July 13, 2007
Jakob Nielsen's "Write Articles, Not Blog Postings" is highly critical of so-called commodity bloggers. As you might imagine, it wasn't received well by the blog community. Robert Scoble's stereotypical reaction was perhaps the worst of the bunch. In a legendary display of narcisissm, Robert assumes the article is directed squarely at him, when it clearly wasn't. He then treats it as a personal attack, which it clearly isn't. He piles on with retaliatory personal attacks of his own, which was totally unnecessary.
Isn't it ironic how Robert's response reinforces all the negative stereotypes of bloggers that Nielsen addresses in that very article? Maybe it really was about Robert Scoble all along. How embarrassing. For all of us.
Can we respond to Nielsen's article without degenerating into knee-jerk narcisissm and ad-hominem attacks? Sure we can. Larry O'Brien's response and Mike Pope's response are proof of that.
It's true that Nielsen's article is richly deserving of criticism. At its core, the blogging advice he offers is awfully simplistic-- I'd summarize it as "don't suck, and if you suck, stop sucking". Not exactly helpful. And the "mathematical modeling" he so proudly showcases in his article is questionable at best, as Steve McConnell pointed out in an email to me.
Even if you're the world's top expert, your worst posting will be below average, which will negatively impact on your brand equity. If you do start a blog despite my advice, at least screen your postings: wait an hour or two, then reread your comments and avoid uploading any that are average or poor. (Even average content undermines your brand. Don't contribute to information pollution by posting material that isn't above the average of other people's writings. Plus, of course, follow guidelines for blog usability.)
The number one writer out of 1000 doesn't have the same standard deviation as the general population. When Tiger Woods has a bad day, he's not worse than average. He might possibly be worse than the average player at a particular professional tournament, but all the players at the tournament are in the top fraction of 1%. So even when Tiger Woods is at his worst, he's still in the top 1%.
The fatter the report became, the more it sold. Of course, page count is only a rough indication of the amount of insight, which is what customers are really paying for. The new edition has a large number of eyetracking heatmaps, showing how users read various newsletters, and these many illustrations eat up pages ferociously. Still, there's no doubt that each report edition contains significantly more information than previous editions.
I'm reminded of the old statistical fallacy that fire stations must cause fires because there are more fire stations in those areas. If his business is growing overall, it wouldn't matter whether the page count of his report on e-mail newsletter was going up or down-- he's selling more reports because his business is growing. If he provided a correlation analysis newsletter-by-newsletter that showed he got more sales immediately following publication of a longer newsletter, that would be more compelling.
Despite the shaky statistical evidence, Nielsen is still an astute observer of human behavior. I loved his previous article on blogging, which cheekily explained why if you're reading this, you are a low value demographic. There's a similar kernel of truth in his latest article on blogging that deserves closer examination.
What matters is that the user experience is that of immersion in comprehensive treatment of a topic, as opposed to a blog-style linear sequence of short, frequent postings commenting on the hot topic of the day. It doesn't matter what software is used to host the content, the distinctions are:
- in-depth vs. superficial
- original/primary vs. derivative/secondary
- driven by the author's expertise vs. being reflectively driven by other sites or outside events
Even if you find the rest of the article completely useless, take this advice to heart. I'm no fan of Chris Pirillo, but his 10 Ways to Eliminate the Echo Chamber is a more detailed form of the same advice, and should be required reading for every blogger.
As with everything else in life, what you get out of blogging is directly proportional to what you put into it. Let us know there's a unique human being in there, not just another mindless, link propagating automaton writing about the same damn current events everyone else is writing about. The world already has enough commodity bloggers. When you post a blog entry, don't forget to add the you.
Yes, it takes more effort-- but you're worth it.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
IExample: his site icon is RED ON YELLOW, for crap's sake./I
wow! that's insightful. If you (and everyone else making similar comments, endlessly, whenever jakob neilsen comes up) really knew anything about web design, you'd realize that usability is not always synonymous with aesthetics.
the man is an asshole, but he never claimed to be a color scheme expert.
"use it to write whatever you want to read."
Yes, I often ingest large amounts of mescaline and whiskey and write blog posts. When I awaken from my stupor, I find that I have new, original, value-added content fresh for my reading enjoyment!
The most interesting thing in this entire blog post is how you specifically stated that you aren't a fan of Chris Pirillo... right before you recommended his article.
errrr who cares about blog bitch fights?
Jeff, i think he is pretty much right about the web needing proper content rather than rants. You, yourself admit at the end that one should put the self in something they write, pretty much the same thing. As far as statistics and mathematical are concerned, who cares about them? The essence of Jakob's article is to differentiate "proper" content from "useless" rants, much like Scoble (who, well, admits it by saying the article is all about him). Your content, mostly is original helpful stuff. So is Joel Spolsky's. Where as scoble is more intrested in telling people how many people he knows, how many new ones he meets in a day, how much he's obsessed with iPhone and facebook, and how many subscription he reads in a day on google reader. (Heck whatelse is his business anyway?). And i can safely say that if you rank coding horror, joelonsoftware and scobliezer, scoble probabbly would be least loved since the content really is not that original. Just a simple observation.
I follow MSDN blogs through their OPML and well there are 100s of blogs there. The best ones are the most intresting ones, more thorough ones,more consistent ones. They are the most read ones as well.
It really sucked when i first saw www.useit.com and couldnt really find an RSS button on it. I think jackob has some personal grudges with that.. hehe. Otherwise, he has one of the best contents on web on usability as well. I, and i think a lot of regular readers now a days dont like going through sites as much as they like going through RSS feeds through an aggregator.
So for me it really just comes down to the quality of the content and how it is provided to the masses. If scoble spends atleast 10more minutes on his posts then the blogosphere's dustbin would be much cleaner everyday. No offense to scoble, but people dont like to keep blogposts. They dont like to refer people to blogposts. they like to refer people to articles that move and touch. Articles that help. And if you realize that post by scoble where he says jackob is saying everything about him is also an immature post like a lot of his posts. He has potential, he has links, he needs to work more on how to express himself and use the right words at the right moment. world needs well-thought ideas no matter how crude.
"I just don't understand people who visit a blog and think that they can tell the blog owner what to say."
I asked him politely and said please, that is hardly "telling him what to do". I, like most others I assume, come here because I want to read a specific type of article; the type of article I have come to expect from this blog over the past year that I have been reading it. If Jeff decides to turn it into a meta-blog or a blog about dutch tulips, that is of course, as you pointed out, his good right.
However, this would lead to me not reading his blog anymore. I know he doesn't want that - he blogs so other people read it, not because he feels like training his finger muscles (at least I can reasonably assume that). Clearly, if something happens that makes me and others like me stop reading his blog, he would want to know about it, so he can either make sure not to do it again, or conscientiously decide to alienate those people.
Think of it this way: If you had a restaurant and a new dish you served was bad, would you rather want people to complain or people to leave and never come back ?
Complaining is one of the pillars that progress is built upon.
Why do some people think it's their business what I post on my blog? Why this odd need to kowtow at the altar of so-called "experts?"
(You wouldn't be able to tell by looking at Jakob Neilson's blog that he's a "usability guru." Reading it makes my eyes hurt. Example: his site icon is RED ON YELLOW, for crap's sake. Man oughta take his own advice--I'm just sayin'.)
I've run a personal website for the last seven years, all that time I've updated the front page weekly with 'news'.
What is the different between a blog and a series of articles/news postings? I've always thought that the 'blog' just emerged because of tools that made it easier to maintain an personal online news reel.
Blog is short for web log, in which case, I think it's a pretty broad ticket to post whatever you want :)
Having read Nielson's article, I walked away from it with a shrug. Everyone's got an opinion. But the truth is, I don't blog to make money, and I don't blog to draw a massive entourage of adoring fans. I blog because I enjoy it, because I constantly *think* about software development, and if I don't write this stuff down, I'll go stark raving nuts. If someone happens to read it, great. If they don't, they don't.
If my articles happen to be code, or links to other sites, so be it. If they happen to be commentary on other articles I read, that's what they are. If they happen to be my own personal ramblings about what I'm thinking at the time, well, the reader just has to endure my insanity until they reach the end of the posting (or they avoid such rubbish by clicking the Back button).
The link Chris provides does give me pause for alarm, though. I mean, at some level, it's nice to know that *someone* is reading your posts. I tend to get wordy (as you can see here). At this rate, I'm doomed to have a perpetual readership numbering somewhere in the single digits.
To me reading a blog is like meeting a person. It is not entirely about rants or information it is more about how you convey your views. Some rants are interesting reads.. look at how popular Bidget Jone's diary was. If you are an interesting person you will write an interesting blog. And I love Coding Horror. I came across it by accident but now I read it religiously :)
So... if I stop reading CodingHorror, I will no longer be a low value demographic? Maybe I should take up golf or join a volunteer fire department to increase my value. ;-)
Scoble is such a pant-load.
Who does he think he is, anyway? The article was *clearly* written about me! ;-
I hope this doesn't sound too obsequious but the reason I like your blog is that it has personality. You established your authorial credentials long ago. Your blog now is no different from a syndicated column in a newspaper, except that there is the added benefit of immediate feedback, links and an occasional debate. If yours were a pay/per read site, I'd pony up.
The problem with (Jakob's) the article is it tells people nothing (new). Many experts say that the semi-personal/professional web sites (blogs in particular) clog the web. It has been my own experience that good material naturally bubbles to the top. I fail to see how marginal blogs are any different than marginal semi-personal/professional sites except for immediate feedback via postings. Regarding reactions: they are directly proportional to the value of the respective site owners. In my own case, I had none, because I fail to see Jakob's article as being relevant - of course - that doesn't stop me from posting here :-)
Seen "Ratatouille" yet?
"Like my book says, 'Anyone Can Cook!'"
"Yes, but that doesn't mean anyone SHOULD...."
Uh...I don't think Scoble literally meant that he thought Nielsen's post was about him specifically. I read it as "Nielsen says don't do the types of things I do, and yet I'm damn successful doing them".
Reminds me of this 'new gaming journalism' craze. A normal review is very comprehensive and gives people with differing tastes a good idea of if the game is for them or not. 'new gaming journalism' on the other hand is a story about how the reviewer played the game, including little brothers interrupting and other useless crap. It is very personal and generally utterly useless unless you have the same tastes as the author.
Thanks Jeff, you're worth it too ;-)
First computer building advice for soccer moms, now childish blog politics and bitch fighting. Can't we please return to the kind of topics that are the reason for most of us to come here ? If I really cared about who insulted whom over what misunderstanding, I'd watch some Spanish daily soap.
I didn't know who any of these folks (other than Steve McConnell) mentioned were before I read this post and after clicking on the links, I still don't care who they are. I guess I'm supposed to know/care about Robert Scoble because he's got a Wikipedia entry and that he's evidently a successful guy of some sorts, but from down under the rock from which I must be living, he's a non-issue in my life.
In the end, there are good blogs and bad ones. What I like about a blog writer might differ considerably from what others use to base such decisions. I suspect there are a fair number of folks who think Scoble's blog is the bomb. Great. I think I'll pass on it.
I like Coding Horror because (generally) the topics are relevant to my life. This one, well, isn't. That's OK - nobody bats 1000.
Please get back to writing something about code. I dont want to see this site being reffered to as "Karma Horror"
Looking at Nielsen's home page, it's pretty much the same thing. Granted, I know neither of them, but he and Scoble look like they're made for each other.
I realize this is a rare lapse into meta-blogging, or "blogging about blogging", but I think there's a deeper lesson here.
If you're going to spend time creating content that goes on the internet-- whether it's a blog post, or something else-- make sure there's something of value in it, something unique that YOU are adding.
Actually that was one of Scoble's better articles lately, since it didnt involve iPhone or Facebook !
Most blogs around the web are just a sort of online diary. And people post whatever they want on it (which doesnt mean you have to read them ;)). Why are other people telling what to post and what not ? The articles about blogging might be valid if you're goal is to make money and reach a large audience, but that's probably about 0,01% of all blogs out there.
J. Stoever : "First computer building advice for soccer moms, now childish blog politics and bitch fighting. Can't we please return to the kind of topics that are the reason for most of us to come here ? If I really cared about who insulted whom over what misunderstanding, I'd watch some Spanish daily soap."
I just don't understand people who visit a blog and think that they can tell the blog owner what to say.
If Jeff wants to write articles about the taste differences in different colors of Skittles or the best brand of dogfood for your Great Dane, so what? It's his damned blog. If you don't want to read what he writes today, don't read it and try again tomorrow. Don't like it every day? Stop visiting.
If you don't like what's being written here, start your own blog and use it to write whatever you want to read.
Maybe this title should be Blogging Horror? Scoble obviously has it in for Nielsen and Nielsen is against blogging even though he conducts it. He lost me at the statistics, I just don't care enough. This subject is a big waste of time.
Can we please get back to the awesome content you usually deliver? Thanks!
Hey Carly Simon! Thanks for writing that song about me.
One of my favorite old pearls of wisdom:
Arguing on the Internet is like competing in the special Olympics, even if you win you're still retarded.
Paul: "Scoble's self-reference can also be seen as a rhetorical use of analogy - the title is a great hint in this direction "..like.."."
HAHAHA Are you for real?
Weird how nobody seems to notice that Nielsen's post is intended as a guideline for expert-level, commercial blogs for those who already have businesses. That renders the vast majority of the comments about it irrelevant, since those comments seem to be about personal blogs and their content, which has different drivers.
Doesn't seem like a lot of commenters read the originating post in full...
I could give a rats ass about attracting paying customers. My blog is just that... MINE. It's my online public journal of my thoughts and opinions. It's not professional in any way and I don't care. I don't even care about how few of hits I get. Just the fact that it is there for people to see. Isn't that what blogs are meant to be?
BTW about the comments on a blog/artical. You said it yourself in the first paragraph of a href="http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000751.html"this/a and I would have to agree. Comments are a way for people to agree, disagree or hold a conversation in general. Maybe Jakob Nielsen doesn't want to have comments because people will be able to challenge him. This might make him look bad or not appear so smart after all. Just an incite I think.
Or maybe Mr. Nielsen is afraid that the comments on his "articals" would not be all that "inciteful"
I would like to make some subtle changes to Jeff's sentence:
"If you're going to spend time creating content that goes on the internet-- whether it's a blog post, or something else-- make sure there's something of value in it, something unique that YOU are adding."
Changing it to:
"If you're going to spend time creating content that goes on TV-- whether it's a news program, or something else-- make sure there's something of value in it, something unique that YOU are adding."
As you see, poor content is not an exclusive sin of bloggers. TV has much more history in showing decadence. Should I mention "bestsellers" books also?
Scoble's self-reference can also be seen as a rhetorical use of analogy - the title is a great hint in this direction "..like..".
I love this blog, it's the only one I read, but I'd have to say this post falls under the category of information pollution (as does my comment). A post which is basically an opinion about someone else's content with a few quotes from other blogs isn't very interesting or useful.
I've had, let's say, "lowered expectations" where Scoble is concerned ever since he went off on a SF-area blogger and SF Chron columnist just because Fortune (I think it was) included her on a list of bloggers-to-watch. I get a very "old-guard-new-technology" feel from him, but that's just my opinion and I don't (generally) humor it with the actually effort of typing it for others to read.
I myself have toyed with starting a blog separate from my socially-oriented meanderings, to deal only with technical/technology issues. While I don't think I would need to be as retentive as Nielsen would suggest, I definitely don't want to be as well, trivial, as so-called "A-listers" such as Scoble or Dave Winer are. In that regard, I found Nielsen's article considerably more useful than Scoble's (extremely narcissistic) response.
You quoted the following from the article:
"What matters is that the user experience is that of immersion in comprehensive treatment of a topic, as opposed to a blog-style linear sequence of short, frequent postings commenting on the hot topic of the day."
I would say that this summarizes quite nicely the way in which most people in our country [USA] both produce and consume information. The one information medium that has done more to shape our culture than any other, television, works the very same way.
What is cable news, except short, frequent bursts of information on the hot topic of the day?
What are TV sitcoms? Short, frequent bursts of information designed to entertain and amuse.
TV documentaries? Short, frequent bursts of information, designed to entertain and amuse.
All of these have as their objective to keep the attention of the audience just long enough to sell them a product.
The blogging community, for the most part, is simply acting in the same way as the rest of our American culture, because that is how we have been conditioned by television to consume information.
For anyone out there under 40, try reading a book published in the mid-to-late 1800's or early 1900's, on any serious subject, and see how long you last. For most of us, our minds just isn't conditioned for such a strenuous exercise.
To make a living out of posting diary notes... No offense, Jeff. I think your posts are informative and interesting, but why waste time on the useless chatter?
Maybe there should be a distinction between writing and blogging.
I suggest blogging be re-named blabbing. That way I can choose to read the writers' posts.
I'm just saying...
While I have to admit that I could probably fall under the commodity blogger category, mostly because I find it extremely easy to want to comment on the latest happenings. Giving myself some credit, I do at least try to put my own personal opinion in there and not just a article copy.
I do to agree with Brook Monroe ("Why do some people think it's their business what I post on my blog"). If I simply want to make short little one liner posts about things going on, then that's my prerogative. However I do know that if I were in the "business" of blogging, then of course I would try to come up with more original content than simply commenting on someone else's. The issue that I maybe see more is when news/blog sites are filled with nothing but exact copies of articles from other sources, with no additional comment or input on a given subject matter. Plus, just like I've always said about content in movies and television, if you don't like it, don't watch/read it! Then again we can come down to an even simpler version of the question posed by Brook: Why do people think it's their "business" to tell me what to do at all?
Blogs... the Usenet comment garbage stream of the new century.
I killed my blog for the reasons in Jakob's article before I even read Jakob's article. Once I stepped outside just making sure I posted something/anything and looked at what I'd posted, I had no hesitation in pulling the plug. Close examination revealed that my blog provided none of the things I liked about my favourite blogs (this one, mashable) and then it was obvious to me why no-one came in the 18 months my blog was alive. 'Twas liberating and saddening all at once. But 3 months after that decision, I can only feel the liberation. The key question I couldn't answer for my blog was "why would anyone come here, rather than go look at x?"
Interesting comments, but a blog is unedited content no matter how you slice it. Nielsen's comments are basically saying: "Don't pollute the web with your ramblings", but a blog is personal rambling so I don't agree with his viewpoint, but I do agree there is a lot of information about nothing that is being stored on a daily basis. Can't stop it now, so live with the overload and try to limit the input.
His guidelines are good (self critique and review before posting), but let's face it, no blog entries are reviewed, edited, etc by anyone else besides the blogger.
I am not sure this post is about, writing quality blog entries? Maybe pick up and read Blogging for Dummies if your having a hard time???
More posts around coding and less about blogging please, although its your blog, so YOU can do what YOU want. I find coding posts much more interesting that someone's viewpoints on how to blog.
Blogging use to be fun but in my opinion it has been hijacked. It is one thing to use a blog to promote a product or service and quiet another to use automated crap software to scrape, content and spam others with useless comments. All Those blogs about "my cat fee fee" and "what I ate last night" should not be allowed to clutter .com they should be moved to new top level domains smut on .sex and cat blogs and affiliates on .opm
Weird News is OK as long as it is funny though. Matt C. seems to like it anyway. :)