A blog about blogging

I’m giving another talk about blogging and twitter today for a social media conference organised by the Chartered Institute of Housing (#socmed12 on twitter).

The whole process got me thinking about what I’m trying to do when I blog and also about the other blogs I follow. So for anyone interested and especially for anyone in Birmingham, here are some links to the blogs I’ll be mentioning, with some brief explanation.

I ‘m talking about what a blog is – from the original meaning of a weblog that simply listed web links to the new one where it’s not at all clear what the boundary is between a blog and a website and even an online newspaper (just look at Huffington Post).

You can also trace clear links between different blogs and the way they develop. For example, Guido Fawkes, one of the most successful British political blogs, acknowledges itself as the lovechild of the US site Drudge Report (famous for breaking the Monica Lewinsky story after Newsweek turned it down) and Popbitch, the UK celebrity gossip site which I’m reliably informed involves choosing between baboons and badgers. If Guido’s politics are not to your taste, there are of course any number of better alternatives.

I highlighted Ben Golddacre’s Bad Science and Martha Payne’s Never Seconds (the blog that Argyll and Bute council tried to ban) as examples of the sheer range of blogs out there. One non-housing one that I read regularly is Stumbling and Mumbling, Chris Dillow’s blog (mostly) about economics that always makes me stop and think. He says his main motive is to try and be original rather than take a tribal view and that he tries to blog more or less every day because he likes the challenge. Just one of those seems hard enough to me.

I started blogging about housing in 2006 for ROOF, then from 2007 for Inside Housing and also here since May 2012. But the number of housing blogs is growing all the time, including these that I check most days:

Red Brick – the place for progressive debate about housing edited by Steve Hilditch and Tony Clements. Labour-aligned but not uncritically.

Alex’s Archives – thoughtful analysis about housing and social policy by Bristol academic Alex Marsh with the added element of a critical Lib Dem perspective on government policy.

Brickonomics – the place where construction and economics meet, number-crunching analysis often about housing by Brian Green. Three useful tips from him are: 1) have a clear idea of who your audience is and why they might be interested in what you’ve got to say 2) don’t believe anyone who tells you blogs don’t take long to knock out and 3) stick with it, the benefits come over time.

SP Eye – blog started by Joe Halewood purely to highlight the danger of DWP proposals on housing benefit for hostels and refuges that now regularly holds the government to account on much more besides. His tips include one that I should take some notice of: be concise and keep your blog to one simple issue.

Nearly Legal – blog by a group of housing lawyers that’s the place to go on new legislation and points of housing law and also has some real life horror stories from the legal frontline.

Shelter’s policy blog – group blog by Shelter’s policy team on a whole range of housing issues.

See also Colin Wiles’s blog for Inside Housing and those of other IH journalists and Hannah Fearn’s editor’s blog for Guardian Housing, while Dave Hill’s London blog for The Guardian can’t help but have a big housing element.

People working directly in housing are getting involved too. Chief executives like David Montague at London & Quadrant, Steve Howlett at Peabody and Matthew Gardiner of Trafford Housing Trust – plus David Orr of the NHF – have blogs with a personal touch about the issues concerning them.

In a more focused way, Paul Taylor of Bromford blogs about housing and social media and housing while Kate Hughes of Wolverhampton Homes blogs about communications and employee engagement. Her top tips are to post regularly, be generous with links to other bloggers, learn to post quickly and just get on and do it. She also has a useful post on how to get started blogging here.

Plenty of tenants are getting in on the act too. Penny Anderson has been blogging since 2007 at Rentergirl and her blog has developed from one about living in a particular building to one that covers everything to do with being a private tenant. Social tenants are using blogging to campaign against redevelopment plans in Hammersmith and Fulham and Newham.

UPDATE #1: Homeless Mummy – the story of one family’s experience of going through the homelessness system – is an essential read for anyone working in housing and anyone interested in the realities of how the system works.

UPDATE #2 (probably of a few since it’s hard to make any list like this comprehensive): For anyone interested in planning and housing, Philip Barnes‘s blog is a great place to start. And he has also reminded me of Andrew Lainton’s blog, Decisions Decisions, which has featured comprehensive coverage of issues such as the National Planning Policy Framework.

Finally here are three sites that are a little bit different and might provide a bit of inspiration about what blogging can do. There’s HMO Landlady, a site started by a buy to let investor with what sounds like not too much thought but ended up having to do a lot of thinking. It’s an interesting and human perspective on the world of HMOs that makes me wonder about the potential for people in other frontline roles to do the same.

Not So Big Society is a blog about health and social care written by people who work in it that often makes me wonder if someone should do the same in housing. It’s a group blog edited by a social worker and a nurse that likes to have as many voices and cover as many different areas as possible. Top tips from there are not to expect thousands of visits straight away (it’s more important who your readers are rather than how many there are), that it’s important to keep a sense of proportion about abusive comments (it’s tough being a social worker sometimes) and that blogging can help you enormously as a professional.

Ben Black’s Cwmbran Life is a great example of what hyperlocal blogging can achieve. Ben works in housing but writes the blog in his spare time and covers anything and everything to do with Cwmbran. He stresses that you do not have to be a trained journalist, in fact the training for being a news journalist is irrelevant for hyperlocal blogging: people want interesting content from someone in their community, that’s what makes it relevant and authentic. You don’t need an expensive laptop either: he creates most of his blogs on his phone. It’s a great example for me of what blogging can achieve.

Not so long ago, I wondered if blogging had a future in the wake of twitter and whether what had once been seen as the future would suddenly seem old school. I now think they complement each other and there are more housing-related blogs around than ever before.


2 Comments on “A blog about blogging”

  1. Johnny G says:

    Thanks Jules – a useful blogger’s guide to blogs for those of us who feel swamped by info overload.

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