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How To Build A Blog Readership (danshipper.com)
121 points by dshipper on Oct 2, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 29 comments

"Some people are genuinely uninterested in writing things that people want to read – as an example try reading some Hegel."

I squirted my coffee on this one. He does practice what he preaches, i.e. has a unique and memorable voice.

My take is: good writing and unique voice is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a successful blog. Without these, you won't get much readership other than Google directs (maybe). But no amount of cool writing will get your Advanced Algorithms blog read if it doesn't have useful and interesting informational nuggets.

The problem, as I see it, that a lot of people face trying to write a technical blog is how to divide up what they're explaining into digestible chunks (size dependent on audience, Terence Tao's blog chunk size will be different than your high school math blog's) and present them intermingled with good language. In effect, the language (unique voice, anecdotes, etc.) is the carrier and the chunks is the information and the audience dictates the channel capacity.

Blogging isn't the only way to write and publish the content.

The way I do it is to write 500 words a day on some random subjects for no reason other than it's "interesting" on published it on a single page called Notes and Thought. Then I continuously work the various areas of that pages, adding new paragraph, fixing grammar mistakes, and so on. Eventually, one of the section in my page will grow into a essay. When an essay is spun off, I also work on the essay to make sure it's complete-sounding and all polished up. However, they are never actually finished or frozen in time, and they will be continuously updated for the rest of their lifespan. Notes and Thoughts also linked any spun off essay with the original section and an abstract describing the content of the new essay.

Blog posts are temporal in nature, and they never get updated continuously. So a hundred year from now, the blog post will say the same thing, still feel amateurish, and also horrifically outdated.

If you want to know what I am working on: http://kibabase.com/articles/notes-and-thoughts

Blogging is more like a conversation that's very time specific. While mine is more like a book or an encyclopedia of my mind.

Interesting idea. I think writing 500 words a day is great. To me this looks like something that is more meant for you, than for your readers. If that's the case that's completely fine - at least for me part of the nice thing about blogging is it helps me to refine my thoughts. This also looks like a great way to just get better at the craft of writing. But if you really want to be read, you'll probably at least need a slightly different format than this one.

If that's not the goal though, then I really like your idea in making this.

If that's the case that's completely fine - at least for me part of the nice thing about blogging is it helps me to refine my thoughts.

Only to a point. People don't edit their blog post a year after they posted. They are mostly meant to be read today.

This also looks like a great way to just get better at the craft of writing. But if you really want to be read, you'll probably at least need a slightly different format than this one.

Notes and Thoughts aren't meant to be read, but it's meant to turn out essays that will be read. Those essays are linked from Notes and Thought and the front page.

Set yourself up a wiki. It takes about 5 minutes and you're good to go.

Or you can use Wordpress and type each "article" as page rather than a post.

Set yourself up a wiki. It takes about 5 minutes and you're good to go.

It's pretty much a wiki, as I used markdown and pandoc.

Or you can use Wordpress and type each "article" as page rather than a post.

What is the difference between a page or a post? All large essays are already their own page.

Blogging + RSS is interesting. Blogging - RSS isn't as much, because you need to get people to come back over and over again. And there isn't a lot of consumer adoption for RSS. "Publishing" isn't enough any more because it assumes that distribution is built in, when it just isn't.

I made my blog -- http://nowiknow.com -- into an email newsletter for this very reason. Two+ years in I'm at 80,000 subscribers. It's doable.

I'm actually a subscriber! How did you get readers? Just by word of mouth?

And do you think it can be as successful if you only send the email once every two weeks or so? Or does it have to be an every day thing?

Has to be an every day thing.

New readers.. it's a mixed bag. Word of mouth, content shares, cross-promos, etc.

(And thanks for reading!)

Thanks for writing! Sorry to keep asking questions, but why does it have to be any every day thing?

At least for me, the quality of the content goes down significantly if I have to do it any more than once every couple of weeks. Really impressed that you're able to keep it up :)

Just wondering, but how do you like being on Posterous, as opposed to any other platforms you may have used?

I started with Wordpress and plan on sticking with it. But I've since made a tumblr for my photos and NYC-related tidbits...and find it much easier to blog on a whim on Tumblr than on Wordpress, despite the excellence of the latter platform. It's kind of amazing to me how the simplicity and constrictiveness of a platform, such as Tumblr (and Twitter, for that matter), makes it more inviting to consistently participate in. And I'd say consistent publishing -- especially in the face of apathy or silence -- is a huge part of building readership.

Honestly, it's awful. I used to really like it back in the early days. But since they got acquired (and even before when they started to concentrate on Spaces) it really started to go down hill. I need to switch to Wordpress soon, but I honestly just haven't had the time.

"And I'd say consistent publishing -- especially in the face of apathy or silence -- is a huge part of building readership." That's absolutely right in my experience.

If you're going to be switching anyway, Octopress is very nice. Octopress uses rake for posting, git for SCM and various organizational bits, host on github or on your own server.

Definite "+1" ... or maybe "+100"... to consistency. That is the key. Look at anyone who you consider a "successful" blogger and I think what you will find is that the key point is that they keep showing up with new posts. And doing so on a regular basis (which for some is daily, some weekly, but most at least a couple of times a week).

> And doing so on a regular basis

Ever wonder why some blogs post n times a day?

"My job was to write twelve posts a day about 'media gossip,' which meant anything unpleasant or otherwise intriguing about anyone who had power in any Manhattan culture industry. There had to be enough posts so that whoever was sitting at my old desk at the publishing house, and everyone in Manhattan like her, could read something new when boredom struck."

Excerpt from book by Emily Gould, ex-Gawker, infamous blogger

Agree with you there

I'm a really big tumblr fan. A lot less maintenance than a wordpress server, but all of the customization and tools that are important to me - themes, custom CSS and HTML, and an awesome mobile app.

I wrote my first blog post on the latter topic of your comment! Well, specifically, communist design principles and constraint driving productivity and creativity: http://zan2434.tumblr.com/post/32412314207/communist-princip...

Ruhoh is also a viable alternative to Octopress (or Wordpress for that matter). Check out my blog at http://brandonparsons.me for an example of what can be (easily) accomplished with Ruhoh.

I had a thought related to this earlier today. What if I wrote for myself one year ago? Meaning, what if I considered the questions I had a year ago and articulated the answer back to myself at that point in time?

A friend shared a great bit wisdom a few months back: there will always be someone who is one step in front of you and one step behind you.

Since I look to writing to help others, what if I write for that person who is one step behind (i.e. myself one year ago)?

A lot of my most popular blog posts are ones that I've written to address questions that I had as a younger version of myself but that I've since answered with experience/introdpection. This is definitely a viable technique.

Great advice. I think your first point is spot-on: Don't Blog... It’s really, really hard to do well in a consistent fashion.

But that should be followed by: "Guest Blog" (or something similar). Your energy and creativity can still be appreciated by a captive audience in someone else's venue. You can get many of the benefits of blogging without the need for (daily / weekly / whatever) commitments... and make friends or build reputation in the process.

As an example, I run a popular robotics blog myself [1]. Yet, I've also contributed guest articles for IEEE Spectrum [2], which can have some cool side benefits... like op-ed style pieces in academic publications [3].

[1] http://www.hizook.com/

[2] http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/robotics-hardwar...

[3] http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/articleDetails.jsp?arnumber=6...

One of the best points in the whole post, I think this point should have been front-and-center: blogging isn't for everyone. Well that, and 'why are you writing'? My wife writes and publishes content, for example, because she loves designs and sharing it with the world though it's mostly all written from her perspective. I write because I don't want to forget something; one of the best ways to learn/remember is to teach ... thus I (attempt to) teach.

I believe there is something missing from the post though, maybe I missed it though: people shouldn't expect to become instant blog millionaires by writing a few posts here and there about just anything. Consistency (in voice and sometimes in topic) plus a schedule really do make this all work. Except just like the rabbit and the turtle: this is a race best won slowly.

I've started blogging about the mobile startup space with the idea of hopefully developing a legitimate news resource. Feature stories of my own volition are one thing but "What to write about on a daily basis that hasn't already been covered exhaustively in TC, Mashable etc?" is the question that pops up in my mind most often. I'm still working on the editorial balance between the two. The last thing I want to do is piggyback off of other, more successful blogs.

Great post Dan. Wonderful to see the evolution of you, your writing and the blog.

Keep it up!

Thanks! Really happy you've enjoyed it :)

I think I will be taking your advice to heart, Dan.

>Don’t blog.

Every time I see a post like this I feel horrible about not blogging, but it's nice to hear that... I really don't think I'm cut out for it.

Dear Dan Shipper, I despise your blog.

Honestly sorry you feel that way. But I guess it's not for everyone. Thanks for the feedback!

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