I edit a blog, Boing Boing, that's pretty darn popular (Technorati says we're one of the five most popular blogs), so there are a lot of people who try to get me to write about their stuff. That's cool -- I love getting good suggestions for things to write about. I couldn't find everything on my own.
But often I can't write about the tips people send me, because the people who posted the material did something crazy to make life tough for bloggers. I suppose that if you're aiming for obscurity, that could be a feature, but if you've put up a Web site because you want people to find out about your stuff, then being blogger-unfriendly is most certainly a bug.
What makes a site blogger-unfriendly? I've been keeping a list for the past couple of months. These are simple design and deployment mistakes that kept me from picking up a link and reposting it where millions might find it. Here's the list, a kind of anti-checklist for anyone who's spending money and time trying to get a message out:
Have a link. Seriously: if you want bloggers to link to you, you need to have something linkable. Your upcoming TV show, protest march, product or soccer tournament is literally unbloggable unless you put it on the Web somewhere first.
Have a permanent link. Don't just change the front page of your site every time a new speaker for your speaker-series in announced. A blogger who links to the front page of your site today in a post about the upcoming address by Philo T Farnsworth, wants that link to stay good for in the future, and not point to the upcoming address by Paris Hilton when you change it next week. Put up a separate, permanently linkable page for everything you want to get blogged.
Have a link for everything. Don't have a single page with ten items on it. Blogging a link to the top of your fifty-screen-long page with a blurb about something halfway down generates 200 e-mails from readers who can't find the referenced item.
Use real links. Don't have links with expiring session-keys that are no good if someone revisits the URL later. If a blogger can't send the URL to a friend or put it on the Web, then that blogger can't send people to go look at your stuff. Likewise, avoid the giant, 800-character gobbledegook URLs filled with junky alphabet-soup GUIDs -- if it can't be pasted into IRC without linebreaking, there's some group of compulsive communicators who'll be unable to get to it.
Flash sites stink. Designers, architects and artists, this means you: putting your whole site into a giant Flash blob with no internal links, no way to copy a representative bit of text into a post or e-mail, and no way to point to a specific page means that a large number of bloggers and other word-of-mouthers will just pass on it. Also, sites like this are invisible to search engines. Your whole graduating class may be making Flash portfolios, but if you break with them, you'll get work from your site while they languish in search- and blogger-invisibility.
PDFs stink. It's not a Web page (see "Have a link"). It's hard to copy and paste out of. It doesn't show up in browsers half the time. The Web is made of HTML.
Streams stink. Make your video and audio downloadable. You never know when the person who's about to send your file is on the end of a flaky connection through which your stream cannot pass. And this should go without saying, but here it is: don't use DRM. DRM stops people from seeing files -- that's what it's for. If it can't be seen, it can't be blogged.
Put your URL on your images. If you've got cool photos or other images up on your site, stick your URL in unobtrusive type at the bottom of it. That way, when a blogger find the image on some Russian site that doesn't ever link to the origin of its content, she can type the URL into the location bar and find it for herself. (This goes for videos, too -- and the ID3 tags on MP3s)
Linking policies are ridiculous. There is no legal right to control who gets to link your Website (no more than you have the right to control who gets to hand out driving directions to your office). The lawyer who advised you to put up a "linking policy" describing the "terms and conditions" under which the world is allowed to link to your site is an idiot who owes you your money back. Standing on your lawn, shaking your fist at the airplane flying overhead and shouting "Get out of my sky" makes you look like a dork -- so does threatening text about linking to you. At best, you'll make bloggers snort derisively and then go link to someone else.
Don't worry about "bandwidth stealing." There's an enormous fooforaw among site operators about people who "hotlink" to images -- linking directly to images on an external site, rather than to the page the image came from. Dear site operators: Here's a quarter, go buy a terabyte from Amazon S3 and stop complaining. Back in the paleolithic era, inlining could add up to real money. If your hosting company is charging you enough for bandwidth in 2008 that you're still worrying about it, you need a new host. With your URL in your images (see above), every one of those inlining events is just a way of directing traffic back to your site. An inlined image is LOTS cheaper than a Google Ad, and far more targeted. (The same goes for handwringing about "framing" -- including an external site inside a frame on a site, rather than just linking to it.)
Offer high-res images. Whether it's a produt short or something from the news, it's nice to be able to work from a large image so that a blogger can play art-director and select part of the image to snip out and put in a post.
Enough with the legal boilerplate. If your every page on your site ends with "(c) 2008 Paranoid Co Inc, all rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced without permission," then bloggers may just take you at your word and write about someone else's site. You don't need this kind of language -- your stuff is copyrighted the second you type it out, in every country that's signed the Berne Convention (that includes the US). Your overzealous lawyer is scaring away the bloggers who'll tell the world about your stuff.
Let bloggers know how you'd like to be attributed. If there's a photo or some text that you're hoping will get picked up and reposted around the Web, it's useful to include a byline and URL, for example, "Photo by Max Kodak, www.maxkodakphotos.com"
Creative Commons licensing takes the guesswork out of blogging. About 90 percent of what bloggers do is potentially illegal under copyright law, and lives in the difficult and dangerous realm of "fair use," a legal doctrine that says that you can hire a lawyer to defend you if you get sued for infringement. The Creative Commons project is a nonprofit effort to create a series of standard, universal copyright licenses that help you tell everyone about the terms on which your stuff can be copied. If you want people to talk about your stuff online (and online "talking about stuff" is basically the same thing as "copying stuff") a Creative Commons license is de rigeur.
Finally: Send suggestions by the preferred means. Top blogs generally sport prominent links to their preferred means of receiving submissions -- sometimes it's an e-mail address, sometimes, it's a form. Misplaced blog suggestions are an inconvenience. Bloggers are people who live on the net, and people who live on the net have a million little systems for dealing with different kinds of routine correspondence. A misfired blog suggestion lands in the wrong inbox, bypassing all the bits of automation that make it possible to get it all done. For example, Boing Boing is liberally sprinkled with links to the page explaining how to send us suggestions. On Boing Boing, you want to use this form).
Getting blogged is a delicate balance between control and publicity: the more control you exert over your content, the more you lumber it with weights that slow it down and keep it from finding its way around the net. The Web is made of links, of copied bits of code and text, of snipped images and repurposed thumbnails: working with the Web, not against it, is the route to success.