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Monday, Jul. 9, 2007 at 2:21 pm

Jakob Nielsen on Blogging: Don’t Do It!

By Howard Kaplan
July 9th, 2007

Today’s Alertbox from Uncle Jakob arrived in my inbox, and as usual, I scanned the headline and summary in the preview pane before deciding whether today was a day I had the 20 – 30 minutes necessary to digest his topic du jour. Here’s his subject & summary:

Subject: Write Articles, Not Blog Postings

Summary: “To demonstrate world-class expertise, avoid quickly written, shallow postings. Instead, invest your time in thorough, value-added content that attracts paying customers.”

Guess what I decided? I did have about that amount of time, and yet I preferred to spend 10 minutes reading his summary and intro, get the gestalt of his point, and spend the remaining 10 minutes sharing my reaction with my community.

Audacious, I know.

I actually don’t want to discuss the meat of his “analysis” (yet), because there’s real charts and data, and I’d like to try to understand his “scientific” position before I decide to agree or disagree. As I said, this takes more than a few minutes. What doesn’t take more than a few minutes to observe, however, is what I do want to discuss: his clear bias.

Avoid shallow postings and instead write value-added content, he says. I couldn’t agree more. But what exactly does this have to do with the medium chosen for the writing in question? Is it possible to write regularly scheduled and published “articles” that provide little value add? Is it equally possible that some have found an ability to “post” interesting and thought-provoking commentary in real time, and influence an ongoing discussion?

Jakob has never written a blog–at least as far as I can tell–but he has written an excellent and respected newsletter for years. Seth Godin, on the other hand, has never written a regularly scheduled newsletter full of articles–at least as far as I can tell–but writes an excellent and well respected blog.

Marshall McLuhan said, “The ignorance of how to use new knowledge stockpiles exponentially.” So, don’t worry about Uncle Jakob. He’s simply mistaking the medium for the message.

I invite you to comment ;)

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Comments (19)

  1. i read that article as well and i couldn’t help but feel it was off the mark. he was stating that blogging wasn’t as worthwhile as writing in-depth articles, but failed to really clarify how they were worthwhile, and to who? i look forward to your upcoming critique.

  2. I skimmed the article and did not go through all the charts and “analysis.”

    Nielson is confusing the messenger and the message. Blogging is the messenger. The message is the content be it an article or blog postor podcast or video. It should always be thoughtful, meaty, and add value. The fact that any author is not always going to be at the right end of the bell curve of excellence — whether blogging or writing articles — means that he or she is just like Shakespeare: human. That’s not a reason to stop writing (or blogging).

  3. Blogging, is not just the message, its appeal is in immediacy and honesty. The blog post opens passionate threads of response – where else do you get that? Open, honest, immediate discussion. And blogging is a platform where opinion is the only credential that matters.

    Blogging injects the personality of the writer into the topic–you get a feeling that you know the blog writer. Readers often become fans of the blog, and return regularly. Blog readers get to vote on the topic in real time, and rush to be the first post. Articles have a different value – so it need not be “them or us.”

  4. I couldn’t agree more with all three of you.

    Leslie, you bring up an especially interesting point regarding the personality factor. It’s one we often discuss (in fact, as I posted this Avinash, Jeffrey and I had this very same discussion). I’m not surprised it’s a perspective Jakob misses, given his predilection for referring to the human beings that make up his/our/your audience en masse as USERS. Sad.

  5. [...] just seems telling that nobody's bidding on "Universal Search" (see thumbnail). And if "blog postings" aren't important, as Jakob Nielsen insists, why would a single Search Engine Land post rank higher than everything [...]

  6. I read Jacob’s article and felt something was amiss in it. I do agree that content matters. But at the same time how can one reject a small post as being shallow?
    As Leslie points out and Howard seconds, blogs bring out the personality behind the words. This in itself adds depth to the posts.
    A small post by Scooble will make me go and research on the topic than a large researched post by a lesser known blogger. (In the former case I go to understand the subject if I am not familiar, in the later case I am happy to have read through something new and forget it).
    Which one had the effect?

  7. [...] And with relevance comes the fact that short works for some and long works for others. As Howard Kaplan states, Nielsen writes excellent, well respected, long newsletter articles whereas Seth Godin writes [...]

  8. Long posts are not always the way to go! Just like on-page content, shouldn’t any written material be only as long as is necessary to make the point? Sometimes that is more, sometimes less.

  9. Didn’t have patience to read whole article word by word …but think I got the point. I think what Jacob’s trying to say is, Variability in Blog Posting Quality is very high as opposed to the more steady quality in newsletter articles (across the board). Everyone gets blogs published each day. Lots of those are quick comments (like this one you put together in 10minutes today:)) as opposed to more carefully considered and thought out articles. This, makes blogs across the board lower quality content than newsletter articles. Due to that I personally think that it’s likely that search engines will give articles more credibility than blogs…

  10. oh also, difference in quality is due to the factor that blogging is very informal. Newsletter articles on the other hand are more formal, you feel more responsible towards your audience to supply them with quality stuff and avoid dissapointment. It is just a medium but the nature of the medium does I think influences the way we approach it thus the quality of the content itself.
    Would like to hear what others think of this last point especially….

  11. I agree with Uncle Jakob that there is a lot of information pollution out there – lots of bloggers publish useless fluff.

    But I also agree with Howard that he is missing the power of the medium – blogs are DESIGNED to create discussion- it’s one of the reasons why it is such a powerful medium. Jakob seems to have completely missed the interactive nature and power of blogs.

    At the end of the day – it is the reader who determines value. I think a combination of long, well thought out “article” posts and shorter “look what this other blog is sayingā€¯ posts is probably the ideal combo. You get the “expertise” and credibility of sharing your own knowledge in helpful long articles that have a long shelf life. But you are also an important part or catalyst of discussions with shorter posts that engage your audience in an interactive discussion.

  12. @Natasha

    Good point. I think the medium does have some affect on the way the content is generated. After you’ve sent out an email to thousands of people you can’t make edits to it easily. On the other hand if I publish a blog and then find a major typo an hour later, I can easily change it.

    There is no prescribed method for blogging though. If someone wanted to have a Jakob Nelson newsletter in a blog format they could. I frankly wish he would just so I could comment on his articles every now and then.

  13. Re: Blogs creating discussion

    Maybe that is why Jakob doesn’t like the blogging format. Allowing discuss and inevitable dissent may undermine the credibility of the author. What do you think?

  14. Any author who considers themselves infallible probably shouldn’t be considered an expert. People make mistakes all the time, it is what makes us human. Neils Bohr said “an expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.” I should hope any author had enough humility to have some one disagree with their point of view even when they don’t like. As an author I don’t enjoy dissent but respect people’s right to disagree.

  15. Having read the longggg article (Mr. Nielsen really likes to type doesn’t he?) I disagree with just about every one of his points. (Yes, there’s a lot of dreck out there in blogville but newsletters, “well-thought out” articles and such can also be (and often are) absolutely terrible. Depends on the person doing the research, writing, and thinking. Further, one person’s dreck is another’s gold.)

    The one paragraph that really has me shaking my head is:
    “For most sites, the content is not the point. Instead, you want to answer customers’ questions as rapidly as possible so that they’ll advance in the sales cycle and start buying (or donate, or sign up for your newsletter, or whatever else you want them to do).”

    Content not the point? I’d be interested in Nielsen doing some more thinking and writing to help me understand what he meant. Particularly since he’s supposed to be a “Web expert.”

  16. And, smart, rational people disagree all the time.

    As long, as everyone recognizes, that I’m always right! ;-)

    Seriously, the term “expert” always sets off sirens for me. As Bryan notes, people make mistakes all the time. It’s what we learn from them (and each other) that helps increase our wisdom (not our “expertness” – if that’s even a word…)

  17. Stoney: Amen, brother!

    Natasha: across the board, I agree with your point- more traditional newsletters/articles are likely to have more high quality content than many blogs. Yet, it’s important to note- this isn’t a mutually exclusive choice we’re making blogs vs. newsletters. That’s my primary issue with Jakob’s position. Like all consumers today (consumers both of content as well as product), I want what I want… when I want it, how I want it. The fact that Jakob wants to publish according to *his* schedule is all well and good, but my timetable for information is far more immediate than once per week. I will choose the newsletters than I read regularly, based on their quality content, as I will choose the blogs I ready daily, based on theirs.

    Regarding your last point, I won’t argue with the lack of formality associated with many blogs/blogposts, but regarding the blogger’s feelings of responsibility, I wonder, do you blog?

    Personally, having both blogged and written articles for our newsletter, back when each was a distinct entity, I can tell you I felt NO difference in responsibility towards the audience– I ALWAYS feel responsible to offer relevant, salient, interesting or thought provoking content, regardless of the medium. If not, why bother?

    Ryan: I’m glad you asked the question, because it’s something we hear often and it may easily be a contributing factor to Jakob blasting the medium- he does not want to facilitate people questioning his “dogma”.

    However, my response is the same as when retailers are fearful of putting reviews on their site because of potential negative feedback: you’re free to live under the delusion that if you don’t facilitate the commentary, it won’t exist… but please let me know how that works out for you. Consumer opinion in today’s highly interconnected world simply can’t be held back. Take a recent example- Robert Scoble is hosting comments for Marc Andreessen’s new blog on his popular blog because Marc has actively decided not to (for now). As Holly so aptly pointed out, “expertise” is granted through the conveyance of knowledge, and the acceptance of the community.

  18. [...] experts like Jakob Nielsen think we're nuts for blogging, so be it. When we find any future-predicting gurus out there, we'll let you [...]

  19. [...] Earlier this week we heard from the ready-to-make-rules about anything he personally dislikes Uncle Jakob Nielsen and now we hear whining about how Debbie Weil helps [...]

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