Pet Blogger Challenge 2014

So keeping with the introspective nature as of late, with Meet the Blogger day and all the talk of resolutions you hear this time of year, I’ve decided to take the Pet Blogger Challenge.

I started blogging in the fall of 2010 and first participated in the Pet Blogger Challenge just a few months later in 2011.

What was Moses up to in 2010? He was playing with his new friend, Juniper!

What was Moses up to in 2010? He was playing with his new friend, Juniper!

Actually, the first Challenge in 2011 was the only time I’ve participated.

In January 2012 I was on a no-computer-screens doctor’s order, due to surgery to repair a detached retina. I have no excuse for not participating in 2013; January just happened to fall during a long period of non-blogging that occurred for no good reason I can recall.

But I’ve been marginally more diligent since then, so why not accept the challenge once more?

It’s kind of hilarious to go back and read my first response to the challenge. So much naiveté and optimism. Though, truthfully I don’t expect a lot of difference in my responses as I go through questions.

We shall see.

1. How long have you been blogging? Please tell us why you started blogging, and, for anyone stopping by for the first time, give us a quick description of what your blog is about.

I’ve been blogging since September 2010, so for almost 3½ years.

The Soapbox is primarily about Moses and Alma, Newfoundland dogs living in Calgary, Canada with yours truly, the Husband, and a couple of cats. I take pictures of our local adventures, our travels, and write about the minutiae of life as a dog owner. Kind of like Seinfeld (I wish), with more drool and no studio audience.

Alma & Moses

Alma & Moses

Every once in a while I’ll take a break from the dog stuff and share some scuba diving photos, or write about local current events, politics, or other random things like different kinds of restaurant patrons and a list of annoying things about weddings.

2. Name one thing about your blog, or one blogging goal that you accomplished during 2013, that made you most proud.

I think I’ve finally grasped and acknowledged that 75% of the work of producing a blog is to follow, read, and comment on the blogs of others who you admire and enjoy. It definitely takes more time and a regular commitment to give back to those who read and comment here, but it’s important. And I’ve discovered lots of good blogs lately – both established and I’ve just been out of the loop, and new bloggers.

That doesn’t necessarily make me proud, but I think it’s a necessary and inevitable realization of most bloggers. A milestone, if you will.

Besides, there’s a whole community-wide conversation going on in the Blogville, and if you read regularly, you’ll never get writer’s block.

I don’t think I’ve answered the question.

I suppose I have managed to churn out some decent content and page views myself, which does make me proud. My post on being an introvert with very visible dogs seemed to speak to a lot of people, and my post on whether or not to shave your dog (including awesome decision tree!) got a lot of shares and hopefully spared some Newfs from the clippers!

This photo got shared by the online magazine She Knows, which also made me happy (even if the caption is a bit silly - I didn't write it).

This photo I took of Moses got shared by the online magazine SheKnows (link in right side-bar), which also made me happy… even if the caption is a bit silly – I didn’t write it.

3. When you look at the post you wrote for last year’s the 2011 Pet Blogger Challenge, or just think back over the past year, what about blogging has changed the most for you?

The Soapbox started as a one-way dialogue. It was meant to be rant-filled and instructive (hence the title).

But, even though I still like my blog title, and it’s established if only in a very tiny way to my small population of regular readers, I acknowledge it doesn’t necessarily accurately reflect the content of the blog.

Oh well. It’s mine and I’m not changing it.

The Soapbox has become a much more personal chronicle where I write about things I didn’t necessarily think I would. It’s easy to write hastily and flippantly, but as an introvert, sometimes it’s difficult to be candid.

The Soapbox has definitely gone from a more sterile, careful voice to something more frank and conversational.

4(a) What lessons have you learned this year – from other blogs, or through your own experience – that could help us all with our own sites?

I’m certainly not in a position to provide any valuable advice, but I always learn things from other bloggers – whether they’re the ‘big names’ with thousands of followers or bloggers newer than I.

I would recommend just reading as many other blogs as possible, as I mentioned above. And comment on them in thoughtful ways – which is good for both you and the writer.

ACTUALLY… on that note: I would recommond bloggers quickly re-evaluate your comment platform. This comes from a reader’s perspective, not another blogger’s. Elaborate CAPTCHA codes are a pain in the ass, and sometimes I’m sure my comment is discarded because I miss having to enter a code after typing my comment and hitting submit. This happens on some Blogger/Blogspot sites, but not all. Or those terrible Google-only comment forums. The. Worst.

The easy commenting and following functions of WordPress are a key feature that keeps me loyal to this site. I’m not saying everyone needs to switch to WordPress, but I bet there would be more comments if commenting was easier for non-bloggers and bloggers on other platforms.

That’s really the only general improvment recommendation I can give.

Alma

Alma

(b) If you could ask the pet blogging community for help with one challenge you’re having with your blog, what would it be?

Not a challenge, but I do have a general question: I’d be curious to know when everyone (who has done so) decided to make the move to a privately-owned domain. I’ve been considering dropping the ‘wordpress’ from my URL for some time now, but remain undecided.

5. What have you found to be the best ways to bring more traffic to your blog, other than by writing great content?

If I obsessed over stats and page views, I probably would’ve stopped blogging a long time ago.

This post I wrote about Jake Gyllenhaal carrying his dog around way back in 2010 continues to be a top traffic-getter for me, so I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

And, obviously I’d get more hits if I wrote more and more regularly. I think Hyperbole and a Half is the only blog I know of that’s earned the credibility to post very infrequently and retain a huge reader base (and deservedly so).

6. How much time to do you spend publicizing your blog, and do you think you should spend more or less in the coming year?

I don’t spend much time publicizing at all. I’m very lazy. This is unlikely to change.

I may throw out the odd Tweet, but I don’t even share posts to my personal Facebook page. I am in a couple of Triberr groups, but I have mixed feelings about Triberr; I’m not sure it generates that much additional traffic and it does monopolize some Twitter feeds to the point they look robotic. Personally, I don’t like to approve Triberr posts if I haven’t read the blog entry myself. However, the benefit of Triberr has been discovering other new blogs written by tribe members.

Also, blog hops are always a fun way to generate traffic, expand visibility, participate in a common theme, and come across new and interesting blogs.

Sure, page views are nice – I don’t completely ignore them – but it’s not what drives my interest in producing content.

7(a) How do you gauge whether or not what you’re writing is appealing to your audience?

Definitely based on the comments. And not just the number – the quality. If someone takes some time to write a few sentences, share their own experience or perhaps a perspective I didn’t think of when writing, I consider it mission accomplished.

Tip: Puppy photos are ALWAYS appealing. This is Moses the day we picked him up from the breeder.

Tip: Puppy photos are ALWAYS appealing. This is Moses the day we picked him up from the breeder.

(b) How do you know when it’s time to let go of a feature or theme that you’ve been writing about for a while?

Hold on just a second – people write in themes or features? I definitely don’t do this – if I abandoned my general dog theme, there’d be nothing here.

8. When you’re visiting other blogs, what inspires you to comment on a post rather than just reading and moving on?

If the post asks a question, I’m extremely tempted to answer it. (Light bulb moment: this probably means if I want more comments myself, I should ask more questions of my readers.)

Otherwise, if I’ve got a relevant story or experience to the post, I’ll share.

But, as I already complained about, I won’t comment at all if the commenting form is onerous.

9. Do you do product reviews and/or giveaways? If so, what do you find works best, and what doesn’t work at all? If not, is this something you’d like to do more of? What hurdle is getting in your way?

I don’t do either. I’m not certain I’d be interested in giveaways – seems like a big time investment. And I’m sure being Canadian takes me out of the running for some of these opportunities.

When I answered back in 2011 about sponsorship, I mentioned I was concerned that would come with censorship. That’s still a fair comment, I think. But I might be able to be coerced into product reviews in exchange for free stuff. Who doesn’t like free stuff?!

Alma will gladly destroy any toys you want to send her.

Alma will gladly destroy any toys you want to send her.

10. When writer’s block strikes and you’re feeling dog-tired, how do you recharge?

I was going to say “I’m notorious…”, but technically I think you have to be well-known to be considered notorious. In any case, I frequently take a step back from the Soapbox when I’m busy with the “real” world, when I don’t want to write anything, or if I don’t perceive myself as having anything to say.

I’ll be inspired again usually by something that happened in real life that I think would lead to a good post. Although, sometimes just one of the regular blog hops like Mischief Monday or Wordless Wednesday is a great prompt to get back at it.

And, as I already mentioned, I think being well-read is a good cure for writer’s block.

Walking Mo. As you'd expect, a lot of my posts are initall on dog walks.

Walking Mo. As you’d expect, a lot of my posts are spurned by or during dog walks.

11(a) Have you ever taken a break from your blog? How did that go?

You bet – several over the years. They’re generally unplanned and one lasted as long as 3 months, but it’s fine. This is just a hobby for me, and I worry to take it too seriously would kill some of the enjoyment.

Besides, the hardest part is catching up on your blog reading, not your blog writing! (Because when I step away from the blog, I tend to step away from WordPress altogether.)

(b) Have you ever thought about quitting your blog altogether? What makes you stay?

Nope. The thought never occurred to me. Despite taking the odd break, I do always assume I’ll get back to it eventually. I don’t expect to maintain the Soapbox forever, but I have no plans or inclination when it might end. And rather than a defined ending or up and quitting, a slow, painful, unplanned death is far more likely, anyway.

12. What goals do you have for your blog in 2014?

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I think it’s silly to have to make changes just because December is over, and even sillier yet to hold off on changes you want to make until January 1st. I continually update the Soapbox as I see fit, and as a purely recreational pursuit, I have no specific goals for readship or income generation.

This hesitation to set specifics also comes from unknowing – I wouldn’t know where to begin, not being sure of what’s reasonable or possible.

A good goal, however, would probably be to try to post every month of 2014, but I’m hesitant to put even that in writing lest I fail. Maybe I’ll just try to keep up the momentum of the last few months. If I don’t, I’ll just have to answer to myself the next time I respond to this challenge (which, at this rate, won’t be until 2016 anyway!).

Actually, here’s a goal I can divulge: I want to continue to work on my photography skills. That’s more of a personal goal than a blog goal, but the blog serves as a good excuse to work on it. The Husband got me Lightroom for Christmas, so I definitely would like to master photo-editing with it. You all get to bear with me as I stumble through it.

Moses and Alma at a famous, fictional Canadian landmark

Moses and Alma at a famous, fictional Canadian landmark

Click here or here to visit everyone else who rose to the Pet Blogger Challenge this year.

Meet the Blogger

You may find the odd picture of me on the Soapbox, but even more odd is a picture that would make me recognizable if you saw me on the street.

Me & Alma hiking in Kananaskis

Me & Alma hiking in Kananaskis

That’s because, like most other pet bloggers, I’m usually behind the camera and focussed on the dogs for the blog. Sure, we write openly about our pets, our opinions, and our experiences, but we remain in the back ground often as secondary characters. We know a lot about each other, but the communication is pretty indirect.

For me, it’s pretty intentional. I don’t write this to be recognized. Unless I already know you, I’m very uninterested in being approached by strangers on the street. This may sound like a delusional worry, but I once wore an Actions Speak Louder t-shirt to a recreational dogdeball game with friends and someone on the opposing team said “Hey! Are you Jen K from Back Alley Soapbox?!” and it totally freaked me out. (I’m a pretty strong introvert, as you may have recently read.)

But, when I heard about the Meet the Bloggers day, I thought it was a great idea and am looking forward to meeting the other bloggers behind their pets that I read about so often. And it seemed unfair to just creep on their posts without participating myself.

The rules of the hop are to post a photo and answer some questions about yourself.

So here we go.

Hey, I’m Jen. With one N because I don’t like superfluous consonants. Nice to meet you!

Who needs a pool when you've got a canoe?

Who needs a pool when you’ve got a canoe?

Ohhhh… a RECENT picture. Gotcha.

In a pinch, turn to the selfie

In a pinch, turn to the selfie

Now that the pictures taken care of, here come the questions.

Jen & Moses selfie

Jen & Moses selfie

Question 1: What’s your favourite (non-animal related) movie?

I don’t have one favourite movie – I have 23. I’m talking about the James Bond franchise. I am a total nerd for Bond films and will defend Roger Moore as the best Bond to all who challenge me. Daniel Craig is earning his spot as a close second place. But c’mon, Moore is in some of the best movies: The Man With the Golden Gun, Live and Let Die. But Skyfall was pretty great, too, and I cannot wait for the next one in October 2015.

Guys! I met Jay Ingram this summer! (I'm just a nerd in general.)

Guys! I met Jay Ingram this summer! (I’m just a nerd in general.)

Question 2: What do you like to do in your free time?

Aside from walking the dogs and blogging, scuba diving has also shown up here on the Soapbox a couple of times. We don’t get out as much as we like, and the June floods put a dent in local diving this year, but the Husband and I have been able to get away to places like Hawaii, Cuba, Costa Rica, and Victoria, BC to dive. Our favourite place so far has definitely been Bonaire – of course, there was a hurricane that cut into our diving when we went, so we’d definitely like to go back!

Me, diving on the Hilma Hooker wreck in Bonaire

Me, diving on the Hilma Hooker wreck in Bonaire back in 2008

Question 3: What’s your favourite (non-animal related) book?

A favourite book is hard to pin down, but when pressed, I would have to say Persuasion by Jane Austen. I recently got myself an awesome scarf with text from the book from Etsy. But even though I love the classics, I’ll pretty much read anything. Except fantasy. That’s just not my preference. It took me forever to get through the Hobbit.

Check out the awesome Etsy shop storiarts

Check out the awesome Etsy shop storiarts for scarves with all sorts of classics displayed.

Question 4: What’s your favourite meal?

Well, it’s certainly not anything I make myself because I can’t cook. Well, I can, but I don’t particularly enjoy it and it never turns out better than mediocre. Baking, I enjoy and execute successfully, but I have no creativity when it comes to cooking and I have to follow recipes precisely. Good thing the Husband makes up for my deficiencies in that area; he’s got this incredible skill to be able to just look in our fridge and cupboards and come up with something delicious.

The whole family

The whole family (from last year’s Christmas card)

But, if you’re looking for where to eat out in Calgary, I’m happy to provide great recommendations! Today my Top 5 favourites in the city are (in no particular order, thus alphabetically): BrasserieCatchFarmFleur de Sel, and Una.

Snow faces on the dogs vs. me. I think they carry it better (and are happier about it, too!)

Snow faces on the dogs vs. me. I think they carry it better (and are happier about it, too!)

Question 5: What’s your favourite most recent holiday?

Last month I went to Las Vegas for a few days with a group of awesome girls who I’ve known for 20 years. We’re spread around Alberta now, but we all turned 30 this year and had to celebrate! We had some delicious food and drink and we saw Tim Allen do some stand-up. Does it get much better than that? I don’t think so, Tim!

A bunch of pasty Canadians in Vegas

A bunch of pasty Canadians in Vegas

Well, that’s enough about me. Go meet everyone else!

This Meet the Blogger Blog Hop has 13 – yes, thirteen – co-hosts! To meet the hosts and other bloggers, visit them:

We've created the 'delfie' - a selfie at the Hoover Dam

We’ve created the ‘delfie’ – a selfie at the Hoover Dam

I’m a Big Fat Hypocrite

Breaking News, Calgary, AB: I am not the Pope.

I’m not even Catholic!

And as such, I – like every other blogger on the end of a keyboard – am just a person.  A normal, falliable human being who doesn’t always practice what she preaches. (When you were growing up, did you ever have that person who said “Do as I say, not as I do?”)  I don’t take everything too seriously, and sometimes I take things way too seriously.

Sometimes there are things written here on the Soapbox that I rant about as if they should be scripture or written into law – especially when it comes to dog-related issues. And the thing about writing hastily, angrily, absolutely, or passionately about something is that you can get caught in moments of your own hypocrisy.

Jen K: Guilty as charged.

All of us face cognitive dissonance – unless you don’t think you do, in which case, you should probably stop reading now because you’re running late for Unicorn Festivus with Ironman and Princess Peach (I hear Zack Attack is opening for Jesse & The Rippers, so it should be a good time!). Sometimes we remedy this dissonance, and other times we choose to ignore it, which then makes us self-contradictory hypocrites from time to time.

If I’m being honest, there are lots of things I’m a hypocrite about.

I will roll my eyes at someone’s poor taste in television and then go home and watch Survivor. I will have a salad for lunch in the guise of healthy eating and then have popcorn for dinner. As a pedestrian, I hate impatient drivers, but as a driver I’m annoyed by ambivalent pedestrians. I think it’s important to be politically correct, but I love stand-up comedy, which is typically anything but. I will counsel my friends on “cost per wear” when shopping even though my closet contains many items that violate that rule. I will pet Moses when he puts his head on my lap because I think it’s cute, even though I know it’s reinforcing a behaviour many would consider demanding, and would even advise others against similar things.

In fact, there are lots of times I haven’t exactly ‘walked the walk’ in my everyday life based on things I’ve written right here on the Soapbox.

Pull up a chair, because it’s Bad Pet Owner Confession Time. (I know, I know, I said I wasn’t Catholic.)

Emma

Emma

I got Emma from Kijiji. From a backyard breeder.

Yep, you read that right. Many years ago, before I knew any better, I decided we should get a kitten. I impulsively looked on Kijiji, found an ad with adorable pictures, and went right out to pick her up. I didn’t even wait for the Husband to co-sign the decision. It was the exact series of mistakes I’ve written about several times here and caution others against. Aside from being certain in retrospect that Emma was taken away before she was fully weaned, and reinforcing the backyard breeding of the people I brought her from, I’m still happy we have Emma. She’s cute, she gets along with Isaac and the dogs, and we’re happy to have her. Should I have gone to a rescue and adopted one of the multitude of cats looking for homes? Absolutely. And that’s exactly what I’ll do next time.

I’m a dedicated raw feeder… unless you’re talking about snack time.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that we feed all of our pets raw food and that I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I’ve also mentioned several times that Moses’ favourite snack is bread. That dog loves his carbs. Not once has anyone paused for a well-deserved WTF. A focus on species-appropriate and grain-free, and the occassional treat is grain-abundant bread?!  Yep. It’s contradictory and I don’t even pretend to care.

Moses

Moses

I condemn breed-specific bias, while harbouring my own.

I’ve written lengthy diatribes on the injustice of breed-specific legislation and how dogs shouldn’t be assessed based on their breeds, but instead based on their individual behaviours, since judging a dog based on its appearance ignores the real, major factors in a dog’s behaviours.

Meanwhile, I harbour my own appearance-based judgments when it comes to dogs. I’ve written about it before (here) and I’m talking about my own sized-based discrimination. When I’m walking Moses and Alma in my neighbourhood and I see a little dog approaching, I wait expectantly for the little dog to start barking, growling, and pulling on the end of its leash. Sometimes my expectations are met, and sometimes they’re not, but they’re almost always there. I try to mitigate this with the rational acknowledgement that there are lots of well-behaved small dogs out there, but, in the moment, the bias surfaces. I am aware it’s unfair and merely anecdotal, but it still makes me a big hypocrite.

I am an unapologetic stickler for spelling and grammar and yet also a human being.

It causes me physical pain when I (or readers) discover a mistake on the Soapbox after I’ve hit publish. They’re bound to happen, since once you read something a few times, your brain just fills in the gaps for you. I’m famous for missing words outright or leaving incorrect conjugations when I reword a sentence. Once found, I’ll fix them and then wallow in shame for half a day, yet I remain quick to notice and judge others for their mistakes. This makes me both a hypocrite and a jerk.

Alma and Moses at the library

Alma and Moses at the library in downtown Calgary

I break the rules – sometimes even knowingly.

This whole thing was inspired because a someone in the comments – quite rightfully – called me out on my own hypocrisy in yesterday’s Monday Mischief post.

I’ve written before about on-leash by-laws, and I will continue to write that people should obey leash laws, but I regularly post picture of my dogs off-leash in on-leash areas.

Provincial Legislature - Victoria, BC

Provincial Legislature – Victoria, BC

I was called out for doing this at a provincial park, but in reality, all of Calgary, and most of the paved, urbanized world, is on-leash unless specifically otherwise designated. So my bad behaviour actually kind of happens a lot in this respect; I probably should’ve been called out a long time ago.

Go back and look at many of the photos I post here. If you look closely, you may notice leashes tucked behind Moses and Alma in many photos, but you will also definitely notice that I’m not holding them, and that I’m usually way more than 6 feet away from them to get the shot.

And in addition to the photo ops, we break the rules when we’re training – especially when we’re practicing skills like sit-stays, down-stays, heeling while dragging the leash, and long-distance recall. I have gone to off-leash parks to practice this, though very rarely because I usually end up spending most of my time there explaining to other owners that we’re training and I’m not actually some mean ogre who “won’t let” her dogs play.

Instead I’ll practice these skills right in my neighbourhood, in green spaces, or just down the street. Because you can’t have a well-trained dog who can respond in any situation at any distance without practicing that very thing.

But you know what – it’s a matter of accepted risk. And that was what my main point in last year’s off-leash/on-leash rant. I am aware that having the dogs sit in the middle of downtown Calgary – and then backing away – has risks. It is significantly riskier than if they were next to me on a 6 foot leash. And I am absolutely ready to take ownership of any consequences.

Would I practice these skills or give my dogs off-leash privileges if they ran amok, harrassed others, chased wildlife, and didn’t stay close or check in with us? Nope. I also carefully pick and choose the time and place for said rule-breaking, and leash back up when circumstances change.

Sure, this means I break the rules while still writing about how others ought to follow them. That’s not likely to change since I have no interest in assuming liability for the poor judgment of others (my own is enough, thank you).

Does this make me one of those dog owners who breaks the rules and ruins privileges for everyone? Yeah, I guess so. I will reason that Moses and Alma are well-trained and actually good ambassadors for dog behaviour, but most people who break the rules probably think their dogs are just fine, too (I’d like to see their pictures to prove it). Hello, cognitive dissonance.

Like I said, I’m a big fat hypocrite.

Moses, Crosby and Alma off-leash in the heart of downtown

Moses, Crosby and Alma off-leash in the heart of downtown Calgary

I’m Baaaaack!

It was just this morning that the Doc gave me the go-ahead to ease back into my technology-dominated lifestyle, so you can see I’ve wasted no time returning to the Soapbox.  It’s been a long month!  (Despite my frequent rule breaking over the last couple weeks.)

Belated sharing: Moses and his Christmas present

And with the time off comes so many unwritten blog posts.

I missed showing off the spoils of my winnings in the Shutterfly Christmas cards from the wonderful My Brown Newfies (pack that away for next year’s holidays?).

I missed the obligatory New Year’s post – whether it be about resolutions or the equally common stand against them.

I’ve missed trying to figure out exactly wtf Triberr is and how to work it (sorry Tribe members, I’ll get on that – where the heck is Jeff Probst, anyway!?).

By mere days I even missed out on the Pet Blogger Challenge, which I participated in last year (do I get my sidebar logo revoked?).

I’ve yet to even mention that January is Train Your Dog Month (who decides these things?), and I’ve had to repress the unexplainable crazy person urge I have to post photos of my dogs online that aided in the creation of the Soapbox in the first place.

And while I’m sure I’ve left a dark, lonely void in all your hearts with my hiatus, I’ve missed out even more being unable to keep up with regular reading of my favourite blogs.  Or – offline – reading the great books I got for Christmas, including Inside of A Dog.

Suffice it to say I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Alma liked (disemboweling) her Christmas present, too.

But it’s good to be back.

The pups on a walk from a couple nights ago. While it’s nice to get back at ‘er, I have enjoyed the extra time with Moses and Alma. And yes, that’s green(ish) grass.  In January.  In Calgary.

iPad & Katy Perry: The Wonders of Internet Search Terms

One of my favourite things about blogging with WordPress is the Site Stats page they provide.  It tells me how many clicks were made on my blog each and every day, and on what pages.  It also tells me what other websites bring traffic, and how much, to my blog (Facebook, Twitter, other blogs, etc.), and also what external links people click while reading my blog.  There are lots of ways you can analyse your readership, whether by week, month, post, or what have you.

And while I do find these statistics endlessly interesting, I think my absolute favourite part of this service provided by WordPress is the Search Engine Terms function that tells me which phrases, when entered into a search engine, direct people to my blog.

I find the results in this category highly entertaining, very informative, and also an interesting reflection of what people are looking for on the internet.  And I don’t know if maybe it’s against some top secret Blogger Code to disclose these sorts of things, but I’m going to go ahead and share some of the interesting things I’ve discovered so far, in my short few months of experience.

For example, the search terms function has taught me that writing about Jake Gyllenhaal that one time was probably the best move I could’ve made for attracting unsuspecting blog guests.  It seems almost daily people are searching for “dogs of Jake Gyllenhaal”, “Jake Gyllenhaal, dog lover”, “Jake Gyllenhaal dogs”, “good pictures of Jake Gyllenhall” or some similar variation, and it is this very subject that has brought the most aimless surfers to my blog – much to their dismay, I’m assuming.

The next most popular is my article on bloat, which pleases me.  When I was looking for information on gastric torsion myself, I was frustrated with what I did and did not find, and, not to toot my own horn too much, I do believe I’ve put together a pretty good resource for inquiring dog owners.  So that’s good.  On the other hand, the people who searched for “xray sex” and “bloatness of tummy during period” and wound up at the Soapbox were probably more than just a little disappointed.

And then there are the miscellaneous, diverse search terms that cause me endless wonder and curiosity, and really provide quite the emotional rollercoaster.

“ban flexi leash”:  This one came up yesterday, and my immediate thought was ‘hooray!’  Someone agrees with my distain for these stupid things!  Then I thought, what if the searcher is actually worried about a possible ban because they love their flexi-leash too much?  Ick.

“back alley bitches”:  Ha! I’m guessing this isn’t actually intended to be dog related.  Sucker.

“learn how to talk like a Torontonian”:  Ummm… I think you pronounce it “Tranno”.

“chow chow Winnipeg Kijiji”:  My knee-jerk reaction here was frustration about people looking for dogs on Kijiji.

“outlawing puppy sales in stores”:  Yes, please!  Happily, quite a few similar search terms on this very subject have directed people in my direction.

“can I return opened dog food at petland”:  The person who wrote this and I would never be friends.

“backyardsoapbox”:  Geez.  Get it right.

“how to report possible puppy mill Calgary Alberta”:  I really, really hope this person found the information they needed (call Animal & Bylaw Control!) and reported their suspicions.

“steamy men and women”:  This lonely person was definitely let down.

“train him”:  Referring to a dog… ?

“dogs with guns”:  This one actually comes up a lot and is a little alarming.  Is someone out there arming a canine militia?  Should we be concerned?

“how to surrender my dog Richmond bc”: And this one just plain broke my heart.

Darn. Not in the Top 10… yet.

Is My Blog Copyrighted?

If even fleeting, the issue of copyright can strike the mind of many of us who post our thoughts, opinions, work, research and information online.  Who can use it or share it?  And to what extent?  What rights extend to my intellectual property?

Well, first I’ll do away with the issue of plagiarism, which is simply someone taking something you’ve written and posting it as their own.  It’s wrong ethically and legally, and while hard to pursue online, you can often seek retribution simply by having the plagiarized content removed (forcefully or not).  Anyone with post-secondary research experience should have had the fears of plagiarism planted deep, and there are many ways to prevent the suggestion that someone else’s idea is your own by making reference to quotes and proper citations, or hyperlinking back to the original material.

But copyright does not just mean taking credit for someone else’s work; it also relates to unauthorized use and reproduction.  Hence those copyright warnings at the beginning of DVDs – we do not have permission to duplicate the movies fully.  Such is the case with published books.  You can’t go purchase the latest best seller and take it to Staples to photocopy the whole thing and distribute it to friends (I have doubts photocopying would be significantly cheaper, but you couldn’t scan it either).  This process impacts the financial gain the writer/publisher receives from the publication, and they could reasonably seek recovery in the form of costs from you for this action.  Fair enough – you’re stealing.

On the other hand, you are allowed to copy excerpts and quotes from publications without having to pay for them as long as you’re using it for reasons considered “fair use”.  Fair use qualifications include commentary, criticism, parody, research, news and education.

So what about my blog?  I’m not a published author; do I have these rights?

I sure do.  According to this super helpful website, everything is copyrighted essentially as soon as it’s written.  Canada, the United States, and many other countries follow the Berne Copyright Convention, giving authors and artists immediate protection for their work, my blog included.  WordPress and other hosts offer an option to include a copyright notice on posts and pages, which will serve as a helpful reminder to anyone tempted, but isn’t strictly necessary.  The only way you’re not covered is if you specifically denote your work to be public domain.  And just because something is online does not mean it’s public domain.

Personally, plagiarism, yes, would bother me; I put the work in and I want credit for it.  If you find a way to capitalize on something I’ve written, kudos, but I want the benefit, and I’m not inclined to share.  And credit is easy to give.  You can even recopy a whole post of mine if you like, as long as you link back here or give my blog credit (though I do know many bloggers strictly opposed to complete entry recreations whether or not they get credit, so make sure you check for a policy before reposting an entire work of someone else).  To give credit to an original author is a simple request – and an obligation.  Heck, you can take a post of mine, break it down, criticize it extensively, and I’m happy as long as my words remain my own.  I’ve even got one post where I’m asking you to copy the whole thing and sign your name to the bottom, and please feel free to do so.  Thankfully, I’ve not yet experienced a need to be concerned about plagiarism, which either means people are generally very respectful and diligent, or perhaps that I need to up the ante in quality (mimicking is the sincerest form of flattery as they say).

What About Facebook?

Before I started the Soapbox, I used Facebook Notes to post my entries.  Do I own that or does Facebook?

Well, Facebook Terms of Use seem to be ever-changing these days, with increasing privacy concerns and copyright concerns (especially about photos, it seems).

The first order of business, and self-protection due diligence, is privacy.  If you don’t want everyone to access your information or ideas, observe how you share them.  Check your personal settings and consider where you’re posting: public groups, applications, a friend’s page, a public figure’s page, etc.  If you don’t want just anyone to access something you’ve got to say or share, you yourself are the first step of appropriately managing your own affairs.

As I read the current Facebook policies, it seems that our ideas and work remain our own and there is a system in place for Facebook to maintain that.  If you feel a third party has infringed on your copyright, there is a complaint process in place, and it does not seem that Facebook automatically takes ownership of anything you post there.

But what happens if I were to devise the most clever status update ever, and everyone copies it, but I want all the credit?  Well, tough.

First of all, get a life.

And secondly, at the time of writing, the Facebook policies specifically state (and as a user, you’ve consented even to these policies if you didn’t bother to read them) that “You understand that information might be reshared or copied by other users”.

Furthermore: “Information set to ‘everyone’ [such as in a public group or celebrity profile] is publicly available information, just like your name, profile picture, and connections.  Such information may, for example, be accessed by everyone on the Internet (including people not logged into Facebook), be indexed by third party search engines, and be imported, exported, distributed, and redistributed by us and others without privacy limitations. Such information may also be associated with you, including your name and profile picture, even outside of Facebook, such as on public search engines and when you visit other sites on the internet.  The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to ‘everyone.’ You can review and change the default settings in your privacy settings. If you delete ‘everyone’ content that you posted on Facebook, we will remove it from your Facebook profile, but have no control over its use outside of Facebook.”

So there you have it.  I could take your hilarious status update, post it as my own or even post it on Twitter without giving credit and that’s just something you’ve consented to by my being able to view it and copy it in the first place.  This is how the 24 hour news cycle is able to quote posts on pages, profiles, and groups – and even Twitter.  What this has to say about the quality of journalism there is another issue altogether.  And if you are given credit by name, then you really have no complaint, as the plagiarism aspect is removed and you really have no copyright.

And this is why I started the blog.  My copyright here is much more secure than my Facebook Notes, with the added benefit of expanded readership without having to add hundreds of thousands of Facebook friends.  Thankfully, my Facebook Notes only really included topics like canine bloat, which is really information I’d like to get out there as much as possible, with credit and acknowledgement being a fringe benefit.

And Twitter?

Good question.

Luckily, the re-tweet option generally means you will receive credit for your tweets.

The Twitter Terms of Service state that your content is your own responsibility (you own it, but the consequences of it are also yours).  But while your tweets are always yours, by using Twitter you’re also giving Twitter a non-exclusive right to copy, reproduce, and distribute them.

While an argument may be out there that the 140 character limit of Twitter excludes tweets from the length and creativity requirements for copyright, the Twitter policies acknowledge that tweets are intellectual property of the user, and they do have a complaint process in place for anyone suspecting plagiarism.  However, I think unauthorized use is a non-existent complaint considering the nature of Twitter itself and the re-tweet function.  You would spend more in legal fees arguing that than would be worthwhile.

So there you have it: social media copyright as I understand it.  The bottom line is often to remember that there are real people behind those screen names, so real life standards apply to online actions.  No, I don’t have an LL.B. behind my name, so don’t quote me if you’ve got a serious legal issue.  That’s not a copyright concern; I’m just clarifying my lack of liability (look what our litigious society has come to).

Pet Blogger Challenge: Challenge Accepted

Piggy-backing off an idea devised by a couple of bloggers far more established than myself, today I am taking the The Pet Blogger Challenge by answering the following questions and participating in a little self-reflection.

1. When did you begin your blog?

Not long ago!  The first substantive posts were in September 2010, so I’ve only got 3 months under my belt.  In that time, I fired off 36 posts of varying degrees of quality and quantity.

2. What was your original purpose for starting a blog?

Curiosity and boredom, really.  I had various ideas for writing topics and both wanted to see how they’d turn out and wanted a place to share final products (other than Facebook Notes).  I’m more productive when kept busy, and this was a way to keep busy and research things that interest me.

3. Is your current purpose the same?

Yes and no.  My topics are still entirely selfishly motivated, but I’ve also added a do-gooder element, attempting to raise awareness on various issues and start some things.  Most notably, I’m using the blog to try to get retail pet sales banned here in Calgary.  Success is yet to be achieved, but I’ve at least garnered a little bit of attention and comment.  I’ll continue that endeavour this year as well.

I also have a minority of posts on non-pet rants and raves, which I will continue to use to blow off steam about a variety of subjects as I deem necessary.

4. Do you blog on a schedule or as the spirit moves you?

If the former, how often — and what techniques do you use to stick to it?
If the latter, do you worry about… well, whatever you might worry about (e.g. losing traffic, losing momentum)?

Part of column A, part of column B.  I tried playing around with which days of the week obtain the most traffic for new posts, and really haven’t found a sweet spot.  Instead, I aim for 1-2 posts per week, or a minimum of 6 per month.  2010 was well above that, but I had some archived material.  2011 is all newly generated stuff so I have given myself a goal minimum. 

I do worry that too few posts will lose traffic – I read somewhere that people should always find new material when they visit your blog.  This would be great advice if I knew how often the average person visited.  Then again, knowing where the majority of my readership comes from (Facebook, Twitter, Subscribers, friends), people tend to just visit when I have a new post up anyway.

Also, I don’t want to leave it too long between posts or my own interest might die off.  And I’d like to keep it a current and updated resource for visitors.

5. Are you generating income from your blog?

If so, how (e.g. sponsor ads, affiliate relationships, spokesperson opportunities)?   If not currently, do you hope to in the future — and how?

Nope.  And I have no goal to do so (wouldn’t an official sponsor ultimately censor me?). 

But if anyone would like to just give me money, I would be happy to take it.  I have a PayPal account and accept funds in $100 CDN denominations.  I look forward to hearing from you.

6. What do you like most about blogging in general and your blog in particular (bragging is good!)?

I like blogging as a way to sort through my own thoughts on various topics, and as a way to get information (and my own opinion) out there, whether or not its read.  I like my blog personally because even though I have the tendency to go on writing much longer than the average blogger, I think what I’ve got to say is well-researched and well thought out.  I’ve also learned than in mere months of blogging, I sure can stir it up and find controversy, which I personally found pretty entertaining and interesting.

7. What do you like least?

I feel like I’m still finding my exact niche.  As I mentioned before, I write a lot, with a couple of posts upwards of 5000 words, and it’s unlikely to expect someone to read the whole thing.  I have a background in academic writing, not journalism, and I am aware successful bloggers are more akin to the latter.  So I’m working on it.

Also, while it may seem my blog is canine-dedicated, I didn’t intend for that and the layout and just physical appearance really doesn’t suggest that.  Often, I simply don’t care, but at other times I wonder if I should be running two blogs – one on dog stuff, and the other on miscellaneous rants and raves.  Then again, the likelihood that I would maintain two to the same extent is slim to none, so I abandon that idea as soon as I think of it.  While this format isn’t ideal, it’s not likely to change.

8. How do you see your blog changing or growing in 2011?

My blog may change, and I hope it will improve, but exactly how I can’t predict.  I hope to make the same or better use of it, and I hope my style and voice will improve.  Obviously, growth in readership would be pretty great.

The End.  Challenge complete.