The perils of blog-writing

I think writing a single-author, regularly-updated ‘subject’ blog, other than one on cooking (where you at least have the advantage of being able to constantly cook different recipes), must be uniquely challenging, particularly in the area of retaining a long-participating readership. Unlike a personal or news blog, which can draw on natural repositories of new content, a subject blog has to have something to say about the same thing again and again, regardless of whether there is interesting news on the subject or whether the person’s thinking has materially evolved. The result is that most subject blogs I’ve read become somewhat tiresome after a while in one of two ways.

1) The writer starts saying the same thing again and again. This is useful to a point, because it develops a broad and varied way of approaching a similar topic, so that a large number of people have a chance of finding an explanation they understand or relate to. And it’s nice for new readers. But once you’ve been a reader for a while, and you’ve seen a number of the variations, it becomes dull. Only a small percentage of entries will have anything novel to say, and it becomes not worth following the blog.

2) The writer tries to branch out into things they don’t know as much about, or tries to be deliberately novel or controversial on their main topic in a way that they previously weren’t, and starts saying obvious, naive, or stupid things. Of course, one’s opinion about what’s obvious, naive, or stupid may vary, but getting out of your subject area or taking deliberately contrarian positions that are also really naive is an easy way to sound stupid to people who are better-versed in the subject. I’ve run into this a couple of times with transportation/urbanism blogs that I used to like, and it makes me sad, because usually I think the person has a lot of smart things to say, and I don’t really want to stop following them, but I just can’t tolerate the stupid.

People definitely read blogs for different reasons, so disagreeing with the blog author may be an upside for some. Personally, I read blogs to hear thought-provoking ideas in areas I’m interested in, and secondarily to get new information on those areas. I don’t read blogs to get into huge debates, so reading blogs that I constantly disagree with that way isn’t fun for me. Nor is reading blogs that have started repeating themselves — they no longer provoke interesting thoughts.

So, my hats off to people who can continue being novel and smart for long periods of time on the same subject, or who figure out ways to evolve their blogs so that they continue to be smart and engaging in a different area or manner. Long may you blog.

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