It's Time for Accountable Content on Blogs

Frustration, by Sybren Stuvel on Flickr

Information Overload

We live in what is called the ‘information age’ and the world has been called the ‘Content Nation‘; people are now able to create content at rates that were truly unreachable even 20 years ago, and share that with people on the other side of the world.  It’s amazing–and very overwhelming.  Pete Cashmore (of Mashable) predicted that ‘content curation’–organization and sharing of the ‘best’ content online–would be one of the biggest web trends of 2010.

We all know the misery of googling a phrase and having to wade through pages of search results to find what we’re looking for–the never ending tweaking of the search phrase, clicking, scanning, back button, scroll, click, scan, back button, next page….  And it’s not only the amount of information that stretches our patience, it’s actually the poor quality of information that boggles us: advertisers trying to trick us, people on our Facebook posting what amounts to last weeks Inquirer (did you hear about the ufo over Jerusalem?), or bloggers passing themselves off as experts.

Which brings me to the topic of blogs: this morning I clicked on 5 links to different blog-posts on my Twitter feed, and only 1 of them was *quality*, in my opinion, and worthy of a retweet.  I felt dissatisfaction rising up in me: why do people write within a bubble?!  Why don’t they attribute their sources?  Why don’t they take the time to make their post connect to the knowledge community that they are a part of?  If they give advice, why don’t they tell you why they’re someone you should be listening to?

I believe that this information overload makes it all the more important to create *quality* content, as a blogger.  I’m not just talking about ‘expert’ blogs–I’m also talking about artist, hobby, personal development, and even spiritual blogs, so don’t think you’re safe, just because you blog about your feelings, past experiences, or angels.  There are proven, tried and tested ways to improve the *quality* of your writing, and it turns out that this can also improve your page ranking with Google (see Extra Links below), so you have even more reason to do it.

Some Facts

According to Technorati’s 2010 State of the Blogosphere survey of over 7000 bloggers:

  • 79% of bloggers have college degrees: If this is off, even by a huge margin, it still doesn’t account for the fact that most people who blog don’t attribute their sources.  If you went to college, you learned how to write an essay–it’s called a Bibliography, or a Works Cited!  With hyperlinks, this whole process has been made SO much easier.
  • Consumers trust blogs approximately 15-20% less than they do other forms of media, such as magazine, newspaper, or tv.
  • 54% of bloggers say that they consider their blogging style to be ‘expert’.

Slow down.  Ask yourself, why are you blogging?

There are many reasons to blog–but it all comes down to one thing: communicating with other human beings.  Whether you’re doing this for profit or for fun, you have the choice to create content that will be valuable for your reader, or not.

In my research, I saw that some people avoid linking to other pages, because it takes away from the time spent on their page and the possible money they will earn from their ads.   In wordpress, I have the option of opening the link in a new window/tab, so I don’t see how this would be a factor; plus, this article talks about why this might not be as effective as you thought.

Another factor, it seems, is time.  Everywhere I look, people are in a race to get a new blog post out.  Technorati says that the average amount of posts per week is between 2 & 3.  I don’t really see how it’s possible to put out 2 or 3 *quality* posts, with high value to the reader (with attributive links and quality research)  in one week, unless you don’t have a day job.

Do you blog to make money?

Maybe you want to make money from blogging, and you know that everyone else posts 2-3 times a week, so you need to keep up, right?  that certainly happened to me, when I first started blogging.   But I wasn’t happy with the quality, and I realized the truth: According to Technorati’s survey:

  • 65% of bloggers don’t make money from blogging (the other 35% get paid per post or write for a corporate blog)
  • 65% of the bloggers who get paid per post made less than $2000 (USD) last year (from blogging).  On average, they earn $20 per post.
  • The people who get paid salary to write a corporate blog earn, on average, well below $20,000, which, in Canada, is below the poverty line.

I myself earn money from my blog; not from the blog itself, but through contracts I receive from people who see my blog and want to hire me for editing and writing.  Technorati’s survey makes it clear that this is the case for most people, so this only makes it even more important for us to write the highest quality blog posts that we can.  Yes, it will take longer, but yes, you will have a much higher quality piece of writing that will be of more value to your reader.

And if you’re of the mind to become one of those 10% who get paid more than $21,000, do you think you will get there by writing low *quality* posts?  See this debate amongst some top-bloggers if you don’t believe that this is an issue in the higher echelons of the blogging world.

An example of a horrible blog post

This morning I got an email with an offer to write blog posts for $20 per post and they sent me this link, to show me what kind of posts they wanted.  It’s the best example of a horrible blog-post that I could possibly imagine: there is only one link, and the author just spouts her opinion as if she’s an authority (that’s the ‘expert’ style that technorati mentioned is so popular).  But:

  • Who is she?  (click on her name and it takes you to a list of other names)
  • What makes her an authority?  (I couldn’t see anything that made her an authority)
  • Are there statistics or science, or professional opinions to validate what she’s saying?  (nope)
  • What books did she read that gave her these ideas?  (probably none, and if she did, she’s not telling us).

Or maybe, she was just so brilliant that she thought this great idea up all by herself!  BRAVO for her.  Blog posts like this are what some companies are looking for, because of what has been called, ‘Content Marketing’.  They pay $20 dollars for people to pop out ‘expert’ posts as if they were intestinal gas, and supposedly, this makes people want to buy their product/endorse their brand (“I just LOVE the Christian Tribune!).  Well, I will admit, if someone was only paying me 20$ per post, I’d probably write drivel too, but what kind of service are these companies and these blog-writers doing themselves?  What service are they doing their readers?

What about hobbyists, personal development, and mom bloggers?

You might be thinking, ‘well this need for links and research doesn’t include me–I’m just having fun talking about my feelings and my experiences.’

To you I would like to say that you will add a lot of value to your blog posts, and your own life, by taking the time to find out what other people have already said about the topic that you plan to write about.  Also, you can comment on those blogs and direct targeted traffic back to your own site.  You can put in links for the terms you use, and support your experience, opinions and advice by telling us how you learned what you learned.  We’ll appreciate it, I promise.

So, what is *quality*?

You may have noticed that I put little asterisks each time I used the word quality.  That’s because quality isn’t something I can define and put up a fence around: everything inside is quality and everything outside is not.  It’s subjective, and it’s true that many blogs don’t need to be ‘accountable’  in order to be of quality to their readers.  The *quality* I’m speaking of, though, can be defined as follows:

  • Statements of fact are supported by evidence, or by professional opinion.
  • Opinions and advice are supported by evidence, or by professional opinion.
  • References to other people/ideas are supported by links or sources
  • Credit is given to anyone from whom you got information.
  • The authority (or non-authority) of the author is clearly defined.
  • Statistics are sourced, if possible to the actual research they came from (Hint: if you’re having a hard time finding the source of a statistic, it’s probably because it’s a fake–don’t use it).
  • Quotes are sourced, if possible to the book or website they came from.

In Conclusion

I’ve decided as a personal challenge to only write blog posts that attribute sources properly, and I hope that you’ll consider the evidence I’ve amassed for you, and do the same.  I love to find blogs to comment on, or share on my social media platforms, but I refuse to recycle low *quality* writing, that exists in a bubble.  I also hope that you’ll be more skeptical in what you share on social media platforms, and check to see if the author is being accountable.

We’re part of a community and blogging is about conversations.  Show that you want to be part of a discourse on the topic you’re writing about–be a part of that discourse.

Extra links

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10 Responses to It's Time for Accountable Content on Blogs

  1. Very challenging and, by me at least, well-received post.

    It did “shake” me a bit though…

    I’m in a weird space now–between getting my book back from the editor and facing final revisions with less feedback than I’d like (I’ve gotten quite a bit but I want more).

    My WIP is the first of my books I’ve opened up to feedback. It’s been an emotionally dangerous journey but I’m learning a lot about writer/reader interplay.

    Also, I’m writing six blog posts a week ( I have no day job 🙂

    I’m not sure if my blog would pass your “quality” criteria but I do feel it has “integrity”.

    I’m going to go publish a link to this post on Facebook and Twitter and revisit it in a few days. I hope to find many, divergent views expressed 🙂

    As I wrote that last sentence, I had an urge to write a response-post to this post on my blog. I might… It always depends on what my Muse is wanting when I approach the writing.

  2. Dave says:

    I like writing in an informal, natural style, and I don’t want to make an argument in my blog, or prove to people that I am 100% right.

  3. Shalon says:

    Thankyou Dave and Alexander for your comments–I really appreciate them.

    @Alexander, I really do hope you write a response post; I’d look forward to hearing it.

    I did get two emails that related similar things as both of you–that their blog is ‘from the heart’ and that they don’t want to be scientific, or pack their blog posts with scientific evidence.

    I realize from these comments that I need to edit the piece and make myself more clear. Here is what I would like to add, and what I wrote back to the people who emailed me:

    Yes, I agree with you that not every blogger should use argumentative style blogs and that wasn’t what I was intending to suggest, so I will have to go back and do some editing. I didn’t mean to say that you should bolster your posts with scientific evidence, but rather to give more value to the reader by adding links to ideas and keywords, and other blogs/websites/books dealing with the same topic.

    I also beleive that blogs can still hold much value to their readers, without attribution, but that it adds even more value.

  4. Shalon,

    You are, for a highly educated and technically-oriented person, extremely reasonable 🙂

    I meant to say this in my original comment:
    The fact that your example, the post without attribution, was shocking to see on the Christian Science Monitor site. They’ve lost, as many sites have of late, much of my respect…

  5. Erin OK says:

    79% of bloggers have college degrees! Ha, and what they hated about college was having to cite their sources! I bet what they like about blogging is that nobody is forcing them to.

    That’s not a defense, you’re so right! Thanks for the quality post with so many facts and thought-provoking arguments. It will make me be extra critical of my writing.

    I was hoping to do more than a post a week too, because I read that’s what you have to do if you want your blog to take off. But, I’m also finding that there’s no way I could do that consistently without getting paid to do so. (And as a mom, I already have a day and night job). So I’m focusing on quality. Though a lot of people add a lot of content to their blogs by what you call content curation: lists of links they come across in their surfing/research.

    • Shalon says:

      YES Erin! Thanks for the comment!

      Your blog– http://www.itsokblog.com/ is a ‘mom blog’ (and much more) and you are an expert because you are a mom! So, that’s your credibility, for sure. But when I read your posts, I see that it would be very easy to add value for your reader by doing a little bit of curation, through a google search about your topic, to find other sources of info on the subject that might add something to the discourse.

      Also, because I know you, I know that you are a reader and researcher by nature–a critical thinker–and I know you always want to improve yourself and your mothering skills by reading books. So, maybe it’s nice to make a page on your blog where you list the books you loved most (maybe even post book reviews on your blog) and then when you write about a topic pertaining to any of the books you read, you can link back to that page.

      Lastly, I feel that many bloggers don’t realize that a post/page is not written in stone and can be edited! It’s never too late to go back and add attribution when you have time, or when you find new resources.

      • Erin OK says:

        Yes, thanks for the suggestions. I definitely have a book list page and book reviews planned. I’m trying to in the next couple month write posts on all the main topics I want my blog to deal with, so I can keep linking back to them. Baby steps!

        Also, since I started my blog I’ve been improving my bookmarking system, so I can easily find things I may want to link to in the future. It’s been a struggle as I start up to remember where to find all those things I remember reading, so it’s important to have good researching habits!

  6. Shalon says:

    I wrote the “Newspaper” that I featured in this blog, as an example of a horrible blog-post, to tell them what I thought. Here is what I said:

    Hi,
    I had the displeasure of reading one of your blog-posts:
    http://bit.ly/hkeAy5

    I am appalled at the lack of attribution, accountability and credibility in this blog-post and I found it so lacking in quality that I even wrote an article about it on my own blog. My criticism has nothing to do with the content, or the argument that the person is putting forward, but rather the poor journalism.

    You claim to be a newspaper? If you feel so inclined, feel free to read my post to find out what attribution is, since it seems that your blog writers do not have a clue: http://learning2grow.org/2011/02/03/accountable-content/

    Skip down to “An example of a horrible blog-post” if you would like to see what I had to say about your post, in particular.

    Sincerely (as in, I sincerely hope you improve your standards),
    Shalon

  7. You said, in response to Dave and I: “I did get two emails that related similar things as both of you–that their blog is ‘from the heart’ and that they don’t want to be scientific, or pack their blog posts with scientific evidence. ”

    I find no “similarity” between what you attribute to me and what I wrote… 🙂

  8. Constant PX3 says:

    Mashable does not always offer links to other sources. In fact, most of the attribution they do involves past Mashable articles. They arguably write about some of the same topics that TechCrunch writes about but you won’t see TechCrunch sourced on Mashable even if TechCrunch broke the story first. If Mashable wants to see more attribution it is probably code words for wanting to see more bloggers link to Mashable articles. Cashmore is also notorious for taking on writers who have no clue what they are writing about or who show bias towards websites they have a vested interest in.

    Just because someone writes about a topic that has been written about by other sources does not mean that they are not giving credit where credit is due. It is not the bloggers responsibility to discover every other writer who has offered information about the topic and list them accordingly. Hell, I’ve read a post on Pro Blogger that explores this same topic at length with a similar approach. Should I automatically assume that you were inspired by Pro Blogger and that you failed to attribute them as a source? Are you ripping their content? You must be ripping their content! Better rush to Pro Blogger and find the string of articles that I’m talking about!!! Open that Pandora’s Box if you want.

    “Lastly, I feel that many bloggers don’t realize that a post/page is not written in stone and can be edited! It’s never too late to go back and add attribution when you have time, or when you find new resources.”

    Why do bloggers have to find sources to attribute to their blog posts if those sources had nothing to do with what was written? If those sources did no attribute to the articles creation why attribute them later as if they did? That is a form of academic dishonesty in my opinion. That is like giving credit where credit is not due! I’m thinking you were one of those kids in college who mentioned random sources without the backing of authentic research. LOL

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