Note: I originally wrote this post last Friday. In retrospect, I seemed to have jinxed us.
One of our readers, Adam Daniel Mezei, who has been exceedingly generous with his praise of china/divide in the past, recent wrote a post on his blog bemoaning the glut of English-language China blogs, including his own. Ironically, I didn’t notice it until Richard Burger expressed understanding with anyone who was no longer following his Peking Duck blog, one of the oldest English-language China blogs that has over the past year fallen into inactivity due to him no longer being in China.
I have a huge “China” folder of RSS subscriptions in my Google Reader so I can definitely empathize with their sentiments about there being too many China blogs. Of course, it’s really just an example of the “information overload” the internet can be blamed for foisting upon modern society. It simply made sending and receiving information so easy. Nevermind our own proclivities to consume, horde, and feel insecure and uninformed otherwise.
“…scant more than than making noise and rattling people’s cages.”
Adam went on to offer two lists of criteria. One listed the things a “China blog” should have. The other listed the things it shouldn’t have, and suggested that those guilty of the second list should consider offing themselves (er, their blogs). He doesn’t name names of course but, for example, he claims he’d would off his own blog if he “thought for one second that [he was] doing scant more than than making noise and rattling people’s cages.” Surely he must know that others feel the same way about what they’re doing, right? Or if he’s referring to those who don’t, surely he must know they likely don’t care, right?
Either way, his post pissed of some people, which is understandable and could be seen from a distance. Who is he to tell anyone what a China blog should or shouldn’t have, should or shouldn’t be, right?
Well, in addition to having a grotesquely large list of subscriptions to all manner of “English-language China blogs”, I’ve been watching this little “market” for a long time, long before I ever started blogging myself. It’s certainly a niche market and while the size of the potential audience is growing with China’s increasing relevance and import in the world, it’s still a pretty small, limited audience dominated by expats and foreign visitors who necessarily seek out information about their surroundings in the language they’re most comfortable with. No surprise there, it’s just the way it is. How big is this available audience of people who are consistently keen to consume news and commentary about China and have the internet chops to find your China blog? Hard to say. Maybe you can ask the big boys like chinaSMACK, Shanghaiist, and Danwei what their traffic is.1
But, as a response to Adam, here are three thoughts on English-language China blogs in general:
First of all, there are really two kinds of blogs out there: personal and topical. The personal blog is ultimately about one person’s self-expression or self-actualization, and while anyone is welcome to witness it, its raison d’etre is not really dependent upon the audience it can garner. The topical blog, however, is. There is usually an explicit goal of building readership and reach with a defined target audience. for the express purpose of disseminating news or commentary to that audience, and influencing the people in it. If your blog is personal, you shouldn’t give a damn what others think or how redundant you are. If your blog is topical though, everyone benefits from you being a competitor and not just a participant.
Second, I don’t really care if people create their own “China blog”. It doesn’t really matter to me if they fail to produce any compelling content because I just won’t follow them. If they’re just sharing what they want and it doesn’t interest me, its not for me to care. If they’re trying to get me interested and fail, it’s not my problem. They’ll get my attention when they do. By all means, carry on.
However, third, I do care that there are a lot of writers, commentators, or “bloggers” with topical messages and perspectives that could — or should — get more attention but aren’t, simply due to purely logistical reasons2. They have something to share that a larger audience would find worthwhile to consume , but they simply don’t know how to get it in front of more people. If they don’t want to or don’t care to, fine, not my place to force them to do what they don’t want to. But if they do, then what?
Most of the time, their output is so irregular that I personally wish they’d dismantle their little independent fiefdom and join up with others to form one larger coagulated glob of awesome that updates more regularly. Of course, where this glob of awesome begins and ends, and who decides, is the problem. With that comes issues of freedom, responsibility, and control. All understandable hesitations on the road towards coagulated awesome.
But there are arguably greater benefits for everyone involved. The available audience gets a single regularly-updated source for awesome material covering their topical interest, one banner to rally around their support, thereby ascribing more credibility, authority, and influence to that source overall, which benefits everyone contributing to that source. It’s one of those “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” things. If nothing else, I’d rather recommend chinaSMACK over Veggie Discourse if someone wanted to read more translated Chinese internet material. Both have Chinese-to-English translations of Chinese internet material but honestly, which would be the better recommendation to neophyte?
Blogging, like commenting, is inherently narcissistic.
Blogging, like commenting, is inherently narcissistic. It hinges upon believing what you have to share is worth someone hearing it. Running a successful blog, however, is a lot more than just having something to share. Even with the plethora of blogging tools available, it’s a lot of technical know-how, design know-how, and marketing know-how to get people on your site and coming back to hear, discuss, and share what you write, opine, or pontificate. You’ll get what you put into it, both the rewards and the failure. You have to be both a creator and a manager so consider your aptitude and interest in filling both roles. There’s no big loss in time or money for you to start a blog that fails to attract an audience, but there may be a loss for everyone your stuff was cosmically meant to be exposed to.
If your goal is to get what you have to share in front of as many people as possible because you’re confident it is worth their attention, consider finding an established blog that already covers the topic/niche you want to write about, already has the right audience, and contribute it there. Get your name and work out there, build a reputation. When you think you’re ready to go at it alone, or start something of your own and fight everyone else for eyeballs, you’ll at least have people who care to follow where you’re going, people who aren’t just your friends and family, but people who know exactly what you have to offer them. Sure, you’re helping someone else in the process too, instead of building up fame and glory for your own website, but they’re also helping you.
Shop around, there’s an active, reputable topical China blog for just about anything. Have a translation piece you want to publish? If it’s about pop culture, try chinaSMACK or ChinaHush. If it’s more serious stuff, try Danwei, China Digital Times, or ChinaGeeks. Each of these blogs have become established for such content. Most of them command audiences and mainstream media attention that would take you a lot of time and a lot of blogging to build up. No translation, just an article about something related to China? China Real Time Report and The China Tracker not going to accept you without some credentials because they’re big bad established media brands? Not even the Huffington Post?((That’s strange.)) There’s Shanghaiist, Danwei again, and if your piece is particularly divisive and discussion-worthy, we shamelessly recommend submitting it to us here at china/divide.
If you want to share your life and call it a “China blog”, go ahead. If you don’t mind the narcissistic implications of believing you can put thoughts, emotions, and opinions about China in such a way that will help others better understand their own thoughts, emotions, and opinions, then seriously consider what options you have for getting your message out. If you care. The worst that can happen is you learning why no one will listen to you. But the best that can happen?
Bonus: See if you can identify every English-language China blog/website in the above collage. Apologies for the many people left out (as many were). There was only so much time I was wiling to commit to making it.