Blogging Tips from a D-Lister

Time to blog about weblogs. New York magazine’s fascinating cover story on the subject admittedly deals with just a portion of the blogging community: A-listers and those who go out of their way to curry favor with the A-listers. Nevertheless, it’s a very engaging read which unearths some unspoken truths in blogland and how bloggers see each other. Personally I have no desire to attain that kind of mass popularity, but it is funny (and exciting) how my usually modest traffic jumps a hundredfold whenever Boing Boing links here. Who are all those people? And why aren’t they coming back?

The article reminds me of how hard it must be to start something new these days, in our zillion blog universe. Back when I first started scrubbles five and a half years ago, it was much easier to stand out — but that was eons ago. The old-school model of one lone person plugging away at the computer has made way for heavily funded and staffed projects like The Huffington Post. Those kind of sites now command the most attention, but on the other hand they’ve raised the quality bar (in a good way) for everyone else. Lately Christopher’s been telling me about the difficulty of finding an audience with his weblog. Although I’m no expert, I do have a few tips to share for webloggers just starting out:

1. Be Yourself. The New York article had some good insights on how the massive popularity of Gawker inspired dozens of snarky, Gawker-like weblogs. Now, I think Gawker does what it does very well, but the torrent of bloggers who seem to be in love with their own perceived cleverness remains an unfortunate side effect of their success. Having a detatched, ironic pose is all fine and dandy if that’s your style, but don’t let whatever’s currently “in” constrict your true self. #1 Weblogging Rule: write about what you like, in your own voice. If your passion is fly fishing or Burmese folk music, do the best damn weblog you can on fly fishing or Burmese folk music, popularity be damned.

2. Give Credit Where Credit Is Due. If you post about that neat link found on someone else’s weblog, do us all a favor and link back to where you first saw it. Many weblogs (even well-read ones) don’t adhere to this rule, but I think everyone ideally needs do the right thing and follow the path of common courtesy. The only exception I might make would be in cases where a link generates mass popularity and has already been noted on by everyone and their Mom.

3. Mind Your Grammar. I hate to sound like your fifth grade teacher, but it really does pay off to mind your Ps and Qs (and periods, and commas) when weblogging. After finishing an entry, read through it again for typos and punctuation mistakes. Then read it a second time just to make sure it reads right. Those couple of extra minutes will pay off handsomely.

4. Post On A Regular Basis. Having new content out there at least once a day is a good rule of thumb (yeah, right, he says). Most importantly, find a good rhythm. You’ll never accumulate a loyal audience in posting a flurry of entries for a few weeks, then taking three months off. Only have time to post once a month? Go right ahead.

5. Don’t Sweat the Blogroll. Blogrolls are nice, but they also bring out the worst, most clique-ish aspects in people. While not totally necessary, they can be instrumental for newbie bloggers to get other bloggers to notice them. It’s best to think of your blogroll as a simple “I like these, you might too” list and not a desperate plea for attention. Put whatever you want on them, but don’t spend too much time thinking about who to include or exclude. I can remember pulling hairs out of my skull looking at other weblogs similar to mine and thinking “If blogger A likes bloggers B and C, why don’t they like me?” What a waste of energy. That said, don’t feel bad about (gulp) de-linking a weblog that no longer strikes your fancy.

6. Give It Time. If readers are what you want, don’t expect them to show up just because you posted something. Getting any kind of regular readership takes about two or three months — and even then you might have to wait a year or two before your weblog finds its groove. Audiences need careful cultivation to grow. That’s a hard concept to grasp in our world of instant gratification, but it’s utterly true.

7. Understand The Nature Of The Beast. Picture the blogging universe as a massive organism that feeds on itself. With that in mind, know that nobody owns a link. Ideas are a dime a dozen; it’s your perception of those ideas that really matter. Your timing might be off. Sometimes in the past I’d post about something which would unaccountably take off in the blogging world — only very few knew where it started. Or I’d post about something wonderful that had no effect, then the same thing would subsequently become the latest, greatest thing — a year later. Those things happen. Nobody can predict when and how something takes hold in the so-called “blogosphere”.

8. Blog In A Vacuum. Check out other blogs for your own entertainment, but don’t let them influence your own too heavily. Sad, but true: the best weblogs out there appear to be influenced by no one but themselves. If you have to model yourself after someone else, those are the ones you should target.

Whew, that was a long post. If anyone else has tips, I’d love to hear them.

14 Thoughts on “Blogging Tips from a D-Lister

  1. I read a comment somewhere that has prevented me from starting a blog.

    Whoever-it-was recommended that you try posting once a day for a month, privately, just to see if you could do it. If you ran out of things to post or the time to post them in, you weren’t ready to blog.

    I figure I could come up with about 5 or 6 decent, reasonable length pieces before I lost interest.

    “Know thyself” is good advice. As it is, I post maybe once a week at my livejournal, and those posts are usually garbage.

    -M

  2. I think it’s important to mention that even if you follow all of those recommendations to the letter, you might still only wind up with an audience of 20 or 30 regular readers.

    I’ve been at it for 3 years now, and get regular referrals from various A-listers, but as you said, it doesn’t necessarily translate into a bigger audience over the long term.

  3. Excellent post, Matt. I agree with everything you’ve said here, especially rule #1.

    Weblog for your own sake. Weblog because you have something to share. Weblog because you have to write, and this is the only way you know to do so regularly. Just write. But write for yourself.

    Having been at this for nearly five years myself, there have been times when I’ve fallen into the trap of trying to write like this blogger, or wanting the attention of that blogger, or trying to write to please my entire audience. All of these things are mistakes (and I’m sure to make them again in the future). I need to write for myself, write what I want to say without worrying about my audience. If I offend my cousin or my mother-in-law, if I bore my best friend, if I annoy my wife, who cares? It’s impossible to please everyone. A weblogger must write for himself (or herself), and not be concerned about his (or her) audience.

    Excellent post.

  4. Very good advice, Matt. I was thinking about #1 the other day, what with the *flood* of knockoff “Go Fug Yourself” websites. We have websites making fun of sewing patterns, celebrity magazines, bridal magazines, knitting patterns, etc. They’re not bad sites and the authors write well, but there’s no spark of originality, you know? I always liked your site because, even though you didn’t necessarily have a mission statement with a narrow focus, you had a very consistent “sensibility” that shone through every post and every design change. And I don’t think you can fake that (or issue a corporate decree); it just comes from your site being an honest reflection of you.

    Articles like this always depress me a little bit though, because they tend to focus on the “blogging as journalism” aspect too much. I don’t write, like, articles about specific topics. I’m just me and I write about the things that are interesting. We’ve got blogs like political roundtable shows, blogs as documentary, blogs as tabloid news. Where is the “chat show” genre of blog? That’s where I consider myself to be, and I always feel bad when somebody insinuates that my site needs to be *about* something.

  5. Good list, although I’d add something along the lines of, “If you’re in it for the hits, you might as well quit.” Of course we all go through phases where we’re endlessly checking the stats — I’ve been doing this for over six years now, and I’ll admit to sweating the stats lately — but, at a certain point, you gotta blog because you like to blog, and/or it fulfills some personal need in your life. We all want to be read, of course, but if you’re blogging solely in the hopes that other people will read you, I don’t think you’ll last.

  6. That is so true, Kevin.

    Thanks, Kris. I can totally relate to that — people have to hold on to the fact that weblogs don’t have to fit into a predetermined format. As it is, we’re becoming an endangered species here! If you’re a “chat show”, I guess mine would be a good ol’ “variety show”. With costumes designed by Bob Mackie, of course.

  7. And I’m Rosie O’Donnell, foisting my personal life and obsessions onto all my audience! :)

  8. According to The Blog Herald, as of July 2005 there were 70 million blogs in the world. If we ignore all the blogs run by bloggers who don’t know how to compose sentences and who don’t know what clever and creative writing is, that leaves us with precisely 136 decent blogs in the world.

    The fact is, most blogs are simply storage units for cute links
    and contain NO original content of any depth. Considering there
    are a lot of real important things that bloggers could be blogging about,
    most blogs are just silly and dull.

    Equating an addiction to internet links with an addiction to brain-numbing drugs is not too far-fetched. I know I visit Boing Boing a couple of times per day, hoping to find that one new link that’ll satisfy my “link jones” for 20 or 30 seconds – the experience is very much like taking a drag on a cigarette, and another drag and another.

    In a very real way, the quest for new cute and kooky links is a true time-waster
    (I guess computer use in general could be considered a huge time waster)

    Also, it’s disheartening that the following Boing Boing link referrals share the same RRS page as links to Abu Gahrib torture photos and stories about Halliburton immigration detention centers:

    “World’s most expensive dessert: $1000 sundae”

    “Mangled English Indonesian Valentines”

    “Vintage mink Olympic penis-cozy for sale on eBay”

    “Tom Waits’ High School yearbook for sale”

    What seems to have happened is that every internet “news” story is now equal. A story about Dick Cheney shooting his buddy while hunting quail is now equivalent (in a moral, human sense) to a story about the Cambodian holocaust in the late 70s or a story about retro motel signs in Utah.

    You may ask: “so what?”

    Well, the problem is that if all things, events and ideas are seen as being equal, much of our personal power (as thinking human beings) is diminished and things become real bland, real quick…sort of like blogs have become

    The Blog Herald
    http://www.blogherald.com/

  9. i’d say number one, two and four are high on my list of being a good blogger. i really hate it when people don’t say where they found a link. i often like to explore where a link comes from. i also sometimes like to check out someone’s blogroll to see who they are reading or where they may be stealing links from and not giving credit.

    the problem with worrying about how many hits you get a day is that it’s really hard to tell how many people are reading you via a feed. i still feel like i only get 10 or 20 hits a day – when it spikes it usually means i’ve been linked to by you or someone like pcl linkdump. i rarely ever read boing boing(or any of the so-called a-list bloggers) unless someone mentions them in a post.

    i don’t think blogs have an obligation to be serious or talk about serious topics. if you want to, go ahead and do it. but ideally people should post what they want to talk/write about. most of the times i think of a blog as a pointer – pointing out interesting things. sometimes commenting on them, sometimes not. the closer a blog gets to a magazine or to journalism the less i tend to be interested in it.

  10. If you post about that neat link found on someone else’s weblog, do us all a favor and link back to where you first saw it. Many weblogs (even well-read ones) don’t adhere to this rule, but I think everyone ideally needs do the right thing and follow the path of common courtesy.”

    Please. I am not going to waste time remembering where I found most links. I save them and post them days, weeks, or even months after I’ve found them. Often time, I’ve found the links on my own. If people are going to waste time thinking something about my links, and whether I found them on some other site they saw them on, that’s rather lame.

    People should make links, and get on with life. They’re not something you’ve come up with yourself such as construction plans, a recipe, a short story of one’s own. They’re simply freaking links.

  11. Ahhh, yes. That’s the spirit, “Jes.” Way to keep hostility and trolling alive and kicking on the ‘net. Bravo.

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