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DPP040: Rethinking Blog Archives, Creating Challenges, and 2 More Great Ideas

September 19, 2013

In this episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast (which you can find a full transcript of below), I talk about rethinking blog archives and creating new challenges for yourself and others to take up.

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You can also listen to the episode online by clicking the play button on the player below this. (If you don’t see the player, click here.) It’s about 18 minutes long.

  • 0:55 – 1. From podcast to ebook
  • 3:28 – 2. Rethinking blog archives
  • 9:02 – 3. Creating challenges
  • 13:47 – 4. Write down all question
  • 15:02 – Pick of the week

DPP040: Rethinking Blog Archives, Creating Challenges, and 2 More Great Ideas

Hi everyone, I’m Tristan Higbee, recording again in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and this podcast is all about the things I see and would like to see in the world of digital publishing, including blogging, ebook and video creation, podcasting, and other things relating to internet business and online marketing. You can find a full transcript of each episode of this show at DigitalPublishingPodcast.com.

I’d really appreciate it if you rated this show in iTunes. Just go to itunes.digitalpublishingpodcast.com and then click the blue “View in iTunes” button in the sidebar to rate and review the podcast in iTunes.

Ok, I’ve got 4 things to talk about today, so let’s get started.

1. From podcast to ebook

There’s a pretty popular podcast out there called Beyond the To-Do List. The host is Erik Fisher, and he interviews people about their productivity systems. As the name of the podcast suggests, he talks about more than just using a to-do list to be productive. As of recording this, there are 46 episodes of the show out there.

As some of you know, I run a free Kindle book website called fkb.me. More or less every day I list great new free Kindle books that I come across. The other day I was looking at some books and saw that Erik had put out an ebook called Beyond The To-Do List: Goals – A Step-By-Step Process to Making and Meeting the Goals that Matter.

I’ve seen a handful of people turn their podcast content into ebook content, and everyone does it differently. Some people essentially publish the transcriptions of their podcasts. Other people use the transcriptions as a base but then add additional stuff. And still others don’t use the transcriptions, but take the ideas from the podcast episodes and use those ideas to create entirely new material. That’s what it looks like Erik did with this ebook. He’s presumably taken what he’s learned about goals from interviewing all of those people and created a 32-day regime to help you reach your goals.

I’ve said for a long time that writing ebooks is easy. I’ve written and published 41 or 42 Kindle books at this point, plus a whole bunch of PDF ebooks from previous years. One of the best ways to create an ebook is to compile the content you’ve already created. In these cases I’ve talked about, that content has been in podcast form. But maybe you’ve got blog posts or essays or videos or notes or statistics or something else that you can use for the basis of your ebook. Look around to see what you’ve already created. My guess is that you already have most of what you need to write an ebook.

2. Rethinking blog archives

A better kind of archive

A better kind of archive

I’ve been thinking a lot about blog archives recently. The blog that you see if you go to DigitalPublishingPodcast.com is one that I’ve been writing on for almost three years—since October 2010. It’s gone through a couple name changes in that time, but all of the content is still there. So there are a lot of blog posts on the blog, not to mention tons of pages. When I first started the blog, I very carefully placed every blog post neatly into a specific category. But a few years later and several reboots later, and the categories on the blog are a mess. Some have 50 posts in them, others have 1. I think there are even a couple that I’ve never used before.

Category lists and pages aside, some blogs have archive pages. These usually include a list of months for the time that your blog has existed and that you’ve been posting to the blog. So you click on the link for July 2011 and you are taken to the blog posts that were published that month. But come on, how useful is this really? Who looks for blog posts by date? If you wanted to find something specific like that, you’d just use the search box on the blog.

So. Categories are out. Those WordPress auto-generated archive pages that sort blog posts by month are out. What does that leave us with? It leaves us with what I think is the best option, and that’s the manually-updated and hand-sorted archive page, and you can do this on any blogging platform. It’s one page that lists every page and blog post on your blog (or at least every one that you want to list), and the the posts and pages are organized however you want them to be.

I have two examples of this kind of thing. The first is on my personal blog at thealoof.com. Go there and click on Archive & Categories at the top of the page. That’ll take you to a list of all of the posts on my blog. Because most of what I publish there deals with my travels, I’ve organized all my posts by country and then by state for places in the US. Under each country or state, the posts are organized chronologically. So even though I’m still essentially sorting by category, it’s better than the default category pages because instead of seeing 10 posts per page, like you would normally, you see them all. You see everything at a glance. And it’s better than assigning the posts individual WordPress categories because those are a pain to change. When you’ve just got all of your articles on one page that you’ve manually put together, changing the way you present your posts is as simple as copying and pasting under a new heading. If your blog has been around for several years, some of your older posts may no longer be relevant. That’s fine. The great thing about the kind of archive page that I’m advocating is that you don’t have to list posts that were time sensitive or that are otherwise no longer relevant.

The second example I have of this is the FAQ page at SectionHiker.com. I’ve been on a long-distance trail kick recently. I’ve been reading all sorts of books about the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, El Camino de Santiago, and others, and it’s rekindled in me a love for the outdoors that has been mostly dormant for the last year or so that I’ve been traveling around the world. I’ve always been an avid rock climber and mountaineer, but now I’m reading hiking and backpacking blogs like a madman. Anyway, one of the great blogs I’ve come across is SectionHiker.com. If you go there and go to the FAQ page, he’s got 128 articles listed under categories like Backpacks and Packing, Backpacking Food, Hiking Health and Safety, and Navigation and Planning. The articles aren’t arranged by date, but generally in the order you’d want to read them.

These two examples that I’ve given were not auto-generated. They were specifically curated and crafted by the blog owner. It might take you a couple hours to create the page and get it the way you want it, but updating it will only take 30 seconds, so it’s really not a large time investment. I wish more blogs had these kinds of archives pages, and I’m going to be creating one for my main blog here sometime in the near future.

3. Creating challenges

The cinnamon challenge in action

The cinnamon challenge in action

I’m going to talk about kind of an amorphous topic here at first, but bear with me and hopefully I’ll have come up with something cogent to say by the end of it. So what do I mean by “creating challenges”? Well, I don’t mean it in the sense of adversity. Not directly, anyway. I’m not talking about how you can overcome your challenges to be a better person or some fluffy crap like that. What I mean by a challenge is something like the cinnamon challenge, where you try to eat a spoonful of cinnamon, or the Utah Triple Crown, where you try to climb all three of Utah’s tallest mountains in a single push and in a single day. So I’m talking about a challenge as “a call to engage in a contest, fight, or competition.” It’s something difficult that you and others with similar interests can try to achieve.

Now, the main thing that I’m talking about is creating a challenge. So if you were the person who had thought, “Hey, I wonder if it would be possible to climb Utah’s three tallest mountains in a day” and then tried to do it, you’d be the person that created the Utah Triple Crown challenge.

It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a challenge that’s made to be repeated exactly. One of my great climbing partners had a 30-at-30 challenge, where he climbed 30 different climbs on his 30th birthday. But the general challenge there could be to climb the number of climbs that matches your age.

So why am I talking about this on the Digital Publishing Podcast? Because you could make a blog post, podcast, ebook, video, video series, or entire blog about a challenge. If my climbing buddy had had a blog, he could have written a blog post about his 30-at-30 attempt. In the show notes, I’ll link to a video of a woman’s Utah Triple Crown attempt. There’s the 100 Things Challenge, in which a guy tried to live with 100 things, and it was a blog and then a book. Go onto Amazon and you’ll see things like the The 30 Day Paleo Diet Challenge, The 50 Fridays Marriage Challenge, The Sketchbook Challenge. There’s the ProBlogger book, 31 Days to Build a Better Blog. That’s a challenge. So you can see that a challenge can be in any medium.

You could create a challenge about anything. Let’s say I get hardcore into ultralight backpacking. I could create the 5-Pound Backpack or the 10-Pound Backpack Challenge, with the goal of getting a full camping pack to weigh less than 5 or 10 pounds. Let’s say I’m a book blogger. I could do a read-a-book-a-day challenge.

The great thing about starting a challenge is that there’s the potential for it to not necessarily go viral, because that won’t happen (though the cinnamon challenge is a good example that did), but to become something that others do care about and get excited about, and you’d become the leader of that challenge and movement. If other people pick up the challenge, they’ll link to your website or blog post. They’ll buy your ebook and recommend that others do the same. You could have an entire publishing mini-empire around a single challenge, like the 100 Things Challenge guy did. For example, you could have a book that lays out the challenge and helps people achieve it. You could have a companion podcast where you interview experts that will give information and insight that will help you and others with the challenge. You could have a blog where you publish people’s failures and success stories. You could offer coaching or consulting that would help people achieve the challenge.

But the other great thing about creating a challenge is that it can be whatever you want it to be. It can be as simple as a single blog post or as complex as something that could eventually take on a life of its own. But we as humans love a good challenge, and when you combine that with an interest or topic that you and others are really into, it becomes even more powerful.

4. Write down all questions

I saw an article this week that I thought had a great idea behind it. The article is titled The Most Important Document You Probably Aren’t Keeping (which I’ll link to in the show notes, of course), and it’s all about how you should keep a document in which you write all of the questions that people ask you. The idea is that you can address those questions with products. In the case of the digital publishing world, that could be an ebook, a video, a blog post, a podcast, or any of the other series of mediums that I mention all the time and that we use.

But I’d go a step further and recommend that you write down any question you see that has to do with your niche. Last week I talked all about forums. If you read a niche forum for a year and write down every question that someone asks, you could write an awesome instructional ebook after a year. No question. Comments on popular blog posts are also great places to find questions.

Pick of the week

Oyster

Oyster

And that now brings us to my pick of the week. This is where I pick one useful thing to share, and it can be an app, a website, a podcast, or anything else I find valuable. My pick of the week this time is Oyster. Oyster is the Netflix for ebooks, which means that you pay a monthly fee and you can read as many books as you want. Several other companies in the past few years have tried to do something like this, but Oyster is the best one that I’ve seen. You pay $9.95 a month and can have up to five books “checked out” at a time.

There are over 100,000 books available from several of the major publishers. And I should probably say here that I’m not actually an Oyster customer. I have hundreds and hundreds of Kindle books that I’ve downloaded for free that I need and want to read. But I did request and get an invite to Oyster. It is still in invite-only mode but I got my invite only 3 or 4 days after I requested one. With that invite, I was able to browse some of the books that they’re offering, and there are easily dozens and dozens that look great, even after just a brief glance. I’m sure I could find hundreds if I looked deeper. There are tons of New York Times bestsellers. They’ve got everything from Animal Farm and Lord of the Rings to Chicken Soup for the Soul and 1,000 Places to See Before You Die.

There are some potential downsides. First, you need the Oyster app to read the books, and the app is currently only for iPhones and iPod Touches. An iPad version is reportedly coming soon, but you’re up a creek if you’re an Android user. So if you don’t like reading on your iPhone, Oyster probably isn’t for you. I actually now prefer reading on my iPhone. I read two books a week on average, and for the past 3 or 4 months, they’ve all been on my iPhone. This is coming from someone who also has a Kindle and a Kindle Fire, but I just love being able to easily read one-handed. I’ve heard some people say that the Oyster app that you have to read in could be better. But if you read a lot on your iPhone and don’t already have way more reading material than you could go through, I think that Oyster is a no-brainer. I would definitely sign up. At $10 a month, I think it’s a steal. You can check it out and request an invite at oysterbooks.com.

And incidentally, this is the kind of thing that people mean when they talk about how there are more and better apps on the iOS platform versus Android. Yes, Android has pretty much every app you could ever want or need except when it comes to new ones like this. The iOS apps are always first.

Final words

And that’s all for episode 40 of the Digital Publishing Podcast. Be sure to check out digitalpublishingpodcast.com for complete transcriptions and other blog posts there at the blog.

Please don’t hesitate to email me any questions you might have regarding digital publishing. I love talking about this stuff, and I’d love to help you out. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.digitalpublishingpodcast.com. That will redirect you to my Twitter account, since my name is a bit tricky to spell. If you do follow me there, be sure to say hi. And again and as always, I’d really appreciate it if you went into iTunes and rated and reviewed this podcast, and thanks for listening.

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