Three Lively Blogging Debates to Explore in 2010

image of three guys wrestling

Sometimes it seems like we’re running out of juicy debates in the blogosphere.

We used to have endless back and forth conversations about a few pet topics. Long posts versus short. How-to posts versus introspection. Professionalism versus authenticity. Ginger versus Mary Ann.

We never had a debate about bullet points, mind you. Everyone knows bullet points are good.

As those debates quiet down, some truths are coming to light.

We know that content is still (yes, even after it’s been said so often it’s become a cliché) king. We know that there isn’t a single “right” way to blog. We know that no matter how sick you are of list posts, they are going to keep working forever.

That doesn’t mean the debates are over, of course. We’ve just moved on to more subtle topics.

People will always like to take sides on what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong. We like to think about what’s ethical, what’s proper, what’s good, what’s professional.

So here are some interesting up-and-coming debates I see rising up around blogging:

1. Should blogs remain free?

When a blog is born, it makes sense that it’s free. No one knows if the content is any good yet.

It’s a bit like giving away free consultations if you’re just starting out as a consultant. You get experience, your subject gets a free consult, and gradually you develop enough expertise to command a reasonable price for your services.

So far, we haven’t seen that evolution happen with blogs. They get stuck on “free,” no matter how elite or expert their content.

The debate is whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Maybe blogs are best used the way they mostly are today, as one of the best marketing strategies out there. After all, they cost practically nothing, and they can generate a huge audience for whatever you’re selling.

Or maybe bloggers are getting hosed.

Or maybe it depends on what kind of blog you have.

That’s all part of the debate.

2. Is it okay to hire a ghostwriter for a non-corporate blog?

Many companies hire out blogging to professionals. They see blogging as a way to generate credibility, rather than a way to create personal relationships with their readers. They’re hoping for search engine traffic and impressed potential buyers, not pals.

(There’s a sub-debate in there for you — would companies be better served by becoming pals with their customers?)

This means that companies don’t think twice about outsourcing their blog content. They treat their blog as just more web copy.

I’ve talked to a few individual bloggers, though, who find the practice of ghostwriting abhorrent. To them, blogging is all about creating a personal relationship. If the name at the top of the post is the CEO of the company, they become very upset when they find out the post was really written by a copywriter.

This is an interesting debate, and it’s one that’s only just starting to make its presence heard. Should bloggers be like newspaper columnists, with a byline at the top of each post? In that scenario, companies could get a big credibility boost from being able to hire and keep a prestigious name.

Or is writing a blog just another kind of copywriting? One that doesn’t need a byline any more than a brochure or sales letter does?

3. Should your identity remain private?

Everyone has had to suffer the troll. The guy who shows up, leaves a nasty anonymous comment, and then goes scampering away again. We all know these guys are cowards. Most of them would never say such a thing if they actually had to face you on the street.

So should we make sure they have to show their faces?

There’s some talk about creating online identities so that you’ll always be able to tell who’s commenting. We’re probably not talking about giving out their home address, but at least their name, maybe their website.

Now this might seem like a pretty good idea, especially if you’ve recently been flamed by some anonymous yahoo. But it may not be so simple.

Would you want every comment you make on a political website to be traced back to you? Every comment about a sensitive topic? Every pointed remark about your mother-in-law? Even if each of those comments is polite and reasonable, you may not want everyone in your neighborhood knowing you made them.

These aren’t the only debates out there. But I think they’re more interesting than whether or not we should use action words in our headlines.

(We should. That debate’s over. Next subject.)

What are the debates you’ve noticed happening around blogging? And what are your opinions on the ones I’ve mentioned here?

About the Author: James Chartrand is the copywriter who’s not afraid to embrace a good debate. Check out Men with Pens for more tips, tricks and techniques on how to write better blog posts, or better yet, sign up for the Men with Pens RSS feed right here.

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  1. Hey James,

    You bring up some great topics in this post. If you are starting out with a blog. I believe you should stamp your own DNA to the blog. Not hire someone else to write for you. After all, don’t you want your blog to represent you and not someone else.

    So I don’t believe you should hire a ghostwriter. If you can’t write then you must practice, practice, and practice. At the same time learn about SEO.

    Chat with you later…
    Josh

  2. I’m not sure that I would call a blog that’s not free a blog.

    At that point, isn’t it a paysite with regularly updating content? Maybe it’s just me thinking inside the box, but the concept of non-free blogs kind of weird me out.

    The nature of a blog is that it’s a log or journal or series of articles or whatever, on the web. Where I can see it. If it’s online and I need to pay for it, it’s either a course or a newspaper or porn.

  3. I agree with Josh on that. Obviously, there isn’t anything wrong with guest-postings on a blog, but flat-out ghostwriting seems disingenuous. It isn’t any trouble to add a byline so actually NOT doing so and making the reader believe you are the blog’s writer when you are not, is icky. You know, technically speaking.

  4. 4th Lively Blogging Debate: “Is the guy in the photo above grabbing the other guy’s gibblets?” It’s pretty close.

    As for free or not, I think the “free blog/money products” model has worked well for Copyblogger.

  5. Good debate points.

    I’m in favor of a universally recognized online identity. Not mandatory, of course, but available.

    This would allow people to build reputations which would be portable from site to site, invest people in the online community and allow for easier access to secure sites.

    Above all, it would keep me from having to update 27 different profiles every time I move to a new city or change jobs.

  6. I think that blogs should remain free, but it’s up to the blogger if he/she decides to give away the farm.

    Of course content is king, but there is NOTHING wrong with throwing a little copywriting and marking pizazz in there and gently coaxing your reader towards your products if they really want to know more about something.

    You have to monetise from the beginning, however, becuase you are the one that trains your audience. If they get used to the kitchen sink and you start giving them the toilet, then you are going to lose your street cred. If you sell from the get-go then you will build a readership of people that expect it.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  7. Hey,

    I believe that you should personally write the content for your blog. Also you should consider using free content to sell your products.

  8. Very curious to see who’s the first blogger to put up a pay wall – I definitely get the impression both James and Jonathan Fields would like to.

    However, I get the impression that they’re both hesitant about how many readers they’d lose.

    Ultimately, I think the crucial element in selling a paywall blog will be proving the value. ie: I would pay for a blog that helps me make money, and likely not one that I just pop into when I hear a post is good on Twitter. I can think of very very few blogs I “just enjoy” or “read for fun” that could convince me to pay a subscription fee.

    I suppose you could argue that Ed Dale is already going this route with the Thirty Day Challenge Plus thing, if you think of it as a pay-walled video blog.

  9. Mary E. Ulrich :

    1. Free/Paid-I can see both sides
    2. Ghostwriters? Is that much different than the corporate PR dept? On the other hand, paying Freelancers $10.00 an article seems criminal.
    3. Identity? Yes, I like to know it is a real person.

    My newest debate: Is everything really just trial and error. There is so much conflicting advice about the “right way” to do social media. ie. I just learned someone I respect has blocked me on Twitter–not a “no follow” but BLOCK.

    Twitter is Twitter so it’s all in perspective, but since I only block spammers, porn stars, and real estate agents in Hawaii I was shocked. I wondered what was the netiquette? Do I apologize? Do I contact them, ask for forgiveness and guidance on how I screwed up? Do I just chalk this up to another learning opportunity? Is there a place to find out who else I might have offended?

    Okay, I changed my mind on number 3. If I had a false identity, I could just disappear and not feel forever embarrassed for my mistakes.

  10. Andrew Billmann :

    @Mary:

    Under the premise of “The highest form of knowledge is knowing what you don’t know,” the whole damned thing is trial and error! To me it seems that just when you MIGHT be able to put together some type of formula or checklist, it all changes.

    Essentially, we continue to have the same discussions but with different topics: AOL vs. CompuServe, text vs. graphics for those on 14.4kbps modems, Flash vs. HTML, Friendster vs. MySpace. MySpace vs. Facebook. Twitter vs. reality.

    I don’t think there’s a netiquette, per se, other than common sense and drawing upon experience. The things that motivate, piss off, inspire, challenge and reward haven’t changed all that much.

  11. Here are my thoughts:

    1. Yes, blogs should remain free. That doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t offer paid content online, but blogs should be free. They are marketing, free samples, and soapboxes to the world. It’s a privilege to be able to blog and share the content with the world at large (and the search engines, of course…)

    2. If I found out James Chartrand used a ghostwriter (which implies that said ghostwriting is a secret), I’d be disappointed.

    3. Privacy is the right of the individual, but there are situations where I’m uncomfortable with anonymity, particularly with aggressive and harmful activity.

  12. The whole debate on ghostwriting is really interesting, and one I deal with in my business a lot.

    I have multiple clients that I ghostblog for. They all are long term clients who I know very well, and they are all retainer clients. None of them are writers, but they all do the community interaction themselves.

    I’m pretty convinced that this works because I’m good at getting voices down and because I know them very very well. It’s hard to write good ghostblog posts unless your really know the person you’re writing for, but I think if you do, then it can be beneficial to some clients to not have to handle actually writing the posts.

    A big part of a blog is community, and I don’t think a professional writer can duplicate community interaction authentically, but I think writing posts is different.

  13. An interesting post and lots to think about here. I think blogs should be free, however, monetize them and make it clear that’s the intent. I’ve made no secret to readers that there will be things offered that do come with a price and that hasn’t been a problem.

    As for ghost writers, I’m torn. Does it do that job? Perhaps. What makes me lean to it not being a good idea is your comment asking if it’s better for a company to become pals with their customers. I would say yes and recently left a position where, when the company forgot that relationships were important, they began to see those customers go elsewhere. Whether on a blog or in a business of some other kind, relationships do matter.

    As for identity, I think one consistent one is good and I don’t think things should be anonymous. If you have something to say, why not own it?

  14. The fact that blogging is free makes is blogging.

    The corporate world has the right to blog the way they want just like anyone else. We get to pick and choose who we want to read.

    I would rather deal with those who are nasty and run than to have forced identity. Even letting the ideas of the “Patriot Act” squeeze in is going in the wrong direction.

  15. Thank you for this timely post. I have been offered an opportunity to ghostblog and I didn’t really know what the etiquette or feeling about that was. I think I will suggest to the client that I sign my name and partner with her instead of simply ghostblogging for her.

    As to “free,” Brian Clark said ‘information wants to be valuable.”

    Darren Rowse of Problogger has a free blog and a paid forum. Also Copyblogger is free but Third Tribe is a paid membership site, so I don’t think everything has to be free. I signed up for Third Tribe because the information on Copyblogger is great and I wanted more and deeper stuff.

    As to the identity thing, we just learned that the neighbor renting the house across the street is a child molester. He was using a false identity – so you’re going to have identity molesters no matter what.

  16. Hey on number 3 lets keep it real. You have to treat it that way anyway. I treat as if EVERYONE knows me and what I do good or bad .

    I have said some controversial stuff that I would gladly defend on CNN. And have actually defended on some major online and print publications.

    I have a saying “Enforce what you Endorse” and of course that starts from the beginning.

    But there is no private.

  17. Interesting, I think it depends on what your goals are.

    I find that if you are going to create loyalty that you need to blog it yourself.

    However, outsourcing is more and more popular and is something I could do with a few of my blogs where I want to just have news updates.

    In fact, I have a couple where I just share newsworthy items with short comments until something worth writing about hits the news.

    For the business model, I believe that we are going to see a shift from the old school thought of “next” to really involving the customer and will move away from the impersonal models (box stores, etc) back into smaller, more invested businesses.

    In my community, we have a lot of tourists BUT during lean times it is the regulars and locals that keep the businesses sustained.

    Once you create that customer service model they will come back and bring their friends.

    My readers who subscribe are loyal. They trust me, they contact me, they feel that they know me.

    So, I am going to launch a paid program but the main funnel will remain free–simply monetized to support it.

    What I’ve done this year is cut back on how much I post.

    My readers never complained, they know I have other projects on my plate and are more engaged than ever.

    Will blogging ever be paid only. Not in the near future BUT if bloggers start making sure their blogs bring in some revenue–isn’t that a good thing in addition to what else they might be doing?

  18. Excellent post! I’ve seldom come across such a non-commercial and informative post on such a commercial sounding blog! James really makes debates sound like elocutions!

  19. Awesome debate topics!

    I think blogs should be free! I think paying to read a blog could hurt the contents reach. New visitors might be less interested if they have to subscribe to a blog they barely know.

    Like brands I feel that corporations should try to build more personal relationships with customers. I know this is easier said than done, but social media is a long term thing so start now!

    I really like the idea about non-private online identities. The only problem I see with this is that people will use fake names and pictures. Maybe if there was a data based synced up with driver licenses or something (Information blurred out though and the picture and name showing) this could work.

    Enjoyed the read James, this was the coffee I needed this morning.

  20. Some very interesting points raised here. In terms of a global identity, we already have services like Gravatar which serve the purpose. The problem of course, is that they are used on a consensual basis. I don’t think linking people’s real world identities will ever become feasible. How would you enforce it? If you could enforce it, how would you validate their identities? In my mind enforced internet identities smack of tyranny. Sure, trolls are a pain in the butt, but they’re a small price to pay for your online freedoms.

  21. I believe blogs should be free, but other things can be charged for. Things like Membership areas, eBooks, products. I have no problems with those.

    I will say that one huge debate that I see going on lately is this: Do-Follow vs No-Follow blogs. Personally, I don’t really care either way. I follow someone because I like their content. But everybody thinks differently. All these debates show us that there really is no right or wrong.

    P.S. The picture that you used for this post should be debated as well. At first glance it looks like the one guys hand is on the other guy’s privates.

  22. Privacy to me is the most contentious issue. I’m a big privacy advocate and I dislike that there are ways to look up the full name, age and social networks associated with an email or IP address. Online anonymity can be valuable – why should your clients know your religious and political affiliations or even your medical issues? I can deal with trolls and anyone engaged in serious criminal activity is going to find a way around identity rules.

    That said, I like Siddhartha’s idea of making universal identities available but not mandatory.

  23. I think we should encourage people who comment on blogs to use their real identities. I think it would make for more thoughtful comments, and it would also allow other readers to learn about the person commenting.

    Maybe we’ll eventually have plugins for blogs that only allow comments from people who have gone through a verification process. Or perhaps they already exist.

  24. People say that blogs should be free and that bloggers should make it up by charging for products…but how many people here buy products from every blogger they read?

    It’s easy to say that a blogger should use the freemium model, but I suspect that many people saying it rely on someone else to be the buyer.

  25. Hey James, great questions (even if we are seemingly running out of new juicy topics to debate about blogging on). Funny thing is, you mention never having had a debate about bullet points, but there was actually one last year: Bullshit With Bullets (http://wageslaverebel.com/bullshit-with-bullets/).

  26. I think your personality is your blog, and without it you will a much harder time getting your readers trust.

    Now not saying tell the world all your business, but you do have to bring a lil about you and your life to your blog, to make people feel more at ease and trust what you say and also to help you stand out.

    Bring yourself, your personality, your uniqness to a blog to trully succeed.

  27. I can’t imagine anyone paying to visit a blog unless the author was so well known and wrote such great stuff that everyone was panting for each new post. Even then, the next post might not be great so, and that would be the end of that author’s fees.

    I see no reason why an author wants to conceal his identity. If he thinks his posts have good content, own up to it. If he doesn’t, then he shouldn’t be posting.

    Don McCobb

  28. Chris you have touched very important points here. Creating relationship with your Readers. Hiring freelancers will increase number of posts but will bring you far from your readers. I know each & every reader of my Blog.
    Second point, revealing your identity. One of my twitter follower told my that my avater is not reflecting my identity. I suddenly changed my avater in twitter and placed my own picture to let know every one about myself.

  29. Confused by #2….it says non-corporate, but only discusses corporate blogs. Either way, brands should aspire to friendship with their customers. So as far as blogs are concerned, real people in the companies writing real posts are the only way to do it.

  30. 1 – Blogs should be free, but monetized. Content that you can’t hold in your sweaty palm has nearly always been ad-supported. At least in the U.S. I can’t imagine any reason that should change. Advertising should and I think, will grow online. The problem is that 50 years ago there were 2 newspapers per town, 3 TV networks, and a few dozen major magazines. Then came cable TV, multitudes of magazines, and now the internet. Each time the ad dollars got spread thinner and thinner. Content has also become more and more niche. Can blogs charge for premium content – sure they should. But it won’t make money unless it is really valuable.

    2 – Ghost writing on blogs is wrong. Guest blogging is right. The end.

    3 – Privacy is sometimes needed. I started my blog as a way to keep and share both my ideas and resources. At first I wanted to keep my identity secret. Many school districts have weird policies about social media. I wanted to keep my true self under wraps. Eventually I became more comfortable with the persona I’d created and was also outed. I chose to embrace it. But I didn’t have to. I could have kept it a secret. But I think people need the right to choose.

  31. It’s like the ads on blogs debate. That one’s been an old timer and now many people are monetizing their blogs.

  32. Enoch makes a good point. A few years ago, many people’s position was “blogs shouldn’t be commercial. Period.”

    Stuff evolves. I’ll be interested to watch the ghostwriter issue as well.

  33. In any enterprise/activity, money will always come first. I’m pretty sure when people run out of time to write their own posts for money, they will hire someone to do the writing for them.

  34. I also wanted to mention in my previous comment that the primary purpose of a business is to fulfill a need. If the need disappears, the business will vanish (unless it fulfills a different need). Ghostwriting is a business and it doesn’t seem like ghostwriters are going out of business.

  35. 1. Blogs should remain free – and charge for anything above and beyond. Nobody is going to pay to read a blog. I wouldn’t pay to read this one. I love it – but, pay for it? Nah. I won’t pay to read the New York Times either. Nor Time. Nor any magazine. There’s such variety online I’ll quickly adapt and start reading something else free if you start charging for it.

    2. Ghostwriters are cool in all situations. If content is king… some people just don’t have to be cranking it out. Those that can will ensure their voice remains the same and might do better for that. Others, because they have different voices thrown into the fray – will have a better result because their own voice is boring after 500 posts. When I wrote at About.com I hired people to write posts for me because it was no Joy to write for About.com – I’ll tell you that.

    3. Private blogs? With some blogs it might not matter that they get to know the person behind the site. For others, personal blogs… internet marketing blogs… anything in which trust is an issue – going anonymous isn’t going to help your site. Now, if it’s a porn blog – no matter. Better to make up a pseudo-personality and call yourself a different name like Jake Rockinit, or Sally Slutmight or something.

    MikeFook

  36. I use a pen name mostly to avoid having anything think that my thoughts represent my employer in any way. It would be an illogical conclusion to reach, but better safe than sorry.

    All of my friends know my pen name, though.

  37. well there are more topics on blogging debates some of them are
    > should blogger opt for a job or not
    > a blog should display any ad or not
    > a blog is always being judged by alexa rank or google page rank
    > should a blogger provide his won services or not
    > every blogger becomes a freelance writer or not
    > Guest posting is a must or not
    > should a blog is dofollow or nofollow
    > a blog should be revenue sharing or provides a backlink to the guest author
    > Content copied by someone is good or not ?
    there are many topics of debate and most of the time we neglect them

  38. Hi guys,

    I’m kind of in the dark. Because I have not seen any blogging debates.

    Kind regards,

    Sam
    X

  39. Regarding the ghostwriter debate, I would typically assume that several people maintain the blog of a corporation, but I do think it’s misleading if only one name appears. As far as individual blogs go, I think it would be best to reveal if more than one person is blogging, but I can’t see mandating it. As much as we might want to have a personal relationship with these bloggers, they could always end up being the blogging world’s next lonelygirl15.

  40. Super-Duper wordpress blog! I am loving it!! Will come back again – taking you feeds also, thanks.

  41. Why are we looking at these as either/or situations? Why not a both/and approach?

    What works for one person or one business isn’t going to be right for another. Why do we have to decide one way or the other?

    Then again – I do like to break the rules, so go ahead and decide. I’m gonna do what I want anyway. ;)

  42. For me, most of these debates fall under the ‘no right way’ answer… except the one about hiring ghost writers for personal blogs. That falls under the category of not being a bullshit artist.

    It’s not about being authentic or not, it’s about not demeaning yourself as a human being. When a company outsources it’s blog, it’s not conning anyone: a company is not one person.

    When an individual hires someone else to write *as* them, it should be fairly clear that they are not a straightforward person.

  43. Just been reading another post about “brain freeze”, aka writers block. I think however, after reading this, I’m a Blogcrastinator. I do those things. I hate that hurting pain from writing as well. I’ll definitely be following these tips next time it happens..ok could be now as I’m here but, I do have a strategy at the moment and AM going to blog once I finish with my open tabs. Too much clutter for me :S and then I can check a few items off my to do list :).

    I really do sound like a blog procrastinator :o.