In his book “On Writing,” Stephen King famously says that if “You don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time — or the tools — to write.” This is as much true for blogging as for fiction, as the blogosphere is driven by writers having awareness of what’s being talked about elsewhere. Don’t fear — not every blogger needs to read hundreds of relevant blogs a day — but you should figure out who’s writing in your subject category and subscribe to the RSS feed of your favorites.
There are a lot of ways to find good blogs. Start with Technorati or Google Blog Search. With either of these engines, you can start simply by searching for key phrases that may have been in the news lately — if you’res in the mortgage market, for example, maybe there are ‘new interest rates’ or ‘home mortgage rules’ to search for. Technorati also allows you to look in their robust directory for more generic phrases — blogs on “mortgages” and “car dealers” for example. You’ll quickly find hundreds of posts to varying degrees of relevance. Read a few and you’ll soon realize how much has already been said, who’s saying it, and probably finding yourself wondering why do some of these posts only have Google ads plastered all over them and keywords repeated dozens of times? (Yes, it’s spam.)
Once you have an idea what the existing state is of your topic, you can more intelligently write to that topic. And you can also start building relationships with those other bloggers.
A Word on Blog Readers
The technology that makes blogs so special is called RSS — “Really Simple Syndication.” Iconified by the little orange chicklet, RSS is simply a technology that automatically updates a web address whenever you add a post to your blog. People can subscribe to this “feed,” which is full of content even when not on your website. It can be downloaded into offline news readers, some email programs (Thunderbird, for example), even reproduced on other websites. Unlike email, you can subscribe to numerous feeds without having to share any personally-identifying information.
If you don’t have a preferred blog reader already, you should install one… now! It’s a Herculean effort to keep up on your favorite blog and news sites without one, and you’ll soon find it as addictive as checking your email.
Some of the popular choices:
- Google Homepage and Reader – I happen to like using my Google homepage as my source for all of my favorite feeds. Whenever I open a new browser session, there’s an update of the dozens of blogs I keep up with as well as international news and weather. You can customize the homepage with a whole bunch of less productive widgets and whatzits, as well. Google Reader is a slick standalone web-based RSS application that has the bonus of search being integrated with the interface. Since it’s still in beta, however, technical issues creep up from time to time.
- Firefox Live Bookmarks and Safari – Of course, you don’t actually need a separate reader if you’re using anything but IE. Mozilla Firefox is a hugely-popular open-source web browser that sports better speed, standards compatibility and plug-in support than Microsoft’s offering. Any page that features RSS will have the familiar orange icon in the toolbar, and by clicking it you can add a bookmark that will update whenever the feed is updated. You can also use the popular Sage plug-in to pop-up a very nice side-panel with all of your favorite feeds. And while I’m not familiar with the Mac OSX platform, the Safari web browser has RSS functionality integrated much like Firefox.
- If you need an offline or Outlook-integrated news reader, NewsGator releases a variety of well-reviewed paid products.
Now that you’ve done all that reading, how do you build the relationships that make the time you spent meaningful? Stayed tuned for the next installment, about the best practices when interacting with other bloggers.