Very shortly, it’ll be a full year since I started Why Read The Manual? and began blogging in earnest. WhyRTM is gone, as is The Wings of Wax Project where my personal blog sat for nearly five years- but still, the effort of working my blog has been uniquely beneficial over the past year.
If I manage to keep posting regularly, by the end of this month, I’ll strike 200 posts in year one. That’s two milestones; the end of the first year, and a year’s worth of working days (measured by single posts) made on this site. All this accomplished, which I’m fairly proud of, and I still refuse to allow this space to become commercialized.
I don’t advertise on my blog, except for some very carefully chosen affiliate programs. This isn’t a money making effort. This is community building – refining my thought, participating in conversation. I blog to blog, not to advance my career (though it has) or to gain recognition (though I have, in a limited way).
In ever possible way, this is and is not a niche blog. My niche is me.
On #blogchat on May 31st, Darren Rowse of ProBlogger.net said something very important; when approaching niches, you can either focus on a niche topic, or a niche audience. I think that perspective has unique importance for non-industry blogs like mine, where the major aim is conversation. With so much attention in the blogging world focused on advancing business, growing appeal, or creating a revenue stream, there’s a large segment of blogging that has moved away from its roots.
The roots of the blog – mine, yours, everyone’s – lie in cataloguing. Self-publishing is important, sure, but a catalogue, a running list of what the net means to you, was certainly part of the inception of blogging, and informed its infancy thoroughly. Blogging is far from a mature pastime – and even further from a mature business form – what we’re seeing now isn’t even puberty, it’s adolescence. The Blog as a media form is a juvenile, still filling into its own gangly potential.
What does this root mean for niche bloggers?
Whether you’re focused on a niche topic or a niche audience, keep in mind that the blog as a broadcasting tool is an incomplete medium. There needs to be a back channel – comments, Twitter, Facebook pages. Discussion forums, chat systems – anything to make a conversation around the principal content. Without this back channel, you’re not really blogging, you’re journaling. There’s a very distinct difference between the two.
Why does this apply for niche bloggers? Well, that’s a bit of a misnomer, I’ll admit. Someone on #blogchat made the argument that without a niche, you’re not blogging for anything – and I agree with the sentiment if not the specifics. Not everyone who blogs does so with intention. there are loads of people who just write for the sake of an outlet, or to keep people updated. Are they journaling? Sometimes – but if the back channel is left open, they’re blogging as well.
For those of us who focus on whatever fixes our fancy, defining the niche is harder. I decided, when I aggregated WhyRTM and Wings of Wax, that I would write nothing that could not be turned into a lesson. I’ve talked about injuring myself, about my struggle with asthma – and other personal things – but always with the intention of bringing some kind of teaching to the writing and publicizing of my thought.
This means, in my estimation, that while I talk often about the internet, web design and development, marketing, blogging, books and other very niche-type subjects, the niche this blog is in does not fit any of those things. I couldn’t possibly pigeonhole myself that way. I’ve made a niche of myself – which sounds egotistical, I know, but here’s the trick of it: I’m far from alone.
Think about any of the public figures you know of – especially in the blogging world. You can probably think of a few who either blog under their own names, or under a recognizably fitting domain. They may be helpful, and share interesting lessons and tips filtered through their professional lives – but by and large, they’re acting as their own niche. Anyone blogging under their own flag should recognize that part of the power comes from personal authenticity – not personal branding.
Authenticity and consistency, matched or contrasted with dedication and credibility. The AC-DC hallmark of any good personal brand.
Niche audiences and niche topics can be useful for commercial blogs and creating brands. But if you want to remain, behave, or become public in a real and sustainable way, all of my experience points to one simple tenet;
Blogger, Niche Thyself!