On Monday Jakob Nielson published his latest Alerbox article, Write Articles, Not Blog Postings. and, as is often the case when Jakob offers something, not everyone agrees with him or agrees completely. He does make some valid points, but also seems to show a lack of understanding about what a blog is.
Yuri wrote a very good follow up post for YOUmoz, Which Content to Create: Expert Articles or Shallow Blog Posts? and Chris Garrett added a few thoughts before asking readers, What is a Blog Post Really?. Both are worthwhile reads and have generated some interesting and insightful comments.
Nielson does make some good points. He urges you to create content that is
- beyond the abilities of your competition
- well researched
No one would argue that the more value you can provide in your content the better off both you and your visitors will be. We should all strive to produce quality to the best of our abilities. Jakob is pushing for quality over quantity, which is something I firmly believe. He also rightfully argues that more quality places you higher up the chain of experts in your industry and has greater potential to convert readers into clients and customers.
Another of his points is that it will be less an investment in time to write fewer great articles than it will be to write a range of quality blog posts. A given article will take longer to write than a given post, but because you’re writing fewer of them you end up spending less time overall. All of these make sense and I don’t disagree.
But there’s more to the story.
Where Jakob Misses The Mark
I think Jakob misses the mark in two main areas. One is the assumption that more automatically means better. The best blog post, article, essay, short story, or novel is as long as it needs to be. Adding a few hundred pages to “The Old Man and the Sea” wouldn’t make it any better. The novel is the perfect length for what it’s trying to communicate. So is this:
what used to be
There’s a lot of information in those 7 words. In just 11 syllables you can feel the pain of a relationship that has long ceased to be what it once was. You can sense the sadness of what might have been. Short does not equal shallow as Nielson seems to think. I’ve read some very good, yet very short blog posts. I’ve also read some very long, yet very bad articles.
Nielsen would probably argue that both “The Old Man and the Sea” and the haiku above while short were written more like an article than the quick blog post and he’s right of course. The point is that short should not be taken as lacking value.
But where Jakob really goes astray is with the nature of what a blog is. A blog is a conversation on so many different levels. Post are meant to invoke a conversations. Yes, they can educated, but by nature a blog post is a dialog where an article is a monologue. Blog posts are never done. They are continued though the conversations they begin.
Darren Rowse is a perfect example. He’ll often post a question for his readers. Darren will generally answer his own question with a few of his thoughts and then he lets the readers take over. While Darren may not have spent a lot of time researching those posts they often prove highly valuable due to the conversation he started. Darren understands how to direct a discussion.
Added: Here’s an example of a short blog post I came across today from Dave Naylor. There’s a lot of value for readers, but what more needs to be said. Should Dave have not told us about that plugin or did he need to show all the code and explain every line of it? No. It’s perfect exactly as it is and another example of how a post doesn’t need to be lengthy to add value to the world.
A blog post doesn’t end at it’s comments either. A blog carries it’s own conversation over time. To get the best value from a blog requires reading beyond a single post. Much value comes from experiencing the voice of the blogger over the course of time. It’s not always necessary to have every post be self contained. Thoughts expressed in one post may be elaborated in another.
Blogs also carry conversations with each other. Jakob seems to consider these kind of posts derivative and in truth there are many derivative posts. I know I’ve written a few myself here and there. But many is the time where one blogger starts a conversation that is picked up and taken in a new direction elsewhere. To imply that a blogger who carries another’s conversation is being derivative is to imply that once something is said it should never be discussed again.
The Beauty Of Blogs
The beauty of blogs is that they are conversational. They call for more informal writing and are not always meant to be self contained in their thought. A blog can connect you with an audience in a way an article never can. You don’t get to know the readers of your article. You do get to know many of the readers of your blog.
Now I completely agree with Jakob when he talks about creating more value in your content, but he ignores the entire conversational nature of blogs.
Scroll back up and look at the haiku again. It’s actually a very good example of the idea behind blogging. The haiku is very short by nature. It only says so much, but if you spend a few moments thinking about it you’ll likely begin to picture it’s narrator and then the narrator’s partner. You’ll start to see their relationship over the years, where it once was, where it is now, where it might be tomorrow. And the relationship you see may be something different than what I see. We’ll each bring our past and present relationships into our understanding. If we were to start talking about it we’d each be able to teach the other something about relationships.
A blog post can work the same way. It’s the start of something and not necessarily the final word. Many a blog post is purposely left unfinished in order to draw out the experience of it’s readers.
A blog post is meant to be part of a larger conversation. An article isn’t. Dialog and monologue. Both can be very valuable, but one is not by its nature better than the other. Each is different and each has different goals. And the larger blog is capable of being both. Sometimes a post will be written more like an article. It will be well researched and written over several sittings. it will try to be all inclusive. At other times a blog will be a comment on another post or some new thoughts that are meant to be part of a larger discussion.
Jakob Nielsen does make some valid points and there’s no question there are many blogs that would fall in with his way of thinking about blogs. But in failing to see that some blog posts are simply a link in a larger chain of conversation, Jakob misunderstands the essence of a blog and misses some of the best value a blog post has to offer.
What do you think? Should we all give up our blogs and turn them into article machines? Is there no value in shorter blog posts or is a blog more than the length of it’s post? Do you prefer dialogs or monologues?