Feb272017

Reflections on 10 years of blogging

My first post I am IrvineRenter (Inventory Cholesterol) debuted ten years ago on February 27, 2007.

Over the last 10 years, I posted every weekday without fail. It’s been a source of joy and discipline that’s shaped my life, my career, and my character. During my ten-year run, I observed many trends come and go, and I learned a great deal about the art of blogging. Today, I want to share some of these observations with you.

Blogging needs a purpose

I started writing ten years ago because I wanted to save people from financial ruin. I firmly believed housing was a financial bubble, and I was right. I didn’t do it for money or fame as I wrote completely anonymously and without any compensation. I blogged purely because believed it was the right thing to do.

When I published The Great Housing Bubble, I decided to drop my anonymity. On my publication date, I was on the front page of the OC Register, and I held an event attended by more than 250 people, many of who personally thanked me for saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars by talking them out of buying a home in 2007 and 2008. It was deeply satisfying to believe I had accomplished something that helped so many people.

I doubt I would have consistently blogged for that first year and a half without a sense of purpose. Blogging to make money or boost a website’s SEO is not sufficient purpose to keep at it. Blogging itself must be personally rewarding, or people simply won’t put the energy necessary into doing it.

Blogging will not make money

Some bloggers have written books and many others blog posts on how to make money blogging. Mostly, their methods don’t work. Adsense ads don’t pay enough to make a living (or even a hobby income), subscription models don’t work, and nobody will pay much for blog content because they can’t make any money either.

Google prevents the creation of quality web content

Google ostensibly wants people to create good content, and they promise the reward of traffic for bloggers that do so. However, when Google wiped out the newspaper industry, they monopolized online advertising. As a result, they charge advertisers plenty of money and pay next to nothing to content providers. Since Google faces no real competition, they don’t have to pay content providers much to keep them in Google’s system.

Google’s margins are much fatter than newspapers ever were because newspapers used to pay reporters a living wage to provide decent content. Now, millions of people gladly provide high-quality free content for Google to serve up to advertisers, and the only real compensation for the content provider is that someone reads their content. Readership is emotionally rewarding, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Subscription models fail

It’s extremely difficult to establish an online subscription model to pay for quality content. Even the best newspapers generally give away their content for nothing. Most tried at one time or another to establish subscription models, and almost none of them succeed. Some specialty providers like the Wall Street Journal get some subscribers, but if the New York Times can’t successfully do it, how is a blogger supposed to gain enough subscribers to pay the bills?

The main reason subscription models fail is also related to Google. Since people willingly provide Google with high-quality content for very little (or in my case nothing), any new subscription service faces tough competition from quality providers who charge nothing at all.

The rise of “Craptent”

The only successful business model that works within the system dominated by Google Adsense is what I call the Craptent model. Craptent is aptly named because it’s low-quality crap that’s produced quickly and passed off as “content” to Google. I produce five articles per week, and it’s difficult to keep the content quality high at that level of production. I’m a very prolific writer, and I couldn’t produce any more than I do without a significant decline in quality.

The craptent model requires bloggers to produce 30 to 90 pieces of content per week, generally contributed to a highly-trafficked site in order to generate enough Adsense clicks to make any money. There is no way to produce any level of quality when producing that many posts, yet this is the only model proven to provide a reliable online income for bloggers.

I’ve spoken to reporters who lamented the decline of journalistic quality at their own newspapers. One reporter told me how she spent a week on a great piece of investigative journalism, and when she posted it, it was only read by about 500 people. That day someone posted some craptent about cats at the paper, and it was clicked by over 4,000 people. Cat crap won’t win a Pulitzer, but it’s the only way to pay the bills.

At some point, the Google monopoly will crumble, and providers of quality content may be able to monetize their efforts enough to make a living at it. But just as there are very few professional writers who make a living solely on their book sales, there will probably never be very many professional bloggers who can survive on their online publishing.

Blogging is not about the money, and anyone who blogs because they believe they will make money is engaging in wishful thinking. Unless they find a deeper purpose for their writing, they will not persist because they simply won’t make enough money to justify the time investment in the activity.

Blogging is more than writing

One of the things I enjoy most about blogging is the versatility of the medium. Blogging is far more than just writing. Blogging easily incorporates charts, graphs, images, cartoons, videos, podcasts and other forms of audio-visual communication. Combining these media into new forms is unique to this artform.

Books do well with text, and books do a passable job with charts and graphs, but books fail with other media. Graphic novels and comics do well with images and cartoons, but these are expensive to produce, and they don’t work as well with text. No printed media can utilize audio or video, so they aren’t comparable with blogging in that regard.

Videos and podcasts by themselves can have aspects of blogging, but the media limits how quickly you can absorb it. The playback speed is what it is, and it’s difficult to skim a video for the content you want. Reading and scanning is much quicker with the printed word, so blogging provides the best aspects of all the other media.

In my opinion, we are only at the beginning of exploring this medium. Because blogging is so versatile, and since various other media can be incorporated in novel ways, I think blogging will continue to grow and advance — assuming someone can figure out how to make money from it.

The writing still matters

I never considered myself a great writer, and I still don’t. My writing evolved a great deal over the last ten years because each year, I review several books on style and grammar, and I work diligently to improve. A couple of years ago I subscribed to Grammarly, and each week, it sends me an update on my writing statistics. On any given week, I will use between 2,500 and 3,500 unique words, I write between 25,000 and 60,000 total words, and I correct about 200-350 mistakes. I am consistently prolific.

I’ve gone through phases with my writing. Lately, I focus much attention on eliminating “be” verbs in favor of active verbs, and I make the subjects of my sentences real people rather than nominalizations. I try to write less complex sentences using fewer semi-colons and colons; however, sometimes I just like the structure of those sentences. The goal is to make the writing easily understandable to the widest possible audience while mixing it up enough to keep it interesting. If the writing fails on either of those two measures, people don’t come back.

The conversation is important

Since my first day of blogging, I’ve maintained a regular dialog with my readers. Some bloggers don’t take the time to interact with their readers. Those producing craptent don’t have the time, while some bloggers are so arrogant that they don’t believe their readers have anything to teach them. And some are so thin-skinned that they can’t take the sometimes trollish feedback.

Early on in my blogging, I began calling my comments “astute observations.” I found this raised the gravitas of the comments and curtailed many of the useless or trollish remarks. It put everyone on notice that the people commenting on the blog were there for a more intellectually stimulating conversation. If people wanted to be crazy and spout thoughtless nonsense, there were plenty of sites that catered to that. While it may reduce the quantity of the comments, it greatly improved the quality. The signal to noise ratio has always been favorable here.

I’ve always found the astute observations one of the most useful features of the site. I’ve learned a great deal from the astute observers here, and I’ve changed my opinions on many subjects based on the feedback and further reflection. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Blogging must be fun

Even if bloggers find a purpose for their writing, they still must find the activity enjoyable if they plan to stick with it. Even the most satisfying activity will become tedious if there isn’t enjoyment in it as well.

Over the last ten years, I endured many ups and downs. Even in my darkest times, when I sit down to write, I am completely in the moment, and I forget my outside problems and concerns. When I write, I find a voice that channels through me, and even after ten years, I still find as much joy and excitement in the activity as I did back in 2007. If I didn’t, I doubt I would carry on.

Housing isn’t as interesting as it used to be

Ten years ago, housing was extraordinarily interesting. We were in the grip of a financial mania, and people fervently believed in their sad fantasies of endless riches through homeownership. People were foolishly extracting their home equity and spending it like kool-aid intoxicated homeowners. People were so caught up in the mania that they actually believed they were superior investors, and since they were homeowners, they were superior human beings to us lowly renters who missed out on the party.

We enjoyed issues like strategic default, mortgage equity withdrawal, impending price collapse, economic calamity, and a whole array of other factors no longer a fixture on our real estate scene.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

A Tale of Two Cities (1859), Charles Dickens.

At times I miss the excitement of that era, but in other respects, I’m thankful for the dull security of today’s housing market. In retrospect, I hope it’s never that exciting again.

For now, I have no plans to quit writing. In addition to educating another generation, I still have a few things to accomplish.

I’m about to launch an updated website for real estate search with all the cost of ownership calculations that used to be on this site. I invested in improving the search experience and creating a back-end that will allow me to expand to unlimited MLSs. You will hear more in the coming days and weeks.

I’m also about to relaunch by housing market reports on an inexpensive subscription model. I found a reliable data source that allows me to run my housing market analysis on most states, metros, counties, cities, neighborhoods and zip codes across the United States. I will be writing more about that soon as well. I plan to bring back weekend posts on housing markets around Southern California and the Bay Area.

Blogging has been a good platform for both personal and business growth, and I plan to keep writing for many years to come.

Thank you for your continued readership.