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Why Original Blog Thought is So Difficult

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Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about Ed Bott’s recent rant about Techmeme being a “template for a gazillion me-too bloggers who manage to write a dozen posts a day without ever expressing an original thought”.

Given Techmeme’s well-deserved reputation as being the place to quickly discover what’s going on in the tech world, Bott’s assessment is blunt, critical, perhaps unfair but not entirely without merit. He’s right; there is an awful lot of blog posts offering little or no insight other than referring to another blog. Rather than adding to the conversation, many of these posts come across as simply noise and bandwagon jumping.

The question that begs to be asked is why does there seem to be so much me-too blogging as opposed to people contributing different perspectives? Here’s what I think:

1. Writing original thought-provoking blog content is a challenge. It takes time, thought and effort. The problem, however, is many bloggers are often short of time, which means it is difficult to come up with insightful thoughts. As Louis Gray talked about in a recent post, many bloggers are time-strapped what with blogging and being on other social/content vehicles such as Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, RSS readers, etc. If you’re doing all that, when do you have time to think Big Thoughts?

2. Many bloggers just want to be part of the conversation before it moves on. Here’s what happens in many cases. You see a hot story and you’re keen to jump in but not willing to simply leave a comment on someone else’s blog. Solution: Pound out a quick, no-frills post that makes you feel good about being on top of the hot story even if it’s piling on. I’m willing to guess that 50% of the posts about a red-hot story on Techmeme (e.g. Microsoft making a bid for Yahoo) were posts that just parroted the news reports.

3. Writing original content often provides a low return on investment. Let’s face it, traffic is what drives many bloggers, which explains why checking your stats on a regular basis is a key part of blogging. When you write original content that falls outside the hot news of the day, there’s a good chance it’s not going to get much love or traffic.

How come? The biggest reason is everyone is spending so much time reading or writing about the big news of the day, your original, thought-provoking post gets buried. As a result, it’s easy to think “Why put so much effort into writing quality content when there’s instant gratification (and traffic) by jumping on the bandwagon”.

4. Unless you blog for living like Mike Arrington or Erick Schonfeld, or you’re a tech reporter like Mathew Ingram or a conference junkie like Robert Scoble, you don’t have steady access to people and new ideas that often spawn original blog posts.

5. Vanity and Envy. If you really want to see your name on Techmeme, write about the top news on Techmeme. If you want to talk about whatever TechCrunch is covering, blog on what Arrington thinks about something.

As much as writing original, insightful posts is every blogger’s goal, the reality is it’s difficult. Sometimes, the ideas aren’t flowing but you still need to feed the blog every day. Sometimes, jumping into the conversation of the day just feels good.

At the same time, however, writing original content is so much more satisfying because there’s a sense of accomplishment that you’ve been inspired by something you’ve read or talked about with someone about. It’s those nuggets of original content gold that make blogging so rewarding.

Update: Just by coincidence, I stumbled across a blog widget tool called Skribit, which provides a way for people who read your blog to make suggestions for new posts. One of the promises is it will “Cure writers block overnight”. I just installed it – let’s see if there’s any pick up.

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  • http://joeduck.com Joseph Hunkins

    I don’t think original thought is all that difficult for many bloggers, rather most people tend to read a combination of groupthink and antagnostic dialog. Thus the most read posts and blogs are not the most thoughtful.

    I find that when I venture away from the major tech blogs I find the far more thoughtful posts – yours right here for example.

    Ideally there would be a new blog revolution that would aggressively work to reconnect the thousands of new bloggers based on merit and thoughtfulness rather than old links from old sites with old thinking. Sort of a human and algorithmic “revoting” for the best blogs. I wonder how well the old “A list” would fare in that revote?

  • http://www.markevanstech.com Mark Evans

    Joseph: I think you’re on to something – something that would be the opposite to Techmeme, and expose little-known blogs doing great content would be great.

    Mark

  • http://www.twitter.com/derek Derek

    What’s really funny is this post made TechMeme and now everyone is going to write “me too!” posts about either:

    a) TechMeme produces way too many “me too” posts and it is wrong that the blogosphere can’t come up with original thoughts. That post, will in turn end up on TechMeme provoking more discussion.

    Or

    b) That this post is dumb and TechMeme provides thought-provoking topics to discuss and tech bloggers don’t in fact succumb to “me too” syndrome. The blogger will in turn link to this post.

    Me? I’ll just take option (c) and put on my water wings, get in the lifeboat, and try to stay out of the circling vortex to infinity you just sent the tech blogosphere into.

    Cheers. =)

  • http://montrealtechwatch.com heri

    great post

    i’ve been noticing that there are more and more bloggers just re-writing the news, and then you discover at the end that they are in fact clueless about what they are writing about — they are trying to blog about high-tech but miss the point about the technology or misunderstand the problem. this is dangerous because it sucks your time.

    i was also thinking that i blog daily at montrealtechwatch and almost all posts are original content. of course, because it’s about technology in a canadian city, there aren’t much people interested in it, and the odds of being picked by techmeme/techcrunch is 0.

    but it’s ok.

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  • Jeff Brewster

    It’s all about the dollar. The top of the Long Tail of blogs (as pointed out by Techmeme) typically represents those that are the highest paid. Advertisers don’t pay big money to those who barely get pageviews.

    Those that are the highest paid/most popular, how did they get that way? Entrepreneurs leftover from the first bubble? Originators/Innovators in the space? Or because they have some of the most insightful thoughts and opinions about the evolving “Web 2.0 space”, powered by their personal passions?

    Passionate people are successful people. Successful people typically have the money to show for it.

  • http://nsputnik.com Nick

    I agree. Techmeme seems to promote this type of behavior. Not only do people want there posts to make it to Techmeme, but linkers want the hot post’s author to read their post too. But there is no way for it to detect “original ideas” on a post it is linking to. I think part of the algorithm is that it will detect if there are a lot of comments on a post linking to a hot post.

    Ideally, the authors of blogs that Techmeme polls should not be allowed to read Techmeme as to not have it influence them. This is true “wisdom of crows,” not allowing the crowd to influence each other, but for them to each submit their independent thoughts. But this is impossible.

    Dave Winer noted this some time around the middle of last year, but a little more harshly in a post called “Techmeme is a cesspool.”

    I have to admit, I don’t blog about something that has been blogged to death on Techmeme unless I have an original point of view on it. And if I see that someone else has come up with the same point of view while writing it, I just won’t post is so I will not be seen as a “me too.” But I guess many do not have a problem with that.

  • http://www.geardiary.com Wayne Schulz

    Twitter = CB Radio for Bloggers and their groupies

    I love that this post shows up on Techmeme but nobody has the balls to write a me too story.

    When do some of these bloggers sleep or take a bathroom break. I’m pretty sure Scoble twits from the men’s room stall.

  • http://www.tomstechblog.com Tom

    Hi Mark,

    I enjoyed your post (and was inspired to a long rant on my own blog) but I did want to make one point to you directly because I don’t think it was what you intended.

    To say…

    4. Unless you blog for living like Mike Arrington or Erick Schonfeld, or you’re a tech reporter like Mathew Ingram or a conference junkie like Robert Scoble, you don’t have steady access to people and new ideas that often spawn original blog posts.

    Is honestly a tad insulting to all the technology people out there who are too busy working on actual projects to attend a conference every two weeks.

    I live near Los Angeles (a city with more tech companies than the valley btw) and get the chance to talk to fascinating people every day. People who, IMHO, dwarf a lot of what I’ve found at conferences. These people are actually using technology to do things like cure cancer or to get the music industry ready for a (possible) future where physical media disappears. They’re in the trenches and don’t have time to go to a lot of conferences but that doesn’t mean they aren’t brilliant people.

    The truth is, conferences have become little more than social hours these days. The actual presentations are covered on the web and usually even available in video format so someone who values their time isn’t going to attend a lot of them unless they’re aim is to hobnob.

    Anyway, just thought I’d throw that out there, it was a good post otherwise.

  • http://www.emaildashboard.com Deva Hazarika

    When you don’t have anything new to say, you can always resort to the tried-and-true technique of ranting about bloggers posting stuff without saying anything new. Or respond to a rant about how people just respond to other posts without saying anything new.

    My related thoughts from a few months ago: http://www.emaildashboard.com/2007/10/a-list-blogger-.html

  • http://www.emaildashboard.com Deva Hazarika

    BTW, I think the most important point from that post is “there’s a self-reinforcing effect that highly incents bloggers to write on the same topics that already established bloggers are writing about and link to each other.”

  • http://MarkMayhew.com Mark

    I can write, or I was trained to write (unlike 99% of most bloggers). I don’t write much, because there are so many interesting conversations, I continue, and develop, conversations that are ongoing, by linking to them (using Twitter, my favorite microblogging service).

  • http://www.markevanstech.com Mark Evans

    Tom:

    Fair point. The point I was hoping to make is people like Arrington, Ingram and Scoble are in contact with tons of people every day as part of their jobs/lives, while many people are busy doing their jobs, paying the bills, running errands, hobbies, etc. Personally, I’d love to talk with more people about what they’re doing and exchange ideas on all kinds of topics.

    Mark

  • http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

    Ingram has the *least* original content, let alone thought, of any technology blogger. His whole métier is slightly rephrasing somebody else’s post or a news story and pretending he’s posing deep questions by so doing. Then of course there are his apparently conflicting business interests.

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  • http://twitter.com/moon paul

    Ed writes to help people understand and use Windows better.

    If you don’t have something to teach or any thoughts of your own why are you blogging?

  • http://www.joiningdots.net/blog Joining Dots

    Techmeme is just a slice of the head and most blogs fall in the very long tail. I’d hazard a guess it’s a pretty small percentage of blogs that post daily to keep up with the Techmeme gossip. If you look at the Techmeme leaderboard, there are barely a dozen individual blogs. Most are either traditional news sites, organised group blogs or aggregate blogs (i.e. blogs that just copy snippets from lots of individual blogs). It’s the ‘Hello’ magazine of the tech industry, and all gossip mags have their share of ‘me to’ contributors. I’d hope an alien visiting the planet didn’t rely on the newspapers or Techmeme to gain a perspective of the world.

  • http://www.profy.com Cyndy Aleo-Carreira

    Who reads the well-thought-out and researched pieces? People read TechCrunch. People don’t read a 1500-word piece about the future of digital music.

    I’ve had this very discussion with Carla over at The Guidewire; most days I feel like I’m writing into a void, and I’d be lying if I said I was fine with it. When you take the time and research a piece and actually give thoughts and perspective instead of regurgitating and you get maybe 300 views and no comments as compared to over 100 comments on a 75-word TechCrunch piece discussing which tech news “chick” is “hottest” you start losing hope.

    It’s frustrating when you read posts time and time again full of incorrect information and it’s obvious that the writer didn’t even take the time to do the slightest bit of research. When you regurgitate a flawed premise to begin with, and then that gets regurgitated ad infinitum, that same incorrect information takes on a life of its own. And you have Techmeme.

    I’d LOVE to see an upside-down version of Techmeme. I think it would change the entire direction of most discussions, and get us away from the tabloid-esque method of blogging. When Techmeme is more about the latest slapfest and less about anything actually involving tech, it ceases to really be useful, even if it is a very accurate reflection of what’s out there.

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  • http://www.emaildashboard.com Deva Hazarika

    Another point is that there’s such a premium to be the first one to cover something (and be the “lead” Techmeme entry on that topic) that a lot of bloggers end up churning out some pretty shoddy pieces, and that won’t change until some type of subjective quality metric plays a bigger part in the process rather than just speed and links.

  • Divine Logix

    Mark, great write up. But isn’t that real life? Don’t we all in life talk about what other people are talking about? That’s life. Leave those blogging about what other’s have blogged about alone. That’s a reflection of real life.

  • http://ericrice.com Eric Rice

    Can we clarify that blogs doesn’t equal tech blogs?

    Only pet peeve is when the word ‘blogs’ or ‘blogosphere’ is used when really it’s defining the techie/coder/web worker/social blog. Industry.

    Tech ghetto!

  • http://avc.blogs.com fred wilson

    i think blogging as soon as you wake up is best. that’s when i still have my dreams in my head.

  • http://www.timothysykes.com Timothy Sykes

    Welcome to my life! Try convincing the stuffy finance world not to cover random ass events like Bear Stearns in favor of less popular but more predictable stuff like smallcaps!

    the good news is originality inevitably wins, just takes longer

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  • Slorn Slinson

    Wow. Is this Joe Clark guy stalking Ingram, or what? How very creepy. Get a life, dude.

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  • http://shmooth.blogspot.com/ Peter

    the lack of effort and bandwagon-jumping, etc – all valid reasons, but let’s talk about something a little more uncomfortable – most of the people who blog, and who are allowed into the upper echelon of blogging – because they ‘think properly’ – are white males from upper-class upbringings.

    is anyone really surprised that there isn’t much original thought in the blogsphere?

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  • http://www.feedbacksecrets.com Feedback Secrets

    To come up with an “original” idea everyday of your blogging would be near impossible since any creative mind would not have a 24-7 muse working overtime, I don’t think even Steve Jobs can perform such task. So sometimes bloggers tend to plunge to the depths of news reporting on their down days.

  • http://threetree.net Eric Lussier

    Techmeme is the TMZ of the tech world. Perhaps there is a tendency for us to think that we’re beyond gossip and the heard mentality, but in the end we all love a good Arrington cat fight or Apple centerfold.

    It’s info-porn at its best.

    Substantive posts have and will always be written and those that are in the mood for it will find it.

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  • http://p2the3.org xodusprime

    I’ve got to say, I recently started a web log of my own. My readership is minimal at best, only immediate and 2 out friends for the most part. One day I caught an article that I thought was good and wrote on it (the whole LED patent thing). Because she had such a recognizable name I got 20 stumbleupon hits that same day. Made me think “man… why not just follow CNN and go to town.”

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  • http://secondthoughts.typepad.com Prokofy Neva

    I don’t suffer from this problem.

  • http://webhostingreality.blogspot.com Cheap Web Hosts

    It is difficult to expect original thoughts on blogging. But what we can expect is modification. Originality is a rare commodity. No one can claim monopoly by saying: “I own this thought.” Albert Einstein, if he were a blogger, would object to that.

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  • http://www.visionaryblogging.com Easton Ellsworth

    Often, what’s difficult is not being original, but rather *choosing* to be so.

  • http://climbtothestars.org Stephanie Booth

    Your last line about Skribit made me go “uh?” (for lack of something more precise). “Cure writer’s block”? Because, erm, there are bloggers out there who actually suffer form writer’s block?

    I suffer from the opposite problem. Writer’s overload, or something like that. I have ideas for new posts, new stuff to write about, new ideas to chew on in writing faster than I can write them up.

    Maybe that’s why I’m still blogging, after all these years, without feeling burnt out.

  • http://www.markevanstech.com Mark Evans

    Stephanie:

    You’re lucky that the ideas flow so well! Still, it’s good to get inspiration however you can get it.

    :)

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  • http://mindymcadams.com/tojou/ Mindy McAdams

    Don’t different blogs serve different purposes? We don’t need two dozen Techmeme clones. Some blogs are very good “filter” blogs — they link to lots of interesting stuff many times a day. Some blogs try to do that but are not as good at picking the best bits to link.

    Cyndy Aleo-Carreira siad (comment 18): “People don’t read a 1500-word piece about the future of digital music,” but there’s another way to say that — VERY FEW PEOPLE “read a 1500-word piece about the future of digital music.”

    How many people read The New Yorker compared with the number who read People magazine? Diiferent vehicles for different content, different purposes, different results.

  • http://www.kevinrestivo.com Kevin Restivo

    So what’s your final verdict? Think what you’re saying is that you’d rather not write about the news of the day, according to Techmeme, TechCrunch, et al.

  • http://www.markevanstech.com Mark Evans

    Kevin,

    I’m not suggesting that because ignoring the news of the day would be wrong. What I am suggesting is if you’re going to write on the news of the day, offer some perspective/insight as opposed to parroting what other people have to say. As well, writing original content that’s not on Techmeme or TechCrunch is a fine idea too.

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  • gregory

    i blame google … page rank to be precise …. also responsible for splogs

  • http://silvergryphon.blogspot.com Isaac

    Hello — I just happened to stumble across this blog post from floating around on google. I figured I’d chime in and add a “me too” post in which I believe that the majority of blog responses by and large in just about any community has little to no relative value beyond just someone mindlessly adding yelling their comment just to be heard. I think the general lack of Big Thoughts is symptomatic of our Here! Now! Simple! Fast! commercial society. Generally, people don’t have a NEED to think critically, nor are they given time to do so. Even a person’s down time to relax and collect themselves at the end of the day is usually full of preparing for the next day, or watching TV, cluttered with commercials jamming more simple thoughts into their minds. Critical thinking, big thoughts, and intelligent conversation seems to be slowly fading away in our society.

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