Blogs are becoming an important and prevalent method for software developers to share knowledge, tips and code. Unlike code-sharing sites that have publication guidelines and restrictions, blogs are typically privately-owned, which gives developers freedom to deliver and format their content in many ways. But this freedom can also result in a poor experience for the blog reader, ranging from code samples that won’t compile, to the equivalent of a messy desk where nothing useful can be found.
Following are several tips for software developers to write and manage their blogs, and to make the blogs easier to use and navigate for their readers.
Windows Live Writer is Microsoft’s new FREE offline blog editor. Some people have called Live Writer the best original Microsoft application ever. I wouldn’t go that far (Visual Studio, anyone?) but Live Writer is light years ahead of the default WordPress editor and better than most of the other offline editors. Microsoft has just released an excellent Beta version 2 that includes table support and inline spell-checking.
Paste Code from Visual Studio
Developers love to blog about code, but formatting code in a blog can be tricky. Tabs become spaces, quotes become forward/back quotes, and code can look downright ugly when pasted into a blog. That’s why Live Writer users should check out the “Insert from Visual Studio” plug-in. This enables you to copy code from Visual Studio and paste it in Live Writer, maintaining your unique syntax, formatting and color settings (see example).
As mentioned in the last tip, double quotes can become forward/back quotes when pasted into a blog. Unfortunately, when a reader copies code from your blog and pastes it into a code editor, all forward/back quotes will be marked as syntax errors. Fortunately, there is a WordPress “Untexturize” plug-in that will prevent WordPress from making these unwanted character substitutions.
Use the “More” Tag
Few things are as annoying to a blog reader as having to scroll through tens or hundreds of pages of content to discover articles of interest. That’s why WordPress provides the More tag, which allows you to publish just an excerpt of your article on your home page and RSS feeds. If the user wants to read more, she can click the -more- link and be taken to the full article. This results in a clean, “tight” home page that can be easily browsed. And if you’re running Google or other ads, putting the full article on another page results in a second page-view and more opportunity for ad revenue.
Use Categories and Tags
Over time, software development blogs can become a treasure trove of useful information. But don’t make it a buried treasure. Instead, use categories to organize your blogs posts into meaningful groups of related items. (Note there is a WordPress bug that requires a workaround to add new categories).
Tags provide an additional level of granularity for organizing blog posts. Add a tag for every topic, product and technology referenced in your article. Ultimate Tag Warrior is an excellent WordPress plug-in that will automatically convert your categories to tags, provide a place in WordPress and offline editors to add tags, and offer tag suggestions from Yahoo! keyword suggestion service.
Automatically Purge Spam Comments
When you first start a blog, you may find yourself begging the blog gods for readers. But if your blog is any good, eventually your articles will be picked up by search engines, linked from other blogs, and maybe even mentioned in the mainstream press. Soon the traffic will flow to your blog, and along with it, an unhealthy dose of spam comments, as many as a hundred or more per day. Nothing pollutes a blog like an endless stream of unrelated comments questioning your reader’s manhood. And your time is better spent writing new articles, rather than weeding spam from your comments. Hence, be sure to use an automated spam-blocker like Akismet to rid your blog of spam. Too bad there isn’t a similar automated tool to prevent splogging.
Article published on June 14, 2007
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