Ahhhh here we go again. Someone, this time someone named Damien Van Vroenhoven, has not only decided that he understands what a blog is across the board (a form is not a genre, as a general rule), but he knows what 10 questions any blogger should be asking his or herself before posting on the interblag. Though I’d say the first question any blogger should ask is whether he or she wants to take advice from an online marketing blog, but that’s not on the list of questions.
“If you want your ideas and opinions to spread across the Internet, you need to make sure that your readers can understand what youâ€™re saying as quickly as possible,” writes Damien. “Make sure you have the right content, links, images or titles in place to communicate your blog postâ€™s purpose as concisely as possible.” I never write concisely on my blog. My blog isn’t about being concise. And I’m not particularly interested in my ideas and opinions being spread across the internet, either. Sharing ideas and musings with a tiny handful of far-flung, like-minded souls is more satisfying than playing the internet attention game.
“Will it entice readers and bookmarkers?” If the only way you can be novel, unexpected, or thought-provoking is by reading the blogosphere and finding a combination of keywords that hasn’t been put together before (as suggested in the 10 Questions post), I’m afraid you’re sitting on a blog I wouldn’t be terribly interested in reading. I probably wouldn’t be to interested in inviting you over for dinner, either.
I find the “fill a need” bloggers an interesting, though not new, development. I understand the logic. If you’re filling a need, your traffic will go up; write to the audience and give them what they want and watch your popularity soar! I’ve seen this done hundreds of times, I’ve even gotten caught up in it myself to some degree in other contexts. It’s an easy trap to fall into; we seem wired to respond to positive attention. Because you can easily quantify the numbers of readers, it’s easy to feel that progress means making that number go up, even if you’re not in it for the money or the marketing. We tend to make an economy out of everything, even when it doesn’t really serve us that well. Is blogging about getting more positive attention, or is it about something else? I blog to connect with people, to mark my own thought process, and to push myself to articulate and build on ideas rather than just letting them fall by the wayside. My blog serves me far more than it serves anyone else. And that’s the way I like it.
For the kind of blogging I do, and the kind I like to read, I prefer to focus to be on the needs of the writer rather than mine as a reader. I know how to get information that’s well-cited and researched. When I’m reading blogs, I’m looking for a personal spin on a topic, a personal epiphany from which I can derive inspiration and motivation. I’d rather see someone work through a thorny issue hundreds of others have already sorted out in their own unique way, using their own unique experiences, than watch people constantly try to anticipate my needs in order to keep me interested in reading. I find that attitude distasteful, as it is both servile and self-serving at the same time, and inherently, in my opinion, dishonest. I like honesty in a blog, a sense of the genuine. That’s what a lot of online marketers have failed to understand in the past about online cultures; real people thinking out loud is more consistently sought-after in the long history of blogging than journalism and marketing has been. And as Aleks noted not too long ago, I’m not the only one who hates a fake.
“Conduct polls on your blog if you are uncertain about how to establish your personal blogging style. If you openly ask for user input, chances are good that you will receive it. Act on their responses openly and honestly.” I have actually seen personal bloggers do this, bloggers not working within the IT industry or representing a corporate face. Your personal blogging style should not be dictated by your audience anymore than your fashion sense should be dictated by your neighbours’ tastes. Real trail-blazing is never done by people trying to appease an audience; truly unique art and ideas are always shattering, painful, and shocking for human beings until the idea makes its way into our larger collective consciousness and we can make sense of it. Think of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which moved from a shattering experience that caused riots to making it into Disney’s Fantasia within a few decades. The novelty of his creation was so confusing to people that they hated it at first, and then came to love it. Now his music doesn’t seem so shocking anymore. We have a collective intelligence, and it cannibalizes the newest of the new in order to refine our sense of order. You can listen to this very thesis expounded by the bright folks at Radio Lab:
New things are hard for people to comprehend; exploring them in public might not make you popular. Popular ideas are rarely truly novel and unique (though they sometimes are!). If you keep a blog about brave new concepts in a world that doesn’t particularly enjoy new concepts, brave or otherwise, does that make you a bad blogger? Does unpopularity always indicate uninterestingness? Were Edward Said and Michel Foucault ever best-selling authors?
This advice isn’t for “every blogger”; this advice is for corporate, IT-based bloggers hoping to use blogging as a form of viral marketing. I think the questions every blogger should ask him or herself instead are these:
1. What role do I want my blog to play in my life? This question should be revisited on a regular basis.
2. What kinds of things do I want to blog about, and what kinds of things do I not want to blog about? Another question that should be revisited at regular intervals. Is it wise to blog about your husband’s annoying habits? Should you be going on at length about your son’s therapy? Are you going to hurt the ones you love with your random and permanent online etchings?
3. Am I okay with everyone I’ve ever known/met/loved/hated reading everything I write on this blog? Because it’s hanging out there in public (unless I make sure it’s not).
4. Do I need to blog under an assumed name? This is especially important for anyone under the age of 25. You never know when you’re going to change careers and have something you wrote online when you were 15 come back to haunt you. Unless you really trust that you know what you’re doing, the answer to this question is probably yes.
5. What kind of impact does blogging have on me? Do I like it? Some people find blogging boring and/or stressful, but do it because it appears to be the norm in the communities they move within. Some people blog for the sole purpose of collecting comments from readers, and are constantly disappointed when they don’t get what they feel they deserve. Personally, I think blogging is best when it pushes you to think more deeply, make more connections between ideas, and revisit issues more regularly than you would otherwise. If blogging isn’t enriching your life, why do it?
Edit: Since a couple of people have asked for clarification, I’ll repost a comment I left elsewhere regarding why many people should consider blogging under an assumed name:
That comment wasnâ€™t really directed at the library world, where named blogging is more normal. I was thinking instead of folks like Bitch PhD, who use their blogs to talk about professional, political, and personal matters, and donâ€™t feel that the blog would really enhance their professional profile.
Itâ€™s not really a matter of someone working out who you might be, though. If someone is a big fan of a pseudononymous blog, they can often work out at least roughly who and where the author is. Itâ€™s more about protecting your googleability, and controlling what your parents, friends, exes, and future (possible) employers find out about you (and when). The moment your real name is on a blog, it will come up (close to) first on Google when someone searches for your name. Thatâ€™s got to be a very deliberate decision on your part.
There are some interests and hobbies you might not want your patrons and colleagues to know about, but you might want to put on the internet anyway. A dear friend of mine, a faculty member in Vancouver specializing in literature, also happens to write bawdy fanfiction about television show characters, and is extremely popular in that subculture. She does not attach her real name to that blog, and while those of us who know her well know about it and can see her real self through that personaâ€™s blog, her students and parents and colleagues canâ€™t google her and read about her television musings. She was profiled in a national newspaper a couple of years ago, a full page spread about her hobby and issues around copyright/intellectual property. But still, no real name. She thought about what it might mean, and hedged her bets. Lots of people have been fired for the contents of their blogs, rightly or wrongly.
But as noted by the age thing, I mostly recommend pseudonyms for teenagers and undergrads. Iâ€™m sure youâ€™ve heard about the issues around facebook, where young folks think that no one will ever find their drunken party pictures or their jealous break-up musings. The librarian blogosphere doesnâ€™t really contain these things, but the blogosphere in general is stuffed of those kinds of mostly-personal blogs. Stopping to think about these issues is pretty key to information literacy in 2008; not the literacy skills needed to necessary find information (though it surely relates to understanding how information is found), but the ones needed when creating information.