Yesterday I was invited to what turned out to be an excellent dinner with some of the best Dutch bloggers around. A few of them have an ambitious plan to organize an international blogging conference in the Netherlands and they wanted our feedback on their plans. It was an interesting evening altogether. I noticed that if you bring some 20 experienced and well known bloggers together it leads to many discussions, opinions and inspiration.
I decided to provide my thoughts in the best way I can, by writing a post about a few blogging themes that come to mind.
Blogging has been around for a long time already. I consider myself nothing more than a rookie at best. People like Robert Scoble, Shel Israel, Dave Winer, Doc Searl, Tim O’Reilly have been at it much longer. I bet they have seen the medium change a lot in the past few years. Where blogging was something done by a few in the early days, it’s now become a mainstream activity. With the democratization of the web every user has gotten the ability and tools to write a blog and be found. Just look at these impressive stats from WordPress, my favorite blogging platform. Every month hundred of thousands of people create new blogs.
With this democratization comes the question how to be found between the masses. There are many different technological solutions for this. We have all kinds of aggregators like TechMeme, Technorati and so on. There are leaderboards, feedburners, blog recommendation platforms, friend referrals. The list is endless. There is also an A-list, a group of bloggers that have gone through many years of consecutive writing, building up a large audience. As a result this A-list tends to dominate leaderboard rankings and traffic towards their blog sites. I’m not just talking about tech oriented people here, this holds for any blogger that has been writing quality material for a long while.
Rookie bloggers that have the aspiration to become an A-list blogger too face competition that is fiercer than ever. If you haven’t already got a large audience it becomes more and more difficult to build up your own community of faithful readers. If you are a tech blogger then you not only face A-list bloggers but also commercially driven blogging networks that are able to blog with more people, but also tend to have access to “breaking news” information before anyone else. This domination is almost a self-perpetuating engine. Blogging networks like TechCrunch live for the breaking news factor, to be the first. As a result a startup that wants attention on sites like TechCrunch wil, lead by PR firms, deliver the breaking news to these blogging networks first. This process is not random, it is strongly directed. Its a process I feel brings startups an easy way to failure in Silicon Valley.
There is one way any rookie blogger can start building an audience (let’s assume he is writing interesting content for a moment). That is to use the currency the blogosphere and web have been living on the past few years. Joining in the conversation that takes place on popular blogs, providing helpful comments and linking to other posts written by other bloggers. A tactic which can help create an audience, providing you are actually bringing value to the conversation. This currency is getting a lot of pressure as Tim O’Reilly notes in a post here. In it he provides examples of a trend where blog sites are only providing links to their own site:
When this trend spreads (and I say “when”, not “if”), this will be a tax on the utility of the web that must be counterbalanced by the utility of the intervening pages. If they are really good, with lots of useful, curated data that you wouldn’t easily find elsewhere, this may be an acceptable tax. In fact, they may even be beneficial, and a real way to increase the value of the site to its readers. If they are purely designed to capture additional clicks, they will be a degradation of the web’s fundamental currency, much like the black hat search engine pages that construct link farms out of search engine results.
He ends with a personal view I like:
The web is a great example of a system that works because most sites create more value than they capture. Maybe the tragedy of the commons in its future can be averted. Maybe not. It’s up to each of us.
And this is where it comes down to for me. I once started blogging because reading blogs provided me with a lot of value and I figured it was time to try and add value to this global conversation. And now I find that the bloggers I admire most aren’t necessarily A-list bloggers or large blogging networks. It isn’t the breaking news factor (to me) that matters. The bloggers I admire most each have a few things in common:
- They are passionate about the things they blog about
- They only blog when they have something meaningful to say
- They blog because of a passion, not because of a traffic goal
- They are authentic. To me that means they provide their personal thoughts and views, often with authority, and these views do not necessarily agree with what other bloggers echo
As a result of these characteristics these bloggers will tend to have their own passionate community of followers. They may not be A-list bloggers, but they get thoughtful interaction from their readers. And that is exaclty what it takes to be a great blogger.
To me it doesn’t always matter what these bloggers blog about. But their passion and authenticity ensure that they will often produce inspirational, thought provoking posts. Posts that make you think, wonder, or question. I rarely look for answers (we already have so many answers 😉 ). Instead I can get exited about posts that leave me behind with questions. BTW if you want to know more about the ZEN of my blogging, just read this 😉
If anything I would like to learn from such bloggers. Where does their passion/authenticity come from? How can they withstand the pressure of the quick win, the easy post, the echoing content and instead provide thought provoking messages. How did they start? How did they build up and interact with their reading community? How do they view this fast changing blogging landscape? In other words, I want to know about he ZEN of their blogging.
I think this Dutch initiative will work out great. Why? Because the guys that are organizing it are passionate about blogging. If you want more information on this event you can bookmark the following site. It should be up and running within a few weeks. Or follow them on Twitter.
A little breaking news then? Not my type of thing, but…. These guys have already two well known and passionate bloggers that will be there to talk about their blogging. Hugh Macleod (aka Gapingvoid) and Pete Cashmore (from Mashable). Wow, breaking news, that felt good 😉