January 5, 2011

Why Blogs Die

“There’s never an egg timer around when you need one.” ~The American President

Last September I wrote about professional blog projects. I suggested that they are often conceived to keep up with proverbial Joneses, and also that they are doomed to failure absent careful planning and consideration. I was not wrong, but I understand the problem better this week. Blogs die for the very same reason they are born: it’s so easy.

In his new book Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky begins by laying out a simple, captivating summary of the history of American book publishing—one I’d have been glad to have at my disposal during my History of the Book course. To introduce the larger context of his argument, Shirky frames publishing in economic terms. Pre-Gutenberg, books were prohibitively expensive to reproduce in volume. Post-Gutenberg, the folks who owned the means of production still had such a sizable burden to shoulder that their job became a matter of both selecting and producing written texts for readers (not to mention promoting said works to said audiences). This is, needless to say, no longer the case in the world of new media Shirky shepherds us through in his (excellent) book.

Both the beauty and the curse of a blog project in its infancy is the lack of accountability. The barriers to “entry,” or publishing, do not include the time and expense of a print publisher or even the US Postal Service. These are accountability measures, with their own inherent deadlines, that we set up for ourselves in professional budgets to bind ourselves to the organizational mailings of old. We could be pushed through our own hoops by the beneficial entrapments we set up for ourselves by saying, “Let’s do a newsletter,” and then carrying out the various stages of that process. Blogging requires no such advance planning. Though, as I continue to believe, it would be all the better for it.

Blogging also confuses the lines between production and promotion for staff who think it's just a matter of pixilating a newsletter. Organizations can fall prey to thinking the two are similar simply because a blog is online, and that, “If you build it, they will come.” Organizational blogging may have to be a team effort, and the voice of the author--whether co-created or not--might be separate from the voice of the promoter. (Hint: This is also true of print, but somehow it doesn't cause as much confusion in the print medium.)

As expected, the would-be bloggers I cautioned not to promote themselves before producing a certain amount of content have been dormant for a number of months. But since I am not here to complain, I will offer a solution as opposed to an I Told You So.

Why blogs die is not the same as why blogs fail. I do not even know if a blog can fail, but anything is possible. Blogs are easily born, but even more easily reborn. As once proven here, a blog can be resurrected with very little initial effort, in terms of the technology. A project team need only revisit its original goals, division of labor, timeline, and promotional strategy to live again in the blogosphere. Whether it’s your own blog or someone else’s, think of the new year as a time to reboot. Keep blogging.

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