Back when Slate first launched, its editor, Michael Kinsley, fresh from the
New Republic, was still in magazine-metaphor mode. Do you remember his welcome
We use page numbers, like a traditional print magazine,
and have tried to make it as easy as possible either to "flip through"
the magazine or to and from the Table of Contents.
SLATE is basically a weekly: Most articles will appear for a week. But there
will be something new to read almost every day. As a general rule the Back
of the Book, containing cultural reviews and commentary, will be posted Mondays
and Tuesdays, the longer Features will be posted Wednesdays and Thursdays,
and the front-of-the-book Briefing section will be posted Fridays.
Well, the page numbers didn’t last long, and neither did the conceit that Slate
was "basically a weekly". Without a printing schedule or the US Postal
Service to worry about, such things largely cease to have any importance. But
still, when bloggers migrate to the web from print media, they often like the
idea of a publishing schedule, and get a bit agitated when it goes out of kilter.
One of the best new bloggers is the Wall Street Journal’s Terry
Teachout, who worried
on Tuesday that
For the rest of the week, I’ll be posting entries not in my usual exqusitely
well-organized magazine-type style (i.e., five or six items posted shortly
after midnight), but whenever I can grab a few spare minutes to write and
publish something on the fly.
Today, however, he started
thinking that even though people read their WSJ first thing in the morning,
they might not necessarily want all of Terry Teachout’s material then as well:
I’d be interested in knowing whether you prefer the old magazine-style package
of early-morning posts or are equally happy with intermittent postings throughout
the day, so long as they add up to a daily diet of comparable caloric value.
Well, my thoughts, Terry, are that the whole point of blogging is
to put up material as and when you write it. felixsalmon.com, for instance,
is not a "weekly": if you came here today and tried to read everything
from the past week, that would come to more than 7,600 words of material –
which is way more than anybody wants to read on one website at one time. On
the other hand, it’s not a "daily": most days it’s not updated at
all. What I do have is an RSS
feed which lets people know when the site’s been updated, and which solves
all the problems. I get to publish irregularly without worrying that I’m disappointing
return visitors who will find nothing new, and my readers get all my content
when it is hot off the presses.
Now, that said, RSS is a very young technology, and most people have yet to
adopt it. So while weblogs should all have an RSS feed (yes, even yours), it’s
probably reasonable to go on the assumption that most of your visitors are simply
people who have bookmarked your site or followed a link to it.
I can definitely see that the diurnal cycle is a natural one, and that some
people might well have a list of weblogs that they check every day. But for
these people, it doesn’t matter when you post your material: when they come
at a certain time of the day, they’ll see the last 24 hours’ content, read it,
and move on.
There is one blogger in particular
that I can think of who used to regularly post exactly one piece every day.
(Recently, that schedule has changed, because he’s been on the road; who knows
whether or not he’ll return to it.) He might well want to try to post at roughly
the same time every day, because his pieces are often very topical, and because
he would want a daily visitor to always see something new. But neither of those
considerations really apply to you. In fact, posting in a clump just after midnight
makes your postings less topical, not more so: you have to save them
up in order to post them at a later hour.
I also note that you are quite keen to increase the number of visitors to your
site. Well, I can tell you that if someone knows for sure that there won’t be
any new content, there’s no chance they’re going to go back a second time. An
irregularly-updated weblog, on the other
hand, will often have much higher visitor numbers, because people check back
when they have a spare minute to see if anything new has appeared. (And a lot
of us have a lot of spare minutes, I can tell you: I wouldn’t be surprised to
hear that the vast majority of blog surfing is conducted by bored office workers.)
What’s more, one of the greatest things about blogs in general is that they’re
much more personal than, say, the Wall Street Journal. Updating a website shortly
after midnight every day is not personal: it’s mechanical. It also mitigates
against the kind of impulsive postings which might not go down in internet history
but which help to build community: the things which give your audience an idea
of who you are and what makes you tick. "Ohmigod I just heard George Plimpton
died," maybe followed by a personal anecdote, is not exactly newspaper
material, but it’s perfect for a weblog. I put
something up on MemeFirst the minute I heard Edward Said died, for instance,
which certainly helps to identify the kind of things that the site is interested
But it’s not just newsy stuff which I’m talking about here. Just a week ago,
Virginia Postrel used up her devoted readers’ precious bandwidth with a posting
asking "Why are the trash cans in hotel rooms so small?". And her
devoted readers loved her for it, just like Andrew Sullivan’s readers like it
when he talks about that bloody beagle of his. That kind of thing – in
moderation, of course – helps build a following, but our own self-censorship
mechanisms start to kick in if we try to save something like that for
posting after midnight. It might be what we’re thinking at the time, but it
certainly doesn’t look, on second reading, like something worth publishing for
So the upsides to publishing on an as-and-when basis are many: your site stats
increase, your readers become more loyal (if only because they visit you more
often), your blog becomes more blog-like and less like a daily newspaper column,
and it also, when it wants or needs to, becomes more timely. What are the downsides?
For you, I’d say the main one would be that blogging would become more of a
full-time occupation. At the moment, you might be doing your regular job during
the day and then settling down in the evenings to do the blog, maybe after having
mulled a number of different possible topics in the back of your head over the
course of the day. If you change posting habits then you might find yourself
blogging during hours of the day in which you had intended to do something else.
That said, no-one’s going to mind if you don’t update between the hours of
nine and five, or if you do so only very occasionally. Do what works best for
you, because that, I can guarantee you, is going to be what works best for your
readers. I would only urge you not to sit on blog postings for hours after you’ve
written them, just because you want to wait until a certain hour before you
post. I simply cannot see why that does either you or your readers any favours