I’m really glad to get this interview, and y’all need to pay attention to it. I first came across Shai Coggins many years ago on Ryze, and she was a big deal even then. She was traveling all over the world speaking at blogging and social media conferences, being interviewed in newspapers, and showing up on TV shows. She worked with B5Media and was one of the earliest contributors to About.com, where she had her own column. At the same time she was starting motherhood and studying for a masters in Applied Psychology (Singapore) and Teaching (Special Education). She’s also an artist, photographer and model. I know you’ll enjoy this interview and will learn a lot from it:


Shai Coggins

1. Tell us something about yourself.

It’s always interesting to figure out the best way to introduce oneself in these situations. A life summary is always different, depending on who you’re talking to.

In this case, I think I’ll go this route:

I’ve been a web professional for over a decade now. And I love the online world. But, I do have a life outside of that, including being a mum to two young kids, a wife to an Englishman, a postgrad student, and a manager of content and community at a nonprofit organisation. But that last bit also has a lot of online stuff involved, so maybe that doesn’t count as an offline life.

Oh, and I love travel, reading, movies, writing, art making, food, baking, the beach… Wait, hang on. That’s another life summary for a different purpose. 🙂 If you’re keen to find out more, I Tweet (http://twitter.com/shaicoggins) a bit, I FB (http://facebook.com/shaicoggins), and I’m in just about every other social media platform you can think of. And, just between us (and your wonderful readers!), I’m about to launch my new professional blog, http://enkindlers.com (currently at http://enkindlers.wordpress.com/). Still a bit sparse in there, but at the moment, I’m hoping to put all my blogging, social media, and other content and community-related tips in that one central location, primarily for the community sector.

2. How did you get into blogging?

I’ve always loved writing. I kept journals from a young age. And, I’ve loved the idea of travel and other cultures all my life. That’s why I enjoyed having pen pals, especially from overseas.

So, when I heard about this thing called the Internet, where I can connect and talk to several people from anywhere in the globe, I knew immediately that I had to go on it. Never mind that I was no techie and I hated my computer classes in high school and college.

When I finally got online around 1997/1998, I started a website shortly after I got the hang of using email and IRC. There was a section in that Geocities website that I allocated a journal-type area, which looked very much like the blog we know today. Except it was hand-coded using the built-in web editor and FrontPage. And a lot uglier, with those horrid graphics and blinkies.

3. What was it like writing for About.com and many of the other organizations you wrote for and participated with?

I had two rounds of being an About.com Guide. First, I became the Language Arts for Kids Guide, back when they had a children’s channel. I loved the creativity that was involved in building that site from the ground up. Plus, I really enjoyed learning from and working with my fellow kids channel guides. They were a wonderfully smart and creative bunch. Unfortunately, that came to an end shortly after 9/11 and the dot com bust.

The second time I became a Guide was in 2004, as one of the first blogging guides around. I enjoyed the challenge of staying up to date with technology and writing for a different demographic. Particularly, ones who were pretty much the pioneers of the world that we now know as the social media universe. It was great, experimenting with the latest blogging software and being one of the first to get in to podcasting and video blogging.

Writing for About.com in particular was a really great time for me because I did learn a lot from them. Many of the things I know about SEO, web architecture, and content strategy, I learned first in that place. So, I will always be grateful that I’ve had that experience.

About.com also helped me to launch my own blogging network, which later merged with b5media, which then became a VC-funded online venture that brought a lot of interesting experiences too.

4. You added video early into blogging; how did that come about?

It was primarily through my work at About.com, as I said. I learned about video blogging and decided to give it a go. And later on, About.com encouraged its Guides by launching this video making competition, where I won 2nd place and $1,000 cash prize for making a video on video blogging. Yes, very meta, I know. Fun times.

5. At one time about 5 years ago you were known as one of the most powerful women in blogging, and you’ve had so many accolades and awards; how does that make you feel?

Uhmm… thinking that it was all 5 years ago make me feel old and out of touch. Was it really that long ago? 🙂

Okay, seriously… Of course, the accolades and awards were great because they acknowledged the work I did. But, I also know that they weren’t the end all and be all of things. I’m grateful for those things because I know a lot of people work really hard and they don’t always get the recognition that they deserve.

I think I’m just lucky that I got in to blogging quite early and so I was part of the excitement at the beginning. It was incredible to think that once upon a time, I was able to say, “Hey, have you heard of Google?” and the answer back then was “No, what is it?” many times. I really should have bought shares then!

And yeah, in the early days, whenever I talked about blogging, podcasting, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, people’s eyes glazed over. Now, it’s all mainstream. So, it’s much, much harder to stand out. Now that many people have discovered these tools, we’re seeing an influx of great talent all over the world. It’s great.

6. For a short time you weren’t blogging much, working on some other endeavors. Did you find it hard getting back into blogging?

Having a break from blogging was something I needed at the time. With everything that went on, I felt burnt out from my online life.

And yes, every time I do stop blogging for a while, I find it harder to get back in to the groove of things. In fact, I have to admit that I think I’m still not blogging as much as I would like. Definitely nowhere near like I used to. I keep hoping to change that eventually.

7. You’ve spoken at social media conferences and at blogging events. Is that exciting, and do you love meeting people?

At first, I found it terrifying. I really don’t consider myself a public speaker, even though I do enjoy teaching and meeting people. It’s weird, but when I started presenting again, I was freaking out so much, it literally hurt. However, people’s response to what I have to say had been incredible. And, it became easier as time went by.

I love visiting new places and sharing ideas, especially with people who enjoy learning and discussing their own views about social media, blogging, and all these other things that I care about so much.

To me, the best part about speaking and attending conferences and other events is the ability to meet the many wonderful people that I’ve met, which I never would’ve come across otherwise. Even though I love the web, being able to make real life connections is just wonderful.

8. I remember when your son started his blog; is he still blogging, and has your daughter picked up the bug yet?

Wow. Great memory! Yes, my son who just turned 8, still blogs occasionally. He has had his own blog for almost two years and even started setting up other blogs by himself. I think he still would like to keep blogging, but he has new obsessions at the moment, so we’ll see how he goes.

And no, my daughter is only 4 (about to turn 5), so she’s a bit away off from blogging still, I think. Although she has already started learning how to read, write, and make her own video movie clips using an iPod Touch, I think she probably wouldn’t ask for a blog for another year or two at least. Maybe.

9. This might not be a fair question but hey, let’s ask it anyway. Do you think the fact that you’re attractive helps people feel a connection to you as a blogger?

Haha. I have no idea, to be honest. Maybe that’s a question best answered by my readers and subscribers?

Actually, I never really considered looks as the best way to “hook” people. I know that may sound really lame, especially since I’ve been looking like a real narcissistic flake, ever since I discovered the concept behind self portraiture and the 365 days project back in 2008. But, I have to say that I never went around thinking I was pretty all my life, believe me. I even recall thinking, as I was growing up, that even though I wasn’t particularly attractive, at least I looked “okay”. So yeah, when compliments started coming in, I was really taken aback. Had I known I was considered attractive, I may have had a completely different view in life! Maybe I would’ve tried to do something more glamorous than blogging. Or not. Heh.

10. What’s left for you to accomplish, both in and outside of blogging?

I’m an INFJ – so apparently, it’s my curse to want something more, something better, always. 🙂

Plus, I have a long Dream List and an even longer To Do List, both of which will probably outlive me, as I don’t think I can ever check off all the boxes in my lifetime.

Right now, I’m going just trying to make the most of the blessings I’ve been given both personally and professionally. I’m doing some work on my “what’s next” plan, which hopefully includes finishing my 2nd post-grad degree, taking more time to write and blog, and indulging some of my other passions and dreams.
 

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