Thursday, July 26, 2007

To Blog Or Not To Blog?

Recently, Jacob Nielsen worked with a consultant who is a "world leader in his field" on developing his website. The topic of blogging came up. Jacob's advice: skip the blog, instead focus on longer articles.

Like a good number of positions Jacob Nielsen takes, this one too is controversial. It bothered me at first too, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why. The advice to write premium content isn't bad. And his logic that most content out there is crap, is probably accurate.

After two days of letting his insights cook, I think I've boiled the flaws in Jacob's reasoning to two points:

Point 1: Blogging Defined

Jacob first defines blogging in the beginning of his article:

... given limited time, this means not spending the effort to post numerous short comments on ongoing blogosphere discussions.

Weblogs have their role in business, particularly as project blogs, as exemplified on several award-winning intranets. Blogs are also fine for websites that sell cheap products. On these sites, visitors can often be easily converted and the main challenge is to raise awareness. For example, a site that sells pistachio nuts should post as much content about pistachios as possible in the hope of attracting quick hits by people searching for that information. Some percentage of these visitors will buy the nuts while visiting the site.

"Short comments on ongoing blogosphere discussions", "Project blogs", "Award-winning Intranets", "Fine for websites that sell cheap products" - whoa - where did he come up with this stuff? Is he surfing the same Internet I am? Wait, it gets better:

Blog postings will always be commodity content: there's a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else's work. Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they're definitely easy to write. But they don't build sustainable value. Think of how disappointing it feels when you're searching for something and get directed to short postings in the middle of a debate that occurred years before, and is thus irrelevant.

I've heard a good number of definitions of blogging, but this has to be among the worst. Seriously, if this was an accurate summary of what a blog is, I'd be the first person to say don't waste your time on them. None of the blogs I follow fit this description, and hopefully, the blog I'm writing doesn't either.

How can you read Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Steve Rubel and other greats and tell me that blogging content is just commentary? That's like reading Dr. Suess and saying that all poetry is kids stuff because it's short and often rhymes. It's simply not true. How you can read great blogs and think this is beyond me.

Point 2: Find Your Voice

Let's say for a second, producing long articles instead of shorter blog posts is a grand idea. What if Mr. World Expert In His Field doesn't like writing said articles? What will naturally happen is that updates to the website won't happen. I think even Jacob would agree - a dead looking website is far worse then one with a blog that isn't producing beautiful articles. By setting the bar so high, it's easy to fail.

Instead, the world expert should focus on finding his own voice. Definitely consider longer articles, but if that doesn't work for him, try shorter ones. Or try a combination. Oh, by the way, this combination is called blogging.

Take Steve Rubel's blog, Micro Persuasion, as an example. He writes longer content on a less frequent basis, but provides link posts nearly daily. These link posts keep readers like me engaged and ready to read his longer content when he's ready to provide it.

So, Do You Need A Blog On My Website?

Here's my patent-pending system for deciding if you want to have a blog on your website.

  1. Fire the consultant you hired to tell you whether or not you should be blogging.
  2. Subscribe to 5 blogs using Bloglines. Spend a few days digging around for your 5 bloggers, pick some obscure ones and some well known ones. Here's a list of blogs to pick through to get you started.
  3. Follow these blogs for a few weeks. Drop the ones that aren't impressing you and add new ones to replace them.
  4. After a few weeks, ponder the following questions: "Am I impressed with blogging as a communication medium? What could it be useful for? Would I enjoy it? Keep it up?"

If you answered yes to the above questions, you should start a blog. If you answered no, don't bother.

The irony is not lost on me that the above blog post could probably be placedin the: "comments on ongoing blogosphere discussions" category. Oh well, what can you do.

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