Mar 16, 2010

Should I Shut Down LawSites and Start Anew?

16 Comments · Posted by Robert Ambrogi in General

Could it be that Venkat Balasubramani can read my mind? In response to something I tweeted today, he quite lucidly set out the debate I’ve been having with myself. Turns out he’s been having the same debate with himself.

The question for both of us is: Does it make sense to make a clean break from one blog and start anew with another? For both Venkat and me, the question is complicated by the fact that our blogs have achieved some degree of recognition and regular readerships. My blog has even won some awards, including twice being named one of the ABA Journal’s Blawg 100.

My reasons for shutting this down would be very similar to Venkat’s. I started this way back in 2002 as an adjunct to my book, The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web. Thus the name, LawSites. I intended to use it primarily to keep my readers informed of new and interesting Web sites. Over the years, however, my blogging interests have broaded — to media law, technology law, social media and intellectual property. The name LawSites no longer reflects what I want my blog to be.

I addressed this in part by starting a second blog, Media Law. But it makes little sense for me to maintain two separate blogs when neither encompasses the range of topics that interest me.

My desire to decide this question is hastened by Blogger’s decision to shut down FTP support. I have used Blogger as my platform since day one. I am thrilled that lawyer Rick Klau is at the helm of Blogger and is spearheading some exciting developments. I would stick with Blogger, but for the fact that I want my blog hosted on my own site, not on Google’s servers.

So WordPress here I come. I have set up and operated other blogs on WordPress and I like the control it gives me. But that begs the question of whether to go through the process of importing this blog into WordPress or simply start anew?

If I import this blog into WordPress, I solve my immediate problem of maintaining its operation after Blogger’s FTP shuts down. But I am left with the initial problem — much like Venkat describes — of being pigeonholed.

Also, I suspect that I will lose LawSites readers in any event. Even if I keep LawSites and simply move it to WordPress, my RSS feed will change and the process of converting permalinks is anything but perfect.

So, my options as I see them are:

1. Shut down my two blogs, LawSites and Media Law, and start a new one from scratch. I would keep all the archives of both blogs online but would no longer be able to update either.

2. Move LawSites over to WordPress and shut down Media Law but keep its archives.

3. Merge the content of LawSites and Media Law and import them into WordPress, continuing to blog under the name LawSites.

What was most striking to me about Venkat’s post was his comment that this question “literally weighed me down.” I know precisely how he feels. It seems almost silly to spend so much time pondering the fate of a blog. Perhaps it shows that both Venkat and I remain passionate about blogging, if uncertain about our blogs.

So what advice do you have for Venkat and me? We would both appreciate your counsel.

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16 comments

  • Venkat · March 16, 2010 at 10:47 am

    I'm glad you posted this.

    You have been blogging at this blog a lot longer than I have been blogging at mine (and you have a much bigger readership, recognition, etc.). But, after reading our posts, I'm convinced the attachment is largely emotional. At least a chunk of it is. It almost feels like moving. This (and a deep skepticism as to the value of google juice) makes the decision easier for me.

    Reply

  • Carolyn Elefant · March 16, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Bob,

    The debate is more than just passion for blogging. It is a weighty decision because you and Venkat have both produced enormous content over a long period of time, and great content carries enormous value. As blogs and websites proliferate, and try to cut corners by crowd sourcing with guest posts, the demand for high quality content will increase (and I think you know this from our experience at LBW – to generate content, Incisive realized that it was going to need to pay some $$s). By moving your site, and leaving two sources of content, you are giving up future value. It's like leaving a company before your stock vests.

    In your situation, I think there is a relatively easy fix in WordPress (you might need to hire someone or ask someone more expert). You should set up some kind of an overarching AmbrogiEnterprises blog that encompasses the full range of topics that you want to cover. Create a category "law sites" and a category "media," and set up a page for each. (see Jay Fleischman's site here – http://www.legalpracticepro.com/ – the Marketing and Practice Management Page displace the categories from the main blog ona separate page) You can then use word press code or widget to pull the law sites posts to one page and the media posts to another page. You can redirect your lawsites domain to the law sites page, and link to the former lawsites page as "archives" (so that people can access it on the previous domain).

    So, your main blog will cover all topics, but readers who only want your lawsites stuff or media stuff can get it from the sub-domain RSS feeds.

    Longer comment than I thought, but I think this might accomplish what you are after.

    Reply

  • Kirk · March 16, 2010 at 11:44 am

    As a regular reader of lawsites, I would be sad to see this blog end. However, I would certainly subscribe to and follow any replacement blog you may create.

    Additionally, as a long time website developer and WordPress enthusiast, I believe there is still hope for resolving this situation favorably. Given that WordPress 3.0 is not ready yet, moving both blogs successfully to WordPress while preserving your permalinks would probably require multiple WordPress installations on the same domain (though WordPress MU may also be an option). Multiple installations could be accomplished by installing WordPress in two different directories. One for lawsites and one for medialaw. Many of the permalink issues involved in the migration could be solved via careful .htaccess programming or perhaps even a migration plugin.

    Given the success of your blog, I would recommend taking steps to preserve what you have already created. Moreover, if you choose to use WordPress, I'd be happy to share some of my experience with you. You may contact me through LawConsuls.com or KirkChocholek.com.

    Reply

  • Garry J. Wise, Wise Law Office, Toronto · March 16, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    At this stage, it is pretty clear to me the you are "the brand."

    Thus, it would make sense, given that change is being forced upon you, to start anew with a new blog featuring your own name in the url.

    Your new site would function both as the hub for your new materials and as an easy portal that links to your previous, archived sites, which can remain unchanged for posteriy and search engines alike.

    Reply

  • Tom Mighell · March 16, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    Wow – my own processes have been mirroring yours and those of Venkat. I have a similar problem – my Inter Alia blog is based on a completely obsolete platform – pMachine – and I have no interest in moving to its new form (Expression Engine). Unfortunately, it's also next to impossible to convert a pMachine blog to WordPress without significant issues.

    So I made the insane, suicidal decision to move my blog to WordPress manually – one post at a time. This has actually allowed me to "clean up" my posts – so far about 50% of my posts had links that had changed or disappeared entirely. When I reopen in WordPress, the blog will be leaner and more current.

    Like you, my interests have expanded from Internet Research to broader legal technology topics. Fortunately, changing the branding for the blog will be relatively simple. Inter Alia doesn't connote any particular topic, so I'll be able to just change the tag line ("Tom Mighell's Legal Technology Blog, Among Other Things") without a big uproar.

    But I definitely feel your pain – I was literally paralyzed with indecision for months before deciding what to do. Now I only have about 4,000 posts to go! ;-)

    Reply

  • Lee Rosen · March 16, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Bob,

    I think moving will be fine and most of us will move right along with you.

    However, I'd encourage you to look at SquareSpace.com. I'm a diehard WP fan, but SquareSpace is awfully nice and has great support at a very reasonable price. I've got a WP guy that deals with my blogs all day, but that gets expensive and I'm constantly running in to issues.

    Whatever you do, I'd suggest you consider burning your feed via feedburner so you don't lose subscribers next time you decide to move.

    Good luck.

    Lee Rosen

    Reply

  • Robert Ambrogi · March 16, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    Tom: 4,000 more posts to go?! Check back in a year and let us know how it's coming along.

    Reply

  • Tom Mighell · March 16, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    My goal is to get it done in time for the blog's 9th Anniversary in August…;-)

    Reply

  • Tom Mighell · March 16, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Whoops, make that 8th Anniversary.

    Reply

  • steve · March 17, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Given that both your blogs are on the same domain, you should be able to combine them into one new entity. All your link structures would remain the same, and your visitors wouldn't have to be redirected. You'd also be free to re-brand that new entity any way you see fit. The blogger-to-WP import feature should make it possible to combine the blogs pretty easily.

    Also, since WordPress doesn't force you to put the blog in the root directory, you could keep the static page you currently have.

    Lee Rosen's advice to move your readers to feedburner early to avoid losing subscribers is a good idea. I would also put 301 redirects in for both blog homepages to the new blog; and if you move domains, 301 redirect every post URL over also.

    Reply

  • Kevin OKeefe · March 17, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    I've commented on Venkat's blog and posted my response to his question on my blog today.

    Seems to me you're misguided in your approach. First question is what do you want to do? Who do you want to do it for? What is the reputation you want to have that is being spread by word of mouth? Where are you looking to grow professionally?

    Then make the decision to engage your target audience and network so as to build relationships with your target audience through your blog and other client development/professional development work – whether on or offline.

    I am not sure why people get so caught up in the title of their blog, the history of their blog, and what their presence looks like on their blog or website. Professional growth or client development is about meeting people and engaging them. You can start doing that in a more focused and strategic way, assuming you are struggling with your focus, from your existing blog.

    Just because we have the Internet, and now social media, does not mean that anything has changed from 75 years ago in the way lawyers build relationships by engaging their target audience.

    I can't imagine you'd have been asking people 25 years ago if you think you ought to change the sport coat you've been wearing to meet people as you are not sure it's been working well for professional development. You'd have been asking other things that were more important – where should I focus my energies in networking with people? how do I do a better job of that? if I have multiple loves (journalism, advising law firms on social media, and practicing law) how do I present myself and who do I engage?

    What do I know, but I'd be focusing on the big rocks like that, not on whether to change your sport coat.

    Reply

  • Eric Turkewitz · March 17, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    I've got the exact same issue with Blogger, and am trying to decide between simply letting Google host the site, or moving to WP.

    I know if I go do WP, something, somewhere will get screwed up in the process.

    But WP allows better control of comments, so that you can edit out the gratuitous links and keep the content that remains. And I sort of like that.

    Blogger's biggest problem for me is the lack of decent tools for the comments.

    Reply

  • Eric Turkewitz · March 17, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    I've got the exact same issue with Blogger, and am trying to decide between simply letting Google host the site, or moving to WP.

    I know if I go do WP, something, somewhere will get screwed up in the process.

    But WP allows better control of comments, so that you can edit out the gratuitous links and keep the content that remains. And I sort of like that.

    Blogger's biggest problem for me is the lack of decent tools for the comments.

    Reply

  • Tom Mighell · March 17, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    Kevin,

    I don't think the two ideas are mutually exclusive. Granted, the things you say we should be thinking about are all important, but I think the issues we're talking about all deserve attention as well.

    Like I just posted over on your blog, for many years people didn't recognize my name, but rather the name of my blog. That's completely my fault – I didn't appreciate branding back then, and since that time I've done a lot to make my name more of a brand – through podcasts, Twitter, articles, etc. But the blog name has definitely been a handicap.

    By saying "I am not sure why people get so caught up in…what their presence looks like on their blog or website," it sounds like your opinion here is that the look/feel of your blog (the "sportcoat," as you say) is not as important as the big rocks of engagement and relationship building. You're not saying that, are you? After all, you're in the business of selling beautiful, professional-looking "sportcoats" to lawyers. (You also wrote a post "Law Blog Design Matters" two years ago: http://bit.ly/cKBhEs)

    I don't know about any of you, but I desperately need a new sportcoat. My blog design is old, outdated, and just plain ugly. If I showed up to a conference wearing a 1950's sportcoat, people might respect my ideas, but they'd still probably think I was the weird guy in the old-timey sportcoat. If you're going to engage with people using Twitter or podcasts, appearance may not matter much. But if you're using a blog or a website, the look/feel of your blog goes a long way in establishing your credibility.

    If I missed the point, I respectfully withdraw my comments. :-)

    Reply

  • Robert Ambrogi · March 17, 2010 at 10:36 pm

    We are talking about a combination of concerns — blog platform, blog design and blog name. For me, I have no doubt that I need to update the platform and the design. My problematic "old sportcoat" is the name. Names do send a message. If the message your name sends is off-point, isn't that counterproductive, from a marketing standpoint?

    Reply

  • Koncision ยป The AdamsDrafting Blog Is Dead, Long Live “The Koncise Drafter”! · December 2, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    [...] cart? Giving up an established blog is not something to be done lightly; I recall Bob Ambrogi (here) and Venkat Balasubramani (here) agonizing over whether to do just that, and then deciding not [...]

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