Thursday, March 29, 2007

Roeder trip!

posted by Seun Olubodun
Takes one to know one. That's why we immediately zeroed in on Linda Roeder, one of the chief writers for the Social Networking Weblog, as the perfect person to talk to about social networking and blogging.

And what better way to hit up the queen of the Internet than through e-mail? Here's an in-depth Q&A that shares every insider tip known to man -- all from a lady who knows her stuff.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, Linda. How did you become involved in social networking and blogging? Why did you start?

In 1998 I became the guide for the Personal Web Pages site on When I first started the site, the word "blog" was non-existent. Back then they were called online diaries, and some of them were really artistic and well thought-out Web sites. In fact, some of them are still around today.

The main focus of the [Personal Web Pages] site was to teach people how to create their own personal Web site. This often meant teaching HTML, showing people how to organize their pages so people can find what they're looking for, and teaching design, color, and layout. As the site grew, HTML started to become less important, because a lot of sites started coming out with editors that let people design without code.

One day the word "weblog" crossed me, soon shortened to "blog." Blogs, wikis, and social networking sites started popping up all over the place. I tried a little of each. I like the idea of blogs. Blogs create a sense of community on the Internet. I've discovered that bloggers like other bloggers.

Social networking sites create community too, but only within the specific social networking site. It works even better if the social networking site is topic-specific -- you know, those that focus on specific things like athletes or weight loss. Wikis are a great way to create community, too. I don't know why they're not being used more.

Anyway, I started my blog to talk about my kids. One is an aspiring star on the bicycle racing circuit, one has Asperger's, and the other has PDD, a high functioning form of Autism.

I needed a place to vent and show off my kids, so I started a personal blog. I didn't do it to meet people, but I did end up giving the URL to other parents of kids with PDD and Asperger's. I ended up meeting new friends and getting advice.

I have a photo blog for my oldest son where I chronicle his bike racing. I like to add pictures and create a story out of them. People have told me it's very funny.

I started social networking to find old friends I went to school with. I managed to find a few, but I live in an area where, it seems, not very many people are computer literate.

What were you doing in your previous life (lives)?

Before I started working with (formerly The Mining Company), I was an accountant. Funny, isn't it? I have a BA in accounting and business administration. I worked as a material buyer and assistant controller for a factory Pillsbury owned before I started working on the Net.

I was always fascinated with computers. I had my first computer when I was 13. That was a big thing back then. It was an Apple, and you had to plug it into the TV because it didn't come with a monitor. You needed a boot disk to start it up, and if you started it in the wrong order you had big problems.

I learned to code in eighth grade. I don't remember the name of the language.

Is this your first tech-reporting venture? What other experience do you have in this space?

Before working for Creative Weblogging doing the Social Networking site, I wrote for several other sites, and still write for a few of them.

As I mentioned above, I run the Personal Web Pages site for I also write articles for Suite101 about the Internet and Bike Racing. I used to write a site for on the topic of raising boys, but recently gave up that site.

Other sites I write for are How To Do Things and Associated Content.

What made you decide to launch (or come on board) at Social Networking Weblog? What attracted you to it?

I had been working as an editor for When they restructured their business model in January, they cut half the editors. I was one of those laid off.

While looking for something else to do, I had been told of the Creative Weblogging site before, so I went to there to see what they had to offer. I asked about writing a different blog, but they thought I would be interested in doing the Social Networking blog. I accepted.

Since I worked with social networking sites a lot on my Personal Web pages site, it seemed a perfect fit for me to do the Social Networking Weblog. What I've learned from my Personal Web Pages site helps me write the Social Networking Weblog, and what I've learned while doing research for the Social Networking Weblogs improves my Personal Web Pages site. It's a win-win situation.

How exactly did you (or the Social Networking Weblog creators) launch the blog? Take us through the steps.

The Social Networking Weblog was already launched when I took it over. It's currently 19 months old, and I have been doing it for two months. They just gave me the tools and the password, and let me go at it.

I use Movable Type to write the blog. Creative Weblogging has another area where I can manage the links on the site and get my stats.

What do you do to get the blog noticed? How do you reach out, and to whom?

I go to blogs similar to mine and post comments. This is especially fun if they posted comments on my site first, or when they find my comments and come to my site to post something for me.

I try to link to other blogs and add them to my blog roll. I also make sure my site is listed with the major search engines, and make sure that some of my posts are optimized for search. I Digg my better posts.

I also have profiles on quite a few social networking sites. I don't have time to actively participate in all of them, but I do make an effort to choose a couple each week and do something with them.

What’s the No. 1 lesson you have learned about starting and writing blogs? The biggest challenge? The biggest surprise?

It's hard to get people to read more than one page at a time. A blog is like a story; you need to read more than one page, but most people don't.

So you need to bring something unique to the table. Talk in real words and talk to the reader. Don't talk about the same thing all the time. Shake it up a little. It's also hard to monetize a blog.

My biggest surprise would have to be how many good comments I get. I'm surprised that people like what I have to say, and actually respond to it in a positive way.

What’s the unique value of Social Networking Weblog? Why should this blog make the short list for blog readers?

This blog talks about more than just what the latest social networking site is -- the site de jour, if you will. I like to talk about how to stay safe on the Net, how to design your site so it's not just like everyone else's, what's going on in the news with social networking, what's happening in the world of social networking, and much more.

It's more than just social networking sites, but social networking on the Web in general. Sometimes I get a little more into the realm of what your site should have or shouldn't have on it, and sometimes I like to talk about making friends online.

Take us "behind the screens." How does a typical day go for you? How do you generate ideas and topics? What’s your writing routine?

I get up at 5:30, and get my husband and my teenage son up and moving. Then I go through all my e-mails for the different things I do. Then I get my husband and son out of the house, and get my other boys up and ready for school.

Once they are dressed and eating, I check to see what I have to do that day. I have a list broken down by days of the week. I have three different sites I write for regularly, so I need to keep it all straight somehow. Then I open all the Web pages and tools I'll need to start that day's work.

After I get the kids off to school, I start working. I'm not good at sitting still for too long, so I take a lot of breaks. This helps to clear my mind and maybe get some laundry done or something. Some days I work on the Social Networking Weblog, some days I work on my Personal Web Pages site, and other days I work on my Suite101 articles or writing for other sites.

To get ideas for the Social Networking Weblog, I typically see what's going on in the news or what other blogs are writing about. The best way I have found to do this is by using Google Alerts. I tell them what keywords I want and it sends me what blogs, news, and other sites are writing about that topic.

I like to put my own spin on everything when I can. Some posts are just telling about a new social networking site I've come across, and what I like or dislike about it. Others are more opinion on how to do or how to avoid something that's going on. Sometimes I come across a blog post, and will tell why I agree or disagree with what they are saying.

Why write about social networking and blogging when so many others are writing about this space? How does a new blogger/social networker add value amid so much noise? Specifically, how do YOU add value?

Since I have been writing about online social networking since before the term existed, and before there were online social networking sites, I think I bring a unique perspective. I know what people on the Internet want and are looking for because I've been answering their questions for nearly nine years now.

A new blogger or social networker who wants to add value has to add a unique voice to the Internet. They have to say things that people want to know about, or that people want to hear about. Choose a topic and stick with it.

I like to add my opinion and base it on something in real life. I also like to link my blog to others’ by commenting on their post, writing my own opinion about what they said, and have them comment on my post. I think this will get readers of either blog to read further into both blogs.

What are the top issues in the social networking space?

Security is up there, especially when it comes to kids. Kids are very naive, VERY, even the street smart kids. I recently wrote about my niece who was putting all kinds of personal information on her MySpace profile. She's 16 and had no clue how dangerous this was. It's dangerous for adults, too. We all need to be more aware of this.

Design is important to a lot of people. They want their profile to look special, say who they are. They are out there looking for templates to add to their social networking sites so they can personalize their profile and have it look the way they want.

Also, the ability to add things like music, video, and toys to profiles is important. I think what people really want is a personal Web page that they can alter and add to all the time. Some social networking sites let you add things, and others don't.

And how about spam? Man, I hate that stuff. I'm always getting messages on MySpace from sites that no longer exist.

I think there are many ways that businesses and other Web sites can use things like social networking and wikis to enhance what they already do. News sites are starting to use social networking, and I think shopping sites like Amazon should start using them too.

What’s the prevailing view about social networking and blogging? Do your views differ? How do you zag where others are zigging?

I think the prevailing view is that social networking is primarily for the young. I don't believe this for an instant. I know lots of 30-, 40-, 50-somethings and even older people who use social networking. I use it to connect with friends -- new friends, old friends, online friends, offline friends -- and I'm 30-something myself.

There are lots of different reasons people use social networking sites, though. Like I said, I use them to connect with my friends. Some people use them just to make as many "friends" as possible. Others use them instead of creating a personal Web site just so they have a face on the Internet.

I see social networking as a tool. Blogs and wikis are tools, personal Web pages are tools. They all serve their own purpose. I have at least one of each, or more. They are there for their own reasons.

I like to connect them all together and create one big master site for me where people can come and socialize (social networking), read about me (blogging), join in (wiki), or just see what my life is about (personal Web site).

What blogs do you regularly read? Are you part of any social networks?

I guess you could say I regularly read the blogs that are on my blog roll. I read through them once a week to see if there is anything I want to comment on or post about.

I'm part of many social networking sites. I join a lot of them to see what they're about and browse through them so I can write about them. Some of them I add to my bookmarks and visit regularly.

There are so many social networking sites coming out that are topic-specific. There are social network sites for weight loss, parenting, military families, women, NASCAR fans, sports, artists, and even for children. My oldest son belongs to two sports social networks because he is a bicycle racer.

What’s the No. 1 mistake you see other people make in the social networking/blogging space?

Giving out personal information is a biggie. I can't believe how many people like to tell the whole world where they live, where they work, where their kids go to school and play. This is just so dangerous in the world we live in. I wish the Internet could be as carefree and innocent as they make it out to be on cartoons, but it's just not.

The other thing is background colors. I like background and unique designs as much as the next person. But if your background is too busy, or too close in color to your text and the other things on your site, people will not be able to read anything or tell one thing from another.

What’s your best piece of advice for people who want to start a blog or social network?

If you want to start a social networking service of your own, make sure you are unique. Most social networks don't make it past the first year. Why? One, because it's hard to get people to join a site that doesn't have people on it yet. Two, because they are not unique enough, and people get bored easily.

If you want to become a big blogger, same thing goes. Be unique and be yourself. People can tell when you're fake. Be honest; people like to hear it like it is. Blog every day. Again, people get bored. If you want people to keep going to your blog, you have to give them something to go there for.

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