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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

To blog or not to blog...

You know what they say about free advice...  It's worth every cent!

Consider this a word of advice/caution to anyone who is toying with the idea of starting a blog.  If you are short on time I'll sum up everything that follows in one statement: 

Blogging isn't for everyone!

During the course of the year-and-a-half since I started keeping this journal I have been approached by a few would-be bloggers/journalers wanting to know how to start a successful blog.  This never ceases to amaze me since asking someone how to become a successful blogger really depends on one's definition of success.  Hearing this kind of a question also presupposes that treppenwitz is, in fact a successful blog... a fairly subjective supposition.

However, I noticed this morning that some time during the night treppenwitz received its 100,000th hit... a feat that can't be entirely attributed to crack rats frantically clicking 'refresh' as part of some cruel Internet-behavior experiment.  So perhaps this might be as good a time as any to look back and see if I've learned any lessons worth passing on to would-be bloggers/journalers.

You'll have a chance to toss in your two cents at the end if you're so inclined.

Success:  Define it before you go looking for it!
I should begin by saying that I already considered treppenwitz a success before I even published my first entry.  Some people measure success in numbers... of hits... of comments... or of visitors.  I measured my initial success by the tingly, mildly buzzed sensation I got when I was writing down something that was important to me.   I absolutely loved the feverish, almost possessed way the writing made me feel.  It's a good thing too, because even before I had any readers to speak of, I suddenly had a 'born on' date stamped on every entry... a date that created a constant demand (at least in my mind) for fresh material.

In other words... if you are going to set up a blog, you'd better like the subject matter... and you'd better enjoy the idea of feeding it, because it is always going to be hungry.  The huge number of abandoned blogs floating around the blogosphere with only a handful of half-hearted entries is a pretty good indication of how many people want to adopt a virtual puppy, kitten or bunny... but had no desire to own and care for a full grown virtual dog, cat or rabbit.

The Child That Never Grows Up
Keeping up a blog is like having a 'special needs' child. It is never going to be self-sufficient and it will make demands on your time and attention that you can't even begin to imagine.  This isn't to say that your efforts won't be richly rewarded... but the reward isn't always what you expected it would be. 

This goes back to the issue of care-and-feeding I mentioned earlier.  If you manage to attract a regular readership, you're bound to find that even the perception of reader demand takes a bit of the fun out of blogging.  Doing something when you feel like it is fun.  Doing something out of a sense obligation, or because someone else is waiting for you to do it, can sometimes feel suspiciously like a job.   

If you hate the idea of posting frequent blog entries that start with "Sorry I haven't had much to say lately"... imagine how much your readers will enjoy it!

Most of the 'successful' bloggers I have spoken to about this seem to have struck a balance between selfish indulgence and fulfilling reader's expectations. 

Value-Added Proposition
Remember back in the '90s when everybody thought that all you needed to do in order to become a gazillionaire was to set up a web site and wait for the venture capital firms to start throwing money at you?  OK, maybe that's a bad example since the first couple of years of the 'dot com' revolution were almost that simple.  My point is that the bubble eventually burst on that kind of thinking when people finally started to wake up to the fact that you had to have something of value to offer or nobody was going to visit your little plot of online real estate. 

Blogging is no different.

What you do on your blog has to be of value... at least to you.  The world is big and diverse enough that you are likely to find quite a few people who also find value in what you are publishing.  But first and foremost your blog has to mean something to you in order to have any chance of success or longevity.

Even Attention-Whores Should Consider Anonymity
This part of our little lesson deals with how much (if any) personal information to reveal... and why it could be hazardous to your job and home-life to to assume 'nobody will ever find out'.

I've mentioned before that if I had thought things through beforehand, I would probably have opted to remain anonymous here.  Even if one doesn't make a practice of blogging about, or from, work (an absolute no-no), there is a growing tendency for employers to consider all of your thoughts to be 'company property'.  Moreover, it is almost inevitable that at some point you will succumb to the temptation to say something unflattering about your workplace, your boss or one of your coworkers on your blog... and search engines are much too good these days to hope that a passing remark will go unnoticed. 

Similar issues come up with friends and family who you might want to roast when you're having a particularly bad day.  The only difference between writing about your work and home life is that if you blog about your friends and family you might end up losing a friend or even your spouse instead of just your job!

Play Nice!
I can't over-emphasize the importance of being nice to people online.  This sounds easy but it is sometimes quite difficult.  The online world is full of 'tards and trolls.  Most of them are trying to provoke confrontations that they wouldn't dare attempt in real life.  Be nice if you can... ignore them if you can't.

Being nice to other bloggers is a simple way to get your first few readers.  Not surprisingly, some of the most voracious readers of blogs are bloggers.  If you find a few blogs that interest you and occasionally leave a cogent comment, there is a a good chance that the blogger or some of his/her readers may wander over to your site to see who you are.

Shamelessly plugging your blog in someone else's comments section or begging other bloggers for reciprocal linking is not the way to endear yourself to anyone. You'll most likely just come off as sounding needy.  The same can be said for sending impersonal, cut & paste email requests for linkage to every blogger with a visible e-mail address.

You also probably don't want to go the route of leaving deliberately provocative / inflammatory comments around the blogosphere in hopes of drawing attention to yourself and your site.  This kind of 'Jerry Springer' approach to blogging will get you noticed... but will probably not get you the kind of attention or reputation your were hoping for.

Talking Back
Most bloggers I know place almost as much value on comments/feedback as they do on traffic in terms of measuring their 'success'.  Both traffic and number of comments can be helpful tools... but they are not always reliable indicators of success or failure.

For instance, you might post 20 straight entries about things that are deeply meaningful to you without garnering any significant traffic or comments... yet when you dash off a mindless post about something salacious or controversial you are suddenly flooded with both.  The combination of search engines surfers looking for specific terms and certain topics that will always garner an eager audience has tempted many a blogger to abandon their original format and pander to the basest interests of the mob. 

I would strongly discourage anyone from going down that road.

Just as the class clown and the class slut quickly discover the most expedient way to attract attention to themselves... I suspect that neither one ends up entirely pleased with the long-term quality of the attention they attract.

If you find that you have to frequently do the blogging equivalent of 'putting out' or taking a pie in the face to get your hit counter or comment indicator to budge... I doubt you'll be very anxious to sit down at the keyboard and write.

Being nice to people who comment on your blog (if you decide to allow comments) is also quite important.  If you habitually argue with people in your comments section or ignore them altogether... chances are they will go somewhere more welcoming. 

Burn Out or Fade Away?
Another personal choice that every blogger/journaler makes is how frequently to post.  Besides the issue of setting expectations (i.e. how often your readers will expect to see new material on your site), there is the issue of setting a pace that can be sustained for an indefinite period of time.

Sometimes the pace will be dictated by your subject matter.  For instance, if you want to set up a 'meteorological blog' (meaning you'll be writing about the weather conditions in your area), you aren't likely to develop much of a steady readership if you only update once a month.  By the same token, if you are a Civil War buff and you want to blog about your hobby, you will probably burn out rather quickly if you attempt to post fresh entries once or twice a day. 

Aside from which topic(s) you chose to write about, there is the more basic issue of how much time and energy you have to devote to your blog. 

I follow a few blogs that are updated several times a day.  I honestly wonder how these bloggers manage to maintain any sort of gainful employment or personal life with the kind of frenetic blogging pace they maintain.  There are other bloggers I read who update their sites only once or twice a month (if that).  I can't imagine how these bloggers stay engaged and sustain any kind of interest in their writing. 

However, with both of these examples, it doesn't matter whether I understand or approve of their pace... it is only important that they have found a pace that is comfortable and works for them.

And now you tell me how I'm dead wrong...
Well, maybe not in so many words, but one of the wonderful things about blogging is that everyone with a computer and an Internet account is a potential dissenting opinion!  I'm sure many of you have your own ideas and advice to offer on the subject... so feel free!

221_18

Posted by David Bogner on April 12, 2005 | Permalink

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It sounds sensible, no real criticism to offer other than your blog is the worst one I have ever encountered and did I ever tell you that I have a blog that you really should read.

Aww hell, I am too tired to try and be witty and when you are already a halfwit you have to be very caution in your disposition and dispensation of wit.

Ok, someone hit me I am babbling. Doctor Bean, perhaps a prescription might cure this.

Posted by: Jack | Apr 12, 2005 5:54:59 PM

Even if it's free, you have a lot of good points here.

One thing not addressed is the choice of a blogging platform - blogger,typepad, etc. That's not as much of an issue now as it was back in the day, but I've seen some people struggle with blog technology and choices.

A while ago I added the creative commons license to my blog. It's important to do. Many bloggers don't realize how their words - once recorded on the blog - can echo through the web and be misconstrued by others. I'm not sure how well the creative commons license works, or how much bite there is to it, but it's better than nothing.

Posted by: Steve Bogner | Apr 12, 2005 6:24:58 PM

I believe you may have just talked me out of blogging...

Posted by: Tanya | Apr 12, 2005 6:32:06 PM

Thanks, Teach!
You hit all the nails on the head.

Posted by: Pearl | Apr 12, 2005 7:06:08 PM

Off topic, but I just found a place for you to visit when you are in the states again.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum: http://www.alplm.org

" The new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum doesn't buy into that reverence — it brings Lincoln to life with booming cannons, holographic ghosts and latex statues so lifelike the arms have freckles. It shakes visitors up and shows them all sides of the former president."

Posted by: Jack | Apr 12, 2005 8:11:15 PM

Yeah, I know you will hate me for this [please don't mention 'it' again, we have found a superb agreement, remember ;) ], but I'd like to chip in the geeky part of this. Anyone wanting to blog and keep an online journal should keep in mind that it WILL involve computers and technology. Anyone who so wants to join in that bloggin' thing should be ready to learn seven or eight things about computers and online publishing. Occasionally asking for advice is neat and totally ok, but expecting your provider or fellow bloggers to do it all and help out without you learning your part first [you, the new blogger, not you David B. ;) ] is NO-NO. That would be like starting a book and having a journalist do it all for you because you can't even write, right?

As usual, a wonderful post, David! Liked every word of it and agree!

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Apr 12, 2005 8:50:55 PM

Love your blog, even if I don't always comment. I am amazed that you manage to post just about every day, and your posts show that siginificant time and effort went into what you have to say to us. Kol hakavod and keep up the good work! (and ditto to what Tanya said...)

Posted by: Essie | Apr 12, 2005 8:55:41 PM

Jack... If you'll think back to the religious nut job who flamed me a few months back for having a potty mouth... that is pretty much what she told me! :-)

Steve... I also added the Creative Commons license but I have no idea how effective it might be. I imagine it is the sort of thing that would keep valuable intellectual property from being used for someone else's gain... but I doubt it would stop someone from ganking one of my witty jokes.

Tanya... You have been blogging longer than anyone I know (including my two blogfathers) so I'm guessing you are being ironic. Truth be told though... if I talked a few people out of cluttering up cyberspace with aborted blogs, maybe I did some good. :-)

Jack... Um, thanks. I'll get right on that! :-)

mademoiselle a. ... I knew I left something out! Good point: If you are not prepared to do some basic homework, even the most WYSIWYG blogapp is not going to get you very far. Thanks.

Essie... I don't mind that you don't comment very often, because when you DO comment it is usually just when my ego needs a little boost. :-) Thanks!

Posted by: David | Apr 12, 2005 9:28:36 PM

Thanks. But what do you do about those annoying "regular commenters" who think they're funny and always leave weird comments?

Jack: I've been putting Thorazine in your Tang for a month. It's not working.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Apr 12, 2005 10:50:44 PM

Jack: I've been putting Thorazine in your Tang for a month. It's not working.

Nope, but it did wonders for relieving my hiccups. At last I can complete a full sentence without pausing in the middle. Of course the irritable bowel, narcolepsy and Tourettes are still acting up.

Posted by: Jack | Apr 12, 2005 11:17:40 PM

Jack: Thanks for the symptom update. I'm on it. Just keep leaving your Tang in an uncovered pitcher outside your back door.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Apr 13, 2005 3:56:38 AM

Good advice, and I agreed with all of it!

My blog is just a few months younger than you, and receives about 10% of the hits and comments. But I agree with what you said. Regardless of how many hits I get, blogging makes my life richer because of I am journaling my own life and feelings in a meaningful way.

It takes the monotony out of life and keeps us centered.

Posted by: Jim | Apr 13, 2005 5:03:39 AM

I must comment on Jim's last phrase "keeps us centered." I've seen in many blogs that the bloggers are centered, all right, SELF-centered...TOO centered, too egotistical, too eager to make sure that we've caught them in their spotlight. Sure, it's nice to shine, but one should know when the light is too bright and needs to be dimmed somewhat.

Posted by: Pearl | Apr 13, 2005 5:17:31 AM

I agree with everthing you wrote, except the bit about anonymity. If you were to blog your personal thoughts without any chance of revealing who you are what purpose would that serve? You wouldn't REALLY be connecting with anyone in any real way. By keeping your identity to yourself, you would be keeping your distance from amyone who might be interested in what you had to say.

By revealing who you are you force yourself to share with others things about yourself that are both interesting and worthy of public exposure. The relationships you forge are real. We actually met last Shabbat rather than "jacking in" and allowing our thoughts to interract in a virtual world

Posted by: Andy | Apr 13, 2005 7:08:51 AM

Doctor Bean... Luckily I don't have that particular problem. :-)

Jack... Thank you for editing your Tourettes outbursts before hitting the 'submit comment' button. We all appreciate you respecting the family-friendly environment here at treppenwitz.

Jim... I'm pleased to hear you say that. I have always enjoyed your choice of topics... and some of the discussions in your comments section have been quite exciting.

Pearl... Guilty as charged. I think there is a strong element of exhibitionism in blogging/journaling. No matter how I may tone down my role in the events I describe... I am really writing about life from my unique perspective... with myself in the spotlight.

Andy... Another blogger who lives in our community writes anonymously. He is able take somewhat controversial positions on topics because he is writing from behind a mask. True, perhaps he doesn't get to connect as closely as I do with readers... but if you think about it, why would it matter to someone living in Seattle or LA if they were addressing their comments to David Bogner or a pen name of my choosing? I am pleased that we finally got to meet though... that, at least, is a strong case for not blogging anonymously. Now I need to know something really important: Are you a bourbon or a scotch man? I have Chametz that needs to be 'burned' before passover... maybe you'd like to stop over one evening and help me 'dispose' of some of this stuff? :-)

Posted by: David | Apr 13, 2005 8:39:03 AM

We all appreciate you respecting the family-friendly environment here at treppenwitz.

#^&#$^&%%&&^%&@^Tang#&$*&*#&*^^&##!^Y$%^# Whew.

Posted by: Jack | Apr 13, 2005 9:00:31 AM

Did you know I'm from Seattle or was that just a random example?

I see your point and you're right. There is somethng to gain by being able to blog anonymously in the same way that you gain by the secrecy of discussions in therapy.

A good example of this would be the Nice Jewish Girl blog. Someone else can give the url. I'm sure lots of the readers here have seen it.

Thanks for the invitation. I drink scotch, neat. But I don't much like to drink at night. Could I come by Shabbat morning after shule to help you with that?

Posted by: Andy | Apr 13, 2005 2:13:37 PM

re: "I've seen in many blogs that the bloggers are centered, all right, SELF-centered...TOO centered, too egotistical, too eager to make sure that we've caught them in their spotlight. Sure, it's nice to shine, but one should know when the light is too bright and needs to be dimmed somewhat."

I don't know...I'd say, if you don't like it, then leave them alone. It's their space and they can do with it whatever they want and in whatever fashion they wish to, like it or not. Blogging comes in many facettes and serves all kind of purposes.
You are in no way obliged to stick to them or lecture them in morals and they don't even expect it. Self-expression comes in many ways, and where would this world go if we'd all stick to uniformity?

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Apr 13, 2005 2:24:33 PM

This was an excellent post!

Posted by: A Simple Jew | Apr 13, 2005 3:04:22 PM

Jack... Good to see the Thorazine finally kicked in. :-)

Andy... No, I didn't know you were from Seattle. I just chose those two cities (Seattle and LA) at random from my stats log. No problem about stopping over on Shabbat morning. I will try to pick up some schmaltz herring to go with our libations. :-)

mademoiselle a. ... Don't be shy... tell us what you really think! :-) As I said in my response to Pearl, I think that most bloggers are a bit self-centered/self-absorbed. Some might call it navel-gazing... but it all comes down to writing about OUR world as seen through OUR eyes.

A Simple Jew... Thank you. I'll be here all week! Try the veal... and don't forget to tip your waitress.

Posted by: David | Apr 13, 2005 3:27:55 PM

Jack... Good to see the Thorazine finally kicked in. :-)

It is good to know that the man who has been building a case for insanity for the last five decades thinks I am crazy too. :-)

Where is that pitcher of Tang gotten to.

Posted by: Jack | Apr 13, 2005 6:11:16 PM

mademoiselle a. ... Don't be shy... tell us what you really think! :-)

hwaet? a faux-pas? where? where? :)

Posted by: mademoiselle a. | Apr 15, 2005 5:14:25 PM

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