuals. What catches your eye. For multiple post pageviews, count each post. Add it to the list.

If your site has a static front page, when you are done, move to the blog page and title a column “Blog” and start counting.

Example of counting all the design elements on a pageview on your site - graphic by Lorelle VanFossen.Go to a single post pageview, a single article on your site. Title a list column (or column on the paper) “Single Post.” Start counting.

If you feel creative, instead of making a list, print out each pageview and number each visual element. Note that not all graphic design elements on a web page will print, so your print version may look different from the browser view.

One you have your list, group like items together. You may have one element in multiple groups.

For example, in my article, “Blog Exercises: To Comment or Not to Comment,” I came up with the following totals.

  • Logos: 4
  • Badges: 14
  • Social Icons: 13
  • Navigation blocks/lists: 11
  • Calls to Action: 22
  • Graphic Design Elements: 30
  • Lists: 10
  • Posts: 1
  • Headings: 11

Here is a breakdown of how I counted all the pieces.
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Blog Exercises: To Comment or Not to Comment

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.In the September 20, 2013, issue of the New York Times, an article caught my eye called “No Comments.” It is also available on Umano via mobile app or desktop for a listen.

The article by Michael Erard discusses comments on the web, including a long look back at the history of interactivity on the site.

When we complain about comments, I’ve noticed, we do so as if we’re dealing with some emanation of human nature or the lusty democratic energies of the American soul. But when I went digging into the history of the Web to find out where online comments really came from, it’s clear that they’re the consequences of what was technically feasible at a certain point and how that feasibility was subsequently implemented. We tend to think that comments represent the culture, but in fact the distinct culture of commenting grew out of digital constraints. Given what Web users had to work with, comments were bound to get weedy.

Most fascinating are the perceptions about web interactivity over the years. Here are some examples from the article:
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Blog Exercises: Site Models

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.In “WordPress Site Models” I describe the three main formats for a site layout. They are static, blog, and hybrid.

Each site model works for a variety of content and presentation of that content, though some work better for specific types of sites.

A static site model, even in WordPress, uses Pages and not posts to organize its content. This is ideal for a small business, portfolio, or resume site with fewer than 20 pages with content that rarely changes.

A blog model features posts on the front page of the site in reverse chronological order. This is one of the most common site models, putting the most recent information at the top of the front page. Posts are organized by categories and tags, expanding navigation options.

A hybrid site model, sometimes called integrated, comes in two styles. Both feature a static front page with a blog Page displaying the posts in reverse chronological order.

The first style, known as the static front page model, features static content on the front page of the site. This is style is often used for existing sites integrating a WordPress site into it.
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Blog Exercises: The Welcome Page

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.One of the many things I’d like to see gone on the web is the Welcome front page.

Think about it this way. You invite friends over for a party. You greet everyone at the door with a full self-introduction, welcoming them to your place, instructing them on how to visit your home, telling them all about you, your history, the reasons you exist in this world, your passions, and offer them tips on how best to work with you as you know you will be working with them in the future.

The friends you have known for a year to thirty years will look at you as if you are insane. Way over the top. New people to your home might welcome the information but it is too much information too soon and too fast. They might not be ready for all that arrogance. Friends gather at the VanFossens and are entertained by friend, John Doan, on the harp guitar - photography by Lorelle VanFossen.Some of them might like to explore your home, identify the objects that define your personality, listen in on a few conversations, and just hang out and absorb the real you before they commit.

When you create a static front page with such a welcome, or a sticky post stuck to the top of your front page stuffed with your CV and life history, you may have the same impact on visitors.

You have two types of visitors to your site. First time visitors, usually seeking information and a like-mind, and second time visitors, those who found something to cling on the first time visit and they want more. You’ve become a resource, a community, a friend.

If the majority of your visitors are first time visitors, and your site is your portfolio, resume, or virtual business card on the web, stacking all this information on the front page might be welcome.

If the majority of your visitors are repeat offenders, back for more of the good stuff, you are telling them things they already know, taking up space on the front page by standing in front of them and reciting your life story again and again, and getting in their way of what they really want.
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Blog Exercises: Choose an Appropriate Gravatar for Your Readers

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.All WordPress sites have Gravatars integrated into the core. Gravatars are Globally Recognized Avatars, images that represent you in blog posts comments, featured author images (integrated with Gravatars), author images, BuddyPress, and other Gravatar-enabled features.

Near the beginning of this year of blog exercises, you were asked to add or update your Gravatar to represent yourself well on your site and across all WordPress and Gravatar-enabled sites. The avatar image is associated with your email address. When you comment using that email address, the image will be automatically used.

But what about those without Gravatars?

In addition to feeling pity for them, and encouraging them to set up their own free Gravatar profile, you may select a Gravatar image to display within your blog comments for them.

WordPress Gravatar avatars for non-Gravatar members on WordPress sites.
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Blog Exercises: Current Events September

Blog Exercises on Lorelle on WordPress.It’s time to blog the news and current events for September in our Blog Exercises.

This month, I want you to dig deeper into the news, targeting your specific industry and niche. With several months of blogging the news once a month under your belt, you should have set up some good resources in your feed reader and bookmarks, sources where you can keep up with what’s going on, changing, or newsworthy.

Dive deeper.

Are there sources you haven’t tapped yet? Dig deeper and spread your net wider.

As a professional blogger, I have collected over 1000 resources for news, tips, techniques, and resources to report on and help me blog better. The list tends to grow rather than shrink as I constantly add new rising blogging stars blogging about blogging and WordPress, and I love being surprised with new sources that I’ve missed along the way.

There is nothing more boring than reblogging the news from the same sources. Expand your list. Expand your world.

As I gather up all these resources over time, it helps me to create resource and reference articles featuring many of my best sources. Readers love it when you share your sources with them, letting them in on your secret stash, so to speak.

Examples of such resource and reference posts include:
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