A Year in Provence

I’ve been at this now for just over a year and while starting to write a blog isn’t nearly as life-changing as moving to live in the South of France, there are some parallels.

Olive Trees
Photo owned by sebrenner (cc)

James Mayle documents in his memoir how he tried to master the local customs, understand the language, tackle the French bureaucracy, and deal with tradesmen who work on a very different sense of time.

As a newcomer to blogging I feel an affinity with Mayle as I have set out to navigate through the intricaies of setting up my blogging home and getting to know my neighbours in the blogging community. I have learned quite a lot and thought I would share some thoughts for anyone who is thinking about making the journey:

Getting there is easy
I got set up on WordPress.com within a couple of hours. I was doing this either side of a busy day job so it actually took a few days to get it to a state that I was happy with. The free software and hosting options (wordpress.com, blogger.com) on the web make it very easy for beginners to get up and running. There are some guides on how to get up and running and there are also some Irish bloggers who are running training courses if you’ve got a few quid.Do be wary however if you choose to move on to a solution with a hosting company. You get greater functionality but its not without pain. I’m still smarting from my own failed attempt recently so I suggest you get help from someone who knows their stuff. Most of the serious bloggers seem to outsource the plumbing and electrics.

The natives do bite, but only occasionally
There is a community and there are do’s and don’ts. If you do some of the don’t there’s a fair chance that someone will reprimand you. To be fair, the initial reprimand will probably be directly and in private. If you repeat the offense the reprimand will be indirect and potentially brutal. This is not to discourage you but if you joined a soccer club and kept brining a rugby ball to training you’d expect a reprimand.Key thing to remember is to show respect for others in this space. At the end of the day they are all individuals. They might have a public blog, but that doesn’t mean they are fair game for spam or abuse. Another thing to remember is that what you write will be available online indefinitely. I’m currently listening to Dave Fanning interviewing “famous blogger” Derek O’Connor. I did a Google search for Derek O’Connor and the first link is to a comment from a fellow Irish blogger in January 2007 saying that “Derek O’Connor is a fucking slut”. I think that’s a pity.

Being popular isn’t everything
Some bloggers are out there purely to build the profile of their blog. These are publicity whores. You’re probably not one of those unless you’ve already entered every reality TV show going. I’ve discovered that having a rant about someone or an organisation will get you more visits to your blog. If you have a genuine gripe then this is not a bad place to air it; there’s no guarantee that the company will do anything about it, but it does help to get it off your chest. I was on hold with a certain cable TV provider last wek for 25 minutes before they fixed a problem they created and knew about, but I’ve decided that this is not the platform to get that off my chest. I want to use this for other purposes.

Not everyone is here
It sometimes seems like everyone is blogging or engaged in Twitter, Jaiku and so on. Last year the estimate was that there were 4,000 Irish bloggers. There are probably a few more now, but there’s probably only a few hundred that are active. Most are individuals working in regular jobs, blogging in a personal capacity, but a significant number of the more active blogger run their own businesses. Blogging has proven to be a really great tool for them to get the word out about their business. If you are in this category then blogging really is a no-brainer.There are very few big companies that are blogging. I’m involved in a blog on behalf of my own company for one of their sub-brands – it is proving to be a good way to build up the brand values and awareness online. It really helps with your search engine ranking. I would like to see more bigger businesses engaged with the medium as I believe it provides a unique opportunity to differentiate by listening and responding to customers in their preferred way. The next generation will be spending more time here than in your shops or outlets.

Blogging can make a difference
The things I blog about are not earth-shattering or mind-blowing but there are others out there who are impacting in a real and meaningful way. I’ve mentioned one or two of them here recently – people who are blogging that have inspired me or made me stop and think.I’ve given up thinking that I’m going to change the world, but I do this for myself primarily and also in the hope that something I write might be useful to someone, provoke some thoughts or conversation. One of my recent posts did provoke a discussion here and on a couple of other blogs and that did motivate me to keep going, for another wee while anyway. I probably don’t engage proactively enough with other blogs, and that’s one of my resolutions for my next year (in Provence).

A last thing to note is that blogging is addictive. If you get started and manage to survive beyond the initial flurry of enthusiasm you’ll probably be hooked. I’ve had to do it myself and I’ve seen others make big decisions about what’s important to them in their live. Blogging is taking over and something (else) has to give.