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Easy Ways to Make your Technical Blog More Visible and Programmable

Pete Brown - 24 July 2008

I've been doing a bunch lately with aggregating various technical blogs and surfacing the content through Silverlight and Facebook. While doing that, I ran into a number of challenges and figured out ways that folks can work around them to make their blogs more visible and more easily used in mashups. I'm not a marketing or branding expert so I'd be happy to include suggestions from someone who is. If that's you, drop me a comment below!

With the importance of good appropriate content just left as a given, here are some other easy ways you can make your personal technical blog easier to program against and more visible for end users.

Include Your Photo

Personality is important when it comes to blogging. Unless you have another very well recognized brand and your blog is more than just you, include a headshot on your blog web site and on all your pages. Even a relatively bad mugshot will work wonders compared to a cartoon character or cute image. Use that same headshot in your technical forum signatures or avatars and on social sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Then, to make sure that it gets aggregated correctly, use that image to brand your RSS feed. The image will come across in the feed like this:

    <title>POKE 53280,0 : Pete Brown's Blog</title>
    <atom:link rel="self" type="application/rss+xml" … />
      <title>Name of the Image</title>

Many blogging platforms fail to support the <image> tag in the rss feed (also called a Channel Image), which is odd, since it is so essential. If your platform supports, it, definitely use it. Otherwise, I recommend using using the Feed Image Burner in FeedBurner. Feedburner isn't everything to everyone, but I've found that it has a few features that make it essential to me.

Here's the configuration for my blog in FeedBurner:


And here's what it looks like in the default IE RSS Reader:


Here it is in the application I'm working on:


Usually, when you make a personal connection with someone, you gain a long-term reader and advocate. Ensuring your image is out there will allow people to approach you at conferences, user groups and on the street. It allows your blog to surface and be easily recognized in an aggregated list of many blogs.

Remember, many of your readers will never hit your web site; they'll only read your content through a feed reader. You want as much of your brand and personality to come through the feed as possible.

Allow Commenting

This one is easy. The more conversational your blog is, the more likely people will visit the actual site again and again. I recommend leaving comments open for a really long time, and using something else to catch spammers (CAPTCHA is ok, moderating all comments is a good idea - as long as you only moderate out spam and obvious flamebait.

Show Comment Poster Avatars/Images

There are any number of ways to show an avatar with comment posts. One simple one is to use Gravatar. Others including the soon-to-be-released Facebook Connect, your built-in blog platform authentication and others. Note that I do not recommend requiring the user to log in or create an account to post a comment to your blog, as you will usually lose them at that point of friction.

Adding their images to your blog posts increases the community feel and tends to encourage people to leave more thoughtful comments.

Use the Media RSS Standard for Media Enclosures

If you include webcasts or other media content in your blogs, consider supporting the Yahoo Media RSS Standard. This is what is used by, among lots of other sites, Microsoft Channel 8, 9 and 10 to syndicate their media. It's really simple to include in your feed. If your platform is home-grown, you can use something like Argotic to create your feed. If not, consider using a formatter like Feedburner SmartCast - which handles both Media RSS and iTunes.


Essentially you want to link in your media using enclosures and ensure they are tagged with appropriate Media RSS tags. Here are what some tags look like for Channel 9 (urls edited to fit):

<media:thumbnail url="http://channel9.msdn.com/Link/cec17252-5461-40e2-93d0-8ef7917e4f74/" 
                 height="240" width="320" />
<media:thumbnail url="http://channel9.msdn.com/Link/4bbe1f39-9565-4332-a09a-1f158e340c18/" 
                 height="64" width="85" />
  <media:content url="http://mschnlnine.vo.llnwd.net/foo_ch9.mp4" 
                 expression="full" duration="1658" fileSize="90166915" 
                 type="video/mp4" medium="video" />
  <media:content url="http://mschnlnine.vo.llnwd.net/foo_ch9.mp3" 
                 expression="full" duration="1658" fileSize="13268323" 
                 type="audio/mp3" medium="audio" />
  <media:content url="http://mschnlnine.vo.llnwd.net/foo_ch9.mp4" 
                 expression="full" duration="1658" fileSize="90166915" 
                 type="video/mp4" medium="video" />
  <media:content isDefault="true" url="http://mschnlnine.vo.llnwd.net/foo_ch9.wma" 
                 expression="full" duration="1658" fileSize="13420925" 
                 type="audio/x-ms-wma" medium="audio" />
  <media:content isDefault="true" url="http://mschnlnine.vo.llnwd.net/foo_ch9.wmv" 
                 expression="full" duration="1658" fileSize="104880407" 
                 type="video/x-ms-wmv" medium="video" />
  <media:content url="http://mschnlnine.vo.llnwd.net/foo_2MB_ch9.wmv" 
                 expression="full" duration="1658" fileSize="512807557" 
                 type="video/x-ms-wmv" medium="video" />
  <media:content url="http://mschnlnine.vo.llnwd.net/foo_Zune_ch9.wmv" 
                 expression="full" duration="1658" fileSize="131455459" 
                 type="video/x-ms-wmv" medium="video" />
  <media:content url="mms://mschnlnine.wmod.llnwd.net/a1809/foo_s_ch9.wmv" 
                 expression="full" duration="1658" fileSize="222" 
                 type="video/x-ms-asf" medium="video" />

You can have a number of different formats for the same content. This is really helpful for readers on different platforms. For example, in the Facebook application I'm using, I pick the default WMV file (isDefault="true" and type is video/x-ms-wmv) from the group, and then serve that up through Silverlight.

If you podcast, supporting the iTunes format will also help your reach.

Use iCalendar Enclosures for Events

Event information, such as posting about a local user group meeting that you're not organizing, or a talk you're giving at a larger event, is pretty hard to parse in RSS feeds. There aren't any really good widely-followed standards around this use yet.

One of the easiest to support is the iCalendar enclosure. iCalendar entries can be parsed by feedreader code (or by using something like DDay.iCal, and they can also be easily added into your favorite calendar software (like Outlook)

The reason I'm not thrilled about iCalendar is that it requires an additional download, as it isn't inline in the feed but is intead an enclosure with a link to the ics file. However, this is the best thing we have right now, and I encourage you to support it in your feeds. Other standards provide Geo information, or date/time, but few provide everything you would need to define an event.

A simple iCalendar file looks like this:

PRODID:Community Megaphone -
SUMMARY;ENCODING=QUOTED-PRINTABLE:Philly.NET - An Evening with Billy Hollis: WPF + Silverlight
DESCRIPTION:Our monthly meeting will be held at the Microsoft Greater PA Office in Malvern, PA on Wednesday, July 16 from 5:30-8:30. Refreshments are provided courtesy of INETA. Please register on our web site. Detailed directions are on the Microsoft Greater PA web site.\n\nEvent URL: http://www.phillydotnet.org/\n
LOCATION:45 Liberty Blvd., Suite 210, Malvern, PA, 19355

Andrew Duthie uses iCalendar enclosures on his Community Megaphone site.

Windows Live Writer also makes it easier to include iCalendar and event files in your blog postings using the "Insert Event" plugin.

What about Your Blog?

We usually think of our blogs only in terms of human readers coming to our actual web pages. As more and more people use feed readers, or feeds incorporated into other applications, making your blog easily parsed and programmed against becomes really important to attract and retain readers.

One thing I'm doing, besides the move to FeedBurner I made earlier this year, is moving to a new blog platform that supports some of these things out of the box, and has an API that allows me to add others.

So, what can you easily add to your blog? What have you done already?

posted by Pete Brown on Thursday, July 24, 2008
filed under:        

6 comments for “Easy Ways to Make your Technical Blog More Visible and Programmable”

  1. Pete Brownsays:

    Good question. I actually find microformats harder to parse as you have to slog through the html content to find them. That said, I'll likely add support for hCalendar in the future. The good thing is they require very little (or no) platform support to use. If you can use html, you're generally good to go.


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  1. POKE 53280,0: Pete Brown's Blogsays:
    My primary Silverlight project for the past couple months has been the Facebook application I’ve been