Many people will tell you how great blogging is. They’ll even list all the reasons for doing it! And I largely agree (obviously, because otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this) but while it should be obvious that there are downsides, too, they get far less publicity.
So I decided to write about the dirty underbelly of blogging. And while these are indeed reasons against blogging they are not necessarily reasons not to blog. I just want developers who ponder getting into this to seriously consider whether this is the right move for them.
To make this more concrete I’ll be throwing around some numbers. Those are solely based on my experience and I have no clue whether they’re representative. Your mileage may vary.
Blogging Takes Time
Obvious, right? Yes but let’s flesh it out and look at the numbers I just promised.
Depending on a couple of things I write between 200 and 500 words an hour. The most important factor is how motivated and focused I am. Next are how well I know the topic and how undisturbed and long I work.
Did you notice those beautiful pull quotes?
But a post is more than just the words. It has to have flow, which requires reflection and editing, a nice layout (did you notice those beautiful pull quotes?) and some pretty pictures. And does it include all relevant links? There have to be search keywords, a meta description, and an excerpt. And if it’s about code, you better write some nice snippets and put them up on GitHub.
With all of this I end up spending about an hour for every 150 to 250 words before a post, which is typically between 1’000 and 2’000 words long, is ready to get published. (Case in point, this post, which has very low demands compared to something technical, took me 5 hours and has about 1’800 words.) This means that if you’re no faster than I am, you can easily spend ten hours per week just with creating your content.
Research Takes More Time
I just said that my speed depends on how well I know the topic. But that assumes that I at least do know the topic.
I’m frequently writing about things about which I knew just about nothing the week before. Studying the multitude of sources for Jigsaw or trying out the JUnit prototype is not part of writing. It’s research and it comes on top.
Whether this is necessary or should be counted is debatable. Maybe you’ll be writing about stuff you already know well or are researching topics anyways, in which case you are already spending this time.
People, and I am one of those, will tell you that blogging gets you in touch with lots of interesting topics and will widen your horizon. You will research interesting stuff and make an effort to get to know it well.
Now imagine the host of cool things you could be playing with instead! Split all of that extra time between learning (like reading and taking courses) and doing (open source) and all of this “learning new stuff” and “widening the horizon” bloggers yap about would get a good ass-kicking by what you’d learn and widen.
Learning The Wrong Thing
All of those things I mentioned above; at least you learn a totally new skill set, right? That must be worth something!
But is it? Is it really worth something? Or is it just something you have to know if you want to publish content and have people notice it. Because if so (and it surely feels like that) the logic is somewhat circular: By publishing stuff you learn how to publish stuff so you can, err, publish more stuff?
Instead you could be learning something that actually interests you and has a real return of investment considering your current career.
“But writing is always a great skill to have, right?”
“But what about writing?”, you might ask. “That’s always a great skill to have, right?” True. So join an open source project and write their documentation or go through their issues and communicate with users. If you’re making an effort to improve, I would imagine this (haven’t tried it yet, no time) to be a great way to become a better technical writer and an awesome communicator.
As I’m writing these lines, it dawns on me that this will likely have a larger impact than blogging, too (for more about that, see below). And in case you care about that, for future employers it is almost as public and likely more relevant to the position you are applying for.
(I’ve got to add a disclaimer here. I’m not advocating that it is best to focus on one skillset alone. On the contrary, I see a lot of value in being proficient in diverse domains. I’m just saying that there might be skill sets better suited for you or your career than publishing.)
Blogging Takes Energy
Say you didn’t get a lot of sleep for whatever reason (work, kids, neighbors, what have you). But you’re a good soldier so you schlepped yourself to work, gave it your best, and were awesome: Intensive pair programming sessions, a conference call with a major customer, some important meetings, and a slightly scary code review – you mastered it all!
Back home after grocery shopping you dealt with some ugly paperwork (insurance, most likely) and if you have kids, I’m sure you’ve sat down with them to read a book, build a castle, or slay a dragon. Now it’s 9 pm, you’ve been on fire for about 15 hours and just want to relax on the couch. I mean, you earned it, right?
Instead you’re hauling your ass in front of yet another screen (because you didn’t have enough of that, already) and start reading, coding, writing. And don’t forget to be focused, creative, and witty! Also, don’t even dare to look at your mails or Twitter or you will waste two hours and go to sleep depressed because you “didn’t get anything done”.
Now let’s turn to game night, hitting the gym twice a week, pub crawls, and date nights. Because that’s not gonna work out. You’re low on time now, remember, so some of those relaxing habits have to go. (Case in point, I’m writing this on a Saturday evening.)
So blogging takes energy and much of the time you need to recharge. Do that for a year and tell me it’s not taking a toll.
Shouting Into The Void
Unless you’re a rockstar working on some hot product or share insight into unseen territory, nobody will care. Just a dude with a blog? Nobody will care. Yet another poor soul acting out his Java Stockholm Syndrome? Nobody will care. Looking at your visitor stats you will be able to identify your readers by their screen resolution.
You can identify your readers by their screen resolution.
At least at first. After a couple of months things will pick up and you will actually have readers. My stats went from 10 per day to about 100 when, after three months, a couple of my articles ended up on Reddit, JavaCodeGeeks and DZone. Within another six months it grew to about 200 per day plus peaks. That was fall 2015 and nothing much changed since then.
But what about interaction? I mean you want to be part of a community, right? On average, it looks like about one visitor in a thousand will interact. They may post a comment, send a tweet, or subscribe to your mailing list (I don’t track RSS so I don’t know about that). About half of those interactions may invite a response from you. So if you have about 200 visitors per day, you end up communicating with your readers less than once a week. How’s that for a tight community feeling?
This is more serious.
The internet can turn into a truly dark place very quickly. And it happens much quicker and gets much darker if you’re a member of a minority (which in our field of work includes everyone who’s not a straight, white dude).
Our community is not exactly known for its inclusiveness.
In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, you might want to read this first hand report from Alison Leiby, which is a pretty random example of what can happen if you step on the wrong hemorrhoids (that’s what assholes’ toes are called, right?). And keep in mind that Leiby posted the “offending tweet” to the general populace; our community is not exactly known for its better-than-average inclusiveness.
Now, as a white dude writing about technical stuff, my chances of being exposed to this kind of toxicity are minimal. So I have no experience with this and am surely not in a position to give advice. But if you feel like being mass-insulted online (or worse) is something you could not stand, exposing your thoughts and ideas to all of the Internet comes with a real risk of suffering – especially if you’re part of a minority.
Whether this should make people censor themselves is a complicated topic I am not going to discuss here and now. But it belongs on this list because it can be a true reason against blogging.
Mmh, this got somewhat personal and it all sounds very whiny and negative. That wasn’t my intention when I started writing but somehow this is how it came out. Let’s ignore the obvious psychological implications here and give it a positive ending:
I like blogging!
No really, I do! I enjoy the act of writing, many of the activities I harped on about, and of course also the positive effects of blogging that are so often mentioned elsewhere. And when I look back on the last 18 months since I started I am proud of what I’ve built.
All I’m saying is: Blogging is great but it has serious downsides as well. If you consider doing it, be aware of them, make a conscious decision, and track how it turns out for you. Be sure to love the process, not just the results! Don’t just drink the cool-aid and waste your precious time needlessly depressing yourself in front of an empty editor and a blinking cursor.
If you liked this post, why won’t you be my one-in-a-thousand and follow me…
… or share it.