I can’t blog right now, which is ironic considering that’s exactly what I’m doing.

I think I have the cursed writer’s block, brought on by a general malaise about blogging in general, the quality of news reporting and the full-on futility of blogging for money.

  1. Blogging’s Changed. Everywhere you look these days, people are hoping to make money from their blogs. It used to be all about conversation, not the whole thing’s tainted with people trying to milk it for cash. I’m trying to reconcile making money from websites with starting interesting conversations about things I love.
  2. Quality Of Reporting. Some news outlets will print anything to avoid missing out on a story. Most news these days seems to be pure regurgitation. Watch a story appear on one site and slowly spread across other news sites throughout the day. It’s so boring. I’ve tried to do the re-reporting thing, but it just doesn’t work for me. Personally, I think it’s squeezing the will to write out of me.
  3. Blogging For Money. I used to religiously check AdSense and other earning stats, but I’m slowly weaning off that trend. Online earnings – unless it’s product related – are virtually worthless for the majority of bloggers. Partly to do with poor revenue streams, partly to do with the difficulty of gaining market and mindshare. The little guy just can’t get to prominence, no matter how good he/she is.

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When I started blogging, I wrote using a pseudonym.

Not that I was focussing my writing on fundamentalist ramblings or anything to be ashamed of. I just appreciated that being anonymous afforded me the ability to write honestly and without fear of reprisal. I didn’t have to worry about friends, family and colleagues reading my innermost thoughts.

However, as you start to become established on the Internet, sometimes pseudonyms don’t cut it anymore. People don’t trust pseudonyms – why would someone hide behind a mask? And so I launched this site with the intention of having a personal base for people to find me.

Anyway, over the last week or so, I’ve been asked about this site by family and a colleague in work. Nothing bad, mind you. But for instance, a couple of far flung relatives have mentioned the site to my parents (which I found out about at the weekend). An uncle was able to get in touch through the contact form here. And my colleague in work was relatively impressed with my work on the Northern Ireland Guide.

Again, I’m not too bothered about anybody reading this. It’s mostly harmless banter. I still have the odd outlet for anonymous ramblings, don’t you worry.

I suppose it’s just another subtle reminder that visibility on the Internet comes with responsibilities. Having an Internet presence under your own name means managing your reputation. And thankfully, I haven’t seen too many “I Hate Gerard” sites on my travels across the Interweb.

When I spoke to my uncle Brendan last week, he said he didn’t browse too deeply because he was worried about parts of the site being private. Nope, I’m happy to share anything that’s on this site. I probably won’t explore my deepest, darkest thoughts in public, but what you see here is what you get.

Either way, if you’re a flesh and blood person and we have some connection, past or present, drop me a line. It’s always nice to catch up with folk…

When I first decided to launch a personal blog, I made it my mission not to perform any optimisation on this site.

At the time, my thinking was that I would just run entirely off the Garland theme. I got tired of that pretty quickly, just as I couldn’t stand the Kubrick/K2 theme on WordPress.

I switched to the Zen theme for Drupal, but to be honest, that’s not personal enough either. I’m starting to hanker after a theme for this site that gives it a personality. Or gives me a personality.

After my rant last month about the scope and limitations of a personal site, I’ve thought long and hard about how my website should represent me. And probably the best way to do that is to treat myself like a client.

My Site: Aims and Objectives

OK, so what do I do? I’m an IT Professional (or like to think so). I design websites. I write for weblogs. I suppose I’m a pro-blogger, if you like. But anti-establishment with it. I love art, music, photography and I love expression of individuality. This site needs to be individual, and make a statement.

Despite my desire to remain relatively anonymous, I do not want this site to be generic. I can’t emphasise that point strongly enough. I am sooo tired of generic gradients and conventional website layouts.

Here’s ultimately what I want this site to achieve for me:

  • Showcase my CSS/XHTML design skills. It needs to be almost good enough to make an appearance in some of the CSS galleries.
  • Be visual. I want to create something eye-catching and bold that draws people in and inspires them to subscribe or return every once in a while.
  • No SEO. This isn’t a visual design thing, but I still don’t want to appeal to search engine traffic. I still have to try not to write search engine focused titles and content, but I’ll persevere. I’d sort of like this site to exist for the people who find me via social media or blog comments I’ve left rather than organic search.
  • No Adverts. I want a streamlined site that is content only. Possibly the only thing I’ll be selling via this site is myself. I consider it a loss leader.
  • Social Media Integration? I’ve got an online presence that I enjoy and that makes up part of my online identity. I need some way to integrate either my StumbleUpon links or my Twitter feed to fill out the blog. It’ll be another great way to get up-to-date content on here to compliment (or counteract) the longer essay-ish articles I write.

In terms of design, I want something grand. A small part of me worries about being embarrassed by being too visual online. I intend to tie that part of me up, gag it and lock it in the boot of my car…

Anyway, I think a lot of the objectives are partially achieved. My big challenge at the moment is to come up with a visual theme that’ll represent me. I’m going to have a browse through some stock photography and some design showcase sites to see what inspiration I can get for this. Stay tuned.

Ouch. Collis from PSDTuts (a Photoshop tutorial site) mentioned a while back that there was going to be a premium subscriber area to the site. I don’t think anybody batted an eyelid at the time.

However, today a post appeared in the RSS feed advertising a premium tutorial. I think like a lot of people, I didn’t mind the premium area when I could ignore it. But to dangle it in our faces like that? That’s a different story.

PSDTuts stands today with some 16,000 RSS subscribers and has gained massive popularity on social media sites like StumbleUpon and del.icio.us. Like a lot of loyal readers, I’ve probably ‘thumbed up’ about 70% of PSDTuts’ tutorials and reviewed about a third of that again.

The comments on Collis’ post are mostly from annoyed readers who previously ignored the premium section of the site. However, as someone who makes money via blogs and websites, I can appreciate the difficulty of trying to find new ways of making money.

Now, PSDTuts already has a micropayment system for people who want to download the source Photoshop documents from their free tutorials. I’d be interested to know how much that’s returning if Collis still needs to run a premium section. Plus, surely it’s a lot more work to come up with two separate lots of tutorials?

Me? I’m in two minds. I’ve learned some amazing Photoshop techniques through PSDTuts. But on the other hand, I’ve helped contribute to their social media success on a number of occasions. One of the posts I stumbled the other day got on the Stumble Buzz page. That’s a lot of traffic and a lot of exposure.

I thought the whole deal with blogging was passing value back to the community and getting traffic and popularity in return. If you’re going to keep your best content behind locked doors then rub it in the faces of your readers, what sort of message does that send?

I was writing a review of the latest Leona Lewis single for Unreality Music yesterday. When I’m writing reviews, I like to sometimes include opinions from other bloggers.

The problem with both Technorati and Google Blog Search is that they have extremely poor relevancy in the results, and these days they’re littered with spammy crap. It’s actually getting harder to pick up important topics in blogging because the tools just aren’t there to find people writing on similar topics.

Is AdSense The Problem?

A lot of bloggers complain that Google has no incentive to remove splogs – after all, they’re plastered in AdSense, Google’s advertising program. So, even if Google could detect these things – which I’m sure they can – and remove them from results, why would they? They’re making a fortune from them.

I didn’t believe this accusation. But I saw a few spam results in Google’s main search engine yesterday that has me wondering.

An Example

The term I used was something like “leona lewis better in time review”. A number of sites showed up, including this one. It’s highly targeted toward the main keywords people search for – “Leona Lewis Better In Time Music Video”.

The content is non existent. There’s the title, then a huge AdSense block. Then there’s a picture of the single cover which links back to the same page. After this, they repeat the keywords in the title, followed by a rectangular ad block. Then the only piece of real content on the page is a video syndicated over from DailyMotion.

What next? Oooh, let’s throw in another big AdSense block, then do a related posts list and then….more AdSense. They follow up with a comment form. I wonder why? Surely comment moderation isn’t something spammers do?

Why Bother Writing Good Content?

I labour over my music blogging. I mean really work hard.

I hate the fact that Google will rank something that’s blatant spam, making money for themselves and the sploggers at the same time. I mean, where’s the incentive for me to go out and write worthwhile content?

I might as well go out there and create Made For AdSense sites. I’ve got the SEO chops to do it, and it’d be a lot easier than actually listening to songs and sharing opinions with my readers. Why bother?

That’s not gonna happen. Like a lot of people, I’ve been working on the web for over a decade. In that amount of time I’ve seen enough rubbish to know that the web is drowning in rubbish. Why would I contribute to that?

What’s The Answer?

The answer for the moment is to use Google’s reporting features to try and get the site de-indexed. But don’t hold your breath.

Is this satisfactory? No. But with Google holding all the cards, it’s the best you’ve got, unless you want to get into some shady site warfare there’s nothing you can do. Besides, cut one AdSense site down and it’ll spring up somewhere else.

Phew! I’m stuck here in Glasgow airport for an hour or so before my flight home. And while I’ve got five minutes, I thought I’d update the old blog.

Personal Issues

When your blog is branded with your name on it, you are naturally more careful about the frivolous throwaway comments you might make on it. Or even deeper existential questions that are on your mind – after all, what might they reveal about you?

I’m finding it very hard to blog on this site, because I’m really not sure what image I want to project to the spectrum of people who might read it. (I say might read it. Let’s face it, barely anybody knows it exists!)

At the moment, friends and family might find it. Nothing offensive there, and possibly the most accepting group of whatever I chose to write here. But I find myself pondering what employers might think – past, present and future. Should I care? I’m not inclined to, but I know myself well enough to suspect I might care in the future. For one reason or another.

And what about all those lovely people who read my more popular blogs? Well, they’re getting nothing. Nada. But then, very few of them search for me anyway.

So I’m continually spinning ideas for personal posts that I can share here, but my inner editor keeps rejecting them all.

In The Air

So far this year I’ve been on four trips out of Northern Ireland. Maybe more. I’m thinking of losing count early this year.

I’ve been to Doncaster once, then Bristol last week to see the set of a new reality TV show, Glasgow today and Lisa and I went to Prague a few weeks back with our good friends and neighbours. By this stage, all the airports are starting to blur dangerously into one tedious conveyor belt of human cattle standing around in queues.

But I love airports. After spending hours freezing my ass off in Bristol last week, I went to the airport as soon as the press bit for Upstaged ended. I arrived four hours early at the airport and divided my time between reading, watching Ghost Whisperer episodes on my iPod and sleeping upright (which is a trick my family have perfected over the years). It’s actually quite relaxing in that no-man’s land between the security scanners and the flight home.

Big Projects About To End

When I started my new job back in July, I knew that I’d be involved in the go-live of a big project that was nearing completion. That behemoth of a project is about to be released within the next couple of weeks and will signal the first stage of massive organisational change.

It’s an exciting time professionally, but amazingly exhausting. The closer we get, the more deadlines and requirements appear that need dealt with. I’m not that close to the strategic end of the project, but as an IT Manager, I’m involved in setting the stage for technical requirements and making sure that client applications are configured and ready to go.

Hopefully I’ve been typically vague about my job. Don’t want to give away too much…

Anyway, there’s a quick update for interested parties. The flying continues next week to my other office, and possibly even more after that. It’s a great time, and so many things happening at the moment that it’s overwhelming. I can see this ‘intense’ period continuing for a little while longer – perhaps toward the end of April, then hopefully things will settle down and I can review around that point.