Survival of the fittest

Would you like to be writing your weblog a few years from now? Can you even stand the idea of blogging for that long? I don’t have the answers for you, but it has made me think about my own future as a blogger.

This recent interest in blog survival was triggered while reading an online discussions on why people give up their weblogs. The common thread seemed to indicate that the bloggers simply ran out of gas and lost interest. Some appeared to have only short-term goals for their blog.

There are millions of weblogs of every type with an average lifespan of several weeks, yet there are weblogs that have been operating continuously for many years.

What makes the difference?

This subject has been discussed by every major blogger from Rebecca Blood to Dave Winer and I would say my conclusion is that the major difference is motivation.

While backing up to take the broadest possible view of the weblog life cycle, I realized there is something unique about the blogging environment:

There are no natural predators. A blog’s existence is totally determined by its creator.

The only way a blog can shut down is for the creator to lose interest in writing it, or stop paying for the hosting.

The blogging universe merits every bit of analysis that it is getting and more. However, I did not write this post to analyze the Kingdom of Blog in its entirety. That is a monumental effort, like boiling the ocean, and scores of doctoral candidates are already tackling that.

For those who like a detailed analysis, Clay Shirky has hit some of the highlights with some of the most interesting essays I’ve seen.

However, most essays focus on how to generate more traffic, not on how to enjoy writing your blog for years to come. I do not feel that high traffic is counterproductive to creative blog writing, but it seems to demand a popularization of the subject matter if you are going to maintain the flow of visitors.

If you have to write about the latest internet craze like toothing (no link provided) to maintain traffic, you are going down the slippery slope toward common denominator trash and soon there is no way to distinguish your site from the vast midden of tackiness that lies in the darker places on the net.

On the other hand, if you write only for yourself, you will rarely receive comments except from occasional spambots. Reading your own words is like listening to the sound of your own voice. As long as you do it in private, nobody cares.

If you write from your heart and your output is relatively free from whining and self-pity, you will find an audience.

Actually there is an audience for whining and self-pity and you will receive amazing amounts of sympathy for as long as you can stand it. The only downside is that sympathy encourages you to write still more doleful tales and that leads nowhere except downward.

If you write and put some life in your writing, you are entertaining others while benefitting yourself. The more you write, the more rewarding it becomes and the more positive feedback you get.

I don’t think it’s necessary to consciously write inspiring posts. Writing about things that mean something to you is enough. If you rant, at least be entertaining about it. A few of my favorite sites have political views I disagree with, but their treatment of subjects is so well-done that I find it entertaining.

Bitter ranting, even about terrible injustices, wears thin after awhile and probably causes the writer more harm than good. From my own experience, I expect that Gelusil is a staple in the lives of writers who rant continuously and long.

In short, I think there is a hierarchy of factors that will lead to a long-term life for a blogger:

1 Understand why you are writing. Have a mission statement, even if you don’t publish it.
Revisit it occasionally if production drops.
2 Write about things that interest you
3 Write so you do not have to apologize for your choice of words.
4 Try to make your topic as interesting as possible, without bending the truth too much.
Parodies are excepted, of course.
5 When the words don’t come, work on something else.
6 Keep track of what you have written so you will know when you are revisiting subjects.

There are many more possibilities. You might like to add a few from your observations. I’d like to be blogging and visiting my blogging friends for years to come.

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