Is a tension we’re going to see more of, methinks. A lot more of.
As many of us transition from passively consuming roles to active producers of information, it’s natural that some of that production – even most of it – reflects our respective interests. It’s just as natural for some – even most – of our respective audiences to not share those interests. Hence the tension.
On the one hand, I’m decidedly in the John D. camp (big surprise) that says one should write for oneself first. On the other, I sympathize with an audience that craves relevance.
This tension has been observable within the blogging world for some time now; I’ve witnessed complaints about many popular bloggers for their indulgence of [pick a hobby], and have certainly fielded my own share regarding the Red Sox content here. Personally, I don’t particularly care when someone I like to read posts off topic content, either because the efficiencies of an aggregator make the cost of irrelevant content effectively nil, or because I might learn something. As a result, when folks like Bob Sutor or David Churbuck have – in the past – contemplated a fork in their blog, I’ve voted against. I’m not as big a Dylan fan as Bob, and certainly don’t enjoy clams as much as David, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get anything out of posts on both subjects.
And yet I have in the last few weeks forked my own blog, creating an entirely separate property wherein I feed my Red Sox addiction. As an explanation, I can only offer up that this was as much about me as it was about my audience. With the legitimacy of sports blogs on the rise, it seemed that to be taken seriously I needed to invest more than the occasional off topic post here. But I’d be lying if I claimed that audience needs didn’t come into play; hard as it may be to believe, there were many times last season when I abstained from writing a Red Sox post in this space because I’d recently done just that.
Or take the link posts automatically generated and posted here each night. One friend mentioned that they were borderline noise, and that he was contemplating creating a feed that filtered them (fortunately, I already have one for those of a similar persuasion). But from my standpoint, I generally put effort and thought into every link I make (I certainly don’t link to everything I read) – and thus value the generated linkposts, and curiously enough, a portion of the audience enjoys them as well.
Far more acute, however, is the tension for me on Twitter. Over there, in a stark contrast to my blog, my primary concern is audience. If my blog is about me, Twitter is about thee (in theory). While I’m sure the success rate is abysmal, the intent of virtually every entry – those that aren’t replies, anyway, and even with some of them – is to do one of amuse/entertain/inform/point to something interesting. When it comes to Twitter, I try to adhere to a slight modification of the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything rule,” string substituting the above qualities for “nice.” Some of the content, of course, is just dressed up life mundanity (yes, I made that word up), but the effort to render it at least somewhat amusing or informative is there. Usually.
And speaking of replies, they happen to be a perfect example. Subsequent to the first or second @ reply in a longer running Twitter conversation, there’s always some underlying guilt, driven by an awareness that on some level I’m inflicting this conversation on a wider audience that may but more likely may not be interested in its contents. Why, I often ask myself, am I not direct messaging?
Many, however, apply the mindset I bring to blogging to Twitter – write for yourself first, everyone else second. Who am I to blame them? Isn’t my mantra, after all, that you are your most important audience? And while I might not have any personal affection for the kind of high volume lifestreaming that’s a typical result of that approach, many of its practitioners are enormously popular, so there’s little statistical evidence that my personal qualms are common or even widely held. Several folks I know, in fact, have cut their followers because they didn’t post enough, while I’m the exact reverse: I cull mainly those who post frequently. The cost of following someone who doesn’t post, after all, being nothing. The cost of following those that post mundane details without the veneer of humor is less obvious, but no less real for that.
As is probably obvious by now, I have no answers for you, and more to the point, it seems self-evident to me that what answers are to be found will vary widely from medium to medium. I do believe, however, that the tension, if not its level, will remain a constant, because we’re all complicated creatures, and complicated creatures do not always relate to one another.