The use of media to evoke sympathy for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict

The below is a sample of some of Evan’s work conducted while an undergraduate in college.

The year 1948 was a pivotal year for the Middle East as it gave one disenfranchised population (the Jewish) a long-coveted homeland while relegating the inhabitants of said homeland into a smaller, partitioned state that quickly was militarily occupied by the Jewish army after the Arab neighbors of the homeland attacked.

Since then, the Jewish people of the homeland termed Israel have gone from the oppressed and persecuted against for thousands of years to the oppressors, adamantly refusing to give up (rightly) its land it worked so hard to obtain but not sympathizing with the plight of the refugee Palestinians despite a curiously similar parallel to the Palestinian plight.

The sensitive issues that have plagued this region for 60 years have increasingly become focused in the lens of the world as violence escalates and a solution remains tantalizingly close but never consummated.

Gaza Strip, by James Longley, presents a harrowing description of life as a Palestinian youth, shuttered away in the Gaza Strip. Remaining as an impartial observer, the camera documents conditions that Americans would not stand for in their own land and uses the children that it focuses on to strike at the heart of the emotions of the reader.

By using this child to confront “grown-up” issues, the viewer is compelled to watch how the future, or lack thereof, of Palestinian youths is being played out. Youths drop out of school to support their family, risk their lives to throw stones of no importance other than a declaration of their outrage and dream of death, for the life they are living is not life at all.

The sense of the documentary is not one of bias despite the lack of Israeli representation in defending their actions. The director of the documentary does not concern himself with political ideologies or opinion. Rather, the focus of the film is to allow the viewer to experience what the Palestinians have had to endure since “The Catastrophe” of 1948. While the documentary never directly addresses the Nakba, it is referred to as the agent of what has caused the suffering of the Palestinians.

Does the documentary attempt to engage our sympathy for the Nakba? Not so much as it attempts to engage our sympathy for the present-day Palestinian plight and the implicit plea to find a solution for peace. However, all of this stems from the Nakba, and one is forced to wonder if the War of ’48 was indeed a victory. To be sure, it was a victory for Israelis, but was it a victory for the world?

Exodus says yes. Starring Paul Newman, Exodus is the story of the founding of the state of Israel. It documents the yearning to throw off the British rule and find a homeland where they can rule themselves. It shows the different avenues the Jewish take to achieve said goal and essentially ignores the Palestine question to focus on the Jewish plight.

The War for Independence is framed in the light of necessity, of earning what is their right and defending it at all costs. The Palestinians are irrelevant to the Jewish and draws the viewer in to identify with their plight and disregard the opposition – much like Gaza Strip does for the other side.

Exodus does not attempt to draw the viewer in identifying with youth and their bleak outlook on life. Rather, Exodus uses the tool of determined adults intent on providing themselves and their children a bright outlook. Gaza Strip used pessimism to make the point, Exodus used optimism. It’s a logical difference given the situation of each nationality, but it is done with the same sense of wrongdoing. The Jewish were wronged by World War II and need a homeland to call their own. The Palestinians were wronged by being expelled from their homeland and call for a right of return.

The Lemon Tree, a book penned by Sandy Tolan, brings the two obstacles together in a detached, historical telling of the conflict in the Middle East. The book begins by showing us how the Palestinians were set in their land and how the Jewish were oppressed and persecuted against by the Hitler regime.

Through a series of events, again recounted with no bias, the state of Israel is founded and the Palestinians are expelled. The author presents the facts on the backdrop of a Palestinian hell-bent on the right of return visiting the house he was expelled from as a young child. The book recounts the history of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict while retelling the story of the Palestinian and the Israeli he encounters living in his house.

While the beginning of the book makes obvious the need for a homeland for the Jewish, the emotional story plays out on the side of the Palestinian. It is the Palestinians that were wronged for much of the book; it is the main character, Bashir, that gets the most attention, and the Israelis who come across as the oppressors after having been the oppressed and fighting for their lives in the War of Independence.

While Tolan tries hard to maintain as neutral as possible, the dynamics surrounding the issue play out with Bashir commanding our attention and identification, while the Israeli, Dalia, wanders throughout the book frightened for the future of Israel. The only emotion evoked on behalf of the Israelis in the book come in the beginning, where  Dalia’s parents narrowly escape being sent to a concentration camp. After that, the emotional pendulum swings to the Palestinians where it remains. While logical because the Israel/Palestinian conflict started because of the founding of Israel, it nonetheless gives off the vibe that a solution must be reached that satisfies the Palestinians.

Tolan does, however, imply that what the more steadfast Palestinians, like Bashir, require as a solution is unacceptable – the removal of Israel as a state and every Jew that arrived post-1917 being expelled from the region. In the end, the book forces the reader to believe that the War of ’48 was a negative experience for it oppressed the Palestinians and expelled them from the little land they had.

The War of ’48 is presented more as a loss for the Palestinians than a victory for the Israelis because the Israelis are portrayed as being the attackers in the situation while the Arabs purportedly had no intention of going to war. While Tolan does his best to stick to the facts, the facts that create the Israeli/Palestinian conflict combined with the dynamics of the relationship Bashir holds with Dalia engender the War of ’48 to be seen more as a catastrophe than a war for independence.

The War of ’48 continues to plague the region to this day, and Israel is seemingly intent on not giving back any land and forcing Palestinians to live in poverty. No wonder it is a “Catastrophe” for the Palestinians. The challenge is juxtaposing the Nakba alongside the view of the Israelis – the war was establishing their independence, their homeland, their freedom from persecution.

How to create and monetize an effective blog

Creating and monetizing your blog can be a daunting process, but if done correctly, will not only bring you in a good stream of money, but it will improve your blog to your readers too!

There are many ways to monetize your blog (just search “ways to monetize blog”) and you’ll get vast number of hits, even a site that claims to have 101 ways to do so. I’m not going to even try to beat 101 ways, but I’m going to lay the groundwork for you so you know how to go about fattening your wallet — but not at the expense of creating a viable blog, of course. You should start a blog if it’s about passion and love for what it is you want to do. Not to make money.

Why should you listen to me? Because I have almost five years experience with blogging. I jumped into blogging before it exploded and have a lot of experience with it. I own and operate MVN.com, an independent sports media Web site and have experience with the business side of blogging therein. I offer the following for your knowledge, should you choose to accept it.

First, the content is key.

You cannot bolster traffic (traffic begets advertisements) if you do not follow several key tenets of bloggers. You must have proper spelling and grammar, of course. Get an editor if you have to. Write consistently and give your readers an opportunity to expect new content on your site when they hit it. Don’t let them cross their fingers and hope for new content. Let them expect it. Whether that’s daily, multiple posts a day or every other day, be consistent. You need to have a clear idea of what your blog is. Yes, you know the topic, but what’s your voice? Are you analytic? Humorous? Newsy? Opinionated? Find a voice and stick with it. Compel your readers to comment by constantly asking questions and challenging their thought process, then respond to these comments.

Keep your articles short and sweet. This is the internet age, and trust me: no one will stick around to read an article that makes you scroll the page ad infinitum. A good rule of thumb is to stick to about two to three scrolls, and that’s assuming that your blog section isn’t from one end of the screen to the other. Break your paragraphs up, it’s far easier on the eyes and makes the content more digestible. Long paragraphs equal readers leaving. Oh, and it helps to be controversial. Should you be controversial all the time? That’s up to you. But the occasional controversial article will bring traffic and comments in droves.

Lastly, photos, photos, photos. You need to live and breathe photos. There is a reason newspapers use photos, and no, we’re not talking about the seminal photos. We’re talking ones that couldn’t matter less, the ones shoved deep in the paper that’s a headshot of some person you will never meet or care about. It’s about breaking up content. It’s about giving the reader’s eye a visual key and a way to identify with the article in question. If you’re not a believer in photos, then you’re not a believer in making your blog the most attractive — and by not making it the most attractive, you’re turning down money. And photos are incredibly easy to come by. For one, Flickr allows you to search for photos which can be used with proper attribution in their advanced search. There’s an application called PicApp that gives you actual photos from the AP, Getty, et. al and the way they are able to give it to you is because with each photo comes an advertisement that they make money on. It is extremely simple to find a photo and to put it on your blog that it’s heretical if you do not.

If you do all of the above, the readers will come. And with readers? Advertisers. But not so fast… we need to get you a community too.

Second, build your community.

One huge benefit of being part of a blog network is that you almost instantly get a community. That’s good. But how can you get more? And for those just starting on their own, how can you even get any? The answer lies in the word “proactive.” Go chase down other blogs that have similar content (your “competitors,” if you will) and ask them to exchange links. This will get the writers aware of your blog, and they may choose to make your blog a place to stop by. Remember, first impressions are key. When you e-mail them and ask to exchange links, they will visit your site. Make sure your site is presentable and has consistent content. Again, readers and bloggers alike will stop coming to your blog if you don’t blog consistently.

Another thing to do is to leave comments on other blogs with a lot of traffic or even message boards, and always putting a link to your blog as part of your signature. Don’t leave comments saying things like “Yeah, I talked about it on my blog. Here it is.” And then leaving. Be a part of the discussion. Engage. Inquiring minds will want to know more about you, so they’ll click through. You can also ask other bloggers if you can place a guest column on their site, do a question and answer session, participate in a roundtable… the choices are endless. Blogging is a very open community. While you are certainly competition, it is a friendly rivalry and everyone is interested in helping each other out. Why did you start blogging? Your team was your passion and you wanted to share it. They’re the same way.

Now you have your community… which will be the people clicking on your advertisements.

Again, though, there’s one more step…

Third, make your blog attractive to advertisers.

You will quickly learn that the word “PageRank” is what advertisers eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and any other imaginable deal in between. To be honest, most (text) advertisers couldn’t care less about readers clicking through and actually using their product. Sure, that’s always nice. But the link is where they put their money, because the link has huge implications in search engines. The more a Web site is linked to, the higher up the search results page they climb and the higher the page rank is, which means the more chance a reader searching for their product will click on them. So you want to optimize your search engine ranking (Search Engine Optimization). How can you do that? Follow the three-hit rule. Your blog should have a unique name and that name should be reflected in your domain and your summary of the team. Head over to Google and type in “apple.” What comes up? No, not the fruit. Apple.com comes up. That’s hit No. 1. The title is simply “Apple.” That’s hit No. 2. And hit No. 3 is that the word “apple” is in their summary three times. Make your blog have a unique name, make that name reflected in the domain, and refer to your blog constantly by that name. Someone who comes across your blog but can’t remember how to get there can just google your blog name in the search engines and boom — they’ve got it. You’d be surprised how many readers you get this way.

As for PageRank, the more you are linked to, the more traffic you have, the more cachet you have. The higher the PageRank, the higher advertisers are willing to pay to get on that page. 6 is fantastic. 4 is good. Anything less… well, get going! Web sites with higher PageRank cause search engines to pay more attention to where those sites link to. There is one drawback, though: Google is very aware of the way advertisers try to manipulate the system, so if they “recognize” that the outgoing links on your page are text links, your PageRank takes a hit. Your PR takes a hit, your wallet takes a hit. So what can you do? Well, you could add a “nofollow” tag — that tells the search engines not to pay attention to these links — but then the advertisers will leave you entirely. It’s a rock and a hard place. You can’t win either way, so just take the money and run.

Blogging Librarian, Flickr

Okay, now we’re ready to talk about the principal ways to advertise.

Lastly, get the advertisements.

This is actually, believe it or not, the easiest step.

The easiest and fastest way to get advertisements is text advertisements. For the most part, these people will come to you. But for a blog striking out on your own with no significant traffic or content, it’s best to hold off until you build it up. The companies that deal in text link advertisements (99 percent of which are ticket brokers, the other 0.9 percent are sports gambling sites) will find you. You can also go find them by going to virtually any blog and looking for their text links. Click through and then find a contact e-mail on that site and make your pitch. They give you money, you slap an advertisement on the page. It takes minutes, it’s inobtrusive, and to you, it’s basically free money. Another type of text advertisements is Google Adsense, which is by far the best option for you to pursue.

I can’t stress enough that you go after text advertisements. As I mentioned, you can just go to virtually any blog page and find the section devoted to text links (of mostly ticket brokers) and e-mail them asking if they would like to advertise. It’s a good source of cash that requires minimal time investment past the first big batch of e-mails you send out. They pay in a lump sum.

Adsense is your best friend (if not fickle, though). It requires no maintenance and you can decide where it goes and how it looks. It’s a constant stream of income that only requires you to sign up and put the code in and then get a check in the mail every month. One pitfall is that Google is extremely stringent about fraud, so if you click on your own links (yes, even if you want the product) or they detect someone clicking on the links many times to drive up revenue, you’re done. They’ll cut you off and never let you back on. It’s a one-and-done program, so proceed with caution. Adsense pays per impression (page load) and click. You get more money if someone clicks on the link, but relying on traffic alone with zero clicks will still bring it in.

You can also put in display advertisements (all those fancy flash advertisements that appear on all the big sites) simply by… signing up. There are many different companies out there that will give you their product: Advertisements.com, SpecificMedia.com, the list goes on. I can help with contacts or you can strike out on your own.

You can also sign up for BlogAds, which are similar to what graphic ads are, except they are at a much more grassroots level, are more inobtrusive and allow you to set the pricing. You can also sign up for Google AdSense or any competing product therein (Chitka, Yahoo Search Marketing, etc.) and run text/image advertisements on your page which you are paid through the number of pageviews you get.

BlogAds is not worth the time. It is more maintenance than Adsense and you can’t really go out and sell through BlogAds as hard as you could otherwise. You’re at the whim of if an advertiser chooses to advertise on BlogAds, and a lot of times you will just have an empty BlogAds slot sitting in a prime spot — and it has to be in a prime spot, otherwise you won’t get any ads at all. It’s a crapshoot, and it’s not worth the constant prime location it would command. There are sites out there that succeed tremendously through BlogAds, but you have to be the right fit for it. They also pay a lump sum, so like text advertising (and unlike Adsense) it is not performance based. Although, they will leave and leave you without advertising if they’re not seeing good conversion rates, unlike Adsense, which will never leave you.

You can also sign up for affiliate programs, which I’m generally not a big fan of because you have to cross your fingers and hope for the best. Revenue is not guaranteed as it is rare that a consumer will buy based on an advertisement on your blog, so they get tons of facetime. However, this is another option and is popular with a lot of companies so you can sign up for those — but be warned, all these images and links to affiliates will only make the signal to noise radio that much worse and destroy the aesthetics of your blog. That being said, there are some great affiliate programs out there and the best is probably Amazon‘s, where you can insert a link to the product in question you are referring to on Amazon and if they end up buying something on Amazon through you, you get money. All it requires you to do is to link the product whenever you mention it at any time you please (or never at all).

Only get affiliate programs where you’re guaranteed revenue. Don’t go for affiliate programs from some obscure company (such as shoe, ticket, flight, general apparel companies, for example) that pays out low percentages. Go for highly targeted, niche programs that will bring you back revenue. A clothing store dedicated to the team you cover that pay out a healthy amount of percentage (and the healthy amount of percentage is subjective) and it will likely be useful space of advertising.

Some other ideas for advertising:

  • Donations. Every year, you can run a donation drive centered around a specific event or to help keep the blog going. You could split it with a charity or keep the take, as long as the readers know exactly what you’re paying for. This usually only works best for blogs with high traffic.
  • Apparel advertising. An example can be found at Cafepress.com. You can put your blog logo, any type of art, saying, etc. on pretty much any type of apparel imaginable and charge a small overhead for your readers. It does require some minimal skill at working with logos and images, but if you can’t do it, chances are one of your friends can.
  • Local advertising. Call up local potential advertisers: a local, grassroots souvenir shop, a food vendor at a sports park, anything that deals with your general theme of blog and discuss possible advertising or partnerships.

Again, the primary focus of blogging should be about passion. You should genuinely want to blog about the topic you have chosen and take pleasure in sharing your thoughts with the world. Advertising should be a way to supplement and enhance your blogging experience, but you shouldn’t use it to justify blogging. If you remove money from the equation, would you keep blogging? I hope the answer is yes. If not, you might want to re-evaluate if you really want to do this. It will show in your blogging and readers will catch on.

The above are principles and practices I have learned during my times blogging. I hope they are of use to you. Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you’d like to ask me some questions!

Five steps to running an independent media platform

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that I attended a New England Press Association seminar called Rebooting the Web. I addressed some notes from the seminar and expounded on my thoughts therein. Now I bring another byproduct of the seminar. A speaker (sorry, name escapes me at the moment) mentioned five steps to running a platform. I’ve adapted those steps to running an independent media platform (except one, which we’ll get to). These steps were designed for interactivity on a newspaper but can easily be applied to independent/social media.

Keep in mind that most of the people in attendance hailed from newspapers and the like and the seminar was geared to promoting social content on the Web site. The five steps to doing so are important to everyone and rather simplistic to model.

1. Identify your audience and objectives (“What do you want them to do?”)

The crux of every blog created or social platform is the identifying of your audience. When I created Fire Brand of the American League, I did so with several objectives in mind. First was to have this Web site be a haven for Red Sox fans to find intellectual and engaging content. Second was to offer a unique voice, and third was to have the Web site to be perceived as an informative and opinionated resource for Red Sox fans. I have succeeded on all three levels. That is what makes Fire Brand successful to this day, and there is no other Red Sox blog that has been able to match Fire Brand in the demographic I have assigned it. (There are, however, several other fantastic Red Sox bloggers that I read that do an excellent job in matching the demographics they build around.)

The second aspect was to define what I wanted readers to do. In the old model, I wanted them to come to Fire Brand, read our take on the Red Sox and then provide feedback. We are still stuck in this model for now, but we’re making strides towards a new model where I will be able to make readers part of the Fire Brand fabric, not part of the Fire Brand commenters fabric. More on this later.

2. Consider different technology models

MVN, since it’s advent, has been housed on WordPress. It made the switch to WordPress MU a year ago, which has been a godsend. While WordPress has allowed us to do many things and I am a fan of it (as evidenced by it being my blogging tool here) it has also become sadly outdated for what MVN needs in its next platform, which we in the know call MVN 3.0. (The current MVN is known as 2.0, or 2.5 if you factor in recent design tweaks, and the former MVN on mostvaluablenetwork.com is known as 1.0.)

Our Content Director and Web Administrator went through many different prospectives for a new platform, and it seemed as if the “best” platform shifted every day. Finally, however, the most cost-efficient platform was settled on. While it did represent a small shift in how we envisioned 3.0, I sit here today thinking that this paradigm-shift was for the best.

If we had been unwilling to recalibrate the idea we had in mind for MVN 3.0, we would have not chosen the platform we did — Moveable Type Community Solution. We would have gone for a more expensive platform that would have given us what we thought we wanted, and in the end, would have been worse off for the wear. As you explore various platforms to deliver your content, please try to keep in mind that not only does the content make the platform, but the platform makes the content. Don’t hesitate to adapt your thinking if necessitated. Life is about change, as much as we all hate it.

3. Assign people to moderate

This is something that is a bit underutilized on MVN as is and I suspect will continue to be on 3.0, but it is something that newspapers swear by. Comments on MVN (and most competitors) are allowed to run amok with very loose guidelines. Compare that to a newspaper which has very stringent guidelines and are constantly moderating comments. On MVN, we may not reach double figures in deleting comments the entire year, but double figures are easily reached each day at the newspaper I currently work for, The Patriot Ledger.

I am not knocking either MVN or the Ledger; the two come from different business models and points of origin, but assigning people to moderate only depends on a) if you feel you need moderation and b) what should be moderated. Right now, MVN does not need a moderator — it deals with comments as they are brought to attention while newspapers regularly screen comments before allowing them to go live. As MVN grows and develops into the new platform, moderators will undoubtedly be needed to keep tabs on both comments and user blogs, but I very much doubt MVN will ever reach the screening phase. Case in point is ESPN.com, which has hundreds of thousands of comments a day, and I very much doubt they have someone moderating each and every comment (although I profess no knowledge).

In the end, however, some sort of moderation is needed on every social media platform. Earlier, I mentioned that MVN does not moderate comments too much. However, what we do do is make sure that the profanity policy and other MVN policies remain in effect for writers. These policies will largely still exist on MVN 3.0 although only targeted towards specific people. For now, however, these polices exist all across MVN and we need to ensure that the product we deliver is in accordance with this policies.

As with any endeavor, regular maintenance is essential to success.

4. Get people to participate

Earlier, I mentioned that I had started pushing Fire Brand to a more involved type of Web site rather than a site where people come to read and leave. I am pushing Fire Brand to be a site of community, where people can come engage in discussion on the Sox. Some things I have implemented:

  • For a long time now (over a year) we have had polls, which continue to rise in popularity. I ran a test in which I put up polls but did not put up an article with results; put up polls with an article with just results; and polls with an article with results and reaction. The latter idea got the most reaction, response, discourse, and more voters on future polls. Gee, I wonder why.
  • We have added QuickPosts, which enables our readers to keep coming back throughout the day instead of having each day consists of a morning opinion piece, a game thread and ending with game recap. A reader used to be able to come just once a day for fresh, unknown content in the morning and then not return. That needed to change.
  • We also, as writers, needed to get more involved in the community. Readers need to feel like they are being heard, and writers need to converse with readers to build community, rapport and get ideas. Since I started being more heavily involved in responding to comments, I have found it easier to have the blog topic ideas come. Not only that, the readers have responded by leaving more comments, which is, after all, the idea.
  • We have added trivia posts that enable more comments to be left that also give readers an ability to “compete” and win “prizes” such as naming the next poll topic, the next trivia question, writing game notes, picking article ideas… the list goes on. This facilitates involvement and gives the reader a sense of inclusion. Speaking of inclusion…
  • When Fire Brand moves to its own layout, I am looking to implement diaries, something that SB Nation has done very well. As a matter of fact, MVN 3.0 is taking the concept of diaries and pushing it one (or two, or three) step further. However, that’s a network-wide concept. For a singular blog concept, diaries works very well, and I look forward to readers having the ability to submit their own articles to Fire Brand for engagement and discourse therein.

5. Intercede to minimize objectionable content

This is a little too similar to No. 3 for me, so I’m going to change it. Besides, there’s one other key point to independent media that I don’t think newspapers grasp because they are, after all, mainstream media.

5. Provide fresh, original content not found elsewhere.

Why is Fire Brand considered one of the best Red Sox blogs out there; a blog that Peter Gammons says club officials of the Sox read? Easy: it’s an original voice that you can’t find anywhere else. Same for Surviving Grady. There is a clear flavor to the posts; a clear topic delineation, a sense of consistency in how often there are updates and what those updates are. If you’re in the mood for opinionated, analytical Sox talk, you head to Fire Brand. If you want to find the humor in the Sox and perhaps rant obscenely as well, you head to Surviving Grady. (This is not a knock on SG — it is an absolutely fantastic site, and since more people love ranting, there’s a reason why it gets hundreds of comments per post.)

The key is that you can’t find this content elsewhere. Definitely not SG. Could you find Fire Brand content elsewhere? There have been blogs that try to, but they haven’t quite matched up to daily, informed takes on the team. The closest is probably the Boston Globe with their daily coverage, but they don’t delve into strict opinion/analysis — a newspaper relies on just facts, remember? No, the reason why both sites are so popular is because they update consistently with a singular voice and engaging content.

Mainstream media just needs to outspend and outproduce other media outlets to be declared the victor. It needs quality reporters, quality editors and a good marketing budget. Those media outlets win. With independent media, quality writing is of course, integral. A good marketing budget sure helps, too… but the end all be all?

Any independent site is destined to fail unless it doesn’t provide fresh, original content found elsewhere. Find your voice and deliver it consistently. The audience will find it.

NEPA: Rebooting the Web

On Saturday, I attended a New England Press Association seminar called Rebooting the Web, dealing with new media forms such as blogging, vlogging and the like.

I was very interested in Steve Garfield’s presentation in which he spoke of his experiences vlogging and other media. He maintains a Twitter page (so do I) and showed me a fantastic site in Qik.com that has me considering whether or not to invest in the appropriate phone to do it.

Some other notes from the seminar I wanted to address:

Instead of “Comments (0)” have it say “Get involved” or “Join the discussion.”

I really, really like this idea. I have personally struggled for a while believing it smart to say “Comments (0)” and as a matter of fact, changed this on my old site for Fire Brand of the American League, back when it was on All-Baseball.com (now defunct). I didn’t have the coding knowhow to make the “(0)” disappear, but I did change the wording from “Comments” to “Discuss.”

Comments, I think, is an outdated term of usage. In this day and age of blogging, discussion becomes the tool to drive traffic. People aren’t “commenting” on articles anymore as much as they are using the article to drive discussion on a topic.

Most speakers recommend making users register to leave comments.

I hate, hate this concept. Commenting (or per my previous note, discussing) should be easy and simple.

I have certainly ran into difficulties over my MVN.com career with spammers (easily taken care of with a spam filter) and obnoxious commenters that cross some serious lines. Some of the vitrol these commenters spew… it makes me ashamed. I’m getting off on a tangent here, but I can’t believe how much comments in an article are skewed towards negativity. Sitting at a computer without any liability of having to look at people, etc… it’s amazing how much people just start ranting and raving and just in general, being mean.

But anyways, I don’t like this idea. Comments should be easy to leave. A reader’s attention span is very, very short. Asking them to sign up will eliminate commenters who come for the first time and don’t particularly care to leave a comment but will if its easy.

I know that when I’ve gone to leave comments on other sites (or to read newspaper articles that force you to sign up to read the rest of the paper) I just leave it. I abandon it. I don’t care enough. More often than not, they lose me as a returning visitor.

I feel requiring signups is a mistake. Heck, the standard commenting system on MVN is just to leave a name and e-mail. On Fire Brand, I require neither.

Simple and easy. That’s how you get comments and returning visitors.

Three things that make a blog: recent post first, link elsewhere, comments. What, content doesn’t matter?

Buster Olney is the only “true” blog I read, where most of his content comes from linking to outside sources. I find it a great resource, but more often than not, I don’t click any of the links. I read his daily take on a subject, then I read his summaries of the links and move on.

Content matters. Others may disagree, but links should be used to further conversation on the subject. Not to mention Olney usually links to just newspapers. That’s another reason I really like Rob Neyer’s blog — he links to other blogs and talks about the subject the other blog talks about.

THAT is blogging. Not just linking to other sites and telling readers to go there.

A speaker says all blog entries should be edited before posting.

I’m not sure how I feel about this one. On one hand, I see a great need for it. On the other, for sites that can’t afford it — like MVN.com — I can’t see how MVN would benefit from three full-time editors. Maybe later. But not now.

Not to mention that blogging doesn’t HAVE to (should?) conform to typical AP standards. Blogs have a voice, and those come from slang, conversational tone, intentional misspellings, etc.

Not sure how I feel about this, again, yet. Any opinions the readers (all two of you) might have on this?

Reading habits; self-help books

I used to be a very avid reader. I would devour at least two books a month in high school/the early part of college. Mostly fiction — John Grisham, Vince Flynn, Michael Connelly, Dean Koontz.

However, with MVN taking up so much time and my increasing interest in following the sports news, the amount of books that I have read have taken a downturn. Now, my bookreading is basically saved for the annual week-long vacation to Cape Cod. I’m trying to change this in a variety of ways.

First is using DailyLit (hat tip to Cory Humes) to read Moby Dick, which I’ve never read and always wanted to. Every weekday, I get roughly a 500-word e-mail of the book that I can read quickly and conveniently. It’s awesome!

Secondly is trying to motivate myself to read more — that’s simple. And I’m convinced I’ll succeed. In my college dorm I have a bookcase with two shelves that I just add books to. I recently cleaned out a full shelf of books that I had read and brought it to my parents’ house and put it in the attic. I’ve read so many books that our attic is literally covered with books and my four-shelf bookcase in my room at my parents’ house is also jammed.

Now that I only have one shelf left, it looks very manageable and I’m sure I’ll be able to finish all the books. One habit I’ve gotten into that is terrible lately is starting a book and never finishing it. Take for example, ‘My Life’ by Bill Clinton. I got it when it came out, read a couple chapters, and it’s still sitting on my bookshelf. I plan to finish it.

Same with the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” I got it for Christmas last year, read the prologue, and then put it down and never finished it. I’ve kept it by my bedside for a year to try to make myself read it but I never did. I just read the first chapter, finally, and loved it. This is unsurprising because I loved the prologue … when I read it a year ago.

This book, coupled by “The Double Win” by Dennis Waitley and “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl is probably going to be largely responsible for me being able to change my life for the positive.

“The Double Win” is changing the tenet of “win/lose” to “win/win.” Basically, the world is dependent on “I win, you lose.” Why can’t it be “I win, you win?” It’s a pretty simple concept and I ripped through the book fairly quickly.

“Man’s Search for Meaning” has two parts. The first part is his account of how he survived the Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust and the tenet he embraced called “logotherapy.” This is a fantastic tenet which I have already applied in the short time I have known this.

There are two things I have learned from this. The first is that you are only what you choose to be. A simple tenet, but it really hammers it home. As a matter of fact, I had a discussion the other day that I would have normally gotten very upset about during the discussion. However, I told myself “you are choosing not to be upset and let this affect your mood. Just treat the discussion as a discussion, there is no reason to get upset.” It worked.

Second is a form of reserve psychology. If you don’t think you can do something, you won’t. So challenge yourself not to do it — and you will. Frankl’s examples mostly deal with sexual impotence (A man is insecure about his potency and thus every time he engages in procreation he thinks to himself that he must show his potency and often doesn’t). This example was eye-opening for me. In the example I just cited, Frankl would have that man tell himself “Let’s see how long I can last before showing my potency” and he says it works — the man often ends up being able to show his potency. As Frankl says, pressure is naturally counteracted by counter-pressure. If you pressure yourself to do something, you won’t — or vice versa.

I haven’t had a chance to apply this tenet yet, but I’m looking forward to it.  Just an example of how I can do it: when working out, sometimes I will add on so much weight that I think to myself “Boy, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do this six times.” Instead of thinking that, I’ll try to prove it. I’ll tell myself to try to not do it six times.

The only problem with this example is that this involves physical strength, not mental apitude while Frankl’s tenets reside mostly in the mental apitude, but the point is there.

Lastly is the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” which mentioned Frankl in the first chapter. The first chapter talked about being proactive, not reactive. He gave an example of a company meeting of three days in which the days were broken out like this:

What is the environment like? The company decided that the environment was one of low capital and its competitors were doing much better. Everyone was disappointed at the end of this day.

The second day asked what the company was doing wrong. Naturally, disappointment reigned the day.

The final day asked “what can we do about it?” and it was a very positive meeting as everyone discussed being proactive to get things done. The conclusion at the end of the day was despite the depressed market, the company was doing very well and would continue to do well if applying the concepts they came up with during the meeting.

Another example deals with a boss who is very creative and bright but is always telling people under him to do things. (This is a true story, by the way.) The employees of the boss would often get together and complain about the boss but never do anything about it. One employee one day decided to do something about it and went above and beyond what the boss asked for. He gave the boss analysis of what the boss wanted, and then continued on by explaining the analysis and giving possibilities to act on this analysis.

The boss told the author of this book that he was very impressed with the employee. At the next meeting, he delegated tasks to all the other employees except the proactive employee. He asked that employee “What’s your opinion?”

After the meeting, the other employees sans the proactive one got together to complain about the boss and his “favored pet” of the employee. That’s them being reactive, while the employee was proactive.

Also, I learned that often it is not that you can’t. It is that you choose. When people say “I can’t,” “If only…,” etc… it’s often not the environment hampering them; it’s themselves hampering themselves.

I’m largely a reader of fiction, but I would recommend the above three books to anyone — and I’m not even done reading the Seven Habits one yet! I have a feeling it’s going to be a book I constantly re-read.