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Ultimate Blog Success Without Pollution?

May 24, 2012

I’ve recently gotten inspired to start blogging. I don’t mean like back in October 2010, when I was inspired to sign up for WordPress and Blogger accounts and play around with them. I mean I’m inspired to get serious about it. That doesn’t mean I’m suddenly going to be able to crank out a few blog posts every day, or even a blog post every few days. But it does mean I’m going to try to stick to a schedule and have something to deliver on a more-or-less regular basis.

What set me on this path was a post I read on Jeff Atwood’s blog, Coding Horror, called “How To Achieve Ultimate Blog Success In One Easy Step”:

When people ask me for advice on blogging, I always respond with yet another form of the same advice: pick a schedule you can live with, and stick to it. Until you do that, none of the other advice I could give you will matter. I don’t care if you suck at writing. I don’t care if nobody reads your blog. I don’t care if you have nothing interesting to say. If you can demonstrate a willingness to write, and a desire to keep continually improving your writing, you will eventually be successful.

This worked for him because:

Not every post was that great, but I invested a reasonable effort in each one. Every time I wrote, I got a little better at writing. Every time I wrote, I learned a little more about the topic, how to research topics effectively, where the best sources of information were. Every time I wrote, I was slightly more plugged in to the rich software development community all around me. Every time I wrote, I’d get a morsel of feedback or comments that I kept rolling up into future posts. Every time I wrote, I tried to write something just the tiniest bit better than I did last time.

Of course, Atwood’s schedule was six posts per week, whereas mine is more like one or two per month. Still, I think the concept still applies: Practice and get better.

So far, so good, until I came across something in Jakob Nielsen’s excellent Alertbox column: The “Information Pollution” article contains a bit of advice that seems to run counter to Atwood’s:

Let’s clean up our information environment. Are you saying something that benefits your customers, or simply spewing word count? If users don’t need it, don’t write it. Stop polluting now.

What does this mean? Should I follow Atwood’s advice and keep posting, even if a given post isn’t good, in the hopes of getting better? Or should I follow Nielsen’s advice and not write something unless I feel it really needs to be written?

Now, let me qualify that a bit: I realize that since I’m writing a personal blog, I’m not exactly the target audience Nielsen had in mind. In fact, his follow-up on how to avoid information pollution focuses mostly on e-mail and is geared toward workplace behavior.

Even so, it’s just as much a concern for me and my blog as it is for someone writing for a corporate Web site. After all, I don’t want someone who finds this blog to have to comb through a bunch of useless posts to find something helpful or interesting. I definitely don’t want to waste the time of people who find my blog in search results or pingback lists only to find out I’d barely touched on the topic they wanted.

For example, when I posted my piece on SOPA, a link to that post became a response under an article to which I posted a link.When I discovered this, it dawned on me that I hadn’t really added anything to the conversation beyond “Look, I’m talking about this, too!” Readers who came via that link probably left with the impression that I have nothing to say, or at least nothing important.

The good news is that Nielsen’s follow-up has good advice, and much of it is applicable to everyone, bloggers included. He summarizes it like this:

Better prioritization, fewer interruptions, and concentrated information that’s easy to find and manage helps people become more productive and stop wasting their colleagues’ time.

The three pieces of advice I think are most applicable to me are “set priorities,” Write informative subject lines,” and “Write short.” I can handle that. Of course, as Atwood says, none of that advice matters if I don’t start writing.

So here’s my game plan:

  1. Commit to writing at least one blog post per month.
  2. Focus on the most important things I want to say, and be okay with letting some of the other things be less polished.
  3. Worry less about catchy or clever titles, and more about letting readers know what to expect from each post.
  4. Know when it’s time to finish a post, instead of letting it get so overgrown that even if I ever finish writing it, no one will want to read it.

Wish me luck.

Categories: Blogging
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