Bay Area Blawgers 4.0 Recap

A couple of weeks ago, the High Tech Law Institute hosted the fourth gathering of Bay Area legal bloggers. About 20 bloggers and friends gathered on campus for a very spirited discussion. Attendees included Harry Boadwee, Cathy Gellis, Eric Goldman, Joy Haas, Kirk Hanson, Eric Hartnett, Greg Haverkamp, Gordon Johnson, Kimberly Kralowec, Mike Masnick, Cathy Moran, Amy Morganstern, Joe Mullin, Simon Offord, Chris Peeples, Colin Samuels, Michael Sardina, Mister Thorne, Kevin Underhill and Julia Wei.

We talked about blogger burnout. While updating the census of local blawgers, I noted that many bloggers who started in 2005 and 2006 have either stopped or substantially curtailed their blogging. We came up with a number of possible explanations for this phenomenon:

* one blogger said he had run out of things to say. I think this may be more common than people realize.

* a few bloggers discussed the rise of competing publishing platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. As one blogger described it, the increased number of communication channels has dissipated efforts across all channels. This is definitely different from our first Blawger gathering 2 years ago, when Facebook and Twitter were far less popular than today. In my case, Twitter (which I automatically link to my Facebook status report) has unquestionably usurped some of the posts I used to make at this blog.

* a few bloggers discussed the lack of time to blog. This is an age-old issue. One blogger described how she goes through cycles of blogging depending on her schedule. Unfortunately, bloggers can have difficulties maintaining audience if they go silent for an extended period of time, so blogging in cycles isn’t the easiest thing to do. (It can help to have reliable co-bloggers who can smooth out the publication cycle).

* one blogger described how she is burned out on reading blogs. I’ve definitely been there! In my case, switching from Bloglines to Google Reader has helped reinvigorate my reading excitement by expediting my ability to manage my data inflow. It’s also allowed me to expand the blogs I’m reading, especially those that are episodic.

We then moved into a discussion about managing comments to blog posts. I don’t have much to contribute to that discussion because my blogs don’t have open comments, the legacy of a pernicious comment spam attack that caused my blog host to shut me down for a morning. Bloggers have very disparate attitudes towards comments to their blog posts. One blogger mentioned how she didn’t really like comments because of the risk of commenters disclosing personal details (which can be a real problem for prospective clients). A different blogger preferred comments over email because of the public response; several bloggers discussed how it can be embarrassing and self-perpetuating for a blog to allow comments but never get any. As one blogger said, people don’t want to feel like they are talking to themselves. Several bloggers also noted that lawyer-readers can be especially reluctant to comment to blog posts because they don’t want the accountability. When I did allow comments, I definitely had that perception.

We also discussed Twitter. For a while, I was confused about Twitter’s value proposition because, like blogging in its early days, the early adopters of Twitter used it to chronicle their personal life. Much like this early usage defined bloggers as self-absorbed and exhibitionist, I initially had the same impression of Twitter. However, once I figured out that Twitter was just another content publication platform, I found it could extend my reach. As a result, many of my tweets simply promote my blog posts, but I do make other types of tweets, including short entries that would have previously made it onto this blog and various personal observations that would never have warranted a blog post at all. One blogger commented that this mixing of personal and professional can help humanize a person.

What has amazed me about Twitter is that I’ve aggregated a bunch of lawyer-readers who would never have found or subscribed to my blog. This baffles me because Twitter is IMO a terrible reading interface. I find Google Reader a much more intuitive way to subscribe to and manage incoming content. As a result, I subscribe to very few people on Twitter because I’d rather read them in my RSS reader if I can. However, having identified a way to aggregate new readers shows me that people consume content using a variety of different interfaces. If people find Twitter a good substitute for an RSS reader (even if I don’t), then it’s in my self-interest to publish my content in the places people are reading.

There can be too much of a good thing, and we did discuss that some people are too noisy/frequent with their tweets, which can actually drive away readers/subscribers. We discussed at the meeting (and I’ve since heard elsewhere) that people are putting themselves on a Twitter “diet,” i.e., a maximum number of tweets per day.

I’m not sure what the future holds for the Bay Area Blawgers group. Attendance has dropped significantly from the first gathering. Further, blogging is changing rapidly between the influx of “corporate” bloggers (i.e., law firms that are setting up blogs principally for SEO juice) and the splintering of publication options. It’s not clear to me if there remains a blogging community sufficient to support a standalone event about blogging. Nevertheless, maybe we’ll try to gather the group again in late 2009/early 2010, perhaps in San Francisco, and see who shows.

Prior resources related to the Bay Area Blawgers:

* Announcements of Bay Area Blawgers 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0.

* Recaps of the first and third gatherings. Beth Grimm has written an interesting meta-recap.

* Photos from the second and third gatherings.

* List of possible issues for a blawgers’ discussion.

* Census of Bay Area Blawgers.