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April 23, 2005  |  Keeping blog readers happy  |  922 hit(s)

In a slightly confusing set of linked threads, Dive into Mark comments on an entry in Sam Ruby's blog (I told you this was confusing) that says in part:
Granted it's your right to post whatever you want - I'm certainly not trying to tell you what to post. But I suspect that if you want to keep your readers you'll cut back on the crap about your personal life.
I've thought about this issue, and I know others have as well. When I look at the list of most-visited entries in my blog or when I review my blog referrers log, it's clear to me that the most popular (and useful, I suppose) entries are those that pertain to ASP.NET. I'm quite pleased, in fact, that I have been able to contribute modestly via this blog to the ASP.NET community and, as it appears, occasionally answer someone's questions.

Opinions among blog writers differ about how pure the content of a blog should be. These are examples of blogs I'm familiar with where the issue has come up implicitly or otherwise:
  • Eric Lippert explicitly says he's maintaining a technical blog -- although his choice of technical topics, thank goodness, is not limited to just programming. :-) At one point in a rare personal post he feels the need to promise "We'll get back into scripting soon, probably."

  • Nikhil Kothari, who posts all too infrequently, aims to write primarily technical content, but occasionally posts about his life (like, oh, that he got married) and his photography.

  • Chirs Anderson feels free to intermingle his technical stuff with, for example, stories of his scuba diving adventures.

  • Jeff Atwood sticks to programming topics; the anonymous mini-microsoft blog sticks exclusively to its theme of critiquing Microsoft from the inside; Melanie Spiller is strictly grammar; and of course the gang-authored Language Log is about language, duh, although the inspirations for language-related discussions can come from quite a variety of sources. (Two great ones: #, #)

  • Megan's blog is at least nominally about gardening, but she writes about her travels and her insights into married life, all of which fall within the scope of her blog's clever name, which is "Growing Notes: Life, dirt, and gardening."
And so on. For blogs that mix themed and personal posts, I suspect that readers who want only themed material (programming, gardening, whatever) find other posts uninteresting. And given enough non-themed material, some of those readers will give up and stop reading. Like some of the commenters on Dive Into Mark's discussion, I think it's odd that someone would take the trouble to tell you why they don't want to read your blog any more, but I guess people are people.

I knew when I started this blog I would not stick to one theme, such as ASP.NET. For starters, I don't have enough interesting stuff to say on any one topic, and as you'll have noticed, I have lots of not-particularly-interesting stuff to about a lot of things. Jack of all topics, master of none. That's one of the reasons I didn't sign up for an MSDN-based blog as have so many other Microsoft folks; those blogs are undertaken with the (tacit?) understanding that the blogger is writing about topics of interest to the Microsoft community at large.[1]

I don't feel particularly bad posting about family matters, because I know that some people (like family, duh) come here primarily to read those posts. Ditto general and personal posts; I have friends who've told me that they skip over those boring technical things. Fair enough.

My view at the moment is that I do try to maintain a mix of technical and non-technical, although the mix is a bit chunky and not very even. A little something for everyone, I guess. And I also have tried to make it easy for people to focus on areas of interest by including categories and allowing category-based RSS feeds. For example, I assume that anyone interested exclusively in ASP.NET stuff would subscribe to the aspnet category RSS feed.

All of this reminds me, for no clear reason that I can fathom, of an old joke. A mother gives her son two shirts for his birthday. To please her, the next time he visits, he wears one of the shirts. "What's the matter," his mother says, "you didn't like the other one?"

[1] Another reason was so as not to have any issues arise about the content and who owns it and whose views it represents.

Original thread linked from the ever-fascinating

Jeff Atwood   23 Apr 05 - 1:20 PM

Yeah, this is a tough topic. I try to avoid the incestuous nature of blogging about blogging, but I like Rory's list here:


- you have to want to write
- you have to believe you have something to say
- you have to have an interesting way of saying it

I'll add one

- you must be a decent (not great, but decent) writer

Not that I'm the greatest writer, but I know bad when I see it. You have to be 10/10 in the other areas to overcome truly bad writing. It's possible, but the deck is stacked heavily against you if you can't meet the basic grammar, spelling, and style rules of readable English. Ugh. I see these kinds of blogs every day, and it's painful.

As for consistency, as long as the variances aren't extreme, I'm not sure that's terribly important. People looking for a very specific genre of content will probably be doing google searches anyway.

Rob Caron   24 Apr 05 - 2:03 PM

The day I care about keeping my blog readers happy is the day I'll stop blogging. Who needs the added stress?