Musings on Blogging and Social Media

May 22, 2010 | Audioblogs and Podcasting, Blogging | By: Mark VandeWettering

Over the last couple of days, weeks, and even months, I’ve been pondering my participation in various social media: mostly my efforts at blogging and podcasting, but also my participation in things like Facebook and Twitter, as well as the possibility of using things like YouTube. I thought I’d toss out some ideas and ask for some feedback, so if any of this resonates with any of you out there, please feel free to comment.

My first posting on the brainwagon blog occurred on July 21, 2002. Since then I have posted 3,418 posts about a wide variety of topics. I’ve viewed this blog as an outlet for some of my geekier interests: if you look through it, you’ll see some trends which ebbed and flowed: podcasting, programming (especially my Atari 2600 and checkers), mathematics, and of course my recent fascination with ham radio. You’ll also see a scattering of just links to blogs and news items that I found enjoyable. I made two conscious decisions: I wouldn’t monetize my blog with advertising, nor would I seek to become a “pundit”, a talking head whose job it is to render opinions from on high about what people should or should not be doing or thinking.

I’m mostly pretty happy with those basics, except for one thing: I don’t feel like I’ve helped develop a community of people who are interested in doing the same. My blog, as interesting as the subjects appear to be to me, doesn’t seem to be very inspiring to others, at least as far as I can judge based on comment and email feedback. (Yes, there has been some positive feedback, but not as much as I would like.)

I’m faced with two conclusions.

One is that I’m interested in stuff that nobody else is interested in. That’s certainly a possibility, a very strong possibility. But when I go to places like the Maker’s Faire, or even interact with some of my fellow geeks at work, it seems that there are people out there who are interested. If I extrapolate that to the entire country, there really must be thousands of people who are potentially interested in the kinds of things that I’m interested in. Heck, I found a website for a guy who is interested in two of my more eclectic interests (Egyptian hieroglyphics and checkers, of all things) so you people must be out there.

So, I’m left with my other conclusion: that I’m not reaching other people in a fashion which inspires them to respond and engage. I think that there are several possible reasons for that. I think there are basic questions about technology: am I doing all I can to maximize the effectiveness of what presence I do have on the web? Would more use of Facebook/Twitter be helpful? Or maybe YouTube/Vimeo/iTunes podcasting? Or is there room for a new kind of social media that works to generate the kind of community vision that I crave?

But frankly, I think the problem is more basic than that.

I’m basically one of those people who is mostly happy living inside my head. I have recognized and even relished in the idea that what I like is relatively rare and geeky, so I haven’t done a lot of work to actually build the real social bonds that connect me to other people who share my visions and interests. Thus, the problem isn’t at the root a technological one: it’s likely a problem of my own personality and behavior.

While I think that making any significant changes to my personality is probably out of the question, i do think that there are changes to my online behavior which could be achieved. Just as I am trying to convince myself that frequent exercise is good for me, I can try to “exercise” my own efforts in building social bonds based upon mutual interest and vision.

The other thing is to try to simply do more inspiring stuff, and figure out more dynamic ways to share it. Many of my software projects are still in the “not-ready-for-release” stage, but that’s kind of cowardly of me. If you read that I had developed some code that did something interesting, and that I’d release it someday, you’d be bored and uninspired. If however, I released it and let you play with it, that’s much more engaging. And if I showed how you could use it to do cool things (like, say, predict when the ISS is overhead and photograph it) that would be more inspiring. I should recognize that I have only a couple of minutes of your time at best to get you interested and thinking about the stuff I like, and that if I really want to get you on board, I’ll have to work harder at it. I guess that it boils down to a simple new thought:

Mark, expend some effort to engage your audience.

In conclusion, I’m interested in finding peers and mentors who have built the kind of online presence and community that I’m seeking. If you have a blog or podcast that you are proud of, or have used Facebook or Twitter to build an online community, or just have some reading on the subject that you have found useful, please drop me a note at brainwagon at gmail.com if you would be interested in talking to me about this kind of thing.

Thanks again.

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Comments

Comment from autojack/KJ6AKQ
Time 5/22/2010 at 12:11 pm

I started reading your blog after meeting you in #hamradio, because I wanted to follow your exploits in that hobby. As a new ham who aspires to participate in a few different aspects of the hobby, getting motivation and ideas from other like-minded hams seemed a logical approach to take. So for my part, I’ll say that your posts on ham radio are mainly what interest me. Everything else you write about is engaging also, but it doesn’t usually inspire me to comment, whereas some of your posts about SDR and other such things did (I even took your screenshot of the 40m band during a contest and made it one of my screensaver images).

In terms of community, I can make a personal comment and a more general one. For the personal, I find that the thing that encourages me to blog is comments. I’ve had a personal blog on Livejournal for 10 years now, but I rarely post anymore because all my friends have moved on to other systems, or stopped blogging. I feel as though I’m talking to myself, even though I do still have some silent readers. But people who aren’t friends (and even many who are!) really don’t care that much about my wedding, what I’m doing at work, or the weird dream I had last night. This is why I created my own ham radio blog – to have a topic that is more focused, in hopes of attracting a small group of like-minded people to interact with. Sound familiar? Of course my only problem is that I haven’t had time to operate lately, but now that the rest of my life has settled down I’m striving to change that.

As for the general comment, I will say that I am only inclined to comment about topics which interest me. Checkers AIs, while neat, don’t really grab me on that level. And while a really badass astronomy photo is probably going to make me say, “WHOA!” and forward it to a bunch of friends, I probably won’t comment on it. So I wonder if you would get more engagement via the blog if you narrowed your focus somewhat. I know that you don’t want just an audience of commenters, but I feel as though there aren’t too many people who blog about geeky topics that are as diverse as those in your blog. So if you made this more of a ham radio blog, or more of a checkers AI blog, or something along those lines, perhaps you would attract more like-minded people who comment often, reblog your posts themselves (I love your posts that are “responses” to other peoples’ posts!), and/or are inspired to try and replicate or expand on something you wrote about. You’ve personally and almost single-handedly inspired me to want to experiment with SDR, WSPR, and satellite tracking software.

Anyway that’s all for my ramblings. I hope they will be useful to you. Personally Facebook and Twitter have no value to me as a consumer of social media – they either try to do way too many things (Facebook) or not enough (Twitter). On the other hand, regarding YouTube: I both read 2E0HTS’s ham radio blog AND “subscribe” to his YouTube video channel of ham radio demonstration videos. If I can’t be making QSOs myself, at least it’s kind of fun to watch someone else do it : )

Comment from Elwood Downey
Time 5/22/2010 at 12:53 pm

If I may say, it’s your tone. You generally either muse or pontificate. I’ve left a few comments but none were acknowledged. To get a conversation going you need to at least say hi back.

But I don’t get the sense that’s who you are. And that’s fine. I check your blog because the density of interesting tidbits is quite high. I think that’s all you really want to hear.

Comment from Mark VandeWettering
Time 5/22/2010 at 3:55 pm

Hmm. I’ll have to consider that more. Thanks.

Comment from ShelleyD
Time 5/22/2010 at 4:23 pm

Hi there, Mark-

Great soliloquy. I believe you have solid info to share with your readers. From what I gather, you just need some encouragement along the lines of social marketing.

,,,”so I haven’t done a lot of work to actually build the real social bonds that connect me to other people who share my visions and interests. Thus, the problem isn’t at the root a technological one: it’s likely a problem of my own personality and behavior.”

Personality and behavior might feed into it, but I think it’s more on the lines of learning how to promote yourself and get your info out there. I absolutely agree with autojack and Elwood, you must narrow your focus AND you must respond to reader’s comments. One thing to remember about social marketing is that it’s all about relationships. Another, shorten your blog posts. Lengthy ones such as this will most likely be overlooked by the average reader (guess we’re not average). You’ve got enough text here to feed your readers for a week!

I’d be happy to give you some tips to get you going in the right direction.

Comment from Alan Yates
Time 5/22/2010 at 5:17 pm

Mark,

Well I for one am frequently inspired by your Blog.

In eight years you have made thousands of posts (compared to my 100s in 10 years), almost all of which I found at the very least interesting, and frequently sufficiently inspiring to at least do some thinking or deeper work about. You actually inspired me to add commenting to my own blog after seeing the results you were getting.

By your own admission you are fairly introverted, perhaps your audience is too. Their may be correlations between geeky interests and such personality traits. You should not take any perceived lack of comment feedback as indications of disinterest. No doubt your stats show high readership?

Yes, stuff that people can tinker with is more likely to garner feedback. I wouldn’t go as far as what Shelly has suggested and produce only short posts. Some things take a certain amount of text to describe, but most humans are visual creatures and plenty of colourful pictures helps engagement. I know I deliberately water down the details in my articles, but still end up with verbose sleeping-pill posts, although in my case it is motivated by laziness not an attempt to engage any audience.

What are you really looking for Mark? Understanding? Kindred communication? Acknowledgement? Why do any of us blog? I honestly think there is an element of ego and loneliness in most blogging, although from what I see on facebook and youtube a fair bit of narcissism too. It is natural to seek connections with like-minded individuals. Feeling misunderstood, under-appreciated, a lone voice in the cacophony of the blogosphere? Get over it! Blog about what you want to. Don’t change yourself or force unnatural social conventions upon your communications. People with intersecting interests in the universe of human endeavour will find you (and clearly have).

Regards,
Alan

Comment from ShelleyD
Time 5/23/2010 at 3:53 am

@Alan-you’re right to a degree. I might have clarified to insert a break after the first paragraph that directs the reader to (read more) as well as adding sub-titles to the paragraphs. This gives the reader opportunity to scan through easily to any particular part.

As a newcomer, I really enjoy your writing. I still say there needs to be something that gives all of this unity. Overall, I think there’s a bit of truth flowing through each comment.

Comment from Eldon Brown
Time 5/23/2010 at 1:01 pm

Don’t change a thing!

Mark, I would NOT like to see you change anything on your blog. I see your “Brainwagon” – is just that, a place to carry your thoughts and interests. We share many similar interests even though mine may not be active.

I was inspired by your “Brainwagon” blog and Bill’s “Soldersmoke” blog/podcasts, enough to do something similar and started my own “Ham Radio Blog”. I am not a great writer, but I use my blog to capture thoughts, links and to blog about things that interests me. Some readers find my blog interesting enough to return, and I enjoy seeing the hit count stats, but that is not my goal. I have met many people via my blog, and I count them among my friends.

I see links to your blog on many pages that I read, I am sure many reader enjoy your content.

The ONLY thing that I would suggest, is for you to be more engaging, reply to comments.

Eldon – WA0UWH

Comment from anders
Time 5/23/2010 at 11:46 pm

The interwebs is a big place. The further away on the “long tail” your writing is, the harder it is to find (probably?). I think you (we) need to make sure that if there are 5 or 10 blogs in the world on some esoteric subject then they are linked together. If there are 20 or 50 blogs on another subject then an aggregation site which pulls together the content with RSS probably makes sense.

Nobody has time to “surf the web” anymore. Every sane person I know reads news/blogs/sites through a feed-reader only (RSS, ATOM, you name it). A good way of finding new things is through aggregation-sites like for example “hack-a-day”.

So I guess my recipe for finding more readers is trying to get other bloggers to link to your site, and trying to get your RSS feed into one or many aggregation-sites which are probably read by 10x or 100x more people than any single blog.

Anders

Comment from Bill Meara
Time 5/24/2010 at 4:54 am

Mark: Sign yourself up with a Google Analytics account and keep track of how many visitors you get each day. I think you will be pleasantly surprised. I like your blog! Keep it going! Bill

Comment from Jason NT7S
Time 5/24/2010 at 4:06 pm

Mark, first of all, please don’t change a thing with your writing style. Especially ignore the commenter who is urging you to cut down your posts to short little snippets. Our society is already filled to the brim with short attention span, cotton candy content. Your blog is one of my absolute favorites, especially because you obviously put a lot of thought and heart into your posts.

I’ve been through some of the exact same thoughts with my blog. Quite a while ago, I did what Bill suggested and connected my blog to Google Analytics. It will tell you a wealth of information about what’s popular on your blog, how many people are visiting, where they are coming from, etc. I think my traffic as QRP/homebrewing blog is decent enough, but I can’t generate comments from my readers to save my life. Sometime I wonder if that’s because most people read the blog in their feedreader, but I can’t be sure. I also am dubious about social media like Twitter and FB. I’ve disengaged from Twitter because the SNR got too low for my tastes. It might work for you but I’ve found it to be more of a distraction than anything.

As a reader, I don’t tend to comment unless I feel I can add some real value to to the conversation, so I don’t do much of it. Also, when you are flipping through 100′s of new blog posts in your RSS reader each day like I do, it takes something special to get me to come out and comment. So the bottom line is that you shouldn’t feel as though you’ve failed. You’ve done a great job with your blog and I hope you keep it coming in the same quality way for years to come.

73,
Jason NT7S

Comment from Shannon Nelson
Time 5/25/2010 at 8:37 pm

I prefer that you don’t change what you are doing, but that really is up to *you*. You don’t owe the readers anything – you owe it to yourself to enjoy the time spent, otherwise you risk burn out and resentment. You need to be true to your own whims and not bend yourself to what anyone else wants. Be sure you are blogging because you enjoy it, not because anyone expects you to. Be sure you are writing about what ever turns your own crank, and your enthusiasm will come out and attract others.

On the other hand, in return for the excellent entertainment, I’ll try to be a more responsive audience.

Comment from Eliseo Hirschi
Time 6/15/2010 at 4:03 pm

Gus Vanta

Comment from Kragen Javier Sitaker
Time 6/16/2010 at 12:05 pm

I agree with your overall conclusion about engaging with people. There are lots of ways to do that.

One is, as Elwood said, responding to your commenters! Commenters are people who have reached out to make contact with you in response to something you wrote. If they get no response, they will stop commenting.

I’m guilty of that myself, I’m afraid. I’ve had some really, really great commenters on kragen-tol and kragen-hacks who gave up commenting after years, once I stopped responding.

There are lots of other ways to engage with people, though, besides just responding to comments:

• Write blog posts in response to other people’s blog posts, and connect with TrackBack.

• You don’t post often enough for me to check your blog every day, so write posts for a shared blog. This could be as simple as setting up a Planet aggregator aggregating brainwagon and five or so other geeky blogs who share some of your interests.

• Use a social blogging platform. Maybe this is no longer possible with the decline and fall of LiveJournal, but Dreamwidth seems to have a bunch of my friends on it now. This means that other people will see your posts on their “friends page” even if you don’t post frequently, providing some of the advantage of a shared blog; it’s easy for them to comment (without worrying about being spam-filtered); and they get notified if someone responds to their comment.

• For low-frequency blogging, provide an email subscription option.

• Comment on other people’s blogs and link to relevant posts you’ve made in the past.

• Announce your posts on Twitter and Facebook.

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