Felix Salmon has posted some provocative thoughts about blog timeliness, custom-tailored for “About Last Night”:
One of the greatest things about blogs in general is that they’re much more personal than, say, the Wall Street Journal. Updating a website shortly after midnight every day is not personal: it’s mechanical. It also mitigates against the kind of impulsive postings which might not go down in internet history but which help to build community: the things which give your audience an idea of who you are and what makes you tick. “Ohmigod I just heard George Plimpton died,” maybe followed by a personal anecdote, is not exactly newspaper material, but it’s perfect for a weblog….
So the upsides to publishing on an as-and-when basis are many: your site stats increase, your readers become more loyal (if only because they visit you more often), your blog becomes more blog-like and less like a daily newspaper column, and it also, when it wants or needs to, becomes more timely. What are the downsides? For you, I’d say the main one would be that blogging would become more of a full-time occupation. At the moment, you might be doing your regular job during the day and then settling down in the evenings to do the blog, maybe after having mulled a number of different possible topics in the back of your head over the course of the day. If you change posting habits then you might find yourself blogging during hours of the day in which you had intended to do something else.
That said, no-one’s going to mind if you don’t update between the hours of nine and five, or if you do so only very occasionally. Do what works best for you, because that, I can guarantee you, is going to be what works best for your readers. I would only urge you not to sit on blog postings for hours after you’ve written them, just because you want to wait until a certain hour before you post. I simply cannot see why that does either your or your readers any favours at all.
This hit me where I live. I spent a lot of time (three years, off and on) thinking about the nature of blogging before I decided to launch “About Last Night,” and I worked out a lot of things in my head in advance of the first day’s postings. But blogging really is a new medium, with its own indigenous properties and natural laws, and after actually doing it for two months I’m only just beginning to grasp some of them. What Felix Salmon is saying may well be obvious to people who came to blogging first, as opposed to people with a long history of print-media journalism, with its deadline-driven timetables (to which I am a slave, as all of you who’ve been reading my recent postings will be all too aware). But it wasn’t obvious to me–at least not until my hard drive crashed and I found it impossible to keep to the kind of clockwork schedule I simply took for granted was as necessary on line as off.
I think I may already have been starting to realize some of this on my own. I’d noticed, for example, that the traffic for this site is lowest in the mornings–the very time I took for granted that most people would read it, the way they do a newspaper. Instead, the numbers start to spike upward around one p.m. on the East Coast, and you can see them continue to climb as the lunch hour moves across the continent. Had I expected that? No. Did it change my posting habits? No. It took a computer-related disaster to jolt me out of my print-based routine, and even then I felt odd, almost guilty, because I wasn’t hitting at the same time every day.
Old habits die hard, even when they’re ill-suited to new circumstances. I suspect this is especially true for middle-aged people who are stumbling into a brand-new conceptual world pioneered by younger folk. (As I remarked in this space a couple of weeks ago, advancing age brings wisdom and inflexibility in equal measure.) The trick is to see what’s under your nose, and what I seem to be seeing, thanks in part to Felix Salmon, is that the whole point of blogging is to do things your way, at your own pace, secure in the knowledge that the 24/7 nature of the medium will allow other people to do exactly the same thing.
As it happens, I was talking about all this yesterday with Our Girl in Chicago, who is considerably younger than I am and thus has found it easier to adapt to the intrinsic nature of the medium. In addition, we’re both enjoying joint blogging very much (an idea I got from 2 Blowhards, by the way), and it occurred to us at roughly the same time that this is no coincidence. Two-headed blogs are not only easier to keep in motion, but the unpredictable alternation of the two voices makes for a serendipitous variety of tone and topic that I find appealing. Yet that, too, is something you won’t find in newspapers and magazines, whose fixed periods of publication are antithetical to free conversational interplay.
As I announced on Monday, “About Last Night” will be updated on what Felix Salmon calls an “as-and-when” basis for the duration of the current computer crisis. But I now suspect that is likely to become a permanent arrangement once my iBook is up and running. Once again–and not for the first time–what initially seemed like a major disaster has actually had the effect of dynamiting an arbitrary routine and making me rethink the way I do things.
So here’s to the unforeseen…up to a point.