off topic is on

There are a few off topic questions that I’d like to talk about today.

  1. How personal one can or should get on non-personal blogs?
  2. Should an off topic post be integrated with the blog’s theme and made relevant?
  3. Should there be an apology for the lack of time or energy to write?
  4. What do you personally think of Off Topic posts as a reader?

1. Getting Personal

It’s obvious that non-personal blogs should differ from personal blogs in terms of how much private data is posted. However, I think that getting personal on niche blogs doesn’t hurt, on the contrary it might even help to establish a closer relationship with the readers.

Recently David Airey has announced that he’s taking a break for a month from everything, blogging including. Unlike other bloggers he did not timestamp many posts in advance to publish during his absence, he did announce that there might be a couple of guest posts. It was thoughtful of him to warn his readers about the upcoming silence on his blog. There is nothing wrong in taking a break, everyone should take a break once in awhile, and it’s okay to talk about it.

Dawud Miracle’s latest article is all about his experience of playing a midwife, helping his wife to deliver their baby at home, in a bathtub. Can it get any more personal than that? However I thoroughly enjoyed reading that fascinating post, and felt a closer connection to his blog because of that.

So when is it okay to write off topic? How personal one can or should get on non-personal blogs?

2. Off is On now

Some bloggers have a gift of integrating their off topic posts with their blog’s theme. This results in very interesting posts with a different view on usual blog topics. I noticed that Darren Rowse is really good at that. When he’s sick, he shares with 8 Things to do on your Blog when you’re Sick, when he’s selling his house, he writes about 9 Lessons You Can Learn about Blogging By Watching Me Sell My House, and when he’s gone for vacation he, of course, gets guest bloggers on board.

Randa Clay confessed in her latest post that she’s experiencing a blogging dry spell probably due to the fact of her expecting her second child next year. Two confessions in one post that resulted in a long thread of comments.

But what about others, who don’t have as popular blogs as Problogger, or can’t seem to find a way to blend their off topic message with the regular ones? I do try making some of my off topic posts to be more or less relevant to my blog. But does it really matter? Should an off topic post be integrated with the blog’s theme and made relevant?

3. Sorry for being sorry

There are many articles that advice bloggers not to apologize for the lack of posts due to various reasons. It does make sense – our feeds are bursting with hundreds of unread posts, we quickly scan through them and suddenly come across the post where a blogger apologizes for not having time to write and promising to write soon.

Depending on our relationship with that blogger we either shrug off, “Oh, well”, and move on to the next feed, or get mad that we didn’t get our usual dose of that blog’s wisdom, for wasting our time with some typical excuses (after all, aren’t we all busy, but do you see us complaining?), or read the post and comment “No worries, pal. Take it easy there, we’ll be here when you come back”.

Why do bloggers write such posts? Some are afraid or worried that they will loose their readers who will unsubscribe because of the long silence. Others just want their readers know what’s going on in the blogger’s life, or they don’t want readers to think that the blogger has abandoned them.

A few months ago in my post Musings on Blogging I’ve asked my readers 8 questions about the desired frequency of posting, their reasons for unsubscribing from a blog, what they think of blogs that got silent for awhile, how do they deal with the silence on their own blogs. The response was overwhelming. The majority said that they won’t unsubscribe from a blog only because of its lack of posts and that we’re all humans and we have life outside of blogging.

But what about the declining number of visitors and RSS feed count during the blog’s silent periods? Based on my observations, the decline usually happens only to young, non-established blogs. After awhile, the silence doesn’t affect the blog that much, eventually it goes back to normal. Once your blog accumulates a substantial amount of solid and useful articles, search engines will kick in and bring you lots of organic traffic and new subscribers, and other blogs will start linking to you, once again bringing more visitors. And of course, loyal readers will always be happy to get their favourite blogger back.

4. Off to you now

I’m very interested in reading what do you all have to say on this off topic subject matter? Would you sometimes like to know what goes behind the blogging scene and what’s happening in the life of the blogger whose blog you read?

I guess that’s where Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites come to play, but I suspect they’re not the only solution. What do you think?

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12 Insightful Bits in response to “Musing On Off Topic Posts”

  1. Whilst I can understand Ronald’s point in his article in why not to blog about not blogging, in reality I don’t often see people simply writing “too busy, cant blog, bye…” and I certainly don’t see people ‘complaining’ about being too busy.

    I don’t have a problem with it, and in fact I love hearing peoples personal ‘off-topic’ posts. The reason I blog is to build up personal connections and relations with people so I love to hear when one of my regular blog-reads is off on holiday, is having a baby or even has work coming out of their ears. Honestly, that’s why I do this!

    Different people write their blogs for different reasons and some may take their content more seriously than others. Ultimately that’s down to the individual, but I think it’s a bit miserable to say you shouldn’t apologise for not blogging. If a blogger feels the need to apologise for not being around for a while there’s a personal reason for that and it’s probably because they care about their blog and their readers.

  2. Truthfully, I don’t mind seeing a completely off-topic post from people every once in a while, but relevant off-topic posts usually fit right in with the rest of the content. I’ve done a few both ways myself.

    Also, I don’t see any reason why bloggers shouldn’t get personal. People are always interested to learn more about the person behind the website, and being personal makes a blog more desirable from a reader standpoint. For example, I read lots of metablogs and marketing blogs — I’ve unsubscribed to several that just didn’t seem to have a human voice behind them. Others, like and, I visit more and more frequently because I can see there’s a person in there somewhere.

    And as for taking a break from blogging and whether or not to talk about it… I don’t know. I can’t bring myself to think about NOT blogging! For other bloggers that announce it, I usually do the shrug and move on — there’s plenty of other good stuff out there to keep me occupied. If I really like a blog, I won’t unsubscribe — I had one lay dormant in my reader for 5 or 6 months, then one day the author came back and started posting again. There is one blog that I’m a little torn up over though — has been without posts for some time now. That was my favorite photography blog and I kind of miss it.

  3. I really prefer to have a personal post now and then, as I find it difficult to continue reading a blog without a sense of who the person is behind it. That’s why I enjoyed David Airey’s Face Behind the Blog meme – it was so great to get to know people better. The one thing I hate more that anything else is an “I’m sorry for not posting” post. Don’t apologize- it’s just annoying.

  4. I think you can get personal where it relates to your niche. The blogs I am the most loyal to are the ones that have made a connection with me. That connection is normally made by the person not the content.

    Off topic posts are fine with me. If they become frequent and are not even related loosely then eventually I will unsubscribe. I have ran into a few that met my trash bin for abusing the topic. My blog is pretty tight in its subject matter and I have so many other interests. So, I will be starting another blog soon that will be much broader and allow me to write about anything that has to do with me and the internet.

    As for apologizing for lack of posting, I am flexible on this one. I have let one of my blogs go silent and I have resisted the temptation to post a “I’m sorry but I am trying to work through some stuff” message. I do have a problem with bloggers that could make a category for these posts because they stop and start so much.

  5. Part of the charm of a blog is that it IS clearly written by a real person, not by some PR robot. So I do want to hear the human voice of a blogger. And it really isn’t that difficult to relate the personal angle to the blog topic, is it?

    The only problem I’ve seen with infrequent blog posts is that some readers only show posts from the last X days (I think it’s three in My Yahoo) and I have to say that when I don’t see the name of a post in a reader, I’m not interested in clicking.

    I think the “apology” topic is similar to the first point. If you want to apologize, make it interesting and relate it to something meaningful and I’m fine.

  6. Interesting musings, Vivien. Everyone above has a good point about liking the relationship between readers and a blogger and wanting to know when big personal things come up. I like that part, too! Now it makes me torn between the annoying extra post just to say “Sorry” and wanting to know what’s going on in an online friend’s life.

    The way I imagined by blog was that it would be strictly on-topic content; the go-to place for graphic design principles and practices (a la Copyblogger for writing). I turned down several memes in my early days because they were on topics like “Best Blogging Tips” and other completely unrelated subjects (I did email the people who tagged me an explained my reasonings. They were all very understanding and said no big deal).

    Now I wonder though, would it be ok to post on non-graphic design things? Brian Gardner’s bloggy tag a while ago started an interesting conversation on my blog, of course that was at least a bit on topic. I think I’ve had the most comments on off topic things, like my first post and that meme. Hmm, maybe people really do like to get to know the writer behind the blog and don’t mind the occasional off-topic post.

    Perhaps a good solution would be to write “bonus” articles on the blog’s off days. Like for me, I post M, W, F, but maybe I could do off topic articles on the weekends or Tuesday and Thursday. I do find myself wishing I could write for non-graphic design writing projects, contests and memes. I just don’t want to turn away readers! I guess I’m afraid if I post something off topic, they will think “This isn’t useful! This isn’t why I subscribed! Goodbye!”

    What do you think?

  7. First of all, my apologies for getting back to you with such a delay. You can read the reason behind that in my latest post, which I just published ;-)

    I’m very glad that all of you like occasional off-topic posts.

    Aaron, I agree with you that it’s up to the individual to decide what to write about. Every blog is different with a unique audience, and in most cases the blogger knows his/her readers the best.

    Brian, isn’t it something that we got so addicted to blogging that it’s hard not to think about it. Yes, we might not have much time for it sometimes, but even I always think about possible topics for my future posts.

    Randa, I also enjoyed reading the entries to David’s meme, although I did not participate myself due to personal reasons. But I do feel that I’m transparent enough with my readers through writing and off-topic posts to show who is the face behind Inspiration Bit.

    Joey, you said it all in “That connection is normally made by the person not the content.” Whenever I discover a new blog, the first page I click on is the About page, trying to find out as much as possible about the author before reading his/her blog. The next step is to see when and if I get a reply to my new comment. That’s when I see if I connected to the blog or not.
    I also sometimes think that I should start another blog, where I can write on other topics that I don’t find very suitable for Inspiration Bit. Keep me posted, please, when you launch that other blog.

    Isabella, did you just coin that phrase: “PR robot”? I love it ;-) Why don’t you switch to another RSS reader? Have you tried Google Reader?

    Lauren, that’s why I asked all those questions about the off-topic posts. With Inspiration Bit it’s not hard to go off-topic sometimes, yet still make it relative to the blog’s theme (which is not strictly defined). With blogs like yours it’s much more challenging. Although, as a reader, I do like reading your more personal posts and they didn’t feel for me out of place. But then it’s different with me, I’ve known you before you launched your blog.
    I think writing an occasional off-topic even on blogs like yours is still okay. You could write them on Sundays, or you could even write them whenever you feel like it. At least, you can try and see how it goes.

  8. Yes, I came up with the PR robot term. Thangyouverrymush, thangyouverrymush :)

    Btw, here’s one of the cutest “apology” posts I’ve seen in a long time:

  9. Thanks for the encouragement, Vivien. I’ll have to try it!

  10. I do like personal, off-topic posts from time to time. They help me to build a connection with the blog author and to understand the blogger’s perspective. If the post is tied in to the theme, great – but it is not necessary.

    As for unsubscribing to a blog for lack of posts – I rarely do this. I completely understand time constraints and would rather wait for a quality post than read “filler”. In fact, I am more likely to unsubscribe if the blog is posting frequent “filler” material.

    Thank you to Isabella (comment #8) for enjoying my “apology” post. I was participating in NaBloPoMo and had to post something that day. But typically I do not like to read or write apology posts. If the blogger plans an absence they can certainly share that info – no apology needed.

  11. Hi Vivien,

    Thanks for the mention here.

    At the time, I thought it was a great idea to let my readers know I’d be away. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing though. ;)

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on