My goal when I began "At the Keyboard" in January was to post just about every other day. Then it was three days a week. Now, it's pretty much when I can.
Blogging is hard work. Well, not hard. But it does require discipline and foresight that new bloggers like myself might not appreciate going in.
But I do take heart in the fact that, according to the Times Union, I am not alone finding the demands of blogging, well ... demanding. In fact, according to Senior Writer Steve Barnes, I may be doing better than most with my intermittent posts because I do, in fact, post.
Barnes and the Times Union had an interesting piece on today's "Life" front. If you're reading this -- or other blogs -- or if you blog yourself, enjoy:
A blog of one's own? Post and post again
By Steve Barnes
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Having a blog can be the equivalent of an online diary, a spot to write occasionally about yourself.
Or it can take over your life.
It might be a swell place, now that you're retired, to post photos of the grandkids and a travelogue of your trips.
Or it might take over your life.
You could turn out to be one of those people content with the few dozen blog visitors you get every month, not an compulsive checker of your visitor stats.
Or you could let those stats take over your life.
If your temperament is such that you think you'd fall into the former group, go ahead and launch that blog. Visit any of the popular blog hosts -- WordPress, Blogspot, TypePad -- to get started. If the setup seems a little daunting, ask a young person who has a MySpace or Facebook page to help. Then just start posting your writings and photos. It's easy, and it's free.
But if you think you might become obsessive about boosting your visitor numbers, or if an unupdated blog would peck at your conscience like a raven, resist the urge to launch one.
The wide world of the Web includes a giant dung heap of abandoned and neglected blogs. Although it's impossible to say exactly how many blogs are out there in the electronic ether, the consensus seems to be that almost two-thirds of the world's approximately 160 million blogs are inactive. They just sit there, forlornly unvisited even by their creators, silently offering evidence of someone's daily life and musings from, say, summer 2005.
But that won't be you! You'll post, you'll entertain, you'll inform, you'll enthrall!
The first thing to know is you must post often. That bears repeating: Post. Very. Often.
Why? For the same reason that a daily newspaper publishes every single day, that a radio station abhors going silent for even a few seconds. People find comfort, reassurance in continuity; it's how they develop routines. If you don't put something new on your blog at least once a week or so, readers won't get in the habit of coming back. And then the death spiral starts: You don't post, so readers con't come back, and when you see that no one's reading, you don't feel compelled to post. Within a few months, it's time to toss another blog onto the dung heap.
The five most popular blogs hosted by timesunion.com average at least a half-dozen new posts every weekday. The four staffers in the newspaper's Capitol bureau in the last month put up between eight and 16 separate posts daily over the past month, and some of those posts contained more than a dozen separate links to stories elsewhere; such industriousness, combined with a subject matter -- state politics -- with wide appeal locally, draws by far the largest readership of any on timesunion.com: 304,000 in February.
The restaurant blog Table Hopping, written by this reporter, has four to 10 postings every weekday and placed second, with an audience of about 101,000 in February; the third-ranked blog, On the Edge, Kristi Gustafson's take on dating and style, attracted 63,000 with about five new posts daily and frequent use of photos.
What to write
Another strategy for attracting readers seems obvious but is worth pointing out: Write about something a dedicated core of readers want to read about often. Times Union staffer James Allen, who covers high school sports, placed sixth in January with his Sidelines blog, and high school student Kevin Whitaker's exhaustively reported Fan in Motion blog on the same subject -- with posts that can run more than 2,000 words -- also ranked in the top 10. Ditto for the College Sports blog, maintained by writers Pete Iorizzo and Mark Singelais.
Write what you know: Feature writer Stephanie Earls, who chronicles improving her home and her life in A Work in Progress on timesunion.com, landed one spot outside the top 10 last month even though there were only 12 posts. In her blog, which is more of a personal journal than an extension of her reporting work, Earls uses an honest, funny, intimate writing style; with posts about the cracking plaster in her 100-year-old Pine Hills home and a clinical assessment of her last nasty winter cold, she engages readers sufficiently that she received multiple comments on almost every post she put up in both January and February.
Be short and funny: All blogs that keep readers coming back have one thing in common: engaging content, which on the Web rarely includes long, long swaths of text. Instead of writing "I went to the doctor this morning at 8 a.m., where Dr. Smith looked over my bunions and reported that I need to wear cushiony support in my Rockports," write, "The bunions are back. Baby needs new shoes." Then give a little background. And post a photo. Yes, of your own feet.
Borrow, don't steal: This applies to words or pictures. If you like something on another blog or site, whether it's a person's own or a commercial site, provide a link to it or quote the material and credit the source. If you're the sort of parent who would make your child return a pack of gum that he or she stole from the supermarket, don't be a hypocrite and commit electronic thievery by grabbing someone else's photo and sticking it up on your blog. If it's copyrighted, you're stealing.
Find free photos: There are scads of sites that offer completely free photos. Find them by Googling a phrase like "how to find free photos." (Make sure you select completely free photos, not those marked "royalty free," which require a one-time payment.) Photographers often allow some of their photos to be used for free as a way of getting their work seen and generating interest in their paid photos.
At its most self-indulgent, blogging is a form of look-at-me exhibitionism. At its best, blogging is partly an interior monologue, partly a cool way to introduce others to things you find in the world, and partly a rewarding, ongoing conversation among hundreds, thousands or even millions of people.
And it can also take over your life.