From Creation to Abandonment: the 5 Stages of Blogging

abandonmentBetween my earlier ScobleFeeds series and my current swivel feeds experiment, I have read a lot of blogs.  During this time, I have been looking for patterns and commonalities.  While it’s hard to draw too many universal conclusions about the blogging experience without front-end data, there are a few patterns that emerge.

One of them is what I think of as the 5 Stages of Blogging.  The stages of a blog’s life from the hopeful day of creation to the sad and sometimes seemingly inevitable day of abandonment.  It may not seem that way in the often competitive blogosphere, but the loss of every legitimate blog is a loss shared by all legitimate bloggers.

Which is a good reason to study the patterns and search for a way to reroute the process towards a better end.

All bloggers don’t experience all 5 stages.  The low financial and technical barrier to entry results in many hastily created blogs that end up abandoned during one of the early stages due to boredom or the lack of a genuine interest in blogging.  Some bloggers aren’t concerned with growing an audience and never reach the frustration stage when their blog’s growth rate stalls or reverses.  And once in a very great while a new blogger actually gets accepted into the warm, chummy place I talked about last night, and happily avoids the pain of the later stages (more often than not, there is an ancillary relationship that triggers this acceptance, but it does happen).  But the pattern is pretty clear, particularly in cases where new bloggers joins the fray in search of conversation, inclusion and readers.  It’s less clear in cases where the blogger is primarily concerned with making money or selling a product.  The psychological investment in blogging is less in those cases, and if the money isn’t made or the product isn’t selling, the blogger often just moves along to the next marketing angle.

If you believe, as I do, that the blogosphere ought to be about conversation and sharing information, as opposed to merely a new manner of media distribution and/or prospecting for gold, then you should be concerned about the high attrition rate in the blogosphere.  If you want to have conversation, then there must be others to converse with.  Encouraging new bloggers and promoting blogging as a means of communication is in the best interest of all legitimate bloggers, from the top of the A-List to the very bottom of blogger’s hill.

People tend to forget this very important fact: without the long tail, there is no short tail.

So why is there so much blog attrition?

Here are my 5 stages of blogging, from creation to abandonment.

Stage 1: Excitement

This is the early stage of a blog, during which a platform is selected and a template evolves, widgets and other ancillary content are added, and the initial blog posts are written.  Like the band who has been gigging for years before making a record, new bloggers – at least the ones who have done a little planning – generally have an albums’ worth of really good topics to toss out.  Those initial posts generate a little reaction, particularly if the blogger does his homework, identifies the established bloggers who are amenable to new voices and cultivates them.

Excitement is high during this stage and expectations are intact and rising.

Step 2: Expectation

After the blog is launched and the blogger has learned his way around the blogosphere, it’s time to start building traffic and readers.  There are three related ways to measure this growth: blog visitors, subscriber numbers and links.  During this stage, a little traffic goes a long way.  I still remember how excited I was when I had 100 inbound links (not from 100 different blogs; I’m talking 100 total).  I called my wife into my study to show her the first time my blog was on Techmeme (then known as Tech Memeorandum).  It takes work to pass those initial milestones, but they generally come within a reasonable period or time.  At this point, the new blogger is certain that before long he and all those guys and gals he reads about will soon be yukking it up in cross-blog conversations like old college buddies.  But like college, this stage doesn’t last forever.

One of two things will happen.  Once in a blue moon, the blogger will catch lightning in a bottle, get swept up by the blogging elite, and become a recognized name in the blogosphere.  Much more often, the blogger will hit a plateau and the growth of his still new blog will slow or flatline.  He’s not the new guy any longer, his album’s worth of posts are getting a little stale, and the lizard-like blogosphere has been distracted by all the other flies buzzing around.

At this point the once hopeful blogger finds himself writing away to what seems like a diminishing rate of return.

Stage 3: Frustration

Once the honeymoon is over, the blogging work that seemed so new and interesting at first starts to feel hard and frustrating.  And very, very inefficient.  The blogger can’t figure out how to generate enough traction to achieve the organic growth that is an absolute requirement to maintain a popular blog.  He writes thoughtful posts on hot topics, links like crazy to other bloggers and waits. And waits.  He gets a few links here and there, but the small return on the huge effort is profoundly discouraging.  The blogging elite doesn’t notice him and many of the other new bloggers are too busy fighting for attention to engage in any meaningful conversation.  The blogging happiness trend is going down pretty quickly, but not in a straight line.  Small victories occasionally conceal the larger defeat and the blogger bounces between the rock of discouragement and the hard to maintain place of synthetic optimism.

At this point, the blogger begins looking for a new angle to kick-start and accelerate the growth process.  Perhaps he crafts alliances with other similarly situated bloggers, which, like any attempt to change the status quo, only works as long as it has critical mass.  Inevitably, some will become convinced that they can muscle their way into the club and take advantage of the very forces that once kept them down.  It’s the same dynamic as the driver who slows down to rubberneck at a traffic accident, telling himself that he’s already paid his dues by waiting in the long line of cars.

For the new blogger, the collapse of his wagon train is just one more setback in a journey that grows more frustrating with every step.

It is during this stage that pandering, agitating and extreme positions in search of a reaction begin to occur.  Like the preschooler who acts out for attention, however, this approach is not sustainable over the long term.  Angry or effusive posts create a self-fulfilling prophesy, whereby the blog’s growth is even more negatively affected as a result of posts, cynical or sycophantic, inspired by the blog’s lack of growth.

This is probably the least happy time for most bloggers.  The former excitement is replaced by frustration and the growing belief that time spent blogging might better be applied elsewhere.  Many bloggers abandon ship at this stage.  Other trudge along wearily to the next stage.

Stage 4 Alienation

After the blogger’s capacity for frustration is exceeded, he does an about face and, instead of seeking inclusion in the conversations, he rejects the entire process completely.  At this point, the tailspin towards abandonment has begun.  The blogger’s mental image of the blogosphere as unicorns and butterflies in a field of wildflowers is replaced with an equally distorted image of a dark and wicked place, full of conspiracies and evil doers.  The benefit of the doubt is cast aside in favor of broad condemnation.

This alienation manifests itself in one or more ways.  Perhaps it takes the form of cynical posts about the unfairness of the system.  Or long periods without posting anything, followed by a week or so of active posting.  Rote behavior, in an effort to find the hidden key that will unlock the gate.

Some blogs exist in a near perpetual state of alienation.  Eventually, the alienation gives way to abandonment.

Stage 5: Abandonment

Next comes the unsatisfying end game for the discouraged blogger.  His once cherished blog is either cast into the abyss via the delete button or, more often, left to lie silent by the side of the road like a burned out jalopy.  A testament to the inefficiency of the process.

I am amazed at the number of abandoned or nearly abandoned blogs I come across.  All the information in all the posts that were never published lost- not just for now, but for all time.  The development of the collective consciousness interrupted.  Once here, twice there.  Before long the entire process is in jeopardy.

I don’t have an easy solution to reduce the rate of blog attrition.  I do what I can by trying to find and highlight blogs from the blogosphere’s mostly invisible middle earth.  I don’t know if that will make a difference or not.  I hope so, but I am not immune to discouragement.

What I do know is that all legitimate bloggers, regardless of our motivation for blogging, have a vested interest in nurturing the blogosphere and encouraging the creation and continued existence of legitimate blogs by people we don’t know yet who have a lot to say, a lot to share, and a lot to teach us.

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0 responses to “From Creation to Abandonment: the 5 Stages of Blogging

  1. I smiled when I read your line about calling your wife into the study the first time you appeared on Techmeme.I experienced similar joy at my first link from an A-Lister when I got Scobleized!Robert spelt my name wrongly in post (I think he got us confused cos he spelt my surname Newsome instead of Newson). The great thing was I wrote him a quick email to ask for the correction (and thank him for the link) and he wrote me a nice note back and made the correction. Bless him. I’m telling that story to illustrate how small is the kindness required for those higher up the mountain to encourage those of us trying to climb.Kent, you’ve been kind to me too during my journey and I just wanted to say how much I appreciate that!I think I’m somewhere between Stage 2 and Stage 3 on your roadmap, the distraction from blogging has been the new woman in my life.

  2. Kent, great post! Luckily, I haven’t made it to Stages 4 or 5 yet in no small part thanks to you and and a few other fellow bloggers. Motivation is easy to loose but can also be resurected and substained by a simple link, a mention, or blogging “conversations.” Simple things each of us can do for our fellow bloggers. We all need to feel like we belong somewhere, and that our voice is be heard by someone.Again, great post!

  3. Brilliant. I especially liked the sentence “He gets a few links here and there, but the small return on the huge effort is profoundly discouraging”But one false note – “dark and wicked place, full of conspiracies and evil doers.”. No, as a blogger solidy in stage 4, that’s not the correct nuance. It’s more like “a third-world country with a tiny arrogant elite and the rest of the population in weary desperation, or like a multilevel marketing meeting, where a horde of peoeple striving for validation will be fleeced by a few confidence scammers skilled in taking advantage of hopes and dreams”Spiraling towards stage 5, thinking “what a waste …”

  4. This post is great. It’s definitely true though that “All bloggers don’t experience all 5 stages”, as you said. I hope you can stay in stage 2 and remain excited. We’ve both had our time on TechMeme and the occasional note from Scoble, but nothing that promises superstardom. I think a lot of whether a blog can be considered a success or not comes from how we value it ourselves.Does it succeed in extending the conversation with other valued peers? Maybe it’s about total visitors, page views or comments… to each their own, but I hope you don’t get too far into stage 3. It can be tempting some days…

  5. Kent, good synopsis. I think the success of micro-blogging on Twitter and Jaiku is a direct result of the lack of attention people feel from the work they put into blogging. Blogging will eventually cluster around a few well known A-listers, professional blog networks and vertical topic specialists. To blog consistently well takes a lot of time, thus far it hasn’t proved rewarding enough both in terms of attention or monetary value for the majority to justify the time. But the majority of blogs will remain as personal diaries updated and read infrequently.

  6. Hi KentI much appreciated your post, though I’m not sure whether I altogether correspond to your description. I started my blog mostly as a sort of diary with little thought to anything else. But we are all human and it’s difficult to resist the prospect of recognition, however remote!No point in denying that there are moments of near-despair but I comfort myself with the point very well made by another “commentator” “louisgay): “I think a lot of whether a blog can be considered a success or not comes from how we value it ourselves.”

  7. Kent, Good stuff, you inspired me.I’ve created an alternate path for bloggers, based upon what I’ve learned and even have an associated graphic.I’d love to get your feedback

  8. Great post, and like Jeremiah before me, I’ve added some of my own thoughts over here:

  9. This is an absolutely fantastic post Kent, I have floated somewhere in this continuum for my entire blogging career.I know there are no clear cut solutions to the problem, but their might be room for further “conversation” if you will.I think the other commentators are right, bloggers just want to know they are being heard. It’s really what drives us to write. It’s hard to put in the time and effort to blog when you feel like you’re speaking to the void.Great post!Here is my take if you have the time:

  10. Great post, I think I agree with Sam Sethi for the most part. Even though I do quite well by blogging, I’m starting to find things like Twitter and Facebook more and more useful…I think Seth F’s allegory is a bit OTT, but what the hell, I like the guy, so no worries.btw it’s not just the guys “stuck in the D-List” who are frustrated,. I’ve heard a lot of prominent bloggers say the same thing as you [off the record, of course]…

  11. Kent,This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read on the blogosphere.

  12. Good post.Insightful and entertaining.

  13. Kent, The funniest thing about your post is it applies to every blog. For a really wild time, write several blogs on several topics, going through all of these stages simultaneously for different sites.

  14. Couldn’t it simply be that our capacity to comment on other people’s blogs is more or less finite, so an expanding blogosphere means our comments are spread more thinly – a bit like pyramid selling in reverse?Eventually there will be only a small number of contributors (perhaps only one) to the vast majority of blogs, and a few blogs receiving a “sustainable” number, at least in the short to medium term.

  15. Hi from the road. I’m at step 6 – “tend to your garden.” This is unheard of, I’m sure, but believe it or not I write for me first, and use my site as an online resource. Such as, during my vacation I was talking to a friend about my favorite recipes, and directed her to my site to read through them at her leisure. Top N lists be damned. My site, my web hosting fees, $%@#$%@ everyone. But all visitors are welcome and encouraged. :-)As for the alienation thing, etc, meh. [Your] site, [your] web hosting fees, do whatever. I can’t lose sleep over that stuff anymore.

  16. Excellent article, Kent. I just started my own blog, and I’ll keep these stages in mind as I go along. Like you hint at, i believe the best strategy is becoming a member of the community, and not just looking out for yourself.

  17. Late to the party (as usual) and trudging along in stage 3. Very relevant thinking as we plan a role-out of organisational blogs – I may well cite this (cross-referenced with Jeremiah’s additional thoughts on his blog) for some internal training if I may.

  18. Great post. I seem to swing between 2, 3, and 4 depending on what day it is, and if a commenter has called me a moron. I think the trick is finding new things to inspire you when the old things like traffic or techmeme fall off.

  19. Great observation….!

  20. You write an excellent post and pose some interesting points.As a “personal” blogger, I don’t feel a lot of the frustration for lack of fame or fortune, but I can admit to swinging between numbers 2-4 over the years of keeping a blog.I think you are completely correct in saying that all bloggers want is to know they are being heard and their thoughts not being broadcast into a large, black void. Which is why I try and leave a thoughtful comment whenever I can.

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