Friday, June 7, 2013

Blog Nation is a Ghost Town [Blogger Community Review]

When bloggers can't get readers for their blogs by organic means, many go searching for communities that provide bloggers a glimmer of hope that by joining their community, they are able to generate more readership. 

Following the ending of my relationship with Bloggers.com, I went hunting for more blogging communities to join to see what else was out there. This is when I found Blog Nation.



The Back Story: Well there really isn't one. Back in the Fall I used my Google-fu and found Blog Nation in one of the search results. What attracted me to it was its clean professional look. There is a ton of blogs to see on Blog Nation. Hoping there might be a place for my li'l blog, I joined. Here we are six months later...

Joining requires you to create a profile using your email. Then, you have to claim your blog whereby you place a Blog Nation script somewhere in your blog's coding. This is so Blog Nation can verify you own your blog, and so it can capture a screenshot of your blog for your profile pic. You can then place a Blog Nation logo on your blog to encourage readers to go to your profile on Blog Nation and vote for you, also called a"Boost". You then can link up your Facebook page, Twitter and Google Plus account, and RSS feeds to the profile so others on Blog Nation can follow you any which way they want.

Blog Nation is very ambitious. There are close to 14,000 blogs on the site. It's great if you have to do any blog research, or looking for a specific subject, or just want to read what's out there. It's quite impressive. There is a directory for everything you could possibly think of: knitting, scuba diving...cupcake making! But...

Who is running things over there??

Blog Nation is run almost as though the engineers of the site set it up and then went missing. I could pick on the fact the login logs you out of your account at random. I could also grind that the site often gives you 504 gateway timeout errors when you try to update anything; sure, that bothers me. But, what I find particularly problematic is how a blog is promoted on Blog Nation. Their "Random Posts" and "Popular Posts" pages exist to showcase newly published blogs which is great. But for whatever reason it shows mostly blog posts that are well over a month old (some from two months ago), and very few from the current month. I have been posting steadily and I have never seen my blog posts on that page. This isn't sour grapes, people; there is something else at work here. I figure that the posts that are showing on those pages have the highest number of votes. And while I'm piling on, this voting crap is a problem. On Blog Nation you can vote for yourself! That's right! I know, because the site tells you that you can. And I have - three times now.


How it is supposed to work is I am supposed to get my organic blog site readers to click on the Blog Nation icon on my blogspot so that they end up on the Blog Nation website . These readers then vote for my profile so my blog gets more exposure on Blog Nation, and hopefully more readers....Yeah. What a game. That hasn't been working out for my blog. My blog is still linked with Blog Nation, but who knows for how long.

I could be wrong, but it seems there isn't much happening on the site or that it does anything to be a part of it. I am not saying no one should use Blog Nation to promote their blog. It couldn't hurt - but I don't feel it does much for it either.

Bloggers.com and Why I Left [Blogging Community Review]

Shameless self-promotion can be difficult for bloggers out there.

Back in the Fall, I was looking at ways to promote readership of this blog. I searched around the web for blog communities and directories to join to maybe see if I could gain more readership. In the blogging world, when there is a ton of blogs on everything under the sun floating around on the internet, it's really tough to bring people's attention to your blog without becoming one of those annoying spammy ads that pop up and blare really loud music in your face while trying to read something important. That is not my style.

Throwing forward to the past couple of months - readership of my blog is still low, and this is even after my vigorous attempt using social media to get more readers and followers. These days, although my need to write my thoughts down is stronger, it would be awesome to have more active "regulars". Frankly, all bloggers wish for some engagement with readers. And because it can be tough out there, blogging communities exist with a sliver of a promise that they will help bloggers gain an active following. There are several out there, and because I didn't have anything to lose, I thought I would try some of them out and report back.

First up, Bloggers (bloggers.com)


The Backstory: My first foray into the blogging community realm was a site called Bloggers. I found out about it when I was reading someone else's blog. I noticed a tiny blue "B" icon in the top left corner with "follow me" next to it. Clicking the icon led me to Bloggers.com.

What's in a name? Wait, I might just blow your mind.

In no way should you confuse Bloggers with Blogger, the site owned by Google that this blog is being hosted by. I couldn't help but notice the resemblance in name (even the icon reminds me of Blogger), and I couldn't help but think there had to have been a lawsuit story somewhere in there...

Dammit, Google, I said, "Blogger-s,"!

I had never heard of Bloggers before, but it supposedly has over a million blog users. At first glance, it looked very much like a My Space deal where people register and advertise their blogs. I tried to look up some reviews of Bloggers on the web - you know - to see if people liked it. I could not find anything! No one talking about it, no one recent reviewing their experiences with it... And of course, Google kept directing me to Blogger, not Bloggers. I couldn't tell from the "About" page where on earth they are from, how long they've existed, and all the finer details. One external site had blogged about it back in 2010 with little information. I browsed through the Bloggers website and didn't find anything bad about it. The site seemed on the level, so with that thought, I signed up for an account - what the heck.

The Bloggers.com User Interface

Bloggers.com makes it relatively easy to get started on their site. It has you create a user name and a profile where you write a brief blog introduction and link to your blog. It has you put a tiny "Bloggers" icon on your blog so that the administrators of Bloggers can verify that you are its owner. They have you upload a pic of yourself, and they encourage you to make your bio "cool" because others will be reading it. Then, after you've registered and your blog is verified, the "fun" begins.

Shades of Facebook, memories of My Space



Bloggers is part blog directory, part friend finder, part blog reader, part polling station and all popularity contest. The navigation is self-explanatory; you can search for blogs by country or by subject. They even have a topic area that showcases hot trending subject matter, and happening blogs to follow.

The site is very much like Facebook in that you have a profile as well as a news feed that gives you the current goings on with popular bloggers as well as the particular blogs that you follow. The site encourages you to read other blogs and befriend blog members. It also has this voting system that I don't quite understand fully. Other bloggers vote for you and your blog (I guess) to raise your rank and therefore increase your popularity and exposure on the "Most Popular Blogs" section of the site. Then, bloggers are encouraged to "friend" each other too. This is where the My Space thing comes in. These people who "friend" you aren't actually people that you know AT ALL. I don't really understand the point to that whole thing either, and it was one of the reasons I got away from My Space.

Like Bizarro Cheers, where no-one really knows your name, but always glad you came...and voted.

Love me, love me, say that you love me...Fool me, fool me...

Bloggers.com seems like an alternate universe of niceties. Everyone is SO nice on Bloggers. Everyone wants to be YOUR friend...Many comment on each other's walls, including mine (which, btw, verged on creepiness and banality): "Thanks for stopping by! Don't forget to vote for me and read me and follow me...did I mention VOTE FOR ME!!" The site also shows who has viewed your profile and your blog, as well as which ones I've viewed, so trolling others' profiles is really not a good idea on here...

Here's where things get weird. Within the first 20 minutes of joining Bloggers, I got 5 "friend requests". In checking out one of these "friends" I discovered they had a high count of votes but was also maintaining 10 personal blogs (yes, you read that right)! Others also had multiple blogs and showed a similar wide-eyed enthusiasm. In the process, I did find one or two blogs that were interesting that I have followed outside the forum. But as I discovered, this concept was not reciprocated from my fellow Bloggers bloggers (heh!) as I managed to get only ONE page view from the whole experience in the 10 days I was registered on the site. Essentially, people would befriend me, vote for my profile, say they liked my blog even though they didn't look at it at all, just so they could potentially get a vote from me; a voting system that is meaningless and arbitrary. I mean, what happens when you hit the top? Blogging world domination?

I never know what to expect from these blogging communities, and of course I don't want to bite the few readers that fuel my writing. Bloggers.com happened to be easy to use, but I didn't find it did anything for blog promotion or gaining readership. Mostly, I just wasn't comfortable with the My Space feel, the spammy "friending" and weird voting behavior. This site was certainly not for my blog. Even stranger things occurred when I tried to quit the community - the option to quit was not available anywhere on the website. I ended up having to write the administrators asking them to pull my account. They must have listened, because my blog is no longer there.

Update: A very recent development that might pretty well render my review of Bloggers moot...I was just on the site when I learned that Bloggers will no longer exist come June 25, 2013 unless it gets a backer with a wad of cash. The owner seems convinced that it will all end then. I would not be surprised if Google buys the domain, and kills it outright, then encourages everyone to use Google Plus (but, that's just a theory...).

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Healthy PB and Banana Cookies [Recipe Drop!]

I've got two over-ripe bananas, no eggs and I'm sick of muffins or bread. What to do?

This is what I call experimentation in baking, which sometimes ends in disaster, but worked out this time. My challenge was to make bananas into cookies. I wanted to use honey instead of sugar, whole wheat flour instead of white and no eggs. The idea was to make these cookies as healthy and as tasty as possible, because I am on the rice cake diet these days, and I am only allowing myself one treat a day (instead of two...or four...).

The internet, although well-intentioned, really didn't give me what I was looking for, so this recipe is adapted from many sources.


PB and Banana Cookies

2 over-ripe medium sized bananas, mashed up
1/2 cup of honey
2 tbsp of all-natural peanut butter (I used the chunky kind)
1/2 cup of quick oats oatmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
A big bowl and wooden spoon

Heat oven at 325 F
Combine bananas and honey into a big bowl.
Stir in the peanut butter, then oatmeal.
Add the flour in increments until well blended.


Take a tbsp full of cookie batter and roll it into a ball with floured hands. Place on a greased or parchment-paper lined cookie sheet. Flatten the ball with a fork. Repeat until there is no batter left. Place cookie sheet in oven for 10 minutes.

Makes 1 dozen cookies.

These make moist peanut butter cookies with a nice hint of banana, reminiscent of the sandwiches your mom used to make. The chunky peanut bits give the cookie a nice texture. They are chewy, but dense; you could probably only eat one...or two.

*When I'm off this diet, I think I'll try them with chocolate chips. That should be very yummy...

Enjoy!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Popped Some Tags, No R. Kelly Sheets

This past weekend we checked out our local Value Village in Richmond Hill, Ontario. We like to hunt for hidden treasures at thrift stores: My husband searches for video games, I go for clothes, books, and miscellany. This past winter the thrift shop finds have been hit or miss. I have to say though, that Saturday's shopping excursion more than made up for it.

1. Ceramic Mugs...

Aren't these awesome? They are square-shaped cups with a motif of trees in what can only be reminiscent of cross-stitching or needlepoint. It also has a retro-gaming pixel feel, which my husband enjoyed. I always make a point of looking at the mug rack to see if there is anything cool, and these definitely caught my eye.

2. Pair of shorts...

Not much to report here...My husband found a pair of gently used navy blue Hillfiger shorts. This is always a useful find when thrift shopping in late Spring. It's a bonus if the original tags are still on the clothing. Speaking of which...

3. Portal T-shirt*...


I found me a never-worn gaming t-shirt. This one comes from Portal, the popular video game from 2007. I have played Portal 2, so close enough! I often go picking through the men's t-shirts to see if I can find anything cool, much to my husband's dismay, who thinks "those shirts are for dudes!". (I guess I'm exposing my style aesthetic, here...)

4. Sound Mixer...
My husband also found an old Realistic mixing console, originally bought at Radio Shack for the bargain price of $149.99(!!!!) in the '80s. We bought it at Value Village for $19.99. He told me about some guy he knew who had one of these, and he was so jealous because this friend could cross-fade music on his mixed tapes. I also knew someone who used to DJ on the side with a mixer, and being into music and mixed tapes in the 80s and 90s, I was also jealous of what he could do with it. That said, I guess I'll be expecting some cool Daft Punk moves soon enough. Maybe I'll find a motorcycle helmet on our next trip to the 'Village?

5. Game!

My husband found Timesplitters 2 for the Playstation 2. Value Village used to be a great source of retro video games. But, lately, it seems video game resellers come in and raid the thrift stores before other gamers have a chance. Finding any video game is scant at these places, unless of course, you need multiple copies of NHL 2002...

6. Original Painting...

Value Village usually dedicates a wall to old mirrors, plaques, macrame' and old dry-mounted posters with cheesy big-eyed cats. I often just glance and keep on moving, but this little number caught my eye. It was painted by someone called Povelka, and appears to be acrylic on masonite. It depicts a landscape of an ocean, the waves of which are crashing into a rocky shoreline, a setting (or rising?) sun on the horizon line. My art profs back in University would have had a field day with this painting's critique. I could image them saying: "The rocks are problematic. They look stylized (art school term for 'not realistic' or 'took artistic liberties'), and they lead the eye off the canvas, not towards anything in the painting. And, no one has looked at the sun, so it should never be represented in a painting." Know what? I don't give a shit; I like it! Bonus is that it's already framed. The frame is a little crummy, but I'm hoping a meeting with Mr. Clean will spruce it up a bit.

*So, as it turned out, the Portal shirt was too big for me, but big enough for my husband. He is one happy camper.

Those were our thrift-shopping finds for this month. Not bad loot, I must say. What is your best-ever thrift shopping find? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Van Gogh and Me

Lately, everything is reminding me of Vincent Van Gogh.

Maybe it's the fact that my garden is blooming and Van Gogh liked to paint flowers. Perhaps it's because I have Van Gogh- inspired coffee mugs that make me think of him every time I drink my tea. On second thought, it had to be that my Mom's birthday passed last month, and she was named after a particular flower, the subject of which he famously painted a whole patch of them. That's gotta be why...

Irises
...Or it was Doctor Who. Yes, that's it! It was the Doctor!

Recently, I watched one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever. It was the one where the Doctor and Amy go back in time to 19th century France and meet up with the artist, Vincent Van Gogh. You can be sure the episode had some alien creature lurking that the Doctor must investigate, and that it involves Van Gogh and one of his paintings. The episode was really cool - they delved into Van Gogh's life as a painter, and really made Van Gogh a big deal, which should happen in my opinion, because he was an awesome artist. Thanks in part to Doctor Who, Van Gogh's art and my world seem to be colliding in strange ways.

The Doctor and Amy Pond find something peculiar
in one of Van Gogh's paintings
I am no stranger to Van Gogh's life and times. Being a Visual Arts major in University, I learned many things about him and his painting style when I took an Art Theory and Criticism seminar my first year. That was "many moons ago", but certain pieces of his life story has stuck with me still:

 - Let's begin with a phonetics lesson: How do you say "Van Gogh?" There are varied ways to pronounce his last name. In North America, it is often pronounced "Van Go" (the gh is silent). In Doctor Who, they pronounced it "Van Goff", which is apparently how the British pronounce it. In Dutch, the V in van Gogh is silent, and Gogh is said like "Gok" (rhymes with "lock"). Who knows which is right?

 - Although he had a passion for art at an early age, Vincent Van Gogh tried a few vocations before settling on becoming an artist. He worked as an art dealer for several years, and his brother, Theo, followed suit. Later, Vincent tried to join the Ministry, but his fanaticism caused his Superiors to bar him from preaching, so he left. On a recommendation made by his brother, as well as his love for art, Vincent decided to become an artist full-time.

- The relationship between Vincent and his younger brother, Theo, is an inspiring one in itself and demonstrates the closeness and love that can occur between siblings. Theo was Vincent's biggest supporter. The two had a very close relationship, which was memorialized in their letters to one another, and later published in "The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh". Vincent and Theo corresponded for several years in which Vincent often reveals to his brother his love for art and his perspective on life. In one excerpt, he wrote: " "I want to do drawings which touch some people."

 - Vincent had moved around to explore the art scene in several places in Europe, but eventually settled in France. While there, he was introduced to the Impressionist Movement of painting, popularized by artists such as Monet and Renoir. He was so influenced by the Impressionists, we can see his style of painting evolving into the one we are most familiar with. Many consider Van Gogh to be a post-impressionist painter. Others say he was the pioneer of the Expressionist movement, most recognized for its bright use of colour and expressive brush strokes.

Expressionism: It is as though the brush strokes come alive in this painting
- There is no way to ignore Van Gogh's trouble with mental health, especially with the story of Van Gogh cutting off his ear. No one is absolutely certain what was wrong with him, but some sources say he suffered from Epilepsy, hallucinations and depression. I'm not even sure if all of these were interrelated. Another source said he was addicted to Absinthe, a popular drink that was said to induce hallucinations. Often, Van Gogh would write to his brother about depressed and helpless feelings, which worried Theo, who would often encourage his big brother to seek help. As Vincent Van Gogh's life ended in suicide, one can't help but think that there had to be some depression that was partly to blame.

- Let's get the cutting of the ear one out of the way...Van Gogh had fiery red hair, and a fiery temper to match. The famous "cutting of the ear" story had a lot to do with his emotional state at the time. Some sources say it was his whole left ear. Others say it was his ear lobe (either way, ouch!). This occurred at a time when he was living in France with one of his friends, Paul Gaugain, also a painter. One day, Gaugain and Van Gogh got into a major argument centred around Gaugain's success as a painter. In a fit of impulsive rage, Van Gogh chased Gaugain around their apartment with a razor. Van Gogh left, and out of frustration, cut his ear with the razor. Bleeding, he found his way to the local brothel to see his favourite prostitute, and it was she that received the severed ear piece. He was put into an asylum to have the ear re-attached, and to recuperate.

This is a self portrait of Van Gogh he painted in the asylum
following his ear incident
 - Vincent was the epitome of "starving artist". The subject matter of his paintings were often self portraits, still life, landscapes and people he knew. He couldn't afford to have people sit for him, so he often painted himself or what he saw around him. Theo, a successful art dealer, would often support him financially.

- Amazingly, Van Gogh's career as a dedicated artist was only twelve years long! His portfolio consists of over 2000 pieces, most painted in the last two years of his life.

- Although he managed to have his art exposed in exhibits in France, and was a part of the art community there, he never saw much career success. The man only sold ONE painting his entire career - a painting called the the Red Vineyard, for 400 French Francs.

The Red Vineyard
What I liked most about the Dr. Who episode is not so much that they "brought Van Gogh back to life" so to speak...no, it was when the Doctor and Amy went back to the museum and asked the art tour curator how Van Gogh changed the world of art. This is what he said (and it brought tears to my eyes when I first saw it...):

"...to me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular great painter of all time. The most beloved. His command of color, the most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world. No one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange wild man who roamed the fields of Provence, was not only the world's greatest artist but also one of the greatest men who ever lived."

Agreed.

In the short time he was an career artist, Van Gogh's portfolio became quite prolific. Writing this blogpost made me wish that he knew how special his work was, and how much he influenced art in general. Maybe he would have stayed with us a little longer if he saw more success during his lifetime. At least we have his legacy, and I can still be reminded of Van Gogh's awesomeness every time I take a sip of my coffee.



Photo credits: canvasreplicas/ Anorak Zone Forums / simonbrushfield.com/ theartwolf.com/ 1paintings.com / personal

 

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