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People’s Voice

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!

17 thoughts on “People’s Voice

  1. I like this a lot, thank you. I will spend some time with that list. It is very diverse and interesting. You never know what people will like! But I suspect that what makes these blogs popular is that they are all very well written.

  2. The list is heavy on news and sports. One thing that is missing to make this list like a newspaper is a Minnesota business journal. I think that is interesting especially since there are paid services out there. No one blogs about it though.

  3. Jan: Thanks! This is a topic that has been important to me from the start, because as you know I have always seen Barataria as an experiment to prove some of that “conventional wisdom” wrong – that blogs can be substantial, relevant, and rely on traditional reference methods to build complex arguments. I see it as a success. But more and more I see that very few blogs which follow the conventional formulae are all that successful, measured by a sustained community and a high degree of interaction that persists. Besides, “relevance” is something that only the readers could ever choose, really.

    Anna: Interesting observation! Paul Tosto has one at MPR, but I haven’t looked over there in a while myself. I’ll try to think about more.

  4. I looked over a lot of those sites (the links are messed up but you can figure them out). They have nothing in common at all to be honest. But if I had to pick something its that most of them have a newspaper feel in the voice they use in their writing. If that is quality then that’s what they have but its more of a style than anything else. Is that the AP style or just basic journalistic practice?

  5. Dale: Something like that. And yes, I think nearly anyone can teach themselves to write better. To me, it starts with open eyes, a strong desire to improve, and the ability to edit your own stuff critically. That’s the brain, heart, and arm (sorry, got the order reversed from the usual) that it takes – but anyone can do it.

    This is a minority opinion, but I think with time it will catch on. Also, I think people should really care about their readers and have a desire to be relevant, which is to say not just spout what they want – but most people can figger that one out easily enough.

  6. Jack: I was hoping you’d come in, right on queue! Because the flip side of what Dale was saying was … a bit of creativity! Not all of the Top40 have that – in fact, most don’t – but some of the, like Danger Bay, really stand out. It’s like South Park for adults. 🙂

  7. Interesting thought about the decentralized newspaper. I doubt that the same audiences are served by the various blogs on the list, though. While an individual may have leafed through all (or most) of a newspaper 20 years ago, it seems unlikely that most people are actually consuming blogs in that way, exposing themselves to that much diversity. (Or maybe I’m too young to understand how people truly consumed newspapers in days of yore.)

    The “conventional wisdom” you reference is just another part of the social media echo chamber – marketers talking to marketers about marketing. They’re their own audience, so it’s no surprise the numbers don’t stack up.

    But to be fair, the conventional wisdom does have value. After all, you are pretty heavy on the links and keywords, Mr. Hare. 🙂

  8. Meghan: Me? Do SEO type stuff? Never! 🙂 Conventional wisdom is often useful as the thesis – “things are this way”. That always begs the antithesis, “things are not that way”. And that leads to a good experiment to judge how things really are. It’s all the scientific method attempting to chart a new world – or, as I usually offer, a different world that’s more like the old one than we like to think. 🙂

  9. They may be popular blogs but I have never heard of most of them. As a blogger myself I look at analytics. i have a target audience and goals. Outside ratings have no impact on my own metrics

  10. T: I hadn’t heard of many of them either, but they all have active communities of their own. People found them – and became loyal contributors and readers. There is always something to learn from the rest of the world, IMHO, and the success of these blogs says something. I presented this because we have so many great examples of solid online communities presented here, and every one of them is different. If nothing else, the sociology is fascinating.

  11. Another blogger I read recently made this observation:

    A newspaper column is a piano concerto; blogging is jazz

    As an avid reader of politically oriented blogs these are my criteria for a really great one.
    -well written, knowledgeable, opinionated take on on current news (political, economic, random things of interest) with good links
    -different from of my own point of view to challenge my thinking ( way different such as far right is too big a stretch)
    – good comment threads (diverse, interactive, not too many or too long of comments, witty a big plus)

    my first quick perusal through the blog list failed to turn up any that I expect to add to my regular reading, but I will look again. Thanks for the list.

    Now that I have know that you have a big readership I will try harder to make my comments worth reading. Your responses, Erik, are a nice touch.

  12. Laurie, I just have to respond to the “jazz” comment:

    Patrick: You’re a man now, Spongebob, and it’s time you starting acting like one.
    Spongebob: Yeah! Oh… but I’m not sure I know how.
    Patrick: Allow me to demonstrate. First, puff out your chest. [ Sponge does ] Now say ‘tax exemption’!
    Spongebob: Tax exemption.
    Patrick: Now you must acquire a taste for freeform jazz.

    Seriously now:

    Barataria is about connections – people to people, people to ideas. How people form communities, online and real world, is an important part of what makes us human and how humans connect to the world. Here are examples of communities, all of which are rather unique. What caused them to form? What drew people in the first place? Some sense of quality or relevance to their lives is definitely important. That’s what I want to learn from this list more than even trying to find something more to read.

    But you’re more than welcome to put out some partially baked ideas ’round here – I certainly do all the time. 🙂

  13. Pingback: Hobbyists | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

  14. Erik:

    This is good stuff. I’ve been impressed by the breadth and depth of blogging in Minnesota. To the extent that blogs find or create their own communities, they may not do much to bring us together……

    What do Minnesotans have *in common* as sources of information? The Strib? TV? I don’t really know, but think we need to know. Opportunists like Rybak and Pawlenty seem to know how to manipulate and exploit that, while we talk to each other….


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