I don't visit very many blogs when I surf the Internet, however, the blogs I do visit happen to be some of my favorite sites. There are a few characteristics of blogging which I think make it a very appealing and an easily accessible medium. One aspect is the "de-professionalization" that Dr. Levinson writes about in out book. The Internet is a great resource for finding out about many things very quickly. Blogs are typically written using relaxed language, which lends itself to being read quickly.
The blogger has complete freedom over the posted content, and can instantly post a story that they want to share. Sometimes a blog can even be treated like a public diary--a place to transfer your thoughts directly from your mind to the rest of the world. In this way, readers receive a story that is as close to the writer's personal recollection as possible. A blogger's ability to relay a stream of consciousness is on the opposite side of the spectrum when compared to watching the news and hearing someone say "this reporter believes..." The reporter is removing him or herself from the situation, whereas the blogger is inviting you into an experience.
The other aspect of blogging that is so inviting is the interaction between the blogger and reader. The reader is given the opportunity to contribute to the blog via the comments. In fact, comments are such an integral part of a blog that no blog is complete without them. With comments, a blog becomes a community, and is similar to a forum. The commenters get to know each other, and they relate based on their shared interest in the blog. This recalls the old bulletin board system in the early days of the Internet.
Ideally, a blog will gain attention and attract many people to comment. A big problem, however, is promoting your blog and making it known. People can't comment if they don't know you exist. Since there is such a huge variety of blogs out there, most blogs fall into obscurity and die a painful, lonely death. Although some people do it just for fun, and not for the sake of watching the hit counter grow, there's an undeniable thrill involved when you know that people are coming to your personal blog, reading what you have to say, and actively participate in the comments.
Several years ago, a few friends and I started our own group blog and accompanying podcast about games and tech. We started the blog on Blogspot, and made the podcast available on iTunes. We posted news that we found from all kinds of sources, and also wrote our own articles, editorials, and featured reviews. We linked to several blogs and websites that were similar to ours, and in return, managed to get some really popular blogs to link to us as well. In order to make people aware of our blog we would post about it in forums and comment sections, and explain how we had a different take on things. Probably the best promotion for our blog was when certain other blogs would link to the articles and reviews that we posted. This gave us the attention we wanted, and our goal was to give people a reason to keep coming back.
Our main focus was the podcast, but the blog was home to supplementary information in between recording sessions, as well as the written content that couldn't be featured in a podcast. We secured a small, but dedicated following almost right away. The podcast received a couple hundred downloads per episode, and the blog managed to get several thousand hits. We could track how many hits we were getting and other stats with simple counters through Blogspot. The most satisfying way of measuring the blog's activity was through comments. Whenever there were a couple comments on a story, that's how we knew there was an interest in what we were doing. Seeing other users show interest was what gave us the most pride, and we even had people volunteer to make us headers for the blog. The most frustrating thing was seeing spam comments. It was really prevalent, and something that had to constantly be monitored.
Over time, we received emails from people running similar blogs and websites asking us to write content that they could post on their own sites. There were a couple of blogs we agreed to affiliate ourselves with in an attempt to try and gain more attention for ourselves. One blog in particular was run by a chaps in Britain. We got to know them pretty well over time, and even appeared as guests in their own podcast thanks to (what at the time seemed like magic) Skype. Eventually we received emails from people asking about hosting, wondering if we were interested in ditching the Blogspot, and buying a domain name.
Becoming a website without the ".blogspot.com" was something we considered pretty seriously. We looked to Word Press, and other simple alternatives, but ultimately decided against it. After 7 or 8 months our following was consistent, but we hadn't significantly grown. We felt the same satisfaction in seeing the couple hundred people download our podcast and thousands of people that had visited the blog and we appreciated the following we had. There really was a tremendous pride in knowing that we had created something that other people were interested in.
The blog and podcast were a great hobby, but it was something that was taking up too much time and effort to maintain. 2 of our 5 members dropped out after 6 months, and a month after that only myself and another member remained. We decided that we would either have to get even more serious by dedicating an even greater investment of time, and now money for hosting, or we would have to let the blog die. Ultimately, we chose the latter. It was extremely disappointing to have to give up on something that we had worked on for so long. We also felt disappointed that we had to leave the followers that had been with us since the very beginning. There were many instances where we thought about making a comeback, but we thought about how thing fell apart at the end because of time management.
Having gone through this experience, and getting but a minute taste of success (in the grand scheme of things, hits that consistently stayed in the low thousands is so little) I understand the dedication it takes to maintain a successful blog, and how difficult it is to make people want to visit your blog instead of the countless others that are so similar.