Thursday, February 1, 2007

To blog or not to blog

I must confess I didn’t like the idea of blogging at first.
I was never interested in it—very few people my generation are.
It was the terrain of the young and uninhibited, judging from some famous Singaporean bloggers' profile.
But having gone through this exercise and having come across some really well-written blogs, I have to say I’ve been converted.
(So my dear professor, my humble apologies for saying, "This is a HORRIBLE assignment.")
Yes, I still get a kick when I see the look on people's faces when I tell them with a straight face, "I have a blog."
Yesterday over lunch, I surprised even myself when I told my girl friends, "You all should write blogs. People who have something worthwhile to say about anything should say it."

Writing my blog—I have another ‘journal-style’ blog—has been an interesting experience.
It makes me feel both vulnerable and powerful.
I get to 'share' meaningful episodes in my life with everyone, and yet with no one in particular.
Knowing that my thoughts have now been translated into a processed article has been liberating. It is also a great responsibility.
And seeing comments on my blog gives me a sense of connection to the web world out there.
I must say it makes the entire techno-virtual thing human.
But a blog is NOT the place to criticize your neighbor or propagate half-truths like ‘you could die eating too much chocolates’ (you could die eating too much of anything, that’s the truth).
People have spread 'lies' just by airing their innocent conclusions about gossips on their blogs.
One gal in Singapore gave her MP dad and elite school a bad name because she told a fellow bogger who bemoaned the influx of foreign professionals into Singapore,
“Get out of my elite uncaring face!” (AsiaMedia :: SINGAPORE: Teen blogger counselled for her 'elitist' remarks)
Here’s the thing: just because this is our personal blog, it is not a personal space. Not when it’s put out there for the world to read.
As soon as I post it up, I have given the blogging world the permission to respond or react.
So write blogs earnestly but be responsible.
Write blogs freely but with respect.
Both for ourselves and for our fellow human beings.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

On Fonts, Size, and Colour

There are Good Web Design Features and there are bad ones. Here are some tips for creating a good web design:

- Make sure background doesn’t distract, overpower or interrupt the text.
Colours of background should set a good contrast for text to be read. Personally I think blue on black is not a good idea.
- Size of text should not be too tiny (don't forget there are half the world's population who need reading glasses), but not too big to tire the eyes.
- Columns of text should be narrower than in a book to make reading easier on the screen.
- Underline links so they are instantly clear.
- Links should download quickly. Web-users will exit if they are kept waiting for more than a few seconds.
- Use photos, subheads, pull quotes (quotes from text that you wish to highlight) to break up large areas of text. The assist scannability.
- Paragraphs should be kept short, preferably of not more than three sentences long.
- Use colours—people gravitate towards colours. But too many colours can make a page look ‘busy’, even distracting. It’s also more tiring to the eyes. (Check out
- Use photos and graphics. People always love to see pictures. Studies show that graphics are important for people with poor reading skills and low attention span. Teenagers on the Web are attracted to sites with ‘cool looking graphics’.
- Draw attention to related articles within a text by boxing them. Designer Mario Garcia recommends that borders around the box should be thin so it blends into the layout, not pop out. The top and bottom borders could be thicker but never the sides.

This should motivate us to design better web documents: tests showed that when web users are Applying Writing Guidelines to Web Pages usability was improved by 159%!

Monday, January 29, 2007

People Don’t Scroll, Help!

Studies by Jakob Nielsen also show that web-users don't scroll. They read the top part of an article and scroll only when they are very interested.

So it’s very important we write inverted pyramids on the web.
This is ‘starting with the conclusion.’

Telling your readers the main gist of your story within the first three sentences allows them to get the full story at one go.

And if they are keen, they will read on about the details and background. But the point is even if they don’t, they get the main information.

How To Make People Read On?

But in blogs, we do want people to read on. And sometimes it’s not possible to summarize everything in one paragraph.

So here are some tips by William Zinsser, one of the most respected writing gurus of our time:

- write short sentences
- prefer the simpler word: ‘I am confused’ is better ‘than I am flabbergasted’
- use the active rather than passive voice: ‘I read a letter’ is better than ‘this letter has been read by me’
- keep adjectives and adverbs to a minimum: they make sentences draggy
- use verbs instead: they push sentences along
- use specific words: ’15 men came to Ming Palace restaurant’ is more powerful than ’many people came to the restaurant’
- paint a picture: if your readers can see, smell, feel your writing, chances are they will stay on

While some people are born to write, it will be of comfort to know writing is a craft. It can be improved with practice, training, and even through imitating good writers.

Friday, January 26, 2007

People Don’t Read

Studies on how people read on the Web conclude that people ‘don’t read’ on the web.

They scan.

Only 16 per cent of web-users read a document word for word.
The percentage of people who ‘read’ emails on the web is even lower. The average time people use to read the email newsletter is only 51 seconds

Why Don’t People Read?

For one, reading on the computer screen is tiring to the eyes.
Also, the web, being a ‘user-driven medium’, attracts people who are constantly on the go. They just want to grab what they could and move on.

And don’t forget: there are hundreds of other information on the web competing for attention. It’s only a click away.

Since people scan, it’s only wise that we create scannable texts.
What Are Scannable Texts?
These are texts with:
- only one idea per paragraph
- sub-heading for each topic—not just cute or clever headings but ‘meaningful’ and immediately-clear ones
- highlighted key words
- bulleted listings rather than huge chunks of paragraphs
- less words than conventional writing.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why is everyone jumping on the blogging bandwagon?

In other words, what are the advantages of blogging?
Here are some ideas:

'Filter-style’ blogging saves time for its readers.
Instead of surfing the web for the whole picture of a particular news
subject, they can read up on blogs that provide a summation and editorial on the topic.
Blogging gives people a voice.
Suddenly the ordinary man has a place to say what they think, and participate in the process of forming a conclusion or opinion. The experience of turning from ‘audience’ into ‘public’ is powerful.
(‘An audience is passive; a public is participatory’: Greg Ruggiero, Immediast Underground).
Blogging helps you discover yourself.
When I started my ‘journal-style’ blog, I was surprised at the subjects I gravitated towards.
One of my friends is always blogging about music and food.
“Makes me happy,” she says. And that’s what blogging does for many people.
Blogging builds personal confidence.
If I write every day, I'd become a more confident writer.
When my blogs receive positive comments, it’s an assurance of my news value, writing style, and perspective.
Here’s a good one: Ideally, he [the public] will become less reflexive and more reflective’ (Blood, 2000).
Once I heard a young woman say, “When I dump my anger, and frustrations on my blog, I don’t think about it anymore. I’ve dealt with it.”

A thought: while ‘free-style blogs’ is ‘free expression’ in genre, it's not a place for spouting expletives at your boss. Blogging may be personal but anything that is put out there for the world to see is not meant to be private.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What's Up Blog?

Today I shall focus on the What & Why of blogging.
What are blogs?

Weblogs started off as commentaries , additional information, and alternative points of views <>. Bloggers mostly aired their views on issues they read about in the news—their objections, interpretations, things they didn’t understand, and so on.

Then in 1999, a change happened.
From mostly 'filter-style' blogs, ‘journal-style blogs’ suddenly entered blogosphere--in trickles, then torrents, and now, they're a 'tsunami'.

Blood believes it’s to do with the introduction of user-friendly web-based tools like Blogger and others.
And with their zero restrictions on the form of content posted, the ‘post-Blogger explosion’ erupted.
With more participants—we’re talking about thousands within the same year—blogs mushroomed in all shapes, sizes, variety, and style.
And blogs became more personal and dynamic.
More people talked about personal stuff: what they read, which restaurants to avoid, the dog they saw on the way to work, their pet peeves, favorite recipes, even things within their bedrooms.
People began to feel they could participate in other people’s blogs more freely.
After all, everybody has a favorite this or that, a good and bad story to tell.

By the way, Rebecca Blood makes the distinction of calling the ‘filter-style’ blogs WEBLOGS, and ‘journal-style’ blogs BLOGS but I’ll just stick to 'blogs' from now on.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Let's start from the very beginning . . .

I have another blog (
A more personal journal-style blog about people I meet, things I love, what moves me.
This is a 'chip off the old blog', my second blog.
And it's dedicated to my learning journey about blogs.

For a start, I’d like to talk a little about some history of blogs.
These are taken mostly from Rebecca Blood’s research. Check out her blog on <>.
Rebecca Blood, by the way, is one of the most cited authorities on blogging and featured in the New York Times, the BBC, Newsweek, and Time.
Her The Weblog Handbook has been called ‘the Strunk & White of blogging books’, and translated into five languages.
(Strunk & White are among the most noted authorities on writing. Their The Elements of Style is a must-read for all aspiring writers.)
When & How in the world blogs began?
In 1998, there only a handful of what we called blogs today.
In early 1999, Jesse James Garrett, editor of Infosift, counted a grand total of 23 weblogs in the world.
That same year, web journalist and designer Peter Merholz decided to call them ‘wee-blogs’, which were later shortened to ‘blogs’.
By the end of 1999, Blogger, Groksoup, and Edit This Page, among others, were released.
These web-based tools allowed the common net-user and HTML-illiterates like me to create and publish their own blogs easily and quickly.

And so web fever had begun.

By December 1999, the ‘bandwagon-jumping turned into an explosion'.
Today there are thousands and thousands of blogs, with hundreds started every day.

Ladies and gentlemen, in case you've been away from planet earth during the past eight years, let me announce to you: we have entered the era of 'the tsunami of weblogs'.

About Me

In the Old Testament in the Bible, there was a man named Jacob who "wrestled with God and man." He wouldn't let God go until God answered his prayers. God admired that and renamed him Israel, "the one who fought or wrestled and prevailed". He fought with man--his inner man--and conquered his own weaknesses. He's my hero. He is what I hope God and man see me to be.