Duncan need not shoot me in my face, because I'm apparently shooting myself in the blog, because of how I blog.
You don't post often enough. People click on a website regularly when
they expect it to have new content. If you're a thoughtful writer who
tends to write longer essays then you're at a disadvantage. On the
other hand, Glenn Greenwald provides a pretty good model of how to make
this work: generally one post per day, followed by a couple of updates,
and some participation in his comments section. Oh, and truly
excellent, original, and important content.
Chris continues with this.
“If you’re a thoughtful writer who tends to write longer essays then you’re at a disadvantage.”
That’s pretty much the issue right there, isn’t it? For a number of
reasons — impatience, illiteracy, the eyestrain involved in reading a
monitor as compared to curling up with a book or a magazine, the
infrequency with which one finds people with high-speed internet
hookups in their bathrooms — people tend to drop out after the first
screen of text.
… The problem, as has been pointed out by Noam Chomsky, whose name
usually guarantees an immediate 35 percent reader attrition all by
itself, is that short statements only work for the reader when they do
not challenge preconceptions. Chomsky was speaking of political news
when he said it, but it’s just as true of many other topics. “American
society is founded on freedom” works as a short statement: people will
read it, nod, grunt assent and move on. “American society is founded on
wars of conquest and slavery” doesn’t work quite that well, unless your
readership is composed entirely of Trotskyists. Otherwise, you’ll have
to give a short course in history with footnotes and primary sources
for each sentence. (This is why you rarely see Howard Zinn on
Short statements on complex topics, in other words, can only work when they contribute to, and are in essence supported by, the status quo. Question that status quo,
quibble with received wisdom, try to kick the chocks out from
underneath the wheels of society, and you got some splainin’ to do.
And it's the 'splaining that's the bugaboo. It's also at the heart of the kind of blogging I try to do and enjoy doing; which tends to mean longer posts, with lots of links, that attempt to pull various items and issues into a particular context.
I could probably generate 10 or more posts a day if most of them consisted of one word, maybe one sentence, a link, and a blockquote. But that's hardly what I'd call "original content." ("Excellence" and "importance" are subjective, I think, and depend entirely on the audience you're writing for.) Besides, that's not writing. That's aggregating, and there are already plenty of aggregators out there.
It's also just the way my mind works, in a kind of perpetual "associative mode." I can't think of just one thing at a time. That is, I can't think of one thing without also thinking of how it relates to something else. How it plays out in my blogging is that I read something, and immediatly think about how it relates to something I read before and/or posted earlier. Once that happens, leaving out those other threads feels like an incomplete picture to me. So I end up with longer posts that link all over the place, or series of posts.
It started some time during my past three years of blogging, and probably gelled around the time I started blogging Zach's story. when I decided that it I wanted to build a readership I was going to have to work harder to offer people something they wouldn't find elsewhere. To me, that means I can't get away with post that consist of a few words, or a sentence, a link, and a blockquote, because then I'm not doing anything people can't see somewhere else, probaby on blogs they're already reading.
Part of that may also be due to the standards I’m holding myself to lately. As I’ve written before,
I have a tendency not to cover stuff that’s already been posted by a
number of the high traffic political blogs. At least, I don’t post
about it unless I’ve got something to say about it that hasn’t been
said already elsewhere. By the same token, if I’m going to write about
something, then I have to try to offer something — an insight, a
perspective, a history, etc. — that they’re not likely to find
elsewhere. For me that usually means writing posts that are longer than
a blockquote and three paragraphs of commentary, and have numerous
links that often tie in to other related posts and news items in order
to provide a context.
As I said in my previous post , this kind of blogging (as well as the topics I tend to blog about) isn't likely to attract massive amounts of readers, because it's not something they can get in and out of in three minutes or less. I completely accept that. It's what I meant when I said this.
Most of all, I finally realized a few things: the topics I blog about and the kind of blogging I do will never
attract a huge audience, and if attracting a huge audience would most
likely mean changing what I blog about and how I blog. I’ve decided
against the latter.
But, there are people who appreciate it.
Some of the best bloggers don’t link to a single story, but to
several stories. They stand back, study the news stream, find patterns
in the news, and draw out those patterns with well-written, compelling
posts. This was the basis for a rant last month by Metrodad over what
he perceived as alcohol getting the short end of the cultural stick.
When commenting on a news article, seek out external links that will enhance your commentary. Terrance, the best black liberal vegetarian gay Buddhist parenting blogger on the Internet, has made an art form out of this. Check out this example,
where he weaves a blog, a book, and a Washington Post article into a
unique story about how GLBT families are becoming an assumed, accepted
part of the culture. Or take his great critique of David Kuo’s Tempting Faith
– an original piece which he augments throughout by linking to examples
of what he’s talking about. This drawing together of various forms of
information can be very powerful; it’s a luxury that many journalists
can’t afford to exercise in their daily writing, but is a part of daily
business for bloggers.
I think it's also a luxury that more highly-trafficked bloggers can't afford either, as Clay Shirky pointed out a while back. (At this point, I realize that I'm doing it again. Shooting myself in the blog with another long, linked post, etc., and to avoid doing so I should have ended this post at least half a dozen paragraphs earlier.)
At the head will be webloggers who join the mainstream media (a phrase
which seems to mean "media we've gotten used to.") The transformation
here is simple – as a blogger's audience grows large, more people read
her work than she can possibly read, she can't link to everyone who
wants her attention, and she can't answer all her incoming mail or
follow up to the comments on her site. The result of these pressures
is that she becomes a broadcast outlet, distributing material without
participating in conversations about it.
Meanwhile, the long tail of weblogs with few readers will become
conversational. In a world where most bloggers get below average
traffic, audience size can't be the only metric for success. …
In between blogs-as-mainstream-media and blogs-as-dinner-conversation
will be Blogging Classic, blogs published by one or a few people, for
a moderately-sized audience, with whom the authors have a relatively
engaged relationship. Because of the continuing growth of the weblog
world, more blogs in the future will follow this pattern than today.
However, these blogs will be in the minority for both traffic (dwarfed
by the mainstream media blogs) and overall number of blogs (outnumbered by the conversational blogs.)
I think, or at least I hope, that's where I'm at when it comes to blogging. what Shirky describes in his last paragraph, or what Dave Sifry described as the "Magic Middle."
This realm of publishing, which I call "The Magic Middle"
of the attention curve, highlights some of the most interesting and
influential bloggers and publishers that are often writing about topics
that are topical or niche, like Chocolate and Zucchini on food, Wi-fi Net News on Wireless networking, TechCrunch on Internet Companies, Blogging Baby on parenting, Yarn Harlot on knitting, or Stereogum on music
– these are blogs that are interesting, topical, and influential, and
in some cases are radically changing the economics of trade publishing.
At Technorati, we define this to be the bloggers who have from
20-1000 other people linking to them. As the chart above shows, there
are about 155,000 people who fit in this group. And what is so
interesting to me is how interesting, exciting, informative, and witty
these blogs often are. I've noticed that often these blogs are more
topical or focused on a niche area, like gardening, knitting, nanotech, mp3s or journalism and a great way to find them has been through Blog Finder.
At least, that's where my Technorati profile puts me. And I've reached a point where I'm fine with that. Like Shirky said above, audience size can' tbe the only metric for success and these days that's why I prefer to define success in my own terms.
After all, that kind of blogging helped me get my current blog-centric job. It's also resulted in at least a few Koufax nominations (Best Blog, Best Writing, Most Deserving of Wider Attention, Best Series), a Weblog Awards nomination for Best LGBT Blog, as well as a Bloggisatva Award nomination. Getting included in the Thinking Blogger meme was particularly nice.
I didn't win any of these, being nominated was a sign that people at least think enough of my writing to nominate me in the first place. It's also lead to other writing blogging opportunities like crossposting to the front page at Pam's House Blend, and invitations to do the same in other places. (Actually, I've gotten more invitations to write and crosspost than I can possibly accept and still have time to do my job and be with my family.) And sometime last year I noticed that my posts were regularly getting picked by Window Media and linked in places like the Washington Blade's Blogwatch, and Window Media's other gay news sites.
But the most important metric of success as far as I'm concerned is what the people who do read this blog think about it. When I blogged about it back in December I got this gratifying response from Lorin, a regular reader.
There is an analog to the approach you are describing, in traditional
media. That is the Christian Science Monitor. Unlike most daily
newspapers, the Monitor does not rely on wire-news services for the
meat of their coverage. Rather, they rely on their own reporters. This
tends to mean that the Monitor is not the first paper to break a story.
Rather, the news analysis tends to come later, but at a deeper level of
Would you consider the Monitor a front-line publication? Nope. But its coverage is almost universally respected.
Not a bad target to aim for.
Not bad at all, especially if there's an audience that wants that. And, aside from all the above, I've been fortunate enough to have reader who come here looking for that. Or at least that's what plenty of them said when I pondered the future of this blog back in January and cataloged the kind of posts I've been talking about.
By the time I get to a story, and have had some time to read and think
about it, it’s usually a couple of days old and well-covered by others.
So, in an attempt to offer something not found on many other blogs, my
blogging has evolved towards longer, more researched, deeply linked
posts like these: Africa, Homophobia & Colonized Minds; Un-Reconstructed Racism; Be the Game Boss; God & Gall; Defending Dawkins; God, Brought to You by Your Government; When Did You Know You Were Heterosexual; Same-Sex Marriage is Not a Progressive Issue; Marriage and “Supportive” Non-Support; A Sacred Institution; It’s Not Nice to Fool the Black Voters; Tight Ends, Wide Receivers & Me; The Sad Irony of the Black Vote; Gays & God’s Politics; Not Tempted by Tempting Faith; Historically Black Homophobia; The Economics of Inequality; Gays in Black Churches: Seen But Not Seen; Nonfamily Families; The Faith-Based Bamboozle; Beyond Repair, Reprised; From the Great Society to the Great Commission; Fistulas & Fairy Tales; Foley: Black Like Me?; Theocracy on Slow Boil; Tolerance of Intolerance is Tolerance?; Michael Steele Thinks Black People Are Stupid; The Not-So-Fabulous Fifties; Gay Americans and 9/11: On a Queer Day; Bully for NARTH; Theocracy in Three Volumes; What Rights Should Same-Sex Couples Not Have?; The Right Not to Pray in School; Teen Sex, Texas Style; Virginia’s Gay Exodus; Gay Marriage Ban? Don’t Explain.; What Rights Should Same Sex Couples Have?; Caught Up in the Raptured (Like it or Not); Gay Marriage Losses Actually Wins?; Letting It Shine: Anti-Gay Bigotry & Black Churches; Faith & Freedom of Speech; LIFEbeat’s Anti-Gay Death Concert; On Obama, School Prayer & Church/State Separation; Seeing Red Democrats; Democrats Seeing Red; Cokie & Steve on Marriage; Where Are the Gay Netroots?; AIDS, Me & Us: 25 Years Later; Why They Will Fail; etc.; etc.
The overwhelming response was that all of the above is exactly what regular readers come back here for. And every so often, thanks to links from other bloggers and crossposting to other places, new readers find their way here and become regular readers.
I guess whether I'm shooting myself in the blog depends on what I'm aiming for. After the brouhaha over the Clinton blogger lunch, I took a long hard look at what I'm doing as a blogger and why I'm doing it.
The bottom line is that the kind of blogging I do, and the stuff that I'm passionate about, isn't a major draw as far as traffic is concerned, and I'm not willing to make the changes I'd have to make to have a shot at broader appeal and more traffic. But I think I've been pretty successful based on the response for the audience that does exist for what I do here. Add a full time job and a family to the mix, and even I'm surprised I've been able to do as much as I have. (Actually, I'm not once I factor in how much sleep I'm not getting, because I'm often up until 2am writing.)
It reminds me of a quote from Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, which I've been using blogging presentation lately.
The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is
increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of
"hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand
curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail.
… When consumers are offered infinite choice, the true shape of demand is
revealed. And it turns out to be less hit-centric than we thought.
People gravitate towards niches because they satisfy narrow interests
better, and in one aspect of our life or another we all have some
narrow interest (whether we think of it that way or not).
I think one of the implications of what Anderson is talking about is that we're coming to a point where "success" is defined differently than it has been up to this point.
I decided a while back that my goal is to do the kind of writing I enjoy doing, for whomever wants to read it. (And, for the record, I also stopped caring who links to me and whose blogroll I'm on, even though some people seem to read any attempt at analysis as "whining" if it's longer than three short paragraphs.) It was a kind of epiphany, actually. I realized that what I wanted to do was exactly what I was already doing, and that I'd been doing it pretty well. What I kept tripping over was my own unquestioning acceptance of the contentional definition of "success." Well, no more.
From where I sit right now, I haven't so much shot myself in the blog as I've managed to hit just the right spot to do exactly what I want to do.