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Google and morality. May 27, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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This morning, our friend Ben read an article on Yahoo! News about how Google was planning to manipulate its search function. I have to admit, I don’t know how Google ordered its search function before: I’d type in a subject, and scan Google’s links, then choose the most relevant, usually ending up at Wikipedia. I’d also check my own blogs every month or so to see where we came up. I’d always assumed that the links were based on the closest matches to my search.

Well, no more, no longer, according to this article. Google now plans to prioritize its listings based on what it calls “Authorship.” And what that means, as I discovered when I followed a link in the article, is people who sign up for Google+ and put mugshots of themselves and profiles, including their e-mail address and every link to every other website and social media site they participate in, on their Google+ account.

Hmmm. I don’t know about you, but our friend Ben doesn’t like to be forced to participate in anything. I’d been an enthusiastic marble collector on eBay until eBay insisted that everyone use PayPal. I refused to sign on to Facebook to swell its revenue numbers and was outraged when you had to be a member in order to access a Facebook page. I know that Google+ has been doing everything in its power to force people to sign up so it can take on Faceboook.

But really, to dangle this bribe in front of everyone, join Google+ in order to get your websites, blogs, etc. listed first when someone searches for a topic?! Of course, Google isn’t the only search engine out there, but it still controls 70% of search-engine traffic. It’s certainly the one I turn to many times a day when I try to look up something. I guess that now I’ll have to remind myself that the top search links have all been bought, that I really need to dig deeper to find something that isn’t a cheap piece of trash, a glorified ad. Ouch!!!

I spoke to a longtime journalist and journalism professor to see if he thought this was immoral and illegal on Google’s part. He said no: It’s their search engine, they can do what they want with it. Well, alrighty then. But damned if I’m signing up for Google+ or falling into their trap. Filthy, greedy bastards! And you, my fellow bloggers, if you wonder why you’ve suddenly vanished from your Google searches, there you have it. Sign up for “Authorship” or die.


Want more blog readers? March 3, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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This morning, our friend Ben read a fairly tongue-in-cheek article advising the next Pope about how he could maximize his Twitter and Facebook following. The author, who was actually trying to give tips to ordinary folks like yours truly, suggested five ways to up your Twitter exposure.

We’re Luddites here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, which means we don’t tweet. We don’t post on Instagram or Pinterest. We ignore requests to connect via LinkdIn. And we don’t have Facebook pages. We figure we spend enough time on the internet as it is, and between managing our blogs and e-mail and looking stuff up, we don’t have the time to waste. We’d like to spend at least part of each day actually living.

However, one of the author’s suggestions for driving more folks to your Twitter feed rings true for us in our blogging lives, and it’s the easiest way we know. He said if you want more followers, tweet often. We totally agree. If you want more people to read your blog, post daily. This seems to raise your profile on search engines such as Google, and that of course drives people to your blog.

There are certainly other ways to attract visitors to your blog, such as great photos or art, or capturing a niche and owning it (“Rabid Vegan Does Vegas”). But daily posts can also build a following, and build exposure, even without the frills. A Google search of “Poor Richard’s Almanac” turns us up at #13, after all the versions of Ben Franklin’s original. Searching “Poor Richard’s Almanac blog” puts us at #1.

Needless to say, we suggest that you consider why you’re blogging before you launch a campaign to raise your status and visibility. But if you really have something to say, post early and post often. It may take a while, but it’s really all you have to do to be noticed and gain a following who actually cares about what you have to say.

WordPress: What’s hot. September 15, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, chickens, gardening, homesteading, pets, wit and wisdom.
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Our blog host here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, WordPress, recently changed its sign-in page, so instead of going to the posts their editors loved best that day, a feature they call “Freshly Pressed” (and on which, sadly, we’ve never been featured), now you’re taken to a rather majestic-looking page that highlights a specific topic.

Our friend Ben frankly misses seeing the “Freshly Pressed” posts, but seeing the featured topics on the new sign-in page is certainly a revelation about what most WordPress blogs are about: travelogs, food, and cat photos. (Sadly, gardening, chickens, and homesteading didn’t make it. Neither did our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin. And hey, what happened to dogs?! We love our cats, but equal time, please.) It seemed to me that every third post showcased in “Freshly Pressed” was about running, so it was a huge relief to see that that didn’t make the cut, either. Yet, anyway.

We love WordPress; it’s been good to us and idiot-proof (a necessary feature), even if it hasn’t chosen to showcase our brilliant posts despite years of faithful blogging and almost 500,000 views. But if we could respectfully suggest a few more categories to highlight, how about some thoughtful, intelligent posts? How about some funny, laugh-out-loud posts? How about something, anything that reaches beyond the usual suspects! Cat photos, for God’s sake.

Just a thought.

Why bother to blog? July 21, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was blindsided this morning to receive my weekly e-mail newsletter from a normally rational source and discover that he was recommending that everyone create their own blog on WordPress, whether they actually had anything to say for themselves or not. Mind you, Poor Richard’s Almanac is hosted by WordPress, and we love WordPress. My reaction wasn’t triggered by WordPress, but by the concept of filling cyberspace with yet more pointless verbiage. He suggested that, if you couldn’t think of anything else to say, you should write book reviews. 

What the bleep?!! Those of us, like myself and Silence Dogood, who are actual authors would prefer to think that people are reviewing our books because they find them interesting, engrossing or relevant, not because they’ve been told they must have a blog and come up with some kind of content to post on it. Why should anybody bother to blog in the age of YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, anyway? You can just slap up some photos or a video and get thousands of likes within seconds. Book reviews? Please.

Of course, wordsmiths like us were born to blog. Blogging may have begun as a way for people to reach out to their families and friends, a function that Facebook now fills. But for folks who actually have something to say for themselves, blogging remains a vital, relevant means of communication. You put it out there, and people react, and you learn and grow as a result. And for professional writers like me and Silence, the discipline of daily blogging is invaluable. It’s a wonderful way to start the day, warming us up for the bread-and-butter writing we do for a living the way a warmup session preps professional athletes for the field or court.

We love blogging, we love hearing from our readers and interacting with them, and we love WordPress. We think blogging has made us stronger writers, more creative, more able to rise to the challenge of our profession. Having to come up with something to say every day that you hope someone else will want to read is an ongoing challenge to us to keep on top of our game. Every morning, we try to rise to that challenge. We try to give Poor Richard’s Almanac readers something thought-provoking or practical to take away in thanks for their taking the time to read our posts, though sometimes we just can’t resist posting about something we think is fun or funny.

Our friend Ben just doesn’t get blogging because you “ought” to be blogging, not because you have something to say. Why? What’s the point? Fellow bloggers, why do you blog?

Spam, spam, spam, spam. July 19, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Poor Richard’s Almanac has been absolutely inundated with spam lately. Fortunately, our blog host, WordPress, has an excellent spam filter, Akismet, which catches the spammers’ comments. But they still have to be checked and deleted. Just yesterday, our friend Ben inadvertently deleted a legitimate comment that had found its way into the spam register, so we really do have to read every !@$#$%!! spam comment to make sure. Between last night and this morning, we’d managed to accumulate 35 spam comments; heaven knows how many more will pile up during the course of the day. This really isn’t the best use of my time.

These latter-day spammers all have the same agenda: self-promotion. They come up with a plausible comment that would be appropriate for most situations, such as “I love the depth of information in your posts. I’ve become a regular follower” or “My brother turned me on to your excellent blog and I can’t wait to read more.” Then they add a link to their website, which in every case appears to sell something. (Not that I’d know, I’d be afraid to open the link in case it was a porn site or virus or some other foul thing.) This is a pretty clever evolution of spam from just general worthlessness to a marketing tool. I guess it was inevitable that someone would think of it, and then it would spread like, well, spam.

Thank God for WordPress. Not only does it filter out spam, it doesn’t automatically put cheap, disgusting ads on people’s blogs that have nothing to do with the content and would cause any self-respecting blogger to die of shame. We can still hold our heads up here at PRA, even if it’s taking us more and more time to remove the spam deluge from its file.

Have you been getting much more spam recently on your blogs?

How do you find the time to get this stuff out? October 24, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben encountered this comment this morning on our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac. Unfortunately, WordPress’s Akismet filter had filed it as spam, doubtless due to an odd return address, so the following sentence, “I struggle to be productive these days but you’re going from strength to strength!” is probably some strange sort of form comment making the rounds in spam these days rather than legitimate praise. (We encountered the ultimate example of this type of form comment, also this morning, and are sure you’ll love it as much as we did when we post about it tomorrow.)

Spam or legitimate comment, our friend Ben thought that “How do you find the time to get this stuff out?” was a perfectly reasonable question. I suspect many of you must wonder the same thing. “How on earth do OFB, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders ever find the time to write all this ****?! Where do they come up with these post ideas?”

Well, it would be obvious to a stone that we—well, at least Silence and OFB—love to talk, and in our opinion, writing is simply talking in two dimensions. But writing as frequently as we do (this is our 1,527th post) requires a bit more than just the gift of gab. And, like all of you, we do have actual lives, so we can’t spend hours on end thinking up and composing blog posts, much as we love them. So here’s what we do:

Silence and I aren’t exactly what you’d call morning people. In fact, the aforementioned stone probably has more mental activity in the morning than we can muster. But between our black German shepherd, Shiloh, and our work schedules, there is truly no rest for the wicked, or even us, most mornings.

So we try to rise with the dawn (or a bit earlier, these days, since it’s dark here ’til almost 7). I take the dog out while Silence fires up the teakettle and coffeemaker, and then we go online, read the news, check our mail, and then head on over to Poor Richard’s Almanac. After viewing our stats and responding to any comments, whoever has chosen to write the day’s post gets going while the other prepares the tea and coffee, gets the paper, and etc. If it’s Richard’s turn to post, he’ll typically e-mail us a file the night before, so all we have to do that morning is cut, paste and publish.

If we’re not morning people, why don’t we just write the post the night before, save it to draft, and publish it in the morning? Well, sometimes we do. But generally, we find that beginning our day with a post is a soothing and pleasant way to ease into the rest of the day. It gives our brains a chance to warm up in a fun, low-stress way. By the time we’ve finished writing, we’re (comparatively) functional and alert, ready to tackle our chores and prepare ourselves for the day ahead. Okay, that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t really love to crawl back in bed. But at least we’re up, thinking, and communicating, and somehow we manage to resist the urge to collapse and instead keep on going. (Silence’s trick of making the bed the second we’re out of it really helps here.)

But why do we try to post at least once a day, and how do we manage to find enough things to talk about? Well. We try to post once a day (and more if more than one of us has something they really want to say, or something unexpected comes up after we’ve written the first post) because we find it good discipline.

We’re all writers, and writing a post is basically writing an essay every day. The discipline of writing an essay every morning that people will actually want to read—er, hopefully want to read—puts us in the mood to write on our own projects the rest of the day. Creating and polishing those little post-essays helps us hone our writing and thinking. Whatever we give to our readers, we get back a hundredfold by keeping our skills (and brains) sharp. 

Finally, how do we think up all that stuff to post about? Well, we try to keep a sharp eye and a sharp wit about us at all times. We’re lucky since our blog is an almanac, allowing us to post about anything that takes our fancy, be it Silence’s latest recipe or our neighbors’ bizarre lawn art misadventures or new research in the health field or, of course, anything about nature, pets, gardening, and history, especially if said history relates in any way to our hero and blog mentor, the great Benjamin Franklin.

Sometimes a conversation will yield a blog post topic, or an overheard remark, or an ad on a billboard, or a book or movie or song. Sometimes it’s a news item, sometimes an insight, sometimes simply a useful tip we’d like to pass along. Sometimes it’s just plain silly, but we can’t resist. If something appeals to us, it may or may not appeal to you. Sometimes our very favorite posts go virtually unread; sometimes our least-favorite posts get 10,000 views. But fortunately, because we post so often, you like enough of the posts we like to keep us going strong.

So, if you have your own blog and are trying to find the time to “get this stuff out,” not to mention come up with enough “stuff” to get out in the first place, we’d say this: A regular routine is a lifesaver. Like folks who write in their journals daily or record their dreams first thing every morning, getting in the mindset that you will write a post every day at a certain time will help you do it.

Second, keep your eyes open. Anything at all can turn into a great blog post. You just have to recognize it. A sense of perspective and a strong sense of humor, not to mention serendipity, often come to our rescue here.

Finally, if you’re going to do it, love it. Unless you’re trying to blog for your business or are hoping to strike it rich through blogging*, there’s no other reason to “find the time” in the first place. We love blogging because it’s interactive. We write, people tell us things—so often, things we don’t expect—and that gives us even more chances to think and interact. It’s stimulating and fun. And it’s always fascinating to us to see what people read and respond to. (Thank you, WordPress!)

Well, that’s what keeps us going. What keeps you blogging?

* If you’ve found the secret to this, please let us know. We’d really love to turn our thermostat up to 62 this winter!

Google still hates us. February 25, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Way back in April 2010, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood wrote a post called “Why does Google hate us?” We had suddenly found it impossible to leave comments on blogs hosted by Google’s Blogger, and found this extremely demoralizing.

Well, now it’s heading toward April 2011, and we still can’t leave comments on many of our favorite blogs. Not that we don’t try, but let us tell you, it’s a trial by fire that often ends with crashing and burning.

We’ve finally learned to look and make sure the word verification is visible on the blogs that have it before writing our comment. (Please refrain from commenting about our collective IQs.) If the word verification word(s) are actually shown—which is all too seldom—we type our comment, type in the word(s), and are almost always told that we typed them incorrectly and to try again with another word or pair of words. Well, excuuuuse us. We’re both writers and editors by profession, and we do know how to spell, not to mention proffread—uh, proofread—what we’ve just written. We did not misspell those damned words. But we dutifully type in the new ones, and our comments sometimes get through.

When the word(s) aren’t visible—just a blank box with a little boxed X in the upper left corner—we’ll try to access the post and the comments section again… and again. We really want to leave a comment! But usually, after three strikes, we’re out. 

We have an even harder time with folks who use Blogger and don’t use word verification. We’ll type a comment, type in our identification, hit “publish comment,” and… nothing. There’s our comment and our ID, as though we’d never tried to post it. So we hit “publish comment” again, a bit more deliberately this time. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, we’ll try again a few more times. (We’re stubborn that way.) But then we give up.

Recently, Blogger has adopted an even more insidious trick to block our comments. When we click on “post a comment,” a screen comes up with a big X in a round circle and the legend “This content cannot be displayed in a frame.” It suggests that we click on a second link to “open this content in a new window,” and when we do, it informs us that we need to sign in to Blogger and they won’t let us because we need to “Please enable JavaScript and cookies in order to use Blogger.” Well, okay, we’ll be the first to admit we’re Luddites, but we do have JavaScript up and running. And we’re not trying to sign in to Blogger, we’re just trying to leave a comment, for mercy’s sakes! GRRRRRRRR.

There is only one thing more aggravating than spending time and thought writing what you hope is an insightful or appreciative comment and watching it simply disappear. And that’s fearing that other bloggers out in cyberspace—people whose thoughts, photos, humor, and writing style you really admire—will think you’re just ignoring them.

So to all our blogging friends who use Blogger as a blog host rather than our own beloved WordPress, we (to borrow a line from Jane Austen’s priceless Mr. Collins) humbly beg leave to apologize. We’re still reading and enjoying, promise. We vow to keep trying to comment. We don’t know why Google hates us.

As for you, Google, shame on you!!! We’ve been devotees of your research function since day one, faithfully heading over many times a day to check out this or that. How could you betray us like this, attempting to crush our outreach efforts like Goliath stomping on David? Please devote a few seconds of your valuable time to improving the WordPress/Blogger interface. Or we’re going to start slinging stones.

Photos? What photos? November 7, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame, here today to talk about a query that’s been cropping up a lot on our blog lately and causing some confusion to your humble bloggers, yours truly, Silence Dogood, and our friend Ben. Our blog host is WordPress, which we love, and it has a great spam filter, Akismet. Akismet has been auto-dumping all these queries into our spam folder. Why?

The general query seems both harmless and relevant. In its many incarnations, it’s basically “Why don’t you ever change the design of your blog, and why don’t you have any photos?” We think these are perfectly legitimate questions that deserve honest answers. What confuses us is why we’re being swamped with bazillion versions of this query now, and why they’re all going straight to spam. We’ll answer the questions anyway.

We don’t change our blog’s design because we’re Poor Richard’s Almanac and we think the design looks, well, appropriately almanac-ish. We also think the typeface and clean presentation make our posts easy to read, and since our blog is all about reading and writing, that’s very important to us.

So much for the easy question. Why we don’t have photos is also easy to answer, but more complex in its implications. Basically, we don’t have photos because, as our friend Ben says upfront in the blog’s subhead, we’re Luddites. All three of us are so technologically inept that replacing a lightbulb constitutes a major technological achievement. Or try this recent technological breakthrough, as reported to me by Silence:

OFB: Silence, there’s something wrong with the coffee machine! I can’t get it to turn on!

Silence: Mmmmpfff. [Rolls over, pulls up blanket, ignores OFB.]

OFB: Please, Silence! I can’t figure out the problem. Please get up and see what’s wrong with it!

Silence: [Suppresses comments, staggers into kitchen, stares at coffeemaker.] Ben, I unplugged it last night to make popcorn and forgot to plug it back in. See? It’s unplugged. Now watch this! [Plugs in cord, turns on coffee machine.] Isn’t it amazing?!

OFB: It’s still not coming on.

[Silence and OFB stare at machine in horror. Silence turns on countertop oven and stove. Nothing. She presses the “test” and “reset” buttons on a light switch/outlet at the end of the counter. Nothing. After about five tries, she goes to the circuit-breaker box in the mudroom and begins flipping switches. Nothing. Depsondent, she returns to the kitchen.]

Silence: Ben, nothing’s working. I guess we’ll have to call the handyman and hope he can get down here today. We have to have a working stove!

OFB: Er. Remember when this happened before? I would swear you were able to get everything working again by pushing those buttons on the outlet.

Silence: But I did push the buttons, over and over, and nothing’s happened.

OFB: Maybe you should try again.

Silence: [Glares at OFB, furiously pushes buttons on outlet, finally sees that one says “test” and one says “reset” and pushes the test button first, then the reset, then stops pushing.] Try it now, Ben.

OFB: Hey, the light came on!


I’m no better. If I weren’t a teacher, I probably wouldn’t know anything about technology at all. So as you can imagine, our collective photographic skills are pretty much nil. I can at least manage to get the entire subject in the photo, unlike OFB, who always manages to cut off the top of someone’s head or the tips of his dog’s ears, or poor Silence, whose shots tend to be obliterated by her thumb inevitably placed over part of the lens. As for digital photography, splurging on a digital camera, downloading photos, manipulation of digital images, and the like: forget that.

It’s not that we don’t enjoy photos on other people’s blogs; of course we do. But we’re writers, and we use our blog as a showcase for our writing, whether we’re trying to be helpful (like Silence), informative (like me), or just ranting (as in the typical OFB post). We all believe that strong writing conveys images along with sounds, scents, and every other sensation. So the challenge for us is to make sure our writing is good enough. And we leave it to our readers to be the judges of that. So far, according to WordPress’s counter, we’ve had over 223,000 visits from people seeking information or entertainment, so somebody’s reading us, even without photos. 

But even our beloved WordPress exacts a price for our photo-free posts. WordPress now has two features that showcase blogs it deems worthy of attention. One, called Freshly Pressed, prominently features its picked posts every time you go on the WordPress site to log on. The other, FoodPress, highlights posts about food and cooking. (I’ll bet you guessed that.) In both cases, showcased blogs have the opportunity to attract millions of new viewers. WordPress should be commended for helping its bloggers reach a wider audience.

For us, there’s just one little problem: To be featured, your blog must have photos. We find this a bit ironic for a blog host called WORDPress, but there it is. As a teacher by vocation and a historian, coin collector, backyard birdwatcher, and hot-pepper enthusiast by avocation, this doesn’t bother me; my topics are probably too obscure to rate showcasing even if they did have photos. But I know it kills our friend Ben, since a showcased post might finally attract the attention of a MacArthur award nominator, and distresses Silence, who is quite passionate about her cooking posts. (“Imagine if Julia Child or MFK Fisher or, say, Escoffier had been forced to include photos with their writing!” Silence sniffs. And the FoodPress guidelines were especially merciless, saying in effect “Nobody wants to read your stupid recipe if it doesn’t show photos of the food!!!”)

Well, we beg to differ. Silence rightly points out that food photography is the hardest of all. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of unappetizing photos of food that make you wish you’d never eaten before in your life; we certainly have. Better to have no photos than to show bad photos, and that applies to every post, whatever its topic, but especially to something that’s supposed to be enticing. Kudos to those bloggers—and we know several—who are both good writers and good photographers!

Of course, we’re aware that you don’t have to be a good photographer to add visual interest to your posts. One of our blogging friends is a genius at finding photos and illustrations that provide an ironic visual commentary on his posts. What we can’t figure out is where he finds them, how long it takes him to find them, and how it could possibly be legal to simply put them up on one’s own blog without even crediting their originators, much less paying them.

The three of us here at Poor Richard’s Almanac aren’t in agreement about all things, to say the least. But we are in agreement about this: Tempus fugit. Time is fleeting. There’s only so much sand in the hourglass, and we have plenty to do in our real lives to use it up. We blog for pleasure, not profit or celebrity. We love thinking, writing, kicking it up in our posts and having fun doing it. As Sherlock Holmes famously noted, there’s only so much room in the brain-attic, so you’d better focus on storing the things that matter to you and clean out the rest. Please don’t ask us to waste time becoming competent photographers; the blogosphere is flooded with them. Let us put our focus on something else: On becoming such good thinkers and writers that you want to read our posts, even if there’s nary a photo to be seen. We may have a way to go, but trust us, we’re working on it.

                    Your friend,

                                   Richard Saunders

Getting folks to read your blog. March 3, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Our friend Ben was heading over to our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, this morning when my attention was caught like a moth in a flame by a blog post on our blog host, WordPress’s, home page. WordPress has any number of great features, but one that always turns our friend Ben green with envy is its featured blogs section. Every day, the home page showcases a number of blog posts that the WordPress factotums think merit readership. Much like Oprah’s Book Club back in the day, doubtless being featured on this roster is a really, really good way to attract readers to your blog. (Sigh.) But I digress.

Today, two posts caught my eye: One was called something like “Weird uses for leather” and showed a photo of a pig who, under the circumstances, didn’t strike our friend Ben as looking sufficiently concerned. Wishing the pig well, but having no desire to actually read the post, I scanned the other featured posts and came upon something to the effect of “How to use WordPress to attract a zillion readers to your blog.” (Apparently, using the name “WordPress” in the title works pretty damn well.) Naturally, our friend Ben, modest soul that I am, would love to attract a zillion readers to our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac. (And no, Silence, of course this has nothing to do with my unending attempts to attract the attention of the MacArthur Fellowship nominators.) So, like the hapless moth, our friend Ben found myself clicking on the post.

What did I read there? Bad news and good news. The blogger said that, in order to attract readership, you simply had to be on Twitter and Facebook ranting on (and on) about your blog. (Luddites that we are here at PRA, forget that.) You had to inundate all your friends, relatives, coworkers, and acquaintances with “news” about and links to your blog. (Mercifully, I only know one person who actually does this. And it’s so irritating.) And you absolutely, absolutely had to include photos in your posts, or your blog was doomed. You’d be lucky to attract 3, much less 30, readers a day.

We here at Poor Richard’s Almanac beg to differ. Not because we disagree with this advice as a basic template. It’s all pretty sound advice. But rather because it’s a template, not a mandate.

As noted, we use neither Facebook nor Twitter. We find that we have enough to do writing our blog, answering and sending e-mail, doing our work, and living our lives, without adding yet more time-eaters like tweeting and texting and posting to Facebook. But that doesn’t mean we discount their utility as tools. If our blog was commercial in nature, or if our jobs or businesses required it, you can bet we’d be tweeting away like mad and asking everyone on earth to “friend us on Facebook.” Thank God we don’t have to.

As for annoying our friends and relations with endless begging, screaming e-mails and the like about how great our blog is and how they should all be reading it, we’d say to go for the happy medium. Yes, tell everyone you’d want to read your blog that you’ve started it, what it’s about, and that you’d love to get their feedback. And please provide a link! Then sit back and wait for none of them to actually read it, at least for a very long time. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were dismayed that so few of our family and friends tuned in to Poor Richard’s Almanac when we and Richard Saunders launched it in 2008. OFB’s brother and one of our good friends were faithful readers, but of all our families and closest friends, that was pretty much it. Hundreds of readers checked in faithfully, but not the folks who were nearest and dearest to us in the face-to-face sense. Many of these announced very self-righteously that they didn’t read blogs. Well, fine, your loss. But over time, and without additional annoyance on our parts, we’ve found that more of our friends are joining the group of faithful readers that keeps Poor Richard’s Almanac afloat. We’re always surprised, thrilled, and humbled when another friend joins the flock. But no, we wouldn’t dream of badgering anyone about it. That takes more hubris than we can muster.

Now, about those photos. We have no, absolutely no, argument with this advice. Our observations of the world of blogging suggest that photos are key to transforming your blog into a commercial success, to getting noticed, to getting that book and maybe even that movie deal. We ourselves love seeing photos on other people’s blogs. So why don’t we have any here on Poor Richard’s Almanac? Well, first of all, we’re writers and thinkers, not photographers. Being Luddites, we can’t even take a decent photo, much less upload one to our blog. But second of all, when we started Poor Richard’s Almanac, we set ourselves a challenge. We wanted to see if, like our hero and blog mentor Benjamin Franklin, we could write such compelling posts that readers would come to see what we had to say without visual backup.

So how have we done? Without being celebrities or even recognized authorities in our various fields, being in fact complete unknowns, and without offering visuals or advertising ourselves in any way, Poor Richard’s Almanac attracts hundreds of visitors a day, over 160,000 so far (according to WordPress’s accounting). Not bad for just two years’ postings! 

What would we advise for blogging success? Again, we endorse the photographic approach even if we don’t practice it. We also approve of the original post author’s additional suggestions that you write the catchiest possible titles, that you write about things you love, and that you return the favor of visiting bloggers by becoming a regular visitor to (and commentor on) their blogs as well.

But that isn’t all, in our experience, by any means. We think that the greatest success comes from two very disparate approaches. One is to tackle a diverse series of topics that interest you and that, however tangential, will interest others. Whether it’s the age of Dr. Oz, the history of JABO marbles, the nature of Amish Friendship Bread, or if cats ever have brown eyes, this is the approach that has worked for us. People search for what interests them, be it a recipe for pumpkin chili or the best pirate movies or black German shepherd puppies or Pennsylvania Dutch Christmas traditions or the best places to stay in Asheville or how to grow potatoes in containers, and they find themselves on our blog. Our posts seem to be timeless in this respect: We write about what interests us, and when it interests someone else, they come to see what we’ve said about it, be it two minutes or two years after we’ve written it. We find this really awesome.

But there’s a different approach, and that’s tight specialization. When it works, it works far better than our scattershot approach. Look, for example, at Mr. Subjunctive’s blog Plants Are the Strangest People (http://plantsarethestrangestpeople.blogspot.com/). Mr. Subjunctive typically posts about tropicals and houseplants, usually giving their history and nomenclature and often focusing on favorite cultivars and growing techniques. Yes, his blog does digress from time to time, notably on Saturdays when he showcases a photo of his delightful anole, Nina, but he usually stays on-topic and has gained a faithful audience and over 500,000 views as a result.   

So yes, we’re here to tell you it can be done. If you want to blog, go for it. But we would like to remind you that “the total look,” text, photos, and illustrative touches, plus a real passion for your subject matter and a flair for great post titles, will get you further faster. Do as we say, not as we do. But thanks for stopping in!

Rotten tomatoes. September 24, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
Tags: , ,

“How can you tell when a tomato is rotten?” This reader query arrived today here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. At first, our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were rolling around laughing. How could anyone ask such a question?! Haven’t we all had the misfortune of having to deal with rotten tomatoes, those squishy, stinky, moldy, oozing horrors? No wonder throwing rotten tomatoes was considered a fitting commentary for a poor performance. Eeeewwwww!!!! 

But then we thought again. Suppose your only experience of tomatoes had been with the rock-hard, mealy, tasteless supermarket type, the type that’s bred to hold its shape and firmness at the price of flavor and fragrance? Maybe these tomatoes don’t rot, or at least, don’t rot during the week or two someone is likely to have them in the house. Maybe rotten tomatoes are as unreal to these folks as sour ultra-pasteurized milk. Maybe this was a legitimate query and not a bad joke.

What a shame. We wouldn’t wish an encounter with a rotten tomato on anyone. Talk about gross! But we’d wish that everyone could have the joy of eating the type of thin-skinned, flavorful tomatoes that are likely to rot if not eaten the minute they ripen. Aaaahhh!!! And we’d love for you to have the chance to enjoy raw milk, too, even if you do have to use it fast before it spoils. In both cases, it’s so worth it.