Deciding Whether to Include a Twitter Feed on Your Blog

Should you do it? And why?

I got an interesting question on Twitter today from someone who learned how to use Twitter from my Twitter Essential Training course on Lynda.com. He asked:

Do you feel that there is a benefit to having a Twitter feed on a blog?

Twitter FeedI have my Twitter feed on my blog. It’s at the bottom of every page — a place that isn’t “in your face” but is persistent. The solution I use — the WordPress plugin HL Twitter — shows all of my Tweets, including @replies, and can show the tweets for as many accounts as I like. It also offers the option to archive tweets on your blog and tweet new blog posts. I don’t use either of those features, but they’re there. and, of course, there are other solutions that’ll put tweets on your blog or website.

My response was as lengthy as Twitter’s 140 characters allow:

Yes, but it depend on what you tweet about and what your blog is about. Should be similar or compatible. Nice question, BTW!

It is a good question. One that’s worth discussing here.

Why Your Might Put a Twitter Feed on Your Blog

Think about your blog for a moment. What is it like?

Is it a personal blog where you share your thoughts and opinions and personal news? My blog, An Eclectic Mind, is like that.

Or is it a business blog that you created primarily to provide additional information for existing and potential customers or clients? This blog-based site, Maria’s Guides, and the site I maintain for my helicopter charter business, Flying M Air, are like that.

Now think about the things you tweet about. Are those things complementary or compatible with your blog?

Examples

In my personal blog, I write about everything. On my personal Twitter account, I tweet about everything.

In my personal blog, I’m not afraid to voice my strong opinions on politics and religion. In Twitter, I often share links that support my opinions on politics and religion.

In my personal blog, I occasionally use foul language. On my personal Twitter account, I occasionally use foul language.

Obviously, my personal blog and my Twitter stream are a good match.

My Flying M Air site’s “blog” entries normally consist of company news and special offers. Even though Flying M Air is actually me — I am the sole owner/operator of the business — my personal tweets about everything under the sun would simply not be appropriate to display on Flying M Air’s site. Not only that, but my strong views about politics and religion and my occasional off-color language could seriously turn off some potential clients who have conflicting strong views and don’t like to read language like that.

As a result, I wouldn’t dream of listing my tweets on Flying M Air’s site.

As you can see, this isn’t the kind of question you can answer with a simple yes or no. You need to look at it on a case-by-case basis.

The Benefit

Of course, the original question focused on the benefit of including tweets on a blog. Once you decide whether it’s appropriate, you might still want to determine whether there’s a real benefit to doing this.

I think this depends a lot on whether your Twitter stream adds anything to your blog.

I’ll be honest with you — I don’t know if it adds anything to my blog. No one has ever commented on it. I don’t know if it’s gotten more more Twitter followers — which might be a good motive for including it. It certainly helps make me look more active in social networking circles. But is that a good thing? Who knows?

Your blog design has a lot to do with it, too. Do you have room to include a Twitter stream? Will the format you can display it in match the rest of your site. (Aesthetics is important!)

And why do you think it might benefit you? Do your perceived benefits outweigh your perceived drawbacks?

I’m not sure how helpful this is. I guess my point is, you need to think about it and, if you decide to go forward, try to determine how it helps or hurts you.

Remember, it’s always easy to remove if things don’t work out.

Lynda LogoLet me teach you more about Twitter!

You can watch seven videos from my Twitter Essential Training course for free. Click here to get started.

How to Embed a Tweet in a Blog Post or Website

Finding and using a new feature on Twitter.com.

Twitter’s getting a facelift. In fact, as I write this, I’m one of a limited number of early adopters who have sped the arrival of the new version by installing and using the iPhone (in my case) or Android app.

The new Twitter is a dramatic change in the interface — one I plan to review in a video for Lynda.com soon. In the meantime, I’m picking out a few new features to explore in detail here in Maria’s Guides.

In this post, I’ll explore the new ability to embed a tweet — like the one shown here — within a blog post or web page.

  1. On Twitter.com, point to the tweet you want to embed and then click the Open link that appears to open it. (You could also simply double-click the tweet.)
    Open the Tweet
  2. Click the Details link to display the tweet in its own window.
    Click the Details Link
  3. Click the Embed this Tweet link.
    Click Embed this Tweet
  4. The Embed this Tweet pop-up window appears. It has three tabs:
    • HTML enables you to embed the tweet in a blog post or website using HTML. You select the alignment option you want by clicking a button and then copy and paste the code at the top of the tab. In this example, I’ve clicked Right because I want the tweet right aligned (as you see above).
      HTML Embed Code
    • Shortcode enables you to embed the tweet in a blog post on a blogging platform that supports short codes, such as WordPress. Again, set the alignment option you want by clicking a button and then copy and past the code at the top of the tab.
      Shortcode
    • Link displays a direct link to the tweet that you can copy and paste anywhere you like: email message, Facebook, Google+, comment form, or HTML editor to create your own link manually.
      Link

    In this example, I simply pasted the code in the HTML tab into the beginning of this blog post, which I wrote in HTML (I’m a bit old-fashioned that way). If you use WordPress and prefer Rich Text mode, you can do the same thing with the shortcode.

That’s all there is to it.

What’s handy about this is that not only does it display the tweet in its entirety with the tweeter’s profile picture and name, but it has live links to follow that person on Twitter, Reply, Retweet, and Favorite. Cool, no?

Let me teach you more about Twitter!

Get more from your software.You can watch seven videos from my Twitter Essential Training course for free. Click here to get started.

Comment Moderation: Fighting Spam and Trolls

A few tips from a long-time blogger.

As any blogger with even a slightly popular blog can tell you, good comment moderation is an absolute requirement to maintain a good, readable blog.

The way I see it, comment moderation serves two purposes:

  • It prevents your blog from being an advertising platform for people who don’t contribute real content. I’m not just talking about obvious spam here, either.
  • It prevents your blog from being a platform for offensive or abusive people who don’t contribute real content. And yes, I am talking about trolls here.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these two points.

Comments by Spammers

There are two kinds of comment spam.

One type — the most prevalent — is mostly automated spam posted by software commonly referred to as spambots. Once your blog gets on the radar (so to speak), automated spam can be quite significant. This blog, for example, attracts more than 500 automated spam comments a day.

This kind of spam is pretty easy to recognize. One type, for example, includes multiple links for things like online gambling, prescription medication, or pornography. The other type puts its link in the comment form’s URL field and then fills the comment field with text that may or may not make sense but has nothing to do with the content of the original post. Here’s an example from my post titled “Five Tips for Composing a More Effective Social Networking Bio“:

I precisely had to thank you so much all over again. I am not sure the things that I could possibly have accomplished in the absence of the entire tricks contributed by you on my problem. It truly was a very frightening case for me personally, nevertheless viewing your specialized manner you handled the issue forced me to leap over delight. I’m just happy for the assistance and believe you are aware of a great job that you’re getting into training other individuals via a site. More than likely you haven’t encountered any of us.

Huh? I get hundreds of comments like this every day.

It should be noted that a lot of this spam appears on posts that may be quite old. This particular one appeared on a post that was 2-1/2 years old. This is one reason why bloggers use plugins to automatically turn off the commenting feature on older posts.

Fortunately, spam prevention tools can detect and catch 99% of this kind of spam. I use Akismet on my WordPress site and it does a great job of catching and corralling this garbage so it never has a chance to appear on my blog. If you’re not using a spam prevention tool and are manually going through this crap, what are you waiting for? Don’t you have better things to do with your time?

The other kind of spam is more insidious. It’s posted by a real person and it looks like a legitimate comment. But its sole purpose is to promote a product, service, or Web site — not to engage you or other blog readers in a conversation about the original post’s topic.

In many cases, the spammer doesn’t put any real effort into his comment. It might contain a sentence or two that’s vaguely related to the post. The spam delivery is in the commenter’s name and URL. Rather than being something like “John” or “Mary Smith,” it’ll be something like “John’s Carpet Service” or “Discount Vitamin Shack.” The URL will be the URL for the site John or Mary want to promote. In most cases, the email address will be something that’s likely fake or never checked for incoming mail — usually a Gmail or Yahoo! account — but sometimes a legitimate-looking email account is included.

To me, this is a gray area — is it a legitimate comment or spam? Considering the content and purpose of the comment should guide you. Your site’s comment policy should help; I’ll get to that in a moment.

Trolls

A far worse problem these days is what many people refer to as trolls. Trolls are people who post offensive or controversial commentary on blogs or discussion forums. Their goal is apparently to make themselves look smart or superior at the expensive of you or other commenters. By posting comments, they’re “trolling” for an argument — much like a fisherman might go trolling to catch fish.

This is where good comment moderation is vital to your blog.

You see, if you allow offensive commentary — including personal attacks on yourself or blog commenters — you do two things:

  • You discourage legitimate commenters from sharing their thoughts. After all, they could be the victim of the next troll attack.
  • You encourage more trolling activity by current and future trolls. After all, you let one offensive comment out there, you’re likely to allow others. They see your blog as a good place to troll for new victims.

Is that something you really want?

I have seen too many blogs and forums completely devastated by the comments posted by trolls and the offensive and defensive comments posted in response. Back in the early days of the Internet and newsgroups, we used to refer to this as “flame wars.” There’s nothing useful or productive about the comments by trolls or the resulting flame wars. Why allow them on your blog?

The Freedom of Speech Argument

The biggest defense against firm moderation that would prevent trolling activities is that it’s “censorship” and that you’re violating the commenter’s “freedom of speech.” They often use the phrase “First Amendment Rights.”

Let’s look briefly at the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [emphasis added]

Where exactly does it say that I have to put up with offensive commentary on my blog? All it says is that the government can’t make a law abridging the freedom of speech. I’m not the government, I’m not making a law.

So I don’t think “free speech” is a valid argument. After all, should anyone have the right to say anything they want — no matter how offensive — on your blog?

If people want to spout hate and offensive commentary, they can do it on their own blog.

Creating a Comment Policy

One way to fight back against spammers and trolls is to create and uphold a site comment policy. This policy should clearly state what is and/or isn’t allowed in the comments on your blog. Linking to this policy in an obvious place — or even placing a short version of it right above or below the comment form — will make it clear that you don’t tolerate spam or bad behavior.

Want some examples of good comment policies? Here are a few to give you ideas:

  • An Eclectic Mind. This is the comment policy for my personal blog. It’s a bit wordy — what do you expect from me? — but it does cover all the bases. You might also be interested in another post on my blog, “I Love Blog Comments Here.”
  • Stonekettle Station. Jim Wright doesn’t put up with crap either. That’s the short version of his comment policy. The long version, which address trolls and free speech, can be found here.
  • Whatever. John Scalzi’s comment policy. Simple and to-the-point.
  • Lorelle on WordPress. Lorelle knows more about WordPress blogging than I ever will. Here’s her site’s comment policy. You might also be interested in another post on her blog, “Comments on Comments.”

This topic was also addressed back in 2007 by Lorelle VanFossen in The Blog Herald.

Do you have a site comment policy you want to share with readers here? Post it in the comments for this post.

Maintaining Order

Creating a policy isn’t enough. You also have to maintain it. That means objectively reviewing every comment on your site and deleting the ones that violate the policy.

Yes, deleting them.

My advice is not to edit them, or allow them but reply with a warning, or do anything else. If a comment violates your policy, just delete it.

Don’t even send the commenter an email message telling them that you’ve deleted their message and why. If a commenter lacks the courtesy to be civil and follow your established rules on your blog, does he deserve any courtesy from you?

More important than that is the entire concept of “feeding the trolls.” When you respond in any way to a troll, you encourage more trolling activity. You see, these people just can’t let it go. They see any response as having a victim on the hook and they keep up their trolling behavior.

Ignore them and they will go away. Really.

You need to keep this in mind no matter where you see trolls. If you can’t delete their offensive crap, just ignore it. (Or, if it’s offensive enough, contact the site owner directly and tell him/her what you think and how it makes you feel about their blog/site/forum. A responsible site owner will take care of the problem.)

And if the whole concept of trolls is new to you, I urge you to read the entire “Troll (Internet)” entry on Wikipedia. It’s excellent and it clearly shows how bad these people can be for an Internet community like a blog.

Steps to Take

To sum up, I want to review the steps you might want to take to moderate and control the comments on your blog.

  1. Install and use spam prevention tools. Akismet is the best one (in my opinion) for a WordPress blog. It’s free.
  2. Write and post a site comment policy. Use the ones linked to above to give you ideas.
  3. Set up your blog to require moderation of all comments. On a WordPress blog, you do this in Discussion Settings.
  4. Regularly check for and approve (or delete) new comments. I’ve created a bookmark in my browser to quickly go to the comment moderation panel for each of my sites. I check for comments every morning and sometimes during the day so few comments are ever held in moderation for long.
  5. Resist the urge to respond to trolls on your blog. Don’t respond in comments or in email. You will regret it.
  6. Ignore the comments posted by trolls on other sites and in online forums. Don’t feed the trolls.

Please use the comments for this post to share your thoughts, experiences, and questions about this topic.

How to Disable Hot Linking to Images

Roll up your sleeves and prepare to edit your .htaccess file.

Important Note:
Messing with your Web site or blog’s .htaccess file is very dangerous. Indeed, if you make an error, the entire site may stop working. Keep that in mind when using these instructions. I will not be held responsible for any problems that result from using this code.

Hot linking is when another Web site links directly to images or other files that reside on your Web server to embed them in their own Web pages or make them accessible to their own site visitors. For example, someone may like an image on your Web site that he/she wants to show off on his/her own. Rather than linking to the page on your site that displays the image, they might use the HTML IMG SRC tag to embed the image on their own site.

There are two problems with this:

  • In many cases, because the image actually appears on the other site, visitors are led to believe that the image belongs to that site’s owner — instead of you. Sometimes the other site owner might provide credit or even a link back to your site. But often times he/she does not. In my book, that’s image theft.
  • Because the image still resides on your server, each time the image is viewed on the other site, your server is required to serve up the image. That uses up your bandwidth. Obviously, if this happens a lot, you might see a slow-down in your site’s response time or your hosting company may begin to charge additional bandwidth fees. In other words, you’re paying to host images on someone else’s site.

The best way to stop hot linking is to modify your site’s .htaccess file to include code that prevents it. In researching this problem, I found several different collections of code. The one that I wound up using as a basis for my final code (shown below) can be found at “How to Disable Hot Linking” on the Online Marketing Blog.

Here’s my code:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www.)?mydomain.com/.*$ [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !google. [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !search?q=cache [NC]
RewriteRule .(jpg|gif|png|pdf)$ http://myotherdomain.com/images/StopStealing.jpg [R]

Here’s how it works:

RewriteEngine on

Enables mod_rewrite.

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$

Allows requests made directly for the image without a referrer. You would include this line if you wanted to allow requests from browsers and other sources without referrers. (I commented out this line in my file, but may allow it.)

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www.)?mydomain.com/.*$ [NC]

Allows requests made from your Web site. Obviously, you’d replace mydomain.com with your domain.

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !google. [NC]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !search?q=cache [NC]

Allows requests made from Google and search engines. If you don’t want your images to appear in search results, don’t include these two lines.

RewriteRule .(jpg|gif|png)$ http://myotherdomain.com/images/StopStealing.jpg [R]

Prevents images with .jpg, .gif, and .png extensions from appearing on pages with any other referrer. Instead, it shows the image shown here.

If you don’t want to include the image, you can use this line instead to result in a broken image icon:

RewriteRule .(jpg|gif|png)$ - [F]

Keep in mind that using this approach will prevent images from appearing in feed readers, too, so it’s not a good idea if you share your images with others via RSS.

Of course, to add or modify a .htaccess file, you need to know how. That’s beyond the scope of anything I’ll ever write. These instructions assume you already have some idea of how to do this. If you want to learn more about using .htaccess to control access to your Web site, be sure to check out this tutorial.

One more thing…please don’t expect me to help you debug your .htaccess file. Believe me, I know only enough about .htaccess to be dangerous; you would be better off without my help. Good luck!

Three Productivity Tips from a Long-Time Blogger

A guest post for WordCast.

About this Post
I wrote this post to complement my participation in a Blog Productivity panel podcast for WordCast. I was invited by Lorelle (of WordPress fame), and I really enjoyed participating. If you listen to the podcast, it’ll soon become clear that I’m the “odd man out” (so to speak) in that I do things a bit differently than the rest of the pack. The podcast is full of great tips from all panelists and definitely worth a listen if you’re serious about blogging. This post appeared on the WordCast site earlier in the week.

I might not be the most influential blogger you’ve ever heard of — if you’ve heard of me at all. Or the most prolific. But I’m probably one of the most experienced: I’ve been blogging since October 15, 2003.

Still, I was extremely pleased to be asked to join a panel of expert bloggers for a recent WordCast podcast about blogging productivity. The folks at WordCast asked me to follow-up with a blog post sharing some of my tips. I can’t help thinking that my co-panelist’s tips were better, but here’s what I have to offer.

1. Create and Stick to a Blogging Schedule

One of the most important things about keeping a blog is adding new content regularly. “Regularly” is a tricky word. It doesn’t have to mean every day. It just means often enough to keep your readers checking in for more.

For example, suppose your life gives you enough free time that you can post once or twice a day for a few weeks or months. Suddenly, however, life takes as turn and that blogging time is gone — or you get bored with your blog and put it on the back burner. Go a week without posting something new and the folks who check in regularly for your words of wisdom may stop checking.

While I realize this is an extreme example, it does illustrate my point: regular readers will pick up on the rhythm on your posting and expect you to stick with it. When you don’t, they move on.

The way to prevent this from happening is to create a posting goal and schedule time to write. Perhaps you think twice a week is a good frequency. Pick two days a week — Tuesday and Friday? — pick a time that works for you — at breakfast with your morning coffee? — and blog on schedule. Make it part of your routine, part of your life.

I try to get a new blog post out at least five days a week. My schedule has me sitting in front of my laptop with my morning coffee every morning I can. Since I’m an early riser — usually up by 6 AM — I usually get my blog post done before I start my work day.

Got something coming up that’s likely to break your schedule? Vacation? Business trip? Family commitments? Write extra posts when you can and schedule them to appear in the future. This is particularly handy if your topic is not time-sensitive or you know you’ll be unable to blog on schedule in the future. Here are two suggestions:

  • Long posts can often be cut it into multiple parts with each part scheduled to appear on a different day. Not only does this stretch a single work out to fill a posting schedule, but if done properly, your readers will make sure they come back for the subsequent parts.
  • Do double-duty and write two posts at a sitting, scheduling one of them to appear in the future. If you’re able to write a lot very quickly, you can actually write a week’s worth of content at one sitting. No one has to know that each day’s new post was actually written some time ago.

2. Take Notes

How do you know what to blog about? One way is to take notes. As ideas and thoughts come to you — either from the workings of your own mind or from something you read online or heard in a conversation — jot them down. If you spend enough time thinking and reading and listening, you should be able to accumulate plenty of ideas.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t use software or web-based tools such as Evernote to organize notes and clippings. I use paper. I keep spiral-bound notebooks on my desk and in my computer bag and make notes as things come to me. When I’ve processed the note — blogged about it, made the call, tracked down the Web site, ordered the product, etc. — I recycle the paper. The huge file containing all my thoughts and ideas is my blog.

The point is, it doesn’t matter how you take notes. The important thing is to take them. Keep track of the little ideas that pop into your head when you’re in the shower or driving. Write down the key words of a conversation that’ll help you remember what you found so intriguing. Then, when you’re ready to compose a blog post, you’ll have most of the material you need to get it written.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not knocking software tools. I just can’t be bothered climbing up the learning curve to use them effectively. Pen and paper works for me.

3. Automate!

There are lots of software tools and solutions out there to help automate tasks. After all, isn’t that what computers are for? To do the work and make our lives easier?

Here are three examples of tools I use to automate blogging-related tasks:

  • Delicious with Postalicious. Delicious is a bookmarking Web site. You read a Web page, want to remember it, and create a Delicious bookmark with its URL and a description and tags you specify. I’ve been using Delicious for years, since it could be found only at http://del.icio.us. Postalicious is a WordPress plugin that creates a blog post based on your new Delicious entries and the descriptions you provide. It then automatically posts the links entry to your blog at a predetermined time. You can find plenty of examples on my blog. Postalicious also works with other services, such as ma.gnolia, Google Reader, Reddit, or Yahoo Pipes. I rely on this combination of tools to collect and share Web-based content that I found interesting and want to share with my readers. The format isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly good enough for my needs. Oh, and one more thing: I use the RSS feed for my Delicious bookmarks to generate a list of recently bookmarked pages in the sidebar of my blog.
  • Twitterfeed with Twitter. Twitter is an incredible tool for communicating short snippets of information with other people all over the world. (If you haven’t heard of it or tried it, crawl out from under that rock, brush the dust and cobwebs off your clothes, and join the rest of the social networking community.) Twitterfeed is a Web-based service that scans your blog’s RSS feed and tweets links to your new posts. This is a great, automatic way to tell your Twitter followers about new content on your blog.
  • Feedburner’s Email Subscriptions. Feedburner is a service that modifies your RSS feed to add features. Although it was started as an independent service, it’s now part of Google, so you need a free Google account to take advantage of its features. The Email Subscriptions feature creates e-mail messages based on your RSS feed and sends them out to subscribers. The subscription list is maintained inside Feedburner, so you don’t have to deal with it; users can add and remove themselves without bothering you. This is a great way for folks who want to read your content regularly to get it on a timely basis without using RSS readers. Best of all, once you set it up, it’s automatic.

Conclusion

When thinking about blog productivity, it all comes down to working smart. Make blogging part of your life schedule. Keep notes about the topics you find interesting so you have plenty of topics to write about when you’re ready to blog. And automate tasks whenever possible.

These are just three tips. Give it some thought — or read the blog posts of my co-panelists here — for more.

About the Author

Maria Langer is a freelance writer who has been writing about computers and the Internet since 1990. She’s the co-author of the first-ever book on WordPress and has since authored three WordPress video titles for Lynda.com. Maria’s also a commercial helicopter pilot and serious amateur photographer. Her blog, An Eclectic Mind, can be found at aneclecticmind.com.