Why aren’t more tech comm leaders blogging?

I’ve been wondering why leaders in our field — people like JoAnn Hackos, Karen Schriver, Ginny Redish, Saul Carliner, Ann Rockley, etc. — aren’t blogging.

Are they just too busy or do they not see any value in it?

After listening to Karen Schriver’s presentations at the STC Summit in Minneapolis, I hoped she’d have a blog where I could read about her research and her observations on trends in design. But, alas, she doesn’t even have a Web site.

JoAnn Hackos publishes a regular newsletter: Information Management News with some pretty good articles on a variety of topics. Is that a better strategy?

In Alertbox this month, Jakob Nielsen says yes. “Write articles, not blog postings.”

To demonstrate world-class expertise, avoid quickly written, shallow postings. Instead, invest your time in thorough, value-added content that attracts paying customers.

Don’t Call Me Tina does not presume to offer world-class expertise, so we will stick with dashing off our shallow postings.

Articles, blogs — whatever — I’d just like to hear more from some of these people instead of having to wait for the occasional article in Technical Communication or crowd into an STC conference session to hear them speak.

Mike Hughes is an example of an expert who uses a blog to present his musings on user experience. Scott Abel is another. They are very different blogs. Mike’s is written in a personal style, yet he poses challenging questions and provides unique insights on UX. Scott’s is more formal with article-like postings on content management and announcements of relevant events.

It’s interesting that one of the most popular tech comm blogs is Tom Johnson’s I’d Rather Be Writing. Tom didn’t start blogging because he was an expert. (No offense, Tom) He was interested in the medium and began exploring to see how far he could go.

Today he is an expert in a certain sense. More than any other person in our field, he is using Web 2.0 technology to share knowledge among technical communicators. This hasn’t gone unnoticed. Tech writers (and others) flock to his site to see what’s new and tune into the podcasts. His Technorati ranking is 13,936. The Content Wrangler is 76,900. DCMT is a lowly 3,827,667.


10 Responses to Why aren’t more tech comm leaders blogging?

  1. Tom Johnson says:

    I like the fact that blogging opens up the doors to everyone who wants to write. It completely levels the playing field. Whereas in the past you had to be a big name to be published and read, now you can write without a book contract or an official position with a journal. I derive a lot of creative fulfillment from my blog. I know I should channel my efforts into more prestigious publications, but blogging is more fun, interactive, and it seems to achieve meaningful results.

    Why aren’t more leaders blogging? In part, because they are old-school and maybe feel that they are giving expertise away. I bet a lot of them would like to blog, but simply haven’t gotten their feet wet yet. Why don’t you ask them? I’d be curious to hear their responses.

  2. Mike Hughes says:

    I think blogging is an excellent way to test ideas. You can get ideas into the arena of public scrutiny sooner and get formative feedback. I wish I would get more push-back at times, but when I do, it gives me the opportunity to re-evaluate a position. Blogging as idea-testing can make you look less-than-expert as you sometimes have to say, “Duh, what was I thinking, thanks for the feedback.” Maybe that’s why Nielsen and his ilk don’t blog. Jacob just doesn’t strike me as a “Duh, what was I thinking” kind of guy.

  3. hharkness says:

    Thanks for your comments, Tom and Mike.
    I think I will send a few e-mails suggesting they consider blogging.

    Ideally, blogging is a conversation (just like the one I’m engaging in with you two this morning). You have to be comfortable conducting a conversation in writing.

  4. Gordon says:

    I had dinner with Steve Manning after the X-Pubs conference, wish I’d asked him that one.

    Maybe it’s the switch from ‘formal’ to ‘informal’ that some people struggle with? Personally I enjoy relaxing my english and stretching my legs, rather than my daytime role of sticking to a style guide or hitting a publishing deadline and copy limit??

    Not sure but I think it’s likely to be more of a mindset issue than anything.

    Plus they may wonder “what’s in it for them?” and that’s a hard question to answer. Not impossible though.

  5. Scott Abel says:

    Good points Tina. I expect to see more of our leaders blogging soon. In fact, if I had a crystal ball — and I do — I would tell you that some of the folks you asked about are developing blogs now. They’re just so busy serving clients they don’t have time. And, it’s really about work.life balance at that point. If you are successful and very busy, blogging tends to take back seat, unless you enjoy it.

    I’m writing an article on Technorati ratings. Tom Johnson’s rating is indeed higher that mine. That’s not a function of popularity. It’s a function of effort. I spend effort growing my mailing list (I have over 16,500 subscribers), gaining new subscribers to my RSS feeds, and promoting myself by writing for others … and doing presentations and webinars…and promoting folks like Tom Johnson (who I promote every time I can). Technorati ratings rely on the network (those who participate can be seen and counted) and many other factors. It’s pretty interesting. I’ll publish it soon.

    I see blogging technology as the next wave of technical communication technology. Web-based (hosted software aka software as a service) is the future. That’s what I see in my crystal ball, at least.

    Your mileage may very.

    Scott Abel
    The Content Wrangler

  6. hharkness says:

    Looking forward to reading your article, Scott!

    Next time you look in your crystal ball, please pass along any stock tips it may reveal.

    And by the way, please don’t call me Tina.

  7. Paula Berger says:

    In April 2006, just before I began a year as STC President, I started a blog. I thought it would be a great way to let STC members know informally what the STC Board was doing, what was happening with the new Executive Director we were in the process of hiring, and just generally to keep in touch. Great idea, or so I thought.

    I wrote one entry. Period. I never had any time to write more. The time commitment required to be an STC Officer is huge. But the more important issue was that everything I wrote as STC President would be construed as a message from the board, and not as my personal musings. I could not afford any moments of “Duh. What was I thinking?” that Mike described. STC includes some extremely critical members who seem to look for opportunities to open dialogues (often harsh) about Board actions or opinions.

    Instead of blogging, I changed to writing the News & Notes newsletter. It was safer. I felt less open to personal attacks. And just writing that one newsletter every month or two took a large chunk of time, since every phrase needed to be carefully crafted. (I empathize with political speechwriters now.) In addition, several people reviewed everything I wrote, so it really was more of a “Board voice” than my personal statements (though not everyone on the Board agreed with everything I wrote).

    Generalizing my experience, I would bet that many of the leaders you mention probably just don’t have time to blog. And even if they did, they would probably rather use that time to write articles for “published” newsletters and other activities that support their work. And maybe, as Scott predicted, we’ll all be blogging soon.

    But that raises another question I always run up against. How do people find time to READ all the blogs of interest? According to Newsweek, there are now 100 million bloggers. Even if I assume that there are only 10-20 important blogs about TC and related fields, how do people find time to keep up with those? I can’t even keep up with my Inbox.

    Paula Berger
    STC Immediate Past President

  8. hharkness says:

    Good to hear from you, Paula! I’m glad you initiated News & Notes. It’s a great addition to the other communications we get from the STC office.

    You are right about the political minefield that blogging represents for people in positions of elected leadership. As Atlanta chapter president, I didn’t feel vulnerable; it was a way to present myself to a large membership in Atlanta, most of whom I’d never met. I could talk about chapter activities, the profession, and throw in a bit of personal stuff about my dog or my vacation. We’re pretty laid back down here and no one took advantage of my blog to launch an attack. After my term ended, I was encouraged to keep blogging by my readers, so I did.

    But the president of a 10,000+ member international organization has to watch her Ps & Qs. Corporations are also cracking down on employees who blog out of school. And as Kathy Sierra’s harrowing experience demonstrated, there are sadistic psychos lurking in the blogosphere who may seize upon a popular blogger and frighten her to death.

    Your last point is one I have thought about a lot. Many people began surfing the Internet as a regular pastime nine or ten years ago. Today we just do it without thinking, “do I have time for this?” Surfing blogs has become a new pastime for me. Aggregators and feeds help me quickly skim my blogs of interest to see if there is anything worth delving into. Most bloggers do not post every day, so I can check in once a week or even every two weeks and still be in the swim.

    I turn to the blogosphere for research, especially when I want to get the latest thinking on a particular topic without wading through a scholarly journal. It takes a while to decide which blogs are valuable and which are lame. Once you find bloggers who know their stuff, you’ve got a ready source of information that you didn’t have before. This is the primary reason I would like some of our leading lights to begin blogging.

    My job doesn’t allow me to do much writing, so blogging is a way for me to keep my writing skills honed (or try to anyway). I discipline myself to make time to blog regularly and challenge myself to find original, thought-provoking material.

    Finally, I value it as a networking tool. I’ve never met Scott Abel, but we converse via our blogs. Tom, Heidi, Gordon, Char-James, Rahul, are scattered across the globe, but we connect through blogging. We can learn from each other and help each other.

  9. […] one of the few STC leaders who has embraced blogging. This will be an advantage to him in the campaign because he has a ready-made “bully […]

  10. […] JoAnn Hackos is now blogging! A few months ago I asked “Why aren’t more tech comm leaders blogging?“ […]

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