Admittedly, the title of this blog post is a bit of hyperbole. That’s probably not the best way to begin an article, but I know that far more people will read the first line of the article than the last one, so if I leave the punch line too long, most people will miss it. It’s just reality.
If you’ve been reading this site for any length of time you know that I truly do enjoy blogging; I don’t hate it at all. Blogging is one of the genuine pleasures of my life. Rarely does a day come along when I just do not want to sit down and write something. Yet blogging is not without its challenges and frustrations. Today I want to let you in on just a few of the aspects of blogging I struggle with the most, things that occurred to me recently as I pondered what I do here and why.
The point of this is not to complain about you. I implicate myself as much as anyone here. Instead, the purpose is simply to express some of the difficulties and frustrations of blogging. I want to give you a behind-the-scenes peek, I suppose, to see what I struggle with as I consider what to write here on the blog.
A Fickle Audience
Those of us who read blogs are a very fickle audience (and I include myself in this–I write 1 blog but read 100 or so). This is particularly true for those of us who rely on RSS readers or other means of organizing the content we read. These tools, necessary ones if we are to keep up with the content of more than just a few blogs, give us the ability to quickly filter out the good from the bad and the good from the average. They allow us to look very quickly at the articles generated by hundreds of blogs so we can focus in and actually engage with just the few articles that most appeal to us. So while I say that I read 100 blogs, I actually look briefly at the content of 100 blogs and on any given day read the content of only a few. I am fickle and will read only what stands out to me.
The fickle nature of we, the blog readers, have led to several adaptations by bloggers. In the first place, generating titles has become something of an art. When we look through the many articles in our RSS readers, we will be drawn primarily by a title. And for this reason there is a lot of skill in crafting just the right title (though this is a skill that has largely passed me by). This leads people to rely on this kind of a format: # adjective noun that [or from or with or by or…] noun (7 Awesome Books by John Piper, 5 Spectacular Sites for Web Designers, 144 Groovy Movies Starring Canadians, etc). This is also why many bloggers have a photo near the top of each blog post–the photos draw the eye and makes it more likely that a person will pause to read a little of the article.
The fickleness of blog readers is an ongoing frustration to me, even as I act just as fickle as everyone else. If a person really wants to succeed as a blogger, he will need to cater to some of these realities. Those of us who are stubborn and do not want to adapt, who do not want to stick an out-of-context photo at the top of each post and who don’t always want to rely on hyperbolic titles, will necessarily lose potential readers because of it. As you and I read blogs we want to be impressed, we want each article to wow us. Sadly no blogger can write a wow kind of post every time, any more than a pastor can preach a wow sermon every week or you can give your spouse a wow kiss every morning.
This puts a lot of pressure on the writer and especially so if he keeps his eye on site statistics. When he does, he can see immediately how the audience regarded his article–how they chose to read it or ignore it. Though the content may have been profound, biblical, wise, it will be missed because the audience did not make the effort to actually understand what it was.
A Skimming Audience
Those who do choose to read the articles on a particular blog are increasingly simply skimming those articles. More and more studies show that skimming is quickly becoming the dominant form of reading online. Yes, we have always skimmed books; in fact, most programs that claim to make us better readers encourage skimming as an initial way of encountering the content of a book. Yet never before has skimming been so prevalent. Today we skim more than we read.
Once again, blogs have been forced to adapt to this reality. At least the blogs that really take off, the ones that gain huge readership, have adapted. They have responded by keeping articles short, by trying to express anything in just a few hundred words. This pragmatic approach leads to very dry, uninteresting writing. The words become entirely utilitarian. Bloggers have also adapted by making their content skimmable, which means that they rely on lots of headings, lots of bullet points, and other means of allowing people to glance at the content in just a few seconds.
Generally speaking, those who read blogs read for information, not for wisdom or understanding. Whatever we read on blogs, we want to gain all of its benefit within just a few seconds. We want it fast, we want it direct and we want it to be straight to the point without anything standing in the way.
I hate writing in this way. I like words and I like to use them. I like to make the kind of points that can’t be made in 200 words. And this necessarily means that I lose a lot of my readers along the way.
[Note: 75% of the people who began reading this article have already stopped by this point]
It’s lonely being a blogger. What I find difficult about it is that I get very excited about the blog and love what it has become. But no one else is really able to meet me there and get excited about it in the same way. I am the type who always longs for someone to join me in what I am doing, someone to share the experience with, to bounce ideas off, to brainstorm with. But for those of us who write blogs like mine, single-author blogs, there is no one to do that with. I suppose it is much the same with a one-man business. Though I may have a passion for my blog, the simple reality is that others enjoy it, they use it, they may benefit from it, but they don’t have the passion. How could they, really? And so as I dream of the future, hoping some day to be able to give far more time to the blog, even to make it a kind of vocation, I have to ponder it alone.
Am I complaining? No, not at all. I’m simply expressing one of the realities. Blogging is a lonely hobby. The blogger does his writing alone, he creates the ideas on his own, and he dreams on his own.
And finally, we’re cheap. Those of us who read blogs demand the highest quality at the lowest price. We want to read articles that give us just the information we want, we want to read content that moves or entertains us. And yet we do not want to pay for it. And again, I implicate myself here. We are people of the web, or people of Web 2.0 at any rate. What we read online we want to read for free (just like what we watch online we want to watch for free and what we listen to online we want to listen to for free). This poses a significant challenge to bloggers who want to monetize their blogs and receive some financial reward for their work. A few have succeeded well; most have not. “The laborer is worthy of his hire?” Not online, he’s not. Not in our understanding. I can’t even remember the last time I clicked on another blog’s banner ad.
So there you have it–the challenge of blogging. I read through these words and it sounds like I’m whining. I hope you don’t see it that way. These are simply a few of the challenging realities of blogging; they are challenges I cause as much as they are challenges I face.