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All Change! This is a ‘serious blogging only’ zone from now on

As you will see, :Ben Metcalfe Blog has a fresh new look (of course, if you’re reading the RSS feed you’ll need to visit the site to see some of the changes!)

What you are seeing (+going to see over the coming months) is me finally following my own advice as a blogging/online media consultant (well, that’s one of the area’s I’ve consultated in during the past year or so):

1) Stick to a vertical

In the past this blog has been all over the place – from pithy insights into the world of community, online media, internet technology, etc (what it should be) through to ‘ooh look my hair is red’ and ‘check out this funny video on YouTube’.

You guys are busy and I’m trying to maintain a professional standing in the industry. If you subscribe to a few hundred feeds as part of your professional work (like I do) it’s frustrating and distracting to have to wade through shed-loads of off-topic posts.

With that in mind, from this point onwards this blog will only be about professional, industry-related posts. I actually think it’s disrespectful to one’s readership to deviate from one sets out to offer as you’re effectively wasting their time with stuff you know is not going to inform or educate.

2) Define a clear scope for the blog

The problem is I have experience in a lot of different and diverse areas. I have interests and informed opinions on an even wider plethera of topics. I was tempted to start a number of blogs, but I simply don’t have time to post enough in any one area to make separate unique blogs viable.

With this in mind, here is a rough manifesto of my core areas of interest and expertise:

  • Community: I’m currently a consultant specializing in community orientated approaches to product development, innovation, marketing and the like – especially with developer networks and other expert user groups
  • Online media: Everything from blogging and grassroots media through to mainstream media and IPTV. This stems from my six years experience working at BBC News Website and BBC New Media)
  • Platforms, Web Services and APIs: potentially the future of innovation on the Internet
  • New companies, new products & serivces: I’m not TechCrunch but I like to profile new companies I discover
  • Wider industry commentary: opinions are like assholes, and funnily enough I have one.

I also want to double the amount of links I put out, simply because the art of a good blog is not necessarily what you say, but what you give credit to by linking out to others.

3) Form better community within the blog

The sign of a good blog is when the comments offer just as much insight and interest as the original posts.

I’ve always been very bad at taking time out to respond to comments, and that in turn does little to encourage fresh commenting. Up until now I’ve generally been lucky if the number of comments on a post reach double figures. That’s despite very healthy subscription numbers, good traffic and a high Technorati ranking.

Even my wife’s secret personal blog gets way more comments than my blog, and the number of subscribers to her blog are barely into double figures. I’m getting close to four figures – so something doesn’t give.

As an aside, I’m kinda loathed to refer to ‘blog commenters’ as ‘a community’ because we know that a bunch of people who visit and comment on a blog is simply not community. However the challenge for me is to turn this into something more than just blog commenting and thus begin to form some kind of community out of all this. That’s the aspiration, and I have some ideas on this front – so watch this space!

4) Create a distinctive presence

I guess the most immediate change is the blog template. It was a little sad to see the ‘WhiteAsMilk‘ theme go. I think it’s a pretty neat ‘less-is-more’ type template, although it’s inclusion into as a selectable template meant that it became pretty popular and one started to see it everywhere.

The new template is still a few tweaks to an otherwise public-domain template, but I still think it’s the basis for a better identity that will clearly represent what my blog is about.

5) Lose (some of) the attitude

Ok, so this is perhaps the hardest one to level up to. I am generally a very cynical and pessimistic person. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, although it clearly is not in keeping with the ‘idealist attitude’ shared by many here in San Francisco. Well, that’s who I am, and actually there are some considered reasons why I find this approach successful.

However, out of that has sprung a snarky and confrontational blog persona that actually doesn’t represent who I really am. It’s gone too far, and now it’s time to get that in check.

I’ve worked in media long enough to see that anyone can create any false personality and persona they want… and once they’ve established it they can all too easy begin to grow into that persona full time.

(BTW it’s why I’m a little concerned for Sarah Meyers (aka the Party Crasher). She’s a smart young women who’s created this amusing alter-ego ‘the party crasher’, but she risks getting labeled simply as a snarky entity and otherwise disregarded in the industry.)

My overall objective on this front is for this blog to represent my true personality… and play to the quality of my insights rather than the controversy I can cause.

Don’t worry, dotBen’s not going away

At the end of 2006 I wrote that I was going to be ditching personal stuff on this blog come 2007. Since then I’ve received a lot of responses from people who have voiced a desire to keep across of what I’m doing personally and my non-work thoughts and rants, etc.

Well, I’m pleased to announce that “This is> dotBen” will be opening shortly. I’m currently putting the finishing touches to the template over on that one, but when it’s done it will be the home of my personal blog. Having a separate personal blog will allow me to write more about other stuff that I’m interested in without being concerned about wasting the time of my ‘professional’ readership.

And for those of you who find yourselves in the middle of the little Venn Diagram that is :Ben Metcalfe Blog vs This is> dotBen (yes, I love putting non-alphanumeric characters in my blog titles), I will do a feed splice of both so you can subscribe to a single feed and get everything in one subscription channel… just like the old days.

Well, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a prosperous 2007. I think it’s going to be a great one for the industry, and I can’t wait to start writing about it here on the blog.

Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe to the :Ben Metcalfe Blog RSS feed. And please do let me know what you think of the new look and the new approach!

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  1. I like the new look and the resolve to focus.

    “The sign of a good blog is when the comments offer just as much insight and interest as the original posts.”

    I’m curious what your thoughts are on Godin’s explanation for not allowing comments (his most recent email explaining his position is below):

  2. Sam Sam

    I like the new look! It is still minimilist, but with some colour 🙂

  3. I, for one, am going to subscribe to the feed splice of both personal and professional – because Ben’s hair styles are very important to me 🙂

  4. I like the look a lot. I’ve spent too much time goofing off with my blog’s look, finally settling on a look that focuses on content.

    You’ve got the right look going here.

  5. Ben Ben


    I genuinely think comments form part of what a blog is, and I side with the camp who believe ‘if it ain’t got comments, it ain’t a blog’. People can call anything a blog, I guess, but the spirit for me is making a point and then giving others the opportunity to respond, disagree, add weight, etc etc.

    I have ooodles of respect for Seth, but I don’t totally buy his reasons for not having comments.

    For me, what makes blogs like TechCrunch interesting is not just what Arrington has to say, but the comments and discussion that occur around the posts. That’s often where the juicy bits of info lie (and are lost on those who simply browse over the RSS feed — that too needs to be better sorted by feed readers).

    In the same way, if I make a point or a viewpoint I genuinely + firmly want to know what people have to say about it. We’ve all changed a viewpoint at some point in our life after hearing a valid counter argument, etc.

    People like Dave Winer (who’s been very public about not having comments) use their blog to get their message out and I don’t think are so bothered abut what the ‘great unwashed’ have to say about it. People like Dave will receive council from their inner-circle peers via private communications. And hey, if Dave really did invent RSS then why was reflecting comments added as a generally unsupported after-thought rather than an integral part of the spec?

    That doesn’t explain Seth Godin’s position, however which I do find curious. His reasoning seems to be allocated around time – that he doesn’t have time to answer all of them and he doesn’t have time to think/curate them. That’s a shame and I do agree that it takes time, however it’s time that I and many others feel is worthwhile (in fact in my original post I’ve stated I’m going to spend more time on comments this year!).

    What do others think?

  6. Can you explain what your new (unless I missed it before) tagling, “The Virtual Investor”, means (to you)?

  7. Ben Ben

    Ha ha, golden star to Frankie Roberto for noticing that!

    Yes, well I’m still toying with the idea of having the underlying perspective of this blog come from someone who is investing in the industry… it’s companies, markets, opportunities, etc.

    Now, I don’t have the kind of money (yet) to do any financial investing, but I do feel I am investing my time (yes, that old yarn) so to some extent I am ‘virtually investing’.

    Frankie: I’m not sure about it yet, but I’ve left it up there partly to remind me of that idea and also to see if anyone would notice.

    I also got fed up of writing stupid lines very few weeks like “first there is a mountain, then there isn’t, then there is’ etc.

  8. Ben Ben

    Maybe what I’m getting at is something like the “People’s VC”…

    Companies want us to invest our time in their product, often to the exclusion of their rivals (it’s hard to use multiple email services, multiple calendars, etc), and I could write from the perspective of how good an investment that would be, etc.

    I dunno, is this a lame idea or does it have legs?

  9. good to see you ran with the idea of having 2 blogs ben. Template is good too.

  10. “first there is a mountain, then there isn’t, then there is”
    This is not a stupid line, Ben, I thought it was one of your more profound ones.

    It’s the The Virtual Investor I wonder about – you’ve always been a Virtual Investor. Maybe it should just read “Vitual Investor”.

    I think you’re right to define a clear scope for your blog. I found having a specific focus, defined when I first started, helped enormously to inform me about what was relevant to write about – and what others wanted to interact with.


  11. Been lurking for a while, just came out to say I like the new look and I’m interested to see how your “vertical” blogging goes. Particularly interested that you’re NOT rebranding the blog under something other than your name — so you’re keeping the brand personal, but not the content.

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