in reply to The Enlightened Perl Iron Man Competition

I thought this was an interesting challenge, so I've been talking to the professional bloggers I know and wandering around the web looking for tips on building a successful blog. Here's a summary of what I found.

Develop a distinguishing twist. There are lots and lots of programming blogs out there. Learn what they are like and pick something that makes yours "different". This means knowing yourself well. Are you funny? Do you have a droll twist on things? Or maybe your sense of humor is only so-so, but you are top notch at explaining things that are hard for others to understand. Maybe you have a funky way of solving problems that is surprisingly effective. Or a special interest in audio software or robotics. Whatever it is, choose something that you are very good at and no one else in the software blog-o-sphere can do as well as you, with your particular style and grace.

Don't start empty.Start your blog with at least 5 posts. A single post can't give someone a feel for what the site will be like. The first five posts should give potential readers a feel for the range and style of content on your blog. Even if you are only writing about Perl, there are lots of ways to do that. Let your readers know what your particular twist is.

Keep the pace up. Pacing is very important. New material ranks higher than older material on Google. Even more important, if you write on a regular schedule, readers are more likely to check in from time to time to see what is new. Keeping up a regular pace can be difficult. Some tips by professional bloggers I know (one of whom is my spouse):

Publicize your blog. "Write it and they will come" just won't work in a world where there are literally millions of blogs. Here are some tips on where and how to publicize your blog

Track your readership. We all know that up-votes and down-votes can help us monitor the quality and interest level of our posts here at Perl monks. Out in the blog-o-sphere we also need to track the quality and interest that our blogs are generating. There are many, many tools to do this. To get web statistics you could go with a CPAN solution like Apache::LogParser which has some canned statistics, or Parse::AccessLogEntry which breaks up the access log lines into fields so you can roll your own stats. There is also the open source Perl solution AWStats if you prefer a more full-bodied solution. Finally, you could consider third party services like Google Analytics (free) or Lyris/ClickTracks (fee for service). These two are intended only as examples - no recommendation is implied.

Make the blog easy on the eyes. We all know how hard it is to read a poorly formatted PM post and many of us skip them. The same will happen if your blog fails to catch the eye. Too much text makes some eyes swim - even the eyes of good coders. Blogs should mix visuals and text, diagrams and explanations wherever possible.

Even a few purely decorative elements can be good. Find a piece of art you like or an animation you feel is cool. But make sure that what you choose makes sense given your blog's special spin or captures its emotional energy. If you are blogging about Perl, software and movie production, it might make sense to have some film production pictures - you could even ask the studio: you might get a yes (after all - they need to promote themselves too). If you are blogging on Perl and computer art, maybe you want so top notch drawing or photos touched up with Perl programs.

And don't limit yourself to visuals. Consider linking to YouTube teaching videos and outtakes from Perl conferences that do a good job of illustrating concepts your blog believes in. And if you are blogging on computer generated music, maybe a few sound tracks would be appropriate.

And then there are the code samples. Code samples should be syntax highlighted and nicely formatted. If you can use Perl on your blog site (you can, can't you?), Perl::Tidy is your friend. If you can stand PHP, GeSHi provides a very nice multi-language syntax highlighter.

Make yourself useful Having lots of material on a site is great. Being able to find it is even better. Make sure you use your tagging system well so that people can use "categories" to quickly find articles of interest. Use a good search engine for your blog content (CPAN recommendations anyone?) and make the search box easy to find. You'd be surprised about how many blogs out there have great material that is hard to find. Don't be like PM before we had super search.

Ask your friends and fellow monks for feedback Stats can only take you so far and readers are more often than not silent. A friendly eye can go a long way to see ways you can polish up your site or improve your publication strategy. We all want to see Perl thrive, so let us know what you are up to and feel free to ask those you trust here for feedback on your new blog.

Best of luck, beth