Why Do You Still Blog?

After recording an excellent session on social media at Cisco Live with The Network Collective (@NetCollectivePC), I started thinking about blogging and where it stands in the grand scheme of information sharing. With the rise of podcasting and video blogging now in full swing, I was even asked by my friend Michael Stump “Do you see blogging as a dying form of content?” For obvious reasons, I said “no”, but I wanted to explain two major reasons why.

Needle In A Haystack

One of the major reasons why I still blog through written form is searchability. When I started blogging almost seven years ago I wanted to create a place where I could put down my thoughts about topics and share them with everyone. More by accident than design, many of those thoughts became popular topics of conversation. Even today, some of my posts are being used to help people figure out problems and address issues that aren’t well documented in other places.

But why? How can posts many years old still be relevant to audiences today? Because of searching. Use of Google, DuckDuckGo, and even Bing allow people to search for specific error messages or topics and find things that I’ve written down. That’s because text on posts is easily indexed by web crawlers. Even when my posts are excerpted on other sites it just drives more people back to my blog to find my content. The power of being able to find something can’t be understated.

But what about audio and video content? How can it be searched? Sure, you can write down show notes. But show notes are like network and systems documentation. At first, they’re very detailed and useful. But after time passes, they are essentially the bare minimum necessary to be able to move on. That makes it difficult to search for specific content inside of an episode. In fact, the show notes from most podcast episodes would be content for two blogs!

Additionally, the banter and discussion during the episode are hard to capture in text format. If the show notes mention that the guests spend 3-4 minutes talking about some topic, realize that most people speak in conversation at around 125 words per minute (wpm). With two guests debating the topic for 4 minutes, that’s 500 words or more on a topic! How can you capture the essence of the discussion in a single line show note with perhaps one or two links to outside material? Blogs allow all of that to be tracked, indexed, and referenced at a later date without needed to scrub through the audio to find out exactly what was said.

Can I Have Your Attention, Please?

If you’ve been reading along to this point so far, you know that I prefer writing my thoughts out. That is, if you’ve been paying attention. I also prefer reading words instead of podcasts for the most part. Why? Well, that has to do with my full and undivided attention.

When I’m reading something, I’m using my active reading skills. I’m focused the content in front of me. I use my attention to absorb the words and concepts. It does take a lot of concentration to do this. Since part of my job is reading blogs it’s easy for me to set aside time to do this task. But it does take away from other things that I’m doing. I often find myself shutting out other conversation or ignoring things going on around me while I try to digest new topics or evaluate someone’s opinion on a subject.

Conversely, when is the last time you actively listened to a podcast? I mean, you sat down with a pair of headphones and really listened to it? Not just put it on in the background and casually listened to the discussion while you went on with work or something else. I’d bet the answer is that you frequently find yourself splitting your attention. I know I do it. I even split my focus when I’m recording podcasts if they aren’t on video. It’s very easy to lose track of what’s going on without a visual focus point.

Podcasts are active. They project the conversation you. Likewise, the consumers of podcasts are passive. They aren’t seeking knowledge. They are being fed knowledge via an audio (or video) stream. But written words aren’t that aggressive. They require someone to consume them actively. You don’t accidentally click on a link and find yourself full of knowledge ten minutes later without having put in the effort to read what was on the page. You can’t read blog posts without paying attention. If you do, you find yourself missing the point and reading them all over again to find out what you missed in the first place.


Tom’s Take

I love to write. I never did when I was in school or when I was first starting out in technology, but as time has worn on, I find myself growing to love using a keyboard to share what’s in my brain. I’ve recorded podcasts and videos as well, but I keep coming back to the written word. I like the ability to have other people find my content useful years after the fact via a search or a referral. I also enjoy the idea that people are focused on what I’m saying and ingesting it actively instead of having it fed to them via a speaker or headphones. Maybe it’s because I use other media, like TV and music, to provide background noise to focus as I write and do other things. At the end of the day, I blog because it’s the method of communication I most prefer to consume.

Blogging By The Refrigerator’s Light

Blogging isn’t starting off to a good 2017 so far. Ev Williams announced that Medium is cutting back and trying to find new ways to engage readers. The platform of blogging is scaling back as clickbait headlines and other new forms of media capture the collective attention for the next six seconds. How does that all relate to the humble tech blogger?

Mindshare, Not Eyeshare

One of the reasons why things have gotten so crazy is the drive for page views. Clickbait headlines serve the singular purpose of getting someone to click on an article to register a page view. Ever clicked on some Top Ten article only to find that it’s actually a series of 10 pages in a slideshow format? Page views. I’ve even gone so far as to see an article of top 7 somethings broken down into 33(!) pages, each with 19 ads and about 14 words.

Writers competing for eyeballs are always going to lose in the end. Because the attention span of the average human doesn’t dally long enough to make a difference. Think of yourself in a crowded room. Your eyes dart back and forth and all around trying to find something in the crowd. You may not even know what you’re looking for. But you’ll know it when you see it. Your attention wanders as you scan through the crowd.

Blogging, on the other hand, is like finding a good conversation in the crowd. It engages the mind. It causes deeper thinking and engagement that leads to lasting results. The best blog posts don’t have thousands of views in the first week followed by little to nothing for the rest of eternity. They have active commenters. They have response pieces. They have page views and search results that get traffic years after publication.

The 3am Ah Ha Moments

Good blogs shouldn’t just be about “going viral”. Good blogs should have something called Fridge Brilliance. Simply put, the best blogs hit you out of the blue a day after you read it standing in front of your fridge door. BANG. Now you get it! You run off to see how it applies to what you’re doing or even to give your perspective on things.

The mark of a truly successful blog is creating something that lasts and is memorable in the minds of readers. Even if all you’re really known for is “that one post” or a series of great articles, you’ve made an impression. And, as I’ve said before, you can never tell which post is going to hit it big. So the key is to keep writing what you write and making sure you’re engaging your audience at a deeper level than their corneas.

That’s not to say that you can’t have fun with blog posts now and then or post silly things here and there. But if you really want to be known as an authoritative source of content, you have to stay consistent. One of the things that Dave Henry (@DaveMHenry) saw in his 2016 wrap-up was that his most viewed posts were all about product announcements. Those tend to get lots of headlines, but for an independent blog it’s just as much about the perspective the writer lends as it is for the news itself. That’s how you can continue to engage people beyond the eyeball and into the brain.


Tom’s Take

I’ve noticed that people still like to write. They want to share thoughts. But they pick the wrong platforms. They want eyeballs instead of minds. They don’t want deep thoughts. They just want an audience. That’s the wrong way to look at it. You want engagement. You want disagreement and argument and 4,000 word response posts about why you’re completely wrong. Because that’s how you know you’ve hooked the reader. You’re a splinter in their mind that won’t go away. That’s the real draw. Keep your page views. I’d rather have memories and fridge brilliance instead.

Is The Blog Dead?

I couldn’t help but notice an article that kept getting tweeted about and linked all over the place last week.  It was a piece by Jason Kottke titled “R.I.P. The Blog, 1997-2013“.  It’s actually a bit of commentary on a longer piece he wrote for the Nieman Journalism Lab called “The Blog Is Dead, Long Live The Blog“.  Kottke talks about how people today are more likely to turn to the various social media channels to spread their message rather than the tried-and-true arena of the blog.

Kottke admits in both pieces that blogging isn’t going away.  He even admits that blogging is going to be his go-to written form for a long time to come.  But the fact that the article spread around like wildfire got me to thinking about why blogging is so important to me.  I didn’t start out as a blogger.  My foray into the greater online world first came through Facebook.  Later, as I decided to make it more professional I turned to Twitter to interact with people.  Blogging wasn’t even the first thing on my mind.  As I started writing though, I realized how important it is to the greater community.  The reason?  Blogging is thought without restriction.

Automatic Filtration

Social media is wonderful for interaction.  It allows you to talk to friends and followers around the world.  I’m still amazed when I have conversations in real time with Aussies and Belgians.  However, social media facilitates these conversations through an immense filtering system.  Sometimes, we aren’t aware of the filters and restrictions placed on our communications.

twitter02_color_128x128Twitter forces users to think in 140-ish characters.  Ideas must be small enough to digest and easily recirculate.  I’ve even caught myself cutting down on thoughts in order to hit the smaller target of being about to put “RT: @networkingnerd” at the begging for tweet attribution.  Part of the reason I started a blog was because I had thoughts that were more than 140 characters long.  The words just flow for some ideas.  There’s no way I could really express myself if I had to make ten or more tweets to express what I was thinking on a subject.  Not to mention that most people on Twitter are conditioned to unfollow prolific tweeters when they start firing off tweet after tweet in rapid succession.

facebook_color02_128x128Facebook is better for longer discussion, but they are worse from the filtering department. The changes to their news feed algorithm this year weren’t the first time that Facebook has tweaked the way that users view their firehose of updates.  They believe in curating a given users feed to display what they think is relevant.  At best this smacks of arrogance.  Why does Facebook think they know what’s more important to me that I do?  Why must my Facebook app always default to Most Important rather than my preferred Most Recent?  Facebook has been searching for a way to monetize their product even before their rocky IPO.  By offering advertisers a prime spot in a user’s news feed, they can guarantee that the ad will be viewed thanks to the heavy handed way that they curate the feed.  As much reach as Facebook has, I can’t trust them to put my posts and articles where they belong for people that want to read what I have to say.

Other social platforms suffer from artificial restriction.  Pinterest is great for those that post with picture and captions or comments.  It’s not the best for me to write long pieces, especially when they aren’t about a craft or a wish list for gifts.  Tumblr is more suited for blogging, but the comment system is geared toward sharing and not constructive discussion.  Add in the fact that Tumblr is blocked in many enterprise networks due to questionable content and you can see how limiting the reach of a single person can be when it comes to corporate policy.  I had to fight this battle in my old job more than once in order to read some very smart people that blogged on Tumblr.

Blogging for me is about unrestricted freedom to pour out my thoughts.  I don’t want to worry about who will see it or how it will be read.  I want people to digest my thoughts and words and have a reaction.  Whether they choose to share it via numerous social media channels or leave a comment makes no difference to me.  I like seeing people share what I’ve committed to virtual paper.  A blog gives me an avenue to write and write without worry.  Sometimes that means it’s just a few paragraphs about something humorous.  Other times it’s an activist rant about something I find abhorrent.  The key is that those thoughts can co-exist without fear of being pigeonholed or categorized by an algorithm or other artificial filter.


Tom’s Take

Sometimes, people make sensationalist posts to call attention to things.  I’ve done it before and will likely do it again in the future.  The key is to read what’s offered and make your own conclusion.  For some, that will be via retweeting or liking.  For others, it will be adding a +1 or a heart.  For me, it’s about collecting my thoughts and pouring them out via a well-worn keyboard on WordPress.  It’s about sharing everything rattling around in my head and offering up analysis and opinion for all to see.  That part isn’t going away any time soon, despite what others might say about blogging in general.  So long as we continue to express ourselves without restriction, the blog will never really die no matter how we choose to share it.

I’m Awesome. Really.

Awesome Name Tag

I’ve never been one for titles. People tell me that I should be an engineer or an architect or a senior this or that. Me? I couldn’t care less about what it says on my business card. I want to be known more for what I do. Even when I was working in a “management” position in college I would mop the floors or clean things left and right. Part of that came from the idea that I would never ask anyone to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself. Plus, it does tend to motivate people when they see their boss scrubbing dishes or wiping things down.

When I started getting deeper into the whole blogging and influencer aspect of my career, it became apparent that some people put stock into titles. Since I am the only employee at The Networking Nerd I can call myself whatever I want. The idea of being the CEO is too pretentious to me. I could just as easily call myself “janitor”. I also wanted to stay away from analyst, Chief Content Creator, or any other monikers that made me sound like I was working the news desk at the Washington Post (now proudly owned by Jeff Bezos).

That was when I hit on a brilliant idea. Something I could do to point out my feelings about how useless titles truly are but at the same time have one of those fancy titles that I could put on a name badge at a conference to garner some attention. That’s when I settled on my new official title here at The Networking Nerd.

I’m Awesome.

No, really. I’ve put it on every conference name tag I’ve signed up for including Dell Enterprise Forum, Cisco Live, and even the upcoming VMworld 2013 conference. I did it partially so that people will scan my badge on the expo floor and say this:

“So, you’re…awesome? At The Networking Nerd?”
“Yes. Yes I am.”

It’s silly when you think about it. But it’s also a very humorous reaction. That’s when they start asking me what I really do. I get to launch into my real speech about empowering influencers and coordinating vendor interactions. Something that might get lost if the badge scanner simply saw engineer or architect and assumed that all I did was work with CLIs or Visio.

Past a certain point in your career you aren’t your title. You are the work you do. It doesn’t matter if you are a desktop technician. What matters is that you can do IT work for thousands of systems using scripts and automation. It doesn’t matter that you are a support engineer. It matters that you can diagnose critical network failures quickly without impacting uptime for any other systems. When you fill out your resume which part is more important? Your title? Or your work experience? Title on a resume is a lot like GPA. People want to see it but it doesn’t matter one bit in the long run. They’d rather know what you can do for them.

Being Awesome is a way for me to buck the trend of meaningless titles. I’ve been involved with people insisted on being called Director of Business Development instead of Sales Manager because the former sounded more important. I’ve seen managers offer a title in lieu of a monetary raise because having a big title made you important. Titles mean nothing. The highest praise in my career came not because I was a senior engineer or a network architect. It came when people knew who I was. I was simply “Tom”. When you are known for what you do it speaks volumes about who you are.


Tom’s Take

Awesome is a state of mind for me. I’m awesome at everything I do at The Networking Nerd because I’m the only person here. I also Suck equally as much for the same reason. When you’re the only employee you can do whatever you want. My next round of Networking Nerd business cards will be fun to make. Stephen and I will decide on a much less pretentious title for my work at Gestalt IT. But for my own personal brand it really is cool to be awesome.

Nobody Cares

Writing a blog can be very fun and rewarding.  I’ve learned a lot from the things I’ve written.  I’ve had a blast with some of the more humorous posts that I’ve put up.  I’ve even managed to be anointed at the Hater of NAT.  After everything though, I’ve learned something very important about writing.  For the most part, nobody cares.

Now, before you run to your keyboard and respond that you do indeed care, allow me to expound on that idea just a bit.  I’ve written lots of different kinds of posts.  I’ve talked about educational stuff, funny lists, and even activist posts trying to get unpopular policies changed.  What I’ve found is that I can never count on something being popular.  There are days when I sit down in front of my computer and start furiously typing away as if I’m going to change the world with the words that I’m putting out.  When I hit the publish button, it’s as if I’m launching those paragraphs into a black hole.  I’m faced with a reality that maybe things weren’t as important as I thought.

A prime example is the original intent for my blog.  I wanted to write a book about teaching people structured troubleshooting.  I figured if I could get a few of those chapters down as blog posts, it would go a long way to helping me get everything sorted out in my mind.  Now, almost three years later, the two least read posts on my site are those two troubleshooting posts.  There are images on my site that have more hits than those two posts combined.  If I were strictly worried about page views, I’d probably have given up by now.

In contrast, some of the most popular posts are the ones I never put a second thought into.  How about my most popular article about the differences between HP and Cisco trunking?  I just fired that off as a way to keep it straight in my head.  Or how about my post about a throwaway line in a Star Trek movie that exploded on Reddit?  I never dreamed that those articles would be as big as they have ended up being.  I’m continually surprised by the things that end up being popular.

What does this mean for your blogging career?  It means that writing is the most important thing you can do.  You should invest time in creating good quality content.  But don’t get disappointed when people don’t find your post as fascinating as you.  Just get right back on your blogging horse and keep turning out the content.  Eventually, you’re going to find an unintentional gem that people are going to go wild about.

Despite the old adage, lightning does indeed strike twice.  The Empire State Building is hit about 100 times per year.  However, you never know when those strikes are going to hit.  Unless you are living in Hill Valley, California you can never know exactly when that bolt from the blue is going to come crashing down.  In much the same way, you shouldn’t second guess yourself when it comes to posting.  Just keep firing them out there until one hits it big.  Whether it be from endless retweets or a chance encounter with the front page of a news aggregator you just need to put virtual pen to virtual paper and hope for the best.