I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Avoiding the blogger trap

Through a series of coincidences, some lucky positions, a few prominent inbound links, and just pure longevity and endurance, the size of my site’s audience is finally nontrivial. It’s nowhere near the point where putting up awful AdSense ads would generate enough to pay my electric bill, and by any other prominent blogs’ standards, it’s completely insignificant.

But I have enough readers now to cause two problems:

  1. I can’t express any opinions without being willing to accept a significant negative response. Anything I say could inadvertently end up getting linked from a popular site or mentioned on a popular podcast and I could get hundreds of angry emails and people all over the internet calling me an asshole and distorting my argument into flamebait. (Have you seen what happens when Alex Payne or Joel Spolsky express opinions about programming languages?) And if I say anything about other companies in my field, even lightheartedly or constructively, I’ll get pressure from investors to censor myself. (Even that sentence might get me into trouble.) With an audience, I’m much more accountable for what I say.
  2. I start feeling obligated to raise the average quality of what I post and stay within the bounds of what people expect me to write about.

I don’t have anything else to say about the first point for now, but the second point is relevant to nearly everyone who has a popular blog.

They feel pressure to make every post a hit while also maintaining a healthy post frequency. And if the frequency drops, the pressure increases to make every post a superstar.

Some people want it this way: they enjoy keeping their standards up and want only the best on their site. But their site is their outlet, and if they still want to publish anything that’s not “good enough” or not “relevant” for their popular site, they make second blogs or turn to Twitter.

But what if a prominent tech blogger wants to write something about scrambled eggs or show off a really great photo of his child that won’t fit in 140 characters and TwitPic? Or what if tech is slow and all of his new post ideas are on other topics for 3 weeks?

Often, this “unfit” content goes unpublished. Or it gets relegated to a secondary publishing outlet with no audience and no context in this person’s life.

To me, that’s a trap. And I refuse to fall into it. I’m still going to feel free to post photos of breakfast and argue about pillowcase assembly even if I get famous and become an A-lister (which I really don’t see happening, but am presenting here for the sake of argument).

I’m not just about technology, just as John Gruber’s not just about Apple products and Merlin Mann isn’t just about index cards and Steve Yegge can speak briefly and Jeff Atwood enjoys Rock Band and Paul Graham is a great cook and Ted Dziuba likes stuff and pretty people take shits and maybe, just maybe, there’s an area of Michael Arrington’s life in which he isn’t a dick.

People aren’t so one-sided. Everyone has a life that goes much deeper than the topics on their blogs.

I never wanted to work for a big company because it increases the likelihood of being pigeonholed, and I don’t want to be “the ______ guy” for any one thing.

I don’t need to be an authority on anything. I don’t need you to agree with my arguments. I know this is probably too long, too broad, and too egotistical for the mass market to read, and you most likely skimmed over it. I wrote this just now, and I’m going to publish it now, even though it’s Sunday and it won’t see peak traffic. I don’t want to write top-list posts 10 times a day. I don’t want to be restricted to my blog’s subject or any advertisers’ target demographic. This site represents me, and I’m random and eccentric and interested in a wide variety of subjects.

I do my own thing. I don’t need you to like it. That’s not why I do it.

But ultimately, I think people do like this sort of thing. Why do you think reality shows are so popular?

As more people start realizing that there are better reasons to write blogs beyond trying to squeeze pennies out of ads, I bet we’ll see a significant movement toward tearing down these barriers. We’ll see more complete people blogging their whole lives, not just trying to emulate magazine columns or news sites. Some of them will get large audiences, but most won’t — and it won’t matter.