What's the right length for a blog post?

I've been fascinated for years by the concept of form when it comes to works that appear creative.

Like all callow reporters fresh from J-school, I had a mind to upset the applecart and write in totally new ways.

That didn't last long.

I started using some of the standard forms of journalism early on for two reasons.

One is that I read The New Journalism and then basically everything else that Tom Wolfe ever wrote. I've written in this space about how Facebook is like the newest form of New Journalism, but this was something different. My writing took on the forms of journalism that had gone on before me because it worked. Wolfe was the first to point out that the "new" journalism was really the exact same writing of Dickens and many others.

The second reason I started using the forms of journalism was that I discovered they were forms for a reason, and the way in which words get written can follow a form, and still sing. What matters most is that the content is compelling, and then after that the words must just do the job of getting the compelling bits into the craniums of the readers.

For example?

No less than Bob Woodward recently wrote a tic-tock, a story that is not breaking news, but goes back to recount an event in chronological order. Publishers turn to this kind of story quite often when the news isn't new, but is so compelling that they want to run the story again a few days later. It may contain some new tidbits, but it's really not news. In the chronological style, however, it clicks right along like a clock. But how to end such a story? Well, you need a "kicker," a quote that's so delicious, so authentic, and so encapsulating that you want to make sure every reader sees it.

When I'm consulting on communication topics, I always tell people that documents, paragraphs and sentences all have two strong spots: the beginning and the end. The start of a story is crucial for sure, but the kicker can help you walk away with real understanding.

Bob Woodward knows better than to screw around with that form, so at the end of his tic-tock on the Osama bin Laden story he ends with a quote from President Obama. "We donated a $60 million helicopter to this operation. Could we not afford to buy a tape measure?"

Yes. Just so.

There are plenty of other forms. The form of a story reporting on scientific discoveries gets used all the time, primarily because the people doing the writing have no freaking clue what it is they are writing about, so they fall back on the standard ways. That's what makes this satire so spot-on.

Sports stories have their own form, so much so that a couple of clever coders came up with a way to generate an AP-style baseball story just by entering the box score of a game

There's a form to good screenplays, too. I wrote here about movies that seem like they are all over the map and yet when looked at up close they indeed follow classic forms of three-act screenplays. Following a form does not mean giving up on creativity.

The other reason, by the way, that writers use forms is time. I remember struggling, on deadline, with a late-night crime story when working on the late, great New York Newsday. Someone came over to ask how it was going (maybe Peg Tyre?) and said, "Look, this is a cop story. First graf: What happened. Second graf: Where's the body. Third graf: Your best quote. Then just fill in details and quotes until you get to nine inches. 

(Translation: graf=paragraph. inches=column inches in the paper. It never really works out to measure it that way because the columns always changed, so basically an "inch" was about 30 words. Also, there's always a body in the crime story. It's either in "fair condition" or "recovering at home" or "awaiting toxicology reports" etc.)

Why all this about forms for me right now?

Two reasons.

One is that I'm currently raising investment for my newest business, Blogmutt. When I put together a deck for my first business, MyTrafficNews, I wanted to break the mold and do something really different. With the second business I pushed some boundaries, but mostly stuck to the script. With this one, I'm following the form. I've seen a few different forms, including this one that's a MadLib for the one-sentence description, and this one for the overall slide deck. Garage.com says I should have 10 slides, I have 10 slides.

I'm coaching some companies right now that are headed to the Colorado Capitol Conference, and mostly I just tell them the same thing: Be creative, but be creative within the form of a slide deck that follows the form of a pitch deck. And I also tell them to just cut words.

The second reason I'm thinking about forms is also blogmutt. We will be asking a crowd of writers to come up with blog posts for small and niche business blogs. The pay won't be fantastic, but it should rival or exceed what spec writing jobs on the internet pay. It will certainly exceed what most bloggers make on most blogs -- that is: zero. I'm expecting that we'll have quite a few writers who perhaps studied English in college but have never been able to write professionally, and they just want to make some extra money for scrapbooking, fantasy baseball, or maybe to pay bills if they do really well. We'll be helping those writers to understand the form of a classic blog post. Some writers who want to work with blogmutt may want to try some fancy stuff and alter the very form of a typical blog post.

They can do that, but just not for Blogmutt. That's why even though I'm writing lots of posts for the Blogmutt blog these days, those posts in general follow the form of a helpful blog post.

It's only over here, on sco.tt, that I babble on about everything from Bob Woodward to a slide deck. This is my personal blog, and that's just what this is all about.

So, the answer to the question, "What's the right length for a blog post?" is that it's exactly long enough to do what you want the post to do. What do you want your posts to do?

What did this post do? Several things, even though there's not much form hereā€¦

Sorry about that, but thanks for reading anyway!


No Second Saturday Science this month

We've had a ton of fun at the Second Saturday Science events over the last six months, and I've learned a great deal.

For a variety of reasons, however, we'll be taking a break from the events at the Wash Park store. With luck, we'll be back soon with a big announcement. Until then, stay tuned!


The Future of the Future

A few months ago I wrote about some of what I was up to. It helps in a few ways to do that, I think, so here's the latest.

The two biggest bits of news are that I am writing a book, and I've been accepted to the Founder Institute.

First the book...

The American Water Works Association has been wanting to do a book for while that looks forward to all the changes coming over the next few decades in the world of water. So, the people there created a team of Steve Maxwell and me. Steve knows the water business inside and out, and AWWA is not just an association of water providers, it really is the authoritative resource on safe water. I bring to the team my skills at making complicated topics accessible.

One thing I know for sure already: The way we think about water will be changing -- radically -- over the next 30-50 years. You probably don't really think about water much right now. Most people don't. The ways that we've handled water over the last 50 years, however, just won't work over the next 50, and that's why so many radical changes are coming.

I'll work hard to make sure this will not be a depressing book, but it should be eye-opening.

So watch this space for an announcement about when you'll be able to pick up your own copy of The Future of Water. If all goes well, it should hit bookshelves this fall.

Next, the Founder Institute...

The institute is sort of like the awesome TechStars, or a few others, but instead of asking participants to to quit whatever they are doing and subsist on pizza and Red Bull for six months, it allows people to keep their day jobs while a new company gets rolling.

They are launching a Denver version, and I've been accepted as a founder. (I'm guessing I'll be older than the average student, and have founded two companies already, but I like the concept of this school so I will be participating gladly. I look at it a bit like continuing education, with a bunch of great potential side benefits depending on the kind of company I decide to start.)

I'm sure I'll have much more to report about that in the months to come.

In addition to those two big things, I'm also fiddling around with some other concepts:

  • I'm working with an excellent Denver web design shop on an idea that has the potential to substantially improve the employer-employee relationship around the world. Can't say more now, but it could be revolutionary, and a great thing for workers and manager everywhere. Stay tuned.
  • I created an easy to use Applicant Tracking System. A lot of businesses just get flooded with resumes when they post a job, and they don't have a way to handle all of the applications. Many of them just use a spreadsheet. So, I invented a quick and easy way to keep track of all the applications. I've never created a page and tried to have it ad supported, so this is my small experiment with that.
  • I may have a small but explosively cool new application emerging in time for Earth Day. That one will be fun.

There are a few other projects in the works. By my next report three months from now, I'll tell you all about them!


I'm baaaaaack

I consider myself a data-driven person. If something is working, do more of that. If not, then stop.

I was not having luck finding a job, and I was blogging a lot.

I had an inkling that my blog posts were a part of me not finding a job. I knew the economy had a lot more to do with it, but I couldn't control the economy. I could control my blog, so I basically just stopped.

And then, well, I STILL didn't get a job.

So I was going to, this month, switch over to a different blogging platform, Wordpress, which I used in my volunteer fight against the expansion of gambling in Colorado. I liked it a lot, so I thought I would switch before I started blogging again.

But as Rick says, destiny has taken a hand.

Later today I'll be blogging about me and Mark Cuban. Yes, that Mark Cuban.