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Archive for the ‘Digital Reading and Writing’ Category

In the online realm, we as businesses want to know if people are reading our website text and articles. A lot of us are using tools like Google Analytics to see how many visitors we have, how long they are staying on the website, and what pages they are reading. However, I’ve always wondered if this is a truly accurate way of knowing how much of your articles are being read. Are people reading the first few lines and then speed-reading through the remaining paragraphs? Or, are they reading the first line and then skipping all the way to the conclusion?

Today I read an article (from start to finish – I don’t like to cut corners) at the Huffington Post entitled, ‘Scoopinion Tracks What You Read, Not What You Click (Yes, This Is A Test)’. It’s about a new Finnish start-up company that is attempting to create heat maps based on which content is being read on a website page. As a writer, this is a very interesting concept. There is now a chance we may be able to ascertain which parts of our writing are most effective; is it the quote at the end of the piece, the witty caption on the included image, or the controversial statement written to incite a reaction?

Man Reading MiContent Surrey Hills Content Writer

Human beings can become very engrossed in what they are reading. What kind of writing will attract the ‘right’ people to your website?

Admittedly, when I’m scanning the internet’s many blogs and News sources, there are a number of article types I don’t read through properly. But when it comes to our own businesses, we want to know what content is connecting with people on an intellectual or emotional level. If we can figure out the styles of writing our website visitors read most, we can then evolve our content further in order to maximise interaction and relevance.

Did you read through this entire post, or did you only read a few lines?

By Jesse S. Somer

Copyright MiContent.com.au

Thanks to applejan for the image!

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Evaluating web writing

When writing about pollution, one must be careful not to pollute their article with too much waffle.

When writing about pollution, one must be careful not to pollute their article with too much waffle.

Environmental sustainability is one of my principal interests and so I decided to have a closer look at three different websites in this field. One of the most famous sites is from the USA and is called ‘World Changing’. I also discovered a lesser-known site from Australia called ‘EcoVoice’ and an English language site from Japan called ‘Japan for Sustainability’.

At the top of World Changing’s website there are constantly changing quotes about the site. E.G ‘Worldchanging offers readers “solutions-focused” reporting on innovation’ – NYTimes’ and ‘2006, Finalist for a Webby for Best Blog’ are a couple of the sentiments that instantly inform potential readers that this site has been validated by reputable sources. The main page is split into three columns: ‘Feature articles’ (including very small, tactful photos related to each story), ‘The Daily Blog’, and ‘Top Stories of the Week’.

World Changing has a team of writers and this is shown by a consistent flow of new content; ‘The Daily Blog’ is updated daily (Who would have guessed?), and usually with more than one new article. However, like many News sites, some of their content is taken in full from external sources. Like Google’s eponymous search engine main page, the site is uncluttered, yet space is filled with necessary topical content. There is no distracting Flash animation, but a human touch (not to mention an ‘attention grabber’) is the one simple photo or video. This photo relates to a specific News feature article, and underneath is a short blurb summary. There’s also a link that takes readers to a list of older features.

Next to the site’s short, simple and effective title is a subtitle that expresses what the site hopes to achieve, ‘Change your thinking’. There’s a range of button links for article categories. Then, there’s a slightly larger button that says, ‘Donate Now’. This is obviously how the group gets at least a portion of its funding, as ugly advertisements and garish banners are kept to an absolute minimum here. Two Google ads in one column, and a couple of small book ads here and there (of which relate to the topic) don’t distract from the content.

I found a link on the main page (short summary included) and read a tagged ‘political’ post entitled, ‘China Gradually Improves Environmental Transparency’. The article itself isn’t too short, but it also doesn’t force the viewer to scroll endlessly downwards, or to click onwards to more pages. As we know, ‘making readers scroll to get to the rest of a story is generally preferable to making them click.’ (Dube, 2001) Throughout the story many external links are included, which take readers to reputable sources where information was originally ‘penned’.

At the end of the blog post, there’s a list of links to related topical articles written elsewhere on the World Changing site. There’s a place for people to comment, and all the buttons for sharing information via social networking sites like Delicious and Digg.

Interestingly, this article was taken from a different website, which is linked to at the end of the piece. This can create curiosity or doubt about what percentage of articles come from elsewhere, as opposed to editorial produced by World Changing’s own team of writers. One other point to mention is the inclusion on every page of an ‘Official Workspace Sponsor’. One can presume that a good amount of funding comes from this source. It’s good to see some transparency in a News site, as readers can tell if articles are influenced by financial interests or otherwise. ‘There must be some sense of journalists working for the sake of humanity.’ (Williams, 2005, pg.6)

The site contains a box for people to give their email address in order to receive a newsletter. Next to this box is the apt message, ‘Get good News for a change!’ This small textual addition is both original and fun; it can make a reader feel like the organisation truly cares.

The article is written very professionally. It has a large bolded headline that includes relevant keywords, limiting any use of generic terminology. It’s definitely written for an audience who desires professional reporting backed up by reputable sources.

The Earth's environmental sustainability puzzle won't be completed if your website is too puzzling too decipher.

The Earth's environmental sustainability puzzle won't be completed if your website is too puzzling too decipher.

Next, I’ll look at the Australian site called, ‘Eco Voice’. Right from the start I was blown away by all the imagery on the Main Page. One is forced to scream, ‘Where’s the text?’ It’s very difficult to discern between images that link to parts of the site, other external sites, sponsors, or advertisements. ‘Too often web pages end up isolated fragments of information, divorced from their context through the lack of essential links and the failure to inform the user of their content.’ (Lynch, Horton, Web style guide, ch.9, pg.1)

The only means to get to any real News (It’s called ‘The Environmental Newspaper’) is to click on the very large ‘Latest Eco News’ link. The Main Page lets people know who supports the site and who’s selling related stuff, but no content is actually there. Big mistake! We want content. If we have to click through, without being given any information beforehand, there’s an equal chance we’ll click away to look for someone who deems their own content to be of importance.

Now we’ve reached a ‘Contents’ page. There’s still nothing to read, listen to or watch. Here we get a list of potential topics listed under categorical names like ‘Eco Awards and events’, ‘Climate Change’, ‘Habitat’, ‘Forums’ and ‘Book Look’. If there is any valid content about environmental sustainability, it’s buried beneath detritus and other extraneous sludge. Why are ‘Eco Awards and Events’ so important?

I’ve finally reached an article. Clicking through from the Contents page, it has only taken me three pages to get what I came for. The article in question is called, ‘Ganges River Dolphin In Dire Straits’. A relatively short piece, this article is definitely not as professional as the story at World Changing. I wanted to look at high quality sites, but after seeing something of top quality, errors and glaring omissions jump out at me like…dolphins jumping for a fishy dinner. This article does have its main point summarised in bold under the headline, but it doesn’t have any links to other News sources or information resources to let readers know where the ideas originally came from.

How strong is your story if it isn't backed up by credible links to reputable sources?

How strong is your story if it isn't backed up by credible links to reputable sources?

There are some quoted people’s names written in bold where one would expect a link. Strange. As there are quotes in the story, I presume the writer interviewed the people. That’s not such a bad thing; it means they’re willing to produce their own News via their own research. ‘A participatory culture in which most of the population see themselves as creators as well as consumers of culture is far more likely to generate freedom and wealth for more people than one in which a small portion of the population produces culture that the majority passively consume.’ (Howard in Wesch, 2009) It’d just be nice to get a few links to related articles or sources. The article does have a couple of good images to go with it, but one can’t help but be distracted by the moving Flash advertisements that sit right next to the text.

The third site I analysed was the Japan For Sustainability or (JFS) site, of which is written in English as well as their native tongue. On first approach, the Main Page looks like a newspaper from seventy years ago; it’s very plain, not colourful and some would call it boring when compared with a more visually stimulating web page. One has to draw a line between stagnant and overdone when it comes to the use of colour, images and Flash animation. There’s also a photo of the Moon in its banner, but I have to wonder about its direct relevance, as a denuded object with no life whatsoever mightn’t be the best symbol for a site dedicated to helping the planet survive into the future?

This site states its meaning for existence in a straightforward, simplistic and almost bureaucratic manner (very Japanese). ‘The latest information on environmental topics from Japan to the world.’ Some article links have images attached, but not all, which makes for a very unprofessional feel, as tiny ‘No photo’ icons sit next to the article headings. There are also quite sizable sections of the page dedicated to links about how JFS have Twitter and a Youth Action Page. I can see the relevance of the latter, but such a large portion of the page dedicated to a Twitter link makes it look like the web developer is confused about what content is most important; maybe they aren’t a contributor? Something small like this can put a site’s integrity under question. ‘Copy needs specific goals to accomplish.’ (Kissane, 2008) The web designer should know that the site’s News articles are more important than information obtained elsewhere.

There are a few cool-looking little image links to topics such as ‘Manga’ (Environmental Manga!), Encouraging Quotes, and a map of Japan with ‘Interesting Eco Spots’ marked out. I thought these were both appealing and added some fun to contrast the administrative-type feel of the site’s main banner.

I read the article, Car-sharing Stations Established near All Stations on Yamanote Line by ORIX’. This is a short and to the point written piece accompanied by a great photo. My only criticisms would be that there could have been more substance, and that source links should have been linked to by article title, instead of including the whole strange URL link with all its arbitrary numbers and letters. For me, this shows that the writer hasn’t got a full grasp of blogging technology, or doesn’t realise the aesthetic importance of clean text .The post is tagged with a couple related terms, when if clicked on take you to other posts on the same site with similar content, as well as their being a ‘Related article’ list at the bottom of the page.

Overall, World Changing is the most successful site, but you have to admit it takes time, effort, experience and ‘manpower’ to create a News site of integrity. The others don’t fail their job; they are readable and contain interesting content. It’s a matter of fine-tuning, but in the short attention span lifestyle of modern society, being ‘adequate mightn’t get you second chance.

References:

Dube, Jonathan, ‘Writing News Online’,

http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=32&aid=41309, 2001

Kissane, Erin, ‘Writing Content that works for a living’, http://www.alistapart.com/articles/writingcontentthatworksforaliving, 2008

Lynch, Horton, ‘Web Style Guide’ 3rd Edition, Ch.9 Editorial Style, 2008

http://www.webstyleguide.com/wsg3/9-editorial-style/index.html,

Wesch, ‘Participatory Media Literacy: Why it matters’

http://mediatedcultures.net/ksudigg/?p=192, 2009
Williams, Dr Rowan, “The Media: Public Interest and Common Good”, speech, 2005.

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An article in The Age (Yes, some young people still read newspapers!) on Aug. 9 called ‘Stop the Presses’ got me thinking about the future of society if newspapers do fall off the face of the Earth due to lack of funding via advertising. People are not going to pay for the news online if they can get it elsewhere on the Internet for free; that’s hardly worth contemplation. However, the article did raise a question about the future of so-called ‘public trust journalism’. This is the type of journalism where well-funded reporters keep the leaders of society in check by having access to often highly classified information, thus keeping them on their toes. This is how we’ve thus far been able to bust corrupt politicians and corporate CEO’s. The question now is, ‘If newspapers die off and no one is left to ‘interrogate’ our community leaders, what’s to keep them from doing the wrong thing, and subsequently de-threading the cloth of our current ‘stable’ (If you’d truly like to believe that it is.) civilisation?

Say goodbye to those piles of papers (and cockroaches) in the corner of your livingroom.

Say goodbye to those piles of papers (and cockroaches) in the corner of your livingroom.

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Last week I participated in a group focussing on potentially building a website based around the topic of ‘Outdoor Melbourne’. The general consensus was that this topic could encompass many different facets of Melbourne culture. Art, theatre, film, gardens/nature, shopping, food/restaurants, entertainment, music, culture/multiculturism, sport, childrens’ activities, dance, events for the active, community events (protests etc.) could all be integrated into the one current events-based website. It was generally felt that it would be good to make a niche for outside/outdoor Melbourne content, instead of attempting to make another Melbourne events website that tries to cover every base, yet usually falls short in various areas of interest.

One great idea mentioned was as it would be an outdoor focus, we could have weather widgets on the website. We also discussed how we might entice advertisers to commercialise the site, and how we would need to host our own domain name so that we looked more professional, plus have more options for editing and improving the site’s format. The idea of an interactive site where the community at large could take an active role was well-received, but the need for moderators in each topical category was deemed necessary.

It was an interesting discussion, and as I watched the various students involved, I could feel a palpable enthusiasm for both the wider topic as well as each person’s individual category of topical interest. I look forward to seeing what happens next, but I’m not so excited about learning html code. Am I the only one who feels this computer language is a language without love?

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If your blogging experience is anything like mine has been, you might also be saying to yourself, ‘How do I really get to meet other bloggers of like-mind who have similar interests? I have found it to be pretty hard searching for blog topics using keywords at Google. The answer to this challenge may come down to an age-old process practiced for millennia: networking. ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’ is what my parents always said when it came to business or finding employment. Now I’m learning that it’s the same in the Blogosphere.

I have come across many well-written blogs in my travels. However, quite a large percentage of them remain relatively hidden under the radar, unknown to most of humanity. When blogging, it’s such a great feeling to know that people are reading your thoughts and ideas. It’s even better when they leave comments hoping to start a dialogue. After participating in these ‘relationships’ it can be quite disheartening to have to go through ‘quiet’ periods with little (if any) interaction. So, how do we find people who write about similar topics? From my recent experiences I’d have to say that this desired networking is being done at blogging communities or blogrings, of which I’ve written about previously: ‘Xanga Blogrings: An attempt to find others like you.

Though I wrote about these communities a while back, I thought I’d still try and make it on my own. I’ve spent a lot of timing searching for bloggers to relate with, not to mention commenting at other blogs to try and start ‘blog friendships’. It’s been hard. Just like real life, you can’t make someone want to know you. There has to be a point of connection; a reason why you feel like sharing each other’s space. You have to feel like you’re on the same ‘wavelength’. Recently I had a chat with a friend who said that he’d recently joined a blogging community of sorts called Zaadz. I checked out his new site and then did some research on how these communities work. It’s pretty cool and I really think that this has to be one of the main ways in which bloggers are ‘meeting’ each other on the Internet.

At Zaadz, you have to create a profile of yourself. There are several categories including Interests, Heroes, Teachers, Books, Music, and Movies in which you fill out. Your answers automatically become hyper-links. Let’s say that I put one of my interests as being ‘meditation’. After the word ‘meditation’ has become a hyperlink, when I click on it, it will take me to a page of ‘Zaadsters’ photographs who all listed ‘meditation’ as an interest. There you go: It’s an automatic connection. You already know that you have at least one common interest with a whole group of people. Cool. There’s also an awesome photo facility on Zaadz. Check it out, and check out the Zaadz philosophy on their Home page as well as the ‘thinkarete.themanifesto’ written by the site’s CEO, both of which contain inspiring ideas that make this community look worthy.

Recently I was sent an email from someone asking me to join the blogging community at Blogmemes. A while back I joined a website called Mybloglog, but I’d completely forgotten about it. It seems (I assume) that this blogger found my profile there (which has a cool little picture of MiContent on it) when searching for keywords relating to their interests. All I had to do was click on the link in my email and I was part of the community. Unbeknownst to me, Mybloglog has thousands of blogging communities within its one site.

Today I went to my Mybloglog profile after doing a little searching around yesterday of bloggers that I was told had visited my blog, one of which had called themselves an ‘admirer’. Interesting. Today it seems that one of the bloggers I visited called BlogBloke has added me to his community at Techbloke. I don’t think I joined of my own volition. This could be a problem…shouldn’t I be the one to choose who I want to relate to? There’s also a means to ask others to be friends or contacts. If someone whose writing you like also likes your writing/content, they’ll agree to make a connection. I like this reciprocal approach.

This all seems pretty great but I have noticed that some people are part of hundreds of communities, let alone being friends with thousands of individual bloggers. This causes some suspicion on my behalf. What are the intentions of these ‘ultra-networkers’? It’s hard enough having a handful of friends in reality. I seriously doubt that anyone has time to consistently read thousands of blogs. Could this be a case of blog gold-digging or social-climbing? I’d like to communicate with a lot of people about subjects that interest me, but I don’t think I can relate to that many people. Then again, I can talk to just about any type of person when I ride the train.

Jesse S. Somer is going to go deeper into the Blogosphere by joining in blogging communities. Human beings are social creatures. Why did I ever think that my writing alone would create relationships?

Copyright MiContent.com.au

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I’m usually quite an optimistic writer when it comes to the Internet, blogging, and information technologies. I’ve written over 180 articles on these subjects and it’s a rare occasion that I ever focus on the negative side of things. I guess I need to be an optimist; I really have faith that these new forms of human communication and collaboration are going to help our species evolve its collective social consciousness to a level where we are much more in tune with each other and the world around us. However, I guess because of the nature of the Universe, it being composed of equal parts positive and negative forces (as represented in the Chinese symbol ‘Yin Yang’), there had to be a time where my perspective shifted towards the other end of the spectrum. That time is now. I still love what I do and all that humanity has achieved, but lately I can’t help but focus on the many ways in which we have failed to reach a functioning level in terms of simplicity of design with these new technologies. Technology is meant to be simple and easy so that the masses can partake in its wonder and utilise its power. Somewhere along the way we seem to have lost our bearings. Let me tell you about my day today.

My last post was entitled, ‘I can’t find the kinds of blogs that I’d like to read. Help me!’ and it typifies how my interaction with computers and the Internet has been lately. In that post I talk about the terrible experience I had when I decided to search for blogs written about Kung Fu. That is only the beginning of the tale. This TED Talk by David Pogue that I just listened to about the simplicity (or lack thereof) of design in modern technology exemplifies my current mental state. He particularly likes to focus on the stupidity of many Microsoft creations like Windows and Word, but I’m going to take a much broader approach with my criticisms. For me, things don’t really relate to only one company or technology, although admittedly I do use a Mac (which if you have one, you will know that it can be hard to be a Mac user in a world full of Microsoft and Linux users) so it seems I unwittingly chose a hard road for myself. My issues stretch in all directions and are not prejudiced against anyone in particular. What I am feeling is a deep questioning in terms of the integrity and fallibility of human designers who are behind a lot of what has been produced for our society. There’s no doubt about it. We’ve got the brains – but are we using them?

Yesterday I went to my girlfriend’s university to use the Internet, as my office at home was extremely hot and I needed some cool air conditioning to get my brain functioning. The students in the computer labs wouldn’t shut up, but that’s another story completely. My thumb drive that I store much of my work on no longer works on nearly all of the computers in the library – only one row of very old ones, in an area that is quite noisy. My thumb drive does work in the computer labs however … Why is it so?

I just got a new RSS Reader for my Mac; I downloaded it free online. See my previous post ‘RSS Readers: Why don’t you have one? Are you crazy?’ Well, for some reason I keep trying to add blogs to this ‘Shrook’ Reader and it just won’t take them. The blog sites say that they have RSS feeds available and yet they either simply don’t work, or I get a message saying that it can’t read the XML.

A friend of mine sent me a link to a program called Workrave that tells you automatically when you should take a break from your computer so that you don’t get Repetitive Strain Injury in your wrists. He owns an Optometry Clinic with his wife (she’s the optometrist) and uses this program, but in the context of relieving strain on the eyes. Of course it won’t work on a Mac, only Windows and Linux. I tried getting a few Mac equivalents like ‘Type-Break-Mode’, but couldn’t easily find where I could download it. You know when you hit on a Google link with your desired key words and you get a page of html computer code? That happened repeatedly. Repeatedly …

My brother gave me a program called Irip, which is supposed to let you download your songs off of your Ipod onto your Itunes program in your computer (when Apple made the Ipod they only wanted songs to be able to travel one way, computer to MP3 player). It’s supposed to be easy. I must be an idiot because I can’t get it to work! Are you getting my drift here?

Then there’s the issue of content on the Internet. I found a list of blogs about blogging that supposedly originated from Technorati CEO David Sifry at a blog called ‘I’m Blogging This’. Most of these blogs only touch on blogging, and some of them have nothing to do with it at all. I looked up literary blogs (I like reading books and want to get a list of other bloggers with similar interests) to see if I’d have any more luck than with my Kung Fu blog search debacle. I found this really cool web page that lists heaps of literary blogs: ‘The Complete Review’s Links to Literary Weblogs‘. The funny thing is that my search engine didn’t provide this list. No way. The only reason that a comprehensive list like this one even exists is because some individual human beings put the effort in to compile it themselves. The search engine spiders don’t have one up on simple human endeavours. Prove me wrong people!

I love technology. It needs to be simple to use. The people who make it are thinking too much. It’s all too complex, varied, random, and disassociated from meaning. KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid.

Jesse S. Somer is not the brightest kid on the block. He needs the processes of ‘future’ technologies to be created with simpletons like him in mind.

Copyright MiContent.com.au

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Supposedly there are over 55 million blogs in the world, and this number is growing exponentially everyday. One would assume that with this massive amount of online journals that just about every topic known to humanity would have someone writing about it. This does not seem to be the case, and there could be many reasons for it. Here are a few of my theories on the matter: Firstly, blogging might still be so young that there’s no way all topics could have been covered thus far. Secondly, it seems the bulk of bloggers out there are writing about the same things, namely politics. Thirdly, and most importantly (I believe), if there are blogs on the subjects I’m interested in, Google doesn’t seem to be able to give them to me.

Let me give you an example. I’m interested in kung fu. I’ve been studying Tai Chi and Kung Fu for over 12 years. As I’ve been writing about blogs I like and don’t like, I thought I’d take the next obvious step and start searching for blogs that relate to all of my specific personal interests. So, I typed ‘Kung fu blogs’ into my Google search engine expecting to see a comprehensive list of martial arts bloggers come up. If you’ve tried similar searches you will know the result of my experience: almost nothing showed up. Google said that it had found 1,780,000 links with the words ‘kung fu blogs’ used on the World Wide Web. However, I was lucky to find a couple of actual blogs – and they were nothing to write home about – very average indeed.

With so many links out there, why did I end up feeling so discouraged and unfulfilled? The answer is quite simple – at least it seems to be. People say the words ‘kung fu’ and ‘blog’ all the time on the Internet … but hardly ever together; and hardly in the context that I’m looking for. People call themselves the ‘Kung Fu Monkey’ and then have no actual affiliation with martial arts whatsoever. Others love kung fu movies and so they make websites filled with long lists of the films they’ve seen and loved.

The result for me is a quagmire of disassociated terms. It’s like I’m sitting next to a black hole in space and all the verbal conversations of the Universe are flying space garbage going past my ears, quickly being sucked into nothingness (as ‘nothingness’ is actually about how relevant any of their meanings are to me). Oh of course there are some terms that I know, but they are so jumbled up and arbitrary in their expression that they may as well be gibberish spoken in a foreign tongue.

There’s something wrong with Google (and I assume other search engines). It gives you the text words that you’ve searched for, but it often doesn’t find you the MEANING that you desire. There has to be a better way for me to get the exact content that I need right at the top of my search query lists. I mean if you go even further, who’s to say that if there actually was a long list of kung fu blogs to read through that I’d even find the types of writing I can relate to and enjoy/learn from?

If I’m a mature-aged academic looking to read about the health benefits of kung fu, I’m not going to feel grateful if I have to search through pages and pages of teenagers talking about how cool it is to be able to do a flying side kick. Conversely, if I’m a woman looking to learn self-defence, I’m not going to be too enthused by reading blogs from guys talking about how great they were at the last form competition or belt-ranking ceremony.

We need to be able to easily find the exact content and writing style relating to the context of the terms that we’re searching for. In this instance, I would like to have read blogs from intelligent kung fu practitioners about different ways to improve one’s skills and training. If I could read blogs from masters or teachers that’d be even better. Are people not writing about this one tiny topic (I’m guessing kung fu is quite insignificant in terms of popularity when compared to video games, information technologies, and politics), or am I simply unable to find these bloggers with the current technologies available to me? Either way, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I spend my valuable time searching for knowledge, only to end up feeling lost, when at the start of my Internet blogging quest I was curious, confident, and filled with excited anticipation.

Here’s an interesting thought. If you type ‘Kung Fu Blogs’ into Google after I make this post, there’s a good chance it will come up on the list of links (I did write the words ‘Kung Fu’ many times throughout this piece). If you were someone like me looking for ideas from teachers or masters, would you be satisfied with this link?

Jesse S. Somer is but a grasshopper in the world of kung fu. However, when it comes to his blogging experience, he knows exactly what he wants from the Blogosphere.

When searching for blogs I like, I often feel I’m only chasing after shadows of the ideas I hoped to find … and in the end, my hands come up empty.

Copyright MiContent.com.au

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