Thursday, February 24, 2005

Why Blog?

Atrios has an interesting post on the topic of blogging, on what we want to get from it and on how to do it well. At the end of the post he gives advice to new bloggers:

1) Don't send me an email saying "read my blog." I won't. If you want to get my interest, send me something interesting. If you have something interesting, it'll get noticed and linked. Have enough interesting things, people will start coming back on their own to look for it, and you'll have a larger regular readership.

2) What's interesting? Your opinion on stuff by itself isn't really interesting to anyone except your friends. If you're funny, or you write well, or you actually know something, or can make a good argument, or are good at unearthing interesting and relevant tidbits, that's interesting.

3) One things blogs do is act as news aggregators/filters and places for discussion. You may be an excellent news aggregator/filter, but that's a pretty crowded market. That's one place where being an early entrant helps. If you want to distinguish your blog, you need to have some additional interesting original content.

4) Don't create a spam list and send out every blog post to the list. We all get too much email. Send me something you think that I would be interested in. It's personal. I don't cover every issue under the sun. Nobody else does either.

5) Don't just focus on trying to get a link from me, or Kos, or Instapundit, or whatever. If you have something good, send it to blogs with somewhat less, but still decent traffic. They probably get less email than we do. s

6) Establishing a large regular readership takes a lot of time, no matter how brilliant and persistent you are. And, persistence is key. While some fairly popular bloggers post inconsistently, most people with a large regular readership post at least daily. People will click on your site more often if they think there's a good chance there will be something new to look at.

My first emotional reaction to this advice was that I'd never have started blogging if I had really thought it out carefully. This has something to do with my upbringing which consisted of a lot of discouragement against the dreadful possibility of gaining a big head (So you ranked number one in the country? Big deal. They're all crazy.) But more generally, how do we ever know if we have something interesting to say without trying to say it?

My second reaction was a great depression over my inability to market my blog. I'm really bad at it, never mind my MBA. Once every six months or so I send out two feeble e-mails to Famous People and that's about it, so it's a relief to hear that most e-mails go unread anyway. Artful Asp will take on the marketing of the blog in the summer when she has more time (the snake school has a vacation then), and she's planning t-shirts and keyrings and stuff. I'm looking forward to the great influx of money and new readers that I will gain then.

What Atrios doesn't mention in his description of what might be interest to the readers is that some topics may not be discussed very much. If you feel strongly about one of those topics you can have a valid blogging voice even if you are not the greatest writer or the funniest person or otherwise really fascinating. Or that's what I hope, anyway, given that this was my original impetus for blogging.

The really interesting question is why people blog at all, and the answer to this question determines how suitable Atrios's advice is. If you want to write a general political blog with a high readership, go on and follow his advice. If, however, you are more interested in talking to a particular group of people than the general blogistan, you need to modify the advice accordingly. For example, the feminist blogs have their own internal relationships and if you write on feminism it may make more sense to e-mail blogs in that group than one of the big political blogs.

Skippy said somewhere that the only valid reason for blogging is when one must. This is like the old argument for writing: that you should write only if you can't do the alternatives. Though this is not the whole truth there is something to the idea that you should absolutely love to blog. If you don't, the days when you get lots of trolls and when your writing stinks will be too hard to take, especially if you have bothersome details such as work-for-money to take care of. And if you love blogging the numbers and the fame are not so important. They are both fickle gods, anyway. They also quickly turn into hollow gods if you don't love blogging, whereas the love of the work itself will keep you going even if nobody reads you at all.