Maybe personal blogs ain't so bad
June 20, 2012
Back in April, I read a blog post by David Caolo that stuck in my mind. It’s about personal blogs, a term I’ve considered dirty for years now, because most such blogs focus on things few people, if any, care about: character progressions in online games, pictures of what they cooked the night before, how many reps of a given workout they just accomplished, etc. Basically, it’s treating a blog like a cathartic status update - a type of blog post that has, thanks to the popularity of social networks,1 migrated to places like Facebook walls and Twitter feeds. But that’s not exactly the type of blog Caolo wrote about. Rather, he’s observed a trend of people moving away from what he calls “hyper-focused niche blogs” and moving to a posting style that’s more general, and more importantly, more personal.
Today I see the “personality” blog returning. Consider Daring Fireball, The Loop, Shawn Blanc.net and 512 Pixels, to name a few. You could argue that each is a “tech site,” but that’s not the whole truth. Daring Fireball is John’s voice, personality and interests. He’s as likely to write about the New York Yankees as he is the new iPad. The Loop reflects the interests of Jim, Peter, Shawn and the the other contributors. The same is true of Stephen and Shawn Blanc.
I’ve noticed this same trend, in part because I follow all the aforementioned blogs as well. As they were added to my RSS reader, the topic stray was a little off-putting at first, because these blogs were added to my “Apple” folder and I expected them to remain on-topic. But over time, I came to enjoy most of the non-Apple material because the sum of all posts drew a better picture of who the author was; it became easier to relate to these authors than to writers on most multi-author sites. As much as I don’t really care about John Gruber’s opinions on baseball (because I don’t follow baseball as a whole), such posts are typically easy to ignore, yet help define Gruber as more than just another Apple blogger.
In this sense, following these types of blogs is more about just getting news, it’s about vetting someone’s opinion, and discovering things of interest that you otherwise might not have had you stuck to more narrowly focused blogs. If you do follow baseball and vehemently disagree with Gruber’s opinions on the matter, you may very well dismiss everything else he has to say as well, and that’s okay. What I’ve found is that the authors I tend to enjoy reading are those who share similar tastes, be that for Apple’s design philosophy, cool gadgets, or good coffee. And identifying such a blogger generates interest in following them on, say, Twitter, or subscribing to a podcast we might otherwise never have checked out. This extended focus means a growing number of my RSS feeds are no longer purely relevant to the “Apple” category, but extend to other categories as well. So even if I’m not in the mood to read just Apple news, there’s still a good reason to check out my Apple feeds.2
The other area I see these types of blogs prolifically is in the health sphere, where there’s a distinctive lack of zines and more emphasis on individual, one-author blogs that are diet or subject specific (e.g. paleo, primal, HIT, etc). In these contexts, it seems readers favor writers who provide a background on the reason they’re writing about health, and expect the respective authors to live up to what they write. In fact, in this sphere, it’s far more common to see a successful personal blog than it is to see one written by a faceless author. In part that’s because knowing who the author is provides a degree of authority on the topic of health, an element that’s more easily acknowledged when it comes to discussing health than on innovative tech products.
The reason I bring all this up now is because it’s relevant to the site post-mendax.org. Some time back, I switched to using the majestic plural when writing blog posts. It was a somewhat in-character persona that I thought was unique and interesting, because when mendax.org was conceived, it was never intended to be a personal site, but one with several authors. Using the editorial “we” made sense in this context, along with the quasi-Orwellian theme I built the site around. Ever since adopting this style, however, I’d intermittently receive comments about how the posts read “strangely”, and could we use something more “normal”. With the site’s rebranding I’m finally going to give in. The blog has never been niche-specific, even though at times it’s focused heavily on a particular topic. Unlike my previous stance on personal blogs,3 if the site now trends towards what folks like John Gruber and Shawn Blanc are doing, I’d consider it a good thing.
The desire to write these kinds of posts likely had a very huge effect on making social networks like MySpace successful in the first place. ↩
If this trend continues, it will likely affect how I organize my RSS feeds in the future. Certainly, the priority for me nowadays is to read the posts on these “Apple-themed” blogs, rather than blogs focusing very specifically on Apple. ↩
To clarify, I’m still against the wall-posting style of “anything-goes” blog posts. There are exceptions in the form of asides or embedded tweets, but these require very specific design decisions, whereas the core of a blog, I argue, should not be overcome by noise. ↩