Jimmy Guterman's blog

media, technology, management, and the rest of it

On not raising your hand unless you have something to say (or, the opposite of blogging)

with 5 comments

One of the unexpected side effects of moving this blog to WordPress was easy access to real-time statistics. I could tell, pretty quickly, whether a particular post or type of post was getting picked up or ignored. It’s seductive stuff — as anyone who has followed his or her book- or record-selling stats on Amazon knows so well. The bad part, aside from the time-wasting, is that the easy access to stats makes a blogger think too much about audience before posting. Blogs, I believe, are supposed to be about unvetted expression, capturing a moment, embracing the amateur and enthusiast in you even if you’re a professional writer in your real life. I intended to title one of my previous blogs “Quality over Quantity,” to celebrate that, but as old-timers know, I committed a typo and wound up titling that blog “Quantity over Quantity,” an unintentional joke too amusing to fix.

Now I’m not so sure. It’s 2008 and almost everyone has a blog (or has at least tried):

Is blogging getting old? Over the past two years, Twitter and Facebook status messages have emerged as media for distributing thoughts deemed too evanescent for a blog post. And now there are so many such services that aggregators such as FriendFeed and Ping.fm have emerged. More are coming. Nothing is so mundane that it can’t be shared immediately via many media. As Philip Greenspun’s blog puts it in its tagline: “A posting every day; an interesting idea every three month.”

I am a bit too enamored with my own ideas, as are many of us. As Jane said to me once and probably thought many more times, “Tell it to your blog.” The blogosphere is a wonderful place, but it’s one by definition full of noise. Although I value that noise and revel in it sometimes, I think too many of my posts are mostly noise, little signal.

Sometimes statistics reveal a truth. The two posts here that received, respectively, the most traffic and the most pointers in recent weeks were Barack Obama, Rolling Stone, and the secret of one great magazine cover and Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Twin “Hurricane”s in Rio. They’re two of the more substantive posts here from the past month. Neither post will change the world and both of ’em featured pointers to more interesting content elsewhere. But they both sought to do a bit more than point to something and say, “Cool.” So, as this blog trudges forward, I’ll stop posting just to post. If I have something interesting to offer, I’ll try to communicate it in a substantial and entertaining way. If I don’t, I’ll try to shut up.

Written by guterman

July 21, 2008 at 3:25 pm

5 Responses

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  1. By coincidence, today I received an e-mail from a colleague at a professional organization I belong to that discusses the incidence of comments on a web site that publishes scientific papers. From November 2002 to July 2008 BioMedCentral has accumulated 945 comments from 753 different users on 732 different papers. This is out of the 37,916 papers posted. In other words, less than 2% of all the papers on BMC’s site have received comments. (Just as interesting, 24% of the comments are from the papers’ authors providing updates or responding to questions, criticisms, etc.)

    This is a high-interest user group we’re talking about, with a responding rate that barely betters your average mass mailing campaign.

    I’m thinking that the issue isn’t the quality of the papers posted on BMC’s site or the quality of the postings on Jewels and Binoculars. Maybe blogging isn’t as interactive as we’ve all been led to believe it could or should be. Let’s face it, most blogs are more about the blogger than the reader. It’s essentially an online diary. But just because I don’t respond doesn’t mean I don’t find something interesting or entertaining (or preferably both).

    Jewels and Binoculars is the only blog I regularly read. That’s because you’re the only person I’m interested in who regularly blogs. I enjoy knowing what you’re up to–what you’re thinking about, the latest funny incident with Jane or the kids, etc. If you want to be more thought-provoking, that’s OK. But, as the BMC stats show, don’t expect that it’s going to lead to an increase in the kinds of measurements you think are telling of quality.


    July 22, 2008 at 2:37 pm

  2. Hey Jimmy, I agree with Owen — it’s great to see what you’re up to and what’s on your mind. It’s just a blog, so keep having fun with it. Your “unsubstantial” stuff beats most other things…


    July 22, 2008 at 10:03 pm

  3. To further expand upon (or perhaps refine) the points made by owen and doug: not all blogs are about almighty content. Some are about voice, about personality, about a unique worldview that makes a post about even the most mundane subjects into something lively, interesting and worth reading. (See Dooce, Mighty Girl, Merlin Mann for further evidence of this.) I think you’re at your most interesting when you’re at your least guarded; I think I can tell when you’re writing because you have Something to Say vs. when you’re writing more for yourself than for us, to capture a moment that struck you as funny/odd/interesting. And it’s the latter that keep me coming back. Comments and be trackbacks be damned.


    July 23, 2008 at 10:54 pm

  4. […] scene came to mind after I read the 21 July post on “Jewels and Binoculars,” a terrific blog written by Jimmy Guterman (husband of my friend and writing partner Jane, who also […]

  5. […] you going to tell us the point of this blog? Comments from Doug, Owen, and Andrea — and a gift from Brian — showed me the limits of my […]

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