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Soapbox: About the Industry

Col vs Blog

by Sandy Antunes
Nov 04,2005


Col vs Blog

by Sandy Antunes

A question from the RPGnet forums posited that writing Columns was useless in the age of Forums and Blogs. "Forum posts are quick, open and topical" (argues a poster) "whereas columns are simply one person's delayed opinion on a single topic."

"But!" (the columnist cries) "a columnist has a regular audience who know they'll always get a regular dose of their favorite topic from a liked voice on a consistent schedule!"

"Bah!" (cries the blogger), "a good blogger can be both responsive yet consistent for a demanding audience!"

Well, first, let's sort the wheat from the chaff. Since a blogger who posts regularly on a specific topic area is really a self-published columnist, we'll count that kind of blogger as 'columnists', and also refer to them as 'Recurrent Bloggers'.

So when we say 'blogger' we mean The Other Bloggers-- who posts whenever they want on any topic they choose. Sort of like a forum where there's only one person allowed to post new threads. We'll call these 'Unfocused Bloggers' just to be clear on the distinction.

A Forum poster or Unfocused Blogger is quick on hot issues, but somewhat random in focus. They can be topical, but they're harder for readers to catch.

A Column lags in terms of timely relevance of topical issues, but has a nicely focused topic. It has predictable recurrence and is easy for readers to find. A Recurrent Blogger escapes the issue of lag and thus has an edge on the Columnist in terms of timely relevance.

Note that a little lag isn't necessarily bad, though. Responding to an issue after it's settled a bit allows the writer to synthesize the full story, rather than just react to piecemeal information. So for charged topics that are still 'in progress', an after-the-fact analysis has a certainty that in-the-thick-of-it reaction pieces does not have.

So Columnist versus Recurrent Blogger is a toss up to which is 'better', as it depends on the topic and how much said topic needs timeliness versus long-term perspective.

Finally, there are promotional differences. Forum posts are unpromoted, to an audience of peers. Columns are promoted by the site, and the audience are considered readers. Blogs are self-promoted and have a strong meritocracy stance, and their audience is both peers and readers.

Columns win in terms of scoring a large audience without effort by the writer. Bloggers are a bit more brutal in terms of building an audience, since they generally self-promote. Forum posters have a hard time building a personal 'brand' but can choose a high-traffic forum to tap into an existing audience with little effort.

For posters, the forum has the audience, not the writer. That's just unsatisfying for many writers. As a writer, I want an audience, but I also prefer the audience to be there to read me, not just an audience that I happen to walk in front of. While open mike nights and speaker's corners are a great venue for honing personal skills, they don't make a career.

That doesn't minimize the role good writers take in building a strong forum. A handful of good writers can create a forum that becomes extremely popular. But as web expert Emma Antunes notes, "the writer can build an audience for the forum, but not for their particular piece."

Enough talk, here's a shootout between Poster, Columnist and Blogger:
Forum poster
TOPICS: anything self-chosen wide focus very focused topic
fast, topical fast, topical laggy
RELIABILITY: sporadic, 'as needed' can be regular or sporadic, depending on the writer like clockwork
AUDIENCE: peers peers and mere 'readers' 'readers'
GOALS: to engender discussion, to query the world. to express self or evangelize, or as columnist or poster. to inform, entertain or provoke, to evangelize a point of view.
MARKETING: non, unpropagated meritocracy, promoted by peer referencing promoted by publisher
CAREER BOOSTING: not much can lead to columnist work good enough to list in a resume
ZEITGEIST: The idea, not the writer, is king. They ask about the zeitgest. The writer is king. They are the zeitgeist. The idea and the writer must be balanced. They report on the zeitgeist.

So a lot depends on your perspective. Forum poster are an (choose one) [unreliable/intermittent] pundits. Columnist are [nepotistic/well-hone] wellsprings of insight. And Bloggers are an [unpublishable/independent] voice.

I enjoy Forums for a) finding information, b) as light reading, and occasionally c) for sociable debate with peers. But the column rules as a format for me, as a reader, being engaged by an authoritative voice delving deeply into a topic of interest to me on a regular basis that requires very little effort for me to find.

Further, given the deficiencies in the role of Forum Poster as far as building a writing career, I'll safely say "posting is great, but get a blog or column if you really as a hot as you think you are." Quite simply, blogging or writing a regular column are harder than just being an itinerant font of wisdom (or insight or humor or flames) on an open forum.

To that, I'll add that the discipline of producing a regular column is incredibly useful to the writer. A forum post that no one reads was merely time wasted; forum posting tends to be off the cuff and impulsive anyway.

But even an unread column was good practice for the writer in crafting, revising, and hitting a deadline. So column writing is a skill-builder. (Anyone who doubts is welcome to pitch, then deliver, a monthly column to RPGnet for ten years. After that, let me know if it helped your craft.)

So let's do one final tackle of the issue between 'column' or 'blog'. Historically, we set up RPGnet columns in the pre-blog web era to have attached forums allowing debate. We allowed the columnists to choose their own topic focus. All we enforced was a certain level of quality and a deadline. So really, RPGnet columns are... blogs. Thus...

A columnist is a reliable, focused blogger who can be fired. And that's as it should be.

Until next month,
Sandy (sandy@rpg.net) TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

What do you think?

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All Soapboxes

  • See What Sticks by Sandy Antunes, 06jan06
  • Simple Gifts for Pre-Gamers by Sandy Antunes, 09dec05
  • Col vs Blog by Sandy Antunes, 04nov05
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  • Our reason for existence

    Other columns at RPGnet

    TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg