In the last week or so, two different people have asked me for advice on how to be an effective blogger. It’s a question I’ve been asked before, but it’s only recently that I’ve settled on a short answer I like. Here’s that answer:

Make yourself useful.

Find a question that people are asking, and answer it. Address a widespread misconception, or a currently popular myth. Draw attention to something that needs more attention. Do a translation. Do an intervention. Do the math.

Make yourself genuninely useful, and by definition you’re doing something worth doing.

I haven’t made myself very useful on the blog this last week. Between writing syllabi and tending to a feverish four-year-old, I’ve kind of had my hands full. And the big story of the hour — the Egyptian revolt — isn’t one I’ve had much to add to.

When Tunisia exploded, I could make myself useful just by writing about it, because for a while lots of people literally had no idea that anything at all was happening. But this time around, it didn’t make much sense for me to write a post just saying “hey, guys, Egypt’s youth are making a revolution,” because anyone reading my blog would already know that. If I’d had more time I would have found an angle, but like I say I’ve been assembling primary source readings packets and mopping a tiny sweaty forehead instead.

One blogger who’s been making himself very useful indeed on the Egypt story is Nick Baumann of Mother Jones magazine. Earlier this week Baumann put together a thorough introduction to the current Egyptian crisis, and he’s been augmenting and expanding it ever since. It’s a really great resource, and it’s exactly the kind of stuff that needs doing at a time like this.

I don’t have time right now to explain exactly how and why Baumann’s work rocks so hard — the sick four-year-old wants ibuprofen, and her big sister needs design assistance on the line of Phineas and Ferb Pokemon cards she’s putting together — so it’s lucky that the folks at the Nieman Journalism Lab have explained it for me. Seriously. If you care about blogging for social change, if you care about using social media for social good, go read the Nieman piece. It’s a wonderfully concise and cogent summary of exactly what Baumann’s doing right … and why it matters.