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.