Image by verbeeldingskr8, via Flickr
This post was inspired by Elizabeth, who wrote beautifully this week about how reading fewer blogs can lead crafters to make more things and find more of their own original ideas. I love her post and completely agree. You might want to read it before you dive in here. I’ll wait.
I think Elizabeth hits upon a big trend I’ve been seeing in the blogosphere – many of us are letting go of the impetus to “keep up.”
When blogs came on the scene (about seven years ago, give or take), we approached them like we would approach any media at the time – we tried to read them all, so we’d be well-read and up to date.
Image by catspyjamasnz, via Flickr
That approach worked fine for a few years, but then seemingly everyone on the planet started a blog. Before long, we all had overstuffed RSS readers with hundreds (thousands?) of unread posts. We felt naggingly guilty. Guilt is not enjoyable, so many of us simply abandoned our feed readers. That’s when social media took over. More and more of us just started looking at whatever interesting links floated through our field of view on Facebook and Twitter.
…And it turned out, this was okay. We found that we didn’t need to keep up on everything after all, and that was a relief. Now, I think we’re becoming much less likely to keep up on every post from any one blog, unless we feel we have some kind of personal connection with the blogger.
So where does this leave blogging? Is it dead?
Don’t worry. Blogging isn’t dead! But with this change in the way people read blogs comes some re-adjustment in the way we write them. That’s the bit I want to talk about.
Image by Jorge Franganillo, via Flickr
From keeping up to niche-ing down
OK, so we’re in the post-keeping-up era. What does that mean for blogs and blog readership? I think it means that more of us will take Elizabeth’s advice and weed out those overstuffed feed readers – or at least sort our feeds by priority, and focus on those we consider most important.
Those five words express a big idea: those WE consider most important. Remember, there is no blog in this world that everyone “has to” read. That’s an old mass-media idea. The most important blogs in the world now are the blogs that speak directly to you – whatever they’re about, and whoever writes them, are not important. The fact that you find them interesting and valuable is.
…And that means both good things and scary things for bloggers. On the one hand, there’s potential for every blogger now to find a core group of readers. This is an easier landscape to be an authentic blogger in, actually – with readers becoming less loyal in general, you’re free to share things that are truly meaningful to you. And as it turns out, these posts can be some of your most powerful.
On the other hand, as people let themselves off the blog-reading hook more and more, it’s true that some of us bloggers will see our readership numbers decline.
Letting go of “bigger is better”
Now, I have yet to meet a blogger who doesn’t want more readers and more comments. (The number one question I get is still “How do I get more readers?”) Of course, the whole point of sharing writing and pictures publicly is so that people will witness us. But I think many of us share an unexamined assumption that it needs to be a whole lot of people, or somehow we aren’t truly valid.
In the early days of blogging, we watched the original craft bloggers grow very large audiences, and I think that, consciously or unconsiously, many of us aspire to that model. But we need to remember that these blogs grew big with two important influences: there weren’t as many blogs to read then, and blogging was a sexy new medium.
Today, I think it’s more realistic to focus on the quality of your readership over its quantity. Would you rather have your blog read by someone who’s actually interested in you, or would you rather have it scanned for a few seconds by someone who’s only looking for visual inspiration? Are thousands of faceless subscribers more important than a handful of thoughtful, active commenters?
The answer to those questions is complex and depends entirely on your own goals for blogging. Which leads me to my next point…
Image by angetorres, via Flickr
What the heck do you want out of this, anyway?
In my blogging classes and ebooks, one of the first things I ask my students to do is come up with a short list of their goals for keeping a blog. Any answer is valid – some want to practice writing and taking pictures. Some want to market a small business. Others want to grow a large audience that will help them attract the attention of a publisher. Some want to document their lives.
I think that, in the post-keeping-up era, it’s more important than ever to be honest with yourself about what you really want to get out of blogging.
The more you understand what you want from blogging, the better you can see whether blogging is actually fulfilling for you. Not everyone is born to be a publisher. In the past six years, I’ve witnessed so many people starting personal blogs because it’s what everyone was doing, and then wondering why those blogs aren’t seeing fame and fortune.
Image by loop_oh, via Flickr
If fame and fortune is your goal, then you’ll have to produce a blog aimed at a mass audience. In the post keeping-up era, that blog probably looks very, very different from a personal rumination on the small details on your daily life. (Unless, of course, you’re a particularly poetic writer who has a knack for engaging a mass audience.) The point is, in the post keeping-up era, big audiences will happen less by chance and more by calculation.
If personal expression is your goal, then it saves you a lot of angst if you can let go of that old mythology about “big” bloggers, and trust that over time, your blog will find its own crowd of people who “get” it. Whether that’s five people or five thousand really doesn’t matter. Honestly, all that matters is that you’re enjoying making the blog only you could make.
Let yourself off the hook from reading, but not from participating.
I’m actually happy about the post-keeping-up era. I think that the more feeds we try to keep up on, the more passive we have to get as readers. And that, sadly, takes the community sport of blogging and makes it look an awful lot like mass media.
Blogging is not mass media. It’s conversation. You are a vital part of that conversation. If you find a blog post anywhere that really resonates with you, it’s never been more important for you to leave a comment and let the blogger know. If bloggers must watch their readership numbers decline in the post keeping-up era, they should know that you’re out there and you appreciate them. Elizabeth wrote beautifully about this, so I won’t go into more detail.
All I’ll say is: lurking is soooooooo 2007. You (and I, and everyone) are so incredibly lucky to live in this rich media environment, with amazing content being created every day and delivered to us at no charge. Is it so much to ask that we “pay” with a thank you?
Image by hellojenuine, via Flickr
To this day, I make a practice of commenting on at least one blog every single day – and more if I have time. I see commenting as fundamental to preserving the things that make blogging (and blog-reading) special.
I’d love to hear your thoughts: has the way you read blogs changed in recent years? If you keep a blog, has the way you write it changed? Do you feel the same way about blogging now as you did when you first started reading blogs?
And if you’d like some great tips on organizing/trimming your RSS reader from Elizabeth, read her follow-up post.