On Starting a Blog

Based on the news that I was pursuing a career in “blogging”, I naturally got a lot of emails from individuals who asked about how to start in blogging, how to build traffic, and similar plans. I promised them I’d post some thoughts here.

I guess the first thing to note is that describing what I do as “blogging” isn’t entirely accurate — in that it’s not all I do. It’s the accepted term, of course, and one that I adopted because it best describes my business.

The “blog” term has become so broad that it now encompasses a small site like this, but also applies to MacRumors.com. The act of blogging is simply writing a story and posting it to your site. Just by filling in a few blanks and clicking on a few links, you can easily set up your own blog on WordPress.com.

The trick to being profitable in blogging, of course, is a combination of finding a large enough audience and being able to make money off that audience. Trying to extend your blog into a business will require you to become familiar with ad sales and ad networks. As traffic in your site grows beyond the confines of your current web hosting account, you may have to become familiar with the intricacies of web hosting and dedicated servers.

These problems, though, are good ones to have, because it means you’ve grown large enough that they matter. Most hobby blogs won’t ever have to worry about these issues.

For those of you who are already blogging or have established sites, this advice is not for you. Once you are familiar with the markets, you can make strategic decisions to start a site on whatever topic you want.

For those of you who were inspired by the story about someone who was able to turn their hobby into their career but don’t know where to start, here’s my advice on starting a blog:

1. Pick a topic you care about. I’m not the first person to say this, but it really can’t be emphasized enough. I’ve been running MacRumors for eight years. Eight years is a long time. The first three years were immediately after the .com bust. There was no money in sight. I was doing it purely for my own enjoyment.

Things change over 8 years. I moved apartments/houses four times. I went from medical school, to residency, to fellowship to private practice. I got married. Had a child.

Few things stayed constant during those 8 years, but my interest in the site did. If you choose a topic you don’t really care about, the first time you take a break from it, you may never come back.

2. Pick a topic other people care about. This should be obvious. You need an audience. Seemingly “niche” markets are ok as long as there’s a loyal following. In many ways, I got lucky that Apple has done so well over these past years, but it was no accident I chose a topic so seemingly addictive. Apple rumors were already a phenomenon prior to MacRumors.com

3. Get a domain name. Buy a domain name. Pick a good one. You can get one for $9/year. Your domain name is your brand. It’s ridiculous to not get a name from day one. You can read my previous thoughts about it.

4. Just Start. There are always reasons not to do it. There are always bigger and better plans just on the horizon. But you may never get started if you keep planning.

I think I’ll stop there for now. I’m sorry if it seems like such a basic and obvious list, but I think those are the essentials.

I also don’t think people should be discouraged by my 8 year figure. I’d said before I think many people could and would have made the switch after 3-4 years. Recently some blogs have been able to rise to prominence over the course of only 1 or 2 years. Of course, competition can be tougher these days with the many corporate-backed blogs.

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13 Responses to On Starting a Blog

  1. Adrian B says:

    I would have guessed another advice: “Pick a design and stick with it, as long as it works it doesn’t have to be flashy.” :)

  2. Carl Valeri says:

    Your advice to pick a topic you care about is very important. I have been writing on line for a few years and have only recently begun to make money.

    It was not until I picked a single topic for my blog that I started seeing money come in. My readers have told me they can tell I am very passionate about my subject and it is one of the reasons they read my travel advice.

    Thanks for the advice. I will pass it along.

  3. Jacob says:

    Dr. Kim,

    Not being a Mac person I had never heard of Macrumors.com until the New York Times story :), but I found your story inspiring. I’m a second-year medical student who already has one blog, has ideas for several others, and would love to eventually be able to make some money from them.

    Being on the medical path myself, I’d be really interested to know how you found the time to maintain the site through all those years, especially during residency. I wondered if you would mind posting or sending your thoughts on that subject?

  4. Dr. Kim
    I am a physician and left practice at a young age, now own a medical communications company, and also founded Physician Renaissance Network, a resource (including a blog) for doctors with non-clinical careers and interests. I found your story to be particularly interesting since it is perfectly aligned with these experiences and interests of mine. Congratulations on your succes, and good luck on expanding it in the future. I would like to invite you and other doctors inspired by your story to explore my website (www.prnresource.com) and consider participating in the free networking forum.
    Keep up the good work.
    Mike McLaughlin, MD

  5. D. Rich says:

    If people actually took your advice to heart, they would be successful, but unfortunately most people will read your post and say “Yea, I know all that stuff”. They will continue planning and working on a blog in hopes of making the big score, but when the fast money doesn’t come, they will move on to a “better” idea in hopes of making it rich.

    I suffered from the same “greed”, and it wasn’t until I started working on something that I was passionate about, did I realize where I had gone wrong. Instead of “forcing” myself to work on my blog, I now enjoy working on it and hate that I don’t have more time to do so. While I still enjoy making money with my blog, it is no longer my primary motivation.

    D. Rich

  6. Fletcher says:

    You know, I have a blogging website for application reviews. Of course I have ads on the site, but I really find myself just writing reviews to help other people save money, or help developers by giving them some exposure to their hard-worked on applications. I could probably care less if I made a single cent on my website. Nice little post. :-)

  7. Pingback: Tweaked Thoughts » Blog Archive » Dare You to Move

  8. I think you meant make sure there is a handful of people that also care about the same thing as you plan on writing about;

    2. Pick a topic other people care about.

    Right? :)

  9. My own blog, “Monadically Speaking: Adventures in PLT Wonderland” (see http://dekudekuplex.wordpress.com/), on Programming Language Theory, was inspired by MacRumors.com . Just as you had majored in computer science at Columbia University (see “My Son, the Blogger – An M.D. Trades Medicine for Apple Rumors – NYTimes.com” at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/21/technology/21blogger.html), I had majored in computer science, although at Yale University, and have always been interested in the lambda calculus and languages inspired by the lambda calculus, such as Scheme, as well as such functional programming languages as Haskell.

    However, one concern that I have is that the field on which I write is quite a niche market, and being theoretical in nature (most posts concern such topics as Scheme, Haskell, category theory, and continuations, as well as other interesting programming languages, such as Squeak, which was originally developed at Apple (according to “Squeak Smalltalk: About” at http://www.squeak.org/About/, “Squeak began, very simply, with the needs of a research group at Apple.”)), it is difficult to post relevant advertisements.

    On a Mac-related blog, since Macs are products for which other companies also manufacture and advertise related products, it is possible to post related advertisements. But on a theoretical blog concerning programming language theory and category theory, what should I advertise? About the only related topics that come to mind are related books and ISP-related services for readers who want to set up similar blogs. Do you have any advice for setting up a blog on a theoretical topic?

    Another problem concerns getting Web site forwarding to work. Free WordPress.com blogs, unlike WordPress.org blogs set up on private domains, are prohibited from posting advertisements, so I set up my own domain on Register.com, http://www.dekudekuplex.org, rented a rental server from Sakura Internet, and set up Web site forwarding to forward that domain to the actual URL of my new blog (at http://dekudekuplex.sakura.ne.jp/blog/en/) (which is more difficult to remember).

    However, the Web site forwarding is not working properly, in that while links on the blog reached by the actual URL are working fine, links on the same blog reached by the Web site forwarding all point to the top page of that blog, and do not link properly.

    Did you have any problems with Web site forwarding not working properly when you set up your blog? Do people who have set up sites on rental servers and use Web site forwarding to forward the IP addresses need to transfer the domain to the rental server site?

    Regarding Mac-related topics, a few years ago, I used to be Moderator of a Games Discussion Forum on MetroMac.org, the Metropolitan New York Macintosh Alliance (see http://www.metromac.org/), a New York-based Apple User Group. However, one day a cracker cracked into the server, and deleted all the posts there and my Moderator account. The owners of that site were incensed, and because the first thing that that cracker did was to delete my account, they surmised that the cracker’s actual aim was me, rather than their site, and that I must have somehow been the cause of the cracker’s actions. (It seems likely that the cracker broken in as a result of an argument I had had with another discussion board, Ars OpenForum 3.0b (see http://episteme.arstechnica.com/), over their censoring an article I had posted about the Macintosh version of EverQuest simply because the article had been written so professionally that they had thought that it must have been spam posted by Sony.)

    As a result, the administrators at MetroMac did not reinstate my Moderator status, and warned me that if this kind of incident happened again, they would delete my account (although they did give me a free Supporting Member account for one year). I stopped writing about Macintosh games, and eventually relocated from New York to Tokyo and became the Administrator of the Haskell-Beginners Mailing List (see http://www.haskell.org/mailman/listinfo/beginners).

    However, Macintosh games have always been an interest of mine (I even wrote a lengthy article, “Why Apple Can’t Afford to Ignore the Gaming Industry” (see http://www.metromac.org/newsletter/express/may04/gaming.html), for MetroMac Express, the MetroMac newsletter, on the topic). Nevertheless, there was very little interest in Macintosh games on the Games Discussion Forum which I had moderated, and I wound up having to write more than 95% of the content there. Also, it is not clear how to integrate Macintosh games and programming language theory (although perhaps Squeak, originally developed at Apple, and such related virtual reality technologies as Croquet (see http://www.opencroquet.org/index.php/Main_Page) and Cobalt (see http://www.duke.edu/~julian/Cobalt/Home.html), are related topics).

    In 2008, you reported founded Touch Arcade (see http://toucharcade.com/), your new blog which discusses iPhone/iPod gaming. If I created a blog focusing on Macintosh games (as opposed to games for the iPod), do you think that there would be interest in this topic?

  10. Thank you for publishing my earlier comment. Now I can see it!

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