I know that it borders on sacrilege but I don’t really read David Warlick that much these days. But when cleaning out some of my Bloglines feeds today, I did take notice of this post where David wrote about the importance of attention in the blogging world. He has this to say:
To get things done, we need other people, and to get them interested, we need their attention. One thing that’s concerned me is that as we talk about limitless bandwidth, limitless channels on the TV, limitless this and that in the world of information, what is not limitless is attention. There are only so many people and so many hours in the day. And each of us are only willing to give up so much of our day’s attention to others’ ideas.
That got me thinking that as the blogosphere grows, that the opportunity for new bloggers to gain a foothold, and to attract enough readership to create a network of expertise is actually more difficult than when I started this blog experiment back in August 2005. David describes how it panned out for him:
…that I started blogging in a time when there was an abundance of attention out there, looking for something to pay attention to, and they would latch on to almost anything. As more people started becoming interested in blogs, and there were only a handful of educator bloggers out there, they came to Will Richardson, Terry Freedman, David Jakes, and some even came to read my blog. It was like physics — attention gathering around Will’s voice built up mass, and the more mass gathering around a particular voice the greater the gravitational pull — and the more attention that was attracted to it.
All of a sudden, a comment I read earlier in the day on an edna forum made sense – in paraphrase as I haven’t asked permission to quote directly, the poster was lamenting that new things online always had a burst of energy initially but then struggled to continue. He cited that blogs are prone to an early death if there isn’t any feedback.
The attention from others needed to foster a blog is an important ingredient. I personally believe that comments are the lifeblood of my blog but not everyone else agrees. But attention comes in many forms – comments are just one method of measuring who’s reading. I think I was fortunate in the timing of my entry into the edublogosphere after the wake of the well known names David cites but before the bigger growth over 2006 that has also spawned many well read and often quoted education focussed bloggers. So there is potentially a big difference between my experience and what the teacher who starts a blog tomorrow can expect in terms of gathering audience, conversation and importantly, momentum.
I read a lot of bloggers who don’t read me. There are bloggers who read me who I don’t have in my Bloglines. There are readers who probably don’t blog! And it’s true that every time I find a new blog or become aware of another educator blogging, my first inclination is to add their feed. But I struggle to get through all of the blogs I’m currently tracking (hence my problem reading David Warlick) and will only keep the Must Reads folder up to date. So in the best interests of managing my attention, if I want to add a new blog I will look through and see if there are any current feeds that can be culled.
Just like that, one blogger has one less chunk of attention coming their way. I know it happens to me because I see the Bloglines subscription numbers wavering up and down when I check to see if my latest post has been RSSed through successfully. (I know I’ve forgotten about blogs or assumed the person has stopped blogging due to a dodgy RSS pickup in Bloglines.) As more educators look for that attentive audience, the reader has a choice – do I keep the feeds that I’ve read regularly and consciously avoid adding new voices to the mix or do I make space for them and be a bit ruthless about who gets to stay in my Personal Learning Network?
How does a beginner get noticed amongst the more seasoned campaigners (those who’ve stuck at it for a year or more!) when their initial postings will be a bit tentative, a bit exploratory or a bit self absorbed. I’ve seen a couple of blogs set up here in Adelaide by teachers that are only two or three posts in length since their birth at my workshop at last year’s CEGSA conference. Why? Maybe the authors expected a bevy of comments and found that no-one was really reading. Attention doesn’t just come automatically. I hate to use the phrase “competing for attention” because I don’t think that the collaborative environment that Web 2 tools enable fits that, but bloggers starting out now have the unenviable task of task of “convincing readers” that their ideas and musings are worthy of that attention. Maybe the solution as David sees it is in social networking sites like ning or maybe new bloggers need to start looking for their attention sources closer to home. Either way, it’s probably not surprising that many education blogs die on the vine. But maybe, if the author re-prioritises and looks at how the blogging process can still be useful without the initial audience, the blog can be maintained long enough to gather its deserved slice of attention.