Unraveling the Geologic Stratum of the Blogosphere: Why We Blog

Everytime I meet non-bloggers and encourage them to start a blog, they ask, what’s in it for me? what’s the benefit? why should I blog? Even I ask myself these questions from time to time. Why do I blog? Why do we blog?

In thinking about the reasons for blogging, I thought of geology and rock stratum. If you could slice through rock cliff, you would see various layers, with different textures, compositions, colors, and constituencies for each layer. Kind of like this:

Rock Strata

The reasons for blogging are as numerous as the layers that make up the ancient rock stratum. That is to say, one blogs for many different reasons. One reason may be more appropriate for a different time and condition. The reason may suddenly change due to an altered atmosophere. Some reasons are buried deep and we hardly see them. Others protrude along the surface visibly. Here’s a possible stratum underlying the blogger’s motivations:

Blog Strata

The reason/layer can be more important at different times of your life and fulfill different purposes. I expand on each reason below.

Visibility

Blogging increases your visibility and helps you market yourself professionally. The more you blog, the more others become aware of you. Particularly in a field like technical writing, where probably less than 1% of writers blog, maintaining an active blog makes you stand out. People in other states and countries suddenly know you. You begin to exist to others. I blog, therefore I am. In a global community of people, you are no longer another indistinguishable grain of sand. You are a real, visible person through your blog.

Engagement

Blogging forces you to analyze and process what you read, hear, and experience. When you blog about ideas and information you encounter, you’re no longer a passive absorber of information. You become an active analyzer, confronting life by processing, reflecting, and synthesizing your thoughts on it.

Just as novelists see people they interact with as potential characters, the events of their lives as possible plots, you also begin to think in blog. You see the world differently. An idea becomes blog worthy, and writing about it forces you to engage with it. In a world where information bombards us, blogging allows us to do something with it.

Creativity

Blogging provides a space for creative expression, with the rewards of validation and feedback. Many technical writers were English majors or other creative types, with literary energy and inspirational muses waiting to be unleashed. Through blogging, you are given a purpose, an audience, and an unlimited supply of electronic ink. Even without being a novelist or columnist, you can still publish regularly and fulfill that part of you. Blogging allows the writer within you to be released.

Interaction

The interaction that blogs yield provides a social appeal. It feels good to get comments and interact with others. Moreover, blogs allow you to interact with others who share your same interests. While you may have more rewarding interactions in real world settings, blogging adds another dimension to your sociality.

Traffic

Blogging increases traffic to your site and optimizes keywords for your name or product. The more others link to you, the more Google moves you up in the page rank. Blogs also provide a tremendous amount of content — and therefore keywords — for your site. Even comments from users add more keywords to your site.

After blogging for a year, you will probably move up significantly in the search engine rankings, allowing more people to find you. (For example, when you Google my name, Tom Johnson, you see I’m on the first page. Considering how common my name is (think of all the Tom Johnsons there are in a world of 6 billion people), that’s pretty amazing to be #7.)

Now think how many people use Google to find information. If your blog gets you onto the first page of Google, you’ve just leveraged the most important knowledge tool on the planet.

Sharing

Blogs enable collective sharing of intelligence. Bloggers share their knowledge with each other, and this knowledge is distributed through the search engines. The more we share knowledge, the smarter we become.

As more people start blogging and sharing knowledge in a written, online form, Google becomes a more powerful tool for finding knowledge. Essentially, blogs are transferring the knowledge inside each of us and putting it out on Google. The world’s brain is being morphed into one centralized, accessible location. With smart keyword searches, you’ll soon be tapped into all human knowledge.

Feedback

Blogging provides you with feedback on your ideas. When you publish your thoughts, people read them and make comments. Sometimes it can be like having 100 personal researchers working for you, as one writer put it. Readers enrich your thoughts by providing important additions, corrections, reflections, and other feedback. Ask a question, and you get responses.

Getting comments on a post is one of the most rewarding aspects of blogging, because it means your post connected with someone else. Their response deepens the meaning of the original post. This feedback helps you avoid writing in a vaccuum.

Currency

Blogging helps you stay current with the latest trends and industry news. Blogs usually distribute the latest information, so as a blogger, you’ll read other blogs and stay on the forefront of the latest news, announcements, and other practices.

Unlike traditional print media, which is planned months before publication, and then published periodically (such as monthly or quarterly), blogs can instantly publish and distribute information as it takes place. You’re connected with what’s current — immediately. And you can respond to it — immediately.

Journal

Blogs allow you to record your thoughts and learnings in a journal. By writing down what you learn, you can recall it later by searching for it on your site. A convenient link, quotation, idea, or tip you write in your blog becomes yours forever. Months from now, you may vaguely recall something you wrote on the topic. A quick search on your blog allows you to easily find it. If you are compiling notes for a book, there’s no better journal than a blog.

Distribution

Blogging can be a convenient way to publish and distribute information. If you have job listings, events, newsletter articles, announcements, podcasts, or other information that you frequently publish, blogs provide the easiest method for distributing it. If you respond to frequently asked questions in your blog (rather than by email), you can point people to posts already written (a concept John Udell calls “the conservation of keystrokes”).

Blogs also provide an RSS feed that readers can subscribe to, so you don’t have to email your users every time there’s an update. Additionally, blogs allow multiple authors to collaborate in the publishing. You can have a team of distributed authors who can publish on the fly from any Internet connection.

Access

Blogging provides an open access point between you and the world. With comments enabled, your blog is an open conduit that allows people to access you. This can be especially important if you’re a corporate blogger. Readers can submit feedback, recommendations, and provide other information to make your product stronger. Readers with questions can contact you.

Your blog makes you accessible — for conference invitations, book deals, contract offerings, job offers (see this Wall Street Journal article or this post by Darren Barefoot), and other benefits.

Relationships

Blogging helps you build relationships with readers, whether they be users of your products, your employees, chapter members, or friends. For example:

  • If you blog for a company, your blog can help users feel a stronger affinity with your products, allowing them to see the faces behind development, learn tips and tricks, find out about upcoming enhancements and development, and feel closer to your company.
  • As a manager, your blog can bring you closer to your employees, helping them understand what you do and think, and providing a way to receive feedback.
  • If you’re a leader of a group, blogging helps you connect with your members, keep them informed and close.
  • If you blog for your friends and family, your blog can increase communication to the point that, despite weeks or months of separation, you still feel as if you’ve been together.

?

We don’t know all the reasons why we do things. I leave this last section with a question mark. Maybe readers can fill it in with reasons I’ve missed.

Credit to Alan Scott for the stratum diagram.

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By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for the 41st Parameter in San Jose, California. I'm primarily interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication (video tutorials, illustrations), findability (organization, information architecture), API documentation (code examples, programming), and web publishing (web platforms, interactivity) -- pretty much everything related to technical writing. If you're trying to keep up to date about the field of technical communication, subscribe to my blog either by RSS, email, or another method. To learn more about me, see my About page. You can also contact me if you have questions.

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