The Lorelle Story: An Interview with Lorelle VanFossen
If you’re the least interested in WordPress, you know who Lorelle VanFossen is. She’s the one telling us what’s going on in the WordPress world each week over at The Blog Herald, and she’s also the author of the most excellent blog Lorelle on WordPress. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s written a book on blogging, writes for magazines, and lives on the road.
She’s also the perfect interview subject for BloggerTalks, and graciously she agreed to be just that. Read on for some great thoughts on blogging, WordPress, the future, and more.
Most people interested in blogging, particularly using WordPress, know you from your blog Lorelle on WordPress, and from your posts on The Blog Herald perhaps. But who is Lorelle VanFossen, could you tell us a little bit about the person behind all these things?
That’s an interesting question, on many levels, as the individual in question and as a blogger with several online identities – or should I call them “characters” since I like that term better.
On the surface, I live by WYSIWYG. I don’t play games with my identity, but I do allow different aspects of my personality to shine on my different blogs as suits their purpose.
However, I spent the first two years of Lorelle on WordPress writing mostly in the second person, an interesting and challenging writing style. Most writers write in first or third person, either writing about their experience first hand or telling the story of what happened to other people. A form of technical writing involves writing in the second person, which means I’m writing about and with “you” the reader. “You” install WordPress this way, “you” add a link to a post that way, and so on. It’s a more inclusive style of writing that brings the reader along for the ride.
What’s so fascinating was people’s reaction to me at the different conferences and workshops at which I attend and speak. People told me “Oh, I thought you’d be younger” or “I thought you would be older” and my favorite, “I thought you were just like me.” Writing in the second person, the reader becomes you, the writer. It’s truly fascinating, but definitely hard to keep up.
I finally broke through the second person on Lorelle on WordPress when I started my popular Blog Struggles series where I invite readers into my life and my personal experiences and adventures blogging. I write about how hard it is to find your blog’s purpose, focus, and develop your blogging voice, finding things to blog about, dealing with the grammar police, battling questionable commenters and comment spam, ethics, traffic spikes, blogger’s block, blogger’s depression, and more. It’s a highly personal series and I struggle and fuss over each post as I slowly “let down my hair” publicly, so to speak. Readers are really responding to this open wound style of blogging.
As for who I am? I’m just like the rest of you, though my life is a little more eclectic. I have been living on the road full-time since 1996, a true road warrior. My life is a series of recreational vehicles, campgrounds, hotels, motels, driveways, and any port in a storm. A laptop, numerous portable hard drives, a Canantenna, WIFI, and I’m happy.
What brought you into blogging in the first place?
I was blogging before blogging had a name. As a university student, I was among the first on this new communications technique that became the Internet. As it evolved, I eventually joined CompuServe as an active member. With my extensive experience and background in computers and the Internet, as well as technical and editorial writing experience, when the first web pages were being developed, they asked me to help create example websites and the rest, as they say, led me down the wrong path in life. Kidding. Okay, only slightly.
By 1994, my husband and I were in the process of doing away with corporate life and planning to hit the road for a few years. We’d looked into the crystal ball of the future and realized that it was stupid to wait until you were older, wiser, and not so physically active to hit the road and travel. Why not do it when you are younger, more physically fit, and more naïve?
Among the many challenges we faced in preparing to sell off all we owned and move into a 30 foot (10 m) fifth wheel trailer was how to stay in touch from the road. We came up with a solution in 1994 to combine email and the early web pages, thus, Taking Your Camera on the Road was born. In 2003, I converted the static website into WordPress, turning WordPress more into a CMS than a blog, pushing the limits of what it could do, breaking it regularly, thus becoming some kind of expert. Expert in breaking WordPress, that is.
I began Lorelle on WordPress when the developers asked me to break it for them as part of the testing. I did a good job, so they like me. Over two years later, I’m still breaking it, so I must be doing something right.
As for what brought me to blogging, even before we hit the road in 1996, I was writing on our website about preparing for our travels and adventures, alongside technical and editorial articles all by hand or some of the early WYSIWY-really-get HTML generators. Over the years, I’d played with the early CMS products and found them clunky and time consuming, as well as producers of horrid, non-web standard code. Writing HTML and CSS by hand for so many years, I speak it fluently, so anything that gets in the way of easy web publishing, I’m not interested.
WordPress offered an amazingly powerful and versatile product for me to use, combining hand coding with the power of templates – you can do anything. It’s fabulous for the beginner to advanced coding twiddler. There are no end of the ways you can get in trouble with WordPress.
Why WordPress, and not any of the other platforms out there? Do you have a special deal with Automattic, or what’s the story?
I have no ties to Automattic or WordPress. I have great loyalty for simple and easy-to-use products. I’ve tried the rest and returned to the best.
As for my “work” with Automattic and WordPress, currently, it is all volunteer. Actually, I was suckered into volunteering. I couldn’t help myself. In the first days of the WordPress Codex, the online manual for WordPress Users, I finally gave in to temptation after seeing one too many spellings of “separate” as “seperate” – and haven’t stopped messing around with it since. While the Codex is a never-ending project, it’s grown considerably and I’m really proud of what all the volunteer contributors and editors have done and continue to do. We’re working towards a huge “article donation” campaign this summer, so if you are interested in donating an article or two, or writing one specifically for the WordPress Codex, let me know and get signed up on the WordPress Documentation mailing list. It’s important to help build the Codex into the best and most current online manual possible to help the millions of WordPress users.
For me, as a fan of WordPress, I enjoy helping people learn how to use WordPress in simple and easy-to-understand language. I’m very excited about the numerous translated versions that are opening up WordPress to non-English speakers. I think there are now more than 60 languages supported, and many feature their own translated versions of the WordPress Codex with support forums.
I help out when I can in the WordPress Support Forums and WordPress.com Forums. I love WordCamps. I spoke in San Francisco and in Israel last year and will be in WordCamp Dallas, San Francisco, and anywhere else they will have me. I’m also working on an article with tips and advice for those who want to have a WordCamp or WordPress meetup in their area. Expect more of these to pop up all over the world. There is nothing better than meeting fellow WordPress fans face to face. It’s so exciting.
There is something special about those who blog with WordPress. A passion for open source, but also a commitment to challenge the status quo and constantly improve it and what they do on the web. This trickles through from behind the code into their blogs. I’m really honored to know these people and call many of them friends.
Where do you see blogging in 2008?
That’s a good question and there are many answers.
We need to work harder on creating more “like-minded” social groups so people can connect with others with like-interests. It goes back to the forums and chats of old, as it has always been. If I need car help, I want to talk to the Car Talk guys or a car expert. I don’t want to talk over the problems with the guy in the grocery store parking lot. I want to know this person is an expert. More and more of us want to get right to the expert, and the web is the place to find the expert.
Discussing this with a friend a couple days ago, she described how the web and blogs had changed her life. Her heating furnace had broken. She hit the Internet, searching for home heating repair in her area. She found a lot of static websites, but a small blog by a local home repairman caught her eye. He wrote about the various repairs and maintenance projects a home requires in short, but charmingly written blog posts. She could tell just by reading one post that he loved what he did. His passion for his work was clearly evident. She called him and even though he was a little more expensive than the others, she wanted to hire someone who cared more about what he was doing than the money. After all, she was going to invite a stranger into her home, so trust was an issue.
While waiting for him to arrive a couple days later, she got on the web and found blogs writing more on the subject of home repair and researched tips and techniques for working on the heating system. When the blogger/repairman showed up, she had the words and some basic knowledge to talk to him about the problem so when the “expert recommendation” was made on what needed to be done on her heater, she understood him and knew he was giving her a reasonable estimate on the repair and parts.
“It’s an online library of research material,” she said. While she spend a little extra time researching this, she felt much more confident about her decisions regarding the repair and the repairman. “Ten years ago, I would have called up a male friend and had him come over to be with me when the repairman arrived so I would be safe, but also have a man around to listen to what was being said and help me make the right decision. Now, I can do it myself. It feels much more empowering.”
The confidence a business with a blog offers is very powerful and shouldn’t be overlooked when a business considers their advertising and marketing strategies. That’s where I see the business of blogging going in the next couple of years.
Where I see the rest of blogging going? Video, moblogging, and podcasting is going to boom. These have barely scratched the surface and multimedia blogging is going to be very, very hot this year.
In general, I expect to see even more people get involved in blogging, as well as businesses. We haven’t seen the top of the blogging boom yet.
I see the expanse between personal and professional blogging narrowing. A personal blog is generally defined as a blog with the focus and purpose based upon the individual’s personality, thoughts, opinions, and interests. A business or professional style blog is focused on a specific niche, an area of specialty. This can include corporate bloggers representing a business, or individuals with the expertise to blog on a specific topic. I see more and more business blogs become more personal, more touchy-feely, as people understand that blogs are about the personal connections, changing the way business reaches their demographics.
I see more and more people caught up in Facebook-style social networking putting more focus put back on blogs as the center of their online networking world.
Still, we’re not achieving the dream of Web 2.0, though many are starting to talk about Web 3.0, I think we’re at Web 2.2.
We’ve got to get this whole process simpler and more community-based. It is early days yet, but it’s still too complicated, leaving out a huge population that really needs to get connected with others online and offline.
On the downside, my research into the upcoming article on “What I Want Gone from the Web”, an annual tradition of mine, shows that comment spam and content theft are the two HOTTEST topics in the blogosphere. And bloggers want them gone. Dead. Squashed. Killed off. Whatever it takes. There are so many things wrong with both of these, of which clogging of the bandwidth waves is a top concern as well as the time-consuming waste. Many feel not enough is being done.
Blogging is hurt and loses a lot of bloggers who just get overwhelmed and tired of dealing with comment spam, from auto-bots and from people abusing comments in order to get link juice and attention. It burns out so many.
Akismet has a couple of competitors raising their heads, which is great because we need the competition to help create a more powerful product, but this is treating the problem at the top of the tree. We need to find a way to kill it at the root. So far, no one has come up with any good ideas, but we have to find a way to make it financially unprofitable to comment spam – or email spam for that matter.
Content theft, which many claim is not theft but a copyright violation or infringement, is theft to me when they take your hard work and make it their own. It benefits no one and hurts you when your content is penalized as duplicate content and trackbacks from poor rated sites.
The reporting and process of taking action against those who violate copyrights, especially auto-scraping, has got to improve. It must be easier to report violations, and we need better tools to recognize and stop all aggregate and auto-blog scrapers. It would be lovely to have a WordPress Plugin that would not allow access to our feed content without permission, recognizing Google Feed Reader or feed readers, but stopping anything else. Don’t know how that handshake would happen, but something has to be done. And soon.
Twitter is a phenomenon, Google bought Jaiku, Tumblr is popular, and Pownce is officially launched. What’s your take on microblogging and the microblogging services?
My take? Show me something new. I was doing all of this before web pages were invented. Usenet groups, live chat, all of this is the same stuff with a new face on it. It’s just the natural evolution of old technology. I’m still waiting for something new.
What’s wrong with the system is that it is too disconnected. I finally tried Twitter and found that my value in such a service is to find “content” not people. I want to find new people with new content and I couldn’t find a tag or search process to track down the specific keyword content I wanted to pull to me. The information I need has to come to me not me go after it.
With friends all on different social networking and communication services, do I have to sign up for every single one? At one time, I was on six different online chat and instant messaging services because I had to be everywhere everyone else was. It slowed down my computer’s memory, clogged resources, and consumed time I didn’t have. Eventually, tools were developed so you could sign up for the different services but interaction was done with one client management program. I’m waiting for the same thing to happen with all these disparate social networking services. They are meant to add benefit to our lives, not overwhelm or make life harder.
I’m looking for the something new that really achieves the dreams of what the web can do. Something new is putting language translations into web browsers so I don’t have to work so hard to read what others are writing in their language – and they can read mine. Something new is really creating communities not just chat groups. Let’s break the barriers between languages and virtual to get up close and personal more.
I’ve been dying to know – how does the sales of your book, Blogging Tips, fare?
It fares well, thank you. I’m working on some sequels that hopefully will be published soon, so stay tuned for more Blogging Tips than you can throw rocks at.
Now, ask me about how the response to the book has been. I’m much more interested in talking about that because it’s stunning to me.
The book, “Blogging Tips: What Bloggers Won’t Tell You About Blogging”, is getting a lot of attention, positive feedback, and the international sales are overwhelming. So many people need a simple, easy-to-read book like this. More importantly, it helps people blog better and more efficiently. It’s unlike any other type of blogging book.
The book is a giant to do list. The explanations are short and to the point. Each point is a tip. You go down each chapter and sub-section point by point, checking things off as you go, improving your blog and improving your blog writing, SEO, linking, network, readership, traffic, and so on. It covers all the core basic points you need to know, or review, to make your blog work for you, which is my definition of blogging success. If it does what you want, then it’s a success.
Readers tell me that they can read it like a book, but they are having more fun keeping it by their computers so go through the sections and take action on each tip. One person tells me they keep it in their bathroom so they can review it and return back to their blogs with new ideas and things to do. I love it.
The was written in three weeks, which I will never torture myself to do again. It was never meant to be a book and became one officially within the last few days of editing. I’m incredibly thrilled with the response and feedback and eager for a second edition to fix all the mistakes of the first in the rush out the door to the printer.
What does the blogging future hold for Lorelle?
I’m so busy, I can barely keep up with my own calendar!
I have three books on blogging in the works, two are follow-ups on Blogging Tips. I am also working on converting many of my popular article series from the Blog Herald and Lorelle on WordPress into ebooks.
In addition to my web consultation business, I’ve been researching two huge new article series on blog writing and personal blogging, and will be introducing podcasts to Lorelle on WordPress and possibly the Blog Herald. I also am a regular contributor to Blogger and Podcaster Magazine and the WordPress Podcast with Charles Stricklin.
I do a lot of guest blogging and interviews and have a fun interview due to be published soon with Grant and Christina of the Download Squad’s Squadcast.
Traveling and speaking time is upon me and the first big conference this year is in San Francisco, March 8 with the San Francisco Area Romance Writers of America discussing blogs for authors, followed by WordCamp Dallas on March 29-30, 2008, the Alliance for Distance Education in California in Pasadena on April 2-5 covering blogs and education, SOBCon – The Successful and Outstanding Bloggers Conference May 2-4 in Chicago, and back to San Francisco for WordCamp in July – or whenever they are going to have it.
The work that I do puts me in a unique situation to not only do what I love but meet others who are doing what they love. There is just something magical about being surrounded by so many who are working and living their passion, like you! The people who understand that it’s the connections that we make along the path of our lives that brings true joy. I am truly blessed.
I’d like to give a huge thank you to Lorelle for doing this interview. Be sure to check out Lorelle on WordPress, her blog, as well as the other links in this interview. You won’t be disappointed.