Of late, knitting books and literary fiction have been banished from my Amazon shopping cart, and my bedside table, to make room for political tomes. No, I'm not reading exposes about the current administration or lamentations regarding the state of the American electoral process.
My focus is much closer to home -- the politics of teen girls. Surviving the ups and downs of the day-to-day jockeying in middle school is difficult at best, but won't be any easier given a mom who never figured it out herself. To make up for my own adolescent misery, I want it to be easier for our girls. I want them to be accepted and well-liked. In short, I think they should be popular.
They are wiser than I and have concluded that popularity isn't all it's cracked up to be. Or, have they just decided that achieving the popularity stamp of approval is out of reach? I don't know. I suspect that this will be a center-point in our relationship over the next few years. They will be testing who they want to be and what they define as important. To support them, I need to work on knowing when to stand back, and when it's appropriate to butt in, hence, all the books.
What's interesting is that as these issues have arisen in their lives, I've also been reflecting on the notion of popularity amongst knit bloggers. At MDS&W wool I heard a number of folks talk about not being "one of the popular blogs" and witnessed the intense amount of attention focused on sighting and talking about bloggers that are broadly read.
Are we back in high school where if you aren't "in" you must be "out"? Why is there a perceived inner circle -- a cool set? What is it that makes the idea of popularity so seductive? The answers to these questions are complex and require concepts from sociology, psychology and political theory to address. I'd give it a stab, but I'm not ready to write a dissertation.
Instead, I'll keep it simple -- what defines a popular blog? The clearest and most objective measures are readership and comment counts. While I haven't subjected my theories to analytical testing, for my own twisted reasons, I have developed a set of criteria that I think are prerequisites for building and maintaining a high-profile knit blog.
Please note that I do not say that everyone has to do these things, or that we should all aspire to high "circulation" numbers. I'd be surprised if the bloggers mentioned below set out to build huge readerships, I'm pretty sure they all came to blogging for vastly different reasons. Frankly, I'm guessing they are probably surprised by the phenomenon.
Finally, in the interest of full disclaimer, these may be necessary conditions for building loyal readership, but they are surely not sufficient. There are lots of bloggers that meet all of these criteria still languishing in undeserved obscurity.
- Post Frequently -- it doesn't have to be every day, but blog surfing is entertainment, and people want to read new stuff often. If you have a regular pattern that's a bonus. Bloglines helps, but it's still comforting to know that I'm likely to find a new post on Knit and Tonic most mornings or that Polly often updates on Sundays and Wednesdays.
- Write well -- seems obvious, but it's more than being clear and grammatical. Big name knit bloggers all have styles, authorial voices to be fancy about it, that they use to convey their blog personalities. Who would ever confuse Crazy Aunt Purl with the Harlot or Wendy or Stephannie? Their blogs have unique styles and structures.
- Pick a niche -- it can be something you define, or it can be an already identifiable knitblog "type". See Eunny Knit, for example, tackles the technical aspects of knitting and designing articulately and generously. Her new column -- a kind of "Dear Abbey" for knitting woes -- is a great way to take this to a new level. Grumperina focuses on each project and her knitting process in detail. Cara's enthusiasms (yarn, projects, books, writing and Bruce Springsteen) and stunning photography set her blog apart. Mason/Dixon has at its core their friendship, Chris has Chaos. Clearly, Stephanie has a corner on the market for self-deprecating knitting humor.
- Present it well -- don't crowd your layout or confine your text to a one inch wide column. Make it inviting for people to read, or skim. Graphic genius isn't required, just don't go overboard with stuff. This post notwithstanding, pictures are a very good thing. Remember, we're knitters, and it is a visual art. I want to check out what you're making, I suspect most people do.
- Generate Activity -- run knit alongs, hold contests, raise money for charity, make it possible for readers to participate in the blog, not just consume it.
- Stick to it -- Some blogs take off quickly, but most have built their readership over the years.
There are other aspects of high traffic blogs that I don't touch on here -- project choice, building relationships with other bloggers -- but I think this is a pretty good list.
Yes, I know I haven't addressed the question of what defines a good knit blog. That's more of a philosophical discussion, not a sociological one, so I'll leave that until another day, which, given my previously stated inability to get the "popularity" thing, probably won't be for a while.