Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, had a great post up on the intrinsic value of blogging. He spoke of how numbers and stats around blogs were discouraging and how chasing popularity results in deconstructing what makes something share-able and creating sensationalist blogs like this.
Matt knows a thing or two about blogging. Seth Godin does too. He had an instructive post during the end of the year when he pointed out that his most popular posts were not his best ones.
My own experience of this isn’t too different. A couple of my most popular posts are those that went viral on Hacker News. I didn’t think they were particularly great – they went viral because they had a sensational element to it – the more popular one being a Bill Gates vs Jobs debate. I used to share my links in 5-6 places after posting. That’s down to 3 now. I’ve removed browser favorite links to Feedburner and Google Analytics, too. I didn’t see the point. Those numbers weren’t going to change the way I blogged (they threatened to, a few years back but didn’t – thank god..) and they hardly ever raised the right questions.
Matt’s solution to the problem is one I agree with completely.
The antidote I’ve found for this is to write for only two people. First, write for yourself, both your present self whose thinking will be clarified by distilling an idea through writing and editing, and your future self who will be able to look back on these words and be reminded of the context in which they were written.
Second, write for a single person who you have in mind as the perfect person to read what you write, almost like a letter, even if they never will, or a person who you’re sure will read it because of a connection you have to them (hi Mom!). Even on my moblog I have a frequent commenter who I’ll often keep in mind when posting a photo, curious to see her reaction.
There have been a few blogger friends over time who’ve written in asking about how they can be popular. I’ve tried to communicate the “blog for yourself” message but have not been able to articulate it as well as Matt. I will be able to do so now (thanks Matt!).
My only addition to Matt’s excellent post will be to caveat that very few great bloggers support themselves via blogging. Blogging, more often than not, is a side-project that helps them in their careers as entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, authors, and the like. Fred Wilson’s blog works the way it does largely because he’s a venture capitalist par excellence. So, let blogging never detract from the main thing. Your career is the first and biggest way to achieve real impact. Blogging generally is a side project.
That said, what a great side project it is..