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Earlier this week a reader sent in a great set of questions (I've edited his text a bit for clarity):
Could you write a post or point me to a good post if you have ever come across which details the following that would be a great help to me.
- Ethics for writing a blog
- How to credit others or if you link someone else's content on your blog what should be the ideal process to ask for permission and why is it necessary?
- Some absolutely essential dos and don'ts
- What platform to choose - self hosted or service like medium etc...?
So let me address this one by one.
Ethics for Writing a Blog
That's a pretty big question. I'll try my best to answer this but certainly follow up in comments if you want any clarification. I created my blog as a way to express myself. While the primary focus was to share technical knowledge, I also wanted a place I could share what I was passionate about.
I try - always - to be as honest as possible. The only one who really knows how well I do with that is myself of course, but it doesn't really gain me anything to be deceitful. Of course, I make mistakes, and may say "so and so will do so and so", but I try my best to address those mistakes as quickly and completely as possible. For small mistakes, I'm ok with them being addressed in the comments. For big mistakes, I'll edit the blog post to point out what was wrong.
I try to be fair in my posts when doing reviews. This is not Consumer Reports, so when I review some piece of hardware or software it's always going to be my personal opinions, but I try to be objective and open to views/experiences that other people may have.
The ultimate end goal is for my readers to find something useful here. I don't expect every post to be useful, and sometimes I do write just for myself (I find that writing something down really helps cement my own ideas), but I hope that overall the content here is a net plus for the Internet.
How to Credit Others
It depends on the context. If I'm quoting someone, then you need to say who are you quoting. If you are using someone's elses code, then you should credit them in the code and in the blog post too if it makes sense. There isn't a hard and fast rule here. If I'm using a library, then I definitely point it out in the blog text, and most likely the entire blog post is about the library. If I'm using a code snippet from Stack Overflow that's just supporting the other, more important, aspect of my code, then I just credit it in the code, not the blog text.
Just to be clear - you always want to credit someone, the question is just how and where in the blog post you include that credit.
You mentioned asking permission to link - I don't believe that is necessary. If I were Slashdot and were concerned about my link causing a server to go down, I'd warn them first, but the web was built on links - just do it.
Essential Dos and Don'ts
For a blog, I think it's essential to have dates on posts. Technology changes, and if I can't tell how old your content is, I immediately distrust it a bit.
I also am a big believer in comments. I think they help engagement and can provide great feedback. Unfortunately, a large population of people like to be complete shit heads on the Internet since Mommy wasn't nice to them when they were young. If I were a woman in tech, or writing on social issues, I'd probably recommend the exact opposite. And let me get on my soap box a minute here and remind folks that if you know people who are being shitheads on the Internet and you aren't calling them out on it - you're part of the problem.
Oh - if you do include comments, you absolutely must provide a 'subscribe' feature so I don't have to keep going back to your blog post to see if you (or anyone else) responded.
Don't do popup modals begging me to "Like" your content or subscribe to your newsletter. Yes, I know they work. But I feel very strongly that they are incredibly rude and offputting to your readers. I've come to your blog to read your content and you decide to stop me from doing the one thing I came there for to ask me to like your shit? I mean seriously, does that make sense to you? I know Google is beginning to punish sites on mobile that do that and I truly hope they do so for desktop as well. I will flat out refuse to read most sites that do this and I never promote, via Twitter or any other form, a URL that has one of these dialogs.
Lastly - provide some way to contact you. That can be a simple email address, a contact form, or a Twitter post. I can't tell you how many times I've seen typos, mistakes, etc on blog posts and tried like heck to let the author know but there was no way to do so. Again though, see my warning above about trolls. I can definitely understand why some people would want to protect themselves.
Yeah, that's hard to answer. I started off with my own custom blogware, BlogCFC. I then went to WordPress, self-hosted, and then to static hosted by Netlifly. I like building my own blog because I feel like it gives me the most control.
That being said, if I were starting fresh, or building a blog for a client, I'd probably only consider two options:
- WordPress hosting, commercial, so you can have your own domain. But I'd do monthly backups of the data to ensure you always have access to your own writing. I loved WordPress when I ran it, but didn't like having to configure my web server and MySQL. I'd rather just pay them a few bucks to host it.
- Static site, via Jekyll or Hugo, and hosted at either Netlify, GitHub Pages, or Surge. I'm a big believer in static sites, and if you are a technical person who doesn't mind a bit of work, I think it is a great option.
As for Medium - I know a lot of folks are having success with it. I've started copying some of my blog posts to it in an effort to reach more people. But I'm not sure I'd trust the service to stick around. I worry about some big company, like Facebook, buying it and then deciding to kill it off for "reasons."