[2009-01-04] Blogging for the perennial lurker
I'm part of what's believed to be the majority of Internet users -- a consumer of information, for the most part, rather than a producer. Obviously, this blog is an attempt to shift my own personal ratio further towards the producer side, but I still most often find myself reading a lot rather than writing.
I would estimate that slightly more than 50% of my online reading is sourced from blogs, forums, or some derivations thereof, all of which tend to offer a relatively low barrier of entry to the process of commenting on the original article. And pretty much all blogs I've read that have said anything on the subject have stated that comments are a supremely important part of any such system (comment spam notwithstanding), because they allow the process of owning a blog and creating content for it to become a two-way interaction with its readers. I agree with this view, but I have some caveats to add:
- Firstly, I have often come across interesting articles whose discussions I would've liked to take part in, or about which I had some insights, or wanted some clarification. Almost invariably, skimming through the comments to such an article tended to show other readers had been there already, and already asked the same questions I was going to ask. What this implies is that for any given article, there are generally a limited number of potential interesting, on-topic comments that can be added. Beyond that point, the resulting communication, if any, is likely to be extremely repetitive, and a potentially misunderstood repetition of the previously well thought-out information at that.
- Secondly, as the logical extension of the above, when reading an older article from even a moderately successful blog owner, the likelihood of making a useful addition to the discussion tends to drop proportionally with the age of the article. Caveat to the caveat, though: if older posts have few (or no) comments, they are likely to contain plenty of hidden gems of discussion waiting to be uncovered.
- Thirdly, there are a lot more interesting people than you think there are out there, who think the same way as you do, whoever you are.
These are possibly common-sense observations, and potentially I'm repeating what a lot of people have already said, but that follows from my first point above. And the most interesting implication of all this is that, to be a blogger, one does not strive to write things that have never been written before -- because that's impossible. Instead, one acknowledges that there are other people who have expressed the same things they are expressing, and instead one tries to write successfully in the battle for popularity.
What this means, in this context, is that if you're considering blogging as a hobby, with a goal of popularity -- being read and written about -- you should be looking towards:
- Maximizing the number of potential interesting comments, thus giving your readers the chance to comment -- giving them a stake in the success of your blog.
- Writing a lot. I don't want to add any quantifiers here, because "a lot" means different things for different people, and depends on too many factors to enumerate, but I will attempt to explain why: because every new post you write opens up a new series of potential comments, and reduces the average age of posts on your blog. Be forewarned, though: this is a diminishing returns function -- the older your blog, the more new posts are required to reduce the average age. On the other hand, if your older posts are poorly commented on, new posts (and hopefully new readers that go with them) increase the older posts' chances of coming out into the limelight and having their moment of glory. Which also has diminishing returns, of course.
- I'm not sure what to do with the third point, honestly. Perhaps the rule here should be: be confident that, however poor your popularity might be now, there are people out there willing to read your posts and think about what you're saying. At the same time, don't forget that there are likely to be even more people who disagree; and more people still who don't want to think about it. Don't be discouraged by this! Accept it, and have your delete button/link handy for the inevitable flame-bait and trolling.
This is the third of hopefully many “personal experience” posts, where I detail the things I’ve learned and how I came to learn them.
The previous post was One Is The Most Important Number, about not repeating yourself in software development.
The next is Living In A World Out Of Synch, a long ramble about working what is, effectively, "the night shift".
Why did I rescue this?
Mostly just because it was part of the original series, actually, but also because it shows my feelings towards comments, sort of. I still agree with all of this, I'm just not willing to pretend that I have the goal of popularity for my blog -- witness the fact that this is not a blog, and there are no comments.
This is my personal soapbox, and I'll climb it and have my say, and if people have stuff to say about it (hint: I had three comments on the entire four-post series when it was new), they can tell me privately and ask that I publish it. For a good discussion, I'll always agree.