Optimal Organization of Blogs

Brian Leiter’s Leiter Reports is one of the most popular law professor blogs around. I’ve been a reader/subscriber for some time but always with mixed emotions. His blog contains the best gossip about the legal education community, but it is also heavily populated with lots of other topics that I have zero interest in. For a long time, I simply didn’t read his blog (too much noise to signal); later, I simply bookmarked his page on law school updates and checked that regularly; more recently, I added his entire blog to my RSS reader, but I quickly deleted any posts that didn’t relate to law school news.

Brian announced last week that he will be dividing his blog into two, moving the law school news into a separate blog. For me, this finally solves my problem—I can keep up with the gossip in my RSS reader but I don’t have to spend time sorting through the other posts.

If anything, I could have seen him go one step further and divide his blog into three. Brian straddles two academic disciplines (philosophy and law) and provides interesting gossip on each; in addition, he frequently posts commentary on news and politics of the day. Thus, I could have seen him divide his blog into three: a law school gossip blog, a philosophy gossip blog, and a commentary blog. There may be distinct audiences for each of those three topics.

Brian’s decision raises a difficult question: what is the best way for a blogger with diverse interests to organize a blog? There is no single right answer to this question. Each approach has its pros:

Pros of a single topically-diverse blog

· ease of administration and marketing (only one blog to maintain and promote)

· many diverse topics end up bleeding into each other

· readers like discovering new topics that they might not otherwise encounter

· readers can keep up with only so many blogs, so it’s tough to get them to follow multiple blogs (meaning that some readers who would be interested in a second blog just won’t try)

Pros of dividing blogs topically

· Audience segmentation. Each blog can optimize for the interests of its audience. Readers won’t be bombarded with repeated topics that they consider off-topic

· Perceived domain expertise. A narrowly-focused blog can be perceived as a leading blog on the topic. Off-topic postings in single blogs can dilute the strength of an otherwise-strong blog

· Easier to get guest-bloggers with topical expertise

When I decided to enter the blogosphere, I weighed my options. I knew that I was going to regularly post on my core substantive areas of interest (Cyberlaw, IP and marketing). However, I also knew I was going to post on the business of law, including legal ethics, the legal industry and the legal education industry. Plus, I had hoped to provide a forum for some of my personal interests, including in particular my interests in vegetarianism.

In the end, I decided to launch two blogs—the Technology and Marketing Law Blog and Goldman’s Observations. I think this decision has worked out OK so far, but it’s definitely not perfect. Traffic is significantly higher at the Technology and Marketing Law Blog than this blog, although this blog has had several of my all-time most popular posts.

I also occasionally wrestle with topic bleed. The most obvious example is my series of posts on the regulation of Internet hunting, which implicate both my interests in vegetarianism and Internet regulation. I’ve chosen to blog on the issue here, although I’m sure that many readers of my other blog would have been interested in the topic as well.

Nevertheless, I think the audience segmentation has worked pretty well. I think I’ve been able to get a good group of non-lawyer techies to read my other blog. I’m not sure that I could keep that audience happy if I kept pelting them with posts on legal ethics or vegetarianism. On this topic, I agree with Michael Madison.

Ironically, the solution to this organizational dilemma is technological: category-level RSS feeds. For example, if Brian had offered an RSS feed for just his law school news category from his existing blog, I would have happily subscribed to that rather than having to move with him to a new blog. In my case, I could have combined my blogs but offered category-level RSS feeds that would have been a good choice for readers whose interests overlap only a portion of mine. I don’t think that RSS is ubiquitous enough yet to make this technological solution a good substitute, but it seems like only a matter of time before we can offer single multi-topic blogs and still keep diverse audiences happy.

In this post, my colleague Christine Hurt explains her choice to run a single multi-topic blog called the Conglomerate. I like the Conglomerate a lot, but I’ve also hassled her (and Gordon) frequently when the signal-to-noise ratio gets out of whack (i.e., too many posts on cheese and movies to the exclusion of posts on substantive corporate law). Then again, I may not be in the sweet spot of their audience. I do disagree with her on one point though. She writes:

“Some bloggers have explained to me that folding in the other light-hearted stuff may get you more readers, but maybe not the serious readers you want. I’m not sure there’s any kind of reader I don’t want.”

I think this misses the point. A little levity/personal touch is always welcome. Too much levity/personal touch/off-topic postings becomes spam. When the balance gets out of whack, I drop a blog. When I visit a blog for the first time, and I can’t sense its topical focus or see that focus overly diluted, it has almost zero chance of getting into my RSS reader (that’s just me—I know other people feel differently). So the risk of off-topic postings (light and personal or otherwise) isn’t that you’ll get readers you don’t want—it’s that you’ll not get the readers you do want.

UPDATE: Victor Fleischer has some interesting thoughts about RSS and blog mergers.