Wanted: Soccer Mom Bloggers
The recent York Times piece on bloggers has stirred up yet another round of metacommentary on blogging (“another round” is probably generous — it’s more accurate to say the metacommentary never really stops), and many bright folks have weighed in with their two cents on the future o’ blogging.
Personally, I was unimpressed with the Times piece; despite Glenn’s comments that he was satisfied, it certainly seemed to me to be trying to create a story where there really wasn’t one — i.e., the “rift” between techblogs and warblogs. Am I just dense — is there a war going on and I just didn’t notice it?
But the substance of the piece aside, it has certainly had the salutory effect of driving out some interesting self-reflection in the community, such as Jeff Jarvis’s comments (via Eric Olsen ):
To survive and succeed, weblogs must be embraced by many, many interests and their communities. I’ve seen some good food blogs. We need more entertainment blogs. I can’t believe there aren’t many more sports blogs, from pro all the way down to Little League. I hope to see local blogs and ethnic blogs and, of course, biz blogs.
This is exactly right, but I’ll take Jeff’s points a few steps further.
In the heart of the warblogger community, a normal rate-of-posting is at least once a day. Many (not just Glenn) are updating many times throughout the day, every day. This is great. But what we really need is not 100 more blogs being updated six times a day — what we need is 100,000 more blogs that are all being updated once a week.
Right now, the political blogs are dominated by — well, political junkies. People who love to think about politics, news, events, and have an opinion on everything. This is, as I said, great. But what would truly be interesting would be to encourage a far, far wider group of people to become involved in blogging — those who don’t want to spend many hours a day on a blog, but who are willing to devote one hour a week.
To keep to what I know best — the political end of the blogosphere — I know what Stephen and Glenn and Mickey and Andrew have to say about homeland security. What I want to know is what the legendary soccer moms have to say about it. We do have a diversity of political opinion in the blogosphere (despite whining complaints of it being conservative-dominated). But what we don’t have enough of is diversity of “time commitment”. The people who are blogging are, by and large, those who are willing to devote a large chunk of time to blogging. And that skews the equation, and limits the spectrum of thought and opinion that we find.
Tools & Talent
What needs to happen for the soccer moms to start blogging? A few things.
First, nobody blogs if they don’t think anybody is reading them. (Or at least, nobody I know). And right now, the tools available to us as blog readers are skewed to favor blogs that are updated very frequently — and readers who are monitoring blogs continuously. Webogs.com’s main list is the worst example. It’s great if you’re monitoring it every few hours and looking to see when Glenn updates. But if you check it once every two days (let’s not even think about only once a week) and are looking for three blogs that update about once a week, then good luck. You’ll never find them; the tool isn’t geared to that kind of usage.
(This is not, by the way, meant as criticism of Weblogs.com — it is a great service and I thank those who run it. But it fills a need — not all needs).
Some add-ons to Weblogs’ main data stream help; BlogTracker lets you select your list of blogs and shows you when they were last updated, and can be used to track blogs over long periods of time. But we need more — more tools, more features on those tools, more flexibility in how to use them, and more independent tools that don’t rely on the Weblogs,com data stream (because after all, the fatal annoyance of Weblogs.com is that it requires the blogger to ping them. We need active monitoring tools to handle sites run by people who’ve never heard of Weblogs.com).
The point being, if there are no tools available to ‘automate’ blog tracking, a normal person is going to reduce down to the five or ten blogs they either remember the URL for, or bother to put in their bookmarks (or, is going to just rely on a major bloggers list like Glenn’s). But with easy-to-use tools, there’s no reason why that list can’t expand to fifty or a hundred weblogs, many of which don’t update frequently. And that sets the stage for the once-a-week bloggers to be able to actually publish with a reasonable belief that just even though they don’t update six times a day, they will still get read.
And the tools need to get better on the authoring side, as well. Surely it is obvious when the blogging revolution will truly have arrived? That’s right: when Microsoft starts bundling Blogger into a version of Windows. Or Internet Explorer (they’re the same thing, right?).
And there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. Using Blogger is a bit harder than using Microsoft Word — but only a bit, and it’s not harder for any really good reason that couldn’t be fixed. So why shouldn’t we see Microsoft bundling a blogging tool and free (limited) hosting on MSN with the next version of Windows?
(I use Microsoft as the obvious example here, but I don’t intend to get into the question of whether they, as the Evil Empire, are the best to do this. AOL could do it, as could any ISP. The ideal situation, of course, would be if they all did it…)
Spread the Gospel
Lastly, the obvious point. We need to spread the gospel o’ blogging. This means reaching out to those who are not yet bloggers but should be — and it also means encouraging those newcomers who are just getting started (and there ain’t no lovin’ quite like linkin’ lovin’ — so that’s the best way to encourage!).
The realization I’ve come to recently is that anybody who enjoys writing — even a little bit — should be blogging. It’s not just to share your wisdom with the world. It’s to clarify for yourself just what your wisdom is. The discipline required to sit down and state your case, to declare an opinion and back it up, forces a person to think critically about the issue at hand. By documenting your thoughts, you actually improve the quality of your thinking.
And that is the true promise of blogging. Not only to create a space where — perhaps — the embryo of a virtual democracy can form, but also to drag people out of their spoon-fed adherence on the Conventional Wisdom of the day. If nobody is listening to you, it feels like it doesn’t really matter if you form your own opinion or just parrot back what you heard on Crossfire. But once you’ve got a platform — the feeling that people are actually listening to what you have to say — well, that makes you think.
And that’s the whole idea.