Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What Kind of Garden Blogger are you?

I've been getting intrigued by the way some garden blogs, which I consider to be really good, chuntle along for years with very little attention from the garden bloggers' community, while others zoom into popularity within a couple of months of start-up. What makes the difference? Is it content? Visual impact? Or what?

After spending a week avidly reading all sorts of blogs, I still don't know. Garden bloggers often seem to fall into categories, but the most popular blogs may come from any of them. However, the categories themselves are intriguing. So here they are - see which category you think you and your favourite blogs fall into. They're not mutually exclusive, so don't be surprised if some blogs fit into more than one category. Oh - one thing before we start. I've got favourite blogs from all the categories, and I know that a lot of blogs which I read less regularly are followed avidly by a lot of other people. So this isn't intended to be a criticism of anyone or anyparticular category. there are pros and cons to all of them. And in any case I am not, repeat not, talking about you.

1. The purists vs. the bifurcated vs. the butterflies.

The purists write about gardening, gardening and more gardening. You can read their blogs for months and you'll have hardly any idea about the rest of their lives. The odd mention of a family member may creep in, but that's about it. Do they have jobs? other interests? problems? You'll never know - unless it's gardening related of course. Their blogs are really interesting, and often give you loads of ideas, but can occasionally get a bit impersonal - is there a real person in there somewhere?

The bifurcated have two main interests and their blog reflects this. One subcategory of the bifurcated are the wildlife bloggers, who focus as much as the birds, insects and animals in the garden as on the flowers, while the other are the hobbyists. The garden is one hobby, but there's another - and it shares the blog. How you feel about bifurcated blogs much depends on whether you share the second interest. If you do, they're double value for money. If not you can sometimes get fed up.

The butterflies, on the other hand, will blog about anything interesting that happens to them or comes to mind - whether it's garden related or not. Their blogs are often fun and lively, and you soon start to feel you know the writer personally. You sometimes wish they'd get back to the garden though.

2. The informative vs. the chatty.

Most of us in the garden blogging community would cheerfully admit to being amateurs. But there are professional gardeners within our midst, and also an awful lot of amateur expertise. (Amateur doesn't necessarily mean "amateurish - Olympic athletes are amateurs too.) Some bloggers, especially professionals such as nursery owners focus on being informative - giving details of plants, growing techniques and so on. And they clearly know what they're talking about. They're at their best though when the blog isn't just there to publicise a business, but when they genuinely want to blog. And when they tell us about their experiments and failures as well as their successes.

Writers of chatty blogs don't consider themselves experts at all, and just want to talk about what's going on in their gardens. They'll ask for advice as often as give it, and their comments boxes are often the place where the real information comes out.

3. The writers vs. the scribblers

And then there are the professional writers, often journalists. They can come up with a topic which might never have occurred to the rest of us and write about it in a way that fascinates and intrigues - seemingly effortlessly, and without the wrestling matches that we scribblers have trying to make words work for us. Take notes of how they do it - their posts are frequently the best of the bunch, and I'm usually green with envy when I read them. But on the other hand, they can sometimes be too polished and impersonal - somehow the appeal of the blog format is that blogs are written by ordinary people who can't spell antirrhinum, and not by professionals.

4. The photographers vs. the illustrators

Very few garden blogs have no photos at all. Even when there isn't a relevant photo to go with what we're saying, we add one anyway - lijke the one at the top of this post. But most of us are illustrators. We just plan a few nice photos to go with our posts, and pop out and take them. We may even find ourselves apologising for the fact that they're out of focus or that the colour's a bit off. But some blogs have pictures which are just breathtaking - you can see every vein on a petal, or every grain of pollen on a bees back. I don't know how they do it. Yes, they probably have far superior equipment to my bottom of the range Canon. But I suspect that even if we swapped, they'd still produce the best photos. The downside of the photographers' blogs? Sometimes thay can go over the top on the photos without having very much to say. But then, the photos often speak for themselves ...

5. The decorators vs.the essentialists

If you use a blog provider like Blogger, you get offered a choice of standard blog formats. But for most of us that's not enough. We want to decorate our blogs and add fancy backgrounds, different colours, widgets galore in the sidebar ... It all helps turn the blog into a personal statement and serves to make it more attractive - as long as you share the same taste as the blogger. And decorators' blogs can sometimes be hell to load. The essentialists' blogs, on the other hand, load in a moment. But they can be a bit boring ...

6. The frequent vs. the occasional

How often do you blog? Some people blog every day (occasionally twice) while others may let a couple of weeks pass between posts. Is there an optimum frequency of posts? Personally, I don't think so. I'd rather read someone whose posts are occasional but who has something to say than someone to feels they "have to" post daily. But then, a lot of people are frequent posters and do have something to say.

7. The copious vs. the concise

How long are your posts? Some posts don't go over a couple of hundred words - which for me is usually too concise and leaves me hungering for more. Others go on, and on, and on - with thousands of photos and copious amounts of text. A bit like this one really.

8. The community members vs. the individuals

Community members don't only blog, they also visit other people's blogs, leave comments, contribute to forums, suggest memes, network on Blotanical and generally contribute to the "social constructivist" aspect of the net (Google it!). Other people don't. They're not particularly interested in the wider community - they just want to produce a record of their own garden. Pros and cons? The community members really get things going, and we'd be lost without them. But you do sometimes and in some cases (and no, remember I said that I don't mean you) wonder if they're just trying to publicise their own blogs. But then, aren't most of us. The individuals are more "take me or leave me". Reading their blogs you don't feel pressurised to comment - but neither do you always feel they're particularly interested in what you would have to say.

So where do you fall? And where do the posts you like best fall? Mine, as I said, cut across the categories. Maybe that's the whole appeal of the gardening blogosphere. In the end the blogs are all as different as the people who write them.


Anonymous said...

A very thoughtful post. I've only been blogging for a few months, although I've been reading garden blogs for well over a year. You've done a great job of trying to classify the different types of sites out there - many, like you mention, spilling in to a few categories.

I like a good swath of the different ones you've described, but I find myself more entertained by pro writers' blogs. Although I learn much and get great ideas from the more "homespun" sites.

Nancy said...

I think you've done a good job noting the differences and comonalities between garden bloggers, and indeed, bloggers in general!

CanadianGardenJoy said...

You have done an amazing job "nailing" our planets in the blogging universe .. diverse and interesting, to a point, then the slippery road to overkill at times .. yet we keep going back .. peeking in when we have the time and with almost every trip made, there is something taken back with us.
We can go through cycles with "how we post" on our blogs .. and how we react to other posts by other bloggers .. it can change almost as much as the weather ?
You didn't say anything unkind or critical and that in itself is amazing because you did touch on the not so great characteristics that we morph into at times.
Maybe this, in itself, is too long a comment and as boring as a long winded post from a dry humoured blogger ? LOL
All the same .. good post !
Joy : )

Frances, said...

Almost intimidated to make the first comment, you have brought up points that many have probably noticed about the differences in the bloggers and their styles. I believe the beauty of this community is its inclusiveness, all are welcome here, including all of your types and more. Thanks for a thoughtful and thought provoking post!

Frances at Faire Garden

VP said...

Great post Sue. I'm mainly a 'butterfly scribbler', but like to ring the style changes from time to time to keep you on your toes :)

I blog primarily for me as it's a repository of thoughts/diary and I want to be entertained later when I read it again! However, I do also like the fact that others read it, see fit to Comment, add ideas etc. etc and basically enrich the mix. I also like it when someone appreciates an idea and uses it themseves. In some ways my blog's my replacement 'water cooler' talk, now I don't work in an office anymore :)

Carol Michel said...

This is a very interesting post. I think I belong to several different categories, in some cases. I'll have to go back through and read this some more.

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Unknown said...

What a terrific, and thought-provoking, post, Sue! I would say I cut across the categories (I've always refused to be categorized), and I read and love a huge selection of blogs: just look at the list of links on Bloomingwriter--and I have more to add! My personal goal is to be a garden cheerleader for others, to give back to the community I learn from (and keep learning) and of course have fun.
One thing I find is really important--spending time reading other blogs, and leaving comments on them. It does take time to leave comments, of course, but bloggers love to get them. And it's often good to answer the comments back; some do it in their own comments (I usually do) but if someone asks me a question and I'm not sure they'll be back, I'll go to their blog and leave the answer. It's all good gardening karma, and I rely on the world of expertise in blogging to fill my gardening info the way I used to expect magazines and newspaper articles to do.

Robin's Nesting Place said...

I love the variety of garden blogs and I'm so glad there are different kinds of bloggers. I recognized myself and my blog in your list. I'm definitely a hobbyist blogger combining photography, gardening and nature. I'm an expert by no means, and I'm also not a writer so I tend to be heavy with the photos. I personally like the blogs where the people are real and they share bits of their lives with you. They seem more like friends to me. I don't really want to read someones personal diary though. There's got to be a balance there.
I really enjoyed this post.

Sue Swift said...

Hi everyone,
Thank you for all your positive comments, and a special thank you to the people who haven't commented here before - I hope I see you again. I'm one of the bloggers who, like Jodi says, really enjoy both receiving and leaving comments - if I'm not already a regular visitor, I'll be over to your blogs soon. And I don't think there is such a thing as a too long comment Gardenjoy!
Frances - I agree with you about inclusiveness being the best thing about the community. It means there's a variety that makes it constantly exciting to come across a new blog. Somebody, I think it was Caroline Gail, posted the other day urging everyone to go and visit the 300th post on Blotanical. The ones at the end of the list, she said, were just as good and deserved just as much attention as the ones on the first pages. I'll second that wholeheartedly.

Unknown said...

What an interesting post! You know, whenever I take those personality tests, I find myself pretty squarely in the middle--one day, I could be an IMFJ, the next I could be an EMFP, and so forth.

I have found myself in the middle of most of your mentioned groups as well... for example, I'm mostly an essentialist rather than a decorator, but I definitely personalize the colors on my standard-format blog.

One thing I'm more of a black-and-white girl on, though, is commenting. I definitely agree with Jodi there... there are some blogs that I know to be very interesting and informative, but after a year of commenting on them and never seeing that blogger visit me... or (worse) bother to answer any comments/questions (from me or anyone else) via other comments or posts on his/her own blog... I've just gotten away from visiting them. I guess that I kind of think that I'm letting them live in a vacuum, as they seem to prefer.

Unknown said...

Having thought about this more and more today... I think that the key for me is authenticity. I don't mind if someone is a rambler by nature, or if they tend to go off topic every once in a while, if that is true to their own personality.

The blogs that I go back to visit over and over again are the ones that are true to the blogger... or at least that give me a sense of that.

(But yes, I still get cranky with the isolationists.)

Robin (Bumblebee) said...

What a wonderfully thoughtful post.

It's interesting that you should break out the categories this way. In the past I have probably been all over the map, although mostly blogging about gardening and nature. I have revealed much of myself, I think, in my blog. But there's no telling--as far as I can see--what makes a high traffic blog.

Mostly, I blog to keep my creative side going while writing lots of technical reports. And to share what I love, of course.

Very curious to see what others have to say.

Robin at Bumblebee

Nancy J. Bond said...

Great job of categorizing different blogging styles! For as many different blogging creatures are out there, I believe we all have more in common than we do differences...mostly, a love of watching things grow. :)

Cheryl said...

Really interesting piece. I have only been blogging for a few months and you have got me thinking where do I fit in. Not sure.
My fav blogs are the ones where you get to know the writer, preferably with a bit of humour, and always some photography. I have so enjoyed blogging I have become a bit obsessive. I really have made some lovely friends and see that I will be enjoying it for years to come.

Entangled said...

Really interesting question. I think my blog has changed over time, just as I've changed over time, but many of the changes are the result of feedback in the form of comments. When I started, Blogger didn't even have a comments feature, and although there were a handful of other garden blogs at that time, I wasn't aware of them.

Anonymous said...

This was fun, trying to see where I fit in among your categories. All I know is that the blogs I revisit (as opposed to a one-time or two-time read) speak to me---literally. The bloggers will engage readers with questions and answer you if you leave a comment. They'll come visit your own blog to see what's going on. If they don't have time to visit very often, that's fine by me. But I do want a response to my comments if I'm to keep coming back. That's what makes blogging fun!

Sue Swift said...

Blackswamp Girl - yes I agree about authenticity. there's nothing more off-putting than a so-called blog which clearly is there only to sell the writer's books, services or whatever. Which doesn't mean that if you've got something to offer you can't advertise it. lots of really good bloggers do. But it's always clear when the blog has been constructed just for that purpose and the writer's not really interested.

Robin - no, I don't understand what makes a high-stats blog either - except that since I wrote this post mine have gone through the roof! Which isn't saying much given their previous modesty, but ...

Robin - yes, one of the great things about blogs is that they give everyone the chance to be a writer. When I started, I'd not really written anything for years. Half the fun has been getting back to it.

Entangled - wow, it makes you sound ancient :) I had to remind myself that blogs have only actually been around for a few years. When exactly did you start?

Pam - yes. It's all part of the community thing. I don't think I'd be very motivated to go on if that sort of exchange didn't happen. But I wonder how many people do go back and see if their comments have been answered. I sometimes just forget where I've commented, especially if it's not one of my regular reads. When I'm replying to comments (which I don't always have time for, but I do try)I always wonder if the person will actually come back to read it.

And to everyone else who's commented - thank you. I'll certainly be visiting your blogs, and hope to see you back here soon.

Ottawa Gardener said...

Woah, that was a lot information and my brain doens't process well. I guess I'm kinda chatty, kinda a purist, kinda an amateur professional but really a novice (I just go through goggling binges). Or maybe I'm totally wrong and someone would say something else about me.

I agree with several commentors that talking to yourself is only fun for awhile. I like the interactive nature of blogs and write to others and much as I can. I think it's only polite to at least occasionally visit a blogger that talks a lot on yours.

Thanks for the interesting post!

LadyLuz said...

Hi Sue, I'm late on the scene as usual. I really enjoyed this post and all the comments and found myself nodding sagely at most of the categories saying "yes, that's me". I'm a hotch potch of styles and content, don't get many visitors and generally regularly visit only a dozen or so favourites. I feel all blogged out sometimes and when the weather is good I'm usually outside doing what you said in another of your posts - bloody well clearing up!

Went to Gibraltar this morning and found Jeyes Fluid - remember that for cleaning up pots and paths.

Kerri said...

Reading the comments only added to the interest, and your post is a great summary of the different categories we bloggers fit into and cross over.
I'm more interested in a blogger who reveals a little of themselves. I learn so much from other gardeners...and see so many wonderful plants and photos, but I also greatly enjoy all the little details that make up our individual lives.
Blogging is a fascinating way to learn about our world and a small sampling of the people in it. I'm awed by the sense of community and friendship among bloggers. That's what draws me the most.
I prefer to answer comments, if need be, by visiting the other person's blog, or by a short e-mail response if their link is embedded in their comment. I believe most people don't come back to check for an answer because of limited time.
Thanks for taking the time to put these great thoughts into words and share them with us :)

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