Shareware Beach

Monday, 3 March 2008

Permission Blogging

Filed under: About Shareware Beach — Jan @ 18:14

I started this blog in November 2004. In 2004, blogging was all the hype. Everybody and their dog was starting a blog. And everybody was going to be rich and famous. Well, some people made it sound like that.

I was actually rather late to the game. I don’t like following trends. But I do like writing, so blogging seemed like an interesting experiment. I set up Shareware Beach with the intent to mostly, and only occasionally, write about myself and topics that happen to interest me at any point in time. Since it’s more a personal thing, I never promoted it anywhere. The only link to it I created is on the about Just Great Software page.

More than three years later, blogging has become a normal part of the Internet culture. Many people who jumped onto the hype have let their blogs linger. I knew this from the start, and it’s the reason why I didn’t start blogging earlier: writing something worth reading is hard work.

As I’ve been blogging more frequently in recent months, I’ve also been thinking about the direction my blog should take, and who the audience should be. Writing is more fun when you have readers!

The only real theme of this blog is that it’s written by me. That doesn’t really give it much of an audience, or a way to promote it. I’ve found that in reading other people’s blogs, I tend to get annoyed if there are too many posts about subjects I don’t care about. E.g. I’ve been writing about software development, Thailand and Photography, which are rather unrelated subjects. While these are my main points of interest, many (potential) readers might only care about the software topics, while others might not care about technical stuff at all.

As a reader, in such a situation, I tend to unsubscribe from the whole blog rather than having to skip half of it. Even if I do use a newsreader that makes it trivial to skip entries. I tend to catch up on my reading in the evening. When I’m tired, the mental effort of having to evaluate whether a blog entry is worth reading, and the emotional letdown if it’s on a topic I totally don’t care about, just seems too much. It’s only a tiny effort and tiny letdown. But it still ruins the mood. Like a tiny little pebble in your shoe that eventually forces you to sit down, take of your shoe, and get rid of it.

Another thing I’ve noticed about myself when reading other people’s blogs, particularly blogs I’m not familiar with, is that I often get the reaction “on what authority are you talking about this?” I get it particularly when people blog about a topic that don’t seem to be related to what they do for a living or what they regularly blog about. Even if somebody writes well and I respect their opinion on a particular subject, I might not care about their opinion on a totally unrelated subject, regardless of whether I happen to share the opinion or not. While everybody has to start from somewhere, I tend to put more faith in people who blog cohesively about a particular topic than people who write about whatever hits their mind at a particular moment.

I call this “permission blogging”, after Seth Godin’s “permission marketing”. Bombarding consumers with marketing messages is easy. Getting through to them is much harder. You’ll only really succeed if you somehow get permission first to get their attention. Blogging, even for non-marketing purposes, seems much the same. It costs nothing but a bit of time to publish a blog. The whole world can read it instantly. But nobody’s going to pay attention to your message unless you somehow get permission to share your opinions.

My new blogging strategy is to start several new blogs in the coming months. I’m still working on getting some nice domain names. Each blog will have a well-defined subject. That should give each blog its own audience and give me the ability to promote the blog saying “come read about subject X” rather than “come and read about me”. I do intend to continue writing about my own experiences. But only if it’s relevant to the subject. Relevant personal experiences add to a blogger’s credibility. Both other personal stuff is just personal stuff that might be better left unwritten.

I’m looking forward to blogging more regularly and attracting more readers. I’ve already set up the first new blog. I’ll announce it here once I’ve posted the first article to it.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

I Love to Write

Filed under: Marketing,Personal — Jan @ 18:31

When I was seven years old, my mother gave me the typewriter that she had used in college. You know, one of those things on which you hurt your fingers smashing letters onto paper, so you don’t have to be embarrased about your illegible handwriting. Though it was just a toy at first, I soon started typing up whole stories of my own creation. First I’d type a draft on cheap paper. I’d then correct the draft with a pen, and retype it on nice paper.

Four years later, I got my first PC, and a copy of WordPerfect 4.2. During the DOS days, WP was what MS Word is now. My writing output soared, as I now had a keyboard that didn’t hurt my little fingers any more. Well, at least not until a decade and a half later. Not to mention that I could just type the draft, edit it, and print the final version without retyping. What a concept!

By the time I moved on to high school, I also moved on from writing stories to writing software. Software that actually did something was far more exciting than text that just lay there. I didn’t really have an audience for either form of creativity.

My writing skills have come in handy when I actually started publishing my software. Writing good documentation is just as difficult as writing the software in the first place. No wonder that the average piece of software, or even the average piece of anything, comes with lousy documentation.

When I developed PowerGREP, I didn’t just put a table of supported regex tokens in the help file, as most competitors do. I wrote a full-blown regular expression tutorial. You can’t use PowerGREP if you don’t know anything about regular expressions. Documenting how PowerGREP works without explaining the product’s core technology seemed pointless. Later, I published the regex tutorial separately at www.regular-expressions.info, which attracts top search engine rankings.

Content always beats gimmicks. You can do SEO until Google puts you at the top. But it’s pointless without worthwhile content. The Back button always sits at the top. Sure, screen shots and even flash demos are definitely needed when promoting software. But without good supporting text, a screen shot is just a picture that says very little.

One thing I took away for myself from the ESWC 2007 was a resolution to write more. In fact, I resolved to write something every single working day. That “something” could be a blog post, a new page for one of my sites, or new documentation or samples. It doesn’t really have to bring in any money, as long as somebody will read it and find it informative.

The hardest part in writing, at least for people whose main job is something else, is to simply do it. The main goal of my one-piece-a-day routine is to build the habit of writing things. Take this very blog post you’re reading now. Once I was past the first two paragraphs, the words easily flowed. In fact, trimming down my articles is something I need to work on. Voltaire wasn’t kidding when he said he didn’t have time to make it shorter.

The hardest part, for me, is just sitting down and starting to write about the topic I have in my mind. There’s always a million things to do, and writing never seems to make it to the top of the list, unless I force it to be by setting aside a set time for it every day. I’m not writing daily yet, but I’m getting there.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

The Best Fruit

Filed under: Personal — Jan @ 13:49

The best fruit is of course that which you get from your garden. Unfortunately, real estate prices in Bangkok’s suburbs being what they are, all we have are two mango trees.

Ripe mango fresh from our garden

Peeled ripe mango

Sliced ripe mango

Yummy mango

Thursday, 14 February 2008

A Pound of Apples

Filed under: Personal — Jan @ 18:39

They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away. So how about a pound of apples (or other fruit)?

Early this year I read Steve Pavlina’s blog that he was going to try eating only raw foods for 30 days, an experiment that’s been concluded now. Steve is a shareware author turned personal development blogger. While I’m not going to try anything as extreme as eating solely fruit and uncooked vegetables, it did give me the idea to make some changes to my diet.

On June 1st last year, a new fitness club opened close to our house. My wife pushed me into joining with her. Though we’ve made generous use of our membership ever since, I actually gained weight. More than could be attributed to muscle growth. Though I’m hardly overweight, I didn’t like the trend.

The change I made was to eat only fruit before noon. The main reason is that fruit is quickly and easily digested. I spend my time before lunch on the most difficult aspect of my job: software design and development. That takes a clear mind rather than a heavy stomach. The second reason is that prior to my diet change, I used to eat very little fruit. While we’d always have some fruit in the fridge, I just never get around to eating it between or after meals. I eat more fruit a day now than I used to eat in a week. That can’t be unhealthy. And the final reason was that it should stop the weight increase, and maybe even reverse it. A stomach full of fruit doesn’t give you nearly as many calories as a stomach full of cereal.

While Steve had his ups and downs during his trial, my change took me no effort at all. And I gained all three benefits I was looking for. While eating only fruit may seem boring, my breakfasts are actually far more interesting now. I eat all kinds of different fruits. The past few years I just had cereal for breakfast, sometimes with a few bananas. Though I’d buy different kinds of cereal, the variety between them is much less than that between all the kinds of fruit I can buy.

In fact, I’m enjoying the fruit diet so much that on many days, I only eat one regular meal. Usually, my wife will make us a meal for lunch. In the evening, if we don’t go out, I’ll just grab some fruit. It doesn’t take any effort to prepare, beyond a little peeling. I do seem to sleep better after a light fruit meal than after a heavy dinner.

Dragon Fruit

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