For Those Who Don’t Grok Blogging

A friend sent me this link:

How to Dissuade Yourself from Becoming a Blogger – WikiHow
Cute, but not that insightful. Of course, the initial author has this to say about himself:

I enjoy making snide comments and mocking others as a cover for my deep self-loathing.

But still, here’s my rebuttal to his wiki page. Just because…

The page’s introduction sets the mood:

What a buzz all the bloggers are making these days! It seems like just about everybody is pouring their musings into a text box. Are you feeling tempted to start a blog of your own? Here are some ways to bypass the trend.

Well, if following a trend is the only reason to blog, some of the points make a bit more sense. My impression is that trendiness is rarely the sole reason for blogging, at least among adults. But it can be the sole reason behind some blogs, especially by younger people.
Even so, following trends or at least trying out some of the safer things that other people are trying can be a perfectly sane way to do things. People, especially younger people, need peer approval. In fact, as any social psychologist knows, a lot of what we do is in fact based on our tendency to do as others do. If we are to follow the pieces of “advice” given in this WikiHow entry, we would mostly be following a different herd and not really bypassing trends.

Of course, one could say that a wiki is much cooler than a blog for any number of reason. But that’s a very different matter than dissuading someone to become a blogger.

Moving on. The “plan” has four steps:

Steps

  1. Find five completely random blogs, and read them daily for a month. After thirty days, you will absolutely dread your self-imposed requirement to read all that dreck. Any blog you create will most likely be on par with what you’ve been reading. Don’t put anyone through that.
  2. Consider that your voice, even if it is truly a good one, is a tiny peep against the massive wave of tripe out there. The odds of anyone you don’t already know finding your blog are low.
  3. Write on a regular basis in a text editor instead. If that doesn’t satisfy your urge, and you feel that you must post your blog online, then you might just be craving attention and validation–which you’ll never truly find in a blog. If you give up on your Wordpad journal after about three days, you’ll do the same with a blog that just takes up server space.
  4. Ask yourself if you really have the time to commit to a blog. What about that treehouse you wanted to build? Or the book you wanted to write? Or the car you wanted to fix up? Or the restaurant you wanted to take your significant other to? Or the new career you wanted to pursue? Instead of writing about pretty much nothing, or whining about all the things you wish you were doing instead, start doing something that’d actually be worth writing about. And if it’s really worth writing about, you’ll be having too much fun doing it to tear yourself away from it.

Step by Step Rebuttal

  1. [Track other blogs] Blogs aren’t meant to be read exhaustively and aren’t meant to be selected at random. This is why blogs often have feeds (letting you browse entries from multiple blogs quickly and efficiently), tags/labels/categories (for targeted readership), and linking systems (blogrolls, pings, trackbacks). Bloggers readily admit that the entries they want to read are like needles in a haystack. But that haystack includes much more than what a given community might decide upon. Also, blogging systems are used by some people whose writing is typically not considered dreadful. It doesn’t mean that blogging creates genial writing. But it does mean that the system is considered useful by writers of different types.
  2. [Your voice is a peep] Yes, our voices are lost in the grand scheme of things. But it doesn’t follow that nobody will listen to anything we say. To use personal experience for a second, people who didn’t know me have already reached me to discuss matters that I find fascinating. Not because my voice is louder than anyone else’s but because blogs make it easy to connect specific people based on their interests. Despite the common analogy, a blog isn’t like a soapbox set up in a huge agora, where individual voices are lost. It’s more like a booth set up in a specialized convention. You may not get to talk to a lot of people but those people with whom you get to talk are more likely to be genuinely interested in what you have to say.
  3. [Text editor journal vs. blogging] Keeping a private journal can be a very good idea and a text editor is as good a tool as anything else to keep it. But blogs have other advantages, even there.
    1. Blogging systems are databases so it’s easy to keep track of snippets of information. Several blog entries are mostly meant to be repositories of such snippets.
    2. Blog entries can in fact be private. As private diary-like entries, blog entries can still be read from different computers (a bit like a webmail account), are easily searchable, and can be classified with multiple “labels.” For anyone taking notes on a daily basis, this in itself can be a large improvement over many other note-taking applications.
    3. Blogging systems often have easy-to-use editors. Web-based word processors also work well in this respect, but blogging tools are usually pretty good as ways to create simple documents.
    4. There’s a lot to be said about the concept of writing for an audience, even if that audience is never found. When you take notes for yourself, you don’t write in the same way as when you write with an audience in mind. IMHO, this is one area where blogging really shines. Writing a private journal is like singing in the shower. Blogging is more like an open-mike night. Or maybe a karaoke bar. You practise writing in a safe environment but you’re not just writing for your own sorry self.
    5. The part about attention and validation is partly addressed in the notion of trend-following. And it’s possibly the main reason Chris Kratsch felt the urge to start that wiki page. But it’s not that important an issue for many bloggers. Again, to use my personal experience, I get much more validation and attention by teaching or by writing messages on mailing-lists. But blogging is, in some ways, like a scrapbook for the rest of my life.
  4. [Time] Actually, this was the main reason I waited so long before I started blogging myself. But it turns out that blogging is often a time saver for me. The reason is quite simple: I don’t need to write the same thing several times, I can just refer people to one of my blog entries. This also saves time on other people’s part as, instead of having to read a long email message from me, they can simply decide whether or not they want to read what I want to say. Also, because blogging helps me organise my thoughts, it makes my reading more efficient. Furthermore, blogging can even serve in a rather elaborate system of “to do lists,” and probably even follow some of Dave Allen’s principles. Or, on the contrary, it might help me put things on the backburner without caring too much about whether or not I’ll pick them up again.

The page has other things to say about blogging. And it probably comes down to this:

Consider writing on a wiki instead.

Now, I do like the concept of a wiki and I’ve considered building wiki or wiki-like systems in several contexts. But despite the trendiness of both, a blog and a wiki have fairly little in common. Just because that wiki page preaches for wikihow, here are some differences between blog entries and wiki pages which might help explain the usefulness of blogs.

  • The cool thing about a wiki is that it’s all based on the community. Building something together is a lot of fun. But that only works if you fit in the community.
  • Contrary to blogs, a wiki often has very complex rules of etiquette. A wiki will only work when people follow the rules. Blogs “rule” when people play with the limits of what’s “proper.”
  • Some wiki pages become almost unusable once there’s a lot of disagreement between a large number of authors. A blog entry with lots of flame-like comments can be handled very easily.
  • Blogs often have elaborate systems to prevent unsollicited comments. Content control is contrary to the WikiWay.
  • While many people read wiki pages, blogs attract more targeted audiences. A large proportion of blog readers are also writers (whether or not they blog).
  • Blogs are less centralized than wiki sites. You can transfer your blog to another site or service, comments can come from other blogs, and there’s no central authority for editing. Some blogs are in fact just collections of blog entries from elsewhere, thanks in part to pings and trackbacks.
  • Readers of a wiki page expect the page to either be complete or be a work in progress. Blog entries can be raw notes which are not meant to become something else.
  • Blog entries usually have a single author, which can make it easier to attribute quotes and to get credit for specific statements. Wiki pages often maintain a complete history of every editing session, but it’s usually fairly difficult to make sense of who said what at which point.
  • Blog entries and comments are set as separate entities on the same page. Wiki pages may have discussion areas but these are mostly meant for complaints and flames about edited items.
  • Blogging tools are often very close to other editing tools that people use. While WikiStyle is a very cool concept, it’s still a new markup language for people to learn. As simple as this language can be, it still feels like “coding,” to some people.
  • Blog entries are typically stable, making it easier for readers to assume that they can refer to specific content at some point in the future. Because, by their very nature, wiki pages are meant to be editable, readers may refrain from using a specific quote from a wiki in their own writing for fear that this quote may be taken out in a future “version” of the wiki page. Of course, this doesn’t mean that blogs last longer than wiki sites. But stable pages are perceived as being easier to quote in detail.
  • This was alluded to earlier, but still… Wiki communities can become quite constraining, for authors. Sure, anyone is free to write anything. But other people are free to change what has been written. The extreme case is “vandalism” which, for an author, can feel like social rejection. To put it simply, some wiki authors are bullies. On a blog, while people may comment on a given entry, they may not change the content of that entry. And, in fact, because there are fewer readers than on a wiki, a blog makes for a cosier writing “practise room” than does a wiki.

Ok, that’s already a lot. And it makes me think of differences between a blog and a web forum. Which brings back the issue of mailing-lists.  But that will all have to wait for another time.

The main point here is that all of these systems and methods for online writing have very different uses. Comparing them can be quite useful, like it can be useful to compare apples and oranges on culinary, biological, visual, or metaphorical levels. But we should keep in mind that tools are appropriate for certain tasks. There’s no reason to throw away your hammer just because you bought a new screwdriver.

Happy writing!

About enkerli

French-speaking ethnographer, homeroaster, anthropologist, musician, coffee enthusiast. View all posts by enkerli

3 responses to “For Those Who Don’t Grok Blogging

  • “It’s A Small World After All” (Blogging Edition) « Disparate

    […] Yes, posting about blogging is allegedly uncool, and linking to your own entries seems silly. But I’m having fun doing this… […]

  • enkerli

    Karen,

    Like your attitude. In fact, it’s important for me to stop justifying myself all the time. Maybe my post was about this move away from justification and into simple enjoyment.
    Same goes for music. As you say, it doesn’t need to be useful. It can be enjoyable for any number of reasons, including as a conversation piece.

  • Karen

    Well I think many people start something because it’s the trendy thing to do…including starting a blog. But if that’s the only motivation then they don’t keep it up. Then, after a period of lack of use, it drops off the radar.
    I think the people who maintain their blogs do it for a myriad of different reasons. For some it’s an electronic diary, or a means of communicating family news to relos. For others its an outlet for writing articles about topics that interest them. For some it’s an easy answer to having a personal or semi commercial website. Doesn’t really matter what the reason is. You don’t need to justify it to anyone but yourself.

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