The way people behave on the web changes, the way it affects them and motivates them changes too. That includes the writing we do on blogs.
The holy grail of blog success was often thought to be comments. In fact, once upon a time, that input and conversation was part of my my validation and reward for writing. That I inspired someone to write something to me in return was fantastic, to contribute to a dialogue right before my eyes.
Comments were enthusiastic and abundant. It was the time on the web when conversation drove everything, because the novelty of interaction was still fresh.
Now it’s not so simple.
A thoughtful comment, question or contribution is always welcome, and is still a cornerstone of many a blog, including this one. I still delight in the brilliant contributions and banter of readers old and new (even if I’m sometimes lousy at responding to comments).
But can you feel it?
While some parts of the web become ever more superficial and flighty, others are slowing down. Filtering carefully. Seeking something they can ease into a chair with for a while. It’s as though the rapid-fire chatter has finally worn us down a bit, made us less eager to just say something, anything and more apt to wait until we have something to say that’s worthwhile.
So now, blogs could be about inspiring someone to take away an idea quietly, ruminate on it, maybe write something of their own. The reward isn’t just making people talk, it’s making people think. Sit and marinate on an idea, or simply absorb it and move on to something else, perhaps adding a small spark that wasn’t there before. Improving their business. Adding joy to their life. Giving them a shot of reassurance or inspiration or a moment of laughter.
We may not always know if or when those moments happen. In fact, most often, we won’t. (Oh, the cries should I have an analyst here trying to measure the efficacy of my blog). Does that shift mean that this or any other blog isn’t successful? Or is it just different-successful? Would I know? Does it matter?
Over time, my purpose in writing is no longer just to drive a reaction. It’s to spark inspiration, a little provocation. Hoping I can inspire someone, somewhere to think a little bit differently, even if it’s not here and not now.
Often that happens much later when the words on the page click with the loose bits of someone else’s idea, rattling around in their head. The more I wander around this crazy web, it’s not the immediacy of discussion that becomes the motivator to create, but the long, slow, and hopefully incremental impact over time. An impact I may never, ever see. It runs counter to so many of the principles of velocity and real-time on the social web, but I think it’s a critical part nonetheless.
Perhaps these things aren’t always mutually exclusive. But more and more, contribution to the Big Collective Something isn’t about the immediate gratification in the moments after you hit publish. Sometimes it’s about putting an idea on the water, like a little paper boat, and letting it drift off on the waves and out of your sight.
Will it sail? Maybe. Sink? Many will, never to be heard from again. But launch a thousand boats with blessings for their journey, and at least a single, slightly sodden, and certainly determined one is bound to reach an unfamiliar and distant shore.
Who knows what new adventures that could bring.