The Intrinsic Value of Blogging

Blogging is harder than it used to be. We’ve gotten better at counting and worse at paying attention to what really counts. Every time I press Publish the post is publicized to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Path, and Google+, each with their own mechanisms for enumerating how much people like it.

pathNone of those services except Path have a clickable way to dislike something, so if something isn’t great it’s usually met with silence. But sometimes something that is great is met with silence too if it doesn’t drop at the right time, have the right headline, or have the right tone to invite interaction. There is no predictable connection to the effort and thought you put into something and the response it receives, and every experienced blogger has a story of something they spend a few minutes on and toss out casually going viral, a one-hit wonder that makes your stats in future months and years puny in comparison.

Stats systems, like Jetpack’s, have gotten very good at telling me which post got how many visitors and where they came from, but it’s all anonymous and the numbers don’t really mean anything to me anymore. This is very discouraging, and at its most insidious causes people to deconstruct the elements of what makes something sharable and attempt to artificially construct these information carbohydrates over and over. (Visit that site and try not to click through any headlines — it’s tough.)

The antidote I’ve found for this is to write for only two people. First, write for yourself, both your present self whose thinking will be clarified by distilling an idea through writing and editing, and your future self who will be able to look back on these words and be reminded of the context in which they were written.

Second, write for a single person who you have in mind as the perfect person to read what you write, almost like a letter, even if they never will, or a person who you’re sure will read it because of a connection you have to them (hi Mom!). Even on my moblog I have a frequent commenter who I’ll often keep in mind when posting a photo, curious to see her reaction.

This post might be ephemerally tweeted by dozens of avatars I might or might not recognize, accumulate a number in a database that represents the “hits” it had, and if I’m lucky might even get some comments, but when I get caught up in that the randomness of what becomes popular or generates commentary and what doesn’t it invariably leads me to write less. So blog just for two people.

60 thoughts on “The Intrinsic Value of Blogging

  1. I’ve been blogging for years now and if something I’ve learned if to write for yourself.

    When I’m posting pictures is because I want people to see them of course but it’s also because I will want to see them in the future. For example, I can go back to my Japan category and remember my trip to that amazing country back in 09.

    The same goes when I post code on my other blog, I post it as a notebook, for me. Yep, people might find it and it might also be useful to them, that’d be great. Again, it’s something (snippets and pieces of code) I go back from time to time when I need them.

    Nice post Matt, you should write more!

  2. I really like this :-) Stats are obsessive compulsive but after a few months of blogging i also gave up & now write with my two most frequent commenters in mind. Works much better!

    My highest day of stats didn’t relate to the time or day of publishing the post, rather to the fact that the local rivers were flooding & I had posted pictures of them flooding so they came up in google searches :-)

    I wrote the post (http://looneyatoms.com/2013/01/05/the-river-thames-in-flood-weybridge-walton-port-hampton/) in January last year, but it’s busiest day was December 26th!

  3. That’s where I am at this year. 2014. I’m writing to myself and to my future children.

    That’s all that really matters. My digital home that I’m creating for me and my future family.

    Blog views are so great but nothing matters if the posts I’m creating don’t mean something to me. Creating value is key for me this year.

    1. This is precisely why I journal.

      Sure, what I write *might* be valuable for someone else, and it is likely to be valuable for me sometime in the future, but it will definitely be valuable to my kids when they eventually care to read it.

      Those words of mine will speak for me when I’m no longer around to say them, and through those words my kids (and grandkids) will be able to understand why I am who I am, avoid making my mistakes, and participate in my triumphs and joys.

  4. Matt

    This is a great post and it essentially sums up what makes blogs work (and not work). What people forget that blogging is about a connection –if you are able make a connection with one person, then you have achieved the reason you started the blog to begin with. Everything else is just gravy.

  5. I’m wanting to start blogging more again, and as part of a site refresh the past several months, I removed any extra stats/analytics stuff from my site. The host is still logging stuff and I could look with Webalizer, etc., but I haven’t. It’s a good feeling to let it go, although I still tweet and post to FB so I still have that lingering neediness to see if attention has been paid, and some information to tell me it has not.

    I’ve removed all traces of Google from my site — I think — and it’s nice to not feel beholden at all to the Search God and have to pay tribute in the form of legal notices about privacy and whatnot, if nothing else. (I love the Google, but I like not having their paternalistic influence at the moment.)

  6. I love this article. Right now I’m struggling generating content. Often I start writing only to realize many wouldn’t care so I spend a lot of time writing for the trash. After reading this post, I know exactly what person I should write for and I feel I have so much to tell! Thank you so much!

  7. Matt,
    great post; thanks to google + SEO we discovered a lot of traffic (some of us built a business upon it), thanks to “Social Media” we discovered that people share, tweet, but barely reads our posts… in a weird way i´ve stop reading stats and got happier than the last 5 years of blogging; I feel i´m back on the beggining (2001 my first post) when I enjoyed writing

  8. I’ve been blogging daily for the past 11 and 1/2 years — the first few years were on Blogger but I moved it all to WordPress in December 2005. I’ve seen a lot of people quit blogging, with few people staying the course.

    I write for myself, rather than for numbers or notoriety. My blog will outlive me, no matter when or how I leave this life. That’s what fuels me, along with having an idea of what I will leave behind.

  9. I have phone calls with my audience (sometimes up to 3 dozen in a short period of time) to see what they’re working on, curious about or what fears they’re tackling. I write for them.

  10. I’m glad you wrote this.

    Is it better to be popular or good? I think about this often.

    We assume what’s popular is good but often this isn’t true. What’s popular is the outcome of many variables, many of which have little to do with the quality of the work itself. We all have different tastes and to presume the most popular video on youtube for planet earth will be the most interesting to you personally is absurd.

    There’s plenty of advice on how to earn more traffic but much of demands writing the same cliches and gimmicks that we all hate to find after we click on a link.

    As a blogger I need to be popular enough to make my career work, but beyond that I am committed to writing what I think is good. In the short term I suspect I’m less popular than many of my peers who make different tradeoffs, but in the long term I know I’m building my credibility with an audience of people who are interested in what I’m going to write about next.

  11. Good post, Matt. Starting my blog out of my garage I remember Rebecca Blood, through her book The Weblog Handbook, to write to an audience of one – me. Then to imagine others listening in. I tell lawyers beginning on our network to imagine having a talk radio show that now one has heard of. Just talk on items you enjoy that’ll require your thinking and someone will stumble across you as the scroll across their radio dial. As that person is now listening, don’t let them down.

  12. Annnnnnd this is precisely why I cranked out a 3700-word(!) post yesterday about my decision to add an SSD to my aging laptop. Will anyone ever read the whole thing? Who knows. But I wrote it for me. And I enjoyed it. Maybe my future self will benefit from the documentation if I ever decide to do it again.

    1. Somehow my first “breakout” post ended up being one where I described how to get a specific HP printer to work on Windows 7 x64 over a network. Specific posts can somehow, sometimes hit a Google nerve and end up being popular — and yet, I only wrote the post to document the process for myself for when I’d inevitably have to redo the setup. The posts I write for myself have that odd property of always being the ones that end up being more popular.

      1. I’ve had a couple of posts like this in the past. I found it was more useful to put them up on my public blog than try to store the documentation somewhere (where?) on my local machine.

        Funny how things work, no?

  13. Hi, Matt: I share your sentiments, and I like your idea of ”write for only two people”, even though my own overarching writing experience to date is more towards having a daily deliberate and disciplined intellectual routine.

  14. This post gets to the heart of the matter. Thanks for reminding me to worry less about what Google Analytics is telling me. The 2013 posts on my blog with the higher number of page views were not really even on point with my chosen topic, yet some of the material I”ve written (that I think is far better) never came close to driving the same traffic. This post helps redefine the “why” of blogging – something I need to re-connect with every so often.

    Thanks for the insight. Well done.

  15. Interesting thought; I started out blogging for myself and got a bit flustered when people started following along. This piece reminds me of why I wrote–and should still keep writing–in the first place.

    I’ve started working in marketing, though, and blogging is seen as a tool to connect with our market base. I’m curious about your thoughts on blogging as marketing? Does the idea exist? If so, would we be writing with just one person in mind (the 1 reader) because the other person (the writer writing for self) technically doesn’t exist?

  16. I’ve given up on stats and likes. Instead I update only when I have constructed a thorough piece in my mind rather than putting up something half-assed because I ‘must’ in order to ‘be liked’.

    Thanks for this!

  17. I have two blogs. In one I write personal opinions on energy, economic and political issues, and in my other blog, I write helpful information on my passion of energy efficiency and other electrical issues I am involved in. I post in English and Spanish. When I think about it I have always blog for myself, but I have been more active recently. I use blogger, and Google analytics, and also use twitter to promote. This is a great blog post, I found out about it because Tim Ferris twitted it! Hope you keep posting!

    1. You should check out WordPress, it would be a great upgrade for your blogs, and there’s a Blogger importer that will bring over all of your posts easily.

  18. Yea, I do have to admit to being a bit obsessive compulsive on the whole stats / like / thumbs up thing. I love the discussion here and only recently tried to start reaching out and writing for 1 or 2 people. The interesting thing is really figuring out what is interesting to me and finding a way to make it resonate with the people. So at the end of the day it’s really writing practice :)

  19. Excellent, Matt. I follow your points exactly and try to put out quality work. I’ve also found a window of time that is best for me and try to stick to that, even if it passes and publishing is delayed until the next time. It’s worth it because it gets better traction. And I do write for myself and one (or two) other people but it’s nice to hear you articulate that. Though I’ll probably never be famous, I’m still building a legacy for my family. And that makes me happy.

  20. So if you write for yourself (two selves), and one other, “…a single person who you have in mind as the perfect person…” is it still necessary to push the notification out to all those channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Path, and Google+)?

  21. I appreciate this piece. Some will suggest we’re supposed to be building a particular audience. Related advice is to “be true to your brand.” I can’t do it. I don’t want to be scientific or systematic about my blogging. I want to write as much as I can and hope people occasionally take an interest in my writing. Glad you wrote this.

  22. Great post Matt yes it’s always a good reminder to focus on yourself and the person you are wanting to provide insights to. Thanks

  23. Good post.

    I am still on the first—writing for myself—since I tend to forget what I was thinking even a week ago. I will read my old blogs once a week pretending like I did not write them and I get happy reading them becasue I actually put thoughts into words. Sometimes I can’t believe I wrote them and occasionally I wish I didn’t write them (and pray no one reads them), but they are mine, like your children, you got to take the good with the bad.

  24. Matt, how did you become so wise for your years?

    Just last night, I had a conversation with someone about those posts that you put the work into aren’t necessarily popular, but a throw-away post with little effort is sometimes the one that becomes popular. Good advice to not get caught up in the stats.

  25. Right on. Way to crystallize something I have been struggling with. I like writing. I like putting my ideas into a cohesive format. I think the things I write are interesting and maybe helpful, and I hope people see them. But the promo game feels empty, so I’ll just leave it at that.

  26. I blog for a living (MSN Money for seven years, now at Money Talks News and freelancing for others) but I’ve been maintaining a personal site for about four years.
    I’m fortunate that it brings in a little money, but nothing approaching a real salary. But that’s not why I do it. This is my playground for words.
    Judging from the other comments, I’m not alone. We write because it’s in us to write.

  27. Like the point about thinking about the ideal reader of your post-a lot of consumer businesses have a prototypical person they focus on as well..

  28. This is really resonating with me as I try to launch myself off the pier and into the blogging ocean. It’s also the advice I have followed when speaking to a group of people, talk to 1 or 2 of them personally. It has kept me afloat in that arena and I look forward to using it in this new one. Thanks for the share.

  29. This article can be made more viral by changing the title to something like “The ultimate true value of blogging – this will change your life forever!” ;)

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