Blog fright

In the course of answering an email about my blogging, I wrote the following which I thought might be appropriate for a broader audience—it’s about some challenges in blogging about your job and about your life, and about getting a blog started:

It’s very tempting once you become a blogger and get the spirit of sharing to write down everything that’s happening to you. If you’re single, that’s maybe OK (though there can certainly be some things about your private life that you are OK sharing at the age of 20 but might not want to be Googleable when you’re 30). But when you’re married, as I am, your spouse has a right to expect a certain amount of privacy and to get a certain consideration about what gets exposed in public and what doesn’t. It took a while for Lisa and me to find that balance. There have been some big things in my life—like our decision to relocate to Boston from Seattle—that I might normally have blogged just so that I could get perspective on them, and so that I could share them with our families as they happened. But because the information affected both of us and might affect both our jobs, I had to hold off on writing anything about the decision until the wheels were already in motion—basically until after we sold our house and I was getting ready to drive across the country.

With respect to work, there are all sorts of issues. Intellectual property is one—your workplace may claim ownership of ideas that you have. How does that affect blogging? I basically documented my blog and my existing software as an exception to the intellectual property agreement I signed with Microsoft, but I felt constrained in what I wrote afterwards—especially in talking about the company or its policies. This was a year or two before Robert Scoble helped to define the culture of blogging at Microsoft—that it was OK to have a blog and talk about your team and what it was doing. But figuring that out on my own was tricky, and for about a year I basically punted. I talked about RSS, because at that point the company wasn’t doing anything in the space, or about things I was learning on my own about CSS and web design, and then I blogged a lot about music, food, beer, and home improvement. It was only after a year had passed that I even publicly said, “I work for Microsoft” on my blog.

It was very liberating to realize after a while that there were other people at Microsoft who were able to maintain that balance and still write good interesting technical things on their blogs. That freed me a bit to have a stronger voice about software matters.

Ultimately, I got full liberation by joining a group whose business was about building community—customer-to-customer and Microsoftie-to-customer relationships. I had done work with an early version of that team as an intern, thinking about how Microsoft should work with customer-run websites that talked about its products and how to encourage those sites. At the end of my Microsoft experience, I came full circle, this time helping the company build a service that would take employee weblogs and weave them into the corporate website—effectively blurring the line between employees’ perspectives on their products and corporate messages.

on starting a blog

First, if you’re doing blogging in a business context you need to think about a very few important things: how tolerant are my employers of me saying things that might not jibe with corporate messaging? and is it appropriate for me to write about what I’m doing? (Cases where the latter is an issue: startups during the quiet period; if your entire job is working with clients, especially difficult ones; etc.). Then dive in afterwards, as long as you remember Scoble’s rules, which basically boil down to: would I have a problem if my wife, my boss, or my CEO reads this post?

Second, remember what Ted Hughes said about Sylvia Plath’s poetry, which was that if she couldn’t get a table from the materials she was working with in a poem, she would be happy with a chair or a toy. Not every post has to be hit out of the ballpark, but you always need to do the best job you can with the material you have at hand.

Third, link to people on both sides of an issue, not just the ones you disagree with.

Fourth, if you read something interesting on someone’s blog, point to it and write why you think it’s interesting.

Fifth, get a Bloglines account or a Kinja account or download NetNewsWire or RSS Bandit and start subscribing to sites’ RSS feeds. It’s a lot easier to manage the information flow that way.

Sixth, read Tony’sHow to Blog“. He covers a lot of the rest, including how to manage the fact that you’re writing for an audience that may be sometimes larger than you think.

Reposted from a post that was lost from Friday.

Bubbler blowback

I got a couple nice notes from Glenn Reid, CEO of Five Across, following up on my critical review of their new blogging tool Bubbler. They’re starting to add in some of the missing features I complained about, including RSS—which Glenn blogged about at his new Bubbler blog. (Subscribed.) I like that the RSS feeds are automatically built for all the content sections, not just the text posts.

Remaining things that the team could do fairly quickly to simplify the process of interacting with Bubbler blogs:

  • Update the default templates to provide permanent links for each entry. The anchor names are already in the XHTML—the app just needs to build an easy way to grab the permalink without viewing source.
  • Revise the client to make it possible to enter HTML source so that I can do proper hyperlinks and images.

As I guessed, the team is moving pretty quickly to add features to the basic bubbler™ beta, so I expect to see the app progress. I also like the responsiveness of the company—it’s not every day I get emails from a CEO after I complain about the company’s product.