I’ve been tiptoeing around this issue for a couple of months, trying to figure out how to approach it in a positive and diplomatic manner. I’m not sure it’s possible to be all that positive about such a difficult fact of life, but here goes.
It is virtually impossible to build a new blog in 2006. Here’s why I have reached that conclusion over the past year.
First, to have a successful blog, just like any other web site, you need readers. The difference (at least I thought it would be different) is that unlike Yahoo, MSN and Google, blogs are not supposed to be about making money. They are (I thought) supposed to be about having conversations and sharing perspectives and ideas. Sort of a natural evolution of the newsgroup or message board.
But the more I think about it, the less I believe that.
The very large majority of the most successful blogs out there have one of three things working in their favor.
1) They got there first and filled an empty space. I know exactly how that works, since getting there first was a major factor in the growth and success of ACCBoards.Com. Once you are there and fill the space, growth comes organically and it is a lot easier to maintain your position in the space.
2) They have a unique platform that almost guarantees them an audience. If you are the representative of a larger company, especially one that is a player in the blogosphere, your audience comes pre-packaged- from traffic from that company and other bloggers who want to link “upstream.” Granted, you have to deliver to keep and grow that audience, but a ready made group of users is a gigantic (and I believe necessary) advantage to growing a blog.
3) They get help from other established bloggers, either directly via a formal or informal network or because someone with a big audience throws a line to them via links and inter-blog conversations. This is the only way I can see a new, unaffiliated blogger actually growing a blog. Unfortunately, this probably has a lot to do with pre-existing relationships, making the chances of a truly independent blogger being thrown a rope very small.
If you don’t have one of those three things, I believe you are trying to push a heavy rock up a steep hill as far as developing and growing a new blog goes.
Let me be clear about one thing, however. A ready made audience doesn’t guarantee a successful blog. All of these A-Listers have to keep bringing good content to stay at the top. You can have a ready made audience and still not have a successful blog. But I no longer believe you can have a successful blog without a ready made audience.
Why? Because, unfortunately, the blogosphere is a closed system. There are too many people who believe they are going to get rich by writing a blog. Once you add the element of money into the equation, the element of competition soon follows. So you get the haves linking to one another (and largely only to one another) and ignoring (or at best tolerating) the have nots, in an effort to boost their status and, perhaps more importantly, protect their shares of the readership pie. Anyone who argues this isn’t true hasn’t spent much time surfing around the blogosphere.
Yes, there are exceptions. Scoble and JKOnTheRun being two that come to mind. Both seem to be really good guys and both seem to be doing the blog thing for reasons other than the prospect of a dollar. There are others, both A-Listers and not, who simply aren’t interested in adding any more voices to the conversation. Logically, that’s understandable when you look at it from the capitalistic/competitive perspective. But if you believe the blogosphere is or ought to be about conversation and not solely about making money and inflating egos, it’s not good for the blogosphere.
Stated another way, if Firefox, Flickr, and most of the blogging platforms are free, why are links and seats at the table guarded like Fort Knox gold?
Am I talking my position? Am I discouraged and perhaps a little bitter? Probably, I can’t deny that. But I believe I am right about this. And if I don’t write about something that affects me, I’m not writing from my experience- and no one should write from anything else.
So let me briefly dispense with my place in all of this and then move on with the conversation.
I believe my varied experience in programming, web site development, writing, teaching, music making and lawyering gives me a fairly unique perspective on the internet in general and the blogosphere in particular that should be as valued in the blogosphere as it seems to be in the real world (I make my living and give 20-30 speeches a year about one or more of these topics). So, yes, I do feel like stomping my feet and screaming when I can’t fully join the conversations out here. But this is not a problem that is specific to me- and the point I am making here is not about me.
It’s about the ability (or not) of new voices to find a place in the conversations at the virtual watercooler.
Unfortunately, like the real world, sometimes the blogosphere is about who you know as much as what you know.
A lot of bloggers just give up. I can totally relate to that. But I am a fixer and a builder by nature, so giving up isn’t appealing either.
I don’t know the answer, but I know it’s a problem.