Why Weblogs Should Be Different

Robert Scoble wrote a thought-provoking article titled Has/How/Why tech blogging has failed you. It addressed an idea I have been considering for a while: are technology weblogs just not as interesting and relevant as they used to be? Have they become too focused on the business of ideas and not the ideas themselves?

There are so many weblogs out there that no one person could possibly follow them all. You have to narrow it down, and I have some definite ideas of what I am looking for. I want to read weblogs by people who are doing interesting things, or at least people who are talking about people who are doing interesting things. I want to read weblogs by people who express creative ideas that challenge the status quo. I want a weblog to be different, not just the same as what I can find from a dozen other sources.

A Seemingly Unrelated Story

Many excellent early computer magazines were produced by people who had little or no magazine experience. You might say that they were too ignorant of the accepted wisdom of the magazine business to realize that what they were attempting couldn’t work. So sometimes they went ahead in their ignorance and created a great magazine anyway.

One way they did this was by actively soliciting reader contributions and building up a community around their magazine.  The end result was a magazine that catered to their readers better than any other could. This was a brilliant approach, but it’s not the way you’re supposed to run a “professional” magazine.

Once the magazines lost sight of that approach and tried to imitate their peers, they lost their focus. They started to use more staff writers, switched to printing only in-house reviews, and reduced the amount of reader-created content. They turned their backs on their community of readers, which was the very thing that made their magazine special in the first place.

The Moral

So what is the moral of this story? The crucial mistake they made was changing their focus to try to impress their peers rather than serve their readers. I frequently see the criticism of weblogs that they need to “grow-up” and become more like magazines or newspapers. But this is completely wrong. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it doesn’t make for very interesting reading. It would be a grave mistake for weblogs to give up the very qualities that make them unique in an ill-fated attempt to mimic their more “professional” brethren.

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