Monday, March 27, 2006

After Further Review…

Be careful what you ask for
As the old saying goes, Be careful what you ask for — you just might get it. Well, I asked and I got, and I probably shouldn’t have been surprised with the outcome.

Pretty much on a lark a few months ago I decided to take the somewhat narcissistic plunge of having my blog evaluated by The Weblog Review. The TWR, if you’ve never visited, is a Web site dedicated to the review of these wonderful little pockets of piss, bliss, pizzazz, and personality that are the thousands of weblogs scattered across the Internet.

This past New Year’s Day evening, I was updating a few things on my blog — blogroll links, story archive page, etc — when I decided to go for it. I had recently read the post by my friend Sidra (that’s El Sid to you) from a couple days earlier, reporting the fact that she had herself been reviewed by TWR, just as now-retired fellow Blogsville neighbor, Jay had done a year and a half earlier. One of their requirements for consideration is that you must place a link to their site on your blog from the time you sign up. So since I was updating my template anyway, I went ahead and added the link.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have stopped there. But I digress…

As you peruse the evaluations they’ve done, it’s pretty clear that these reviewers are no soft-sell. Even the good things they have to say about a blog are often balanced by their perceived negatives. So why I thought they’d see mine any differently is anyone’s guess. Frankly I didn’t really care all that much, but I was curious, as most anyone who has a public blog would be. So I decided to offer myself up for scrutiny and abuse pretty much just to see what they’d say.

So I went to the TWR site and registered. According to the instructions on the site the waiting period would be of indeterminate length, that is, unless I wanted to pony up $4.97 to have it done within five days by one reviewer, or $7.97 for the opinion of two separate reviewers. Either way, if you pay, they supposedly get it done in a week. However, being the cheapskate that I am, and considering the sort of egotistical guilt I felt about doing this in the first place, I was more than happy to wait.

And wait…aaannnd wait.

Within a month my Sitemeter identified visitors with referring URLs pointing to making occasional visits, so I figured the process had begun. I had no idea how long it would actually take, but hey, I was realistic. I understood that anyone approaching my blog for the first time would likely take awhile to extract any kind of true impression from it. I honestly didn’t expect it to take a whole lot less time than it actually did, which was just shy of three months.

Actually, I consider myself lucky, as I’ve noticed that The Weblog Review has ceased accepting non-paying submissions for now. If you want them to review your blog, it’s pay-or-don’t-play for the foreseeable future. Perhaps they’ve just gotten so many requests lately that they’ve accumulated a bit of a backlog. Lord knows my lengthy web of words didn’t help.

But what would they think? Would they understand where my “head was at?” Would they think I was funny and charming, or some middle-aged, pseudo-intellectual hipster dufus? Would they find my blog self-indulgent, or would they enjoy looking into my world, my thoughts, my dreams of life as it was and what I hoped it would become?

Gonna Change My Way Of Thinkin’
Going in, I hoped I might be lucky enough to be reviewed by someone at least close to my own age. However the more I examined other reviews conducted by TWR, I realized I was much more likely to wind up with a twentysomething Web-head with no kids, itching to make snarky comments about my bare-bones Blogger template.

Guess which one I got?

When I received the e-mail announcing that “Dylan” had reviewed my blog, I gotta tell you, I was pretty excited.

“Great!” I thought. “Someone of my own generation! And since when did ol’ Zimmie start doing blog reviews?”

Unfortunately it didn’t take long to discover that my reviewer wasn’t that Dylan. Nope, this Dylan wasn’t a member of my generation at all, but rather a member of the Net Generation, just a few years older than my own kids. Dylan O’Donnell is twenty seven years old and has reviewed more than twenty-seven blogs in less than four months since starting with TWR last December; no mean feat by any stretch, and nearly twice his required monthly quota.

Apparently, Dylan’s a pretty busy guy. In addition to being a talented photographer, he’s also the Webmaster and Message Board Admin for an Aussie blues band that I understand is quite good. I’d provide a link to their Web site, but apparently a marauding band of spammers performed an all-out assault on it recently, so it’s out of commission at the moment.

In his Technorati profile, Dylan describes himself thusly: “Australian photoblogger, Dylan O'Donnell. Unix Sys Admin by day, rock guitarist and singer by night and somewhere in amongst it all, photographer, emergency services volunteer and blog reviewer.”

Needless to say, with everything he has on his plate, Dylan needs to stay focused, so in my review, one thing about my blog he seemed really focused upon was, I’m sure, the most important part to him: the look. I mean, anyone so gauche as to leave the CSS template that comes with a Blogger account essentially unaltered, should definitely be taken to task for such an egregious violation of Web ethics, right? ESPECIALLY if they claim to be a Web designer. I believe that’s a violation the hypocritical oath or something. And given that Dylan has probably been writing CSS code since he was in high school, I can certainly understand why he was so appalled.

Now obviously I’m busting Dylan’s chops a bit here. Actually I agree with him to an extent. My blog’s appearance is something I’ve wanted to upgrade from the very beginning, but at the end of the day, it’s just been something I’ve never found the time to do. That being said, anyone who has read my blog lately probably knows that I’ve had little to no time to even write, let alone worry about making my template pretty.

Besides, I find that less is more sometimes...

Nonetheless, having already communicated as much to Mr. O’Donnell in a message board comment, I do consider myself properly challenged, and will definately, “rip that blogger headline bar out of the CSS template” in due time, and hopefully soon. When I Paint My Masterpiece, he’ll be the first to know.

Although his review of my blog was laced with snarky comments, Dylan did have some good things to say about the writing, which I did appreciate. And let me say right here, despite my own snarky commentary in response, I really do understand his criticisms, and I also remember what I was like when I was twenty-seven (and perhaps he’ll be able to appreciate that statement a bit more ten or fifteen years down the road).

To be fair, he actually did hit the nail on the head when he finally remarked, “…but I don't think AJ's main reason for blogging is the design at all. Like most personal blogs I think the reason for writing varies. Sometimes its to vent, sometimes to laugh, and sometimes its just to order ones own thoughts by writing them down.

Bingo. And for that bit of insight I’ll give him a pass. I’ll even go beyond that; I think that all the folks at TWR deserve a lot of credit for the effort they put in. Grasping an accurate read on a blog without spending an inordinate amount of time on it is no doubt a daunting task. And Dylan’s reviews are to be applauded for the obvious care he puts into them. Really, my only criticism of his criteria (and not just because he called me to the carpet on this, necessarily) is his consistent hatred of Blogger templates, which I found to be a recurring theme in his reviews. While I don’t exactly think they’re that great myself, I do believe it might be in the greater interest of a blog reviewer to focus a bit less on site design issues that the vast majority of bloggers neither have the expertise nor the desire to concern themselves with.

Not everyone is a Web developer, and most of the Bloggers I know, are scared to death to do little more than barely touch their templates, and that’s okay in my opinion. It’s the reason the templates were created in the first place. Blogging is the tool of the everyman, not just the technologically resplendent. I believe it’s the content, not the look that should be the focus of a personal blog.

So thanks again to The Weblog Review for the time and for the most part, their even-handed criticism of my work. I had fun researching this post, and in the process, gained great deal of appreciation for the work that these folks do.

If you’d like to read the review of my blog in its entirety, you can find it here. If you’d care to register with TWR, you may then cast your vote to agree or disagree with the opinions of any of its more than 1,969 blog reviews currently available.

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