Good LEGO blog, bad LEGO blog [Editorial]

It’s been nearly two years since I last broached the subject of “LEGO blogging etiquette” here on The Brothers Brick. And though I can’t claim that we follow all these guidelines ourselves all the time, I think it’s worth revisiting this discussion every so often.

After my conversation with James Wadsworth in LAMLradio #18, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes some LEGO blogs “good” and what other blogs might consider improving. This is all just my own opinion, but I’ve been at this for almost three years, so I hope you’ll indulge me for a bit.

Give the builder credit
Giving proper attribution is one of the most important aspects of referencing a created work, whether it’s a painting, poem, or photo of a LEGO creation. When you blog someone’s LEGO creation, make an effort to find out what the builder’s primary “home” is online, and then link to it. Do a quick search and see if you can use the person’s real name instead of “L3gof@n20O8″. Real names make the Internet more human.

There’s very little that bothers me more than seeing a LEGO picture on some random blog or Web site with a description like “Check out this awesome pic I found!” No name. No link to the builder’s Web site, Brickshelf gallery, blog, MOCPage, or Flickr photostream. You know what? Ethically, that’s stealing, and legally, you’re probably breaking copyright law or the photo’s license.

Give other blogs credit
The “via” link is another critical component of general blogging etiquette. If you see a LEGO creation on someone else’s blog for the first time and you want to highlight it on your own, by all means, do so. But be sure to say where you found what you’re blogging.

Add value
Opinions are good. Well-informed, well-written opinions about LEGO creations that point out something the average reader might miss are even better.

Avoid irrelevant or internal discourse. Not to pick on some of you who’re probably reading this, but “I’m hungry” or “Hey guys, why aren’t you posting anything here?” aren’t really interesting to your readers. ;-)

Link generously
The World Wide Web is built on links (a series of tubes, if you want to get technical). There’s more to linking than what I’ve already suggested — not just linking to LEGO builders’ sites and including “via” links.

Try going the extra mile and linking to other relevant sites. A link to a builder’s blog is always a nice gesture, but your readers probably really want to see the person’s LEGO creations. Be sure to link to their Brickshelf gallery, Flickr photostream, or MOCPage.

Add permanent links to other LEGO blogs. Maintaining a blogroll in your side bar tells your readers who you read, and tells your fellow bloggers that you read and support their blogs.

Yes, every link is an opportunity for the reader to leave your blog, but if what you’ve blogged or what you’re saying is interesting, they’ll be back. Also, bloggers who are using tools such as Google Analytics or Technorati (see below) will see that you’ve linked to them, and will likely reciprocate.

Interact with the rest of the LEGO fan community
There’s a whole world of LEGO fandom beyond the blogosphere. There’s nothing wrong with having a blog and posting the cool stuff you see on sites like Brickshelf and Flickr, but consider joining the broader conversation taking place among LEGO fans through online forums (under “LEGO Communities” in our side bar), offline LEGO users groups (LUGs), conventions, and so on.

We have the technology
Take advantage of all the tools and technologies that are available to you in this marvelous age (though I’m still disappointed we don’t have flying cars). Here are just a handful of the geeky things I find indispensable:

Earn the right to advertise
The costs of hosting your own Web site (such as Brothers-Brick.com) can add up over time. If you’re hosting your own LEGO blog, by all means, put up affiliate banners, ads, or whatever you need to do to pay the bills.

But if you’ve just started a new blog on a free service like Blogger and you plaster your blog with all manner of advertising and sprinkle your posts with Google ads, you’re clearly not in it for the love of LEGO. You might even be a splog. That’s not going to earn the respect or readership of LEGO fans (and I’ll probably remove you fairly quickly from our blogroll).

It’s not about you (unless it is)
The purpose of your LEGO blog may be just to post your own creations somewhere. Doing that is great! If you want to specialize in something, though (I don’t think there’s a Clikits blog yet), the focus of your posts should be the creations and their builders, not you.

In a sense, you’re driving traffic away from your LEGO blog, but like I said earlier, if what you’re saying is interesting, your readers will be back.

Do one thing and do it well
This is something we’ve failed at miserably, but in doing so, we’ve succeeded at something else. I started this blog to highlight my own minifigs, turned “Dunechaser’s Blocklog” into a general minifig blog, started blogging non-minifig creations, and then brought on additional contributors to cover various themes. We’re now an “everything LEGO” blog, but we’ve been doing that for long enough now that “everything LEGO” has become our mission.

For those of you considering starting a LEGO blog or who’ve just gotten started, decide now what you want your blog to be, and then stick with that plan. Setting up a blog on any of the free services is super-easy, and blogging is such a freeform medium that it’s easy to lose focus. But sticking with one theme (say, Space or Bionicle) or one type of LEGO creation (such as vignettes or microscale) will likely earn you more respect, credibility, and readership than trying to be an “everything” blog from the start.

Keep at it
There are only a handful of current LEGO bloggers who have been doing what we do for longer than a year or so. Sadly, most LEGO blogs only last a few months. Azumu of BINGO and Bruce inspired me to start blogging back in 2005, and they’re still updating their blogs regularly.

It’s understandable to get bored or burn out, and you’re certainly under no obligation to stick with something you no longer find enjoyable, but if you’re reading this, you probably want your blog to be successful. Being successful at LEGO blogging over the long term requires, well, sticking with LEGO blogging over the long term.

Innovate
Ultimately, the success of your blog will likely hinge on whether or not you’re doing something original. Perhaps doing the opposite of everything I’ve suggested here will result in unforeseen success!

So, in the interest of innovation, what ideas do you have to make LEGO blogging better? Have I missed anything? Am I flat out wrong?

Let’s discuss.

22 comments on “Good LEGO blog, bad LEGO blog [Editorial]

  1. legovaughan

    BrothersBrick.com has quickly become one of my daily stops – please keep up the exccellent work!

    (And please don’t ever refer to the internet as a series of tubes; let’s not perpetuate the idiocy that came form that fools mouth…)

    “I just the other day got… an Internet was sent by my staff…” LMAO!

  2. Brent Waller

    Good write up, brothers brick has become a daily stop for me now too, so much so that I would like to know about more sites similar to it, you’ve made it that good that I want more :)

    I know you have links down the side to other sites, but it’d be nice to have a weekly lego site/blog spotlight, a short writeup about a site and what it’s focus is, it’s a bit hard to tell by just a name, just a suggestion.

    Keep up the good work!

    PS post this http://www.potatoz.net/images/Lego/LegoTumbler_01.jpg :)

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  4. Dez

    “Hey guys, why aren’t you posting anything here?” aren’t really interesting to your readers.”

    *ahem*

    Excellent post Andrew, I’ll look into making Lukas work harder to make YSAB better. :-P

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  6. James

    I believe you missed two crucial elements of what a blogger should attempt to do. Learn how to blog as best you can.

    There are tons of free resources on the internet which will teach you how to write proper English (something I struggle at), tell stories, use headlines, market yourself and oh so much more. As a content creator, you need to create the best content you can.

    Daily Blog Tips, Blogger & Podcaster, iTunes U, American Writers Podcast, and so many more will help. Use them.

  7. Memory

    Great post, Andrew; thanks a lot! My blog has been mostly for my own enjoyment, with the added hope that someone else might also find it interesting. However, I know that I’m being unoriginal and have come up with an idea to make it worth checking.

    Dez, YSAB is a blog run by teenage boys in their spare time- what did you expect? Maybe we’ll get some consistency going this summer.

  8. Dan

    Hi, I’m Dan from the LEGO Model of the day blog. Thought I’d comment to explain myself a bit, since I know I’ve been guilty of several of these complaints – and some of these problems are really central to the way I run my site.

    My first consideration is the audience. Most LEGO blogs are, understandably, intended for other regular LEGO fans. I know I’m not the only “general audience” blog covering LEGO out there, but AFAIK, LMOTD is the only all-ages, LEGO-specific, general audience LEGO blog.

    Giving the builders proper credit is a top priority for me and a big reason why I often put posts up much later than anyone would expect – sometimes I find the perfect model for the day and have a hard time tracking down the proper links for the model and the model’s creator.

    My habit of not giving other blogs credit is intentional, but I’m looking into changing it. Because most LEGO blogs are aimed at adult LEGO fans, things like language, sexual content, violence, and other things that I don’t want to link to (mostly so I don’t get complaints from parents) aren’t really a consideration for many of the blogs I get links from. Of course, your blog is your blog and it’s none of my business how you decide what to cover and how to cover it (and this applies to all other blogs), so you’re welcome to include stuff that I don’t want to link to on your site – but be aware that I’ll avoid linking to blogs that post that sort of material. This content problem also keeps me from highlighting some models that I really enjoy – such as misterzumbi’s Road Zombie, which was excellent but included some scantily-clad woman decals.

    I am interested in assembling a “union” of sort of LEGO blogs that are kid-friendly (clean content, moderated comments, etc) and easily accessible (clean formatting and terminology that non-AFOLs can understand) and using that as a blogroll. I know of several niche sites that would belong there, and I intend to ask other blog writers about their stances on sex/violence/language, LEGO terminology, and comment moderation soon. The main reason that I have not taken the initiative here yet is that my time for blogging is often cut short by other priorities.

    Additionally, I often stash away links on a to-do list – my blog does often use recent content, but it’s not as much of a news and recent MOCs source as The Brothers Brick is. I try to include a variety of content and avoid doing too much of anything at a time. It’s not unusual for me to receive word about a builder who’s entire gallery is worth featuring, but I try to only do one model at a time and get to different models in the meantime. I also feature models from sets (which are covered widely when they’re first released but not blogged about often afterwards). I often lose track of just where I found out about things because of the backlog that a site like LMOTD has to have in order to keep a good variety of models on the front page – I generally post Aquazone models within a day or two of finding them, but I have long lists of train cars and spaceships that I can only chip away at slowly.

    I agree with your next few points. I try to only discuss issues on my end when it means interruptions in the flow of models. Sometimes I’m not too knowledgeable about a particular builder and can’t really point out all the links worth citing related to him/her/it, but I make sure that I have at least one link for each builder I feature.

    Sadly, I’m not too big of a fan of the AFOL community. I’ve always gotten strange error messages when trying to sign up for LUGNET (and I’ve been lurking there since it started). After the first few times, I complained on RTL and e-mailed a few people involved with running LUGNET to see if anything could be done about the issues with the sign-up process, but I never got a response from anyone who could do anything about the situation. I’m probably fairly representative of builders my age and younger – I was born in ’87, and I had access to the internet for a significant portion of my LEGO-filed childhood. I was doing serious projects and getting ideas off of the internet when I was 10 years old. In spite of the fact that I’ve been a fairly skilled builder for most of my life, I’ve had to deal with watching LUG groups form in my area and not being allowed to join because of age restrictions. It’s almost like I’ve been punished for not having had “dark ages”. I have relocated a few times over the years, and I am now a happy member of NCLUG (which is a great group that is very open – regularly doing shows that are open to the public and allowing talented young builders to join in for meetings and layouts). As much as I love what I see online and appreciate how expensive/time-consuming these things to be, I want to keep the hobby open for people who aren’t in it – which is a big part of why I’ve tried to make my blog kid-safe and short on AFOL lingo.

    Do you watch the Technorati search feed for LEGO too? Many of the models that I’ve found through there haven’t been widely featured on other LEGO-specific blogs.

    The splog issue bothers me a little bit. I know my blog and a few of the other blogs out there are clearly run by people who are interested in making some money, but I think the content speaks for itself – regardless of the amount of ads featured. The format I’ve chosen for LMOTD means that I get to show off my knowledge of LEGO techniques, but I don’t often showcase my own models (in fact, none of MOCs have shown up on LMOTD yet). I have a second blog (projectsbydan.blogspot.com) that I intend to use for my own projects, and that one’s not updates as often as it should be either. It does solve the “It’s not about you (unless it is)” problem, though.

    Keeping at it is really the difficult part. I try to be true to my no-repeating-themes-within-a-few-days rule, and I occasionally make exceptions as it is. It’s not easy to keep a variety of models on the front page! When I came up with the idea, I figured it would be a 15-minutes-a-day thing, but it’s really never fit into my schedule as well as I’d hoped (as of this writing, I’m behind three days and halfway-through writing about a Sean Kenney sculpture from 2006).

    Thanks for bringing this up – it’s good to have a place to discuss these issues. I think that the linking-to-other-blogs issue is one of the biggest problems that I need to solve, but it will probably take some time to establish a list of other blogs that are kid-ready.

  9. Bruce N H

    Hey Duney,

    Good article. It’s pretty obvious, I suppose, how I feel about the specialized blog vs general blog issue, since I’ve had two very specific blogs for a long time now. As much as I love BB, and it’s always one of my first stops, I do miss the more specific Dunechaser’s Blocklog and even more so Pan-Pacific Bricks. It gets a little redundant when the same things show up on multiple different blogs. I definitely agree with your encouragement for people to pick a niche and own that area. There are tons of spaces out there to fill. Brick Town Talk is a great example of someone coming up with a new area and really covering it well. There are also a lot of themes that had blogs, but they’ve gone dark (see my inactive blog list), where someone could make a real impact.

    On the “via” issue, I always go back and forth. When I truly first see something on another blog, I always try to link it. More often, though, I’m just behind. I look at Brickshelf, Flickr and other community sites every day and note MOCs to blog, but it takes me a while to get around to it. Many times by the time I do so, it’s already been featured on BB and Klocki, and sometimes elsewhere. In those cases I usually don’t post a “via” link.

    Dan raises some good points. I try to keep everything directly on my blog kid friendly – my personal rule is “will I get in trouble with my sisters if my nephews and nieces read this?” However, I do link all over the place, including areas that are less kid friendly. So it’s a little mixed. I would encourage you, Dan, to check out other community sites if you’re having problems with Lugnet. Classic-Castle is my main home and we would welcome you to join us there.

  10. Horace

    Thanks for a great article Andrew. I can see you’ve put a lot of thoughts into this. I particular agree with the “via” concept and referencing the builder, but I can also see some of the technical issues that might come up as mentioned in a couple of comments. However, that’s where the readers can help out by pointing out any additional information missed by the original blogger.

    One thing I really want to learn more about the Lego community is the forums. Seems like there are many different forums out there but I’m having a hard time deciding which one to join (as I don’t want to join a whole bunch and spread out my time/commitment). I wonder if BB can dedicate one article to highlight the difference and “character” of some of the most successful lego forums out there.

  11. Bruce N H

    Horace,

    If you check out one of my blogs, I’ve got a fairly comprehensive listing of community sites, broken out by general, theme-based and nationality based. Many of the theme-based sites also have general LEGO sections. Most of the nationality-based sites are in languages other than English, but some of them do have English language sections. Others may disagree, depending on their personal preference in themes, but I’d suggest you check out Classic-Castle, Classic-Space, FBTB, Lugnet and Eurobricks as places to start. These all have a lot of activity and good interaction–probably EB and FBTB skew a little younger, CC more balanced, and CS and Lugnet run a little older in readership.

  12. Andrew

    I don’t have a Lego blog, though I have posted a few awesome shots of other’s creations, and where possible I definitely tried giving credit to both the creators and the site I found the info on. I agree 100% with your points about giving credit where credit’s due.

    Also, regardless of this post being specific to Lego sites or any topic in the world, this was an insanely well-written and quite thorough post about overall Blog Etiquette. Well done. Great job and great site you have here overall.

  13. Hery

    Hi, I’m just starting my blog on Lego. Just a few posts now. What you write here really inspiring. I will be using it as a guideline.
    Thanks.

  14. casper mathiesen

    Thanks for a great article. For me as a new blogger in general I find this very useful.
    I don’t se myself violating anything yet but it sums up the important guidelines and makes it easier to keep focus.
    My focus in the near future will be making my blog more interesting in the text and choice of subjects.
    I have already chosen to do a blog only about my own stuff – this I will stick to.
    About Dan’s comment : I totally see your point of view and I have also thought about the children aspects for some time. I also believe that we, grownups, should do more to direct focus to the kids, who haven’t yet found the joy in LEGO instead of padding each others back all the time, applauding nice stuff we have build.
    a last word – BB is my “more than once daily” site – thak you so much for the effort you put in to this.

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