Between 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.