I remember the early days (1994 or thereabouts for me, at least) of Internet search and search engines. In fact, according to a History of Search Engines, when Lycos first went public in 1994, its index had something like only 54,000 total documents. In those days, when someone posted a "how to" guide it became prominent and likely was pretty intelligent, too.
I contrast that now to a recent task I set for myself: Find the "best" listing of "how to" guides for setting up a purposeful, content-driven blog. In other words, find the best analogs to the guide I am preparing myself on my experience in entering the blogasphere (alternative spelling: blogosphere).
I can first report that the number of such items has increased greatly from the days of the early Internet — we’re now dealing in thousands or tens or thousands of postings, not simply a handful. Second, I can report most all is dross and self-serving. I guess we all know what the astrological symbol looks like representing the Age of Aquarius; I wonder what the symbols for the Age of Spam or the Age of Hype should look like?
These issues are emblematic of some broader problems. Namely, when everything is online, when everyone is a publisher, when many can figure out how to jimmy the system, how can one efficiently find and distill the best? Hmmm. This is not so easy ….
I pride myself on being a "1%"-er in terms of search and information discovery. Indeed, for many years I can proudly say my search tutorials were often deemed the best on the Web, or at least very good. Sure, I continue to learn techniques and elsewhere on this blog I frequently sum them up or re-cap them. But my experience in trying to find the definitive "how to" guides for professional, content-oriented blogs makes me feel pretty humble.
I’ve tried many of my tricks to find definitive blogging guides (with Yahoo search counts shown for each):
- Obviously, the best is phrase searching, with "bloggers guide" (9,300), "blogger’s guide" (7,320), "blogging guide" (19,400), "how to" blogging (14,400,000), etc,. and many variants showing some promise, but ultimately poor yield and too many results
- I have learned that it is often useful to restrict such searches by file type (esp. PDF) to cull out the most serious postings (yes, you miss some great stuff, but the premise is that taking the effort to create a PDF also signals seriousness of the content). To take our lowest count from the example above, adding the restriction of PDFs for "bloggers guide" numbers about two results. Somehow, I went from too many to too few, since my intent was to assemble a vetted list of 5-15 or so "best" guides
- Even when applying these same techniques to the big results of the "how to" blogging query above limited to PDFs, the results set was still 9,340 hits. Though, again, some useful links were found, the yields were low
- Another techique is to seek review or compilation sites, using those terms. There are ranking qualifiers ("top" "best" "100", etc.) that can be used for this purpose
- A further technique is to search on qualifying terms that often point to guides or tutorials. Example terms are guide, tutorial, beginners, basics, 101, etc., and their plural variants
- Additional narrowing of results come from using terms such as professional, business or corporate, since my interest was in more-or-less these types of blogs, and
- Still another technique is to string together a few terms-of-art (read, nouns), that specifically and collectively pertain to the topic at hand. In the case of our blog topic, such terms could include blog, WordPress, blogger, trackback, ping, RSS, post, "blog roll," etc., etc.
Despite these tricks, and some others not enumerated, I was singly unable to find a "high yield" set of search results pointing me to what I wanted. Granted, each search, esp. the refined ones, surfaced some possible gems or OK results, but the general yield was poor.
Why is this?
Well, certainly, one reason is the growth of blogging. Having more blogs online means much larger numbers of postings and more difficulty in finding the gems. Another reason is that the sheer growth and popularity of blogs attracts those interested in making money. For example, Build a Better Blog System is a pretty comprehensive guide but its insights come at a price ($49). Other sites use "how to" come ons for drawing visitors into their marketing, advertising or PR services. Finally, still another reason is that some of the better guides are specific to a specific hosted service such as Blogger or specific blogging software such as WordPress or Movable Type.
Nonethless, these investigations did produce a few additional guide references:
- The Executive Blogger's Guide to Building a Nest of Blogs, Wikis & RSS, an entertaining guide from Ogilvy PR Worldwide
- Time to check: Are you using the right blogging tool? covers blog software comparison chart, plus pretty good glossary
- How To Blog 101, a pretty comprehensive "How To" blog site
- Beginners’ Guide to Corporate Blogging is fairly short and elementary
- Beginner’s Guide to Business Blogging, which is a 41 slide presentation
- Google’s Blogger Guide, useful for those wanting a quick blog set-up
- A good practical guide that emphasizes thought and planning in launching a blog is by Stephen Downes, How to be Heard. He offers good advice on discovering why you are blogging, design and marketing and awareness conditions, etc. Stephen is the veteran of the introduction of a few blogs, and his experience shows in this short and easily read guide.
I welcome additional suggestions for worthwhile guides.