September 5, 2009

Blogger’s Quest(ionnaire): Karen Templer of Readerville, Note:books and Salon

The Blogger’s Quest(ionnaire) is a Design Feast Initiative. In contrast to the Designer’s Quest(ionnaire), the focus here is on those engaged in the blog medium—why they do it and what tools they use. This sixth installment features Karen Templer, web designer and developer who is also a writer and editor. She created online community Readerville (2000–2009) for “readers, writers, librarians, publishers, critics and anyone else who loves books” and its companion service Note:books which was renamed Noting:books, under new management. She currently is on staff at e-zine Salon and blogs at Collapse and Delight. Her sustained web-based publishing experience may help your entrance into the blogosphere or further inform your current work in it:

Why did you create a Website of regular entries?
With Readerville, I had for years been listing interesting links on the front page and posting those (and far more of them) to the forum, where everything was fodder for discussion. In the past couple of years, it began to make more sense to do that in blog form, to take advantage of the archiving and permalinks and so on, and to move a part of the dialogue onto the front page. Three years ago, when my husband and I began renovating an old house, I set up another blog, which I call Unfrumpy, to document the process on behalf of faraway friends and family who wanted to see what we were doing, and to have a record of it for ourselves. And more recently I started a more idiosyncratic little blog at Posterous, called Collapse and Delight, where I try to post things I’m currently thinking about or inspired by.

What Web-based solution did you select and why?
Last summer, I rebuilt Readerville using ExpressionEngine, and I loved learning the template language and working with it. It allowed for an incredible amount of freedom in how the site was structured and styled and archived. Unfrumpy is a barely-customized TypePad blog. And part of the inspiration for the Posterous blog was that I wanted to try out Posterous, which is completely brilliant. (It says a lot that there’s zero customization available and I don’t mind in the least.) I am keen to learn WordPress because I routinely hear great things about it and would like to know how it compares, from a developer’s perspective, to EE.

What is your definition of a good blog 
and what are three good blogs that you frequently visit?
For me, a good blog is one that really represents the personality (or personalities) behind it and that makes me strive to be smarter and/or more creative. So the blogs that really make me envious are not any of the big powerhouses but smaller, more personal blogs of smart/creative people. Examples off the top of my head being Peter Mendelsund (Jacket Mechanical), who makes me miss working in the graphic design trenches, and Katie Rich (Katie Did), who makes me want to dust off my sewing machine. And then there are blogs like that of Mark Athitakis (American Fiction Notes), who is not only smart and pleasant and well-read and tuned-in, but has come up with a fantastic taxonomy for his posts so that they add up to a tremendous index of author-related content from all over the web.

How do you create content for your blog?
I’ve been spoiled by Posterous and want to use only it right now. To create a post, all you do is type an email: your subject line is the post title and the message is the post. You can drag photos into the body of the message or include them as attachments. If you attach multiple images, it automatically creates an ingenious little gallery. If you include a YouTube link, it automatically embeds the video. All sorts of things like that. And you can set it up to auto-post to your other blogs or Twitter or just about anywhere you like. You determine where all it gets posted by the address you send the email to. Everything in life should be so simple and elegant.

So these days it’s a pretty simple process. I find something I want to share or comment on, I whip up an email, and I hit send.

How do you stay organized and motivated 
to contribute to your blog?
I use Evernote to keep all of my thoughts organized—not just blog-related thoughts—and motivation is rarely a problem. For me, the problem is time. And with Readerville having run its course and us not working on the house at all right now, the two blogs that have been my focus no longer are. Which leaves me trying to define for myself (after the fact) what it is I want to do with Collapse and Delight, my Posterous blog. Especially in the era of Twitter and Evernote. I think a lot about what I really want to share that can’t be shared on Twitter; what I really want to record publicly rather than just save to Evernote for myself; that sort of thing. So I struggle with that more than with organization or motivation.

For those aspiring to make a Website composed 
of regular thoughts and/or images, what is your advice?
Keep it simple. Too many people try to do too much and wind up not being able to sustain it.

And similarly, don’t post just for the sake of posting. I cringe every time I see some “pro” telling people they have to post a lot or they’ll lose readers or page rank or whatever. I’m one who thinks it’s more important for posts to be useful or interesting than it is for them to be frequent. I’d rather visit a blog once a week and have it be really worth the visit than to see five or six or 32 new posts in a day that aren’t really worth my time. If you take a few days between posts, I’ll have plenty of other stuff to look at in the meantime. And if, when you do post, it’s interesting, I’m sure to stay subscribed to your feed, no matter what. Of course, if it’s meant to be any variety of professional venture as opposed to a personal blog, the pressure to be interesting more often will be greater.

Hopefully you have a clear idea what it is you want to accomplish with your blog and good reason to believe you’ll have something interesting to offer on a regular basis.

What is your quest in blogging?
I guess I’d say it’s to respond to inspiring (or exciting or infuriating or provocative) things out in the world and bring them to other people’s attention. To see what we each think.

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Photograph courtesy of Karen Templer.

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Read more of the Design Feast series Blogger’s Quest(ionnaire).

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