A shortcut to finding value in blogs?

Mark EvansMark Evans has an interesting summertime post. Writing from lakeside at the cottage, he ponders the value that he derives from blogging.

As for the blogging community, it’s getting bigger but I’m not convinced it’s getting better. There’s what I would describe as a lot of piling on going on – people blogging for the sake of blogging rather doing it because they something to say. … [B]logging should be adding to the conversation. I come across too many posts that are simply cut and paste jobs of other peoples’ posts or press releases with no value-add. Where’s the value in that?

Truth be told, blogging is a labour of love. To do it well takes a lot of time and work, which probably explains why many blogs are left wanting. It’s the search for quality that makes me so interested in tools that can separate the wheat from the chaff. I want something that brings me the well-written, thoughtful, insightful blogs – perhaps some kind of recommendation engine that uses my blogroll or RSS feeds as a guide. That’s not a lot to ask is it?

Mark is bang on in his observation that blogging does take a lot of time. Not just the time to write, but even more importantly, the time required to explore and participate in the conversation initiated by others. I probably read 3 to 4 hours for every hour I spend posting. Does that make me a prolific poster? Not by a long shot. But it enables me to listen, consider and learn before I initiate my own posts.

I’ve heard many people express the desire for a “recommendation engine.” And I’ll be honest, I use the New PR peer recommendation site to check in with what other PR practitioners are reading. However, I think there is no substitute for reading extensively myself. It is in the act of exploration of new blogs, reading not only the most recent post but looking back at previous posts, that I gain a real sense for each new blogger I discover. And it is this critical reading that enables me to separate the chaff from the wheat.

I remember in high school that we all longed for the magic shortcut. For many people that was “Coles Notes.” Of course, we quickly learned that while Coles Notes would let us fake it on an exam, providing the basic plot and a superficial sheen of analysis, there was no substitute for reading the original book. Only by immersing ourselves in the full text could we truly be transported to the alternate world that the author had created and truly appreciate what he or she was trying to convey beyond the mere storyline.

I believe that the same is true with the blogosphere. Beware shortcuts. They may create the illusion of engagement in the conversation. But that’s all it is – an illusion. To properly participate in the conversation, we must spend much more time listening than we do talking. Listening as much as writing. Only then will we derive the full benefit of communication and community that this medium offers us.