If only I’d known

Finally, after weeks of nagging poor Pete Ashton like a fishwife for FTP access to the Digbeth is Good blog, he’s on it. So whilst I wait for every ISP in the world to change, and relish the prospect of total control (mwah-ha-ha) I’m going to use poor, neglected Getgood Guide to do the downright inevitable and blog about bloody blogging. It happens to the best of us.

Antonio Gould’s been telling me for a while I should write a post about things I’ve needed during my induction to bloggery. I’ve kind of listened to him. And decided to do my own thing, which is write a post about things I wish I knew before I started. Here we are then.

I’d need to know a spot of HTML

A couple of years ago, I did an Open University Web Design course, which consisted of learning the basic principles of web design and using these to build a site out of HTML about a saucepan company, of all things. I hated the programming more than I did those stupid pots and pans and after passing, threw away all the books and notes, vowing never to touch HTML ever again.

I didn’t realise my mistake until quite recently. There’s no getting over it, WISYWIG can only get a girl so far. I’ll really need to re-learn a little of that horrid HTML if I want my posts to look not too squashed, not too spaced but juuust right. Arses.

Techie Stuff

There’s a whole, head-spinning world of WordPress Plugins, Flickr, Twitter, YouTube, RSS Readers, Delicious, Analytics, Feedburner etc. And all this before I’ve even considered podcasting or Flip-ing filming. To be honest, a lot of this stuff isn’t that hard to learn and it just needs a good explanation to get the hang of it. I think what would have been useful is a step-by-step guide of the stuff that new bloggers need to know. Like an online course or post explaining things like image copying, film embedding, linking and the like. The simple tools one needs to get started.

Luckily this type of support is starting to emerge with blogging workshops, the surgeries started by Pete Ashton being duplicated elsewhere, and Ultra Local blogging expert William Perrin’s genius ideas for a UK-wide blogger-starter resource, which I don’t doubt will become a reality.

Where’s my life gone?

I never leave Digbeth anymore. I live and work here but before Digbeth is Good I had been known to occasionally socialise elsewhere. Now, when I’m not going to local launches and events, I’m blogging about them. Venturing to the Jewelery Quarter to see Stan’s Café’s The Rice Show felt like a new mother’s first night out.

When Pete gave me Digbeth is Good, he gave me a rough brief of covering all the arty cultural happenings within the place. There’s a hell of a lot of that going on. And I can’t not mention the regeneration activity or the music and pub culture if I’m going to give the place the overview it deserves. I think I’m spending roughly two days a week on this, on top of my full-time job. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love it, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. It’s just that occasionally I’d like to have the time to do other stuff, like clean my flat or talk to my family. People have advised me to take step back but that’s easier said than done when you want your baby to be perfect.

It also means I don’t have the time I’d like to look at it strategically and think about how it should develop. On October 13th Hyperlocalblogger expert Matt McGee wrote a post about What Makes a Great Local Blogger, which I duly bookmarked. 10 days later and I still haven’t managed to read it.

I discussed this problem with William Perrin yesterday when I had the pleasure of meeting with him at the Hello Digital conference. His solution was to relinquish some of that total control I’d been celebrating – get others with something to say writing on the site. I can see how this would widen the scope of the blog and be a nice way to engage and give a voice to people. But I must admit to instinctively hating the idea of letting anyone else help look after the precious baby I’ve nurtured. I’ll have to think very long and hard on this one, about whether or not I could stand it.

Brum Bloggers: you can be a little scary sometimes

I was nervous about writing this for precisely this reason, but I felt the fact that I felt this way was important, so sod it.

When I first started blogging my friend Will Buckingham, who was Birmingham Words before moving to Leeds, wrinkled his nose and asked if I’d become part of the Birmingham Blogging Mafia. I said I didn’t realise there was one. “Oh yeah,” said his girlfriend Elee, “and they meet up and everything.” (I love the meet-ups – it’s great to get to know people you’ve met virtually.)

Then the Surface Unsigned debacle happened. Surface Unsigned sent Created in Birmingham a scary legal letter. Pete Ashton put out an online call to arms and the answer he received, from myself included, was deafening.

After that came the ArtsFest Twitter debate. ArtsFest were experimenting with social media with their new blog and a volunteer started an ArtsFest Twitter account in a way Birmingham Bloggers felt was wrong. They duly commented on Twitter and wrote blog posts debating the issue.

I’m not disagreeing with the verdict, but the way it was done made me feel slightly uncomfortable. It left me, rightly or wrongly, with the impression I that if I made a similar boo-boo it would be discussed and dissected very publicly. I’m not saying that’s necessarily wrong, the only way we’ll learn is to share but as a newcomer it’s bloody daunting. It made me kind of terrified of making a mistake.

But of course I did, because learners inevitably do. Luckilly a friend noticed it first and rang me to explain the error of my ways, because that’s how friends tend correct each other – they take you aside and have a quiet word in your ear rather than exposing you. Of course we need to share and learn from each other, but sometimes the way it’s done can make this Brave New World feel a little unfriendly.

But no friend knew or thought to tell me all of these things before I started on Digbeth is Good, which is probably just well because if they had I wouldn’t have touched it with a barge pole. I know I’ve used the blog-as-child analogy a little too much here but it’s totally true – it’s taken over and completely changed my life, but I wouldn’t be without it for the world.

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10 Comments »

  1. Dave Harte said

    Great post Nicky, really really interesting. On the second part I kinda know what you mean. It’s about etiquette and language. The Artsfest one is the really interesting example. Who knew that Twitter had etiquette? That came at a time when I’d only just got my own daveharte.com blog going and it kind of terrified me and made me be ultra-careful about how I tweeted and what I wrote.

    There is an important point here as many a French or English cultural theorist will tell you power always lies with those who control language. Not understanding or having access to the rules of how to use the language is disempowering and may be a key reason for people not to blog.

    I labour this point over and over again in various blogs but the greatest barrier to getting more people online isn’t technology, nor is it psychological, but it’s the cultural and class barriers that exist in all forms of media.

  2. Nice post Nicky.

    It’s a tricky one. I’ve certainly dished out a few opinions and had to fight my corner here and there, but there is a tendency to keep one’s head under the parapet.

    I have felt more than a little uncomfortable with what, to me, sometimes feels like a witch hunt in terms of responses to those online faux pas and quite amazed at the level of response. I think Dave too has a point about how exclusive it all potentially becomes/feels.

    Another side is that it potentially means the whole ‘local blogging community’ is viewed as a pack.

    Anyway my two penneth – btw I’m enjoying DiG

    Charlotte

  3. bounder said

    Lovely post Nicky, I’m really glad that the community of bloggers around these parts is growing up enough to be able to start to offer help to newcomers. When I started there weren’t really that many people doing it, at least not that I knew of — the networks didn’t exist in the way they do now. I know that going along to the very first Brum Blogger’s meet was scary (I nearly didn’t turn up).

    That that network had evolved so quickly and in quite a few directions (the first meet-up was unfeasibly different to how any are now) without any major spats is testament to the general _niceness_ of everyone. I’ve lost count of the conversations I’ve had with people about how to make sure the group feels to the outsider as open as it is in reality — are we getting better at this or not, I’m not sure.

    Any form of communication evolves an etiquette, even one as anarchic and short form as twitter, or as free as blogging. In almost any community as long as you’re polite and honest you generally get nothing but positive encouragement and support. The ‘ganging-up’ that you described makes me feel uncomfortable too — it’s notable that these were instances when the person who made the mistake was someone that it wasn’t easy to communicate with.

    On the Digbeth blog front you’re doing a sterling job, and the burden-sharing vs. control issue is one that loads of people struggle with. I’ve not got an answer, except just to keep it as something you enjoy. Have fun — you’re not getting paid after all 😉

  4. Nick Booth said

    Sorry If I contributed to making you nervous. Thanks for reminding me of this, I hear it from other places too.

  5. as we discussed nicky – hold some auditions and build a team. if you audition it right you can select someone whose voice is complementary to your own. in kings cross i have about six people who can write for me – about four others do regularly – and i couldn’t do it without them. having a team allows me to spend some time to do other things.
    and then you would have time to set up digbeth tv

  6. Thanks for the positive feedback people. I don’t think there’s a serious culture of playground ‘ganging up’ but the two instances happened to occur shortly after I’d started, which made me wary and unsure because I was feeling my way at that point anyway, and still am if I’m honest.

    I think Dave Harte’s point is the most apt – the incidents made me scared of breaking the rules but I wasn’t sure what those rules were because they’re not really laid out anywhere, you just have to pick them up. So the idea that, if you go against the ‘etiquette’ Bounder refers to, you’ll get criticized when you’re kind of unsure of it anyway makes one very cautious, which may actually be a good thing!

    William – I totally see the merits of your model. Whilst my head tells me it’s obviously a great idea my heart says ‘no – mine, mine, mine, mine, mine!’ My gut reaction goes against something that makes perfect sense! Head and heart still fighting like a couple of kids – will let you know the outcome ; )

  7. Dave Harte said

    It’s great to see us having a discussion at this level. We should be aware that we contribute to evolving the etiquette of these forms of communication. With that comes a responsibility towards incusivity and diversity – ensuring ‘unwritten rules’ don’t prevent a widening of participation. Indeed ‘etiquette’, ‘good manners’, ‘common sense’, are really ideas those with power use to keep the disenfranchised on the sidelines.

    The truth is that there aren’t any rules; unlike other media forms established rhetorical devices don’t exist – only those who see online as a territory to occupy would think otherwise. That In my view makes this a time of opportunity for those whose voices rarely make it to any form of media outlet.

  8. Jon Bounds said

    Perrhaps “etiquette” is the wrong term – it’s certainly one with an unhelpfull history. Online doesn’t, or shouldn’t, have rules – but individual services do and should. Written (in an accesible way) preferably.

    For what it’s worth it would be great if ‘unwritten rules’ become written ones – for the world offline too. Flickr’s Community Guidelines – http://www.flickr.com/guidelines.gne – are fantastic (and according to Heather Champ “our gift to the internet” – that anyone is free to use and adapt) in this respect.

    Although they boil down to the old Bill’n’Ted-ism – “be excellent to each other”.

  9. Will said

    What do you know? You indulge in a spot of vanity surfing at the end of a long, hard day, and you find that people are talking about your nose…
    Good post, madam.
    W x

  10. As you know from our private conversations, I felt exactly the same about my first blogging attempts! And let the record show that Nicky Getgood was shit-hot at making me feel comfortable with it, and before that came out with some VERY encouraging and unsolicited praise on my efforts (shame I’ve not managed to maintain the standard, but I’ll keep trying in your honour). I’m still a bit scared of the wider blogging community sometimes – fuck the rules Jon Bounds! Everyone should make up their own! Everyone’s got different takes on things, and laying down rules will always mean at least one person’s take gets labelled as “wrong”.

    BUT this isn’t my absolute standpoint on it. If a wide majority of people don’t like what somebody’s doing (like the ArtsFest twitter thing) then it probably needs to be stopped. In that instance, a clearly defined rule would’ve been helpful to the offending party. But I’m wary of rules since they tend to breed sticklers. Like something that happened to a friend of mine yesterday: his young daughter was denied a pee in a shop where he was well known, because a Nazi had just taken over and was determined to enforce the rule about “employees only in the back room”.

    I’m a new blogger and haven’t come up against any of the unwritten rules yet as far as I know (or maybe it’s just that no one’s reading me blog!), so I might be misunderstanding the kind of rules you’re talking about. Just wanted to chuck in my friendly words of caution just in case you’re not all as reasonable as you sound!

    By the way Nicky, I know what you mean about not wanting other writers to sully your baby. My blog’s open to all our group to submit anything they want, and it doesn’t always tally with my idea of what the blog should be. Can I come and write for you instead?!! 😉

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