On blogging, identity and idealization

Here’s an interesting theme that has come up more than once in recent conversations and I thought it would make a good question for the bloggy peeps. I was taking pictures of a family recently, and the client mentioned a particular photo of the boys that she’d admired. She then said something about how the boys always seem so well-behaved and willing to pose for my camera, and how did I get them to do that?

I laughed. I might have snorted. It was hard not to guffaw. I was thinking about that particular photo, and the day we took it, and how just a few minutes before I snapped it, I’d been harranguing them, nearly growling with frustration. “Honest to goodness, I ask so little of you, could you not for JUST ONE MINUTE behave yourselves and STOP TORTURING EACH OTHER?” By the end, I was definitely using my shrieky voice, the one you try not to use on the front lawn. Yeah.

Would you have guessed it?

187:365 Fun in the grass

And then there’s this one. See that expression on Tristan’s face? I think I threatened him with a time out until he was forty if he didn’t smarten up and get that look off his face. (The great irony is that even though I was ready to blow a gasket with frustration at the time, I’ve come to love this picture and it’s now one of my favourites. But I was on the dark road between exasperated and furious at the time.)

551:1000 Christmas card outtake

So the snapshot is a carefully constructed illusion, really. It shows what I want you to see, not the reality of the situation. Which ties really nicely into a conversation I had via e-mail with someone who has been lurking on my blog (and a few others, from the sounds of it) for quite some time. She was wondering about the way bloggers filter our lives for online consumption, and whether by not addressing or glossing over the ugly bits (I love how she called it “the yelling and tantrums and defiance and moments of sheer bad parenting”) we bloggers might be painting an idealized version of family life — one that is not only unattainable but also unrealistic. She was careful to say that she liked how I do address those frustrations and bad times, and other bloggers do, too, but that many do not. In fact, she said, she’d almost stopped reading some blogs because of this. She said that of course bloggers have no responsibility for the mental health of our readers, but wondered if I’d ever had the sense that some people might idealize our lives.

Again with the snorts of laughter. Idealizing THIS? Ha! It’s especially snort-worthy since I feel like I’ve been in a bit of a bad place as far as my own patience levels are concerned lately. But it’s such an interesting question, don’t you think? I have noticed that some bloggers do only blog about the good stuff, and there’s a whole lot of blogs I avoided especially a couple of years ago when blogging about what an awful parent you are was chic.

This ties in really well with a theme I’ve been considering recently, which is the idea of the identity we portray online and how accurately that matches the person we are. I think that over the years I’ve actually become more like the character version of me I created online: more confident, more outgoing, and generally a better version of me. Is that weird? I wonder how much of that is just maturity, and a direction I would have gone anyway, and how much of that is a kind of “fake it ’til you make it” sort of development, where I’ve actually convinced myself that I am less of a geeky dork than I really am.

I also find this an interesting topic because I’m still struggling to find a comfortable place in my blogging between disclosure and protection. As the boys get older, I’m finding their stories are less mine to tell, and while I’d absolutely LOVE to tell you the story of the conversation I had about reproduction recently (it ended with one boy exclaiming “AWKWARD!” in a singsong voice when he got an inkling of what the actual mechanics were, and gosh I’d love to tell you more!) but– I’m not sure I can tell those stories with same blissfully ignorant abandon I used to, back in the day.

Anyway, there are half a dozen themes in here I would have liked to explore a bit more, but I want to know what you guys think. Do you think there is balance in the parenting blogosphere? Do bloggers paint a realistic portrait of family life, or do they idealize it? Should we be cognizant of how the stories we tell might be perceived and internalized? Have you ever been self-conscious about how you portray your family — or yourself? How closely does your online persona reflect who you are offline?

Blissdom Canada takeaway messages, day 2

Better late than never, here’s my third (and final!) post-Blissdom Canada post. (If you missed them, click for posts about how I reconnected with my blog and day 1 takeaway messages.)

The first session of the second day was, for me, one of the highlights of the conference. The session was called “Taking your craft to the next level” and was a panel discussion that featured one of my first bloggy friends, Karen Green, along with Aidan Morgan and Angella Dykstra. I loved a lot of this session, including the fact that they went beyond simply blogging/writing and also talked about photography and videography. Dear Blissdom Canada organizers: More like this next year please!

I was completely endeared when Karen started off by stating why she got into blogging in the first place: because she wanted to be a magazine columnist and nobody was hiring her to do that. Me too!!!!! Later in the session, Karen made my day by saying that mine was the first blog she ever read, and I was flattered nearly to death when I tweeted that and several others confirmed that mine had been the first blog they ever read as well.

Here’s a few of the best messages I heard during the rest of the session, once again pilfered more or less verbatim from my own twitterstream. (Parenthetical comments are my after-the-fact editorial asides.)

  • Nobody will judge you for the size of your dash but you do need to learn to spell. (Can I get a hallelujah on this?)
  • When asked how to find inspiration, Aidan Morgan said, “I thrive on dissonance.”
  • Talk to the people who inspire you and learn from them.
  • Know your audience — and then try to ignore them. (This is so true, and so hard to do. I’ve lately lost the ability to forget everyone is listening, and have been struggling to overcome this. I miss the candidness of oblivious blogging.)
  • Don’t get hung up on the metrics. SEO won’t help you improve your craft. Also, don’t lose your joy.
  • What you are doing is bigger than the sound of applause. (I need to print this out and stick it on my monitor.)

At the end of the session, there was a really amazing and way. too. quick set of tips to improve your SEO from Aidan that I can’t find now but will try to dig up and share with you.

Can you see why I left the session (and the conference) vowing to blog like it is 2006? So much of this is exactly what I want to do, what I’ve always strived to do as a blogger. I can’t tell you how much I loved this session — it made the conference for me.

The next session had a lot less practical information, but my sides hurt from laughing by the time it was over. It was a panel discussion called, “What’s in a brand? The art of defining yourself and your creative work” featuring Kimberley Seldon, Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Dee Brun, and Patty Sullivan, and moderated by Mabel’s Labels founder Julie Cole. It was nice to see the session start with one of my friend Justin’s “extreme family portraits” of Julie Cole’s family. 🙂

I didn’t tweet a lot of takeaways from this session largely because I was laughing too hard. Who knew Gail Vaz-Oxlade was such a cut-up? She’s also an amazingly strong woman and I loved her basic theme of doing what’s important to her, staying true to herself, and not giving a &#@ what others think. Except, instead of &#@ she said pretty much every swear you could think of. I loved all of her anecdotes, including the one where she told her editor at the Globe and Mail that she writes his column while she’s sitting on the can, and that she turned down a TV show three times until they came back and completely capitulated to her terms. Clearly, the only person influencing Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s brand is Gail Vaz-Oxlade!

The few useful tweets I did manage to get out included:

  • Know yourself, know what you’re willing to walk away from, know what you’re willing to do.
  • Be true to yourself and be real or others will see through you and you will lose credibility.
  • Don’t try to create a personal brand without knowledge of yourself and where you want to be.
  • Every 140 characters comes back to you, for good or bad.
  • Your bio is a powerful tool and all your social media sites should have one, but “PR friendly” in a bio says “send me free stuff.”
  • If you don’t like how I raise my kids, that’s your problem (from Patty Sullivan, host on CBC Kids.)
  • Use the filter of “what am I putting out there” before you press send.
  • Don’t be so set in your vision of your brand that you don’t adapt based on the feedback you get through social media.
  • If you want to work with brands, you have to be cognizant of your behaviour regarding swearing, oversharing, etc.

The final panel of the conference was another highlight for me. It was a discussion called, “To Publish Or Not To Publish: Taking Your Writing Beyond The Blog (Or Not)” featuring more of my oldest bloggy friends, including Ann Douglas, Jen Reynolds, Theresa Albert, and Nadine (Scarbiedoll) Silverthorne. This was the most practical of all the sessions I attended, with professional and concrete insights into a lot of various publishing options open in the Canadian marketplace.

Jen Reynolds, Editor-in-Chief of Canadian Family magazine, said a pitch to her should be succinct at 300 words, but don’t spill your whole story. She wants to build it with you.

She also noted that Canadian Family is still paying the same rate as 15 years ago, approximately $1 per word.

Nadine Silverthorne, online editor for TodaysParent.com, says online rates are approximately 50% less than print rates.

Jen Reynolds also said to know your strength and match it to a medium.

Nadine, who was a personal blogger long before an online editor, asked the poignant questions, “How much do you love your blog?” and “Are you willing to give up your voice for money?” (This is one of the reasons I’ve never wanted to overly monetize this blog!)

Ann Douglas, author extraordinaire, offered these tips on book pitches: a book pitch needs an executive summary and a sales pitch on why YOU must be the one to write it. Address the competition, and explain why you stand out. A pitch also needs a complete bio, and a marketing plan that showcases your creativity. (Clearly, writing the book is only half the hard work! I had no idea.)

And how exciting is this? Jen Reynolds surprised everyone with a spontaneous offer of $700 for a 700 word article on finding your bliss that she’ll publish in Canadian Family.

The panel also put together a handout that Ann posted on her blog: To Publish or Not to Publish.

I should really go back and put in links to everyone’s blogs — but I’m clean out of time. Maybe later? But you can find them all online, I’m sure.

After all the years of wondering whether I’d find any value in attending one of these blog conferences, I think the answer is a resounding yes. I got to meet so many people I have admired for years, and connect with many others. I learned a little bit, but I was hugely inspired and reminded of the things that I love about blogging and how most of them revolve around connection, community and storytelling. That’s why I’ve been saying that Blissdom Canada 2011 inspired me to blog like it’s 2006.

Here’s three quick suggestions to the Blissdom Canada organizers for next year:

  1. Hashtags for each session would make it a lot easier to follow the sessions in progress and/or catch up on the ones you missed.
  2. Donation bins for food banks or something similar would be a great way for people to share swag items they can’t or won’t use. There was no room in my luggage for a loaf of bread and box of crackers, and Fisher-Price gave away a lot of diapers that might not get used but could be great to donate to someone in need.
  3. More debate would be good. Most of the panelists seemed to all be on the same page. I’d like to see a “I only blog for social good” voice take on a “I blog for the freebies and I’m proud of it” type of debate, or something similar.

I hope these notes were helpful! And if you’ve never been to one of these social media conferences before, you absolutely should go — at least once.

Karen, I will never use an m-dash again without thinking of you!

Blissdom Canada takeaway messages: Part 1

In my post yesterday, I mentioned that I left the Blissdom Canada blogging and social media conference feeling newly inspired. There were a lot of things that didn’t engage me at the conference, but rather than gripe about those, I’d like to tell you about the things that did inspire me, and motivate me, and remind me of the potential magic of blogging.

Blissdom Canada had two “tracks” with congruent sessions going on in different rooms: the art track and the commerce track. Of four time slots and eight sessions, I spent three-quarters of my time in the art track, which coincidentally (or not?) is fairly representative of the blog itself, I think.

The first session I attended was called “Finding Your Muse: The Art & Science of Finding Inspiration – And Using It.” I have to be honest, I might not have attended this session if I weren’t such a fan of the brains behind it: Bonnie Stewart, Elan Morgan (aka Schmutzie) and Tanis Miller (aka The Redneck Mommy), people I have admired in a bloggy way for many, many years. But here’s the thing – the conversation quickly evolved way beyond finding your muse and into a discussion on inspiration and identity, and I found that absolutely fascinating. I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about online identity and personae and how they reflect and affect your IRL identity.

As the session went on, I tweeted some of the more salient sound-bites and messages. Here’s the best bits, copied more or less verbatim from my own twitterstream:

To find your muse, start with your goals. Where do you want to go?

Social media and identity are deeply integrated to our sense of self, but don’t let that completely dictate how you see yourself.

Don’t let the metrics, comments, klout score, etc affect how you see yourself. They are not reflective of who you are as a person.

Take yourself seriously if you want others to do so.

Twitter is crack. It’s great for community but way too easy to let it sidetrack you from your goals and make you think you’re doing something when you really are not.

You are more than the sum of things you’ve blogged about.

Turn your sense of inspiration into a change for good. Educate, amplify the message of others, create community.

If you are feeling uninspired, reach out and elevate someone else.

Look outside yourself when seeking your muse. Find it in connection and community.

And this, something I must really work on and kind of wish I’d had tattooed on my forehead the first time I ever hit “publish” on the blog: don’t shy away from blogging in tough times, but wait until you are through it and have some perspective.

Great messages, eh? Can you see why I was reminded of the power of the blog? The next session, while completely different in tone and topic, speaks equally to the power of blogging. It was called “She Works Hard For The Money (And So Do You): Why And How You Should Be Making Money From Your Blog,” and featured my old friend Andrea Tomkins, as well as Janice Croze, Susie Erjavec Parker and Corinne McDermott.

Andrea started out with a message that I totally love, which is that blogs have many kinds of value, including as a family scrapbook, a way to earn ad revenue, a portfolio, and a stepping stone to another career. What’s missing from the list, IMHO, is simply the value of community and connection, which is what I’d say is the key value of blogging for me. And, erm, the value of a captive audience!

Like the session before it, I went in not sure exactly what to expect or whether there would be a lot of value in the session for me. After all, I’m already quite comfortable with my sponsors, I know how to solicit more if I want them, and I have a professional understanding of both the inherent marketability of the blog and its PR value. But like the session before it, the session evolved into something different and something extremely interesting for me, with a lot of simple but valuable business tips. I think this is particularly relevant for me now because while I never really saw myself as a small business when it was just the blog, now that I have the photography business bringing in more significant amounts of money I’ve started thinking in these terms.

The most interesting one is an argument I’ve seen recently about the value of a blog versus a presence on Twitter and/or Facebook. The problem with both Twitter and Facebook is that they’re transient in nature. The conversations on Twitter disappear almost instantly, and Facebook is capricious. Once you own a domain, however, it’s yours. It’s your property, which is a powerful tool. Facebook fan pages can disappear overnight if you inadvertently break one of Facebook’s many rules (or even if there is the perception of a broken rule) but that will never happen on your blog.

Here’s some of the other tips I found interesting from that session:

For a personal blogger, each time you hear a message about protecting your “brand” substitute the word “reputation”.

There is a place for working for free, but “booty calls rarely turn into relationships”.

If a PR firm contacts you and wants to “pick your brain” ask them “what’s your budget?” Your blog and your time are worthy of compensation.

Think ahead to how you want to end your business. Do you want to be able to sell it to someone else? This will help you set your goals.

Buy your first and last name domain (ie danielledonders.ca) as well as your business or blog domain name and redirect it to your main site. People will search for you in many different ways, make it easy to find them and make it difficult for competitiors to subvert or undermine you.

In the social media world, value is “cost per influence” not “cost per click”.

The last session of the day was a panel called “Canadian-ish: Being Canadian In A Borderless Digital World.” I have to admit, the direction of the conversation in this one annoyed me more than inspired me, as tired old stereotypes about Canadian identity (Tim Hortons and poutine, for example) were trotted out. Even more troubling, though, was an assumption by some panel members that the Canadian identity doesn’t really matter, and doesn’t really inform or influence who we are. In fact, I’d argue (rather passionately, in fact) that being Canadian is a huge influence on my online — and offline — identity. The first word of my twitter bio and third word of my Flickr profile is Canadian, for goodness sake!

It was interesting to me, too, that Catherine Connors (aka Her Bad Mother) stated that blogging helped her “escape the local.” For me, blogging helped me “discover the local.” When I first started blogging, I had to go outside of my community and mostly outside of my country to connect with other bloggers. Way back in 2004-2005, there were only a couple dozen of us, and I found my likeminded community largely populated by American academic parents. As the blogosphere grew, so did the Canadian community. It was really only through comments on my own blog and later through Twitter that I felt I was connecting with the strong local community here in Ottawa.

You can see why I felt like my brain was ready to explode by the end of day one, with so many new perspectives to consider. And I didn’t even tell you about the amazing chat a few of us hard-core CBC fans had with Anna Maria Tremonti (of Radio One’s The Current) after the final session. Hers was the voice I respected the most throughout that session, and meeting her afterward was one of the highlights of the weekend for me. I’m not in this picture, but I took it, and that makes me equally happy! (She’s third from left in the picture below, with @zchamu, @scarbiedoll, @bonstewart, @AlisonJette, @capitalmom and @ottmomgo.)

294:365 Anna Maria Tremonti fan club

So what do you think? Were you there? If so, I’d love to hear what you think on my take of the highlights. And if you weren’t there, I hope this is helpful and interesting. I wanted to go beyond some of the “lookit the cool swag I got and all the people I rubbed elbows with” kind of messages I often see coming out of some of the big conferences.

I can’t wait to share my day 2 observations – that’s when things got really interesting!

Blissdom Canada recap; or, how I learned to love my blog again


You know how I said last week before leaving for the Blissdom Canada blogging/social media conference that I’d never attended a BlogHer or a Blissdom before, largely because I just couldn’t figure out what the value for me would be? Now I know. It’s not about the branding tips, or the inspirational moments, or the swag, or the celebrities — although there were plenty of those.

Really, it was about the connection. (Which, ironically or perhaps not, is the whole reason I fell madly and deeply and obsessively in love with blogging in the first place.) It was about realizing that the people who have been living in my computer all these years are real three-dimensional people, living and breathing people, not just talking avatars. It was about connecting in person with people whose words and brains I’ve been in love with for years. It was about finding new people to admire, and to engage with.

All of that was great, and I pretty much knew that was going to happen. But there was this other, unexpected benefit from going to Blissdom Canada: it was like a couples retreat for me and blog. I mean, blog and I have been together a LONG time, and we’ve been through a lot together. And lately, well, you’ve probably noticed it as much as I have. Some of the magic, some of the sparkle, some of the joy has been missing for a while. Blog and I had started to drift apart. Oh, that’s not fair, blog is blameless in all of this — it’s me, not blog. I admit it, I’ve been completely infatuated with this sexy young thing called Mothership Photography, and while I was lavishing affection and attention on it, dear old blog only really got the leftovers.

But this weekend at Blissdom Canada, listening to people like Karen Green and Elan and Aidan Morgan and Bonnie Stewart and Ann Douglas and Nadine Silverthorne reminded me how far I’ve come, and how powerful the act of blogging can be. And spending time with the wonderful women from Ottawa (I’m looking at you Julie and Lara and Becky and Vicky and Sara and Karen and Barbara and the rest of you!) and the amazing people behind Mom Central Canada, I’m newly reminded of that power of community, and of connection.

Looking back over the last seven years of blogging, the purpose and goal of the blog have never really changed. It’s about storytelling, and it’s about connection. For the last little while, other things have been chipping away at my attention, and it became more about obligation than joy. But I feel like through the last four days, blog and I have reconnected. We’ve found the love again!

I feel like Blissdom Canada charged up my bloggy batteries. We had a fantastic breakfast with the Mom Central team and Fisher-Price, and I’m feeling all rah-rah, go-get-’em about that – can’t wait to share some of that information with you. But really, I’m just feeling like the fog has lifted and I remember how much I really love the act of blogging, the blog community and even the blog itself.

Over the next couple of days, I’d like to share some insights and observations from the Blissdom Canada sessions I attended. There are some practical tips on SEO and branding, and some more philosophical questions about identity and inspiration. And maybe a few random celebrity sightings as well! 😉

More to come!

Mothership Photography is on Facebook (please like me!)

I‘ve mentioned before that although I’m an early-adapter on a lot of social media platforms, I’ve never really warmed up to Facebook. I signed up for an account when it was first opened up, but aside from an early addiction to Scrabble when I was pregnant with Lucas in 2007, I never really found a lot of reason to spend time on Facebook. I’d even set up a page for the blog back in 2009 or so, back in the rush when everyone was setting up fan pages for everything, but I never hit the publish button as I really couldn’t see the point of having the same content in two places, especially when I was already pushing my blog content through my personal FB account.

Even at work where I manage our Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube accounts, Facebook was always my problem child, the one I knew we had to deal with but just couldn’t warm up to. Until now, that is. Cuz apparently I need yet another place to spent time on the Internet.

Oh dear. I’ve discovered Facebook.

It started when our school council decided to try setting up a Facebook page to communicate with parents. (At first I was cool to this idea, thinking a FB page for an elementary school seemed somehow wrong, but it’s the school council’s page for communicating with parents, not the school’s page. And I found some really excellent examples out there, and almost no reasons why we shouldn’t go ahead.) I’d set us up a blog earlier this year, and we’re using Constant Contact for e-mail news distributing newsletters, but Facebook is such an easy way to deliver quick and concise messages to a wide audience.

As I was setting up the FB page for the school, an idea was percolating in my obsessive-compulsive brain. A Facebook page for a blog seems a little too meta for me, but a Facebook page for a photography business — now that makes more sense! And let me tell you, it was waaaaaay easier to set up a FB page than it was to set up my portfolio website.

Ta da!

One of my mantras in the presentations and courses I’ve given on social media is that you should match your social media tool to your goals and your audience. Facebook works really well for my intended purpose of sharing my obsessive quest for more! more! more! information about all things related to photography.

I see it as a place not just for potential and current photography clients, but as a hub to share quick photo tips, articles I find on the Internet, and other things that may be of interest to other photographers or just people who are interested in taking better pictures. I’ll still post longer articles here, but Facebook is perfect for quick shares and conversations about links and other treasures found online.

I put the page together over the course of a rainy weekend, and was instantly gratified to see a few “likes” piling up even before I’d told anyone I set up the page. (And let me tell you, for an approval-seeking ENFP, there is NOTHING more delicious than having overt confirmation that someone “likes” your project. You like me? You like me!)

I hope you will both like and “like” my Mothership Photography Facebook page, especially if you’re interested in taking, sharing or discussing how to take better pictures. I’ll try to keep the duplication of content to a minimum, and I’m even considering some Facebook-only promotions.

Do you have any experience (pro or con) in setting up a Facebook page? Any tips to share or pitfalls to avoid? Suggestions for me to keep my online empire from imploding? What say ye, bloggy peeps?

On tweeting the fine line between promoting and bragging

There was a social event a month or two back. To be honest, I’ve completely forgotten what it was for, but it was one of those “invite a lot of local bloggers and tweeters out for a night” type of things. Someone asked me if I was going, and it was the first I’d heard of it, but then over the next hour I saw tweet after tweet after tweet about it, and it seemed like just about everyone in my social media circle was on their way.

I have to tell you, it was a little too reminiscent of high school. My first reaction was a visceral, albeit short-lived, pang of rejection. “Everyone else got invited and I didn’t?” I didn’t even particularly want to go to whatever it was, but I sure as hell wanted to have been invited.

On the other end of the spectrum, I do get invited to some wicked cool events, like the Marksover and the Fisher-Price playpanel. I feel an obligation whenever I get invited to one of these events to talk about it, to tweet about it, to photograph it and to blog about it. I’m no fool, I know that I have been invited less for my outstanding array of knock-knock jokes for all occasions and more for my influence in social media circles.

And of course, there’s the annual run-up to big conferences like BlogHer, which I have never seriously considered attending. Even though I don’t particularly want to go, it’s a little bit painful to watch my friends tweet about getting their tickets, heading to the airport, meeting new friends and, last year especially, getting boatloads of swag. I wouldn’t mind not going if I weren’t hearing in real time how much fun everyone was having without me.

I was thinking about all this when I read a couple of recent articles online. One was a NYT article called On Twitter, ‘What a Party!’ Brings an Envious ‘Enough, Already!’ It’s about people’s reactions to tweets from the recent SXSW festival in Austin, Texas:

Twitter users are tiring of it: the sharp pang of envy that comes when someone they are following on the social networking site is clearly having a better time than they are — right now.

Recent tweets from attendees at elite conferences like TED and the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, have prompted bitter ripostes, accusing the authors of showing off rather than sharing. (From @davewiner: “can’t breathe their air, don’t want their tweets.”) Even those tweeting from warm weather spots have felt the jealous wrath — or “jealz,” in Twitter shorthand— of followers stuck in frosty climes. (@Courtni_ROSE: “I get it already!!!!”)

And this week, as thousands of the nation’s Twitterati gathered at the annual South by Southwest technology and music festival in Austin, Tex., their exhaustive, real-time accounts of barbecue, beta tests and Jake Gyllenhaal sightings have prompted a backlash by those not in attendance.

And then this week, there was more backlash against a recent Disney Social Media Moms conference where the majority of tweets seemed to be about the swag participants were getting on an already deeply discounted trip to Disney. The article notes:

Now that the conference is over, it’s clear that what stung SXSW also stung the #DisneySMMoms conference — that is: the high prevalence of Tweets about goodie bags and private parties contributed to a culture of exclusivity at the expense of information sharing.

It’s a fine line, isn’t it? If someone is providing me with something, be it a product or a service or an experience, I feel obliged to acknowledge that online. I get it, that’s part of the deal. But when does promotion end and bragging begin? How do you write / tweet about your excellent experience without alienating the very people who made you someone worth inviting?

This is a tricky one, and I feel like I have to step carefully through the minefield every time it comes up. I love sharing our experiences with you, but I don’t want to brag. I want to offer unbiased opinions and express my gratitude without alienating my friends who didn’t get the same treatment. I think the answer lies more in tweeting about the conference or event itself — the information you gleaned, the lessons worth sharing — and less about the awesome *stuff* you got.

I’m kinda all over the place here, aren’t I? And no time to go back and edit it into coherence either, so over to you bloggy peeps. What say ye? As tweeter, have you ever been self-conscious about tweeting your swag? As a reader, have you ever rolled your eyes at the good fortune of the chosen few? Should we be striving for inclusivity and if so, how do we do it?

Six years ago today: My first blog post

Six years ago today, on February 2, 2005, I wrote my very first-ever blog post:

Okay, so I’ve been reading about blogs for quite some time now. At first, the idea was quaintly geeky, which of course immediately appealed to me. But aside from generally knowing what they were, and stumbling across a few here and there, I never really realized what a universe unto themselves blogs have become.

So I started really thinking about it. To blog or not to blog? Note the insecurity in each of the questions I pondered: Am I funny enough to blog? (because if I don’t have humour then I don’t really have anything at all.) Does anyone really care what I have to say? What would I talk about? What if nobody reads my blog? What if somebody reads my blog? And the real biggie: do I have the resources to commit to a blog right now? Well, the last one is the only one I can answer right now. Since I’m back at work for the first time in a year, I can at least probably find an hour or so a week (on my lunch hour, bien sûr!) For the record, it took me about 15 alt+ combinations before I could get that û accent right.

If I could just type instead of editing and playing and getting lost in the friggin’ thesaurus I could probably do this in about half the time. If I only had an attention span…

So what would I blog about? Well, my kids of course. What else is there of significance in my universe? So does the world really need another soccer-mom wanna-be sending dispatches from suburbia, trying to strike a voice somewhere between Erma Bombeck, Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby, but in the 21st century, not Jewish, not male and not black? And potentially not really funny?

Well, why the hell not?

So here we go. I’m so self-conscious as I type away, wondering if you are rolling your eyes at me or thinking cruel thoughts about my writing skills or (worst of all) have completely lost interest and have not even made it this far. What if I install a hit counter and I have to spend all my free time hitting refresh so it looks like somebody is reading my blog?

So, are you still reading? Should I publish this, or banish it to bad-idea heaven?

Ah, what the hell. Here we go!

I’m both charmed and, truth be told, vaguely disturbed at how little has changed. Still toe-in-the-carpet insecure, still unable to complete a thought without interrupting myself, still chasing that precious laugh.

Fast forward six years, 1,870 posts, 24,701 comments and nearly (eek!) half a million page views. I couldn’t even guess how many words I’ve plowed through, nor how many hours (days? weeks??) I’ve spent here glued to my keyboard instead of doing some *real* work like scrubbing sink grout or alphabetizing my soup cans.

And yet, I will freely admit, the blog is one of the best gifts I’ve ever given myself. If I could fly back through time and tell 2005 me of the crazy ride I was about to launch, never in a million years would I have believed me. And you, my bloggy peeps, are at the heart of it all. You make it all worthwhile!

So, are you still reading? 😉

Some thoughts on comments and comment spam

I‘ve been thinking about comments lately. It was Delurking Day the other day, and I got an interesting e-mail from a reader. She asked me why bloggers think comments are so important. She noted that we as site owners can plainly see the traffic, so why do we want people to comment?

I thought it was a good question, and I’ve had more time to think about it since I answered her. So, here’s my expanded answer, in case you were wondering the same thing! When I blog, I open up my life and my perspective for your entertainment. When you comment, you return the favour. Sure, I can see that someone from Nepean clicked over to my site on January 18 from OttawaStart.com, and I can tell that they found the content fairly engaging if that person then clicked on my ‘about me’ page and my archives and spent 15 minutes reading. (I love it when I see that!) But most of the time, all I see is a click in and a click out and I wonder — did you find what you were looking for? Were you entertained? Were you disappointed? Will you be back? What did you think?

And I wonder about YOU. Who are you and why are you here? Are you a mom or a dad looking for things to do in Ottawa with your kids? Are you a photo junkie, a government hack like me, a student? Are you looking for information about kids’ birthday parties in Ottawa or retractable beer handles or the reliability of google maps or TtV photography? (All of those are search hits from the last four hours, by the way!) Comments let me know what you like and what you don’t like, which influences what I write and post to a certain extent. Comments are good!

So when are comments bad? This is something that has come up a few times in various forms in my blogging career, but I don’t see a lot of discussion about this. When does a comment become comment spam? Most comment spam is obvious, and askimet and other spam filters do a good job of filtering most of the obvious spam out of the comment box. But what about when a real person is commenting with a rather obvious agenda of attracting eyeballs to his or her own site? I actually called someone on this once, when it got to be too obvious and I was feeling particularly feisty. That conversation did not end well, let me tell you!

And what about when people use the comment box for advertising? This is a sticky one for me, especially on really popular posts of mine, like the “40 free or almost free activities” post or the mom’s guide to birthday parties. People have commented something like, “Great post! I also offer XYZ service that I think your readers would really like! Come visit my site at XYZ.com!” To me, that’s free advertising at my expense, and I bristle at that. I’ve also deleted quite a few pitches posted as comments on my “about me” or “contact me” page. Pitches should be private and e-mailed, IMHO, and give me the opportunity to share and endorse or not as I see fit.

But am I being too sensitive about this? Should I allow this space to become a bulletin board for services? I mean, there’s no real harm done to me, unless that person would have otherwise paid for ad space — which I know they would not have done. So am I overreacting to delete advertising or pitches masquerading as comments?

As always, I welcome your comments! What do you think about the grey area between commenting and using the comment box to promote yourself or your service? Would you differentiate between a PR or ad firm using the comments to advertise versus a small business? Do comments-as-spam bother you as a reader? How do you deal with it on your blog? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

A bloggy year in review

I must admit, I am not a huge fan of year-end retrospectives. However, I am a bit of a nostalgic fool. (And apparently a bit of a confused hypocrite to boot.) I’ve done this year-end meme a couple of times, and I like the way it manages to tell the story of our year in broad strokes, so here it is: the first sentence of the first post in each month this year. 2010 in bloggy review.

January: Wow, only three weeks to go in my year of photos!

February: Wow, can you believe it? Five years ago today, I dipped my toe in the Internet Ocean and have been dog-paddling madly across the sea ever since!

March: Does it get any more Canadian than this? We go to bed on a wave of Gold medal fervour and wake up to Roll Up the Rim to Win. It’s Canada’s Best! Day! Ever!

April: In years to come, they’ll talk about 2010 as the year that Easter fell in mid-summer.

May: Holy cats, it’s been more than six weeks since I posted an update about my thousand picture project!

June: My boys are getting to an age now where despite their inherent adorableness, maybe I shouldn’t exploit them and their personal stories for the blog in the same way I once did.

July: Happy Canada Day from Lunenburg!

August: “Faster, faster, faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death” ~Hunter Thompson

September: This whole house-selling thing? Is way too much work. Way, way too much work. I haven’t been this tired since there was a newborn in the house.

October: So I’m changing the toddler terror’s diaper the other day, and of course as soon as the diaper is open he’s got his hand down there groping his bits.

November: Today’s post was supposed to be the next in my fledgling series on accidental environmentalism, and how moving to a well and septic system and a larger plot of land has helped one family become more aware of its environmental footprint.

December: Beloved will tell you, there is no living with me right now. Not since I found out that Postcards from the Mothership was shortlisted as one of the five finalists in the Humour category of the 2010 Canadian Weblog Awards.

See? Fun, eh? Not all the highlights, but enough to give you a taste of the year that just flew by. In all, I’d call it a chaotic and stressful but ultimately happy year. And you?