What makes a successful blog? As a place where reader and writer come together and a connection sparks, interaction between people generally defines success for a blog. When a stable community forms there’s definitely blogging gold.
Conventional wisdom insists there are only certain ways to achieve this. Short snippets of text, lots of photos, links, techno talk, and highly personal content are supposed to be How It’s Done™. But a quick glance at Minnesota based blogs shows that these “rules” are consistently broken among those with the highest interaction. Somewhere in here is a definition of quality – or at least relevance to reader’s lives – that is not exactly what many blogging mavens would have you believe.
Popularity among blogs is difficult to judge. There is no consistent measure of traffic other than Alexa (from Amaxon), and it’s rarely accurate. These data come from self-selecting toolbar data which can be converted into an estimate of visitors. As an example, Barataria’s stats are close, but they have been wildly high or low in the past. Bloggers typically do not talk actual traffic in polite company, keeping rather low readership among many blogs an embarrassing secret.
Interaction on a blog is easier to judge thanks to PostRank. Founded in July 2007, this service scours the web to find interaction both on and off blogs. Comments (10 PostRank points), tweets with links (7 points), mentions on Reddit (8 points) and so on are pushed into a daily score. There was a way to compare up to three sites, but about the time google acquired PostRank in June 2011 that was taken down. This data is not meant for competition. But thanks to the comprehensive list of Minnesota blogs compiled for the (now defunct) newsbobber, we can compare a ranked list of relative interaction, and thus popularity, of Minnesota based blogs.
Ranking appears to be interaction over the last week, so it does jump around. Absolute rankings are not reliable, but broad patterns are interesting.
The first two pages make up a Top40 of locally grown blogs – a people’s choice. At the top are always blogs by SB Nation, a collection of over 300 sports “blogs” around the US with a local presence – exemplified here by Twinkie Town, Canis Hoopus, Hockey Wilderness, and Daily Norseman. SB Nation has quite a presence and high popularity for a company rarely talked about.
Also towards the top are the big hitters from WCCO, the clear channel legacy media station of olde offering news and weather for a new generation. News and news commentary from traditional media outlets are quite popular, including the facebook based venture by Mary Lahammer of Public TV’s “Almanac”. NewsCut, by the great Bob Collins of MPR also leads along with Polinaut and a few others. The Current’s blog of the local music scene always rates highly. CityPages, a free weekly owned by the Village Voice, has its popular Blotter in the mix.
But the bulk of the Top40 are people just doing their own thing, often without any source of income. Several political or news commentary blogs rank highly, including Powerline, Shot in the Dark, the must-read Bluestem Prairie, and this humble effort. To be fair, it appears that Minnesota Progressive Project was left off of this compilation so we cannot see how it might rank.
There are also many blogs that sparkle as fun surprises. Pharyngula is a science and politics blog (with heavy doses of atheism) that is always popular. That success has to be put alongside Abbey Roads, a journal of Catholic faith. There is the House of Turquoise, a blog dedicated to … yes, the color turquoise. And my favorite conventional wisdom buster of all is Jack Boardman’s “Danger Bay”, something like an old-fashioned serial cartoon.
If these are the successful blogs in this one part of the world, what can we learn from them? They include many approaches to blogging, but none of them precisely fit the generally accepted standards. Most of them are not overtly personal in that they are not about the writer’s daily life, but are instead about something. Few rely on pictures heavily. Some are very long essays (ah-Hemm!). None are exclusively about the internet, social media, or technology – and very few are heavy on that content. There is not a single Minnesota blog with high interaction that doesn’t break at least one of the “rules”.
Taken together, the Top40 reads something like a well balanced newspaper from 20 years ago. People’s tastes have not, in fact, changed that much overall. What is new is that the sources are distributed and interaction can shape and become part of the content. There is no magic formula for success in blogging – but there may be a way to measure quality and relevance, at least in a popular sense.
If you are “in to” blogging, take some time to peruse the list of Minnesota blogs ranked by interaction – you may find something you like. And if you could, please vote for Barataria in the WCCO poll for “Most Valuable Blogger” in Minnesota – once per day. Thank you!