My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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blog production/consumption musings

I’m not very good at reading blogs. Let me clarify… i’m not particularly good at reading blogs that are good for me. I check in on Brangelina is the new pink gossip daily, consume cute imagery until i’m overloaded, depress myself with what happens post secret, and read the living journals of close friends who share juicy stories. But when i think about reading blogs about tech industry, my research area or other arenas that would actually be helpful, i go into anaphylactic shock. There’s too many, it’s too overwhelming, i can’t cope, eek! I can’t even stomach blogs written by dear friends who i will talk with for hours about professional or intellectual ideas (unless they embed the nutritious material in the sugary gossip stuff). I don’t even think i’d read my blog given its content if i weren’t the one writing it.

It’s not that i don’t want to be engaged with meaningful conversations, but somehow, the popularity of blogging and the amount of content that people produce flips the all or nothing bit in my head. And then i started talking to some of my friends who maintain big blogs… I was startled at how few of them actually read blogs these days. They too had hit some wall; apparently, i’m not alone. They also rely on people to email things that are of particular interest. They also use things like Technorati to ego-surf not for validation, but to keep abreast of what conversations they’re supposed to be engaging in. There’s something reassuring about realizing that my peculiar blogging consumption practices these days are not unique. Of course, it doesn’t alleviate all of the guilt that i feel about being a blogger who doesn’t read many blogs.

But then i started thinking… Here i am producing random ass content for god knows who to read. Most of my close friends don’t read me so i can bet that most of my readers are relative strangers. So when i post questions to readers, mostly i’m posting them to strangers. More interesting though is who sends me links. For the most part, it clusters around two groups – close friends who don’t blog and strangers. My blogging non-consuming friends aren’t reading enough to inform me of things and if it’s particularly interesting, they’ll blog about it and assume that i’ll read it. (This brings back the guilt.)

Is what i’m hearing from my friends a larger trend amongst a particular population? If so, what does it mean for blogging discourse if there’s a consumption/production divide in blogging? Are (non-professional) bloggers with more readers less likely to read blogs than bloggers with fewer readers? What kind of peculiar power hierarchy emerges if bloggers who are read more read less and depend on readers more? Are those who read less less involved in the dialogue or are they simply bridges dependent on sharing? How might this relate to the fact that such bloggers are constantly getting pressure to blog about XYZ? Does lack of reading affect posting patterns? Does it signal a de-involvement with blogging culturally? (Any more than WoW addiction?)

I still haven’t seen a good study on the dynamics of massively public blogging, the cycles that bigger bloggers go through and the power implications involved, but i’m very curious about how consumption and production interconnect and affect the networked public nature of mass blogging. I’d also really love to understand the role that psychological, social and cultural factors play in prompting many of the bigger bloggers to stop (or drastically reduce) their blogging production. Selfishly, i’d also love someone to explain what’s going on so that i can stop reflexively blogging about reduced blogging. Of course, if someone does blog such a thing in the digital forest, would i even hear the sound?

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24 comments to blog production/consumption musings

  • In a strange way, I only read a few blogs myself. When I post to my livejournal though, it is not for people to read as much as to give me an idea of what was on my mind a certain day.

  • i think the reason most people who become successful bloggers (by however you define that) stop reading most other blogs is simply because the writing is not good on 99% of them. i think mark cuban had a post where he discussed the blogosphere, and he said that right now is the big bang of blogs, but that most people wont continue after a certain period of time. that means once the smoke clears, what will be left are the dedicated, good writing, interesting folks who will have a larger audience to split.

    the other factor is that bloggers write posts that are WAY TOO LONG (like this comment). if the average person has 20 minutes to read blogs a day, bloggers should be conscious that long posts eat into more of that time. say what you have to say and end it unless its an EXTRA important topic.

    id suggest finding the 5-10 best tech blogs in your area and your friends and just use an RSS reader to sort through it.

  • Jer

    Speaking as someone just getting into blogs (both reading and writing them) I do find it strange that a lot of the bigger bloggers I know and read seem to spend very little time on other blogs. I guess it’s understandable that once you’ve built a sizable community around your blog, the need to find/participate in other communities may not seem as important. But, feed readers are so simple that it seems easy enough to keep a broad perspective on a bunch of different sites and contribute when applicable.

    Maybe a typology of bloggers is needed. The catgeories could be along a production/consumption axis, or they could be more ridiculous (insert blog categories here).

  • If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend “Among the audience: A survey of the new media” from the Economist’s April 22, 2006 issue. The highlighted quote that starts the survey is “The era of mass media is giving way to one of personal and participatory media, says Andreas Kluth. That will profoundly change both the media industry and society as a whole.” Unfortunately, they made this one “premium content” so unless you’re a subscriber you’ll have to get it from your library.

    The new PewInternet.org report on broadband trends also has some very interesting information on web content generation trends. I commented on the surprising (to me) socio-economic trends the report describes.

    Another interesting article/editorial was published in the Wall Street Journal on April 22, 2006: “When Blogs Rule We Will All Talk Like —-,” in the Wonder Land column by Daniel Henninger.

    I’ve always been interested in writing, publishing, and technology. To me, the blogging / social networking phenomenon is fascinating. But it is true that the amount of potentially interesting information is overwhelming. Too many blogs, too many print articles, too many books.

    Since I need to write to pay for my kids’ college educations, I am forced to limit what I read, all of which is professional / technical in nature. But that’s a reflection of my personal situation. I think what you read will depend on how much of your social life is “lived” online.

  • For what it’s worth, I read blogs like I read a newspaper, and so mostly the blogs of strangers who write about a particular thing i’m interested in at the moment, or who seem to blog in general about things that interest me (like momus and you). I spend about an hour in the morning before work reading through my favorite blogs and sometimes – though less so! – newspaper websites. I also write in a blog on and off that I’m sure nobody reads…

    Compare your blog reading habits to your other reading habits maybe? Could be as simple as being able to sit down with a book is a more comfortable way for you to read longer text…

  • I came late to blogging, about 15 months ago. I finally got a RSS reader late last summer and it has 28 blogs in it’s roster. For a long time, even with the reader, I went to each blog’s site. That took to long with my slow connections, so I started using the reader more. But there are over 100 posts a day to read and even it can be slow. I built Daily Blog News so I could glance at 8-12 blog posts, by category, at a time and link to the stories I was interested in reading more. Now I review well over 100 blogs in less than 30 minutes and focus on posts from bloggers that have already done some of the work separating the wheat from the chaff.

    That said. I am still finding new blogs every day – such as yours – that I want to touch bases with regularly, even if not daily. What happens when the number is 400 and I need to prune?

  • I find that I have kind of an inverse problem: I tend to be less and less interested in the “big guns” bloggers in my area (admittedly a small one in the blogosphere – linguistics) because, as one previous commenter noted, the posts are long and sort of time-consuming to read and digest. Does this mean I look to the blogosphere more for fluff or entertainment than real serious content? Perhaps. Also though, either a) those blogs don’t allow comments because if they did it’d be too overwhelming of a response, or b) there are too many comments to read, and it’s overwhelming! And comments are part of what makes blogs unique. I feel like blogs have this weird charge of maintaining a balance of readability, accessibility, high quality, but also catering to shorter attention spans.

    As for the feelings of guilt, when you become part of a ring of topical blogs, you do begin to feel the tug of expectation that you’ll keep up with all the other blogs, in the same way that news is made – networks and papers must all stay on top of the same stories, and can’t stand to be ‘scooped.’ If you miss something, it makes you seem irrelevant. You also feel like you have to post a certain amount to stay in the game. But, I have a hunch that most of these feelings are neuroses, and not really based in reality – or else they’re the product of what one WISHES were reality – “I have so many readers, and they NEED me to post a certain amount, and if I don’t they’re going to be very disappointed!” When in truth, e.g. for a blog like mine, people don’t really care – even though I have a good amount of regular readers who aren’t acquaintances, but I’m not hyper-popular and no one knows who I am beyond word nerds. If I stopped posting, it would become more like a conversation that people didn’t get to have, rather than an expert opinion they no longer had access to….but that’s a question: when does what’s special about blogs (whatever you think that is – for me it’s dialogue) cease to be functional as a blog’s reach or popularity increases?

  • For those who are talking feed readers, i should note that i have one that i can no longer bear to check. I have two different accounts – one of feeds of people that i know and one of feeds of people that i should read professionally. Both top 2000 posts a week. Most of it is interesting and relevant but it’s far too much. This is what switches me into the all or nothing plan because i am not good at choosing which friends to cull.

  • Dan

    I see it as a problem as the wrong tool for the wrong job. Blogs skew towards the US/People/EW edge of the spectrum. The best posts are less than 400 words, and like you pointed out, juicy.

    When the science journals I try to follow started to put out RSS feeds I was pretty psyched, but I quickly found that trying to take on the material in my aggregator was futile effort: When in “blog reading mode” I simply don’t have the bandwidth or focus to process detailed, complicated information.

    Perhaps what we need is a full screen, long format post specific aggregator meant for these kinds of detailed posts. Such a browser would suppress all other distractions and mute or tone down hyperlinks. What would also be great is a highlighting, note taking, and bookmarking feature set.

    Hmm.

  • I find it interesting you feel you produce more content than you consume. That is definitely atypical. The majority of internet users consume exorbitantly more content than they produce.

    I have looked into the product/consumption relationship before, but within the context of eCommerce. Amazon.com is a great example of content consumption versus content production. It may appear there are a lot of reviews, pick lists and other user generated content on Amazon, but one has to realize the ratio of producers versus consumers. For every review written, there are hundreds if not thousands of users consuming the review.

  • I read probably about 10 blogs regularly, but often at least check out others. I’m not a blogger with a huge reader base, myself, and I don’t often post about what I’ve found on other blogs- just occasionally.
    For me, other blogs keep me connected and give me windows into the experiences of others. While in market research by trade, I have a passion for “voice” – and so just as I read a variety of books to explore the different voices published in that form of media, I am also fascinated by the blogs of others – and especially those that deal with deeper issues or that do more than just recycle content I could find posted elsewhere.
    For the work that I do to understand social computing and that culture, I do find that Technorati and Findory help to take me to new places – and sometimes to fun and random stuff, too – although I tend to stick to just a few blogs that have floated to the top for regular reading.

  • Alison

    I will read blogs that have no relevance to my background, using blogs as an opportunity to learn about other subjects. In a way, it broadens my knowledge, and adds variety to my life. Perhaps to just switch off and read something mindless?

    Through blog reading alone, I’ve somewhat developed an interest in social software. I’m no expert in this field, but blog reading alone has encouraged me to develop/set up a sites such as deaf-blogs.com and now my head buzzes with possibilities as to what can be developed in very specific areas.

    However, I will avoid reading law blogs (or blawgs) like the plague, too close to my background in the physical world.

  • Alison

    I should add, mindless in this context, I mean where there is no professional pressure to participate. That is not to say I find the subject matter of interest.

  • I didn’t read your post, but thought I’d comment on it anyway.

    Just kidding. ;-)

    I basically have two different modes for reading online: entertainment and research.

    Entertainment mode includes reading my friends’ blogs, BoingBoing, and industry “news” (i.e. gossip). Long, substantive blog posts that require a lot of thought get completely ignored in this mode. Instead, I skim the headlines and only read what grabs me. Newsiness, the lure of the novel, is a bright shiny attraction in this mode.

    Research mode is more targeted after a specific goal, like, say, finding a good graffiti wall in Paris that I can photograph during the three hours of free time I have between my plane and train next weekend. In this mode I could easily read one article for a full hour if it’s what I’m looking for.

    My guess is that what’s happening to you and others like you is that you read so much for your day jobs, you don’t feel much like reading for entertainment. I doubt it has much to do with the fact that you keep a blog. And that’s a good thing. You’re free from the tyrrany of the new, and instead you get to research things in depth, and only when you consciously decide to do so.

  • techbee

    I found your blog via your post on Airtroduction, of all things…. I now read it via RSS. (+120 feeds).If a blog is not in my RSS reader, I am going to lose or forget it. I’m still excited by the variety and the Alice in Wonderland side of browsing at random, and do it during week-ends. But RSS subscribing draws the line between casual encounters and steady blog-relationship. Now, what is it about one blogs that hooks you or bores you. Mysterious. Kathy Sierra has an on line survey about that. The comments give good insight.

  • I didn’t read this, sorry

  • Hey Danah (et. al.), I recommend a client-side RSS reader that works while offline. It’s great to be able to catch-up while offline and reading blogs and MSM on my laptop beats trying to fold and unfold a newspaper when the bus is packed.

    I personally use the RSS reader built-in to Outlook 2007 which is finally available for public download at: http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/beta/download/en/default.mspx.

    Cheers–
    –Rob

  • i write for myself, to get my thoughts out of my mind so i can move on to new thoughts.

    i don’t use a traditional reader and never will.

    i read about 10 blogs a day relgiously. they are all written by people i know and love.

    i visit every link that is emailed to me no matter who mails it.

    that’s my way.

    fred

  • Because I work for Fred, I read all the blogs that Fred doesn’t… all 150 in FeedDemon… and then e-mail/tag/IM him all the links that he’s referring to.

    :)

    j/k….

    No, seriously, though, its becoming a pile-up in my FeedDemon. I want to start over but I’m not even sure how I want to construct my reading. Friends? Need to reads? Want to reads? Should I just read del.icio.us tags or technorati feeds only?

  • I had a conversation recently that suggests (based on a very small sample set) that this production-consumption mismatch may not be exclusive to bloggers:

    Musician: Honestly, I don’t actually listen to music.
    Filmmaker: Well, I don’t watch movies.
    Writer (me): That’s okay, I don’t read.

    I suspect we were all exaggerating a bit, but the overwhelmingness of new product in all media leaves the overwhelming feeling of not making a dent. I read novels, but at a very slow pace, and I can’t afford to spend very much time reading and still have time for writing. It takes a lot of work to be an educated consumer in any area, and if much of your time is going into producing in that area, where are you supposed to find time for consumption? You’re not alone, and you shouldn’t feel guilty.

  • Mel

    This is nothing new. Pre-internet, pofessional writers (i.e., writers who publish) and publications had little or no idea of their readership.

    Increasingly, when I think of bloggers and blogging, I’m reminded of Wim Wenders film *Until the End of the World* (I thought it was a stinker when I first saw it – that was the 3.5 hour version). People have these little devices that capture and display their dreams. There’s this one image that keeps coming to mind of one of the characters who has become addicted to her own dreams – like narcissus.

    I can’t remember how the movie ends. Perhaps there’s some answer there?

  • ingo

    What, exactly, do your blogging friends mean when they say they “don’t read blogs” anymore? Because, from the rest of your description, it sure sounds as if they are still reading a lot (surfing technorati, following up links sent to them, etc.)

    So, its not that they (you) don’t read anything anymore, its how you come across what you read. This is probably (part of) what you meant anyway but I just thought I’d emphasize it again because I think that it explains a bit.

    If you say smart things and write smart things (like you do), chances are, you will get so much good feedback you don’t need much searching around for just /anything/ anymore. It restricts itself to following up things, background reading, and so on. Focused reading, in other words. This seems to be what your friends describe.

    So, maybe whats at the root of this is a distinction between being open for just any interesting input and not.

  • Nail

    Not sure if this is a right place… We have growing electronic newsletter mailing list, and I’m desperate to find decent, reasonably priced software or shareware for list management and distribution. We’ve been using Outlook and ACT and they’re not working well. I was found bulk email software for sending newsletter. Are there other good options to help save my sanity? Does anyone know of any good hosting company that can handle bulk email? We need to send newsletters to about 900 customers without the hassle of restrictions. Thanks!

  • I find both my blogging and reading habits are cyclical. I just plain burn out now and then, and I have to take a break from the Internet. Since I discovered RSS readers, it’s helped a lot. I use the personalized Google homepage to catch up on industry news as it comes in (I Google a lot, so I am often at that page) and at home I use Flock to keep up on my “fun” blogs. For me, reading blogs encourages me to blog more, so the behaviours are strongly correlated. Chances are if my blog’s been neglected, so has my blogroll.

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