Business Blogging in Ireland – Who, What , When, Where and Why

At yesterday’s Plato marketing training event, the topic of business blogging came up. Seems like our 100,000+ unique visitors is nothing in the blogging world, but most Small to Medium Irish Business (SME’s) would kill for that kind of traffic. So since I’m an ‘expert’ (and when exactly did that happen ?!) here’s the 10 minute guide to get your business on it’s way.

Plato rules presume that member companies remain confidential (until they choose to break cover!). So, if you want to leave a comment below (feel free to link back to your website) I’ll be happy to apply the advice below to your business. I don’t sell blogging advice (although there is a business idea!) – more Irish Business Bloggers there are the better (all, hopefully, linking from their websites back to here!)

What is blogging?

  • A Blog is a new way of doing that same old things. You already network, talk (and listen!) to your customers and are passionate about publicising the thing you love (your business idea). A Blog just helps you do the same things online.
  • A Blog is the easiest way to update a website. If you can email (remember how scary that used to be?) you can blog. And yes, I can give examples to back that one up. And that’s you updating it, not paying some web design company to do it.
  • A Blog is the quickest way to get a good website. If you haven’t a website, a blog is the quickest way to get one. It does most of the Vodoo Search Engine stuff out of the box. Likewise, a blog can easily added to your existing website.
  • A Blog is an online Diary. Think one of those reality TV shows. But about your business. And without Jade Goody in it. There is a reason that ‘Big Brother’ and ‘Blogs’ score highest in the ratings – they’re all about people. Remember ; People don’t buy your business, they buy you.
  • A Blog lets you have conversations with your customers. It allows customers to say what they think about you on your website.Scary? Yes. But not as scary as not hearing what they are saying about you.Yes you can delete offensive comments, but I’ve only had to remove 2 out of 700 comments in the last 3 years.

The Who, What, When , Where and Why of Irish Business Blogging

Who should blog

  • You, as the owner of your business. If you have people who are equally passionate, then (a) you’re very lucky and (b) you should let them write as well. But chances are, it’s going to be you.
  • Blogging works very well for people in the professional services area. There are hundreds of people in IT, but blogging lets me stand out and gives me credibility.
  • I’m confident (and can give examples) of ways of how Hotels and Tourism, Shops and Engineering Companies can blog successfully), but it’s a little be fuzzier (i.e. not direcly linked to my personal experience)
What should they talk about

  • Talk about what you love – your business. But remember who you’re talking to; your customers, and people who will either link to you online, or recommend you to new customers.
  • I find a personal style works best. We’ve all seen the bland corporate website and we don’t believe them. Speak personally of your experience.
  • Set your own red lines, and respect them. I don’t blog about my personal life (or lack of it!). I don’t reveal customer details. But outside of that, if it’s interesting, I’ll talk about anything it.
When (or how much time is involved)

  • Like all marketing , you’re in this for the long haul. It’s important that you measure using Google Analytics (free). You’ll be surprised at what works and what doesn’t.
  • Blogging is cheap in money but expensive in your time. I reckon about 1hr per week for a post like this one, sometimes more, sometimes less.
  • Don’t forget the extra time involved in publicising your blog; leaving useful comments / links on other sites back to yours. But you’d be doing this anyway as you surf the web.
Where do people find out about your business /blog

  • Those comments on other (relevent) sites and more popular blogs link back to yours. If somebody likes your comment, then they will often come back to your blog.Remember, useful comments not spam! – your comment /link should always add to the site you are leaving them on.
  • Google loves blogs, because of all those incoming links.
  • The links on the top left of the page allow you to subscribe to this blog as if it were an email newsletter. Some people like this. Most people prefer RSS; Like an email newsletter RSS notifies you of new content but, RSS gives you a summary of all the blogs you are interested in. And it doesn’t clog up your inbox. I use Google Reader, but there is plenty of choice out there.
Why

  • Because you’d like more business. You do want more business, right? The only question: ‘is blogging the best use of my time?’
How
Two main choices, the second one being better as it gives you more choice.

  • Sign up for a free blogging account at Blogger.com (backed by Google)
  • Ask your (existing / new) web host for the following. It should cost a lot less then Eur500 , including the first year’s hosting.

‘I’d like WordPress (free) setup on my website at www.mywebsitename/blog. Use one of the standard templates. Please add Google Analytics (free) to the this template. Please explain where I can get the number (from Google) that you will need for the analytics. When finished let me know the address, username and password to log into my blog.

Remember, blogging is cheap to try out (in money , if not in your time) . It’s still new enough to forgive people who make mistakes. Dive in , give it a go, and when (not if) you learn something new, tell me about it.

And after all that, you couldn’t be bothered blogging?
Try LinkedIn.com. As a business networking tool , it’s excellent, with more Irish business contacts than anywhere else.

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Is somebody trying to knock down your Blog?

You may have noticed that this blog has been up and down over the last couple of weeks.

Wordpress Logo

After much tuning and investigation (thanks to the guys at Rimu Hosting for your help) it turns out that (one of) the problems has been a flood of automated comments hitting the site in an aid to boost their google rankings. This wordpress referrer bounce plugin should solve the problem.

Update: Direct download link (it’s a bit hard to find on the site).

And the winners of the Feedburner T-Shirts are..

And the winners of the Feedburner T-Shirts (as chosen by our completely automated selection process) are …. at the bottom of this post.

In another shock scandal, Bernie Goldbach got disqualified by following a link from his own blog. He did send the most (25) commenters our way, and since we’re making this up as we go along, if anybody doesn’t take up their prize , I’ll pass one onto him.

Thanks to everybody who took part , and to everybody who posted the message on their blogs! (Bernie , Damian, Phil, Billy Leo and Podcasting Ireland.

Drum Roll please …. The winners are ….

Feedburner logo

What happens next? I have the winners emails , so I will contact them directly to arrange posting the stuff out.

Irish Blog Award Bribery Shocker

In a shock turn to the Irish Blog awards, Damien Mulley has been revealed (allegedly) to be in receipt of a pint for his efforts in the ‘increase your subscribers on feedburner‘ award. Anonymous sources detailled his use of the Irish Blog Award feed (which increased it’s readers 32 times) to win this prestigious award, which is the premier alcohol based award in the Irish Blogosphere.

We didn’t bother asking Damien for a quote about these allegations, prefering instead just to make it all up buy him the pint. In the interests of fairness, Runners up Richard Hearne (offering free Search Engine Optimisation) and Eoghan McCabe (offering 2000 Euro worth of his time) were also not asked to comment.

Organiser of the competition , Paul Browne, is understood to be lining up a round 3 to give away goodies donated by Feedburner themselves, once the libel action with Damien is settled.

Final results for round 2 are below, and also many thanks to Ken, Conor, Aidan, James, Robin, Tom, Thomas and Damian for taking part. If you put your name down for round 3, I’ll be touch once I figured out the best way to give away the Feedburner stuff, and more importantly, how to do it to help your figures 🙂

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Dear Bruce Eckel : Hybrid Java, Google Web Toolkit and Adobe Flex

Dear Bruce,

First up, thanks for the book. Yes I’m saying thank-you about 8 years too late. ‘Thinking in Java‘ is what got me going in the language and in my mind is one of the best Java books written (sorry Tim). Giving it away free only cemented your reputation as the Bono of the Java world. OK, Bono without the Guitar, the Stetson and with a couple of overloaded constructors thrown in, but a man of stature nonetheless.

Thinking in Java Front Cover

Secondly, I’ll forgive your flirtations with Python, on the basis that I’ve been having an affair myself with JRuby. I now understand the pain that you’ve been having at home, the endless repetitive arguments to get simple things done, and the temptation of a newer, younger, more flexible model.

So , I think you’re onto something here in your blogpost. I can feel the pain, the need to deliver Rich clients to users over the web. I think that Ruby / Google Web Toolkit / Struts 2 / Name your web toolkit has further to go than you may think , but eventually these ‘heroic efforts‘ (nice quote) will run out of steam. On the basis of your recommendation alone I’m willing to look at Adobe Flex, but I’m not sure if this is going to solve all the problems.

Now , a lot of us Java guys don’t like change (and as if you needed proof, just look at the comments on this O’Reilly blogpost on the Google API’s). All the same , we have a problem that gets worse every passing year. 6 Years ago we could have been sure that 90% of web sites were running Internet Explorer 4. Now we’ve got IE, Firefox, Safari (in all their different versions) as well as an explosion of mobile devices. The Windows Vista launch is only going to fragment things further with yet another platform to support.

No one web solution is going to display the same in all of these browsers. We’re not going to get a single solution from Microsoft / Sun / Adobe that everybody from developer to my Granny is going to install. So we’re going to have to take the ‘least bad’ route – something that looks great, but degrades gracefully to standard HTML on less capable devices. Excuse my ignorance, but I don’t know (yet) if Flex does this.

Yes Hybridizing open source Java is the starting point for the solution. Unfortunately we’ve a long way to go yet, and Flex is perhaps only inspiration along the way.

Yours sincerely

Paul

Java and those pesky Google APIs

Recently one or two people disagreed with what I had to say about the impact that the Google, Amazon (and other) API’s will have on Java. Considering the ratio of positive to negative comments (about 3 for and 30 violently against), I obviously need to express myself in a clearer way. The link to the original post is at the end of this article, read on before you consider flaming me.

Amazon Web Services Logo

So , deep breath , here goes.

Compare the the way you develop now , with the way you built software 10 years ago. Do you remember having to manage your own memory? Or the pain of trying to deploy your software on different machines without a JVM? Or the hassle of trying to write distributed software using Corba? Or using a text editor instead of the fine IDE’s (Eclipse, Netbeans or JDeveloper – take your choice) that we have today? Would you consider building your software without a tool like Ant or Maven?

(Shudder). Things have moved on ,and I am very glad they have. Likewise, the way we develop 10 years into the future will be very different. I don’t know what the future will look like, but here’s a simple guess.

The biggest trend today is the move from software running on your computer , to software being delivered over the web. I’m not talking about the buzzwords being thrown about regarding ‘Service Orientated Architecture’ or ‘Enterprise Service Bus’. I’m talking about simple API’s that are available for use over the web today. Like the API’s and products from Google – including their Documents and Spreadsheets, and their Authentication service.

‘Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler’ – Albert Einstein

‘You Ain’t Gonna Need it’ – Anon, XP Mantra

As a good Agile Developer you’d probably agree with these quotes. But what if the most simple way of doing things was not to develop in Java at all? Most people don’t build their own operating system – they use Linux, Windows or OS X instead. Most people don’t write their own Java Server – they use Tomcat, JBoss or your server of choice. The pattern is the same. A small, dedicated core of developers builds the product, and the rest of us say ‘thank you very much’ and use it to get things done.

This range of ‘off the shelf’ solutions is increasing all the time , even before the online services arrived on the scene. As a Java developer , you’ve said ‘thank you’ , downloaded the latest version and integrated it into your solution. The time you save means you deliver other cool features instead. Java is very good at this ‘download and integrate’ process – not only is it a key benefit of Object Orientated Software, but Java has the widest range of solutions available (if you don’t believe me , just check out Sourceforge).

Java can also let us build our solutions (either partly or fully) around the online API’s. Java has great networking and XML handling ability already. In time this will become as normal as the idea of using a JVM. Great – we use these API’s pretty much like we do libraries today, and we can continue developing pretty much as before, right?

Wrong.

Remember, what is the most simple way of doing things? What if the most simple way of doing things was not to use Java but to use a more simple language (like Ruby or PHP) instead? Until now there were a couple of advantages that Java had over these ‘simple’ (and that’s a compliment) languages. When using online API’s these advantages disappear, or worse, become a liability.

  • Scalability and Robustness. Enterprise Java is massively scalable (it’s one of the reasons for it’s complexity). But can even you outscale Google?
  • Security. Enterprises haven’t (yet) learned to trust the security of online applications. This trust will be hard earned over time. But already you can make the argument that you data is safer with Google / Amazon / other service provider than on your average virus-ridden home PC.
  • Language Ties. To use the Java libraries you needed a JVM somewhere in your solution. Once you had a JVM , you might as well write your own solution in Java. But when the product you are extending is hosted elsewhere, you are free to code in the (most simple) language of your choice.
  • Always on. As long as you have a connection to the web, your programs can use the API’s. Scripting languages like Ruby and Python can claim to be even more portable. Not only can they run natively in most environments, they can also be deployed via a JVM if that is your choice (under the guise of JRuby and Jython)
  • Features. Need a feature that you don’t have in your scripting language? Just borrow it from Java by running in the JVM. How can Java win a ‘features arms race’ against that?

So do we face a form of developer apartheid, where a ‘hard core’ of Java Experts develop web API’s that the rest of us use via scripts? Let me know what you think. Like the original blogpost said, it may not be the end of Java, but perhaps the end of Java as we know it.