Sunday 20 February 2011

A trophy, and some thoughts on blogging

Last night at the ONYAs awards, this blog won the Best Content (Personal) category. The very kind judges said: "“Courtney's inquiring mind and catholic tastes make this site a pleasure to dip into, or to trawl through at length: rewarding at every turn.

I was so taken aback by winning that I did a complete Anna Paquin on the stage and lost all the poise I've worked so hard over the past two or three years to earn. In doing so, I rediscovered just how great it feels to be shit-scared by something (even if it's just the walk to the stage).

I was unprepared because I honestly thought either Ben Gracewood or Miraz Jordan, the other finalists in the category, would win. [My money was on Ben, because it astounds me he fits that site into his life alongside work and fatherhood, and the community he has built around it is startling.]

I was also unprepared for how I'd react to winning. It turns out that I still see this blog as a private (you know, for something that's on the internet) and somewhat amateur (in the old-fashioned sense) endeavour. The ONYAs are organised by the wonderful people behind Webstock, and supported by the same ardent community. I wasn't ready to have their attention focused on me. It was lovely, and readers who I would never have expected came out of the woodwork, but it was all most unsettling. (And - naturally - wonderful.)

I entered the ONYAs to give myself a kick in the butt about this blog. Best of 3 has been around for more than four years, and over that time I've learned a lot from writing it, derived opportunities from it, done some good things with it, and had some lovely and encouraging feedback.

Many of those things have dwindled over the past year. I was comparing notes with Robyn Gallagher (a fantastically talented writer, if you're not following her already). Both of us have noticed that comments have withered away lately, and we speculated about whether this was because people now click a Facebook like button or tweet out a link to show their reaction to something you've written. In general, blogging just feels a bit less rewarding than it used to.

The conversation came about at the Future of Blogging panel at yesterday's Wordpress Camp. I don't use Wordpress (obviously) but the organisers kindly let me drop in for this session, because I really wanted to hear what Julie Starr and Richard MacManus (along with facilitator Lance Wiggs and fellow panellists John Ford and ring-in David Farrar) had to say. In fact, I was so curious that even posted some question to the WordCamp site in advance of the event:

I occasionally run social media workshops, often in the cultural/not-for-profit/government sectors (for my sins, mind you, not because I promote myself as any kind of social media guru, ninja, prodigy or consultant).

I still regularly hear people say in these sessions that they don’t ‘believe in’ or ‘trust’ information they see on blogs (the quote I often hear is “I did a search on X but all I got was blogs and I don’t trust them”).

My gut feeling is that these people are nonetheless reading and believing materials presented on blogs (whether they recognise the website they’re looking at is a blog or not). But my question is – do blogs still have a reputation issue?

And an observation. I *do* believe in the material I find on blogs. I have learned more from reading blog posts than I did in six years of academic study. It’s been integral to the way my career has developed. And yet I’m quite worried at the moment that people are going to give up on this kind of ‘professional’ blogging, and the chatter is moving to twitter and facebook. What if in a year’s time I open up my feedreader and it’s bereft of tasty posts? Is the golden age of blogging over? (I guess that’s a question after all).

I am seriously concerned that people are going to stop blogging (and let's not even get into how worried I am about RSS). Not all blogs, of course; selfishly, I'm worried about the blogs I follow and get value from. When asked what the difference was between the way they blogged in 2009 and in 2010, almost all the panellists said they blogged less.

I have benefited hugely from the generosity of people like Derek Powazek, Seb Chan, Shelley Bernstein, Daniel Incandela, George Oates, Nina Simon, and Kathy Sierra - all people who have freely shared detailed and often entertaining accounts of what they do, how they do it, and what they think about it.

I have tried to follow in this tradition myself - more so, possibly, on my work blogs (first at the National Library and now at Boost New Media). I'm aware that I have blogged less here, and in less depth, since getting a regular spot on National Radio and since joining Goodreads. And at work I find it hard to squeeze blogging time in around client work. But the ONYA award, and the kindness of people when I won, has been exactly the kick in the ass I needed. From now on, I pledge to do better. Thank you all for being here.


Michelle Park said...

Courtney - congratulations! I am so glad that the ONYAs see the value of personal content and award it accordingly.

There is a lot of talk about the future of blogging - keep writing though - as blogging changes and evolves, hold on for the ride.

The angels are in the content. You deserved this award - and I clapped very hard and very loud for you on Saturday night!

thomasscovell said...

Super massive congratulations Courtney! Much deserved :)

I'd be happy to see a lot of blogs go the way of the Moa, because so few of them have any original content. For the most part they are still just "weblogs", links to other (occasionally) interesting stuff.

In some cases 3 or 4 or 100 times removed from the original source of the material and about as accurate as a kid's birthday party game of chinese whispers.

In these cases Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin passing on of links does the job as well. At least in those cases the original source is easier to find and mapping what content is popular is technically easy (as if that were any sign of accuracy or quality, but hey).

Where people used to put their own slant on a story before linking off to it, in a short period of blogxcellence between weblogs and now, today they can only manage as much as "this is awesome" before embedding a youtube video.

Though there are the minority of blogs, like your own, which are rich sources of opinion and information. Often more so than the increasingly blogified "main stream media".

Take a look at Stuff or Herald online these days - so much of their content is an untreated wire story or something actually called a "blog" post as an excuse for either poor writing, objectionable material or because that's what the cool kids read these days.

(Dear Granny Herald, your "NZ Notworth News" campaign, does not highlight the quality of your content - it merely shows that doing good comedy, ala the Onion, is harder than "real" journos think.)

I recently rage-quit a shared blog I was occasionally writing for because the editor smacked me down for exceeding their 500 word limit. 500 words... Not a lot I can say about that - literally. ;)

There's some technological determinism at work in all this of course - the feature set of certain sites are changing our content creation styles to fit in with what/how they want us to share.

Even the tiny size of this comment box on Blogger is saying "short and pithy" to me. (Didn't listen, clearly.)

Anyway, congrats again! <3

Jayden Davis said...

Courtney, congratulations! I think your blog really deserves a praise