I've been following the discussions about FiveThirtyEight for ESPN around the web in the past week or so because we are finally wading into new territory -- and this goes beyond Nate Silver's new venture.
The commentary by media and readers like you and me is becoming as important as the content published on the site itself in looking to make sense of what publishing is becoming.
Some explaining to do
Lewis makes three points worth thinking about:
- Can talented writers scale themselves? Silver [is] best known for one thing.
- he [Silver] has to find similar quests for his writers. They have to be bold, big questions to which his algorithm can add tremendous value. And my initial take on it is that he has not found these big questions.
- Explanations aren’t valuable just to bring a reader up to speed. Explanations are valuable, if they’re done well, because they’re entertaining.
To extrapolate where we can apply those points to learn something useful about blogging, and writing for online audiences who: a) have less time to hunt around for a good nugget, and yet b) more appetite for discovering good content.
1.) Talented writers have a distinct voice that is hard to replicate at scale.
Extrapolating this point further; if you are looking to staff a content strategy for a corporate blog, you are erring on the side of the brand's voice rather than the individual's voice because rarely the two are one and the same.
And rarely there are enough people to go around for writing regular content for the site and the rest of the company's content needs, including when subject matter experts find the time to help out.
Companies and brands are usually not in the publishing business, unless their business happens to be media, so it does not make sense to invest too many resources into developing content.
When the brand voice and the individual's voice are one and the same we are probably talking about a small business, or a startup. In that case, the choice is rather simple, unless there are paid alternatives.
This works with products as well.
2.) Bold questions are risky business.
So if you are in the business of creating risk and have a thick skin you have a good starting point. Pulling it off also requires an ability to hold on to the question long enough to pursue it via a hypothesis, or theory.
Attention and focus are being depleted at a staggering rate by multitasking, doing more with less, having to make too many choices and decisions, having too much data to sort through, and plain old impatience.
Instead of holding two opposing ideas in our minds long enough to be able to pursue proving and disproving a hypothesis, we end up speaking, or in many cases streaming, from two sides of the mouth.
Thinking is hard work, one we are not preparing to do much of anymore. Not in school, not in the course of our workday.
Take a look around, most of the wisdom quotes populating social networks and blogs are from people who lived in other times. They were mostly not popular at the time, I should point out -- poisoning, forced suicide, etc.
We are quoting them from the safety of the future. You can afford to be bold when you are very dead. We are quoting others to do it safely.
3) The market for valuable is infinite.
In the same way using entertainment as a learning device is valuable, so is breaking down information to make it more digestible as a process to out-teach your competitors.
People do like to learn. The most popular posts, articles, etc. put forth new ideas, organize known information in new ways, expose us to counter intuitive approaches, and are entertaining. Learning is about making new connections, and laughter is the shortest distance between two people, after all.
The conversational nature of blogging makes it an ideal medium to power learning. Blogs also have a comments box, a unique feature that merges the characteristics of a site with those of a forum. Good blogs link out to references, further information, and resources. Combined, these two alone make a blog more useful as a destination.
Social networks are more like streams, places where we are meeting more people, yet where we are sharecropping when it comes to content. Even when arranged with comment threads, streams are by nature passing by to be replaced more quickly by newer posts.
To recap, two of the most valuable characteristics of a blog are also the main reasons why good blogs take work:
- typically no comments box for sites -- comments invite interaction, interaction is more work that has the potential to raise bold questions
- no ownership with streams -- less commitment could be good, if it weren't that it means more noise to break through, and building someone else's real estate
Despite its lack of innovation, the format works to help distinct voices with something to say put it out there and build -- dare I say -- a community. Being part of a community often fuels finding something valuable to say.
What makes a good blog is also what makes it hard to sustain over time, where the results of the work accrue.
Also see, why have a blog?
Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effects on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.