Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Blogging for Birders

Over at 10,000 Birds, Mike initiated a discussion about the purposes and techniques of blogging. Meta discussions are endemic to the blogosphere, sometimes arising from introspective moments but often in response to the pie fights that plague the more competitive niches like political blogging and technology blogging. (For better or worse, the closest the bird blogs have had to a pie fight is the ivory-billed woodpecker story, which is really something different.)

A frequent lament around the blog world is that not enough people are reading. Sometimes these laments get turned into attacks on other bloggers who are perceived to be more successful. The post that Mike cites arose from such a situation. It comes from Webomatica, and proposes some ways to improve your own blog (and thus draw more readers). Here are his suggestions:

  1. Blog often.
  2. Figure out a niche and stick to it.
  3. Learn the technical stuff.
  4. Read other people’s blogs regularly.
  5. Comment on other blogs.
  6. Read up on how to write.
  7. Write posts that you want to read.
  8. Figure out why you’re blogging.
  9. Set some goals for yourself.
(Read the original post for an explanation of what he means.)

These are all good ideas, and common to most "how to blog" lists. In addition to those, make sure that your site is reader-friendly. That is, avoid light text on dark backgrounds, give links if you are writing about another website or news article, enable site feeds, etc.

From my perspective, the most important element is to present good content. This means good writing, but it does not have to mean that each post should be a novella. Sometimes effective presentation requires short and direct writing. What it does mean is that thoughts should be expressed clearly, with proper English, and with attention to headlines and interesting topics so that readers will want to read the rest of the post. Figuring out your niche will guide writing, because it allows you to improve your presentation within a certain topic or style. The other elements listed above simply let other people know about your good content.

Even among bird blogs there are many possible niches. Most bird bloggers present trip reports, some of which are narrative-heavy while others are photo-heavy. Some choose to focus on news, others on publishing, others on avian ecology, others on behavior, others on meta stories (in birding and blogging). Some have a narrow focus on local raptor populations. Each city or region presents a possible niche in itself. Different writing styles and voices also present opportunities to form distinctive blogging niches.

As Mike points out, blogging well requires a certain degree of introspection. I regularly re-evaluate what I do here and where the blog is going. I want to make sure that my writing does not becoming stale and that blogging is still fun. It is not really worth blogging about birds if it becomes a chore.