Dear Jon letter (a.k.a. The world doesn’t care about you)

Dear Jon (and all you other new bloggers),

Following the time-honored tradition of Dear John letters everywhere, I write this because I care about you. I hope that we can still be friends when all is said and done. But it’s time that you faced a few brutal facts.

Fact 1. The world doesn’t care about you

Like the real world, other than your family and friends like me, the blogosphere doesn’t care about you. In the words of Seth Godin,

[They] don’t care about you. Not really. [They] care about [themselves]. If your message has something to do with [their lives], then perhaps [they’ll] notice, but in general, don’t expect much.

They don’t care that you want to be loved. They don’t care that you want more comments or that you want to be in on the conversation. It’s not about you. It’s about them (us) and whether, in an attention economy, you have anything worth paying attention to.

Fact 2. If you build it, they won’t come

Not at first, not for a long time, and maybe not ever. But eventually a few might swing by. For a few seconds. Maybe. And, if you’re adding value, they might stick around. Maybe. Or they might not. If you’re really lucky, they might tell a few friends about you. And some of those people might actually stop by and/or stay. But they probably won’t. They’ll probably go back to watching YouTube videos or reading I Can Has Cheezburger? (Lol).

Fact 3. There are things that you can do to increase your blog traffic

  1. Blog about stuff that your audience wants to read
  2. Help them find you

That’s it. Okay, that’s not completely it, but that’s 99% of it. Give me a ring if you want some tips about the other 1%.

Fact 4. If you’re nice, some folks might actually help you

Amazingly, many of those cocktail party elitists, despite being busy with their closed conversations, somehow found time to step outside of the inner circle and deign to offer you their thoughts. Vicki wrote you a very nice note. So did Darren. Lots of other folks left you comments and Stephen sent people your way. And of course there’s this tough love missive from me, your buddy who’s been down this path and is willing to share a few unsolicited thoughts that might be useful to you.

As my mother always used to say, don’t forget to write them a thank you note. The path to heaven is paved with graciousness.

Fact 5. You need to be patient

You’ve been blogging for how long? And your audience is how big? Congratulations! You shouldn’t be whining, you should be celebrating! Most newbie bloggers who are trying to grow their traffic would kill to be in your shoes.

I get that you want the buzz, the conversation, the mojo. You’ve tasted the juice and you want more. But it doesn’t work that way. Because it’s not about you.

If you follow the steps in #3 above, your audience will grow. You’ll get a few comments now and then (only a few, now, don’t be greedy). You’ll get a little link love. A few friends – some of whom you’ve never met – will help you. Twelve to eighteen months from now, if you’re still blogging and adding value to others, let’s see how you feel about things, okay?

Until then, keep doing what you’re doing. Blog great stuff. Link to others. Comment on others. Rinse and repeat. Oh, and be grateful that you have a voice and the tools to express it. We love in wonderful and interesting times.

Go in peace, my friend.

P.S. Your belief that the blogosphere may be saturated? Call me when every one of the 4+ million U.S. educators each has a RSS aggregator overflowing with feeds and no time to read them all. Then we can talk.

21 Responses to “Dear Jon letter (a.k.a. The world doesn’t care about you)”

  1. Good advice. I particularly like point 5. I am in the same boat as Jon…only been blogging for 4 months and just starting to grow a readership. Most blogs don’t survive to the 6-month point, so patience and tenacity are required! (and LoLCats helps too!)

  2. Wow. I hope no one reads this BEFORE they start blogging.

    I don’t think it is quite all that bad if you view the point of the blog to influence yourself rather than the influence others, i.e. point #1 above. As long as you are learning new things and having fun, the relevancy of outside validation diminishes greatly.

    Everyone wants to have large readerships, including myself, but you have to be honest with yourself and ask yourself whether or not you have anything important to say that others should take time to read? Me? I have very little important to say in educational law, but that doesn’t stop me from putting out a new post with a link to someone else that has something important to say every day or so.

    Finally, you got to remember this is all relative. As academics, Scott & Jon, you put 100 or so hours into a peer reviewed article. Maybe that article gets read 100 times (if we are generous). If you put something in TCR you get more readers, but you also have to devote more hours. Same with book chapters, a little better for practitioner journals, and a little worse for grant writings. So, let’s just say that for every hour of work you put in, you get 1 reader, something not that far from a 1:1 ratio. So, it is like you are having a conversation in your office with only 1 other person each hour. As you become a more established scholar of course this gets better, but most of academia is probably functioning in a single digit ratio basis.

    But, when you compare all of that academic writing to even a modest blog, that ratio of readers to time spent is very low for traditional media and very high for electronic media. Even this comment, which took me maybe 15 min. is probably going to be read 30 times or so, for a ratio of something like 120:1. Now, not all of our blog posts get read 120 times, but when you factor in the average ratio of time spent to readers, you are still going to get something over 10:1. So, compared to traditional media, as a young scholar, you just increased your readership by a factor of 10 … meaning that hour-long conversation you were having in your office above now has to be held in a classroom. Sure, Scott has a bigger classroom than me, perhaps even an auditorium, but I have a much larger classroom than my most of my educational law peers.

    So, don’t forget to remember the relativity of it all. And … more importantly, don’t take it all that seriously. Just have fun.

  3. To blog or not to blog….that is the question. If you desire to be a ed blogosphere “star”, you, imho, have missed the point! It is about self reflection. It is about building a learning network. It is about challenging the way you think about education. Bottom line….Blog to learn, Blog because you can, but most of all, Blog to improve learning in your environment, whatever that may be!

  4. One the hunt for popularity. Why does so much of our self worth tend to revolve around what others think? A disordered pathology of the fallen human condition perhaps? I wish I could say my blog is more well read but hey I enjoy writing it and those who do take the time to read the posts seem to enjoy it so if the hobby helps spread some ideas so be it. As far as the popularity of some blogs over others it seems like in all endeavors whatever is the most relevant and most interesting seems to spark the most interest. Imagine that.

  5. @Justin: I didn’t mean to sound so harsh on Jon. He’s one of my two closest friends in academia and I know he can handle it! =) But it is what it is.

    Yes, blogging is super fun. As I said in my previous post, I’m hooked. And I understand the urge for more readers and more comments. Most of us get a thrill every time someone leaves us some feedback. We all want some interaction. But it’s tough to make happen on a regular basis.

    Blog what you love. If you do it well, the readers will follow…

  6. I thought this post interesting because we all know it’s true, and yet we all want to be liked on the web as much as we want to be liked in our workplaces, or at school, or at church, or any social venue.

    But, the main weakness I see in the learning community through blogs is the local building of a team. Maybe blogging and web 2.0 have a place in inspiration and sharing ideas, but when it comes to solving real problems and creating cultural change, I think that the power comes from local people who share the same roads, crises, shopping centers, schools, and challenges.

    If you’re blogging to “change the world,” but you haven’t sought out the social connections in your local community, then you’re missing the most powerful resource you have. I’m just getting into blogging, but I already see that my real test will be using the local influence I have to make local and global change.

  7. Yeah, I know it was nothing harsh and I know you two are friends (you both were working on the online law book, right?). My concern is more that we don’t make the blogosphere some inhuman wasteland (points #1 and #2) and that we stress #4. Bottom line, it is a way to connect with people, however imperfect.

    Part of the problem is its unlimited potential, so we all want to be famous overnight. Our typical introduction to Web 2.0 is not only Mike Wesch’s content in the videos, but also his 10,000,000 hits. Or your multimillion hit Did You Know series and we think … Wow! I too can change the world if I only dip my toe into this Web 2.0 thing.

    Then we take the plunge and start a blog and no one shows up to read all of these cool thoughts we have. Even my colleagues at my own institution, the people I hang out with, don’t show up. It is like the Web is rejecting us. We try commenting more on other blogs. We try making the content more racy. But, aside from a few additional sporadic hits, nothing changes.

    But, meanwhile, the content is building and our hits are slowing increasing. Maybe only from 20 a day to 26 a day, 15 of which are probably spiders. But, those spider hits are important. It creates the archive and the archive is just as important or more important than the realtime conversations we all want to have so badly. I know this because my colleagues, who have no realtime interaction with the blog, have come up to me and said “Hey, I saw your blog and you pointed me to a cool article, thanks.” I ask how they found it and they say, “Aw, it just came up on Google.”

    So just because your blog is not turning into the realtime cocktail conversation that you thought it would does not mean you are not making a real difference in people’s lives — it just much more difficult to track that rather than the number that gets put in your face each day.

    I just don’t want to scare people away from blogging because their hits are not meeting their somewhat unjustified expectations and experienced bloggers say, “that’s just the way it goes.” We need to remember the positives and not let our own frustrations about our page views or comment intensity cloud how we speak about blogosphere to others.

  8. Some might regard Scott’s post as a little harsh but let’s call it tough love. At the bottom line, blogging is the act of tossing your ideas into an ocean that is already full of them hoping that someone will fish them out and respond. It’s about writing on topics that get you going – whether it’s because of passion, anger, curiosity, fun, whatever – because you want to explore and express your unique perspective.

    However, know that even if you are offering great ideas expressed in interesting and entertaining ways, it’s still likely to take time to build an audience. Months, probably years. And you may run out of energy before it happens. Or you may decide that the few people reading your blog really aren’t worth the effort.

    Those prospects may very well scare some people away from starting the process in the first place. So be it. But remember, even if you only have a few dozen people in your community, it’s still a community that didn’t exist before you started. And those people must consider what you have to say worthwhile or they wouldn’t stay.

  9. Jon – If someone deigns to read my blog that is great for me and them. I might accidentally say something that is pertinent to someone and make a difference. That is all I expect of my blog, the chance to make a difference, whether I actually do or not is only between the reader and myself. More if they choose to comment. But I will never be a blog superstar or elite, I do not have the drive or willingness to change who I am…my blog will remain what it is “my thoughts”. So I am very content with the direction my blog is taking. Thank you for this opportunity to express my “little” opinion. :)

  10. I’ve been blogging now for just about 4 years (I had no idea until I just checked). I’ve come to accept that I write for an audience of one, and I’m my own biggest fan. Jon has a Technorati ranking of 22 after 4 months? I’m jealous.

    I blog because I want to think out loud. I want there to be a public record of where my brain is at. I enjoy formulating the thoughts and trying to turn them into something comprehensible. Occasionally, someone jumps in and comments, and that is really cool. Blogging is about finding a voice, and an audience. The former is a necessity, while the latter is gravy.

    Thanks for a post that hit home for me!

    • Agree totally with your comment on blogging. I guess I would be the ‘find of interest to me’ category. If you find the gravy that is great. What is your blog I will visit?

  11. Thanks for the reality check. And to think that after a few short months, I had nerve enough to want more. :) And, as always, thanks for making me think. That is why I keep coming back! Hhhmmmm, maybe there is a message to me about my blog.

  12. I’m a little blogger–and a new one. You inspired me at ASB UnPlugged. I wanna do it for my students. How do you get them to read and comment? I’m gonna pay attention to #3 for sure.
    Here are mine: http://dearlibrarian.edublogs.org/ and http://bookoftheweek.edublogs.org/

  13. Both sides are right on this one. If you want to be a “major player” on the edublog circuit, the system can be gamed and you can get more traffic than you have now. Strategic commenting, Diigo, twitter, etc. are all excellent methods for self-promotion. (I’ve had more than a couple conversations with Google about this very topic.) Rather than wasting time with doing that you’re better off writing good content, capturing relevant information, and building a solid collection of posts and information on current and valued topics.

    On the flip side, anyone who denies there is an echo chamber in the ed-tech community is standing inside it. If you want a case study look at any tech recommended by a “player” (Twitter, Diigo, etc.) and what happened after the recommendation.

    Write what you want and what you see as important. Those who want to learn will find you. Don’t waste your time looking for them.

  14. Thank you for this interesting post.

    Like other people scetched out in their comments, I too believe that especially an edublogger should have other focus than media attention or popularity or even monitization.

    Sharing, discussing, inspiring, informing, contributing, learning are just some key-verbs.

    As a person of intellect, don’t you think that a teacher should be an example in the eyes of his students for a different mindset demonstrating values that don’t glorify money and fame?

  15. Scott, why stop the count at just the US educators?

    That does raise the issue that perhaps some new method of reading blogs needs to develop to handle the overload.

  16. @Jason I didn’t have info on the total number of educators worldwide. Just the USA.

    One of the key skills we need to teach our children is how to deal with information overload. Mark Hurst calls it ‘bit literacy’ (an EXCELLENT book, by the way).

  17. It’s always interesting to me to see that people view blogging as a primary tool for joining conversations because to me, blogging is a tool for personal reflection and growth through writing.

    When I want conversation, I go to Twitter or to Tapped In or to Voicethread. Of all of the Web 2.0 technologies, blogs seem the most naturally one-sided to me.

    While I’ve had commenters challenge my thinking and while I “join conversations” by linking to posts that motivate me, the core act of blogging still seems less interactive than the conversations held in other digital forums.

    That doesn’t make blogs less valuable—-The process of articulation through writing makes me more aware of exactly how I feel about the issues and topics that I tackle—-but my blog is a somewhat selfish endeavor because if no one read it, I’d get many of the same benefits that drew me to blogging to begin with.

    This has got me wondering about the ways that we introduce blogging to teachers and students—-If audience is the only reward that matters to bloggers (something I know that I’ve pushed as a key reason that classrooms and kids should be blogging), won’t the majority of us who dive in the digital pool end up discouraged?

    Enjoying the conversation! ; ]

    Bill Ferriter

  18. This is a great post that I wish I’d read before I wrote about blogging community. My post was whining to be sure but more directed at my pre-service teacher cohort than the world in general. I don’t even really expect other readers – as a pre-service teacher I have more to learn than share.

    Thanks for visiting by my blog, commenting, and for the suggestions about Technorati and other ways to learn from and participate in the blogosphere! My RSS feed overflows some days too but I consider that a good thing.

  19. Scott–Great blog post. I think I am hearing the tone that I need to adopt. I appreciate the time you took to critique my site. Thanks so much. Jann

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