Pure Danger Tech


The Non-Death of Blogging

05 Mar 2010

I read Joel Spolsky’s departure from blogging earlier this week but haven’t had time to respond till now.

I actually think Joel has a key insight in this piece (although he got it from the inimitable Kathy Sierra), which is that the key is not to talk about your product or company directly but instead to talk about making people successful in the domain where you live.

But I think he’s dead wrong that entrepreneurs shouldn’t blog because it’s not worth their time. To start with, Joel says his blog is 1/3 of his total output at Fog Creek. That sounds crazy to me. I have been an active blogger for years but I certainly don’t spend 1/3 of my time on it, even when I’m writing longer or multi-part entries. Surely you can have a valuable blog without spending 1/3 of your time on it. Now more than ever, writing high quality entries is more important than writing frequently.

I can easily think of other companies that have written blogs that brought a fair share of attention to the business or philosophy of the company (37 Signals, Marc Andressen on his now-deleted (dumb!) pmarca blog, Paul Graham for Y-Combinator, the reddit blog back in the early days, or I might even include Alex Payne‘s blog, and of course I’d include Joel’s StackOverflow partner in crime Jeff Atwood. That’s off the top of my head. I’m sure you could think of more.

I applaud Joel taking stock of where he spends his time and choosing what’s valuable to him. But just because it’s not valuable for Joel (who has a pretty unique history in this regard), doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. I don’t see how ignoring one historically successful channel is any more balanced than relying solely on it. Seems like a balanced mix of strategies (with tracking of value) would be the best bet.

Blogging has changed over the last few years, in no small part due to the rise of social media and micro-blogging platforms like Twitter. I used to be an avid blog reader with a huge list of feeds that I checked every day. I had a number of strategies to make that process very time efficient and useful but I have not opened a feed reader in at least a year and a half. I still read almost as many blogs as I ever did though and after a dip last year, I’m still blogging just as much as I ever did.

The difference now is that I use things like Twitter, Facebook, and DZone to point me at the entries I’ll find interesting instead of reading any feed exhaustively. If a post is important, I’ll eventually see a reference to it somewhere or I’ll end up finding it through a search later on. I use a number of persistent search technologies (Twitter, Google Alerts, etc) to continually bubble things up by topic. Those techniques overlap with the set of links I see from friends and other sites to give me a high percentage of the value I used to receive from exhaustively reading lots of feeds.

As a blogger myself, I continue to derive enormous value from the process of blogging. Some reasons you might want to consider it:

  1. Opportunities – Having a multi-year body of work that highlights your technical and communication abilities is enormously useful in giving you credibility in every aspect of your career. If you can demonstrate value, opportunities will flow your way over time.
  2. Practice – The actual practice of writing on your blog several times a week for years is invaluable. People that traffic in ideas rely on their ability to communicate those ideas to others. Practicing that skill in public can give you a leg up over your non-blogging brethren.
  3. Knowledge – There is no greater place to expose your ideas and knowledge to scrutiny than on the Internet. If you write something idiotic or wrong, there’s a good chance someone will correct you *and* tell you why. Assuming you can read past the crap and open your mind to learning, this can help you increase your knowledge level in ways nothing else can.
  4. Story – Good blogs tell stories. Humans have been learning through stories for all of history and learning to tell succinct, useful, engaging stories is a skill useful in many areas of your life.

From what I’ve seen personally, blog traffic has continued to increase year over year – blogging is by no means dead. The means by which we find and read blogs is evolving but the need for information and stories shows no sign of decreasing now or maybe ever. If you haven’t started blogging yet, it’s not too late!