Five things I’ve learnt about blogging in the past two weeks

So here’s the thing: I had a funny little facebook exchange with a couple of friends two weeks ago. I posted a comment about an album I was listening to: said I was going to compile a list of 1001 albums I would rather kill myself than listen to one more time, and that Chicago Transport Authority is IN. They responded almost immediately with ideas about what should be on that list – their messages came through as I was changing in my gym’s locker room to go for a run.

So, in the 50 minutes I was on the treadmill, I got to thinking. Maybe I really should start a list. It would be easy enough to blog. Wouldn’t take that long. Entries could be pretty short. By the time I’d run my 5 miles, I’d written the first three entries in my head and had a number of other albums in mind for roasting.

Now, two weeks later, I’m wondering if I’ve created a monster. Yesterday my 1001 Albums blog had 30 times the traffic of this blog. 30 times! That’s a little depressing. I’ve been at this one now, on and off, for a couple of years. It’s all connected up to my twitter and facebook accounts. I haven’t worked at it hard, I’ll admit. I had a book to write, so I’ve neglected it for long periods. However, even on its busiest day it hasn’t got close to the traffic 1001 Albums is creating. It’s 10.30 in the morning here and 1001 Albums has already had more traffic than this blog had on its best ever day. So here are some of my observations on what’s different about 1001 Albums.

1. People (especially boys) like lists
They are good conversation starters, in the bar after work, standing around the water cooler, just generally. Lists are fun, and everyone can contribute.

2. People like humour
Since I incline to cruel sarcasm, I find I have to temper my inclinations a little here, but I haven’t bothered on 1001 Albums, because it’s just for fun, and if people don’t like it, well, they don’t have to read it do they?

3. People like silly photos
The search term which has generated the most traffic on my blog is ‘afro’. I posted a silly photo from the 70s of a guy with an afro, which I’d scraped off a random web site. Today, if you type afro into your browser, and click on that guy’s picture when it comes up in Google Images results, it will take you to my home page. This is not great news if you’re a word person, like me. I want people to come to my blog for the writing, not the silly photos. But the ugly truth is, it’s the silly photos that get ’em in.

4. People like short, regular posts
I post to 1001 Albums pretty much every day. It doesn’t take long. I can usually think about what I want to say when I’m on the treadmill and just type it out when I get home (you can tell the days I’ve been to the gym – they are usually the days I post). I do it over a cup of tea or coffee. Also, the posts are pretty short and quick to read. Most of them are less than 200 words (since this post is already at 500 words, I’m breaking this rule here).

5. People like strong opinions
They don’t have to agree with me, but having a strong opinion to react against is good. There’s way too much pale-pink opinion out there. Opinion that has been robbed of its testosterone. People are way too worried about offending people. Now I don’t want to offend people. I’m not going to go out of my way to offend people. But we’re not talking sex, religion, or politics here. We’re talking about Albums, something everybody can have an opinion about. I’m not worried if people disagree with me – a little controversy never hurt anybody’s ratings. I’ve already had as many comments on 1001 Albums as I’ve had on this site in two years, and it’s because people either wholeheartedly agree, or they actually LIKE disco. That’s something else that’s been weird: the things I thought were uncontroversial (disco sucks) have generated comment, but things I thought I was going out on a limb about, nobody cared.
Here’s something else that’s interesting. Here, in this blog, I’m careful to back up everything I say with evidence and argument. On 1001 Albums I throw out my opinions willy-nilly, often with no evidence at all, as if they are just obvious truths. Nobody cares. Well, very few people care. Which is a little bit worrying.

6. (I know it was five things, but this is the bonus extra thing)
People like focus. A blog is a little like a ‘department’ in a magazine. Everybody has their favourite spot: a feature they enjoy reading. Magazines are made up of a handful of these departments. When I was in the magazine business myself, I launched several, and the most fun part of that job was figuring out what departments the magazine should have. Blogs seem to work best when they have  a tight focus people can easily understand and identify with. The scatter-gun approach doesn’t work.
Also, carve yourself a niche where you’re a legitimate expert. Notice, I didn’t call my list the 1001 worst albums of all time. I don’t have the credibility to create that list. I’m not sure anyone does. You’d have had to have listened to every album ever made to make that list. It’s just a list of the albums I never want to hear again…Ever. There are a bunch of reasons why. Maybe they are overplayed. I really loved it in 1972, but I never need to hear Stairway to Heaven again. Maybe they are just really, really horrible. Maybe the artist who made the album was insane at the time. I’ve got so much to write about.

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