Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
February 5, 2011 3:01 PM

The Answer To A Dilution In Attention

How much content is too much content?

I am often asked this question (and many like it). From, "how often should I Blog?", "how often should I tweet?" to "how long should a Podcast be?" and "how much time should I spend on Facebook?" Seth Godin often says, "your mileage may vary," (a line I often use and don't cite back to the source as much as I should) and, as vague of an answer as that it... it's the perfect answer. Understanding the pulse of your audience is one of the biggest challenges and hurdles those who produce content have to contend with (more on that here: The Pulse Of Your Content). But, there is a bigger issue that seems to be surfacing in many of the Blogs, Twitter feeds and YouTube channels that I frequent. In a world where each and every day many more new (and smart) individuals start publishing content in text, images, audio and video (and those who already do publish content are getting better and better at it), the cluttered world of content in the online channel gets murkier, and those with any semblance of audience are now fighting for attention from more and more content publishers. And as the bar raises, I'm seeing more and more of these individuals publish more frequently. Much more frequently.

Is this just another play on the quality over quantity debate? 

I don't think so. Something tells me that if you asked some of these content producers why they are suddenly producing double the amount of content when compared to their usual publishing practice, it does seem like they're doing this to "out-publish" the competition. You have to remember: it's hard to topple a recognized Blogger when they jump from one post a day to two posts daily. But, the ultimate question is this:

"Does publishing more content double your audience or just maintain it?... and to what end?"

There are some raw truths: many of the web analytics tools do look at metrics like frequency, links and overall activity, so if you want to maintain a level of clout on these lists and through these services, simply doubling down is a very strategic move... if you can, ultimately, deliver at the same level of quality that was happening before.

Sadly, this doesn't seem to be the case.

As some of these content producers put out two shorter pieces of content or simply double the amount of content they're producing, I'm noticing a lack in quality that doesn't happen fifty percent of the time, but an overall drop in the overall quality of the content... and that's just sad (and yes, there are also exceptions to this). The only true reason to increase your content production is because you have additional content that is of equal to or greater value than your current publishing pace. Beyond that, because people have less time to pay more attention, doubling your content can wind up being too much for their appetite and hinder your overall brand engagement with them. Meaning, people who are overwhelmed don't naturally retract to their own pace, they wind up dropping you entirely because they do not like to feel like they are falling behind.

What's my personal answer?

In recent weeks and through discussions with many of my digital peers who I respect as online publishers, I've come to the conclusion that perhaps Six Pixels of Separation should not even be considered "Blog" anymore. In fact, looking back at why I first started Blogging, it was because I needed an outlet for my words. As a journalist, a platform to publish for free to the world - and one where I can choose what to fill the blank screen with - is what made me most excited (and still does to this day). If I look at the pulse of this Blog, I like to publish articles. Pieces of new journalism. Yes, some of them may appear more op-ed than reporting on a news item, but that's the flow and pulse I have nurtured (it's my style and it's my art). I don't think I post like most Bloggers do. I'm not looking for short/catchy headlines to grab attention. I'm definitely not good at sourcing a royalty free image to grab your attention, and I grapple with writing short and snappy posts even though those are the ones that drive the most traffic. I publish articles. I like publishing articles, and I recognize that those who follow, read and comment below are probably doing a lot more work/thinking than they are in other online spaces where you can get in and out in 250 words or less or graze through some kind of "top ten list" for tips and tricks. In the end, this doesn't feel like a Blog anymore. It feels much more like a publishing platform for my articles.

It makes me wonder if the answer to a dilution in attention is not increasing the frequency but decreasing it in some instances? What do you think?

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Keith C.
    Mitch Joel

    Please keep calling it a blog because your platform for publishing in my mind is what a blog should be.

    I agree the trend is toward quick hits and multiple posts but your blog is an example of what's right with blogging.

    I use tumblr & Google Reader to share quick hits and other content but my blog is where I publish. I really enjoy your blog and I'll continue to be a fan regardless what you call it.

    Thanks

    Reply
  • Posted by Adam Singer
    Mitch Joel

    I think the solution is not to overthink it. Seriously - I run several communities and blogs and just don't overthink it. As someone who has used boards and forums since the popularization of the modern platforms maybe it just comes naturally. But I don't think there's a science to it - just don't do more than you can be interesting :)

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Good challenge to the thought process. Since the ease of starting a blog can be as simple as an email (Posterous), and content creation via automation is appealing to the less experienced; I would think "more content" is expected. To go head to head based on sheer volume may turn out to be like chasing a proverbial chicken.... never quite catch up. (Rocky found it very helpful to build his skills while chasing the chicken though, did he not?)

    On the other hand, creating a page online with quality which is includes a title with a special phrase just may be picked up in the search engine thus making it advantageous to having more pages online. (10 times the chance of being found with 1000 pages than with 100?)

    If a blog is a method to communicate to a very specific group of readers, then I agree with your assessment more than 100%.

    If a blog is meant to increase the chance of being found online via the infinite combination of words and terms people use to search, then possibly the "more is better" approach might be more to the blogger's advantage.

    If as a publisher you write simply to write and express yourself and catchy titles are not your style nor are keyword titles, it might be that you already have a tremendous following, offer value and have syndication. (Which for you is true from my perspective)

    For those starting today who have yet to learn the ropes, writing more will speed up the learning curve and let the fail faster as they will understand the reality of what is interesting and what is not.

    As always.... I appreciate your insight and how you push the paradigm. In regards to your articles? Keep doing what you do.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jim Raffel
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,
    Seth Godin also talks about scarcity. So, yes cutting back in order to produce higher quality more demanded content makes a great deal of sense.

    I recently cut back from 7 pieces a week to 5 I also took on a professional editor to review those pieces. While traffic fell for a bit it then came back. So, it has been a win-win for me and readers. Better stuff for them. More time for me.

    Of course your mileage will vary. :-)
    Respectfully,
    Jim Raffel

    Reply
  • Posted by Stephen Baker
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, I've been grappling with this issue, especially now that I'm trying to get traction for a book. With every spare moment I find myself thinking: I should be blogging, tweeting, etc. In my world (in which I'm not directly monetizing traffic) I think the key is transmit interesting ideas. An idea sets off a spark in someone else's head, and is likely to get them interested in you. A dull post, even if it wins you some extra traffic, is sure to accomplish the opposite. So we should all pray that our boring posts get read by no one. This is an argument for editing.

    Reply
  • Posted by Lori Johnson
    Mitch Joel

    Well, what I am looking for when I take the time to read the blogs is quality content. I usually get mad about reading a great article, subscribing so I can get some more, then finding out that was it. As you mentioned Mitch, if the quality of the content doesn't stay the same then I immediately unsubscribe. Not because I am a mean person but because I don't like to fall behind. Actually, I didn't have a clear reason for unsubscribing until you just told me but that really is what is happening. I'm already out of time. When I open my favorite blogs I want to find something that makes me thing and gives me reason to add my ideas to the conversation.

    As a blogger though, I struggle with blogging less than once a week because I want to be heard and considered an expert at what I do. Shouldn't an expert have something to say every week that readers would find worthy of the time it takes to read it? I know I'm dissappointed when my favorite experts seem silent. But on the other hand I wouldn't want to take time to even open a post if I had lost faith that the person was trying to keep doing what they did to get me in the first place. (Wow, that sounds like being married...) As for my own blogging struggles, I keep immersing myself in my craft and invest time in developing an opinion so I can offer insight when I blog.

    I am noticing that the trainings about how to build content that I have been attending really focus more on how blogging is great bait for the search engines and that the most important aspect is using the right keywords and having a call to action. I don't disagree that these elements are important, however, I feel like I can tell when the writer is focused on keywords more than audience and that I'm just being baited by a call to action so they can get my name and number.

    So maybe blogging is a lot more like dating and being married. I would never pay attention to a guy who approaches me with a bad pick up line (heaven must be missing an angel stuff). I would pay attention to someone who seems to actually be an authentic person (hi my name is.., I hope you won't be offended if I introduce myself stuff). Hey, I've been married for 28 years and I won't listen if my husband starts talking to me in a way that suggests that I'm not important enough for him to really try to communicate in the same way that convinced me marry him in the first place. In fact, I expect him to become even more intersting and get better at understanding what connects with me.

    Does that really answer the question of how often we should blog? Yes I think so. How often is whenever you have something to say that is not just fluff to get someone's number. Be funny, be charming, use an image, use your keywords, just don't forget your audience and what it took to get them in the first place. Yes, let me know what you are offering and how I can find out more if I want to but not by turning your blog posts into those long landing pages that make you think something great is coming but not really. If you have something good to say, just say it. What I hate to see is bloggers becoming more like advertisers.

    I believe I have some unsubcribing to do today. But not you Mitch. You're safe for now.

    Reply
    • Posted by David Pancost
      Mitch Joel

      Hi, Lori,

      I couldn't agree more with what you've said. I, too, really feel cheated when I subscribe to a blog because of a great article I've read only to be bombarded with filler. Frustrates the heck out of me.

      You've given me some serious material to think about as I prepare to start my own blog. I'm personally far less interested in Google rankings than in connecting with people. I understand that I have to do *some* promotion, but I want relationships and impact far more than huge numbers.

      I really love what you said about your relationship with your husband and how you want him to make effort to continue to intrigue you and dig deep in understanding what makes you tick. I believe if that same attitude is applied to one's audience, then you'll never have to worry about attention deficit. Loyalty comes and is kept by offering genuine respect and authenticity to those you connect with.

      Reply
  • Posted by Teri Conrad
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,
    The digital space is being overrun w rules and 'expert' advice about what you 'have to do'. I read your 'blog' because I value your opinion and the knowledge you share. Its not your catchy headlines or how often you write...I think we all need to find our own voice and style and use our own good sense. (this would apply to life as well ;)

    Reply
  • Posted by Geno Prussakov
    Mitch Joel

    "The only true reason to increase your content production is because you have additional content that is of equal to or greater value than your current publishing pace. Beyond that, because people have less time to pay more attention, doubling your content can wind up being too much for their appetite and hinder your overall brand engagement with them."

    I couldn't agree more, Mitch. Just as you, I blog every day (or almost every day), and have been doing so for over two years. Initially (in the course of the first year) there have been days when I blogged, because I decided/committed to do so, and not because I had a subject that touched me so much that day that I really wanted to blog about it. In my second year of consistent blogging I've actually changed my approach, and missed the days (some 3 or 5 out 365) when I didn't feel like blogging, but blogged more than once a day (incidentally, 3 or 5 times in a year too) when I had the content of "equal to or greater value" than that which I've already blogged about that day.

    I agree with you on the fact that quantity often compromises quality (when bloggers decide increase the amount of daily content they produce), and with the abundance of high quality content that is being produced by others that's the last thing you want to happen. You then lose readers and people's interest in what you do.

    As for the name ("Blog" or not), I think that part is secondary. My own blog has gone from a blog to more of an educational resource. Yours is a great article base indeed. But who cares what we call 'em as long as we truly add value and help people? I don't mind being called a blogger.

    Reply
  • Posted by Elizabeth Hirst
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch, dross will come and go; good content will always keep its audience. You're a strong brand. Don't change a thing -- and keep blogging!

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    As someone with too many blogs in my RSS reader, your comment on how a member of the audience might reaction to an increase in quantity with a drop in quality rings true.

    As a blogger who has never really been able to build an audience (The blogging is a side effect of what I do at work), your remarks on how you run your blog are interesting. I follow the same general rules. Plus my title's are not optimised for search, I avoid lists and almost all of my imagery is either created by my, or screenshots.

    What might be an interesting point is comparing the publication model (fast v slow, short v indepth) to the main channel through which the blog gets new readers. For example, the only reason I found Six Pixels was as a result of a discussion on another podcast.

    Reply
  • Posted by Peter Petch
    Mitch Joel

    Some estimate that total knowledge in the world d doubles every 11 hours so I believe that you have to fine tune both your network and your filters. There is no way you are going to catch everything but you can improve your chances of personal growth by following people that provide valuable, high quality insight.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Great post, Mitch. I actually have decreased the amount of blogging on my site and am now offering roughly 3 posts a week. My intent is to offer three great posts a week, rather than publish 5 or 6 times a week. I am focusing on optimizing the content, making it better, more challenging, more prescient. The result has been a doubling in readership. That's just my experience.

    Reply
  • Posted by Trish Fischer
    Mitch Joel

    I'm relatively new to blogging. My background is marketing copywriting and journalism. The blogs I value most take a journalistic approach. Yours is a great example. I don't think, however, that a newbie (even one like myself with 25+ years of experience) can jump right in writing a Mitch Joel- type of blog. It seems to me you have to earn it. Unfortunately, that may mean building readership with shorter, pithier content and then evolving into a more journalistic-type of blog.

    Reply
  • Posted by Rachel Biel
    Mitch Joel

    I subscribe to you and about 10 other blogs. Almost all have daily posts and individually, all are excellent in content. I subscribe because I provide assistance to artists with small businesses, helping them keep up with web and social media trends, so I feel like I have to keep myself educated and in the loop. The reality is that it's overwhelming and I tend to delete, delete, delete. I would much prefer receiving three posts a week from all of these places than the daily fill. I'm especially tired of the lists that begin with "The 10 things you need to know about..." "35 things you may have missed..."

    My own blog has suffered from my lack of time. I'm lucky if I can post once a week. Over time, it doesn't seem to matter much because my audience is a small niche and my numbers don't seem to go up or down much. So, I tell my people as well, that they should go for quality of content rather than having fillers in their posts.

    I have enjoyed the posts you've written which I haven't deleted!

    Reply
  • Totally in agreement.
    I keep having comments once in a while about my long weekly posts. Rarely less than 500 words, rarely more than 1000. I write this content in that many words because this is what it takes to demonstrate what I have to say.
    Some people can write it in fewer words.
    But for some reason, I cannot recall a lots of short stories that had the same impact on me as a longer text such as a novel. I am a firm believer in the words. The human mind has found a way to mimic emotions and concept using these words.
    A good story does not count its words.
    Neither do I.

    Reply
  • Carol L. Weinfeld

    Quality not quantity. Agreed, decrease the amount of posts at times, so there won't be a dilution in attention. For example, if too many tweets of one person appear in one's stream, one may unfollow that person, due to information overload.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jacob Varghese
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch,
    I agree with you when you talk about 'Dilution in attention'. I wrote 2-3 posts about how the online landscape for 'bloggers' are changing rapidly due to the same. Social media has perhaps killed the Blogger star (Note: NOT blogging). Newspapers are not the only ones having to rethink their publishing strategies when almost everyone is a publisher of some kind.

    Reply
  • Posted by Charles Baratta
    Mitch Joel

    For blog posting Quality must be more prioritized than Quantity, otherwise the blog posts will look trash and may lose it's factor to attract audience.

    It's sometimes very tricky to pick a content where your audience are in different profession or have different interest. Maybe that's where quantity(but with quality) should butt in. Quantity is surely needed when you have at least 5 different topics to share.

    Reply
  • Posted by Margie
    Mitch Joel

    In the movie Amadeas, the Emperor said to Mozart, "Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect."
    Mozart responds, "Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?"
    If Mozart was a blogger, he would write exactly the number of words he needed to tell a story. Avid fans could beg for more words. The Emperor could request fewer words. But Mozart would write enough to say what he had to say. No more, and no less.
    So in answer to how often should a person blog, I'd have to say it is as often as you have something important you want to say. As for how many words to write, write as many words as it takes to say what you have to say. No more, and no less.

    Reply
  • Posted by matt searles
    Mitch Joel

    Hey mitch,

    I guess I have a multifold reaction.

    Producing more content, as a competitive tactic, clearly has its pros and cons. I think if you find your self in a situation where competition is getting tougher.. I just think to have a knee jerk reaction to think the solution is to produce more content.. and to look only at that.. is a little crazy.

    I think the first thing you do is ask what your options are.. maybe you do a little competitive analysis... and then kinda figure out where to go from there.

    I believe that.. what you want to do is triangulate where your passions, skills, and the market are.. and build the core of what you do there.. and its like your presentation on personal branding.. we are all self differentiating snow flakes.. you gotta embrace your snow flake-ness... Because its in the core of that triangle where you have the best bet of beating anybody.

    So I think an important part of how you win at the game is in how you choose what game to play.

    Another thing is.. at least as a content consumer, I just don't feel like I'm over saturated with content.. I mean I know a lot of people talk about how fast change is and how hard it is too keep up and how limited they are with respect to what attention they have to give what but..

    There's just lots of subjects I love.. where I just can't get enough.. and where there seems to be very little content.

    Now I don't know.. if there's something like a way that commercial interest is limited in terms of how well it can cover any given area once you get however far down the long tail.. so that this has a certain effect on game marketing and communications people have to play... or this or that content creator..

    But it at least feels to me like there so much opportunity out there... that it seems like crazy talk to me when people talk about it being over saturated.. I mean I just really think it probably depends on the subject.

    And of course then you have those quality versus quantity debates with respect to audiences and communities and.. all the rest of it.. and at what point is it that we just need to rethink business a little more fundamentally then we have up to now..

    well that's my thoughts anyway

    Reply
  • Posted by Mitchell Schwartz
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    Totally agree about reducing the frequency to maintain one's following and to stay relevant. Why am I only reading this some 6 days late? Just struggling to keep up with all the weekly chatter, good and bad.

    Reply
  • Posted by Elisabeth Bucci
    Mitch Joel

    Considering that I blog (barely) once a month, I am, definitely from the "quality" over "quantity" school. Like most of us, I oversubscribe to content. I consider myself lucky to get in 3 hours of reading per week so that means whatever I click had better be worth my time.

    Based on one of my posts, someone approached me and said "hey, I think you can help me with something" and, voilà, there's my dream project.

    How do you measure *that* with Google Analytics?

    You don't.

    Reply
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