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A B.A.D. Day for Blogging?

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Today is an anniversary of sorts for the blogosphere. Not necessarily a happy one, but an anniversary nonetheless. Today is the anniversary of Blogroll Amnesty Day.

For those not familiar with the history, Jon Swift had the following take at the time it happened.

This past weekend Atrios, the proprietor of Eschaton, declared a Blogroll Amnesty Day, saying, “one of the big complaints by new bloggers is that it’s impossible to get onto blogrolls because established bloggers tend not to add them.” I thought that adding new lesser-known blogs to his blogroll would be a wonderful idea. Although for some inexplicable reason that I am at pains to discover, Atrios has never seen fit to link to me, I, nevertheless added Eschaton to my own blogroll and introduced myself to Atrios with a sincerely sycophantic email, since he is after all a blogging pioneer who deserves our respect.

But the more I learned about this Amnesty Day, the more I realized that it was a very strange amnesty indeed. The amnesty he granted turned out to be amnesty for himself. He wanted to assuage himself of the guilt he might feel at kicking blogs off his blogroll instead of granting amnesty to others to swarm across the border into his domain. “Everyone feels a wee bit guilty about removing blogs from their blogroll, so they’re hesitant to add new ones to an ever-expanding list,” he explained. So Atrios deleted his entire blogroll and disappointingly repopulated it for the most part with the usual suspects. Then others in the liberal blogosphere followed his example, including Jesus’ General and PZ Myers at Pharyngula, who already takes a very Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest approach to blogrolling (see updates below). Then Markos at Daily Kos joined this ruthless bloodletting. “It sucks and it feels bad,” he said, daubing the tears from his eyes as he typed. So the end result of Atrios’ Amnesty Day was to make some blogrolls smaller and even more exclusive than they already were.

I am familiar with that history. I missed Blog Amnesty Day, but almost two months later I stepped into that history up to my neck with when posted my belated take on Blog Amnesty Day (B.A.D.), after reading post after post after post about it.

The things you miss when you’ve got your head down, putting together lengthy blog posts about various issues. I mentioned in the previous post that I’ve blogged a lot in the past about blogrolls, the politics of linking in, and how links are a kind of currency that follow the same rules as currency in any other economy: those who have the most tend to get the most, tend to keep it, and tend exchange it mostly among themselves.

It’s been a long time since I’ve focused on the subject at length; that’s mostly because I’ve found it has little to no effect, and partly because I got the sense that people were tired off reading about it. 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.

I’m not one of those people, and I’ll never be one of those people, because I’m not willing to change what I’d need to change to be one of those people. I don’t hang with them, I don’t roll with them, and I’ve pretty much stop listening or participating in their conversations. Kos and Atrios don’t know me from Adam. And that’s fine.

Ironically enough, that ended up being one of the most heavily commented posts on this blog because (the irony deepens) Atrios — for the first and almost certainly the last time — linked to it.

Well, it’s two years later. Jon Swift, Blue Gal, and Skippy, have posts up about it, and I was invited to join them and offer my $0.02, for what it’s worth.

And, well, what is it worth, these days? I’m not sure, because in the two years that have passed since B.A.D., I’ve become sort of a blogger in decline, because I’m just not doing it as much as I used to. The circumstances of my life are such that I’ve found something I’m pretty good at, enjoy doing, have a passion for, have even gotten some recognition for, and that had the potential to lead to other opportunities, precisely at the point in my life when I have less time than ever to pursue any of the above.

I’ve even considered shutting down, because — in terms of traffic, page views and all the usual measures of blogging “success,” I’m somewhat less than half the blogger I used to be. (So a link from me is worth less than it would have been even a couple of years ago.) After five years, I’m kind of stuck, uncertain whether I’m getting anywhere or where I can go with blogging at this point. On the one hand, I’ve had people say to me “Your writing is good enough to be in any of those political magazines,” but on the other hand my blogging (nor my connections) have been enough to get me there despite my efforts. And I’m at a point in life where if it doesn’t have to do with work or family, I don’t have time for it in my life. (Even as I’m writing this post I’m neglecting something I’m actually supposed to be doing. But that’s what I gotta do if I’m to have any hope of posting about B.A.D. before the anniversary passes.)

Of course, that depends on how you measure “success.” And, though it may end up meandering a bit, I wanted to take some time to comment on some of the conventional methods of measuring success. Basically, I wanted to ask (with apologies to Daft Punk): Is bigger necessarily better? Is faster necessarily stronger?

Of course, that’s all relative, depending on your style of blogging. There are any number of them, but this is a good basic list.

Of course, I fall into the on that’s thought to be the most difficult and, if you ask me, the least likely to attract a huge audience.

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 immediately 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.

But at least there’s an upside.

Blog postings will always be commodity content: there’s a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else’s work. Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they’re definitely easy to write. But they don’t build sustainable value. Think of how disappointing it feels when you’re searching for something and get directed to short postings in the middle of a debate that occurred years before, and is thus irrelevant.

It might take you only an hour to write a blog posting on some current controversy, but a thousand other people can do that as well (in fact, they’ll sometimes do it better, as shown above). And customers don’t want to pay for such a tiny increment of knowledge. Sure, sometimes a single paragraph holds the idea that can increase a site’s conversion rate so much that a reader should have paid a million dollars to read it. But they don’t know that in advance, so they won’t pay.

In contrast, in-depth content that takes much longer to create is beyond the abilities of the lesser experts. A thousand monkeys writing for 1,000 hours doesn’t add up to Shakespeare. They’ll actually create a thousand low-to-medium-quality postings that aren’t integrated and that don’t give readers a comprehensive understanding of the topic — even if those readers suffer through all 1,000 blogs.

But we still haven’t reached about where we measure value in blogging by something other than audience size and page views. We live in a world where the Huffington Post nabbed $25 million in funding, after pretty much proving it takes more than merely being a good writer to break in to the A-list these days. (And, yes, I have a Huffington Post slot now, but I can’t say it’s boosted my traffic or readership much.)

Is bigger necessarily better? Obviously, I don’t know. I’ve heard bigger bloggers bitch about being inundated with emails for link requests and more blogs and blog posts than they can read. And, lately, some of the bigger bloggers are getting out of the game.

First, please don’t take this as a condemnation of blogging. I love blogs and always will. However, I’ve done my part and I’m looking to strip it down. I’m looking for something more acoustic, something more authentic and something more private. Blogging is simply too big, too impersonal, and lacks the intimacy that drew me to it.

The “a-list” pressure, the TechMeme leaderboard debates, and constant accusations of link-baiting are now too much of a distraction. I’ve never link-baited in my entire career–I just spoke from the heart for better or worse. If people want to say honesty is link-baiting fine–that’s on them, not me. If they want to turn link-baiting into a science and dissect every detail of my posts in order to reverse engineering that’s fine, but it wont work. Link-baiting doesn’t exist to me, so trying to figure out how it’s done is a fool’s errand.

Today the blogosphere is so charged, so polarized, and so filled with haters hating that it’s simply not worth it. I’d rather watch from the sidelines and be involved in a smaller, more personal, conversation.

Is smaller better?

I, too, am asking some of these same questions. After seeing my own blog readership swell in a short time to about 40,000 per month, I have misgivings about seeing sarahlacy.com grow much more. Bigger audiences mean trolls and spammers and a general breakdown in community and the high-level conversation I find so rewarding.

In fact, over the four mediums I’m participating in this year—a book, a blog, an online column, and a video show on Yahoo—my personal enjoyment was in direct inverse relation to the size of the audience each caters to. It’s not that I don’t love the rush of doing tech celeb interviews that wind up on Yahoo’s front page of 500 million viewers. But after more than a decade in journalism, it’s a sweet luxury to write just for the people who seek out my blog.

Which led me to a startling realization: Small really is beautiful, and we need to find a way to value it.

But it won’t happen until bloggers draw a line in the sand on page views and invest in their content, not link-baiting, page-view goosing. Only then will they build something of enough value that will force advertisers to think of the medium as not just a place to advertise—but a place to pay a premium. Until that happens, I’m not selling my insights on the cheap. I’m focused on building a site people want to read and one I want to write.

And, as one who often takes the better part of a day or even several days to write a post, is faster better? Or is the slow-blogging movement onto something?

The practice is inspired by the slow food movement, which says that fast food is destroying local traditions and healthy eating habits. Slow food advocates, like the chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., believe that food should be local, organic and seasonal; slow bloggers believe that news-driven blogs like TechCrunch and Gawker are the equivalent of fast food restaurants — great for occasional consumption, but not enough to guarantee human sustenance over the longer haul.

A Slow Blog Manifesto, written in 2006 by Todd Sieling, a technology consultant from Vancouver, British Columbia, laid out the movement’s tenets. “Slow Blogging is a rejection of immediacy,” he wrote. “It is an affirmation that not all things worth reading are written quickly.” (Nor, because of a lack of traffic, is Mr. Sieling writing this blog at all these days.) Ms. Ganley, who recently left her job as a writing instructor at Middlebury College, compares slow blogging to meditation. It’s “being quiet for a moment before you write,” she said, “and not having what you write be the first thing that comes out of your head.”

…Some slow bloggers like to push the envelope of their readers’ attention even further. Academics post lengthy pieces about literature and teaching styles, while techies experiment to see how infrequently they can post before readers desert them.

This approach is a deliberate smack at the popular group blogs like Huffington Post, the Daily Beast, Valleywag and boingboing, which can crank out as many as 50 items a day. On those sites, readers flood in and advertisers sign on. Spin and snark abound. Earnest descriptions of the first frost of the season are nowhere to be found.

The problem is, there’s little support for small, slow bloggers — good, insightful writers though they may be. You’ve still got to find the time to do it, and for most of us it’ll never be a day job or pay enough to afford us the leisure time to pursue it as we might desire.

That so many of us do it anyway and so many of us do it well ought to count for something. So in the spirit of Blogroll Amnesty Day, I’ve added the following blogs to my blogroll.

Wanna join in? Skippy sez:

tho the original blogroll amnesty day was first bludgeoned upon bloggers on feb. 3, we are taking this entire weekend thru next tuesday to celebrate, connect, rejoice, and generally extoll everyone to link to each other.

the basic rule for blogroll amnesty day weekend is simply this: take a moment to write a post linking to (and pointing out to your readers) 5 blogs w/traffic smaller than yours. this inclusive and magnanimous yet easy-to-do gesture will not only expose your readers to new voices and those voices to new readers, it will foster a sense of community, support and all-around kumbaya amongst the progressive infrastructure.

one two more favors: you may write this post any time during this four-day festivus, but when you do, please forward a link of it to us, and we’ll happily include it in one of several posts we’ll be doing all thu-out the celebration.

It’s not too late! (I think.)

5 Comments

  1. Wow. What a thoughtful post. I love the idea of slow blogging, rather than small blogging…kind of like the slow food movement? Close to home, close to the earth? Down to earth?

    I definitely consider daily posting to be essential for me. Blogging is my writing practice. I really do encourage others to do that.

    But if that daily posting is only one or two sentences along the lines of “watched the game, now I’m tired” (and we KNOW which big blogs do that) there really is no point to it. Unless you have a big huge lazy audience that is too dense to realize there is skype and twitter and either of those is a better chat room than a blog comment thread.

    Thanks for taking the time to post this. I’ll sleep on these issues and probably write some sort of response.

  2. Thanks — I appreciate it. You have a very good blog here and I hope you’ll keep at it, even if you can’t post as often as you used to.

  3. Pingback: Tremendous Participation for Blogroll Amnesty Day - Liberal Values - Defending Liberty and Enlightened Thought

  4. Good stuff. Some other bloggers and I call it “long form blogging,” and I sometimes call my stuff “OCD blogging,” but I like “slow blogging.” I think many in the chattering class don’t slow down to think about much of anything, unless it’s a memorable but vapid quip.

    I think blogging can be many things, but the two keys to being a small blogger are writing what you want to, and blogging because either you want to or feel compelled to do so. If it’s not enjoyable or fulfilling in some way, why bother, when life is pulling in so many other directions? There are some great “short form” bloggers out there, and some people enjoy posting several times a day. I don’t want to discount their discipline or my personal sloth, either, but on important subjects, I like to research, link a source for a claim, make connections between two or more pieces, and sometimes try to write an actual essay. Maybe it’s just that that process calms and centers my “monkey mind,” gathering all these thoughts, weighing them, trying to make coherent sense of a problem or issue. I also really hate feeling that I’ve dealt with something important cursorily. I’ll admit there have been times I’ve thought, my god, here I wrote an in-depth post, or maybe the definitive post on the important subject of mollusk opera or something, and I haven’t gotten linked and lauded? I have only a few comments, or – gasp – none? But why am I really doing it in the first place? I would blog much more if I had the time. But we all have our own special something to contribute, and while the need to justify one’s self is understandable, I do think the main trick is learning to value and appreciate what we ourselves do when we are authentic, in blogging and elsewhere in life.

  5. Enh. I have you filed with Sara Robinson and Dave Neiwert (among others) in the category of “People who don’t post nearly as often as I’d prefer, but whom I am willing to chase all around the internet because when they DO post something, it’s well thought out and interesting.”

    Of course, I don’t have a blogroll, because I can’t be bothered keeping one updated. Or even coding one in the first place.

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