Why Blogs Matter

I admit it, I’m spoiled. I’ve been reading news feeds in one form or another for more than 10 years now. Starting with a customized My Yahoo! page and moving on to newsreader platforms like Bloglines, Google Reader and now feedly, I’ve been able to follow my choice of authors and news sources covering an eclectic range of topics that I find interesting.

The big news organizations have created gorgeous news and magazine apps, but I’m not interested in the latest misadventures of some spoiled celebrity nor am I a big sports fan. The topics I find interesting are often things the media ignores. As a result I have turned to blogs for a lot of my news. Through blogs, I got war news from the Soldiers who are fighting it, how-to instructions from the developers who created the app and research tips from experts in their field. I also get local news that even my local paper doesn’t print. Few of the people I follow would be considered “objective” reporters. Instead, they have a passion for their causes.

Until the iPad came along, my biggest concern was the ability to “process” a large number of news items quickly to find and read the interesting articles. Now I combine Twitter, tumblr and feedly with apps like Flipboard to create a delightful reading experience that’s always ready for me when my schedule allows me to relax and enjoy some pleasure reading.

What I get out of all this is an informative and interesting reading experience customized just for me. Why? Because of a simple and inexpensive online writing platform called a blog.

Blogs are so easy to use that anyone can be up and running in a matter of minutes. There’s little to learn so writers can focus on their story and not how to build it. Yes, learning a few blog basics will improve the look and feel of an article, but even those lessons are quickly learned. As a result, the story tellers can tell their stories, the knowledge experts can share their expertise and the newsmakers can keep us updated in real time.

The next best thing about blogs is their construction. Blogs are designed to travel.

Travel?

Blog platforms were built with syndication – as in RSS – in mind. This means anyone can subscribe to any blog using their news-reading platform of choice and each time a new article is published, it is automatically delivered to that reader.

Using newsreader platforms like feedly and the WordPress app, I can organize and manage any number of subscriptions to create a customized reading experience that matches my interests. And, like I said earlier, a whole new collection of devices and applications are now making my reading experience as beautiful as it is informative.

It’s not just readers finding blogs either. Search engines and news aggregators are finding them too. Once again, the structure of the blog platform makes them very search-friendly and when authors add keyword tags to their posts it increases their visibility even more. This gives unknown writers opportunities they might never have otherwise. Family historians have found blogging is a great way to attract cousins. With blogs and news reading apps, there aren’t any gatekeepers limiting access to content. The reader now makes that choice.

The information junkie in me is lovin’ every minute of it!

Reprinted with permission from Moultrie Creek Gazette.

News Reader Update

It’s getting to be crunch time as Google Reader’s July 1st shut down is almost upon us. If you’re still looking for news reading options, here’s a quick rundown.

  • Feedly has moved quickly to grab the RSS feed management market. They have just released Feedly Cloud, their own web-based news client, and are currently migrating users it. If you haven’t moved to Feedly Cloud yet, you’ll find the simple instructions on their blog. Once you’ve migrated via the web client, close and re-open your mobile apps to synchronize them. They have also released an API which makes it possible for other apps to connect and synchronize feeds. So far there are nine apps available for Android and Windows phones as well as the free Newsify app for iOS. 
  • Even more news reader apps have announced they will be moving to Feedly’s API. These include the Reeder apps for iOS and Mac.
  • Flipboard users who connect to Google Reader news within the app will be automatically updated to Flipboard’s alternative connection.
  • Newsblur and Feed.bin offer paid feed management subscriptions with both web-based clients and a growing number of apps offering connections to them.
  • Both Digg and AOL are building their own news reader platforms. AOL’s release is expected today with Digg releasing theirs as a public beta later this week. There’s even a rumor that Facebook is looking into some kind of news reading function.
  • Bloglines, the veteran web-based service, has gotten a make-over and added some new features.

Change can be frustrating, but it’s always nice to have options. Google Reader’s shutdown is already showing us some innovative alternatives and I expect there will be even more coming soon.

Feeding Photos

Recently I’ve had to unsubscribe from several good blogs (none related to genealogy) even though I found them very interesting. Why? Because they frequently posted articles containing lots of photos – 15 or more at a time – and without first editing them for posting online. The result is that Google Reader doesn’t want to move on to the next article in my reading list until all the images have loaded. And, when you’ve only got a few minutes in a lunch break to catch up on the news, this can be a real drag.

In most cases, I would be delighted to look at the photos after I got home and wasn’t rushed, but I’m so irritated with the forced wait that I just want to get on with my reading and don’t save them for later. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are so many options to make your images more attractive on your blog – and easier to upload – that I’m surprised these bloggers haven’t taken advantage of them.

My first thought is Flickr. With Flickr’s bulk uploader, you can choose your images, add titles, captions and tags, then send them on their way to a Flickr set in a matter of minutes. While they’re uploading you can write the article discussing the event that generated all that photo goodness. When you’re ready, just go to your new set at Flickr and grab the embed code to present that set’s slideshow. Once included in your blog, it looks much like an embedded YouTube movie. And, like an embedded movie, the “heavy lifting” doesn’t happen unless the reader clicks the play icon.

Check your photo-sharing platform to see what kinds of display options they offer. Take advantage of them – especially when you want to present a large number of photos at one time. It’s a lot easier for you to upload and set up and a lot easier on your readers – especially the ones reading you in a newsreader.