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The problem with blogging (swombat.com)
61 points by wheels on May 26, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 42 comments



So there are at least two separate use cases that get shoved into blogging.

The first (and probably most useful) treats the blog as something like a diary: commentary on current events at some scale, e.g. personal, professional, news, et cetera. In this case, older content really does have much less relevance because the events themselves now live in the past. Your friends /might/ care about what you drank last night, but they almost certainly don't care about 5 months 12 days ago. You might want to comment on Linus' latest mailing list screed, but it might not matter for kernel-dabbling four years down the road.

The second use case seems to be where Daniel Tenner really is chewing on something. If you're writing new stuff that doesn't necessarily live in the moment - musings on philosophy or cool data structures or life advice or Paul Graham's articles - then the blog model doesn't fit as well. Newer posts don't matter more than older posts, and in fact might matter less.

Thinking on this, we also have the issue of serendipity. The writer has probably created other stuff that you might like reading even if it's not directly about the exact same topic. Seems like the sort of thing attacked by collaborative filtering and other methods. Combine that with a CMS-style knowledge architecture (e.g. structure by something other than chronology if chronology doesn't make sense), and you're getting somewhere.


Very well analysed. And I definitely agree about serendipity. That's a huge concern for me, and one reason why I haven't categorised the Founder's Library section yet. Splitting it into categories like the excellent http://www.gabrielweinberg.com/startupswiki/Ask_YC_Archive makes a lot of sense, but it almost completely takes away the serendipitous aspect, which is essential for startup advice.

The article you really should read is often not the one you're looking for. A system that makes it too easy to find what you think you need might paradoxically make it harder to stumble onto what you actually needed.

I also think that almost every great blogger who starts with the first use case ends up posting numerous timeless gems that get lost in the diary format. DaringFireball is, again, the obvious example.


So maybe we as bloggers need to think more about curating our content. Organizing past posts into relevant series, maybe: if I've written several times about reverse engineering malware in a blog that ranges widely over the topic of incident response, then readers who like one post would probably like pointers to other posts. Having one or two "possibly related posts" doesn't seem to really cover the need here. So I'm not quite sure how to go about fixing the issue.


Series was one thing I added to my blog as a way to group posts into a ordered series and so to let people see related content. I think its become very useful.


Content marketers call that cornerstone content, but it works outside marketing. It's just a collection of posts on a subject (sometimes with commentary).


This is something Patrick McKenzie has been saying here for almost a year now, and is part of the reason we stopped blogging despite having developed an audience.

Another thing that devalues blog content, where the same ideas and prose would be more valuable in another venue, is that they present pieces as inherently incomplete. Example: blog commenting, which encourage readers to see pieces not as fully developed ideas but simply as fodder for a conversation. That's great when a conversation is really what you wanted, but it's terrible when it results in your work being scored by the lowest common denominator of your comments.

Daring Fireball works because that's his job. It is the point of the site to be a carefully analyzed news bulletin.

But when you're (say) a software company with a product and, possibly as a result of that product, some interesting ideas about software, technology, products or what-have-you, a timely news bulletin is not your job, and if you're going to publish, you should do it in a way that optimizes the value of those ideas.

For our part, I'd like to reorganize and rewrite our blog posts into a book; start with a TOC, fill in the blanks with posts, let it be incomplete, and build it up over time. But I'd also like to get product shipped.


Can't agree more. The thing I miss when going to the home page of a blog or QA site is finding well organized content by topic. Something manually curated by the owner(s). Content by tags does such a lousy job because it's the lowest level. Unless you only use 5-10 tags people aren't going to find interesting content on their own unless they come in off search for a specific query. Though, as someone mentioned, showing related articles would help this visitor.


I'm curious when Patrick changed his mind or what the nuances of this strategy are.

http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?biz.5.463855.7


When I first met Patrick in person, 2 years ago, he was at pains to demonstrate the power of the "linkerati" --- the fact that when a term was used in one way by 99.99% of people, and in another way by Internet people, the Internet people way would dominate Google. I remember blogs being pointed out as a way to capitalize on that trend, because of the outsized search impact of being part of the blog network.

Since then, Patrick has discovered his bill rate, and I'm just speculating here but I'm guessing he's discovered that the value of being "of the linkerati", while palpable, is way way way below his bill rate, or the value of his work product when he builds scalable link generation systems.


I get your second paragraph - it's more effective for him to use his time to programatically generate thousands of pages then to write one, but your first? If 99% of people use a certain terminology, and if you are selling, don't you want to speak their language since they constitute the market? Or are you saying you need to speak the blogger/technocratti so they'll link to you?


Stop treating your posts chronologically, then. Call them essays and make a categorical listing.


I remember being really confused over the chronological ordering for non-diaries when it first become common, and am still not that sure it's the right thing, though it does have benefits for technological convenience (blog software) and lower activation energy (just "write a blog post"). It used to be common to have websites, and then a website might have a "recent updates" or "new articles" page with a reverse-chronologically-ordered list of recent updates, often named new.html or updates.html or something. But it wasn't the main site; just something for frequent visitors to check.

But sometime around 2000-2003 or so, people just started throwing up everything on the equivalent of the "new articles" page! Seemed sort of a strange way to organize anything that wasn't a livejournal. Also seems to indicate a bit of a reduction in long-term ambition: people used to see building a website as an incremental endeavor, where you were slowly building up an edifice, so there was a clear separation between the long-term goal for the site (a resource w/ information presented logically) and the order in which you happened to add each piece (the recent-updates page).

Wikis still have that edifice-building angle (the "Recent Changes" page is clearly not the main page), so maybe it's just that they've taken over that role so completely that the only non-wiki things left are blogs and webapps, with no more "regular" websites?


Have you looked at http://swombat.com ? It's definitely not a simple collection of essays. There's a clear blog feel to it, and I want all the advantages of the blog format. I'm simply trying to make up for its shortcomings.


Interesting post - completely agree with it. It isn't just with individual blogs, it is with all blogs and content on the web. The number of RSS subscribers has drastically decreased in the past few years - and it has been replaced by Twitter, Facebook, HN, Techmeme et al.

Each of these sites emphasizes the now - to the extent that a 12 hour old story is old news. An entire story thread can surface and then disappear in a span of time that doesn't even last through the major global timezones (in Australia I often miss big stories because they are only up top for a matter of hours on US time)

So it isn't just the individual blogging model that needs to adapt, it is also the way aggregators and clients work. Everybody seems to be stuck focusing on what has happen in the past few hours.

A few years ago I wrote on Techcrunch about 'relevance over time'[1] and how the blogs, twitter etc. need to adapt. None of the solutions have seemed to work, and all that means is that if you are a blogger and do not have a regular audience that checks your blog regularly, you are only going to get a decent number of readers for the odd post that surfaces its way up onto one of the large aggregators

I think that the new distributed social network will become the new blogging model - where you can pub and sub and not rely on aggregators that are tailored for a mass audience to find content. I am disappointed that all the new 'facebook alternative' projects are just about replacing or complementing facebook, rather than re-thinking the entire space of personal publishing. I miss the old blogosphere and would like to see it reborn in some way.

Edit: and as an example, I to manually tweet this comment. It doesn't appear on my blog, you can't reply to it from your own blog, and within 6 hours it will be long forgotten and we will have the same conversation again in 3 months time.

[1] http://techcrunch.com/2009/10/12/relevance-over-time/

and followup:

[2] http://nikcub.appspot.com/relevance-time-for-twitter


One can tell the difference between spam and non-spam on twitter. It's grossly obvious. We've probably all followed someone and found out a couple days later that they are just a robot spamming machine and un-followed.

I checked out @swombat, and it's clear he's real, and not a bot, so having a bot sneak in a post back to past blog posts of value would hardly, if at all, be considered spam.

Some people get confused, particularly our friends who are just looking out for us, but a little blatant self-promotion is not always spam, and it's often times understood that it's a necessary evil so we can stay in business and keep doing the good we do.


I sure hope so! Time will tell. I think one thing I was lucky to foresee right is that I knew I would eventually want Twitter integration, so I saved each of the original tweets along with the article. So when an article gets reposted on Twitter, it's the original tweet that it went out with when it went up - which should help make it feel even less spammy.


I think the lack of timeless* articles in content streams -- HN, Reddit, Twitter, etc. -- is a serious problem. I'm imagining a middle-ground between a subreddit and a longform.org for the topics I'm interested in, and think that would be a significant improvement.

The "essays" format or similar can do a decent job of funneling me towards timeless content once I am on a site looking for it (see Peter Norvig's webpage for another example), but it really doesn't address the stream issue.

Good luck with your tweeting experiment.

*I'm really thinking of something weaker than timelessness: worthwhile over a matter of years, at least.


Very true; I realized this myself a couple of months ago, and reorganized my blog as follows:

- main page shows categories and a chronological list of posts (I don't post that often; if you do, maybe list the last 30-50 only ?) in the right sidebar

- each category gets an index-page with introduction and 3 articles highlighted, and a a list of all articles in the category in the left sidebar. The highlighted articles (new and old) should change every now and then, maybe somewhat depending on "the latest fads" ?

- most important (IMHO); go back to your old articles and update them, especially hyperlinks - this will also aid the discovery of "evergreen content"

In addition, you should probably also use tags (I don't, but that's just because I'm lazy and don't have that many articles).

You may also collect related articles in e-books (I've done it with one of the categories, but it is a lot of work) - less SEO value, but maybe more "reader value" ?

(personally, for blogs like swombats and pg, I often follow the timelines and read through the old stuff, bookmarking or saving the "golden nuggets" once and for all)


The author makes a great point. I for one constantly find new blogs that I love, but only take the time to go back a few pages. I think a great model to encourage deeper reading is setting up the home page as an index (see: spencerfry.com + paulgraham.com).


Setting up a landing page on my blog (http://mkronline.wordpress.com/) was the best thing I ever did. It gives people an introduction to the place rather than tossing them into a list of posts.


In some sense, this is an issue I have been wrestling with for two websites I own. They have been referred to as "blogs" for years when that was never the intent or the technical format of either. I have added Wordpress blogs to both sites and have wrestled with various questions like trying to give an overview (not compatible with chronological/blogging format) and how to marry these unrelated parts of the site. I finally recently came up with the next step forward for how to organize one of the sites but there is still much work to do. Glad to be reading this (both the link and the remarks here).


This is what links are for. An evergreen article can be promoted by a tweet or a more recent post that puts it into context and explains why it's relevant today. History needs historians to direct people to it.


I think the reason that blogging gets a bit misused as a kind of catchall for content is that it has the lowest barrier of entry to publish. Thus, what used to be a traditional site or magazine or whatever is now just another "blog" running wordpress or tumblr or posterous. Point being, the line gets blurry when you are using a blogging system to deliver both long and short form content on the same site.


Lack of complaints are never an indicator of success. For this particular case, I'd look at the total number of followers. It's easier making the bothersome disappear (unfollowing) than to formulate a complaint to the author.

If you want to retweet your old articles, do it in a curated (i.e. human driven) way.


My Twitter follower trends didn't change when I started tweeting every article (I did keep an eye on it). Also, the overall trend seems pretty good: http://twittercounter.com/compare/swombat/3month/followers - I will of course continue to keep an eye on it.


It seems like a hard but worthwhile undertaking. I just discovered this site through HN and now I'm following you on twitter so I don't think you're going to have a problem


This is one of the best reasons to add a "Related Posts" section at the bottom of every blog post.

(WordPress has multiple plugins that can generate this automatically for you.)


This is why bloggers add table of contents or getting started pages.


That doesn't even begin to solve the problem. It helps new user onboarding, not old content discovery. "Getting started" can fit, what, at a stretch, a dozen posts. A reasonably old, quality blog will have many dozen posts which are worth bringing forward. And a blog with links, like swombat.com or daringfireball.net, will have many more.


I wonder how much would be helped if you thought intentionally thought about writing your blog as essays to be collected in a book. (A book is a set or collection of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of paper, parchment, or other various material, usually fastened together to hinge at one side)

Growing up, I used to love reading Mike Royko. He was sharp, and funny, and told the greatest stories in his newspaper column (A newspaper is a regularly scheduled publication containing news of current events, informative articles, diverse features and advertising. It usually is printed on relatively inexpensive, low-grade paper such as newsprint.)

And his columns (A column is a recurring piece or article in a newspaper, magazine or other publication. Columns are written by columnists.)

And then once a year, once every couple of years or so, he would collect his newspaper columns into a book.

And we would all go and buy his book.

At the beginning of blogging, I used to follow some bloggers that I thought were funny, and I would suggest they write their blogs in a way that would allow the blog to be collected into a book.

I thought by giving up a bit of the immediacy, by developing recurring characters (http://www.amazon.com/Slats-Grobnik-some-other-friends/dp/05...) that it would actually make their blogs more interesting, and give them a longer lasting character, than just a blog post that is mostly disappeared 10 posts later.

Sadly, Jeff Jarvis and others also thought of this, and then added cement galoshes to it by naming it a "blook". And that was the end of that.

But I hear what you are saying. Blogs are nice in that like a magazine they do emphasize content about a current event. Books are nice in that their organization adds a great deal of value to an otherwise random collection of unconnected essays. In that way, a book is an argument, (a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition)

Blogs provide value to a socially connected world of twitter driven ADHD fanatics each seeking out the next shiny shiny source of poutrage.

But there has to be a more useful organization than just blogs, a calendar, and a google.

Perhaps if you thought about it as a book ahead of time, you could start out with a table of contents and a thesis, and use that mashed in with today's latest current event to focus what you blog about. And that would help you keep track and link from one post to another the way jwz does, or philg, or pg, or others.


I think the solution is a combination of tactics. A curated "getting started" or "best of" list is a good way to get eyes on some of the best posts that are representative of the blog. Make good use of categories and tags, and use lists of related posts to make navigation between similar posts less painful. On my blog (http://grokcode.com), I also have a prominent "popular today" section on the homepage so people can see which posts are getting the most traffic at the moment (these are rarely the newest posts). http://www.alistapart.com/ has a curated "editor's choice" section on the homepage that is frequently updated and help draw attention to great content from the archives.

Also, the standard blog format uses entire posts on the homepage and archive pages, but everything is so much cleaner and easier to navigate if only post summaries appear on those pages.


But nobody uses frontpages for content discovery. The front page of a blog is good for just two questions:

a) For new users: is this site any good?

b) For existing users (who don't grok RSS, sigh): is there anything new?

You can try to do more. Lots of us have category pages[1]. But invariably they get browsed by initial visitors so they fall into category a above.

Perhaps what you're saying is that every website needs a channel to bring visitors back. And twitter may well be that channel. But bricestacey is right that the frontpage is all about user onboarding simply because nobody uses it for content discovery.

[1] Including myself: http://akkartik.name


Nobody uses front pages for content discovery because the front pages rarely present the right interface or content for that. Maybe that can change...

I think that merely serving current/new users in this way is selling your content short. It's the written equivalent of a news channel, instead of being the evolution of the book. I'm hoping we can do better.


"I think that merely serving current/new users in this way is selling your content short."

I'm not convinced that's true. The big limitation of the frontpage is that there's no way to remind people to return to it. Without that you'll only get current/new users.

I totally agree we need a solution for content discovery. Like many others I took my stab at building one (http://readwarp.com) I'm just not convinced that the frontpage is the place for it.


I recently found a blog that has something kind of like a long, comprehensive “getting started” page – http://meteuphoric.wordpress.com/opinion/. The news post of when the blogger added that page is http://meteuphoric.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/my-novel-opinion.... Maybe you want something like that page.


I like this take on the problem: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2590500

Bloggers should think of themselves as historians, taking their and others' content and putting it in a new context down the line when people have forgotten about it.


Sounds like he needs a wiki and a blog.


A wiki doesn't seem right either. When's the last time you've ever sat and browsed through a wiki looking for awesome stuff you didn't know about?

Wikis, imho, are a bit like search engines. They're great for collecting stuff that you want to find again, and they're great for finding stuff you're looking for. Blogs have something more - they point you to stuff which you never knew you could care about, they expand your interests. Wikis are a very clumsy substitute.

I think what's needed is perhaps an evolution of the blog format.


Actually I browse through wikis quite a bit, but maybe I'm not typical. In any event, IMO, a blog (web log) is for just that: logging time-sensitive things, like a journal or news feed. A wiki is for more permanent information, that may be updated as needed, but stays put.



The best way to go would be to use a wiki


#1 problem with blogging: not including comments on your blog for community feedback.




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