Veteran garden bloggers probably remember Garden Voices. “Back in the day”–before Twitter, before Facebook, even before Blotanical–it was the best way to find new garden blogs.
Garden Voices is a blog aggregator, a website that collects–or aggregates–posts about a certain topic, so you can get an idea of what the blogosphere is saying about that subject. My friend Donalyn is starting up a new garden blog aggregator, GardenStalking. Instead of an excerpt from a blog post, GardenStalking displays a thumbnail photo and a brief description to entice you to click over and read the post in its entirety.
I think it’s a great way to browse for new plants and new design ideas, and discover new garden blogs in the process. I’ve already submitted several of my blog posts, and I hope you’ll do the same. I asked Donalyn a few questions when she first proposed the idea to me, and asked a few more later on, and now present them to you in interview form:
First, the name. What are you trying to communicate by stalking–GardenStalking?
Well, the name goes along with my first aggregation site, DessertStalking. The “stalking” part is a reference to searching around the internet to find what you are looking for–in this case, information from garden bloggers.
What gave you the idea for this site?
I’ve been thinking about expanding to another subject area, and why I didn’t think of gardening sooner, I have no idea, but it truly is a natural for this kind of site. The combination of visual interest and great information are all you really need to draw an audience.
How has DessertStalking worked out for you?
DessertStalking is doing very well. It took a while to really get off the ground, as does just about any new venture, but I now have around 2,000 food bloggers signed up as contributors, over 14,000 published submissions and close to 3 million pageviews. I have also gotten to know some really great people as well. I have been part of the food blogging community for quite a while now, and DessertStalking has really expanded my relationships there. It is a collaborative endeavor, because, of course, I can’t run an aggregation site without the contributors, and they benefit with more exposure, and more visitors coming to check out their work.
What are you hoping to accomplish with GardenStalking?
Pretty much the same thing as DessertStalking, but with gardening. I am nearly as passionate about gardening as I am about food. I have some good-sized ornamental gardens and my husband and I are working to provide more and more of our own food all the time.
I truly believe that gardening and cooking great food go hand-in-hand. A lot of the time, people think they can’t do things because they have never tried. I can’t tell you how many times I have had people comment on my blog that they can’t cook – it’s too hard, they don’t have time, they never learned how, their kids won’t eat vegetables, they don’t have the right equipment, they don’t like this, that or the other thing.
But, the fact is, anyone can cook, if they are willing to let go of those barriers they are putting in their own way. I don’t beat people over the head with it–I just show them that cooking is not as hard as they thought. With a little effort and a few simple techniques, they can cook good stuff. The pretty pictures help, too, of course.
While getting more people interested in gardening is not quite as simple, it is still something that more people can do, if they are willing to give it a try. And, even people who have no intention or interest in actually doing any gardening themselves can still enjoy looking at nice photos and clicking over to read what you have going on.
How do garden bloggers submit a blog post?
You have to join the site first, which is really easy. The login/registration point is right at the top of the sidebar. Then click on “Submit Something” in the menu, and you will be on the submission page. I think it is pretty intuitive, but then, as a food blogger, I was already used to this kind of interface from other food porn sites. If people trying to make submissions on GardenStalking are struggling with it, I hope they will let me know [firstname.lastname@example.org], so that I can work to give better explanations.
What if they think there should be a new category?
I actually choose the categories, and that list will expand as I receive submissions, so more will show up over time. (Only categories that actually have a post associated with them show up in the sidebar.) I click over to look at every post, to make sure the photo links to the proper URL, and I also check out the post to make sure I am categorizing it properly. If I’m not sure, I will shoot an email to the submitter, to make sure I have the right category.
Can you submit someone else’s blog post?
I am still up in the air about this. If you see an informative post on someone’s blog, it would probably be best to leave them a comment that they should come to GardenStalking and submit it themselves. You will see some posts by “admin” that link to articles on sites like the New York Times or other media type outlets–things I found informative and thought would be an asset to the site. People make submissions to other sites on food aggregation sites all the time–the photos is attributed, and the link leads right to the originating blog, so no one minds the extra publicity. I am just assuming a “wait and see” attitude about it with the new site–I will decide when it comes up I guess.
What gets your submission turned down?
There are two main things. One would be if the link doesn’t go to the right place–it should go to the specific blog post the picture came from, so people can find the post with one click. The other thing is poor photography. Now, I am not going to be as picky on GardenStalking as I am on DessertStalking, but it still has to be a decent photo. Nice sharp focus, no flash photography, no harsh, glaring sunlight. Food bloggers are accustomed to their photographs being judged by aggregation sites, but I suspect garden bloggers will be less so. The thing about any website, though, is that it has to be visually appealing or people won’t come back, not matter how informative it may be. It is my humble opinion that bloggers should be able to take at least adequate photos, because the internet is a visual medium and poor photos give potential visitors a negative impression. I will be as gentle as possible, and work with bloggers to get their submissions accepted.
How often can a person submit an entry?
I generally ask that submissions be limited to two per day, just to keep the queue from getting filled up with submissions from one person. On DessertStalking, I don’t publish a submission from any single site more often than every other day. The timing will be closer on GardenStalking to start with–for now I am taking what comes in, as soon as I get it. Once I have more submissions coming in, it will be rare to find two submissions from the same blog on the front page.
Why can’t we watermark our photos–won’t our stuff get stolen?
I don’t allow watermarks for a couple of reasons. First, a whole page of little watermarked photos isn’t very appealing, and sites like this have to be visually appealing to hold an audience. Even more importantly though, it is very unlikely that anyone is going to bother to steal a 250 x 250 pixel photo in the first place, because a photo that size just isn’t very useful. They would come looking to your blog, for the full sized photo, which, of course, can be watermarked if you like. GardenStalking isn’t like Pinterest–the submission that you make will lead people right straight back to your blog, so there would never be a time that your content would be on the site without proper attribution.
What happens to photos after they fall off the front page?
Down at the bottom of the page is a listing of the pages of published submissions. Right now, I have the front page set to show 12 submissions, with the ones after that going to a second page, eventually a third, fourth, fifth, etc. DessertStalking has nearly 600 pages, each displaying 2 dozen submission and I still see people scrolling back page after page to check it out.
Any tips for submitters?
Photo tips are addressed to some extent under the question about what will get a submission declined. Your submission will look better to search engines if it describes what the article is about. “A pretty flower” is not going to be as good a title as “Grow this pretty hydrangea”, which is not as good a title as “I love Hydrangea p. “Limelight”. Titles and descriptions do have to be limited so that they fit in the space provided, so you might have to get creative. We also use an auto-tagger that pulls some tags from the title and description, plus I can add some, and I often do.
Anything else you want people to know?
Only that I look forward to getting to know more people in the garden blogging community, and that I hope people will see the benefit for everyone in a site like GardenStalking. We blog to reach readers, and sites like this help extend that reach to even more people. I hope that bloggers will not only come over to register and make some submissions, but also to check out the submissions from others. There is always something new and interesting to see, so come and take a look!