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Blog Pimping, or: Who Do You Want to Delight?

Big Contrarian → Tacky.

My favorite bloggers are great at articulating something I feel in my gut -- but they regularly present it better, more clearly, and (on days like today), more succinctly than I ever could. Such is the case with Jack Shedd's post, "Tacky," a razor-sharp polemic on the industry of cheese-food manufacturing that "pro blogging" has turned into.

Write top ten lists and whore yourself on many other sites as you possibly can. Don’t be thoughtful, long-winded or interesting. Don’t write about you love, unless what you love is popular on Digg. And for god’s sake don’t even think about writing about more than one topic.

Whether their strategies work or not is slightly beside the point. It’s cheap. It’s marketing driven, instead of content driven. It’s the type of thinking that leads to a sequel to the movie Garfield.

For myself, I think there's nothing wrong with having a blog and wanting to make money with it. Obviously. But I also hold an increasingly old-fashioned view that you ought to start with something you're passionate about sharing with people -- something besides how to make easy money with a blog -- and try to build an audience of people you respect based on producing work you're happy with or even proud of.

Consequently, I very much agree with Jack's thoughts on audience-building.

Despite the utter-bullshit so much of the Anderson’s long tail has proven to be, the core idea that everything finds an audience should be held up and remembered. Clung to fastidiously; A life raft for the ignored, for the invisible.

If you’re worth reading, someone will read you. If you’re worth watching, someone will watch you. If you’re worth hearing, someone will listen.


If you do not agree with Jack's or my opinion on building your audience -- or if you think this is an unrealistically conservative tactic for simps and losers -- consider this: I learned about Big Contrarian from reading a blogger I trust and respect: John Gruber. Today, the chances are good that at least a few of you might visit Jack's site for the first time because you learned about it from someone you (theoretically) trust and respect: me. If you like Jack's stuff as much as Chairman Gruber and I do, I'll bet you'll tell others about it through your own sites or through emails, IRL conversations, and what have you. And the music goes round. Organically.

Jack didn't beg a link, he didn't pretend to be 50,000 peoples' "friend," and he didn't concoct a bunch of tricks, games, and page-padding bullshit in an attempt to increase views and time-on-site. Jack didn't do anything except write a great blog. It's up to his readers to do the rest. If what you're doing is interesting and appeals to someone, that's all you need. Seriously.

So, yes, if that wasn't a clear enough recommendation: read Jack's blog, Big Contrarian, and tell your friends about it. Jack gets this stuff, and his combination of links and commentary is, not coincidentally, reminiscent of blogging's salad days. When people were more excited about what they had to say than with figuring out how to make it palatable to readers who'd prefer the entire web be re-formatted as a series of retardate lists.

If you watched The Wire, I'll bet you walked away with the same piece of wisdom that I did -- the thread that ran through every episode of every season, and that was articulated by the show's creator, David Simon, in the DVD narration of the very first scene from The Wire:

It's about how institutions have an effect on individuals, and how...whether you're a cop, a longshoreman, a drug dealer, a politician, a judge [or] lawyer, you are ultimately compromised and must contend with whatever institution you've committed to.

This is one of the most insightful things I've ever heard someone related to the TV business say, and I happen to believe it's true of any industry, institution, or, for that matter, adult decision: you make decisions and you accept trade-offs. It's true if you're the Mayor, or a homicide cop, or a heroin addict, and damn it, it's true if you're a blogger in his or her underpants trying to make bank in a competitive marketplace. You make decisions and you accept trade-offs.

You decide whether or not to run ads. You decide whether or not to include Amazon affiliate links. You decide whether or not to edit posts after publication. You decide whether or not to accept free shit like trips and demo units. You decide how black of an SEO hat you're willing to wear. You decide whether people will notice (or care) when your ten-paragraph link post is spread out over 11 pages ("It's a Gallery!"). You make, erase, and re-draw lines until you're comfortable with the mix. You evolve and you struggle to find your place in the system.

No one is perfect 100% of the time, and sometimes we all change our minds, realize we're dead wrong, or we just try different things for the hell of it. At least that's been the case for me on every point.

But, ultimately, our most important decision may be deciding who we want to please, and what we're willing to do, allow, insert, or put up with that potentially will make those people love, hate, or even feel indifferent toward our sites and our work. Not only must we contend with the institution, we also have to figure out who we want to delight and how. That's where the art is, and it's arguably the turning point for whether a young blog will get noticed or won't.

Want to build a great audience, composed of people you respect? Be picky about who you decide to overserve. Then do it with all the skill and enthusiasm you can muster.

While it might seem dim to say "the rest takes care of itself," it is entirely true and fair to say "smart readers will always bring along their smart friends." It's why you're here, and it's why I am very grateful that you allow me to try and delight you as best I can. Even when the posts are this long.

UPDATE 2008-07-21 11:08:47: Fixed a dumb typo on Jack's name.

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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