Geek Speak: Susannah Gardner, co-author of Blogging for Dummies
Susannah Gardner says good blogging requires good content. A 36-year-old, German-born American Web designer with a background in journalism, she’s the co-author of the second and third editions of the book Blogging for Dummies. She’s also the cofounder and creative director of Hop Studios.
Gardner wrote Blogging for Dummies with Shane Birley. The third edition came out in February, while the previous version debuted in 2008. In 2005, Wiley Publishing put out her books Buzz Marketing With Blogs for Dummies and BitTorrent for Dummies. The latter title was co-authored by Kris Krug.
From 1997 to 2003, Gardner taught on-line publishing to journalism students as an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California. During her four years at the Los Angeles Times, she was one of six editors responsible for launching the newspaper’s Web site. Gardner also served as a senior editor of the Online Journalism Review.
The Georgia Straight reached Gardner by phone at her office in Shaughnessy.
How did you come to be the co-author of Blogging for Dummies?
Well, I started with Dummies books much earlier. I did a book with another frequent Dummies author named Janine Warner. It would have been early maybe 2000. She is the author of Dreamweaver for Dummies, which is a software title. Those books tend to get revised on a very aggressive schedule. They have about a month to revise them. So, I helped her with that at the time, and I realized, oh, I can do this. So, I pitched Wiley on a couple of possible titles and the Buzz Marketing book was the one that came out of that back and forth with them. So, that’s how I started writing Dummies books.
But the Blogging one, as far as I know, Brad Hill wrote the first edition and, when the publisher was interested in doing the revision, was unable to take on that work. I don’t know why that is, but then they offered it to me.
How much has changed in blogging since the second edition came out?
I would say the big up tick has been in the prevalence of social networking. Things like Twitter, for example, which got mentioned in the second edition, have obviously hit the mainstream. Everybody knows about Twitter now—mentioned in news articles, et cetera. Microblogging in general has taken off in a much bigger way than was even being thought about when the second edition came out. So, I think just the commonness of people being active in social-networking environments like Facebook and Twitter and MySpace and so on has just gone through the roof.
How has social media changed blogging?
Well, they were always closely linked. You know, the community contribution that blogging made possible on what until then—Web sites—had been very static. Blogging came along and really made it possible (a) for content to be updated in a really timely fashion, but (b) for people to actually engage in a more conversational way. So, the seeds were there from the beginning, and then as social networking came along and all of these services started to tie together—where you could integrate the Twitter feed onto your blog or you could start pushing your RSS out into your Facebook status updates—it just all sort of got unified, I guess, in a way. When blogs originally came out, it wasn’t really part of the vision.
What’s one big tip that you have for bloggers?
I’ve looked at a lot of blogs, and I’ve been paying attention to blogging for a long time. The trick to being successful essentially is developing an audience and having the content for that audience—you know, really putting effort into creating good content. Whether it’s photos or video or podcasts or writing, you really have to figure out your voice, figure out your message, and provide information in an entertaining or informational or ironic or—something that people can latch on to and want to get more information from you. So, having a good writing style is really helpful. Humour seems to work really well. But having that personal touch seems to be really important. But it really comes down to, you know, do you have content that people want.
What is Hop Studios’ approach to Web design?
We’ve been around since 2002 in various forms, and we have also tried to focus on Web sites for publishers or at least people who are dealing with content. So, blogs would obviously fall right into that category, and of course that’s why I originally started looking at blogs. In my day job, I thought blogging software was something that I needed to be able to offer my clients.
Both my partner and I come out of a journalism background, so we’ve always been very interested in working with content, working with magazines, working with newspapers—any kind of publication, whether it has a dead-tree component or not. So, those are the projects we like the best. We’ve also done quite a few projects with nonprofits and education, often still within the journalism space or the publishing space. Then, of course, as with any Web-design company, lots of people come in and you do other kinds of projects. But we try to really focus on content and community, and sites that have both those components.
What do you think of the state of on-line journalism in this city?
Well, it’s pretty healthy, fairly robust. I mean, the city is full of techies, and the techies are all using all those social-networking tools and taking photos. Whether they call it on-line journalism or not, there’s just a massive amount of content created on a daily basis about restaurants in Vancouver, activities in Vancouver, travel, et cetera. The Olympics are probably a fantastic example of how much stuff the people who live here can create.
Then, of course, NowPublic is here and has done so well, and the Tyee, of course, and the Georgia Straight. The sort of bigger newspaper presences—the Vancouver Sun and so on—they’re much like in any city. But I think the smaller publications and, at an individual level, on-line journalists are really thriving. And, of course, blogs are at the forefront of that. There’ve been so many good Vancouver blogs and more everyday.
Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at twitter.com/stephenhui.