Contrarian Blogging: Is Small the New Big?

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I have a methodology in most things…do the opposite of what everyone else is doing.

So, when I started blogging, I took a look around and noticed that the vast majority of blogs were cranking out short posts a few times a day. I also noticed a few amazing blogs in the lifestyle/personal development niche that were putting up ridiculously long posts and, against what was then conventional wisdom, building massive readership.

So, I decided to follow the emerging contrarian tact and go long with my posts.

And, it worked. That first blog, Awake@TheWheel, made some big moves very quickly, frontpaging on Digg, StumleUpon, del.icio.us and popurls a number of times in the first four months.

It seemed like long was the new cool.

But, then time passed. Flash forward 18 months, a/k/a, 180 years in blogosphere time. Suddenly long isn’t so new, so different or so fresh any more. It still works really well for a number of blogs whose readers have been patterned to expect it. But, so many blogs have joined the mega-post movement that the format is now less distinct.

And, it’s caused another interesting effect…Feed Reader Gridlock

I used to fly through my feed reader pretty quickly, because most posts were itty bitty, with a few speed bumps for a handful of longer ones. But, now I have so many long post blogs in my reader, if I actually read them all, I’d be left with about 38 seconds in my day to do everything else.

So, I’m thinking it may be time to once again go contrarian

To work on delivering shorter and maybe more frequent posts. Not Lifehacker frequent, But, ya know, daily candy that can be slurped down between subway stops, with the occasional mall-sized sticky bun post once a week or so. Maybe it’s time to go back to breaking mega-posts into series’ and tightening things up a bit.

Because, as a reader and consumer of mass quantities of information, I’ve become a bit too bloated. And, I’m thinking it’s time for the pendulum to swing back the other way.

I’m curious, what do you think?

Have you been having the same trouble keeping up with the growing volume of mega-posts? Or, is it just me?

Share your thoughts in the comments below…

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16 responses

16 responses to “Contrarian Blogging: Is Small the New Big?”

  1. Bryan says:

    I agree with you completely Jonathan and I also have a lot of trouble keeping up with all of the feeds and messages. I think more frequent, value-add, and searchable mini-blogs would be an interesting experiment. Of course people can always drill down where they need greater depth.

    It could make writing an engaging blog nearly as challenging as a good tweet.

  2. Tom Aplomb says:

    I write my blog posts on my daily commute from Connecticut to New York City. The time frame of the commute defines the length of the posts. Even the long ones are not usually more than five or six paragraphs. I also try to focus on a single idea. I think short posts are more engaging and make the activity of reading someone’s blog a joy rather than a chore.

  3. @kienan says:

    John,

    I completely agree for the most part. Apart from one or two that have amazing content that warrants the length, most are wasting their words and are slowly driving me to unsubscribe. Keep it up.

  4. Brandon W says:

    The longer posts the all blogs are doing have resulted in me ultimately reading LESS rather than more. I skim the blog posts in my reader and if I can’t read it in about 3 minutes or less, I quickly read the bolded headlines/bullet-points or skip the post altogether. It’s gotten where many days I ultimately end up reading almost nothing. Shorter, concise posts would be helpful and easier. The idea of breaking longer pieces down into a series is a good one; perhaps each week you (or other bloggers) could have a theme with a daily series of posts around the theme?

  5. Naomi Niles says:

    That’s tough. I like short and sweet a la Seth, but I find long posts engaging as well.

    So, I guess my answer would be, if the content is compelling enough, I’ll read it either way. If I don’t have enough time that day, I’ll save it for another day.

    Actually, I have half a million things to read saved so maybe that’s not the most practical plan. But, when I have a little extra time and want to spend it reading something interesting, I have a good archive of stuff built up. Sometimes coming back to it later also makes me realize something doesn’t look as interesting anymore as it once did and I then I’ll just delete it.

  6. Chris Denker says:

    I agree completely. It has gotten to the point where my feed reader takes me so long that I’ve begun to read favorites daily and others every other day or so.

    As Bryan mentioned, I think it’d be very helpful for me to write compact yet powerful posts much like a good tweet.

  7. For me I love the twitter format as a way into a blog, but not for summing up an entire idea (unless it’s inspirational)

    Short and sweet. Mini Maxims that grab my attention and with a link send me to a longer post. It has been my favorite way to find new and interesting people and ideas. Far better than Stumble ever was for me. Tweet deck also lets me manage those I follow into groups so I can search according to flavor and temperament of the day.

    I’m disappointed if I click through and the posts are less than three paragraphs. I still equate length with import of the message (to an extent) Long for the sake of long is no good either yet if you only have three more paragraphs to share on the topic I feel short changed. I feel my time was wasted and that I can’t really rely on the person to offer me more than a passing slogan; too little substance.

    My favorite blogs are ones that have headlines, bullet points, and highlighted sections.

    Jonathan, you do a great job of that both here and on your other blog. When time is short it allows me the opportunity to scan the broader conversation and see if there is something of value that I want to take more time with. Not only is it good for busy (and new) readers, it is a format that I come to expect and trust. In fact it is a format that for me is highly effective and I find myself drawn to others that mirror this tactic.

    As long as headlines, bullet points, and highlighted sections are here to offer me the chance to see the big picture before I dig in deep, you can pretty much write from here to china and I will read through it.

    Another option that might let you split the difference is to write short blog post that offer a few links to others who are engaged in the broader topic. This takes the content burden off of you, allows you to still be part of the conversation, keeps your readers up to date, encourages people to check back with you since you fill an information gap, and gives you the opportunity to be part of many topics in a shorter time frame. This can keep your desire for new and fresh saciated without having to work 50 hours a day. You could then have posts hit more often without having to crank out a book every time.

    The series idea is another way to solve the bloat. However, I tend to feel like my time is demanded of me when I have to check back to get the rest of the story. I would be more likely to come again if each series was based on a theme, broken up into a few posts, with each post it’s own complete idea. That way I’m not left hanging.

    I say leave the 140 characters to twitter, and blogs for the broader conversation.

    Love and Light-

    Shelley ;0)

  8. I’m trying to write shorter posts, not so much because I think they work better, but honestly, they’re a heck of a lot easier to write! However, I’m finding that I have a really hard time keeping my posts short. So instead of making them shorter, I’m making them less frequent. Maybe weekly is the new daily!

  9. These days I personally prefer writing short posts with a brief useful point or resource. When I do write long – I write so long that it seems inappropriate for a blog post and I end up using it somewhere else.

  10. styleosophy says:

    I think it really depends on what you need to get across to your readers, in relation to that particular blog post. Short doesn’t always cut it. A long post can also get wordy and inefficient.

    I’m learning that now, as I try to blog more. Although I want to convey what I think to my readers, it really all about being concise, and that’s regardless of whether it becomes a longer post or not.

  11. Steve Kinney says:

    I agree with you. I’ve been getting a bit overwhelmed by the length of a lot of post lately and have been unsubscribing from a lot of feeds that overwhelm me. Big posts are fine—but not every day.

    Daily posts are fine if you’re Seth Godin. Long posts are find if you’re Tim Ferriss. But if they’re long and frequent, it gets to be too much. I think you’re doing okay (hence, I’m still subscribed).

    John Gruber at Daring Fireball has a great balance. Lots of short punchy posts that are a bit too long for Twitter. Every once in a while he hits you with a long, insightful essay.

  12. David S. says:

    You nailed it with the phrase “Feed Reader Gridlock.” It was taking me longer and longer to get through all my favorite bloggers, so I actually started to unsubscribe from many. You’re one of the few remaining who still posts longer ones sometimes, but the content is good so I stick with you. But I love concise. I say, impart your message in as few words as possible, and it will be much appreciated. But if it takes longer to do a topic justice, don’t artificially limit yourself either!

  13. John Christy says:

    Speaking of contrarian approaches….I’ve been trying to take a “less is more” approach on my site. I try to limit my posts to things that I think readers will really enjoy and that haven’t been covered to death elsewhere. This might result in a couple (hopefully) really good posts each week – and much less noise and clutter. IMHO, if more blogs took this sort of approach, I think it would be a lot easier to get through all the unread stuff in your reader each day. If you’re covering a niche — as many blogs do — are there really 15 things that you need to blog about each day? At some point the audience gets overwhelmed and tunes out. Give me the one or two really important things I absolutely NEED to know and let it be done.

  14. Lori Roets says:

    I think you have to fit the size of the post to the needs of the message — BUT, we all have a tendency to be way to wordy. We need to be concise and to the point, and all to often we aren’t.

    Yes, I find myself skipping over many potentially good blogs because they are just too long to get into. As a general rule, bite-sized fits my lifestyle better.

    Lori

  15. Tom Aplomb says:

    The format of blog posts, and their immediacy, work together to discourage editing. If we all took a few minutes to edit after finishing the post and before publishing it, I think we’d end up with shorter, more concise posts.

  16. I’ve always written short posts. And I prefer reading short ones too. Ideally under 500 words. It’s a good length to provide some meat but still stick to just a single idea. After 500 words, it’s easy to expand into other points which then confuse the issue or to start rambling.

    Of course, there are a lot great posts that are longer, but I don’t actually read them – at best I scan them and therefore likely miss the point.

    That being said, it takes all types and there are readers who find short posts too limited. 😉