Archive Daily Archives: May 12, 2016

Building Your Blog is Easier Than It Used To Be

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This isn’t the first blog I’ve run. It’s not even the first blog I’ve run at this URL. From about 2002 until 2007 – the golden age of blogging – I ran another blog on this site. It did reasonably well at the time. And I can tell you firsthand, a lot has changed since then. As I mentioned yesterday, in many ways, building your blog up is much harder than it used to be.

But in many ways, it’s also far easier than it used to be.

keep-calmTo put it bluntly, the blogging software back in the “golden age” sucked compared to today. Find today’s worst blogging platform and compare it to the best tools available in 2003 and you’ll see what I mean. Heck, the first version of a “blog” that I ran at this URL used software I wrote myself. Believe me, that software wasn’t very user friendly at all. At some point I switched over to B2Evolution, which was a huge improvement. WordPress came out around that time, and it was pretty decent, too. I liked B2Evo a lot better at the time. But today’s WordPress kicks its butt. The level of customizability, the number of themes out there, and the plugins available all far surpass what we had back in the day. And most of them are free.

We also didn’t have tools like Google Analytics or Google Webmasters, both of which are now indispensable. The best we had back then was the old fashioned “TTLB Ecosystem” and Google’s “submit your site” tool. Alexa came along a little bit later, but it’s always been less than perfect and seems today to actually be worse than it was then. You could get the Google toolbar and check your PageRank status, but that was always of mixed value.

And social media? MySpace was garbage right from the beginning. Facebook and Twitter didn’t even exist until 2004 and 2006 respectively, and it took a few years for each of them to really get big. Today, I get more than half of my blog traffic from social media – and I’m working to learn that world even better and increase that. As an example, yesterday’s post about the difficulties of today got shared by Mike Cernovich on Twitter this morning. I got an entire day’s worth of traffic in 15 minutes. Make friends with influencers on social media!

Want to really make use of that e-mail list you’ve built? MailChimp is phenomenal – and they have a free plan that’s just fine if you’re just getting started. Want to automate your social media? Check out HootSuite – again, the free plan will be plenty for many users.

Want to improve the performance on your blog? Get the caching plugins, and boom it’s done. No more spending days messing with your server’s configuration. Want your own server instead of the free blog-only solutions? Hosting solutions are cheap these days. I pay $98 per year through OpenSourceHost.com, and I run four web sites off of that! Want to pay for a killer site design? If you’ve got the cash, there are plenty of folks who will do it for you.

All the things I wrote yesterday are true. But on balance, building your blog is easier today than it’s ever been. You just have to adapt to the times. Keep reading. Stay current on what’s out there. Use tools to make your life easier. Learn to play the social media game. And keep on blogging.

Hyperloops Won’t Catch On

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I ran across this in my Twitter feed this morning:

The funny thing is, I found this other article about why hyperloops won’t work.

But I think there are a number of problems with this.  First of all, many of the people flying between Dallas and Houston are not actually ending up in those cities; they’re going somewhere else, because Dallas is a major hub.   When I want to fly up to see my family in upstate New York, I don’t take Amtrak to Penn Station and then trek out to LaGuardia, even though I much prefer rail travel to air travel.  So high speed rail doesn’t readily substitute for air travel unless you have a lot of connections running out of Dallas.  I don’t think it’s an accident that the two places in America where rail kind of works–the northeast corridor, and the LA-San Diego route–are coastal runs where the regional links run down a basically straight line.  And the reason that they are conveniently in a straight line is that both regions happen to be sandwiched on a narrow strip between the coastline and a big mountain range that limited inland development during the formative years. In the middle of the country, where you need to add an east-west axis to your planning, things rapidly get more expensive.

The other reason I don’t think that rail is going to compete with air in most places is the very thing that makes air travel so environmentally problematic:  frequency of service.  For high speed rail–or any sort of rail, really–to be an environmental boon, the trains have to run pretty full.

A Hyperloop

A Hyperloop

But wait, you say. Ms McArdle (yes, the same Ms McArdle) is talking about high speed rail, not hyperloops!

From a technological perspective, hyperloops are new and cool and really awesome and totally not trains. But from a business perspective, it’s just a glorified train. It moves a lot faster and it’s more efficient, but those aren’t really the problems with trains. Maybe speed, but we already have a faster-than-trains alternative: it’s called the airplane, and there’s already a lot of infrastructure in place for it in the US.

But trains are already pretty efficient, especially electric trains. The reason we don’t have more of them in the US is because the infrastructure cost is too high. For hyperloops to become a thing (outside of a few limited areas), there would have to be trillions (yes, trillions) of dollars worth of loop built. If you don’t believe me on the cost, check out the latest highway bill – and remember that that’s just for maintenance, not for building the whole Interstate Highway System from scratch. Trillions of dollars isn’t exactly the kind of fixed cost that you recoup quickly or easily.

What about the speed? Well, what about it? The Concorde had speed, too, and it didn’t catch on either. The thing is, I can already cross the country coast to coast in about five or six hours. There are very few reasons why I’d need to do it faster. I might like to, sure – but not enough to pay twice as much to do it. Some businessmen might, but they already have a nice way to do it faster: private jets that can go point-to-point and shave an hour or two off of that (more if you factor in layovers and TSA checkpoints).

The thing is, the faster you’re already going, the less of an advantage more speed is. If you can cross the country in four hours, you’d have to double your speed to make it really worth paying more. Even then… how many of us value our time so highly that shaving two hours off of a four hour trip is worth thousands of dollars? Again, not many. The extra speed just isn’t worth much. Which means that hyperloops would be competing with an industry that’s already hyper-competitive.

The tech is cool. But the market simply isn’t there.