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I’ve been blogging for 11 flipping years. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.



by sjhoward

This is the 2,261st post. It was published at 10:10 on Tuesday, 12th August 2014.

A verison of this post also appears on Medium.

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» Blogging









A week or so ago, Jessica Hagy wrote “I’ve been blogging for 8 freaking years. Here’s what I learned as I went along.” on Medium. Jessica’s post didn’t quite match my experience, but it inspired me to put down some of my own thoughts on the same topic.

Don’t just put your stuff out there.
Whatever you write, someone will like it… but if that someone isn’t you, then what’s the point? Over the course of 11 years of blogging, there’s more that I regret writing than I regret not writing. Learn from my mistake. Take time to consider what you write. Re-read it. Let it marinate. And when it’s really ready, put it online – cognisant of the fact that it will always be there. And, yes, this is coming from the bloke who wrote a book called Instant Opinion. Sorry about that.

There are people out there who won’t GET you.
There’s a subset of the population who will instinctively dislike your writing, much as there’s a subset of the population who will instinctively dislike your face. Then there’s a bigger subset of the population who will instinctively dislike the fact that you blog. Try not to be put off – but if you can’t handle unfair and unfounded criticism, blogging isn’t going to be your game.

People won’t steal everything you do.
But they will “steal” a lot of it. C’est la vie. They can’t steal the pleasure of writing it. Blog because you enjoy writing, don’t blog to be read.

Be afraid of your own voice.
Most bloggers seem to have a voice that’s slightly snide, prone to inside jokes, and which slips into shorthand and acronyms that nobody beyond their own circle of friends will understand. When I look back at my early writing, this is what makes me cringe the most. Moderate yourself. Take time to consider how best to express your ideas in terms that can be easily understood.

IMG_20140814_124836

Creative habits can be unhealthy.
An excess of boundless creativity can turn a respectable blog into an incoherent mess, probably with flashing GIFs and clashing fonts. Channel your creativity. And, most of all, don’t let your creative voice out-shout your critical faculties. Critical thinking that brings new ideas and perspectives is the lifeblood of a good blog.

It matters if you know that nobody reads it.
The best blogs are exercises in writing, not exercises in being read. It’s easy in the early days to get hung up on hit counts and comments. Resist. Try turning comments off for a while and not checking the stats. Don’t end every post with a question in the hope someone will answer. Don’t over-analyse what you’re doing and try to generate more hits. Write because you have something to say.

The tools change, and so do the actions.
There are people who try to use the same style and content on every platform. How many RTs and @replies have you seen on Facebook from people who try to cross-post? How many “1/6″ on the end of Tweets from people who can’t keep within the character limit? Don’t be that guy. Get to know whatever tool you’re using, and tune your use of it. To play the best music, a musician must master their instrument. Fail to master the instrument, and even the best music will sound bad.

You don’t have time to make things.
Nobody has time to do anything except what they already do. If you want to start doing something new, you need to find time for it. It’s no good doing some mental calculation and thinking “I have time”. You have to make time, and that will mean making sacrifices along the way.

The vast majority of people don’t make content, they just pass on a tiny amount of what’s already out there.
By any reasonable measure, there’s already enough stuff on the internet. Your addition is infinitesimally small, and, no matter how much effort you put in, the fraction of the internet that’s yours will continue to tend to zero throughout your blogging life. Blog because you enjoy writing. Blog because you want to organise your thoughts. Don’t blog because you think your opinion is important, don’t blog because someone told you too, and – most of all – don’t blog because you want to be read.

Most people are idiots.
The internet is less than 0.0005% perverts and haters. But a substantial proportion of the other 99.9995% are people who don’t engage with debate, who don’t read past the first paragraph, and who would rather gawp at a series of photos of celebrities than read your passionate argument about something that’s important to you. Don’t blog because you want to be read.

A tiny bit of success can be the most frustrating thing of all.
By far the most popular thing I ever posted on my blog was a video I made of Gordon Brown picking his nose in the House of Commons. It even made it on to Newsnight. It was silly, not representative of me or what I do, and it took about five minutes to put together.

When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
I think blogging is great fun – but it’s fun because I enjoy writing. Before the internet came along, I used to write ‘newsletters’ on a manual typewriter that no-one would ever read. If no-one ever reads my blog, I haven’t lost anything. So, if there’s a post or two that I’m not completely happy to share, I don’t. Some of them I abandon altogether. Others I tinker with. I’ve one post that I’ve been tinkering with on an almost monthly basis for more than four years. Although, since every word has probably changed multiple times, perhaps a philosopher might say it’s not the same post at all. If I’d published it all that time ago, I’d have missed out on hours of enjoyable tinkering. Take time to consider what you write. Don’t blog to be read.

Nine years of blogging, and the permanence of it all

Nine years of blogging, and the permanence of it all

Nine years of blogging, and the permanence of it all

Nine years of blogging, and the permanence of it all



by sjhoward

This is the 1,638th post. It was published at 18:40 on Monday, 7th May 2012.

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» Politics
» Site Updates
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Today marks nine years since I started blogging. Nine years. Increasingly, people are becoming concerned about the permanence of stuff posted the internet. Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign was hampered by the web, and the fact that for almost everything he said, he’d previously given an equal and opposite quote to some other source at some point in the past. And, of course, there’s many other less prominent examples of people’s online history coming back to haunt them.

Anyone with a blog, like me, can essentially make a choice. I could delete a load of old stuff. It wouldn’t make it completely unavailable online, as content from this site is cached all over the place; I guess it might make it slightly more difficult to find. But I’ve chosen not to do that. I’ve chosen to keep the complete sjhoward.co.uk blog intact. And I’m sure many people wonder why.

Firstly, let me say that it’s not because I think everything on here is great. It’s not. There’s some terrible stuff. There’s stuff that’s just plain dross. I’ve written things that I’m a ashamed of, like using “gay” almost as a punchline, or referring to the entire French population as “crazy frogs”. There’s positions I’ve asserted that, at best, are altogether blunter than I’d ever express now, like saying “I’m very anti-smoking”. And that’s before we even open the can of worms labelled “unnecessarily base humour”.

So why, you might ask, do I keep this stuff online, with my name written at the top of the page in a massive font size?

This is something I’ve thought a lot about. In the end, my reasoning was fairly simple. What I wrote in 2003 might have been unprofessional, but I wasn’t a professional then. It might have been immature, but so was I. The date is clearly and prominently shown on all the posts I’ve written. Of course I don’t hold all the same opinions I did when I was 18 – does anybody? We grow, we develop, our viewpoints and opinions change.

One of the more remarkable things about this little site is that you can how it happened. You can see the softening of my opinion on Tony Blair, from barely concealed hatred, to grudging admiration, to actual respect. My changing interests are reflected, from the 2005 election, during which I published daily “swing updates” based on a complex formula weighting different polls, to the 2012 local elections which were only mentioned in passing beneath a pretty picture of a bus stop.

All of this history, and all of these changing opinions, set out the path to where my politics and opinions lie today. And, of course, both will continue to shift over time.

In the end, I guess I came to the conclusion that if someone chooses to judge me on a personal opinion I held a decade ago, then so be it. Though I’d suggest that a far more interesting and intelligent approach is to ask questions: “You once said you thought x: do you still believe that?” or “Your position used to be y, now it’s z. What changed your mind?”

I don’t know exactly when the meaning of the term “flip-flopping” in political discourse changed from being about presenting different views to suit different audiences to being about actually changing your mind on a given issue, but I don’t think it’s a helpful change. I’m vaguely suspicious of people who claim to have “always believed” something – it has a slight whiff of valuing dogma above thoughtful and reiterative consideration of the issues. I can only speculate that the increasingly tribal nature of politics has led to increasing institutional derision of free thought: we must all toe the party line.

If you ask me, the sooner we lose the vogue notion that a change of opinion or reconsideration of position represents a weakness, the better off we all will be.

Is a blog still a blog. . .

Is a blog still a blog. . .



by sjhoward

This is the 1,401st post. It was published at 12:13 on Sunday, 22nd November 2009.

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» Site Updates
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…when it’s updated as seldom as this one?

No answer forthcoming from me, but I will be making some effort in the next little while to at least transcribe my Pod Delusion contributions to provide a sliver of nearly-new content.

My blogging has always gone through, erm, “dry spells”. I’m sure this site will spring back to life at some point in the not-too-distant future… And thanks to all the many thousands of visitors for keeping it going in the meantime – There is now far more user generated content on this site (via comments) than there is stuff written by me.

So I guess, in a very real sense, this is your site rather than mine.

Thanks for making it that way, thanks for supporting me, and thanks for your patience. New stuff is coming, I promise!

Light blogging

Light blogging



by sjhoward

This is the 1,339th post. It was published at 15:28 on Thursday, 19th June 2008.

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» Notes
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sjhoward.co.uk at five

sjhoward.co.uk at five



by sjhoward

This is the 1,325th post. It was published at 16:21 on Thursday, 8th May 2008.

2 comments have published about this post. You may want to read them, or add your own.

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» Site Updates









Yesterday, somewhat rashly, I promised more coverage of the fact that I’ve now been blogging continuously for five years.

On reflection, I’m not sure there’s so much more to say: Five years, 1324 posts in the (newly redesigned) archive, a full spin-off site of academic stuff, and a book. Oh, and around 2000 comments – from considered to the hilarious, from the misguided to the insulting, and from the inspiring to the bizarre – from you, dear readers. Thank you for all of them.

Looking back at the last five years, much about the site has changed: I just wouldn’t write this today, but then neither would I write this – I hope that the site has progressed over the last few years, but I know there are some who would prefer the latter kind of content to that which I produce today. I guess that progress is relative and dependent on point of view. All I know for sure is that sjhoward.co.uk now reaches far more eyeballs than it ever has before, and has registered more than 3.2 million hits for 2008 so far.

Thank you to those who have stuck with me over the last five years, and thank you too to the relative newcomers who enjoy the site. There will be much more to come from sjhoward.co.uk over the next five years, so I hope you’ll all stick around.

Birthday Cake

» Image Credit: Original photograph by Daniel Catt, modified under licence.

The great advertising argument returns

The great advertising argument returns



by sjhoward

This is the 1,299th post. It was published at 23:12 on Thursday, 3rd April 2008.

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Long-time readers will know that I’ve wrestled with the question of whether to carry advertising on the site several times over the past few years. Adverts have come and gone in many different forms, from the Amazon Product Links to successful periods with Google Adsense, and from flirtations with hand-picked advertisers to the Amazon-affiliated shop.

My last epiphany on the subject came after I wrote a negative review about one of the site’s advertisers. I’ve always maintained that advertising does not affect editorial, but I felt that it was difficult to carry adverts for a poor service. This whole incident is now referred to rather euphemistically on the site, as it lead to a legal dispute with the advertiser concerned, but essentially I took the decision to withdraw all general adverts from the site, keeping only hand-picked ads relevant to particular posts.

Now I’m wavering on that decision. A number of high profile companies have actively sought advertising spots on the site, and at a time when it’s likely my web hosting costs are to increase, it’s difficult to refuse.

Therefore, I’ve instituted a beta programme of advertising on the site. A dynamically chosen random third of pages will carry advertising, and I will monitor the response, so that I can do a more accurate cost-benefit analysis of the advertising model. Those who block ads will see a suitably designed alternative, rather than a big white space. Fear not: This place has never been, and will never be, covered with ads, and editorial will continue to be entirely independent of advertising – though, naturally, advertising will not necessarily be independent of the editorial.

I’m genuinely unsure as to which way I’ll go on this, so I’d be interested to hear your opinions through any of the usual routes.

Why I love WordPress

Why I love WordPress



by sjhoward

This is the 1,286th post. It was published at 16:22 on Tuesday, 18th March 2008.

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» Blogging
» Technology









BackstageThe world is eagerly awaiting the release of WordPress 2.5, the OpenSource blogging platform I’ve been using for over three years.

When I first installed WordPress, I was sold primarily on the advantages of hosting everything on my own server space, and hence retaining much closer control of it, and on the advantage of using PHP over the old static HTML solution Blogger was providing at that time. I was so enthused by the change that I happily manually imported my posts over from both MoveableType and Blogger, which I’d been using previously.

WordPress has come a very long way since then, with automated out-of-the-box importing from other blogging platforms, and very much more besides. Yet, whilst being immensely more powerful, it’s still simple enough for me to customise to my very particular needs, from using fourteen plugins (mostly modified in their own right) to a completely custom theme, and even some changes to the WordPress engine itself.

A couple of years ago, when WordPress turned three years old, I wrote a comparison of the different blogging platforms I’d previously used. Any such comparison I could attempt to write now would be even more hopelessly out of date than that one was, and so I’m not going to try to repeat the exercise. I would, however, like to register my utter disbelief at the fact that I wrote that piece two years ago – it feels more like two weeks. And to think that I can get away with using the same image – that the backend of WordPress has been in what still feels like ‘shiny new’ mode for well over two years – is even more frightening.

However, I know that I’m incredibly loyal to WordPress. From its community full of incredibly helpful and friendly developers, to the way it just gets on and *does* most of the things I want it to do, WordPress simply sells itself to me through its everyday use.

With the launch of WordPress 2.5, the final few of my personal bugs about WordPress will be fixed, and that still-shiny interface is to be updated to something presumably even more radiant. Upgrades to software plugins will, we’re told, become ‘one-click’, removing possibly the final hurdle which prevents people from setting up WordPress on their own (as opposed to using the relatively new hosted solution, WordPress.com). Image galleries will be built-in. And importantly for you, dear readers, load times should be faster.

I guess what I’m struggling to articulate is that I’m proud to use WordPress, I’m happy to support it, and would happily recommend it to anyone. Long may it continue to develop, to version 2.5 and beyond!

» Image Credit: ‘Backstage’ image by SJ Howard, originally published here.

‘Million Hit’ Day

‘Million Hit’ Day

‘Million Hit’ Day



by sjhoward

This is the 1,261st post. It was published at 12:51 on Wednesday, 6th February 2008.

One comment has already been published about this post. You may want to read it, or add your own.

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» Blogging
» Notes
» Site Updates









I’ve just past one million hits for the year-to-date: That happened in March last year, July in 2006, November in 2005, and not at all in 2004. Given the relative paucity of new posts this year, the archive must be driving much of the growth – which is great news.

Uncharacteristic silence

Uncharacteristic silence



by sjhoward

This is the 1,260th post. It was published at 00:34 on Wednesday, 6th February 2008.

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» Blogging
» Site Updates









Peter Hain’s resigned (finally), MPs are being bugged, political funding has become the watch-word of the week again, and your favourite political blog hasn’t had a peep to say about any of it – sorry about that.

The truth is simply that I’ve been busy with 101 other projects recently, from applying (successfully) for my first doctoring job, catching up with AQA, working on other bits of writing, planning for the site’s fifth birthday, to actually doing some medicine now and again. I’ve been too busy to read the news, let alone comment on it!

As I write, results are coming in from the various Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses… I’d dearly love to be live-blogging the action, but that’s not going to happen when I’m in work at 8am tomorrow – so try Iain Dale for that (or The Guardian).

I should tell you that I’m now running WordPress 2.3.3, and the site’s SMS and MMS messaging services are temporarily suspended due to technical problems, which will be fixed as soon as I get the chance.

I will post here again before long – but, in the meantime, feel free to enjoy over 1,200 posts from the archive.

Thank you, kind readers

Thank you, kind readers



by sjhoward

This is the 1,250th post. It was published at 12:25 on Monday, 7th January 2008.

This post was filed under:
» Blogging
» Site Updates









I’ve just heard report from Amazon that more of you than ever before did some of your Christmas shopping through sjhoward.co.uk/shop – thank you for your support. You’ve provided enough cash to fund the upkeep of the site for several months.

I also wanted to point out that I’m making a concerted effort to credit all pictures published on the site from 2008 onwards – it’s a bit of a New Year’s resolution, I guess, and is really something I should’ve been doing for the past four-and-a-half years, but haven’t been consistently good at. I’m now making a renewed effort, as I hope you’ve been noticing.

Thanks to all of the people who licence their pictures so that I can feature them on the blog. Creative Commons is a great thing – something I believe in strongly enough for the material on this site to have been Creative Commons licensed from the start.

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