What do you need to take your blog to the next level?

At ScienceOnline 2010, I'm going to be leading a workshop entitled Blogging 102. It's supposed to be a session to help established bloggers to improve their craft.

The next question is, what do bloggers need most in order to become better bloggers?

One possibility is "more technical skills." There is no doubt in my mind that if I had more skills, I'd be a better blogger. One area where I'm woefully inadequate is programming. My blog has a lot of interactive content -- movie demos, audio demos, surveys, and polls. But a lot of psychology requires interaction to work: we need to measure response time, or some other behavior, in order for a demo to make sense. If I could program demos like that, using, say, flash, or javascript, then my readers would have a better experience. But no one is going to learn flash or javascript in an hour-long workshop. And chances are, between now and workshop time, I wouldn't be able to learn enough to be much use teaching it.

So rather than trying to teach technical skills, I think it might make more sense to share resources that help people create what they want without much in the way of technical skills. Below are a few resources I use. If you have others you like to use, or if you have questions about any on this list, share them in the comments.

  • Poll Daddy -- Free, stable polling site.
  • YouTube -- Yes, you've all heard of it, and it can be useful for displaying crude video. But there are some limitations to this site -- it's not very good for displaying rapid, slide-show type video. I'd love to hear of alternatives.
  • Odeo Player -- Handy for streaming an MP3 on your own site.
  • Survey Monkey -- This is the best-designed site I've found for free online surveys, if you have fewer than 100 respondents. You can also pay for unlimited responses.

So that's a start. But still, I've looked at a lot of blogs, and to me it's unclear that technical skills are necessarily holding most bloggers back. Many of the best blogs don't use especially cutting-edge technology, and many technically-excellent blogs suffer on other dimensions.

Here are what I consider to be the most common ways blogs fail:

  • Not updated regularly (Note: you can update only once a week -- or less -- and still be "regular")
  • Not interactive enough (If you moderate comments, approve them quickly! Offer other ways for readers to interact with you besides comments [polls, surveys, twitter, facebook])
  • Not clear enough. If you don't have a regular reader-base, each post -- and each headline -- needs to stand on its own. At a minimum, make sure you link back to posts that provide the basis for your current post. Headlines should make it clear what the post will be about. Cryptic headlines only work if you have a regular readerbase.
  • Not well-documented. (Cite your sources! Provide links! Don't forget sources for images, too!)
  • Not shared effectively. This is probably the biggest challenge for most bloggers: how to let others know your content is out there without being a spammer.

Any other blogging pet peeves? Any solutions? Share them in the comments! Also, if you're going to be attending the session and you have a Twitter account, make sure you put it on your registration so we can all follow other. See you in a few days!


More like this


Heh, sorry, not my department ;)

But joining ScienceBlogs is not the be-all and end-all of blogging. In fact, my traffic actually went down when I joined. Your mileage may vary, of course

Blogs can fail because they have no purpose.

This is particularly a problem for academic blogs, since we academics are asked to think about a zillion different things on any given day.

This is not to be confused with having nothing to say. Many people have a lot to say about this and that... but there are no themes or big ideas that give the whole thing some bones and connective tissue to hold it together.

For some, creating a narrowly focused niche blog that has clear marching orders may have an easier time building an audience, albeit a smaller one, than a general blog.


one personal science blogging pet peeve: use the DOI when linking to a paper, and not a link to PubMed, a journal page, etc. This makes it much easier to track blog posts that talk about a paper. Or use Researchblogging.org ;)

Another interesting resource for scientific blogs:


On this website, you can upload slides and share them with a big online community. You can also embed your slides or the slides of other community members into your blogposts, just like you can embed a youTube video simply by inserting some code. For example, here is one of my presentations about light pollution:


On the right side you can copy the code for easily embedding the slide player. I have used this tool for several blogposts and so far it has worked pretty well.

I'm interested in methods for syndicating content and ways of reaching and interacting with readers. For example, recently I've been evaluating Onlywire for semi-automated content syndication. I've also been experimenting with the integration of social network discussions within a blog, particularly FriendFeed, as described here on Next Generation Science. There's also a FriendFeed comments plugin available, which allows comments on FriendFeed to show up on your blog. I haven't successfully hacked the plugin to work with rooms (such as the Next Generation Science FriendFeed room), but for user accounts it works quite well.