Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Who Reads Blogs?

I started blogging about four months ago. I often heard references to blogs and became curious to experience what blogs were and what was required to start one. At the time I had one wife and two friends I hoped would read my blog. I had never read a blog until I prepared to begin one. I was never a blog reader before I became a blog writer.

As I looked for blogs to read, I found that I was lost in a vast sea of blogs, millions of miles of blogs, more blogs than the waves on the sea, and no means of navigation. (One thing which will result from the Big Bang of the Blogosphere is surely a demand for a really useful, fine tuned blog search engine.) As I looked at blogs and discovered the nature of them, I began to feel, “Bloggers, bloggers everywhere, and not a blog to read.” I found the “washed my hair this morning and here’s my grocery list” blog; the “must take Fido to the vet, and here are five dozen pictures of him” blog; the “blurry photographs of the Rats concert last night – sorry about the column between the camera and the stage” blog; the “pictures of the office party refreshments” blog; and of course the popular “OOOOOEEE, EGEAIGAE gotta do homework before Mom gets me, C ya” blog. More than anything else I found the blogger who lifts quotations from the day’s news and columnists and makes a few smart alecky remarks designed to mislead the reader into thinking that the blogger has some kind of inside knowledge and contacts.

I also stumbled on an occasional intelligent and thoughtful, or purely entertaining, blog. In blogging, as in novels and short stories, the author does not need some special knowledge or exotic material in order to be interesting. A blog about the events in an apparently uneventful life can be very absorbing if the blogger is sensitive, observant, and gifted at writing. For my taste, the best narratives are most often those which deal with the everyday lives of ordinary people – as in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ “Cross Creek”, Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon tales, Eudora Welty, Katherine Mansfield, and scores of others – and so it is with blogs.

My point here was supposed to be that I did not begin reading blogs until I was preparing to start a blog. The next point is that after I started writing blogs I found myself with little time to read other people’s blogs. I suspect that the same is true of other bloggers; they are more occupied with what to write next, and with writing it, than they are with reading what other bloggers have written.

I don’t know if what happened to me is typical, but I did soon discover, among the millions, a couple of blogs I enjoyed, and through their links and comments I discovered others. I left comments on blogs, partly because I hoped that would lead people to look at mine. Nobody wants to write without readers. Yes, I wasn't content with my three captive readers; I wanted more.

When I find a comment on one of my blogs from someone I’ve never heard of, it means the system’s working. I’m thinking that the best process of exploring for blogs is starting at a single point and working outward through links and comments, rather than using some kind of search engine that combs the entire sea, especially since Google’s blog search seems to search the whole Web rather than just blogs. The few blog visitors that seem to have found me through Google key words have been “watchdogs” looking for politically incorrect enemies to attack.

So, the blogger expands his circle of friends and tries to keep up with their blogs and to leave comments, thus keeping the system flowing – but it seems to me that devotion to one’s own blog writing keeps the active circle from getting very big even if one is keenly interested in reading the other blogs. Maybe that explains why people who were regular readers of my blogs, people who showed enthusiasm and often commented, have disappeared after a few weeks. Of course you can say that it might be because I’m boring, but that doesn’t explain why they remained so interested for a number of weeks. I think they are simply too absorbed by their own blog writing to keep up with mine, especially if they’ve been exposed to fresh blogs they want to read. All things considered, one can read only so many blogs a day.

Which leads me to wonder how many blogs most bloggers read. Not very many, I’d guess. One measure might be the comments. Some blogs amaze me by almost immediately getting 30 or 40 comments on a new post, while other blogs, which may be more deserving, are lucky to get 2 or 3. I’ve seen brilliant blogs with almost no comments, and crude blogs which cause stampedes of readers competing to post their comments first. In the case of the stampede, however, most of the comments are puerile and inane – on the order, “I was first!” or “Hugs and kisses”, or “Screw everybody.” Still, they got there somehow. I don’t know how. I'm guessing that most bloggers don't read more than a dozen other blogs regularly, or at most twenty.

At last, my big question: Bloggers don’t have as much time to read blogs as non-bloggers, and so is there a big blog-reading audience of non-bloggers out there? Are there many people who look forward every day to reading blogs, but who don’t write a blog? I’m guessing (just guessing) that the relative number of people who read blogs and don’t write them is much smaller than the relative number of people who read books and don’t write them. The number of authors of published novels and other books is, and always has been, miniscule in proportion to the number of people who read those books. In the printed paper world a writer is a rarity and readers are everywhere. In the blog world it’s just the opposite. The writers probably outnumber the readers.

Where can such a system lead? Blogging feels like a big wave of the future, and we’re told it is becoming more and more important, but without a big wave of readers, what mass effectiveness will it have? As far as I can tell, we bloggers are clustered together in very, very small tribes gathered around millions of separate campfires which have little communication among them. What can come of that? Maybe the answer is that blogging will remain more a form of self-amusement than of communication to a large audience.


  1. Clever. You wrote what has been churning over and over in my mind the past three weeks. In fact, I just joined Technorati this morning to see if that would generate new people to my site. My blog is largely focused around my two cats. I do sprinkle news and humor. I fully admit I also steal from other blogs, like this one, with attribution, of course. I sent you an email when hits from Bejing, China popped up on my blog only to discover that once rated incorrectly as a "political blog" they black listed me so no one in China can now visit Cat in a Bag. Wonder what that's all about. So you see, I've already lost China. For you, my friend, there's still hope. Great Blog Fleming.!!

  2. Your text is an interesting, thoughtful look at the blogosphere behavior, Fleming.

    I guess this flat and ephemeral character of blogosphere bonds may be an imitation of life, once more and more this is what we find and get in real world too, unfortunately.

    From my experience, something peculiar I have noticed is that people who don't have blogs usually somehow find some sort of difficulty to comment on blogs, as if that would imply some kind of "commitment" or I don't know what it is. They usually preffer to send an email or just call you or comment whenever they meet you in real. Strange?

    I was sure about this when my cousin called me the other day and I was telling him about my latest short trip and he said: "Oh I know you were travelling, I read on your blog." Gosh, I never thought he was following my blog!

    By the way, I just realized I missed the chance to say: "I was first!" :)

  3. Yes, I have had those thoughts, Fleming. I justify my own blogging by saying "these are my notes for a book". But I've been writing notes for a book for the last 20 years or perhaps 40. It's the way I choose to live, and my writing has improved since I acquired an audience.

    Even though I am now working full-time, I still try to keep up with reading 15 blogs bookmarked as "main blogs" together with a few others I occasionally check.

    I don't tell family or friends about my blog, though I discover like you that some have been reading it and not commenting. For example I was keeping my full-time job a secret, but when I met my sister at my surprise birthday party, she said "Oh, you are working now?"

  4. Zoey, thank you for commenting. Sorry you lost China. Oh, well, there's still Russia and several continents left.

  5. Joice, I appreciate your kind words.

    The point you make about non-bloggers not leaving comments is fascinating. I had never thought of that, but it is also true in my experience. Of the relatives I've told about my blogs, only one has ever communicated with me about them; my niece sent me an email telling me that she liked PEGASUS . . . and I asked myself why she didn't leave a comment. A friend of my wife's has told my wife several time that she reads and likes my blogs. . . but she has never left a comment.

    Your statement that non bloggers are reluctant to post comments because a comment implies some kind of "commitment" is well expressed. Sometimes I wonder if people new to blogs don't even know how to leave comments. A blogger has had to go through an initiation by setting up a blog in the first place, but for non blogger just the act of trying to leave a comment might seem scary.

  6. Yves, it's extremely interesting that both you and Joice have experienced the phenomenon of relatives reading your blogs without your knowing it until they told you in person. That's something I never would have predicted. One thing we can glean from this is that we can't judge the number of readers by the number of comments.

    So you see your blog as material for a book, as I do! I very consciously decided at the outset that I was going to put things into my blogs that I would otherwise put into notes for books or into longwinded philosophical/historical emails to a friend. I said, "As long as we're writing these things to one another, why don't we put them into blogs and at least give other people a chance to see them?" At my urging, she began a blog not long after I did (entirely different from mine) and I think that hers could become a book as it stands.

    Now I've started imagining taking my blog and turning into an almost ready-made book. Of course it would have to be self-published. And what would be the point of that? Do I feel that my writing preserved on pieces of paper bound within covers is somehow more durable and important than the same thing in digital form where it is accessible to the world . . . if only the world knew and was interested?

    It just occurs to me: How about a book anthology of outstanding posts from different people's blogs? Would any commercial publisher be interested?

    I especially appreciate your telling me that you try to read about 15 blogs. That's the first actual number I've had, and it is similar to my own.

  7. I read 22 blogs and take a few minutes to click on blogrolls, ones that look interesting. There are 5 million blogs out there. By jumping around, you can capture those that you want to rely on for information and entertainment. My idea for a blog was a one stop blog for only the hottest news items; interesting science pieces; humor; and I sprinkle it with funny stuff about our two cats. Politics too like the coming Attorneygate. I think the firing of 8 US Attorneys, 3 who rank in the top ten percent, looks like a Chinese fire drill. It exposes the true talent we have in the White House. That's the kind of news I'm talking about. But hey, the idea of taking the best commentary from blogs across the hemisphere is a good one. Just how would you go about doing it though?

  8. Hi Fleming!
    I needed these kind of thoughts.
    Your post and ALL comments are meaningful.
    Blogs have their own culture, language..., .
    I found this site:

    I think we need more knowledge abot blogosphere.

  9. Hi Fleming,

    This is the most heartfelt blog that I have read. I always ask myself "why do people blog?", for fun, to get to know more friends, or because they are bored? ...

    Friends are talking about blogging, that is the reason why I started to explore and wanted to understand more about blogging.

    Thru observations, I noticed that by leaving comments on other people's blog is a method to invite other blogger to visit your blog, writing a post about small little things that happen in our daily life or topics about one gender and asking for other gender to comment would create a surge in comments too.

    But I still do not understand why do they need this... am I stupid or slow in understanding ???

    I enjoy reading your blog, thanks for sharing this.


  10. Lu Lu, I'm charmed to meet you for the first time. Thanks for the very thoughtful comment, and especially for calling my blog "heartfelt". I hope to be sincere if nothing else.

    You wrote, "But I still do not understand why do they need this... am I stupid or slow in understanding ???" You are certainly not stupid or slow. I'm still trying to find the answer to "Why do we blog?" Maybe the comments on this post and the subsequent one will help us understand.

    This morning I'm thinking there is a harmless egoistic motivation in blogging -- a desire for attention, and to establish a personal identity in the world --as well as a desire (which seems to grow after one starts a blog) to make contacts with a wider circle of people than would otherwise be possible.

    The act of writing in itself gives me pleasure, and if I weren't writing a blog I would just be writing to myself. So, when I sit down in the morning excited about expressing some idea, I feel that at least one or two people may see what I write and get something helpful or entertaining from it.

    Thanks again for visiting and commenting, Lu Lu.

  11. Hi Fleming, timely post for me. I started my blog on an impulse after reading only one other. I now read less than ten blogs regularly and comment on only a few.

    In the last week I got picked up by a more mainstream politcal site, (here in Australia) and my site meter counts have gone through the roof. I don't expect this to last, indeed when I first put a sitemeter on I felt more comfortable in the knowledge that between five and ten people were visiting a day or none at all, and when that rate climbed to twenty or so, I started to feel panicky, and took the site meter off for a while, so as not to know. I've since put it back on and am more blase and less self-conscious about strangers reading my work.

    Even though you're only a click away, I feel almost as though I'm going some vaster distance when I visit. I find this interesting, there is a blog I read from a woman in the Canary Islands and I feel like I'm literally going offshore when I read it. I can't seem to escape this feeling, even though I'm not actually going anywhere,(if you know what I mean).

    Reading too many blogs results in what I would equate with 'gallery fatigue' when even the most outstanding writing seems to be ho-hum to a blog overloaded mind.

    A number of my non-virtual friends, know about my blog and may have read it once. Nearly all, never mentioned it again once I'd told them about it and none have ever commented on it and I can only assume they never came back. I must say I found that they should be so disinterested a little hurtful. Most of them cannot begin to understand why I or anyone else would blog. (ugh it is ugly)

    You'll have to watch out, all your time will be taken up reading comments soon! Clearly you make people think.

  12. Link, I’m honoured to have a comment from you, not only because I like your Beelzebublog so much that I put a link on this blog, but also because you say you comment on only a few blogs.

    It’s beginning to sound as if most of us “Web essayists” keep up with reading 10-20 blogs, and not all every day. As you say, it’s easy to get “gallery fatigue” (great term) especially if some of the posts are long.

    So, along with gallery fatigue you have also suffered from “Sitemeter panic” from finding out that so many people are reading your blog? I wish I could say the same; my daily counts have never reached 20, although I’m very happy to have as many as I do. When they first rose above 2 or 3 I had the same nervous reaction you did: “I’ve got to perform now.” But I got over that. We have to just be ourselves.

    I must throw in a whimsical opinion that a pretty face on a blog (as on yours, and I don’t mean Venus) may count for something in attracting readers and comments. A pretty face can’t make up for boring or bad writing, but combined with good writing I suspect it gives a rocket-assisted takeoff. (I base this on the relative number of comments I've seen on different blogs, as well as on my personal reactions.) A pretty face on a Profile is not only pleasing to see but provides fuel for fantasizing as we zoom around the globe faster than Puck.

    How does one get picked up by a mainstream political site?

    I feel exactly the same as you about the feeling of traveling vast distances when I communicate with you and others in Australia, in England, Singapore, India, Brazil and other places. The more exotic the locations, the more excited I get about my “travels”. The only problem is that now I’m longing actually to go to Australia, Brazil, Singapore. . . Your horses are real to me. I feel deprived, not being able to see and touch them. And if you open a restaurant . . .

    Judging from comments, the matter you mention of non-virtual friends ignoring your blog seems to be a common experience, doesn’t it? To me it’s still very disappointing, and hurtful as you say, as well as a mystery. If my brothers or old friends or sister-in-law told me they had blogs, I could hardly wait to look at them. . . out of curiosity if nothing else.

    Thanks for the visit, the very interesting comment, and the kind words.