Learning From Successful Criticism - Performancing on Strobist

Imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning, checked the ol' Strobist Meter and found a report card!

Yup, none other than Performancing.com, a blog about how to make, well, better blogs, hung my laundry out to dry right there in front of the whole world.

The reviewer was Chris Garrett, publisher of the always-browseworthy DSLRBlog.

Being a married man, I am very familiar with the idea of unsolicited criticism (and it is always, always appreciated, dear) so I quickly gave it a read.

What follows are my thoughts on each of the points Chris brought up - both good and bad.

(My reactions are in italics.)

Nitpicks:

1. Lame "blogspot" URL - where is the strobist domain? Not a way to build a brand with longevity, eventually subscribers and web visitors will need to be educated to a new URL and RSS feed that can't be taken down or held for ransom ...

True, true. But Google has absolutely transformed my life. And Blogger is Google. So I am Blogger.

I am wearing a Blogger/Google sweatshirt as I type this, in fact. I will be Blogspot as long as they'll have me.


2. Plain black theme. In some ways it works well, and apparently ugly works for adsense, but for me (and we will cover this more later in the post), David needs to be branding his blog and himself with a little more polish.

Right again. This thing started out as a little list of strobe tricks, and I thought the photos popped on black. I have gotten a total of three e-mails on Strobist's relative illegibility, and I am sympathetic. But I am kind of inertia'd into this scheme by the fact that many of the graphic elements that are contained in various parts of the site are designed to sit on black.

3. Using Flickr for community. This has pros and cons but while we are talking about cons

• It sends community interaction away to yet another non-branded domain
• David loses some control of the system
• Flickr isn't the best for discussion features

Granted, all.

Alas, I do not have message board flexibility on Blogspot. And I really love Flickr's engine when it comes to fostering interactive behavior - both via words and pictures. It sort of fills in the gaps for everything that I cannot really do at Strobist, and right within my price range...



What Works:

1. Niche Focus - David focuses on one small subject and really works it. He is the "Off-camera-flash-guy". Do you own your niche?

I do branch out occasionally into areas that are interesting enough for me to want to spread the word. But I try to stick to off-camera light. Reason? There's just not that much info out there, and I think it is important for shooters to learn.

2. Authority - He is an expert, he knows his stuff, and it shows in his tips and example pictures. The blog oozes authority.

Well, like I said, I am a married mand and a guy needs to have authority *somewhere,* you know? Actually, this gets to the heart of why Strobist will never be a very polished "professional" blog. I do not ever want to get to a point where I realize that the blogging has subsumed my photography. The latter is what I love, and if I won the lottery you would still see me shooting at The Sun in six months. If they'd still have me.

3. Content - 99% of what you see on the blog was written by David based on his own experience. Very little reference to other blogs/sites and when he does it is top notch stuff. No padding, no filler, all good nourishing information.

Content is not a problem for me. (I'm a talker.) In fact, I have a list of about two dozen articles that I want to write as soon as I can scrounge the time to do them. And the list is growing faster than I can keep it worked down.

That said, I do like to point people to interesting stuff that is on the web. And I have a couple of much-appreciated volunteers who are starting to help me with that. Besides, I do not want this thing to die from a staleness that can spring from a lack of viewpoint diversity.


4. Message - Between the lines there is a not-so-hidden message, "you can do this too". He hasn't set up the past masters on a pedestal, everything is oriented around showing how you and I, humble beginners with meagre budgets, can turn out top notch results.

If the "you can do it" message is at the "not-so-hidden" stage, I need to work harder on uncovering it. I have been lucky enough to have influenced by lighting photographers who made me feel like I could do anything. You can do it, too. And convincing you of that is the Prime Directive of Strobist.

5. Community - He has worked hard to build a community, using Flickr as the platform. While I don't like Flickrs discussion features in this case it works well because

• Photographers use and like flickr
• He can leverage Flickr features for his bootcamp tasks
• It's another viral route for bringing in more readers

See number four. I am a strong believer of learning by doing. (And besides, otherwise, what's the point?) It was either Flickr or an unmanagable e-mail box. The more enthusaistic among you were already starting to send me the "Look What I Did!" e-mails to the tune of a coupla dozen a day.

I loved it, but I could not handle the added workload. Flickr was a perfect fit.



Future Ideas:

(I'll address these one at a time)

1. Workshops: Yup. And if the first one works, look for more.

2. Workshop DVD's: Gotta learn to walk before I run. Besides, I've heard that DVD's adds 10 lbs...

3. Downloadable Videos: This would almost certainly happen instead of DVD's. The risk of production and storage time/costs is not a step I would consider lightly.

4. Books: I am studying the feasibility of that right now. There's about an 80% chance it is gonna happen. The main determinant is deciding what I can add to it that would be above and beyond Strobist.

5. Branding, domain, decent blog template, professional color schemes and design:

I have made a conscious decision to remain a shooter who does a blog, not a webmaster who happens to shoot. As such, I try to put as much as possible of my Strobist time into creating content. It helps me to be a better shooter - an important benefit - and it helps others to learn.

Now, if I were to ever get canned at The Sun, I promise you that you would soon see a Strobist that had all of those bells and whistles. But as long as I can get away with shooting for a living, you get the content-heavy, graphically spartan version.



I want to thank Chris very much for taking the time to give me a much-valued outside look at my site. His observations are valid and vrey perceptive, and I am happy to get the opportunity to re-evaluate my decisions on an ongoing basis.


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