Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Saturday, 11 June 2016

A question on blogging

I enjoyed reading Miles Kimball’s reflections on 4 years of blogging. I’ve been going only 6 months longer, so we both came to blogging at a similar time. We have a similar number of twitter followers, if that means anything. We read each other out of interest rather than obligation, and not because we agree about everything.

Given all that, I was interested in this paragraph of his:
"Some days I have something I am dying to say. Other days, I think “I need to stay in the game by blogging regularly so that when I do have something I am dying to say, there will be readers there to hear it.” That is, I try to be dependable for my readers so that they will be there when I have an idea I really want to get out there. (According to the rules I have made up for myself, being dependable for my readers includes (a) havingsomething new every day, even if it is just a link, (b) having a Sunday post on either religion or a key text like John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (c ) at least two other posts with some meat to them each week and (d) having the blog be visually appealing with several pictures every week to break up the words. Living up to that has not always been easy.)"

Now I know I generally fail on (d), and I could not do (b). But I’m also very self-indulgent about when I blog. The only rules I have is that I always try to wait at least a day between first writing and then publishing, and that I try and avoid publishing two on the same day, but otherwise I write when I think I have something to say. It was a complete surprise to me that this meant I blogged fairly regularly: when I started I imagined there would be periods of a week or more when I had nothing to write about.

When I did start a number of people said that I should consider joining forces with others, so as to enable regular publication. There are some good examples of that out there, but I felt the premise was wrong. Why should a blog appear regularly? Mine happens to be, except on a few occasions that I’m immersed in something else that takes all my time. But is that any kind of virtue? It is of no interest to me in the blogs that I read, perhaps because I’m invariably reading them with a lag.

So this is my question. Is there any virtue in blogging regularly? I know the legendary Paul Krugman used to forewarn his readers that he might not be writing anything for a few days, but would they really go away if they hadn’t been forewarned? I would be very interested with thoughts via comments or twitter.     

34 comments:

  1. Yes there is :) Like most people I suppose, I read a few related blogs, but it's nice to have some consistency. When someone goes missing I notice. Thanks for the blog.

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  2. I read through RSS, so delays between posts mean very little to me - I'll be notified when there's something new, however long that takes.

    That said, I've heard second-hand from the author of a web serial (who has posted a new chapter almost unerringly, twice a week for the last several years) that he sees a measurable drop in readership after any missed update or hiatus.

    Even with a continuous narrative that you might expect to create some investment and draw to keep coming back, it seems that there's a segment that will check his site for updates periodically and may well stop coming back entirely if they don't find one when they expect to.

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  3. I would suppose that most people get articles/blogs via aggregators such as Feedly, and it is not necessary to publish every day. One of my favorite blogs publishes weekly. Another quite irregularly. They get read when they show up. So I don't think it matters unless you only publish a couple of times a year.

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  4. Most readers like regular contact. If you don't provide this, you lose readership.

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  5. One argument is "search engine optimisation" - if a site is inactive for long periods of time, it gets penalised (or at least it did; the algorithms change). But that may only matter if there is nothing new for a month at a time.

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  6. It is fortunate that Mark Thoma almost always alerts readers when you post

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  7. Hi Simon, I follow your blog and Miles'. I see no value in regular posting. Quality is what matters. I find Miles' tendency to post his students' work and random things from John Stuart Mills or whatever to be a slight negative, but they're easy to skip. I don't know why Krugman warns about blogging gaps. I don't find those warnings helpful.

    In other words, I'm with you :-)

    -Ken

    Kenneth Duda
    Menlo Park, CA




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  8. The majority of people viewing my own blog posts do not view within 24 or 48 hours of posts being published: they view up to a week later. If that’s the same for all blogs, including Mainlymacro, I conclude that blog followers are not bothered whether there’s a post every day: they’re happy to catch up once a week or so.

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  9. I've been blogging since 2005 - I started just before the election, after leaving a series of comments on Tom Watson's blog & finding I wanted to develop my arguments at more length. ("For Tomorrow", my inaugural series - on why left-wingers shouldn't vote Labour(!) - can now be found here.) I currently run four blogs, although two are dormant; the other two (which have quite different audiences) I post to once or twice a week, generally, although I really don't keep score. I came across this piece of received wisdom about blogging a while ago; I rejected it indignantly and without a moment's consideration.

    I'd say that, unless you're writing as part of the terms of a contract, in the expectation of some longer-term reward, or in the hope of developing your writing skill through repetition, then you should(!) write whatever you like and whenever you like.

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  10. Everyone probably has different approaches to reading blogs. As an occasional commenter I like to try to catch yours within a day or two of a post appearing, as otherwise any comment would be too late. This means that if you did go a long time without posting it would be a bit tedious to regularly check my source feed (but not that bad really).

    I suspect that frequently going more than say three full days without new material appearing would reduce the attraction of your blog: on the other hand I find, for example, Brad Delong's multiple links and tweets a bit frustrating making me less likely to spot any interesting or original post he might write.

    Given that you have other responsibilities in addition to your blog readership, maybe a quick post indicating a likely silence of more than three days, or a "Hi, I'm coming back soon" when you are away would help to maintain the relationship.

    But, as I say, I'm sure others have other ideas and approaches.

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  11. I see no value in you writing just for the sake of writing. Much better to write when you have something interesting to say. And I imagine (without any evidence, it is true) that most people will use a news reader that gathers blog feeds automatically when they appear - there is no danger of losing such readers.

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  12. I'm subscribed via RSS, so I cannot miss anything, anything new you write will go into the queue. Doesn't matter if you don't write every few days. Don't think this is is true about people subscribed via Twitter, though.

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  13. I lost interest in noahpinion because it's not that regular.

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  14. Personally, I believe blogging too much is worse than blogging too little. I guess I am a slow thinker - I like time to consider what has been written, particularly the thoughtful posts and particularly where papers and earlier blogs are referenced in the blog which need to be read to appreciate what the blog is about. Jamming the airways with anything just to maintain a presence I think is counterproductive. There are so many eco blogs out there, it would be better if there were fewer. There are bloggers out there that I respect not necessarily because of what they say but how they say it - and they post a quality blog once every few weeks.

    Henry

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  15. If people use an RSS reader to keep track of the blogs they follow, as I do, then it doesn't matter how often you post as they're not checking your website every day on the off chance you've written something. There's already too much to read in my feed from other sources. I don't see the need to keep up a stream of content. If I see a post by someone who writes infrequently but I know is very interesting, I'll pounce on it.

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  16. It's quality over quantity for me; you're nailing both. Thanks!

    S

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  17. Personally, i really appreciate that you don't bother with criterion d). Why on earth would anyone want to 'break up' the words unlless the words are really boring? Thanks, too, for only writing when you feel you have something of substance to say. How many of us would really wish to read a contribution the value of which is not even recognised by its own author? That a writer might produce work of great merit which she does not herself perceive is, I grant, possible, and has doubtless, from time to time, happened. Still, these precious gems will have to find their own way. In general, a piece which fails to interest its own author is surely unlikely to interest others. Your blog is, at it is, I find, extremely illuminating. It is highly accessible (except those posts that you helpfully label 'for economists') whilst also doing full justice to the subject matter. In little more than a year I feel I have progressed from being a near ignoramus to being reasonably well informed. For this I largely have your blog to thank.

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  18. I think you should blog when you have something to say. Your present approach suits me well

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  19. I'm enjoying your blogs- and I'm sharing them with both my undergraduate daughter ( studying politics and economics) and also with with friends regarding the Brexit and austerity debate. I'd say that less is more- write when you have something important to say. Sam Brittan and Martin Wolf of the FT are good role models here. I will certainly still read your blogs if they are less frequent. And to help with my perspective- I'm mid-fifties, management consultant, centrist politically, late 70s PPE, MBA.

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  20. I have read all the Mainly Macro and Krugman blogs since rekindling my interest in economics a couple of years ago. If MM dries up for a couple of days absence makes the heart grow fonder - and why blog for the sake of it?!

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  21. I subscribe through a feed reader, but I may be unusual in that. To me signal-to-noise ratio is more important than content: if I have to wade through a lot of uninteresting posts to get to the good stuff I won't bother.

    OTOH some people will be in the habit of visiting a site regularly, and my stop if there's nothing new.

    I think there is some data out there on major blogging platforms of posting frequency versus readership levels, but the quality of posts is going to be harder to measure. Inbound links maybe? Number of clicks on embedded links?

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  22. Phillip Dearden12 June 2016 at 09:22

    I don't think you need to blog for the sake of it. I read your blogs to gain an understanding of modern economic discussions and I am very grateful for your input but you only need to write when you have something to say, forcing comment would reduce quality.

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  23. Dear Simon,

    If it's good, they will come back for more.

    Regards

    Nick

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  24. I would recommend going with what works for you, assuming that it produces a level of readership that makes the project worthwhile from your perspective. The readership here is unlikely to be much concerned about bells and whistles. I would welcome and recommend a brief alert if there is likely be a significant pause in an established rhythm of posts. Readers come to think of a blogger as something akin to a personal correspondent, and are inclined to worry about such things.

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  25. Well, if your goal is blog traffic, then there is no doubt that posting regularly and often will increase it.

    I have been blogging since 2010, on blogspot 2010-2013 then 2014 and onward on wordpress, and I have found that a) I need blogging, and despite lulls in posting I eventually always come back to it, itching to write, and b) I cannot write every day; in fact, committing to any sort of schedule makes blogging a chore. I do daily blogging in November and I did daily blogging in May, and I always find that there are days when I'd rather not post so I end up with filler posts (which the readership doesn't seem to mind). So I know for a fact that writing every day is not what I want to do or can do regularly with it remaining what it is to me: a place to connect with other academics and hone my writing skills.

    I guess I am with you in that I am, as you say, self-indulgent about blogging. To me, that's the only way to produce content worth reading. When I feel a deep urge to say something because it's been percolating and needs to come out. It turns out I have things to say at least once a
    week, and often more frequently.

    So unless you are planning on making serious money from the blog, I wouldn't worry about your posting frequency too much. Post when you feel like it; I do, and I think that's what has kept me blogging for years now.

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  26. Since it seems appropriate, I'll take this opportunity to thank you for the excellent content you've been creating! I have really enjoyed it.

    For years, yours and Krugman's blogs are the only pages I have "pinned" in Chrome (other than Facebook and email), so it's a good comparison. FWIW - I have a subscription to the NY Times explicitly to support Krugman, since I don't read any of the rest of it, so you might want to consider setting up a Patreon page...

    Krugman recently had a 10 day hiatus (apparently for connectivity issues). I found myself refreshing the site multiple times a day, keen for another update and hoping he was ok (while knowing that if something really bad had happened it probably would have become wider news).

    Once an expectation has been set (even for a free and voluntary service like this one), it can be ever-so-slightly disconcerting for readers when that expectation isn't met.

    Having said that, it's not like I ever considered leaving and never coming back in a fit of pique. I (and I assume others) understand that it's not always possible to post something every day.

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  27. From personal experience i do not think regular updates are essential to maintaining readers once a blog is past its initial infancy stages. There are ~ 10 economics blogs i frequent and i do so not because there are regular updates but because i have a certain level of confidence in the writers judgement. Krugman's blog is a good example as it does have periods where there is a lack of content, if it hasn't been updated in a while i don't stop visiting the site i simply check back in a few days later. This blog is well established and reputable enough to maintain readers without being updated on a daily or even weekly basis.

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  28. Your blogs mix a relaxed (for the me as a reader) frequency with high quality content. There are usually enough hooks in it to go and follow up on other ideas. It is my favorite blog because of that.

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  29. I think you don't have to blog every day. If your blogs are of interest and quality people will read them. Most people who read them also follow you on Twitter like myself. If you also tweet links to your blogs people will find them that way for sure. In Finland we have one very good economics blogger, Professor Haaparanta who blogs maybe once a month, sometimes even with longer interval but he compensates with high quality and when his blogs come out everybody rushes to read them and the commentary is always very lively.

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  30. You seem to have so much to say that is worthwhile, that I wonder whether it is an issue for you!

    More important, can tell, in advance, which posts your readers will find helpful? When there are important issues on which a message needs to be got across (Brexit, Austerity) is it possible that something you see as not adding very much to the discussion might turn out to be something readers find very helpful, perhaps because of the way you have put it or because they have missed things previously? So the discipline of commenting regularly on important issues, even if you are not sure that you have something new to say, might be useful.

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  31. I marvel at your ability to produce something readable and worthwhile so frequently. I tried to maintain a blog myself for a while, with modest success in terms of response, but I struggled to write something worthwhile and satisfactorily rigorous more than about once a month. As far as I am concerned, you are better to err on the side of less frequent, more considered. I disagree with much of your Keynesian view, but like Krugman's blog, I drop by from time to time either at random or following a link because I find your arguments at least good enough to make me think.

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  32. Hello Simon! First of all, a great big thank you for your blog and the effort you put into it. I really enjoy the regularity of the posts, which I find always interesting, thought-provoking and relevant for the economist that I am. A high frequency of posting is not necessary, quality is much more important. But I find that, if a blog remains inactive for too long (periods of 2 weeks or more), I tend to forget about it and to not go see it spontaneously. Or I sign up to receive email notification of new posts, and only go when an email arrives.

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  33. I always come back to your or Krugman's blog, regardless of the time elapsed between posts. Quality is what keeps me clicking on your blog in my Favourites tab!

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  34. I print out everything you and Krugman write every two weeks or so because i like to wait until there is enough material to spend a whole Sunday morning reading. Quality over quantity every time - keep it up! Pictures are fine if they help your argument but don't get any crazy ideas about Friday night music!

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