Advice For Bloggers

While the blogosphere itself was the major topic of discussion in the blogosphere in response to one post from last week which I commented on here, Felix Salmon gave some additional advice for bloggers on Friday. While discussing reasons for blogging he also warned about the time involved:

It takes up a lot of time, which means that there are significant opportunity costs associated with blogging. If you read a lot of blogs and news outlets anyway, then the marginal extra time commitment can come down, but it’s still substantial.

The last part is what makes it possible for many of us to blog. If I counted all the time reading then the time would sound overwhelming. While still time consuming, it takes far less time to write about material you would read regardless of whether you are blogging.

One question for bloggers is the optimal frequency of posting. I agree wtih Felix on this:

As always, there’s a trade-off between quantity and quality. Should you write more, with lower quality, or less, with higher quality? Fortunately, the blogosphere has been around for long enough that we have a simple empirical answer to this question: given the choice, go for quantity over quality. You might not like it — I certainly don’t — but I defy you to name a really good blogger who doesn’t blog frequently.

Often bloggers are the worst judges of their own work; I can give you hundreds of personal examples of blog entries I thought were really good which disappeared all but unnoticed, and of blog entries I thought were tossed-off throwaways which got enormous traction and distribution. Mostly, blogging is a lottery on the individual-blog-entry level — and if you want to win the lottery, your best chance of doing so is to maximize the number of lottery tickets you buy.

Personally, I’m not very happy about this fact. But it is a fact. And although I might gravitate towards those blogs in my RSS reader which have only one or two unread entries, I know that empirically speaking success in the blogging world is pretty much directly proportional to frequency of output. I thought RSS would change things. It didn’t. Ah well. And don’t worry about time of day, either: people read blogs at the craziest times, so once it’s written just put it up.

Posting several times a day helps build traffic as people are more likely to get in the habit of returning if they believe there will be more material. Receiving links is like a lottery as Felix suggests. Links do not necessarily come to the best blog posts. Sometimes you just get lucky when a larger blog happens to find something in a post and decides to link. Often a post which takes a long time to research and write will receive no links while a brief post which just provides a quick fact receives major links.

Of course blogging is a personal matter. If you only feel like blogging every few days that is your prerogative as long as you don’t mind how this will probably impact readership. Some bloggers do prefer to write one post a day and devote more time to increase its quality. Some of them do develop a following this way, but I suspect it is harder to do.

Comments are a unique aspect of blogs which make them different from opinion columns:

Another necessary quality of any decent conversationalist is that he or she be a good listener. The same goes for blogging — to a very large extent, blogging isn’t writing, it’s reading. I have hundreds of blogs in my RSS reader, I use Google Alerts and other tools to let me know what other people are saying about me, I spend a lot of time reading my comments, and of course I read lots of other blogs avidly. Blogging, certainly the way I do it, is to a large degree about synthesizing information — connecting this news article here to that blog entry there, putting things into context, and making connections. And so although I produce a lot of content, I consume orders of magnitude more.

I like to say that the main difference between bloggers and professional journalists is that while journalists tend to think of a news article as the end of the journalistic process, bloggers tend to think of a blog entry as the beginning of a conversation…

And another part of being generous: leave comments on your own blog, and on other people’s blogs. Doing so is in no way below you.

The discussion in comments can add value to a blog and comments on other blogs can help bring traffic to one’s own blog. Comments are not under the direct control of the blogger as they depend on what others add, but they still must be considered part of the material of a blog and reflect on its overall quality. While some start with the notion that everyone should be allowed to comment freely, bloggers of any size soon learn that it is necessary to weed out both the spammers and the trolls.

An unmoderated comment section can quickly turn into a stream of insults and a shouting match without any coherent discussion. Some bloggers respond by going too far by ending comments altogether, deleting all comments which disagree with them, or limiting comments to a fixed group of like minded people. I would suggest moderation based more on the tone of comments as opposed to restricting disagreement. Definitely beware during political campaigns of those who attack blogs en masse which support a different candidate. Organized attacks of this nature were a particular problem with many of the Ron Paul supporters in 2007 but also occurs to a lesser degree with many other candidates.

Responding to comments also gets back to the issue of time. In earlier blogs before I started this one I would spend far more time debating those with different viewpoints, but ultimately learned this is a poor use of time. This both causes blogging to infringe too much on other matters, and is also not the best use of time allocated to working on a blog. While thousands read a main blog post from RSS readers and syndication, a much smaller number read the comments. While it is worthwhile to spend some time responding in comments, it is a waste of time to engage in lengthy debates. Before getting a paying job as a blogger at The Washington Monthy, Steve Benen ran The Carpetbagger Report. The FAQ includes a sensible policy:

I’m a conservative Republican who disagrees with everything you write. Can I contact you to begin a lengthy debate?

For the love of God, no. I appreciate spirited discourse as much as the next guy, but I’m afraid I’m not looking for a debate opponent right now.

One problem is that such debates never end. Every week there are new people who want to argue that Saddam really did have WMD,  creationism is a sensible alternative to the science of evolution, the scientific consensus on global warming is wrong, abortion is the killing of babies, the Founding Fathers did not really intend for the United States to have separation of church and state,  Barack Obama is not an American citizen, or whatever Fox or Rush Limbaugh is talking about that day is true. It is not worth the time to debate each new person who raises the same arguments, especially as those who hold such beliefs are not likely to change their minds regardless of how strong the facts contradict their views.

I also agree with Felix on this point:

I should mention at this point another one of my slogans: “the object of quality in a blog is not the individual blog entry, it’s the blog itself”. Every so often some meta-media organization decides that it needs to get with the online world and make bloggers eligible for its prizes. There’s invariably an application form of some description, which asks you to present your best blog entries; those blog entries will then be read by the judges to determine which blog is the best.

This is of course ridiculous. There are great bloggers who do little more than link to other people: no one blog entry is worth much at all, but the aggregation and editing function is invaluable.

It is always difficult when asked to provide one blog post for a compilation due to the nature of most blogs. A blog is better judged by the sum of the posts on a topic which will be far better than any individual post. This is especially true when a blog is covering a topic with a series of posts over one or more days.

Another question faced by bloggers is whether to place an entire post in a RSS feed or to use a teaser paragraph to get people to link to your blog. Felix addresses this question:

You’re doing this because you want people to read your work. So make that as easy for them as possible. If they want you to email it to them, email it to them. If they want to read it on Seeking Alpha or Huffington Post, then post it there. If they want to read it in their RSS reader, then make sure you publish a full RSS feed. And if someone else flatters you by copying your stuff, be happy, not angry. You’re not doing this for the pageviews, you’re doing this to be read.

Again I agree. Requiring those who read the RSS feed to click through to read the full post will probably increase traffic but it is more important to be read than to have a higher number of page views. While limiting RSS feeds to teasers will increase the number of page views, others will stop reading the RSS feed at the point where the post ends. They might even drop a blog from a RSS reader if they are not seeing full posts to read.

It is also worthwhile to have posts quoted elsewhere. Of course those doing such quoting should give credit to the original source and link back.

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4 Comments

  1. 1
    Mike b.t.r.m. says:

    This blog business is just amazing. Even with your “behind the scenes” description, I still don’t see how you do it. I seem to remember some law, I can’t remember if it was state or federal, being pushed to limit doctors to no more than 80hours of work a week. It might have been for interns. But it was like, these guys just have so much work to do, then they have to constantly study up on the latest research, then one finds time for a blog too? My compliments to you Ron. And your willingness to “counter-comment” me, perhaps the 400th or so time a conservative/creationist argues the same stuff with you. You do this despite knowing as you said yourself the unlikeliness you’d change the mind of someone like me. While not really changing, I have at least reached the introspection to see clearly why I choose to be the way I am. Science and medicine might save the life of a loved one at times, Science might give me better gas mileage with properly inflated tires, but Science can’t console me when I do lose a loved one, my religion can and does, it does even more than that when I face fear and other problems in life. Thus, when Science as I understand it and my faith as I understand it, are compatible, that’s great, but when they conflict, I’m always going to throw science “under the bus” and keep my faith. 🙂 Ron- you have a great blog- live long and prosper (Holding my hand up in a Dr. Spock, Vulcan V…no,no that isn’t my religion, I worship Isaac Asimov,no just kidding again.)

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Mike,

    “Science can’t console me when I do lose a loved one, my religion can and does, it does even more than that when I face fear and other problems in life. “

    But why must there be a question of science or religion? Science does what it does very well in describing the universe. Science is not intended to console you.

    Science and religion are two different things. If you find religion of value in consoling you that is fine. The problem comes into play when some see religion and science as being in conflict. While religion can console you, religion has no value in describing the actual facts about the universe. The two deal in totally different areas.

    The problem comes into play when religious fundamentalists fail to realize that religious stories are just stories to make a point on moral issues but cannot be taken as fact. Those who fail to understand this and take the Bible literally see science and religion as being in conflict when the scientific method proves that statements in the Bible are not true. Others realize that it doesn’t matter if the Bible is correct about the creation of the universe and life on earth but use it as a source for moral beliefs, or for consolation.

  3. 3
    Mike b.t.r.m. says:

    ..why must there be a question of science or religion? When, for example, a story of a man named Jonah was in a fish for three days, I don’t assume that the writer meant exactly 72 hours and zero seconds, maybe it was exactly that long, but again I don’t believe the writer of the story was worried about being scientifically precise. That being said, I take as a fact, and not as a myth, that a Divine being made Himself fully human, physically died, then physically came to life again, in a completely literal way. Now if I were called on a jury next week and a defendant said: “It wasn’t me, I was dead at the time, and now alive again.” well I wouldn’t accept that as a defense. I don’t know if my belief in the former makes me in your terms “mentally unfit for a position of authority” or that practical application I use in my jury scenario fits the kind of separation you referred to in previous posts. But again, thanks for the feedback. 🙂

  4. 4
    Jesmi says:

    I’m actually pretty new to the blogosphere, and I found this post (and this blog actually) in a deliberate attempt to get more aquainted. I just started a blog, so I’m trying to learn the ropes, and figure out exactly what sort of focus I should stick to as well. I’m thinking that I’ll try to stick to updates on my own projects, and security-related things I discover or start playing with, but I guess I’ll see… Thanks for the good post, and the Why Blog? post as well.

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