Ranking digital communications skills, the ability to collect information is near the top. And blogs are near the top of ways to collect information. Of course, you have a few choices these days when it comes to blogs.</understatement> Recent stats suggest the Internet now offers somewhere north of 100 million of them to choose from.
So when you’re confronted with a new blog like this one, how do you evaluate? If you care about getting the information you need, it’s a vital skill. Even if, like me, you follow 500-plus RSS feeds, you will simply never find time to read everything you might want to. Whether you’re a professional who works in the online realm or just a serious surfer, it’s worth thinking about.
How do you go about cutting through the noise? We’d love to hear about it in the comments. Here are some starting points from this professional communicator:
1. Is it clear what the blog is about? Even though this is my first post on this blog, hopefully you already have an idea of who I am and what I’ll write about. I’ve included hints that, with luck, give you this information: The “digital communication” in the first paragraph, for example, and the use of “</understatement>” — a simple nod to coding that, while probably not all that funny, does tell you I’m a bit of a geek.
2. If it’s not clear, do you care? What’s Jason Kottke’s blog “about”? I don’t know that I could say, other than that it’s about Jason. But it’s interesting enough that I don’t worry about it. Within my daily reading “diet,” I leave perhaps 10 percent of my attention for things that are purely for enjoyment. They help keep me reading. Is the blog fun? Is it clear the writer cares about the topic, or does it seem to be done out of duty? It’s usually clear pretty quickly.
3. Is the blog focused on what you need? This post, for instance, is meant to communicate to you my intention of giving you information you can use about digital communications. It’s not going to be highly technical; it’s more about strategies for approaching information and observations on what information means. The flip side of this is knowing what you need from a blog. I have rough “buckets” in mind when looking at feeds–categories, essentially, which I generally formalize through folders in Google Reader. For me, that means topics like “social media,” “public relations,” “marketing,” “technology,” and so forth. For you, it’s likely they’ll be somewhat if not totally different. And once you have a rough outline in mind, give each topic a weight. If you need to know everything about a particular subject, for instance, you can be a lot freer in hitting the “subscribe” button. Conversely, if one of your buckets is “full,” you can think about whether the new blog can “bump off” one of the old ones.
4. What do your friends think? This is why things like Facebook’s “Like” button and Networked Blogs are becoming so popular–our friends are actually pretty good indicators of what we’ll like (it sometimes feels gross to be so predictable, but it can save a lot of time). This will also give you clues as to whether what you find there will potentially be of use to your networks. This is also part of what’s driving Twitter as a news medium–our friends find and relay things we’re likely to care about it.
5. What does the crowd think? Google allows you to search only blogs. You can see where the blog you’re interested in falls along the spectrum, how many people are subscribed to it, what people are saying about it and what competing blogs are out there. Take advantage of other people’s experiences. Learn how to search Twitter and to use hashtags to discover sources of information.
6. Can you tell who’s writing the blog? Transparency is vital to believability. You can see my biography at http://willreichard.com, for instance, and see many other blog posts I’ve written at http://will.crosscutcommunications.com. That kind of history gives you a chance to build up a picture of me over time. Your blogger hopefully has been at this for a while and brings some real industry experience to his or her perspective. Is there a photo of the writer? Does it show evidence that he or she cares what you think about the image? All of this “fit and finish” really adds up in a reader’s eyes.
7. Does the blog care about your opinions? A good blog wants to start a conversation. This post, for instance, could only hope to be a starting point–anyone who could pretend to have thought of all the ways to evaluate a blog would be laughable. It’s one of the truths of the modern internet: We’re not looking to “consume” content. We’re looking to co-create it. And that, I hope, is part of what this site is built around. It was part of what persuaded me to join Mark in blogging–the fact that he was able to pose questions that really got people talking. Not arguing, but talking. It’s a skill I’m hoping to learn from him, and from you.
What are your favorite tools and strategies for evaluating whether a blog is right for you? I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions.