This is a part of a series of posts I’m doing in anticipation of my new role as a member of the community of official bloggers at the College of William and Mary. The goal is to identify some guidelines for blogging that have emerged from my work with students and academic blogging over the last half decade.

People visit websites because of the content. Once you’ve figured out why you’re becoming involved in this blogging business at all, it’s helpful to do plan what you’re going to write about. The vast majority of bloggers write primarily to share information with a few friends or relatives, and the content flows naturally from their everyday lives. Their blogs are filled with hilarious anecdotes about their cats, tales of fabulous meals at local Mexican restaurants and occasional musings about the meaning of life.

Professional blogging is a little different. Since you can’t count on your cat to provide the content for your posts, you need to come up with a focus that will attract readers to your site and engage them with your material. There are at least two general strategies for making that decision: the BoingBoing strategy and 43Folders methodology.

Writers following the BoingBoing strategy emulate the success of BoingBoing.net. which seeks to be a world-wide directory of “cultural curiosities and interesting technologies” and draws readers by providing a mix of ideas that readers might miss if left to their own devices. (For most of the history of the blogosphere, BoingBong has been the internet’s most popular blog, though it now appears to have been surpassed by the Huffington Post.)

A typical BoingBoing session includes topics like the following:

  • US seizes Danish dress-shop’s payment to Pakistan in the name of “terrorism”
  • First-ever video of human ovulation
  • Denial-of-coffee attacks affect networked coffee-maker
  • Recycled teacup lights

Bloggers using the BoingBoing strategy are a lot like the producers of the Today Show. Readers are attracted to the mix of stories and the particular sensibilities of editors. They return to the site to be entertained, challenged and enlightened. One of the best examples of this strategy in the educational arena is the far-ranging writings of Gardner Campbell, covering topics ranging from John Donne to Douglas Engelbart, the Beatles, Beach Boys and fish tacos. Gardner’s blog has been the model that I’ve used most often to introduce my students to blogging, and most of them have adopted the generalist strategy.

There is, however, another method for organizing your blog, and I’ll write more about that tomorrow.