Have your Blogs.mu cake – and eat it too!

People are now asking me about Blogs.mu in terms of school blogging programs so I’ve decided it’s better to clarify because most people won’t appreciate how very different Blogs.mu is from other hosted blogging solutions.

But before I do it is important to point out, to ensure full disclosure, that I work for both Edublogs and Incsub (who own Blogs.mu).

WordPress blog vs WordPress MU blogs

When you sign up for a blog on Edublogs or WordPress.com what happens is these companies host your blog and you can get on with the job of writing your posts and blog design. The highest level of access you have is as an administrator and because it is a hosted solution features like adding extra plugins or uploading themes aren’t possible.

The other option for single blog users, who want to use WordPress but have more control over their blog features such as extra plugins or custom themes, is they will install WordPress from WordPress.org and host their own blog on either their own servers or pay a hosting company.

Once you want to hosts lots of blogs on the same domain then you need to use WordPress MU (WordPress Multiuser and also known as WPMU). Both Edublogs or WordPress.com use WordPress MU but Edublogs has been highly customised by our specialist team WPMU coders to include features that specifically assist educators with using the blogs with students.

WordPress MU blogs vs Edublogs Campus Site

Often schools and universities want higher level of control and access than achievable with Edublogs so they will look at solutions like hosting their own WordPress MU site or Edublogs Campus.

While installing and managing your own WordPress blog is relatively easy, but can cause problems, WordPress MU is considerably more specialized and requires a certain level of expertise.

This is why educational organisations choose Edublogs Campus because it provides all the powerful features of a WordPress MU site without having to worry about the stress of hosting, maintenance and upgrading the software.

The main feature which provides the higher level of control that educational organisations want is access to site admin. On a WordPress MU the next level of access of access above an Administrator is the site admin user.

As site admin user you can:

  1. Manage the access and level of responsibility of all users
  2. Manage blog features including access to plugins, themes and blog privacy settings
  3. Create new users and new blogs
  4. Edit posts, pages, comments on any blog
  5. Reset passwords
  6. Edit and delete any blog

In really simple terms, if you have problems with a student, as site admin user, you can immediately log into the dashboard of their blog, without being attached as a user to that blog, then edit/delete a post/comment plus change whether that student can access their blog.

WordPress MU blogs vs Blogs.mu Community

Blogs.mu is quite a bit different from the hosted Edublogs and WordPress.com. When you sign up with either of these services you are provided with a blog.

On Blogs.mu you can sign up for WordPress MU site of your own and then set up your own blogs, or blog community under it. For example you might like to set up a community on writing called writerspot.blogs.mu and then if the writer John Smith signs up in your community his blog is writerspot.blogs.mu/johnsmith.

Similar to Edublogs with Blogs.mu you can choose to be a free user or a supporter.

With Blogs.mu just like Edublogs Campus you are getting your own WordPress MU site with the high level of control minus the stress of hosting the site and specialist expertise required to maintain or upgrade WordPress MU.

The features of these two sites are quite different because Blogs.mu is designed for anyone who wants to set up a community using their WordPress MU while Edublogs Campus has been customised specifically to meets the needs of the educational community.

For a comparison check out:

  1. Blogs.mu Site Admin Guide
  2. Edublogs Campus Site Admin Guide and log into the University of Blogs Sandpit site

If you’re interested in the technical aspects of how blogs.mu was created check out Barry’s On Muing MU – A technical introduction post.

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Comments Count!

A lot of the learning from blogging happens as a result of commenting and interaction between commenters.   Comments that challenge views, ideas and thoughts or provide alternative solutions expand our thinking.

Trouble is most readers are reluctant commenters, not because of lack of time, but because they feel uncomfortable leaving comments.

Please leave a comment to demonstrate the power of commenting by sharing your thoughts on:

  1. Reasons why readers mightn’t leave comments on blog posts
  2. What makes a good comment?
  3. What are some of your tips for encouraging readers to comment?

The Enjoyable Aspects Of Decluttering Sidebars!

Image of cluttered videosFirst impressions count!

Combine poor theme choice with a cluttered sidebar and you have a recipe for convincing first time visitors NOT to subscribe to your blog.  They’re too busy being turned off to notice your great posts!

Unfortunately sidebar clutter creeps up on most bloggers.  So I thought it would be helpful to share the process I regularly use to declutter my sidebar.

Prioritizing SideBar Decluttering

What I do is take a critical look at my design in the following order of priority (which also reflects their location in my sidebars):

  1. How obvious is it for readers on how to subscribe to my blog?
  2. How easy is it to find information on my blog?
    • Search widget – Is it prominent & near top of blog sidebar? (I prefer a search that only search my blog)
    • Categories and tags – Are they helping readers easily find relevant information?
  3. What other widgets do I have in my sidebar?  Which ones can I live without? — if you compare this blog with The Edublogger you will notice a difference in number of widgets in the sidebars.

Image of drop down menuTip: If you want to display Archives on your blog sidebar it is better to use a drop down menu as it takes up less room.

Editing Categories

Unfortunately my categories failed this latest audit in terms of “Are they helping readers easily find relevant information?” – so I changed too many messy categories (21 categories on this blog) to fewer, more relevant categories (10 categories).

Off course editing each post on this blog (300 posts) and The Edublogger (100 posts) to fix categories was thoroughly excruciating enjoyable.

NOTE: Refer to this post to learn about the difference between categories and tags.

My tip for speeding up the process is to hold the Ctrl key when you left mouse click on the title on the post in your blog dashboard — this opens up the post so you can edit it in a new tab (for FireFox, Flock and Internet Explorer 7).  This open up 15 posts in 15 separate tabs and work through the task faster!

Image of opening up posts

FINAL THOUGHTS

Would love to hear your priorities in using widgets on your sidebar especially in terms of what are your ‘must have’ widgets and why?

This was part of the Day 8 Task for Building a Better Blog.

Image adapted from John Pannell licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike.

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Are You Being A More Effective Blogger By Tracking Comments?

When I leave comments on other blogger’s posts I like to be notified on any new comments that are posted.  Maybe it is just me?  But comments by other readers and response(s) by the blogger help my learning.

Being notified of follow up comments means I can choose to continue the conversation by returning to the post to add further comments — this makes me a more effective blogger.  Needless to say, after 18 months of tracking comments, I’m ‘quite’ good at it.

Subscribing by RSS

There are several comment tracking services that allow you to subscribe to new commenting by RSS using your feed reader.   RSS is always my preferred choice when available because it makes my life easier.

Image of comment shutdown

I was using co.mments and cocomment but co.mments was discontinuing their services and shut down as of today!

Here is my detailed post on how to keep track on of new comments on other bloggers’ posts using cocomment.  One definite benefit of cocomment is if your comment is accidentally lost and you can normally find a copy of what you’ve written in your cocomment account e.g. your comment failed to post due to problems with the anti-spam word.

I’m now also using Commentful which is okay, as a backup, but doesn’t give me the type of RSS feed I like.

Subscribing by Email

There are several options if  you prefer email to RSS.

Some bloggers use the Subscribe to Comments plugin which allows readers to select ‘‘ when they write comments.  This means each time a new comment is posted you will recieve an email.

For posts that don’t have the option to ‘‘ you can always use:

  1. Commentful
  2. Bloppy
  3. Cocomment – select email notification in your account settings

Both comment tracking services provide the ability to track comments by email.

Image of Bloppy

FINAL THOUGHTS

People often ask me how I’m able to respond quickly to comments on other bloggers posts.  Hopefully this has answered those questions.

Would love to hear your thoughts! Do you like to track comments on other bloggers posts? If so, what is your method(s)?  What tips do you have for being more effective at tracking comments?

This was part of the Day 8 Task for Building a Better Blog.

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Are You Getting The Most Out Of Pages On Your Blog?

Image of What was I thinkingHow you write your posts and its content is really important! But so are the pages on your blog!  Did you realise that visits to your pages can be higher than your posts?

But when was the last time you audited your pages and made improvements?  Especially your ‘About Page’ since this is where new readers find out more about you, your blog and decide whether to subscribe to your blog.

Conducting Page Audits

The key with any page on your blog is to focus on:

  1. Is the page relevant/useful for readers? – if not remove or improve!
  2. Is the page title meaningful to readers?
  3. Is it engaging and provide sufficient information to be of value to your reader?
  4. The best location for the page link – Should it be at the top of the blog or a link in the sidebar?

One option for auditing pages is to use Google Analytics data to help guide improvements.Here is how I’ve done this on my blogs, The Edublogger and this blog.

Below is comparison of the rank of each page in terms of top content viewed on each blog, by pageviews, for the last 6 months:

Image of page rank table

My conclusions are:

  1. Readers priorities are helpful tips and resources on The Edublogger – not surprising
  2. My ‘Blogs I read’ page receives the most pageviews on my personal blog – surprising given the link to the page is in the sidebar only
  3. Checking out my ‘About page’ and ‘Other Sites’ are a high priority for readers of my personal blog
  4. My page ‘Want automatic notification?‘ which explains to readers how to subscribe to my blog has poor pageviews on both blogs

Improvements made are:

  1. Updated both ‘About pages’
  2. Updated ‘My Other Sites
  3. ‘Want automatic notification’ page obviously not working probably because new readers don’t understand its relevance.  This has been renamed ‘Info for First Time Visitors’ and includes more helpful tips
  4. Have added a Contact page to my personal blog

Another option for auditing pages (better option) is to get readers to review your pages and provide feedback.

Image of page audit pleadIf you have time would love feedback on my different pages, especially My Other Sites and Edublogs Help Info!, in terms of is the information relevant, meaningful, engaging – what improvements would you recommend?

FINAL THOUGHTS

Here are resources to help you work with pages and Google Analytics:

  1. Differences Between Blog Pages and Posts
  2. Have You Set Up Your About Page?
  3. Changing Your Display Name and Setting up your Comment Avatar – makes it easier for readers to write more personal comments
  4. Setting Up Google Analytics on Your Blog
  5. The Basics of Using Google Analytics

This was part of the Day 5 Task for Building a Better Blog.  If you would like to join us in Building a Better Blog – there is plenty of time.  Start whenever and do it at your own pace!

Image by Twenty Questions licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike!

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Interlinking! Is it YOUR idea of fun?

Natasa describes interlinking archived posts as “a blogger’s day in hell!”  Strong words but I can’t think of ANY blogging task that horrifies me more than working through old posts to add links to new posts.

It’s incredibly time consuming!  And if your main reason for linking posts is to get readers viewing more pages of your blog I’m not convinced of its benefit unless you have a high traffic blog where readers often visit older posts.

Image of links

BUT…if you want to be a better blogger… make the time to complete this task.  Since it forces you to reflect — what you liked or didn’t like about posts you’ve written; your changing writing style; how easy your blog to navigate.

What the task involves

How it works is you look your posts and, where appropriate, link to posts you have written on the same or similar topics.  As Ken Allan highlights use links cautiously as you can turn off readers by overlinking.

For example, Adding a RSS Feed From Feedburner To Your Blog post has been linked to the different ways you can set up a subscribe by email feed to your blog and how to redirect all your blog feed to Feedburner!.  These feedburner posts could have also been linked to Google Analytics posts.

Where possible it is always better to insert links inside the body of a post rather than use ‘read more on this topic at…’ link at the bottom of your post.

Image of snapshots

Other Handy Tips

If you really want your readers to follow your links DON”T USE Snap shots on your blog! IMHO they don’t enhance a readers experience and are more likely to encourage readers NOT to check out your links!  Read other people’s view here on John Connell’s blog.

I would also recommend switching off Possibly related posts: (automatically generated) on the bottom of your posts.  For the same reason I DON”T recommend the use of technorati tags on blog posts — your main aim with links is to encourage readers to view your content!

FINAL THOUGHTS

Interlinking Posts is the Day 4 task as part of the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog.  While some tasks are more fun than others; they all do help you become a better blogger.  Plenty of time to join us in the challenge — as you can see I’m working through it at my own pace!

What are your tips for interlinking posts?  What is your advice for speeding up this process?

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Running A First Time Reader Audit On Your Blog

Image of magnifying glass Day 2 in the 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Project is to Do a First Time Reader Audit on your blog. This is one of the MOST important tasks of the 31 Days Project.  How you see your blog and what you write about is often totally different from how viewed by others.

Take the time to do a Reader Audit of your blog even if you’re not doing the 31 Days Project; you will be amazed how it helps improve your blog.

Conducting A Blog Audit

While there’s merit to Darren Rowse’s suggestions of what to watch for as the reader surfs your blog I think it was a bad mistake to JUST recommend family and friends as the first time readers.  Generally they have little to no knowledge of blogs so aren’t necessarily reflective of your intended audience.

Definitely watch someone surf your blog (even if the only person available isn’t a blog reader) BUT also get more experienced blogger(s) to do a readers audit.  The more input the better; each sees different aspects.  Michele Martin‘s audit for Paul Nichols highlighted aspects I would’ve missed; similarly Anne Mirtschin‘s review for Carole McCulloch.

My Checklist

Image of sidebar orderHere’s my take on what you need to consider for your blog:

  1. Always put the most important widgets at the top of the blog
  2. Search widget – top of blog or top of sidebar
  3. RSS feed using Feedburner – here’s how to add it to your blog but remember to redirect all your feed through Feedburner!
  4. Subscribe by email using Feedburner – here’s how to add Feeburner email subscription to your blog
  5. Effectively use both categories and tags on your post to make it easier in the long term for readers (and yourself) to find posts – here’s the difference between categories and tags
  6. Place category widget above tag widget in your sidebar
  7. AVOID excessive use of bold, italics and colored font in posts – this is my first tips for writing better blog posts
  8. Use images effectively to engage attention – strongly recommend working from the bottom post on this page upwards to read all the posts relating to images in blog posts
  9. Avoid blog themes with strong colors or text that is too small that distract the reader from content and make them not want to read it – here’s what to consider when choosing a blog theme
  10. Choose a blog title that is immediately meaningful and relevant to first time visitors – this can make or break their decision to become a subscriber (YES Mobile Technology in TAFE is an extreme example of a REALLY crappy blog title 8) which has loses me first time readers)

NOTE : Excluded About Pages and sidebar clutter because they are tasks from other days in the 31 Days Project.

FINAL THOUGHTS

So what did I miss on the checklist? What would questions would you use on a checklist if you asked an experienced blogger to review your blog – Darren’s questions or other?

PS my blog theme’s annoying me again — which one shall I choose next?

If you’re interesting in joining us on this 31 Days to Building a Better Blog Project – leave a comment to let us know.  You can do it at your own pace!  My current interpretation of a day is approximately 4 days.

Image by Helmetti licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike.

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Emailing New Readers Who Leave Comments

Wasn’t me who said I’m currently unable to revisit Darren Rowse’s 31 Days to Build a Better Blog while also reflecting on Steve Dembo’s 30 Days to Being A Better Blogger!

Course I’m able! Simple… I will write posts about each task on this blog but based on my interpretation of what’s 31 Days 8) .

Using Email For Relationship BuildingImage of community

The first task of the 31 Days Project is to email a new reader of your blog.

Why? Helps build relationships while demonstrating you’re grateful they’ve taken the time to comment. Writing comments and engaging in conversations on posts is intimidating for many readers. Yet readers’ comments are where so much of the learning happens for edubloggers.

Would I recommend that edubloggers make a practice of emailing at least one new reader a day? Your decision. There’s pros and cons.

What I can say is bloggers such as Beth Kanter, a non-profit blogger, and Larry Ferlazzo often respond to comments, to both new and old time readers, by sending an email. Being on the receiving end of their emails definitely makes me feel valued.

If you do respond to comments by email I also recommend leaving a comment to the reader on your own post. This demonstrates to all readers that you both read their comments and value their input.

Tip For Email Response

An easy method is to use the comment notification email:

  1. Click on reply
  2. Replace your email in To: field with their email address
  3. Remove the text at the bottom of the comment
  4. Write your response or thanks above the original comment notification text

Image of responding by email

Besides being an effective method of responding it also provides the reader with reference to their comment and gives context to the email.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Thanks to Lisa Dick’s coordination, there is now 15 bloggers working together on the 31 Day Challenge. Would love for you to join us – leave a comment if you’re interested. And if you like you can bend the space-time continuum like me to interpret 31 Days as……

What are your thoughts? Do you email readers? What do you see as the pros and cons?

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Improving Your Blogging With The 31 Day Project!

One of my Top personal blogging I want To-Do’s is to revisit the 31 Day Project by working through Steve Dembo’s 30 Days to Being A Better Blogger!

Participating in The 31 Days to Build a Better Blog project by Darren Rowse (Problogger) in August 2007 was life changing for me. I attribute much of blogging on The Edublogger and working for Edublogs with the blogging, social networking, and project coordination skills to this 31 Day Project.

Now approx. 16 months later, with more experience as a blogger, I’d love to re-do the challenge:

  1. To see how my views of Darren Rowse daily tasks have changed
  2. To reflect on Steve Dembo’s daily tasks for 30 Days to Being A Better Blogger
  3. As part of my personal blogging self improvement

While I’m still not in a position to do this; others have decided to join together to work through Darren Rowse 31 Days Project. Lisa Dick has set up a 31 Days Project Wiki and I’ve been helping the team with suggestions and bringing together information to help them.

If you’re interesting in starting to blog, improving your blogging skills or developing connections with other bloggers I strongly recommend you consider joining them to participate in the 31 Days Project.

If you do join the 31 Day Project please:

  • Contact Lisa Dick to give her your details
  • Link back to this post on my personal blog so that I can add your blog to my Google Reader so I can support you during the project

PS If you’ve already done the 31 Day Project – Can I get you to help add links to your posts here!

Image by Lieven SOETE licensed under Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0.

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Life is One Big Top Ten (2008)

As a blogger does it really make any sense to write a post a few days before Christmas? Probably not! But just want to blog and besides I owed Paul C a post for Life is One Big Top Ten (2008). He deserves it after dealing with extreme sibling rivalry between my two blogs 🙂

Life is One Big Top Ten (2008) rule is you get to choose their own topic.

Top Posts

End of the year means it’s a great time for me to reflect on what were my top posts from my The Edublogger and Mobile Technology in TAFE blogs for 2008.

But how to decide? Google Analytics shows visits to site and provides no indication of how popular posts are to readers who subscribe using a feed reader e.g. Google Reader. Decided to use Tony Karrer’s idea of Top posts based on Delicious saves and used Post Rank to determine Delicious saves.

  1. Here’s My First Five Tips For Writing Better Blog Posts — What Are Yours? – if I choose from The Edublogger without looking at statistics
  2. How I Use RSS To Make My Life Easier – most popular based on Delicious saves (73)
  3. Quick Start Tips For New Skype Users – post didn’t expect to be popular, Delicious saves (32) & 5 links in just 4 days
  4. My Quick Start Guide for New Twitterers (45) – my choose from Mobile Tech blog without looking at statistics and most popular based on Delicious saves (45)
  5. PLN post series – posts I wrote to share results/reflections and never expected to be popular

Top Personal Blogging I Want To-Do(s)

Absolutely totally crazy but I really would like to make time to:

  1. Revisit the 31 Day Project by working through Steve Dembo’s 30 Days to Being A Better Blogger
  2. Participate in Tony Karrer’s 100 Conversations. Here are my 10 picks from his list:
  • My ideal conference would be?
  • Email tricks I use.
  • How staying in touch has changed for me over the past five years.
  • Tools that I get free and tools that I pay for and why I’m willing to pay
  • How I do my work and where my work skills have changed in the last ten years.
  • A great example of the use of a tool that really impressed me.
  • My ways for keeping things organized, finding things again, and keeping lists.
  • My top challenges in my work
  • How I find blog topics
  • Why 100 Conversations is a really good or bad idea?

Image of Lolly Jar

Any one interested in joining me in either of these?

Top Problem I Failed To Solve!

Lolly (candy) jar has won!

2 years of plotting how I could get the it removed from desk right next to me, including hiding it, and I’m admitting defeat. Nothing worked.

I always said it was me or the lolly jar — one of us had to go!

Top Tweet Series

Surely the 2 weeks of toilet dramas? I tweeted 23 times about toilet and 16 times about plumbing problems over 2 weeks.

How can we forget the first toilet tweet?

Image of First Toilet TweetImage of Multitasking

Top Crazy Moment

Multitasking too much!

While writing this post on my PC while testing Second Life on my MacBook (to get ready for the Edublogs Awards ceremony) and having a Skype Chat (while watching Twitter on two computers).

FINAL THOUGHTS

The way I’ve tackled Life is One Big Top Ten (2008) made it hard for me to cover Ten since it would have made the post way toooooo long….. But I’m sure Paul C will understand and besides Darren Draper taught me it’s okay to break all the rules.

Who do I tag? No one 🙁 I’ve never had any success at tagging. But if you like any of my topics or the idea of the Big Top Ten please feel free to join us.

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