About Link Posts and more

March 13, 2013

About Link Posts and more → via @_patrickwelker

I’m afraid of link posts. That was my initial thought when I read the title of Shawn Blanc’s post «Whither Link Posts?» on the 29th of January. How come, you might ask and for quite some time I couldn’t put my finger on it. I planned to respond immediately to Shawn’s post because it is a topic if been thinking about a lot – even before I had my own blog. As you can tell by now, the prompt reply didn’t work out. I had to let things ease down and re-evaluate why this is a topic with meaning-bearing capacity for me.

Now I’ve pondered long enough about it and came to a conclusion. So, let me explain myself and tell you why the first sentence stands as it is.

A Note Of Thanks

But before we go into the nitty gritty let me first emphasize that I really had a blast the last two months. My first blog post went live on 5th of January and within the first week half of my favorite bloggers which are in my personal Top 10 mentioned me in one or another way. It was a great feeling to get positive feedback from the people I regularly read – and more important which I enjoy the read.

My special thanks (in alphabetical order) goes to Shawn Blanc, Benjamin Brooks, Federico Viticci and Gabe Weatherhead. Those guys were the absolute first ones who mentioned me (and I’m glad they did).1

I’m fully aware of the fact that my last post was a “thank-you” post. I put this thank you note up there because it is likely that you, my dear reader, came across this blog in the first place due to recommendations of internet personalities like the guys above. This is the immediate effect of a link post and therefore works nicely as a smooth transition to….

The author and his link post

I like link posts a lot. To me they are like “browsing suggestions” – that’s the phrase I use most of the times when announcing a new link list on Twitter. Gabe Weatherhead’s answer to Shawn Blanc’s post reflects the same feelings I have about this topic. Gabe adds one of the most important points:

But here’s the truth for me: If Shawn stopped writing link posts, I probably would stop thinking about his site. I care about his opinions precisely because he posts links. A link post is like a book recommendation. It actually means something when it comes from someone I already respect. It also tells me a bit about the person making the recommendation.

It’s not only a suggestion where to click next, it is also a deliberate choice of the author what part of his personality he would like to share with his readership.

Our interests build a good part of the person we are, so creating meaningful link posts is definitely a good thing to do if the output is coherent with the blog and/or author; be it a link post focused on the content which is usually published on the blog in question or the more detached alternative in form a recommendation from one of the authors fields of interests.

Web Celebrities vs. Real-World Celebrities

One of the most striking character traits of the human kind is our curiosity.

A trivial phenomenon which is more prominent in our modern society than ever before are celebrities. Their existence is based on our natural curiosity.

I don’t know about you, but the c-word has a negative connotations for me. The picture that pops into my mind when thinking about celebrities is a Hollywood star. The negative part for me has to do with the fact that all things I know about this person are not necessarily the truth because the information gets filtered through tabloids, the manager, PR agencies, etc.

In short: the public image of such a celebrity is nothing I’d put my trust in. It’s artificial and this renders the person behind this image invisible too. The implication is that I’m not interested in the latest gossip about movie stars.2

However, this doesn’t seem to apply to internet celebrities. They are the ones who form their public persona and they have no filter attached to what they publish. All the information that leaks out is handpicked. Overall it feels more honest and trustworthy to me and that’s what I like about it. At the same time, when publishing link posts – here compared to a PR-like public announcement – it doesn’t feel too face-bookish3 to me. This is why I click on links of people I trust. It has nothing artificial, I’m just interested about their point of view, how they see the world and I like to muse about what sparked their interest in a particular topic.4

For me it was important to come to this conclusion (as a reader and a writer). I followed too many blogs that put out link posts just for the sake of having something to feed the archive with. I unfollowed these and kept the ones which I trust and whose authors actually added value to the content or their author profile.5

Shawn Blanc wrote an excellent article - «The Link Post» - where he put together a collection of the different link post formats and goes into detail about the most popular ones. You should definitely read it if you’re interested in the topic (and if you’re a link blogger, read the last section at least two times).

I stated above that I was afraid of link posts, after narrowing it down it is clear to me that there are some specific kind of link posts that “scare” me:

The Jar Jar Binks

If your link posts are not on par with the content you publish they will become the “Jar Jar Binks” of the story you tell.

Instead of supporting your story (the general theme of your blog) they often feel out of place.

In my case jar-jar-binksing my blog would be making link posts about art and cooking recipes I like.

The Sidekick

I like Batman. Batman with Robin is still okay, but I prefer the stories where the hero acts as a lone ranger.

If Batman would blog and most of his blog posts would evolve around his sidekick I doubt I’d read his blog. Even if its Batman we’re talking about. After all, the attention should still be on the main character.

Here on RocketINK posting 3 link list posts in a row would feel like the sidekick is starting to steal the show.

The Double Bind

Besides having started this blog as a personal journey, I also want people to like it. I think that’s second nature to most blogs.

All my former blogs were “simple and plain fun projects” and I soon recognized that this blog is special to me. While I enjoy writing it, I found myself investing more time in it, which added a little bit of seriousness to the whole project.

My goals regarding this blog’s content were:

  1. At least one big post a month.
  2. 1-2 times a month a more analytical piece.
  3. No huge gaps between posts (max. 3-4 days).

To be absolutely honest: I wouldn’t have guessed that it takes that long to write an article. Part of it has to do with the fact that I’m no native speaker but that I’m absolutely in love with English and want to deliver a translation of my thoughts that is vaguely accurate and still captures my style of writing.6 And the other part is just me having underestimated that this is work (fun work, but work).

I soon realized that reaching my goal isn’t possible with all the other commitments I have. I haven’t written something analytical yet and rather tried to focus on keeping the gaps between the posts not too wide.

I find the gaps to be the most stressful part, because I’m still hesitant about link posts when it comes to my own blog, despite the fact that I’ve got accustomed to them up to a point were I don’t want to miss them in the blogs I’ve subscribed to.

I imagine readers would like a more consistent blog – yes, that’s how I picture you. Proof me wrong. And putting up three link list posts in a row would feel like cheating to me although by this the gap between post would shrink dramatically.

That was the status quo until I read Shawn’s latest article (the one I mentioned in the introduction). Here’s what he has to say about “the time” aspect:

If I were to shift the time I spend posting links to be time spent on original articles instead, it’s not like there would be a new article every day. Because I would still be spending time reading and researching and working behind the scenes. And I’d still be discovering the same stuff I am now — I just wouldn’t be linking to it.

Shawn nailed it. It’s no wonder that such simple truth can only come from an experienced person who is blogging for over 6 years now. He’s one of the few who has already mastered the thin line where link posts are on one end of the spectrum and quality articles are on the other end. I just have to let this sink in, keeping in mind that I won’t be ‘jar-jar-binksing or side-kicking’. Matter of fact I think I’ve already found a solution for how to cope with this kind of content.7

As you might have noticed I do two kind of link posts here: the classic “DF-Style” link post and the link list which I saw first on Brett Terpstra’s blog. Here’s his point of view:

It allows me to gather link collections for posts as I browse and generate a single post with multiple links rather than a ton of individual “link list” posts”.

And the corresponding footnote:

Link list posts are great for some people, and I’m not against them. They just don’t fit my style.

I totally dig his approach and since I’m a lover of lists I’m quite sure that I would have ended up with a list even if I hadn’t come across them in Brett’s blog. Still, honor to whom honor is due.8

I use link lists for things I’m fond of but that are either (a) way out of the scope of this blog or (b) things were I simply have not too much to say about because they stand for themselves.

Also, these lists are perfect for passing along a link which has absolutely nothing to do with technology, Apple or design. And by putting it inside such a list I want readers to know that the link marked a special day in the place of my browsers history.

I choose the classic link post for findings that absolutely grabbed my attention and which I would like to highlight separately. Gabe and Erik’s CriticMarkup is the best example – it felt like a lightning bolt went through my body when I first read about it.

Conclusion and Preview

I didn’t realize it at first, but this setup with two kind of link posts should work for reducing my “fear of link posts” and it lead to trust my gut feeling more. Case closed: there is no double bind. If I trust blog writers who frequently post link posts, there’s a chance that people will trust me with my more infrequent post rhythm.

The only difference is that due to the lists the RSS feed looks a tad cleaner. But it’s closer to the blog experience that I wanted to create for this site.

My only doubt is that it still feels slightly different from a readers perspective (especially when looking at it through the eyes of a RSS client). This is a thing to keep in mind when you got a certain responsibility for your readership – like the one that every blog owner has who offers a subscription model. Then again these writers can dedicate more time to their blog and writing.

Here’s were the preview part starts: my next term is my last at the University. I will write and finish my bachelor thesis. In the meantime I will also sell my car which isn’t really necessary in the city anyway. After the thesis is done I will have a small nest egg and emulate writing this site full-time to have a good idea of what it will look like and to know how it feels to work the whole week on RocketINK (aka a thing I love).

Admitted, it sounds rather drastic when seeing it written down in front of me on the screen. But I’m curious and I was always the kind of person who followed his dreams rather ruthless. I “switched careers” and started to study English and German when I was 26 (- yes, that’s pretty late -) because I wanted to get to a point were I can use English frequently to master it at some point in my live, and to read and write more. In my mind this blog could be a potential next step. Knowing that I only need a small amount of money to be happy in life a membership might work for me. I prefer pursuing my dreams anytime over a bigger paycheck (… as long as I can pay the rent and there is food on the table9). And that’s exactly why I’m sold on the idea.

If I can check of the small list of my (content) goals with ease while doing the project then I would allow myself to slowly start thinking about offering a membership. At the moment it feels too soon, especially when keeping in mind that there are people out there which I respect who earned their place by constantly proving their credibility over the years and keep publishing quality content.

Side note: I thought about discarding the “preview part” of this last section because it could come across as me being a unworldly dreamer, a newcomer stretching himself to far and so on. The post would have definitely worked without it and I could have send the “preview part” to two or three people I trust with this matter. But anyway, I like being honest – it’s highly therapeutic for me.

  1. Other people I love to read also mentioned me, but I wanted to keep this list concise and like stated above only include the “first pilgrims” so to speak. Sorry for not including you and thank you for putting out your awesome content.

  2. I’m not free of errors, I still follow book authors I like (c.f. Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett) to get a small glimpse of the world they live in. Also I happend to find Rock stars more easy to track, because “you live freely if you haven’t a reputation to lose”.

  3. Welcome to my Facebook profile: here’s a picture of me shaking the presidents hand, here’s on with me standing on the top of Mount Everest, here’s the rest of the top events in my life – anyway, I won’t show you anything were I actually failed.

  4. I even clicked on a link to a set of beautiful photographies of Snakes this week. I’m terrified of Snakes (although it has gotten better of the years).

  5. I know the celebrity example stands on shaky ground, but it helped me to grasp why I had an aversion against link posts when I first saw them a couple of years ago.

  6. Sadly this isn’t possible – there’s no perfect solution and I will probably explain in an upcoming blog post why it isn’t possible to write 100% English articles when you’re not a native speaker.

  7. Still, three link lists in row would feel like cheating… either I’m hopeless or I will grow to accept it. I’m positive that I’ll find my way soon.

  8. Brett got the whole thing running on auto-pilot, check this out. A jaw-dropping workflow.

  9. If things go pear shaped I can always resort to doing a bit of freelance work or trying to get a job with my degree.

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