Thursday, August 26, 2004

You write it, maybe they'll come

I've been pondering what makes a successful blog, what attracts the reader. Face it, there are thousands and thousands of blogs out there -- it's so easy that anyone can do it, and not everyone out there has a hook and following like Wil Wheaton. There's this idea that maybe if you write it, people will become automatically interested in you and everything you do. There's also the flipside, in which case no one could possibly be interested in you, so why bother?

Here's the thing: it really depends on what you* want your blog to do. If you want tons and tons of people to read it, then there is essentially two things you have to do: 1) make the readers care about you and 2) blog content the readers care about. And to accomplish this, yeah, you're going to have to make some compromises, figure out what people want to read, and you're not always going to be able to say what's on your mind (or if you do, you may have to temper it with humor or leave the mundane out). The truth is, no one except maybe my mother cares what I had for breakfast and even that is doubtful.

An interesting blog isn't a litany of things done or to be done. It's not a list of all the things that went wrong in a person's day. It's not even a list of links. That's not to say you can't blog these things -- sometimes it's nice to put it out there for cathartic purposes and some readers may even appreciate hearing about the ups and downs -- especially if written in a way that they can relate to (finding the humor in a bad situation is sometimes the way to go in these cases -- if possible). But there's a point when it's simply navel gazing and even your mother will get tired of reading your grocery list.

In my not so humble opinion, when you put a blog out there, you're automatically writing for an audience. You don't necessarily know who that audience is (hi, mom!), but someone is popping by for whatever reason. Maybe it's a one-time deal, maybe it's a "refresh the blog nine times a day for updates" deal. And since you're now a blogger, you've got at least care somewhat or want somewhat for people to read. In that case, you're going to have compromise and put out stuff that people will find interesting.**

If you're going for a narrow focus -- geek all the time, for instance -- then you've got to keep it up, get the information early and be on the edge of technology at all times. That's what people are reading you for, so that's what you got to do. In that case, the blog is content-driven and if people don't care about the content or don't think you're doing a good job keeping up, then they aren't going to read. It's that simple; the Internet has made thousands of pundits out of ordinary people, so if you can't fill a niche, it's easy to find someone else who will.

If it's more of a personal nature blog, then it's all about personality, about who you are and why people should care about you. Some of the most successful bloggers are successful because they are funny, they are honest, and they write in a way that's easy to understand and more importantly, the reader can identify. If a reader doesn't care about the person behind the blog, they aren't going to care about the content. And that means being able to laugh at one self, to pull out the funny more often than the gloomy; after all, no one wants to be depressed while reading a blog.

So make it fun, stick links out there that amuse, and more importantly, blog about what you care about; that doesn't necessarily mean always blog about yourself, but rather, what's on your mind, those little touches that make a blog personal. Chances are, if it's something that interests you, then that's going to translate to the reader and make your blog that much more interesting to that individual.

Olympic link of the day: Oh what to do about the judging controversies. I don't agree with the writer, but I'm sure there are many people out there who'd love to get rid of judged sports in the Olympics.

* I'm using 'you' in a very general way and hopefully not too preachy, but when using one's personal soapbox to wag a finger and say 'This is how you do it!', it's hard not to be preachy.

** This is also not to negate the importance of well-written content. Grammar and spelling does indeed count! If people can't understand what it is you're trying to say, they're not going to read. And yes, this includes using complete words easily recognizable or found in a dictionary, which does not include text-messaging or AIM short-cuts.

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