A warm glow

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec


Once talking to a brilliant marketing professor from New Orleans, whom I have already mentioned a few months ago on this blog, I was given a most interesting definition of PR. In his own words, a failed PR attempt is "like pissing in your pants while wearing a dark suit because you get a warm glow and nobody knows about it". Once the initial burst of laughter gone, this wise thought got me thinking about blogs. Does the same hold true for every single blogger out there? Are we all, collectively, wetting our pants, typing our thoughts away into the /dev/null of the publishing world?


That fear of speaking into a wide emptiness is common among bloggers and I know of nobody who, a few days after launching his own feed and looking at stats that steadily oscillate between zero and five -- three of which account for your reloading your own page from home, work and a friend's house -- doesn't pause, wondering whether that new blog of theirs isn't going to be a monumental flop. Heck, even the Soup, which is definitely not destined to earn money, raised its share of questions at its beginning.

Considering how few people actually read blogs and considering that most of these are most likely to write their own, how much room for interaction does it leave? How closed is, in fact, the blogging world and how much traffic does it generate? Some blogs out there are, without a single question, extremely popular and can boast thousands of readers but these are usually news blogs or specialized feeds that serve a role as information resource. The personal blog, the one you write on the corner of your kitchen counter, waiting for the chicken casserole to re-heat, is the one that, while potentially richest, slips under the radar most easily.

There are, of course, ways out: working hand in hand with partners that already enjoy some publishing force (such as O'Reilly indeed), exchanging links (in good taste, always) with other bloggers, writing the best content you can for years: all these routes have good chances to lead your blog to a relative success. Yet, one has to wonder where a blog that is pushed stops being a "Blog" and starts becoming an online magazine of some sort -- not that it would be bad, of course, but it would certainly be different. Tricky, uh?

Discussing with fellow bloggers and writers, one answer stood out: the main objective in blogging is not to be known or read but to lay down thoughts of paper, much like one writes a private journal. In fact, many people told me they preferred knowing their blog had a very restrained readership because it made it easier for them to speak their mind and share personal experiences, making their writing experience more enjoyable -- which, incidentally, brings us back to the eternal problem of statistics.

The current reputation tools in the blogging world are everything but reliable and word of mouth, that friendly recommendation, remains the best way to create a readership that will care about what you have to say.

Even more than it brings power to the masses, than it puts freedom of expression in the hands of the individuals, is a blog a personal venture above all?



12 Comments

FARfetched
2005-12-14 06:37:02
Amen
But it's not that difficult to get a couple dozen readers, if you want them. Most of us are subscribed to one mailing list or another; if you happen to blog about something pertinent to that mailing list, let them know about it -- many will come for the burger and some will stay for the pie, so to speak.


Still, I certainly agree with the advantages of restrained readership -- my mom and one of my brothers read my blog, so I can't let it hang out too far now.

mrwill
2005-12-14 08:00:42
Why is this drivel in my feed?
I just want to clear up any misconceptions you might have about nobody reading your blog here. People do read it, and I am one of them. And while I cannot speak for everybody, I hate this blog. In my opinion, it is off-topic.


Perhaps the worst problem on the internet is not publishing to find that nobody reads your work. To paraphrase somethingawful.com, the worst problem is giving away free content to people who constantly complain about the quality of their free content.


That said, I subscribed to the MacDevCenter feed a little more than a week ago. I did this to find out more about being a code developer, content creator, or even just a power user on my computing platform. This was a success, mostly. All the other authors in this feed talk about tools and ideas related to this topic, with interesting and timely content.


You talk about nothing, for several paragraphs, and it is not just this article. The last four or five have been like this. I have come to dread opening up my rss reader to find another article by you. I have never had this problem before, one author on a feed being a stinker, and I have not yet figured out how to filter this garbage.


Nothing personal, but your articles are a waste of time, and they show no signs of ever getting better.


Somebody had to say this.

F.J.
2005-12-14 08:10:26
Why is this drivel in my feed?
Hi!


First of all, thanks for taking the time to share your feelings!


Allow me to clarify one thing. All content on the MacDevCenter and most O'Reilly Network websites is separated in two categories: articles and blogs. This particular entry is a blog and is part of the O'Reilly Network blogs, as well as the associated feed. In that, it is meant to present the personal ideas of its author and you will notice, by browsing other blogs (whether from me or other contributors) that they are very diverse in nature. Articles, that are edited and follow strict editorial guidelines form the second part of the Center's content and are systematically technology oriented.


I am sorry you feel my entries have been off-topic and that they cause you to dread opening your RSS aggregator. This is certainly not something one likes to hear although I am always ready to improve my writings and am glad you took the time to outline what you are after.


Should you deem my postings on the site fully inappropriate, you are most welcome to contact my editor who is the person competent to deal with such matters. I take all feedback seriously and I know O'Reilly as a company does as well.


Again, thanks for posting!


FJ

F.J.
2005-12-14 08:12:24
Amen
Hi!


That is very true and mailing lists are indeed a powerful distribution medium when it comes to generating word of mouth. Their relatively closed and intimate nature - as intimate as can be on the web, of course - does make for a more fruitful and interactive discussion.


FJ

kollivier
2005-12-14 08:44:23
Blogs are the new 'chatting'
If you think about it, blogs are clearly not (in general) made for mass consumption. A few may promote products, or provide reviews, etc. but most blogs are simply people writing down what they're thinking at any given point in time. Unless you're known as an Industry 'mover and shaker", you're unlikely to get thousands of people to lend their ears to your every thought.


But, a blog does work well for connected groups of friends and family, and provides a new way to keep in touch. Frankly, I often have little interest in blogs unless I know the person, or come across a particularly insightful post. And I think that's just fine. I think the bloggers you spoke to hit the nail on the head - it's just about getting your thoughts on paper, and letting those that want to see them have access to them. Bloggers trying to 'make it big' are going to find it to be a seriously difficult task because there's so many blogs to compete against. Better not to make a blog, but a web site or such, if you ask me.

F.J.
2005-12-14 08:50:27
Blogs are the new 'chatting'
Hi!


I indeed agree with the principles you outline. In fact, many of the "successful blogs" of today do share more characteristics with collaborative websites and online newspapers than with the first blogs that helped coin the term.


FJ

paulwaite
2005-12-14 10:22:14
Dark suit
Is that why PR people always smell of pee pee?
F.J.
2005-12-14 10:24:24
Dark suit
Hmm, that is an interesting theory… ;^)


FJ

DavidBattino
2005-12-14 16:39:19
Why is this drivel in my feed?
Personally, I subscribe to writers rather than subjects (still mourning Joel’s departure from Gizmodo), and I enjoy François’s writing. Keep on driveling! —David
F.J.
2005-12-14 16:44:58
Why is this drivel in my feed?
Hi!


Thank you very much for taking the time to post and for your kind words, they mean a lot to me!


FJ

merlyn
2005-12-15 18:34:27
Subscriptions?
I read about 75 RSS subscriptions, but the few I value the most are the ones I have custom-created from http://blogsearch.google.com/ and http://www.feedster.com, because I get to pick keywords, and then when anyone says something on a topic, I'm there within minutes.


Occasionally, it causes confusion. I often get "Wow, I didn't realize you read my blog... when did you start that?", but I'm always quick to explain my source.


However, it can be useful. Just recently, I saw a confused Perl user, and was able to provide to assistance (http://use.perl.org/~merlyn/journal/27962) . That kind of PR is hard to buy... and I enjoy helping people.

F.J.
2005-12-16 01:09:32
Subscriptions?
Hi!


Thanks for sharing that tip with us!


Personalized feed are, although I confess I haven't experimented much with them yet, indeed very useful and probably constitute the future of RSS deployment more than fixed-author or fixed-topic ones. Interesting how a simple deployment technology can be used in so many ways and fit the workflow of so many different users!


FJ