When I first took over Blog Herding I had a self-imposed policy of distancing myself as the author of that feature and being a regular member of the community. I didn't want to be perceived as using that opportunity to try and elevate my social standing or position within the community and have worked very hard the past year and a half to make sure that never happens. I was also concerned how it would affect my relationships, both positively and negatively with other members of the community. I seldom, if ever, would mention the feature outside the bounds of providing the draft to my staff point of contact (Jeff M), responding to those who commented on the post, and answering those who submitted the occasional private message regarding the series. But after 74 episodes spanning the last year and a half, having received the gracious and abounding support of the community and confirmation from the staff they are pleased with the results, I have decided to let my guard down, at least for this particular blog, and post some thoughts on blog herding that might help my fellow bloggers get featured.

What is Blog Herding?

Blog Herding is...

A feature spotlighting exceptional content submitted by members including blogs, reviews and podcasts.

Posted on the front page of Game Informer each week on Thursdays at 12:00 PM (EST).

An excellent vehicle for attracting community attention to user submitted content.

Drafted and submitted by a regular member of the community and reviewed and published by the staff.

What Blog Herding Is Not?

It's not a contest.

It's not limited to a select group of bloggers - everyone who blogs is eligible.

It's not an indicator of blog quality (there are plenty of good blogs that don't get featured).

It's not influenced by personal relationships, but chocolate chip cookies never hurt.

It's not responsible for lost or stolen valuables (just seeing if you're still paying attention).

Anytime I receive feedback or see concerning comments, especially when they are negative, I discuss it with Jeff M in order to make sure he is informed and to get the staff's perspective on the issue. I do this to protect myself of course, but also to ensure the member's concerns are adequately addressed. While this has only occurred in very few instances, during one such dialogue with Jeff M he eloquently illustrated the spirit and intent of Blog Herding as follows:

Blog Herding is like a museum exhibit and you (Saint) are like the curator. You review the various blogs and select which ones are featured in the exhibit for others to enjoy.

That perfectly captures the essence of Blog Herding - I don't select blogs I like, I select blogs I think will appeal to the collective whole of the Game Informer community. That doesn't necessarily mean everybody will agree nor does it mean those that aren't featured aren't worthy - it simply means "here are some blogs you might find interesting".

Before we get into the selection process, I thought it might be useful to share how Blog Herding is drafted each week, so you can see how blogs are (or aren't) compared to the other blogs competing for selection. If you're interested in having your blog featured and you understand the process, then you can use that insight to aid with drafting your blogs.

Administration: There are three files used to facilitate crafting the Blog Herding draft each week. There is an Excel spreadsheet, a Notepad text file and a Word document.

(I archive every draft and posted copy of Blog Herding)

Excel spreadsheet - the spreadsheet is primarily used for producing the statistic reports, but is also used to collect and archive various types of information including the number of blogs, bloggers and herded blogs posted each week; bloggers featured in blog herding; reviews, quotes, and a few other items of interest.

(Excel Spreadsheet Summary Page - Show Blogs / Bloggers / Herded + running statistics)

(List of Blog Herding winners for each individual episode)

(Excel Pivot Table calculates number of blogs and their blog totals + formats blogger info)

Notepad text file - the text file is created each week and covers the current start and stop period for blogs posted during the week. The header of every blog is cut and pasted into the text file based on the time it was posted, from newest to oldest. This is normally done daily. There is a final review of the file done after the closing date of the period to ensure it reflects the most accurate information as possible. This file is used to determine the number of blogs posted and the number of bloggers for the week.

(This is the header info that is cut and pasted off of every blog)

Word document - the document is the Blog Herding draft that is submitted to the Game Informer staff. It starts out as a template with no specific information in any of the fields. Throughout the week as blogs are reviewed, the titles of the blogs being considered are pasted in the document and hyperlinked back to the actual blogs. Usually on Sunday, I start going through the blogs to see if there are multiple entries from one blogger; to read the selected blogs one more time for final selection decisions and then I draft the caption for each blog. This is also when I select a quote if I haven't already and draft the introduction statement (the absolute most challenging thing I have ever had to write).

(This is how Blog Herding starts every Monday at midnight - the draft)

(This is what the draft looks like by the end of the week - then on Sunday I type up the summary)

Timeline (an average week):

Sunday: Review new blogs; Work on smoothing Blog Herding rough draft.

Monday: Review new blogs; Close out text file; Submit Blog Herding draft for previous week.

Tuesday: Review new blogs.

Wednesday: Review new blogs.

Thursday: Review new blogs; Blog Herding is posted at the GI website - 12:00 PM (EST).

Friday: Review new blogs; Leave congratulatory comments for those featured in newsletter.

Saturday: Review new blogs; Work on Blog Herding rough draft.

Selection Process

Thankfully, the staff has extended a great deal of flexibility and freedom with crafting the Blog Herding blog, which is why you see weekly quotes, a list of all the bloggers who contributed at least one blog, a place for community events and the addition of user reviews. They haven't requested or provided any rules on the selection process - they have entrusted and endorsed the selections I've made.

"...And thirdly, the code is more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules." -Barbossa

My first guideline is: If Andy McNamara or another member of the staff inquired why I included or didn't include a particular blog, can I justify my selections. This might seem obvious, but if you think about it, this philosophy protects against practices like favoritism and discrimination.

There is no minimum or maximum number of blogs featured each week. Blogs are based solely on their own merit and the weekly total does not influence selection or non-selection. There are no quotas.

Only one blog per blogger will be featured each week. This prevents saturation of the feature by one or two bloggers who post multiple blogs of sufficient quality to be featured. In some instances multiple blogs may be linked to one blogger in a single entry.

Multiple blogs posted in one day from the same blogger are usually not considered in order to prevent the assumption that the more a blogger posts the higher the chance they have to be featured. It's kind of an unwritten rule to only post one blog a day (actually it is written down somewhere by one of the staff members, but most people don't know where it is and have probably never read it). Failure to adhere to this policy is not going to be rewarded by featuring one of the blogs in Blog Herding.

Reviews posted in the blog section are normally not selected unless there is a valid reason why they are being posted in the blog space (some games aren't listed in the review section so user reviews can't be created for these games). This is to promote fairness for those members who post their reviews in the appropriate area of the website. Members are free to post their reviews as blogs if they choose, they just won't be considered for blog herding.

Blog series and parts are normally not considered because there is no guarantee the next episode will be featured or ever finished. If the blog is part of a series but is complete and stands on its own merits, it will be considered. For example, Ali Rapp has a series called, "Great Women In Games" where she spotlights a different female video game character in each episode. These blogs are considered because each episode in the series can be read as a standalone entry.

Blogs that are popular among the community and have generated a lot of positive discussion are given favor since clearly the audience finds the blog interesting. Conversely, well written blogs that generate no activity or negative activity are scrutinized more closely to determine whether there is potential interest or not.

Blogs reposting news articles without adding commentary or simply linking back to your personal blog hosted by a different website are in danger of not being featured. If you post the whole blog and a link - that is generally okay, but posting the first paragraph and a link back to a different website is not.

Blogs with spoilers are normally not considered for two main reasons. One, because it potentially reduces the number of people who will view it (remember, blog herding is about selecting blogs that appeal to the majority of the audience); and two - to protect the author of the blog. If you reveal details about a game that someone didn't want to see because you failed to alert the reader or they missed your warning and they are upset, I don't want to compound the problem by making the blog available to even more people and risk getting more people mad at you. Posting spoilers in the title of your blog is certainly not going to get you featured in blog herding but might earn you the scorn of the community and get you admonished by the staff. To summarize: major spoilers - probably not going to be featured; minor spoilers - maybe not going to be featured. Obviously the age of the game is taken into consideration too. Spoilers in a game released ten years ago aren't as sensitive as spoilers in a game released in the current calendar year.

Blogs with mature / inappropriate content are normally not featured in blog herding. I might let one, maybe two, bad words slide if they are mild, but otherwise the blog is immediately disqualified from selection. Bloggers who cleverly bypass the swear filter or have words filtered out but it's still clear what was said are not only not considered for blog herding, they are also in violation of the website code of conduct. Again, this goes back to my first comment about providing justification to Andy McNamara or other members of the staff why a blog was selected / not selected.

Blogs with sensitive and/or volatile subject matter that have a high potential of invoking civil unrest will typically not be featured. This includes content relating to religion, politics, military and foreign affairs (wars), money, sports teams going (or not going) to the Super Bowl, and the ending to Mass Effect 3.

Blogs that are selected for Blog Herding will almost always relate to the field of video games in some form or fashion. For example, blogs about movies are typically not featured, but a blog about a video game inspired movie would be considered. Nobody cares about your Aunt Rose...unless Aunt Rose is an avid gamer who holds the high score on DDR at the local Dave and Busters.

Blogs that contain pictures with offensive subject matter or language will get passed over. Additionally, if your profile image is objectionable or potentially objectionable none of your blogs will probably get selected. I'm not a big fan of blogs that use images with Game Informer's competitors on them (like IGN) but have featured blogs that include them in the past. If an IGN rep noticed a blog featured on the front page of Game Informer was using one of their images, it just opens the door for them to submit a copyright infringement complaint, and I would feel partially responsible if I contributed to them discovering it.

One of the obvious pre-requisites that I haven't mentioned yet - the blog should be interesting and/or entertaining.

Besides these elements I also look at the title, format, content and tone. A blog with numerous misspellings or grammatical errors is probably not going to get featured. A blog with a lot of different font sizes and colors that disrupts the flow of the blog is also likely to get skipped. Blogs can suffer from the Goldilocks Syndrome, of being too long, or too short. I know, I know...my blogs are notoriously long, but then again...I'm not featured in Blog Herding.

If your blog has a simple title, pertains to an interesting video game related topic and doesn't contain spoilers, uses a nice clean format with the words (mostly) spelled correctly and about 2 pages in length, there is a good chance you'll get selected nearly every time. When you look at the members who are routinely featured, they (and their blogs) all share these same basic qualities.

Final comment - it comes down to quality, not quantity.

In concert with this blog, I created the second Fireside Chat in the Unofficial Bloggers Group to discuss the various elements of a blog including title, author, format, content and tone. A number of community members have agreed to collaborate on this project, but feel free to join in on the discussions and share your thoughts on blogs you like to read or not read, and what makes that so. You can find the Fireside Chat #2 here.