Blogging ‘mistakes’?

Ho hum: famous web guru doesn’t quite get blogging.

I reckon Nielsen needs to go out and do a bit more homework before handing out advice. I get the distinct impression, for a start, that he thinks there are only two kinds of blog: personal journals written for your adoring family and/or best mates; or link-and-news-type blogs that wannabe Instapundit.

If he had done a bit of research, however, he might appreciate a few things:

1. There are more things in the blogosphere than are dreamt of in anyone’s philosophy.

2. Good bloggers do what feels right for them rather than following Commandments laid down by authority figures. They develop a distinctive style and voice. They write about what interests them. (They don’t expect every reader to find every post equally riveting.) And they have fun.

3. A key aspect of blogging is active participation by readers: discussions through comment threads, conversations between blogs, memes, trackbacks, feedback, interaction, all the rest of it. That is perhaps the most important difference between older forms of static web page and blogs, not the technical ease with which you can set up a weblog.

It’s also an extremely important part of building up readership, especially when you’re getting started: if people reading comments on another blog like what you say there, they will click through to read more. Then they link to your blog in their blog, put you in their blogroll, subscribe to your RSS feed and so on. (It’s all rather promiscuous, when you stop to think about it.) And you have to respect your own readers; respond to people when they come and talk to you; make connections. [And another thing that I almost forgot: always credit your sources. Thanks to Tony for the tip-off.]

But Nielsen seems blithely unaware of any of this: it seems that he’s still working with a model of Web Site Author on the one hand and Web Site Readers on the other, with little communication between the two (and certainly no communication between different readers!).

Blogging has become so successful that we’ll probably see a lot of people trying to cash in on the phenomenon in the near future by handing out ‘advice’, attempting to formulate Rules of Blogging, to force all this shocking untidiness into neat compartments and make bloggers behave the way the advice-givers think they ought to. But I suspect that hardly anyone will take any notice. Fortunately.

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16 Responses to Blogging ‘mistakes’?

  1. tony says:

    I’ve got a lot of time for Nielsen, actually, so I think some of his points are worth thinking about. For example, I do like to see some information about the blogger, in case I’m dropping by for the first time. A bit of biography, and yes, a picture helps (especially if you’re meeting in a coffee house somewhere ;-). I get really fed up with these alleged photos of blogger that turn out to be their favourite teddy-bear. (Not that I’ve got anything against pictures of your favourite teddy-bear, but that’s for a different post.) And since I would like my blog to be read, I’m also thinking about the whole issue of titles that tell you what they’re about.

    I do disagree with him about the issue of names. I like the friendly atmosphere of blog circles in which people identify each other by their first name. If you’re really intimate, you probably don’t even use capital letters for it…

    But I do agree with your main point that somehow he hasn’t quite got it.

  2. miz_geek says:

    I have to say I agree with both of you, too. He doesn’t seem to get the charm of most blogging, which is that you get to meet a person, and not just a newsfeed. And he also doesn’t seem to understand that it’s not just all about quantity of readers, but quality.

    However, I agree on some points. I hate blogs with no author info (even if it’s an anonymous blog, you can tell us *something* about yourself, right?) And I hate people who update regularly for a few weeks, hook me in, and then disappear for months. Categories/tags are good, and often overlooked.

    But if someone can’t figure out how to hover over a link and see where it’s pointing, then they probably ought to, well, learn how to do that.

  3. Sharon says:

    Yes. An About page of some kind is useful. (Anyone hoping for a photo here is likely to be permanently disappointed, however.) And ‘think about what you post and who might read it’ (like a future boss. Or your granny) is sensible advice. In fact, I’d like to have seen rather more about politeness and courtesy. But he claims to be offering advice on how to bring in and keep readers when he has neither a) grasped what I think are the really effective strategies (which could be summed up as: be interesting and encourage conversations), nor b) offered any useful advice about dealing with the main pitfalls and problems (trolls, spam, negotiating the blurring of the public/private boundaries). In effect, he is using a position of authority (which is well-earned, and I have a lot of respect for Nielsen usually) to pronounce on something that he doesn’t in fact know much about.

    But it was interesting in making me think about just how much weblogging may be changing the ways in which people use the internet. Old rules do not always apply. Whereas some (notably issues of Netiquette) certainly do.

  4. miz_geek says:

    Excellent points. I was thinking of it more in design terms (which I think is what his background is in), where I agree with some of his ideas and disagree with some.

    But as far as the social part of blogging goes, he seems to be mostly clueless. Too bad, because I’d like to see a nice list of tips for dealing with precisely those issues you bring up. Maybe trolls don’t usually show up on web usability blogs (although we’ll see what happens now that this article is popping up all over!)

  5. rob says:

    Sharon: you’re right. That’s all I have to contribute.

  6. Sharon says:

    Rob, luv you loads.

    I wouldn’t want to suggest that design is unimportant, but I tend to think of that in a more basic way: things like a nice clear decent-size font against contrasting background, easy to spot which bits of text are the links, not too much clutter on the screen, space between and around posts, headers used as dividers/markers… all in all, creating a context that pleases the eye and physically makes reading easier. Then you worry about the content.

  7. Brandon says:

    I like the point that blogging is (to a limited but very important extent) more of a cooperative venture than a static webpage: there’s still a distinction between Author and Reader, but there’s a lot of blur between the two, because of the interaction.

  8. Sharon says:

    Perhaps it can be compared to the difference between teaching by lectures and by seminars. The blog author is in a similar position to a teacher of a seminar: s/he decides what the topic of discussion will be today and leads (and moderates the tone of) the (hopefully) ensuing discussion, but is aiming to give the readers plenty of space to follow their own lines of thought and to engage with and learn from each other.

    And (non-sequitur…) I’ve only just noticed that gravatars are working again! Yay!

  9. Pingback: ClioWeb | Blog Archive » Nielsen on Weblog Usability

  10. Jeremy says:

    Now Sharon. Jakob would be disappointed that you write about two different topics in your last comment! That’s BAD practice!

    I’m amused by the fact that I don’t ever read anything by Nielsen unless a blogger links to one of his articles.

  11. Sharon says:

    This week I think I shall be making a point of doing various things that he says you shouldn’t JUST BECAUSE I CAN. So there.

  12. tony says:

    You’d better point out when you’re doing it, in case this bear of little brain doesn’t notice. (Something like Stella Gibbons in Cold Comfort Farm putting asterisks to mark the purple passages.)

  13. Sharon says:

    This post has apparently been deleted and I can only find the cached version, but the style is a good example of why I disagree with Nielsen about links. The text does usually describe what it points to, but in a very abbreviated way that allows for some surprises. What is most important, perhaps, is the flow of the writing and the story being told. But the links both illustrate and supplement that story in a wonderfully creative way, and the post wouldn’t be the same without them and the way in which they are done.

    (End of Blogging Masterclass for the day…)

  14. Jeremy says:

    I think that’s a teriffic philosophy, Sharon. I’ll try to do the same thing. Well, I probably already do most of the things he suggests bloggers don’t do.

  15. Ron Zeno says:

    Nielsen is just fishing for new clients. If you find value in any of his pablum at all, I’m sure he’ll be happy to sell you a bridge report.

  16. Those are some excellent points you make, particularly about variety of purposes and audiences and the importance of interaction.

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