Friday, 20 April 2007

The medium is the message...

This blog presents an analysis of blogging as a tool for writers.

The research was conducted through a blog, and so it seemed only fitting to present the results as a blog...

Thursday, 19 April 2007

And the point is?

The aim of this industry analysis is to explore the potential of blogging as a tool for professional writers.

As James Henry explained: “Yes, of course all bloggers are writers. The 'Professional' in this case isn't attempting to divide the blogworld into cackhanded amateurs versus noble and dignified purveyors of the art like myself (the way a lot of journalists seem to think it ought to), I think MC is just looking into how blogging affects anyone who already has a primary income from writing.”

There are literally millions of blogs; the key difficulty in reaching any form of useful analysis in discussing them is the sheer size of the blogosphere.

With no clear boundaries of demographics or publication methodologies to work with I decided to use blogging as the primary research tool to analyse itself.

I posted a message on my blog inviting comment from writers who blog, with an intention to use responses to evaluate:

• How far the message would travel in three days – both geographically and to whom. (i.e. would responses come from people I had prior contact with or would the ‘thread’ reach new people).
• What encouraged them to start blogging and what they felt they got out of it?
• In terms of networking links, had it created career opportunities? (Implicit in this, was whether blogs offered a potential way for new writers to establish useful contacts within the industry)
• Thoughts on blogging’s future as a free/uncensored online community and its impact on print based industries

The aim of this analysis is to present the results of my research alongside a contextualised overview of current blog related trends and issues; in order to assess what writers might gain from blogging. Clearly there was an element of bias; I have a blog, all responses came from established bloggers. The findings could be viewed as unbalanced, raising the question – is there any merit in the results given that no non-bloggers were involved in the research?

This is a valid argument up to a point.

So, a further focus of this analysis is to establish, for those new to blogging – why bother? Is there any merit behind an uncensored online diary? Is the blog hype simply about self-indulgence and narcissism? Did I elicit anything from the research that might be useful for other writers?

Towards a definition of blogging

Blog: n. abbreviation of weblog. v. Add new material to or regularly update a weblog.
(Oxford English Dictionary: 2005)

Ten years ago, this entry didn’t appear in dictionaries. The first blog is attributed to Claudio Pinhanez in 1994; since then blogging, blogs and the blogosphere have crept their way into global language. Wikipedia explain their development here.

According to Technorati (considered the closest there is to an authority on blog related statistics) there are an estimated 75.2 million blogs – today (19/04/07). With 175,000 new blogs created daily, this figure will be different tomorrow. Globally there are 18 updates a second resulting in over 1.6 million posts per day. People are blogging.

Loathe or love them; blogs reflect a new media growth industry that is hard to ignore. Blogging has redefined online activity. The familiar ‘www.’ is being changed by the emergence of a World Live Web; an ever changing and updated array of user generated web activity; increasingly referred to as ‘citizen media’. The Internet now reflects a combination of ‘static’ content (websites) alongside content with such frequent input and updates that nothing stays still for long.


Blogs are everywhere; thousands more appear daily, generating tangible influence in the offline world.

In the US courts have turned to "Wikipedia an online encyclopedia that operates a lot like a blog, where anyone can post information to it and submit revisions of information. There have now been over 100 cases where a federal court judge has cited information of wikipedia as factual.”

This week, journalists harassed student witnesses of the Virginia Tech tragedy for interviews – via their blogs. Distasteful and disturbing as this is, it does show the influence that blogs now have.

In terms of the writing industry the impact is clear.

Books are getting published on the basis of blogs. It is difficult to find a Newspaper or magazine that does not have some form of online content including a blog style comment area. Corporate blogging increases daily, with proven impact on customer relations and branding. Screenwriters are bypassing consultancies and networking script readings online.

So whether a features writer, journalist, novelist, business copywriter or screenwriter – it’s difficult to ignore blogging.

Hi miss-cellany...

I left a post on Sat 14th April – deliberately timed a week prior to submission to reflect the immediacy and temporary nature of blogs. I wanted this analysis to be as current as possible.

Four days later I had received:

Whilst the majority of replies were UK based, there was a response from around the globe:

The majority of replies were from previously unknown bloggers:

Those who replied worked professionally in the following areas:

Analyse That...

As a writer embarking on my first feature film, the response from script writers/readers and editors in this response was encouraging.

Acknowledgement must be given to James Henry and Patroclus , who linked my post from their (well established) blogs, the script reader/writer Danny Stack read one of those and did the same…

In essence, this trail epitomises the power and potential of blogging. There is a flip side (discussed later), however, my experience of blogging has always been positive, and initiated contact with an exciting array of professionals.

The volume, detail and global spread of the responses was unexpected. In essence this was an experiment. I was left with clear evidence to support the idea that writers who blog form a unique online community that is articulate, interesting, and highly supportive.

The comments themselves offer valuable insights into writers’ perceptions of blogging, and its value as a mode of communication. The response could easily form the basis of further research. The results suggested many good reasons for writers to blog; summarised below, with a few examples to represent the range of comments.

Blogs can help with self-discipline, developing writing skills and offer a place to test new ideas.

“It's just good to write something as close to every day as you can manage, just to keep the writing muscles healthy.” (James Henry)

“I started a blog to support a book accompanying a TV series, then found I enjoyed blogging in and of itself…it gives me a place to explore random ideas that don't fit anywhere else, and has also allowed me to read some amazing stuff written by some very talented writers and humorists, both published and not.”(Lucy)

“I generally try to keep my newspaper stuff and blog stuff very separate. I'm aware that, as a political leader writer I'd get flamed if I wandered into the snake pit of UK political blogging, and I'm not actually a very argumentative type. I'm sort of superstitious about showing things I'm working on professionally to anyone before they're safely in print. There are exceptions. Sometimes I try out ideas on the blog…to see if the thing in my head is worse than half-baked or actually a proper idea. The only way you know is by writing it down.” (Rafael)

Writers are gaining work via blogs, and they offer a unique way to establish networking contacts:

“Potential work has come my way via the blog, mostly through connecting with other more established bloggers. One interesting development has been contact from some of the major newspapers in Canada requesting input or a write up for a larger piece they are doing. Again, all via the blog.”(WC Dixon)

Blogs can be used as an effective tool for self-promotion and marketing:

“It has a function as a publicity tool for my work, but I'd still do it if this were not the case, because it's fun.”

Blogs build a sense of community:

The unanimous appeal of blogging reflected in this study demonstrates that beyond initial self-consciousness, most blog for enjoyment. What sets blogs apart from diaries or notebooks, is comments; these open limitless possibilities to engage in debate, discussions or merely banter; invaluable for those who write. Unlike chatroom users, bloggers can formulate a greater sense of who is talking to who. Fictional characters can ‘play’ word games, writing related topics and ideas might be discussed, and the everyday can become surreal and inane.

Blogs are breaking and changing the boundaries of communication.

Every response offered insightful, thoughtful comments; all were from professional writers. There were no random replies; every comment was relevant to this study.

Moving On Up

To really get to the heart of what blogging is all about, this study must be evaluated on three levels; a reflection of the way in which blogging itself works.

1. The replies I received.
2. Visiting the respondents’ blogs, and entering into communication there.
3. Information/contacts/ideas gained from exploring blogrolls at those sites.

I left a comment with everyone who responded; partly for research, partly as this is an unwritten code of blog ‘etiquette’. At those blogs I entered into further debates.

One of the most interesting threads of blog debate this week concerned the question of anonymity.

Some defend anonymity because they enjoy the creative freedom that blogging offers – to explore new ideas and the potential to ‘fictionalize’ themselves as writers.

On the other side of the fence were comments reflecting the fact that those commissioning work and/or trying to spot new talent view blogs. The argument is that those people won’t be inclined to pursue anonymous writers.

“The Internet is one of the best marketing tools anyone has at their disposal. I’ve had work purely on the basis of my website. People have started searching on UKScreen or Shooting People or whatever and have found my name; from there they’ve gone to my website or this blog and read some of my scripts. They’ve then got in touch about me writing for them, or sometimes asked if they can produce one of my short scripts.”(Phil Barron)

At the third level of analysis, a compelling reason for writers to blog becomes self-evident; the trail that led from respondents' blogrolls.

This trail led me to a vast array of writing related information, contacts, ideas and a place to communicate with like-minded people in what can potentially be a very lonely profession.

These links speak for themselves as invaluable evidence of building writing related contacts and events; some are included here, but every writer will find a unique path reflecting a personal 'hyper' contact list . Unlike a Google search leading to a speculative email, blog research opens a more personal method of communication from the outset.