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Blogging's Crossroads

I just finished reading the Jason Calacanis blogging resignation letter and can't help but be struck by the about face of one of the guys who-- love him or hate him-- did a lot to put professional blogging on the map. (I know, Paul Carr, don't hate me...) Jason always openly talked about how he loved that the Internet gave him such a big megaphone that he didn't have to play by anyone else's rules-- including reporters like me!

It hearkened back to this post I wrote a few weeks ago.

An excerpt in case you don't want to click:

"On the days I blog heavily, traffic goes way up. Especially if I weigh in on the Valley obsession of the day. It's seductive to just do that everyday. But is that really adding value and building something different? Maybe not. I recently read something from Michael Arrington addressing how TechCrunch's "community" had changed. (Sorry....can't find the link this second.) He essentially said as an audience grows it inevitably gets diluted and the trolls, spammers etc come in. I really love my blog audience. I get great comments from people I know and don't know. Occasional shocking comment from Fake Steve Jobs aside, my comments tend to be interesting, relevant conversations. I already write for two mass properties in BusinessWeek and TechTicker...suddenly I'm seeing the beauty in staying small. I'm not at a point where I'm trying to monetize this blog, but I wonder if a smaller community ever has an endemic value over sheer size of a mass community? I'm not talking about a niche-- because niches can still be mass when there are more than 1 billion people online."

I've been thinking about this a lot since with the confluence between my blog, my Yahoo show, and my book tour. My blog traffic was doubling month-over-month from a far higher base than I expected when I launched it earlier this year. But when life got complex and I started posting less for a while, it fell. If you're a goal oriented person, it's hard to be OK with that. Metrics equal validation to me more than money ever will. But I was Ok with it, for the same reason I wrote above and the same reason Jason says in his self-consciously melodramatic, but -- at its core-- heartfelt post.

There's obviously a role for mega blogs. But something about smaller blogs is better for me, at least now. It's a big way blogging is different from other media. I've worked and small and large print publications and there aren't truthfully a lot of benefits to small, aside from it being a better learning environment when you are first starting out.

But with blogs it's about interaction and conversation and somehow you lose the best of that when you get big. It's the same reason I prefer to have dinner with a source, rather than go to a party or conference. It's not efficient reporting, but it always yields better reporting. I know I make jokes about TechTicker commenters a lot. And I'm sorry to those of you who aren't part of the problem, but the spammer/troll/abusive hater that has become the stereotype of any Yahoo chat room just ruins it for me. As we've grown, I just don't spend as much time reading comments that I used to devour in the early Tech Ticker days.

This site, on the other hand, with its comparatively atom-sized audience is an unending source of fascinating conversation for me. I feel genuine affection for so many regular sarahlacy.com commenters who I have never met-- I know their user names and get excited when I see new comments from them. I know what resonates with some readers, and sometimes write posts because I can't wait to see how they respond. It's like having my own salon dinner efficiently via the web. (Although one where I'm doing too much of the talking, which is why I always welcome guest posts! hint, hint) I guess the point is I don't care if this blog never makes money. I don't want to lose that vibe.

When I think about the most personally fulfilling parts of my career now, it tends to go in reverse order from mass-to-small-- which is funny because I spent so much of my career wanting to get on bigger and bigger platforms. My favorite role is author. And let me tell you first hand: fewer people read books than any other medium, even best-selling books. My second most personally fulfilling role is writing on this blog. Part of that is a stage of life thing after more than a decade writing for other people. My third is probably BusinessWeek and fourth is probably Yahoo-- even though that show puts me in front of four times the audience of CNBC and is by far my biggest platform. Now, bear in mind, I LOVE my job on TechTicker -- particularly because it's so different than the rest of my career and I love my co-workers-- so this is all relative. But in many ways I am just more comfortable writing than being on camera. I was supposed to be on TV today talking about the iPhone, which was cool and good for the whole brand thing. But when they canceled I have to say part of me was relieved I could sit on the couch and blog in jeans, an old shirt my husband used to wear all the time when he was first courting me and a baseball cap. Most importantly: No makeup!

Anyway, as you can see my reasons are all very personal and that was why I was struck to see Jason point to many of the same things. (Well, not the make up and husband's old shirt part....that I know of...) It made me wonder if we're at some kind of greater cultural blogging crossroads. I remember when Six Apart launched Vox it talked about wanting to take the nastiness out of blogging, or being the place bloggers connect with a smaller group of peers-- like the hole-in-the-wall restaurant that chefs all go to after hours.

Will we see a return to small or the emergence of some newer digital medium to be what blogs once were? And is there any new concept of monetization that could reflect the value of small? In other words: Bloggers have proven they can build audiences just as huge as mainstream publications. Now can we prove we can build better ones and still be viable businesses?

UPDATE: publicist just called. TV back on. make-up here I come!! :)


 

Comments

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That's one of the most insightful posts I have read in a while ...

I really enjoyed it.

Thank you.

I think your fingers on the pulse.

I hope that as the big bloggers leave and/or cash out, new voices will be able to thrive more than they currently do. I hope great writing will replace great marketing, but that is optimistic and not the offline history of journalism.

Hate you? Pft - never.

Actually, I agree with you - Calacanis is (was) a very good example of how CEO 2.0 should take control of his/her own message through blogging.

In fact, ironically, I've just this very second posted a video interview with Mike Butcher from TechCrunch UK where we mention just how good JC's blog is. Was.

How-ev-er... I'm not sure blogs are particularly great for conversation, though, especially as they get huge.

I guess I see a high profile CEO/journalist blog as a mainly one-way megaphone. And for the other, intimate, stuff - that's what Twitter's for. Unless - like Calacanis - you have a zillion followers and can't possibly hear/care what they're saying to you.

Either way, with Jason dropping out of the blogosphere, I guess I'm going to have to look elsewhere for my super-urgent bulldogs-with-surnames news. Hey ho.

There is no way Jason is going to quit blogging. He must be having some kind of relapse of withdrawl mentality or something.
He should have said he is taking a sabbatical.
You watch. He will be back.
Once you drink the Cool Aid, there is no escape without a 12 Step Program.
This is a stunt to get attention, which he so desparately craves.

Funny post really. You all get so fractured between your many places to be that in the end are you anywhere?

Fix the book link on your main page. It goes nowhere right now for me.

I saw this last night, as did you, and immediately presumed it was some sort of publicity stunt. Either that, or he'll no longer write blog posts but will tweet, for instance.

Thanks for sharing this - somehow I was living under a rock and missed the Calacanis story yesterday. I can't imagine blogging on that level, so don't have a lot of insight into his plight, but I really like your thoughts on losing conversation and interaction when things get really big.

Nice post. I have been finding that some of the smaller blogs have big impacts. Your blog and newer bloggers like Allthingsd.com, furrier.org, alleyinsider.com are better than the old A-List blogs like Techcrunch, Mashable, Cnet, and Callacannis

Ther internet provides access to more voices to choice from so the bad get weeded out. Jason Calacanis is a victim of because he is noise.

Does anyone REALLY care?

Unless they are so obsessed by the size of their audience, or who links to them or follows them?

It's all about ego.

And having a hissy fit when you discover you're not quite as important as you think you are.

CdL, how about not being "obsessed" with the size of an audience, but just wanting one to have what you say land somewhere, and knowing you're perpetuating some kind of useful discussion?

Just talking into the wind is fine for some, but it's a lot of wasted energy unless it's just a complete emotional release.

Templestark--I'm one of those who likes talking into the wind. Great outlet for me...helps clean out my brain.

Sarah--I can't say I'm a regular reader, but to use one of the most over-used words of your time, your writing is so AUTHENTIC. E.G., Loved your stack rank of your professional passions.

thanks for the comments everyone!

one thing @cdl: size matters because many bloggers are trying to make a living blogging. you have to have a high count of page views to do that. so it's more a practical concern than ego. not that ego isn't part of it. that's a big thing that makes all web 2.0 so powerful and "addictive"-- people reading your self expression and valuing it whether it's digg, blogging, yelp, facebook--whatever. so i guess for most web 2.0 companies-- even that appeal to ego has a nice dollar value!

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