Motivation: why do older bloggers blog?

why-blog-web

In our survey of older bloggers we wanted to discover something about their motivation, rewards, and feelings around blogging. First we asked why they blog, and gave them the chance to choose several answers. 117 people answered this question.

Graph showing 16 reasons for blogging. Top choices creativity, social benefits and enjoyment. Older Bloggers Survey 2018 writeintolife.com
Why do older bloggers blog?

Any blogger may have several reasons for blogging. The three most popular reasons chosen by these older bloggers were “to express my creativity” (44%), “to connect with like-minded people” (42%) and “I just enjoy it” (40%). This result is reinforced if we realise that other options may combine both a creative motive and a social motive for blogging: “to entertain others”, “to share my passions”, “to share my knowledge”, and “to get feedback” all involve both creativity and sharing.

While we can see obvious trends here, even the least common reason may be highly significant to the person who checked it. All of these reasons are valid reasons. Let’s take a closer look at various trends.

1. The creative blogger

The expressor: man blogging to express his creativity
They blog to express their creativity

The number one motive older bloggers named for their blogging was “to express my creativity” (44%). Other reasons linked to creativity were ‘to get feedback’ (5%),  “to improve my writing” (25%),  and “to tell my story” (30%).

  • “Mostly I just feel like I need to get my thoughts into words, and if someone likes what I write, that’s a bonus.”
  • “I think I secretly have always wanted to be a writer.”
  • “I guess I represent my point of view and personal experiences to the world. Others may or may not feel some connection with some or all of them.”

  • “It’s all about just writing.”

  • “An outlet for more creative writing from my ongoing business writing as a marketing executive.”

  • “I like to take photographs. It seemed a waste to have them just sitting on my computer.”

2. The social blogger

Cartoon, The Socialiser: woman speaking to a motley audience
They blog to connect with like-minded people

The next most popular reason for blogging was “to connect with like-minded people” (42%). Numerous comments here (and elsewhere in the survey) emphasised the importance of the social benefits, for example:

  • “When blogs were ‘invented’ I instantly connected with the dialogue, the conversation that can occur.”
  • “I am amazed at the community blogging has created for me. This was an unexpected benefit of blogging.”
  • “To see who is out there.”
  • “Sharing my letters to my mother with my family and a few friends.”

  • “A regular letter to an old friend who lives far away. I have made new friends this way.”

Other answers suggest that there are quite a few sociable-creative bloggers in our group, who love to express themselves not alone but with an audience of peers: “to entertain others (20%)”, “to share my passions (30%)”, and “to get feedback”.

  • “I have recently made the decision to blog more often in order for my voice to be heard.”
  • “To express my views; enjoy connecting with others whether or not like-minded”

3. The cheerful blogger

Cartoon: Blogger who blogs because he enjoys it
They blog just because they enjoy it

“I just enjoy it.” This is not your usual answer to a survey question about motivation, but it occurred to me that among bloggers there may be people who can’t, or won’t, or just don’t analyse why they blog. Maybe the reason is too complicated or too simple. Maybe it keeps changing. Or maybe the enjoyment they derive from blogging overrides any other motivation.

People could choose three answers, so perhaps “I just enjoy it” may be just an afterthought for some. But for others, the enjoyment factor was paramount:

  • Blogging is fun. I travel a lot in my own country and want to share my experiences and encourage others to visit this amazing land.

  • I live alone, but I’m not lonely — but I have loved the Net since I was introduced to it in the late 1990s when I was required to email my column for a group I belonged to…been through many systems, but now it’s much easier and I just love to have this option at home…

Personal reflection: I was secretly delighted that 40% of respondents selected this answer. Surely at any age, the fact that you just enjoy a harmless activity such as blogging is reason enough to spend your time and energy on it. With advancing age, many people feel free to abandon an old hierarchy of hobbies, and to ignore a little voice that says <such and such an activity> is not worthwhile. As it turns out, our Older Bloggers Survey shows that most of the people blogging find it very worthwhile indeed.  

4. The teacher

Teacher teaching about her thing; cartoon by Rachel McAlpine
They blog to share their knowledge and passions

“To share my knowledge” and “to share my passions” were each chosen by approximately 30% of respondents, and comments gave more detail about those for whom teaching was part of their motivation.

  •  “I wanted to create a “safe” place to share my love of mobile devices.”
  • “To share passions and knowledge and attract recruits to the ideas.”
  • “I originally started writing from a more traditional view of ‘living sustainably’ and noticed how tricky I found it to change my habits and thought it might be helpful to share this so that others can see that it is not easy but we should try anyway, and that every change makes a difference.”
  • “I have taught and practised art. I obtained University degrees later in life. I write fiction and non-fiction. I love travel, and have visited many countries, and lived in a few with different cultures to my own. I believe I have something to share with others.”

 

5. The helper

Cartoon: the helper and the seeker of help
Sometimes the one who has struggled is the one who offers help

“To inspire or help others” drew 30% of responses.

Some comments showed that this motive may overlap with the 9% who said they blogged “to find support, therapy, or catharsis.” Perhaps this is because many bloggers have had their own struggles in the past, either with a disease such as depression or alcoholism, or a new venture or life situation. They decide tell their story in a blog in order to help others: thus the person who needed help at some point becomes the helper.

  • “I started to share my experience of depression, in the hope that it would help others, and mental health is still a core topic for me. But I share music too, plus other ramblings that come to mind.”
  • “Good therapy to write about my life.”
  • “For support. I’m an ‘elder orphan’.”
  • “I do it to help, but not inspire. Yuk!”

6. The entrepreneur

entrepreneurs-web

Among the older bloggers in our sample, 7% stated that one of their reasons for blogging was “to promote my business.” However, for this group of bloggers, not one cited “to make money” as a reason. For writers, “to self-publish” is a reason to blog, and this was chosen by 12%.

  • The main blog is my pottery business
  • I’d like subscribers to buy my book
  • Because I submit my writing to traditional publishers, I want to show through my blog that I have a platform of readers in place.

COMPARE WITH RECENT SURVEYS OF MARKETING BLOGS

 

7. The learner

learning_web

One motive that I hadn’t anticipated cropped up frequently in comments (and also in the next survey question): unprompted, six people cited learning or cognition as a reason for blogging.

  • “It allows me a reason to dig deep with research on something I’m interested in.”
  • “Blogging keeps one’s mind active in old age, hopefully delaying age-related dementia.”
  • “To learn … general, about the internet, people, places in the world …”
  • “Also to keep my brain active in retirement.”
  • “To learn from others is a big part of why I blog.”
  • Blogging is about keeping ME inspired. It provides the impetus to stay engaged, keep setting goals, keep feeding my curiosity. I didn’t want my days to drift aimlessly.  A blog about continuing to constantly challenge myself forces me to actually do exactly that!

The reason for blogging changes over time

Frequently in this survey, participants explained that the purpose or topic of their blog was something that evolved. Commenting on this particular question, they said:

  • “Started out as a diary for myself, friends and family. Became far more enjoyable when I started to treat it as a social network.”
  • “I used to blog to keep my writing sharp and to practice what I preached to my writing students. Then it became a way to document things in my life as well.”
  • “Historically I began to keep in touch with friends and family. Blogging has brought far more friends and taken me down byways I would never otherwise have travelled.”

  • “I started out writing a journal of our travels because I didn’t want to forget a special part of our retirement. When it was suggested that I should publish it I chose instead to blog as I wanted to see if anyone would read my musings.”
  • “I started blogging to practice writing, to promote a group I ran with my wife and to see about making money, but over the years it has changed.”

Summary: older bloggers blog for creative, social, pleasure-seeking, changeable and individual reasons

This small group of older bloggers tend to say they blog to express themselves, to connect with others, and just because they enjoy it. But their reasons change over time as their own lives change or perhaps they discover other aspects of blogging.

But there’s no such thing as a typical blogger, because each may have a distinct and idiosyncratic combination of reasons for what they do. For example:

  • “I like writing when I have summering to say. I also just like playing around with apps and gadgets. Creating a new blog on a new platform is fun, until you realise you have nothing to say.”
  • “I love to write. I never used to write into journals or [diaries] much and always wondered why. When blogs were ‘invented’ I instantly connected with the dialogue, the conversation that can occur. It inspires me to write more, both for myself and for others to read me.”

Please do share these reports in any way that suits you. And please tell me, and each other, what you think.

Text and cartoons by Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0.

How do older bloggers cope with the technical and physical problems of blogging? Very well, thank you!

Cartoon of two older people; one speech bubble says "Being human?", other says "That's WhY I'm blogging!"
Do older bloggers have problems blogging?

The older bloggers in our survey answered two questions about technological and management challenges of blogging, and physical problems that might hinder the ability to blog. Besides answering multichoice questions many participants commented thoughtfully on these two questions. Every comment helps to create a comprehensive picture, and is of value in itself.

Technical issues and finding readers were commonly seen as challenges, and in their comments, older bloggers raised a number of significant technical issues. I have found that whenever one person states a problem, chances are that it’s also a problem for others—and that’s surely true of these survey results.

Q. 13. Blogging can be challenging for some people. Please rate each statement below from 1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree.

In the list of results below, “agree” includes those who strongly agree, “disagree” includes those who strongly disagree.

  1. Technical issues with a blog can be a challenge: agree 47%, disagree 28%
  2. Deciding what to write about can be a challenge: agree 31%, disagree 51%
  3. Attracting readers can be a challenge: 60%, disagree 16%
  4. Choosing categories and tags can be a challenge: agree 26%, disagree 50%
  5. Commenting can be a challenge: agree 18%,  disagree 62%,
  6. Handling images can be a challenge: agree 22%, disagree 56%,
  7. Following correct blogging etiquette can be a challenge: agree 9%, disagree 47%
  8. Blogging does not hold any particular challenges: agree 29%, disagree 43%

The two challenges that stand out in these results are technical issues (which covers a very wide range of problems) and attracting readers.

Participants were asked to mention any other challenges associated with blogging. One group was very specific about technical challenges:

  • Accessibility of blogging platforms. “I am visually impaired, getting progressively worse. I have had to stop reading some blogs because of the interface.” (2)
  • Dealing with trolls or nasty responses (2)
  • “Maintaining confidentiality of third parties.”
  • “I really dislike blogs (and platforms) that make the reader jump through hoops just to leave a comment. I often decide not to leave a comment on those.”
  • “Blogger not sending comments thru to email since GDPR.”
  • “Phone app sometimes crashes.”
  • “I do not often use images for my writing but find it very challenging to upload internet pictures for my posts.”

Another group commented on management issues:

  • Getting help with technical questions. (2)
  • “WP.org and WP.com are confusing to me. I wish there was one place to go that would explain the differences.”
  • “Blogging from a device such as laptop and smart phone can be problematic. WordPress pages format is confusing (do you blog on the front page? Or on a page? Front page is quicker and more intuitive, but it means using the introduction page for website. Using a page for the blog appears to me to make that page too content heavy.”

Two comments refer to time management or life-work balance as challenges of blogging:

  • Lack of time, keeping up with the community  you become part of, finding the time to be regular, or “time and a sense of purpose” (7)
  • “The challenges I see with blogging is the momentum can build and you get into this vortex. For some it is hard to pull back. Another challenge is the social dynamics can creep in – because humans have moods and opinions and sometimes snarky and crabby moods stream in — part of life — but it can drain. So finding balance is a challenge.”

A few wry observations about the blogger’s own technical expertise:

  • “In fairness, I work in technology and I manage our company’s social media and website.”
  • “We may have different meanings for the word challenge.”
  • “I’ve been blogging for nearly 20 years so the other things are no longer challenges.”

And 4 bloggers said that the challenges were part of the enjoyment.

  • “I believe there will always be a challenge but that is good at times..makes me think.”
  • “I found it a steep learning curve when I began my blog but that is part of the enjoyment. I don’t (for the most part) see the challenges as negative.”
  • “I don’t feel there are any daunting challenges. It’s a learning process like most things that are worthwhile.”
  • “It is OK if you do it when you have something to say. Doesn’t take long to learn wordpress especially if you have someone helping that is an IT person.”

Q. 14. Any physical problems that prevent older people from blogging?

Well, sure older bloggers have problems! But I asked the wrong question, because these bloggers don’t let physical problems prevent them from blogging: they carry on blogging regardless. I should have asked whether physical problems impede or limit their blogging: my bad. As one respondent put it, “You mean, beyond being human?” Touche!

q14-physical-older-bloggers-web.jpg

These are some of the physical conditions that older bloggers cope with.

  • impaired vision (8%)
  • impaired hearing (5%)
  • low energy (7%)
  • problems with mobility (6%)
  • chronic pain (7%)

For this question, 48 older bloggers commented to complete the picture. Most of them simply confirmed that none of those problems prevented them from blogging.

On vision problems, for example:

  • “Larger and bolder print choices would be soooo useful.”
  • “I am color blind, which makes it difficult to read some blogs. If there is low contrast between the background color and the font. Also, blogs that use GIFs that are in motion are very difficult to read.”
  • “I’ve always had trouble with eye strain, but it is manageable.”

On problems with hearing:

  • “Disabilities of all kinds are probably all the more reason to get your voice out! I have two active blogs, one about my hearing loss which I don’t post to actively (that’s my secondary blog). Not enough time to do both actively although I could probably schedule myself to adhere to a better use of my time.”

It’s often lack of energy that actually limits the blogging of older people:

  • “The conditions do not prevent me from blogging, but have slowed down the number of posts I write.”
  • “These factors do not prevent me blogging, but do present challenges as to how often I can!”
  • “I do find it frustrating when energy levels prevent me from blogging when I would like to but I’m learning not to set expectations on how often I post.”

Various bloggers wrote about their lack of mobility or illness, especially the fact that they were obliged to spend too much time sitting, for example:

  • “Major hand/arm disabilities that cause me grief, but I know where the back space key is 🙂 If I’m out of sorts, then I may only make a short post like ‘am out of action’.”
  • “Currently I am recovering from knee replacement surgery. Obviously this hampers me, but, since I write about my day, whatever it is like, it is not insurmountable.”

  • “I sit more than I should since I work at a desk and now with blogging I’m sitting while at home more.”
  • “If I’m not feeling well I might skip blogging.”

Many respondents said their health issues were manageable. And yet again there are comments about the benefits of blogging — it’s not uncommon for older bloggers to see health problems as an opportunity or a indeed a reason to blog:

  • “If anything, blogging is a past-time that can bring creativity into your life while dealing with these conditions.”
  • “Having some health issues has seen me less physically active and has led me to blogging.”

Summary: coping, adapting, and longing for better accessibility

Respondents to the Older Bloggers Survey are in the main, older people who blog—not those who have given up blogging. They meet technical obstacles while blogging and on the whole they wish for more followers—and which is not necessarily because of their age. A minority checked questions about physical conditions that prevented them from blogging, but even so, showed that they could work around the problems.

Help please: older bloggers need accessibility now!

Cartoon of a crowd of older bloggers calling for accessibility, clarity, privacy, and help
Some older bloggers say they want accessibility, clarity, help.

WordPress is built with compliance to the fore and recommends various themes as accessible. However, legibility and visibility are frequently mentioned to me, and not just in this survey. I long to be able to recommend a WordPress theme for use in retirement homes and by isolated older people, a theme that is:

  1. fully accessible in every way for people with any sort of disability
  2. extremely simple and easy to use
  3. very limited in the choices that the blogger must make, to prevent confusion
  4. safe to recommend to isolated older people and their caregivers
  5. of course, clean and modern and mobile friendly.

If you know such a theme or are building one, please contact me. And please share this article if that will help.


Cartoon and text Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0

Historic data about bloggers: their age and choice of blogging platforms

Time Magazine cover: person of the year 2006 is "You. You control the Information Age."
Time Magazine cover: person of the year 2006 is “You. Yes, you. You control the Information Age.”

I’m continuously searching for data about older bloggers, and yesterday I discovered a 2006 study from the Pew Internet & American Life project titled Bloggers: A portrait of the internet’s new storytellers. Now, 2006 is 12 years ago. To an older person, that’s like yesterday, but in internet terms it’s a lifetime. Their findings are fascinating. (By the way, the Pew sample was 233 people, roughly comparable with our 220. and biased in some ways, as was ours.) Let me share a few surprises from this report.

1. Personal blogs were by far the most common in 2006

The Pew Internet Project blogger survey finds that the American blogosphere is dominated by those who use their blogs as personal journals. Most bloggers do not think of what they do as journalism. (Pew/Internet 2006)

So in 2006, the personal blog ruled. The topics analysed were as follows — and hey, no mention of travel or makeup or ageing:

  1. “my life and experiences” (37%)
  2. politics and government (11%)
  3. entertainment-related topics (7%)
  4. sports (6%)
  5. general news and current events (5%)
  6. business (5%)
  7. technology (4%)
  8. religion, spirituality or faith (2%)
  9. a specific hobby or a health problem or illness (each 1%).
  10. other topics: opinions, volunteering, education, photography, causes and passions, and organizations.

(Pew/Internet 2006)

Wouldn’t it be fascinating to know the distribution of blog topics in 2018? I can’t imagine how one would get this information, given that there are millions of blog posts every day, and a blog is not necessarily attached to any one platform such as wordpress.com or Facebook.

2. The blogging population in 2005–06 was young

The following demographic data comes from two surveys of internet users conducted in November-December 2005 and February-April 2006, and the sample (n=7,012) was much larger.

The most distinguishing characteristic of bloggers is their youth. More than half (54%) of bloggers are under the age of 30. (Pew/Internet 2006)

According to Sysomos, by 2010 the average age of bloggers may have been even younger; they found that 73.5% were under the age of 35. Does that mean that older bloggers are a small minority even now? If you can find any later statistics, please tell!

3. In 2006, 55% bloggers used a pseudonym

In our Older Bloggers Survey, roughly 12% included their full name or first name in the blog title. I’m not sure how many include their full name as part of the information they provide on their About Me page. So I can’t state how many of the older bloggers in our sample use a pseudonym without further research. I wonder what the facts are?

55% of bloggers blog under a pseudonym, and 46% blog under their own name. (Pew/Internet 2006)

4. In 2006, most bloggers spent less time blogging than they do today

This result from the Pew Internet study is confirmed by subsequent research into the general population of bloggers. As for the older bloggers in our 2018 sample,  only 28% spend 2 hours or less per week writing and publishing their blogs, 32% spend 3–4 hours per week — but exactly the same percentage (10%) spend ten hours or more on their blog.

59% of bloggers spend just one or two hours per week tending their blog. One in ten bloggers spend ten or more hours per week on their blog. (Pew/Internet 2006)

5. In 2006, bloggers cited very different blogging platforms

Pew/Internet asked bloggers what tools they used to build and display their blogs. Gaze on this snapshot of times past and wonder! Blogger: Blogspot are a bit like wordpress:org: wordpress.com (or vice versa—set me straight, somebody!). I guess “something else” included wordpress. So Squarespace existed in 2006? These platforms are still in use except for Microsoft FrontPage.

  1. LiveJournal (13%)
  2. MySpace (9%)
  3. Blogger (6%)
  4. Xanga (2%)
  5. FrontPage (2%)
  6. Typepad (2%)
  7. Blogspot (2%)
  8. Moveable Type (1%)
  9. Squarespace (1%)
  10. Something else (17%)
  11. Built own blogging software (2%)

Thanks to Pew/Internet for these insights into the world of early bloggers.

Image (c) Time Magazine copied under Fair Use provisions.

Older bloggers: choice of devices and channels

Mature person frowns while reading on a phone
Only a minority of older bloggers like to read blogs on a phone, let alone write them

What devices do older bloggers use for reading and writing blogs?

Laptop and desk computers are favourites for both consumption and production, but smaller devices also have their devotees.

Q. 10. Where do you usually read blogs?  Choose one answer, even if you sometimes use a different device. 

  • on a mobile phone: 12%
  • on an iPad or other tablet: 17%
  • on a laptop or desk computer: 72%
  • print blogs on paper: 0%

Of the 20 people who commented on this question, 13 indicated that they used more than one device to read blogs. Examples:

  • It’s close to 50/50 between a laptop and my phone. Some days, it’s almost exclusively my phone.
  • All the first three, don’t print.

Bloggers said they selected which device to use for reasons of comfort, convenience, and accessibility, for example:

  • I like to be comfortable, as I would when reading a book or newspaper.
  • I read some on my desk top computer. Depends on how accessible the blog is. It may be easier to read on an iPad.

While about 29% of older bloggers were happy to read blog posts on a small device like a smart phone or tablet, only 8% used small devices for writing and publishing. The vast majority produce their blog posts on a laptop or desktop computer.

Q. 11. Where do you usually write and publish your blog posts? Choose one answer, even if you sometimes use a different device. 

  • on a mobile phone: 3%
  • on an iPad or similar tablet: 5%
  • on a laptop or desk computer: 92%

Comments on this question make two things clear. Our sample of bloggers choose their devices for well-defined reasons, and they are willing to experiment.

  • “Even if I type a post on mobile, I rarely publish on mobile. I like the laptop function better.”
  • “I love my MacBook Air for its good-size screen and keyboard, and elegance and ease of use”
  • “Mostly because I have problems with my hands, typing on small places…actually I have a lot of problems with my hands, although I do know touch typing from early 1960s typing school”
  • “iPad is too small and slow”
  • “Easier to do on a bigger screen”
  • “It’s easier, I think, on a laptop. But I’m going to use an iPad when I travel overseas in August.”
  • “I am beginning to trial writing and publishing using a smart phone.”

Reflecting on these two questions purely from personal experience, I think these results make good sense. In fact I may be a typical older blogger in this respect. I personally find my iPhone fine for reading and commenting but impossible for posting (big thumbs, small keyboard, small type, small screen); I find the iPad Pro nice for reading, a little dangerous for commenting and impossible for posting; and my laptop is absolutely fine for any WordPress activity including publishing. No surprises.

What channels do older bloggers prefer for their blogging?

WordPress dominates as the preferred channel for our respondents, but here too, older bloggers are exploring, changing, and experimenting.

Q. 12. Which social media platform do you use for blogging? Choose one answer.

  • WordPress: 87%
  • Another blogging platform, e.g. Blogger, Typepad, Medium: 10%
  • Facebook: 3%
  • Instagram: 0%

I presume the dominance of WordPress in the answers to this question partly reflects the dominance of WordPress on the internet in general, and partly the fact that  many respondents learned about the survey right here on Write Into Life, a WordPress site. I assumed the results would favour WordPress blogs, and so I asked just one over-generalised question on this topic, which has left me hungry for more information.

Comments help to fill out the picture. Some older bloggers use multiple social networking platforms or have changed platforms. (Later questions in the survey make such behaviour appear to be fairly common.)

  • “My first blog was with blogger called Nutty Notes. I switched to WP for my second and subsequent blogs and love the platform.”
  • “Has worked okay for me, but have considered moving to another — definitely not FB or Instagram.”
  • “Am also now exploring Medium”
  • “I now use Micro.blog”
  • “I also post on Facebook and Linked In”
  • “I use Blogger but then IFTTT posts it to WordPress for me and then it goes to Facebook, both my private page and my business page.”

I would like to know much more about the social media activities of our group. This was a difficult question to frame and a difficult one to answer, for at least six technical or lexical reasons:

  1. Blogging takes place not only on dedicated platforms like WordPress.com, Blogger and Medium, but also on Facebook, Instagram, Tumbler, LinkedIn, Reddit, and many others. Not many Facebook posts, for example, are blogs, but it happens, and 3% of our respondents use Facebook for their blogs.
  2. Blogs are often contrasted with social media. Yet for millions of people, their blog is primarily that, a social medium.
  3. The border between blogging and microblogging can be fuzzy, as people write extremely short blog posts (a photograph, a 3-word quote) and extremely long ones on Facebook.
  4. Other blogs (many thousands of them) are for in-house consumption, as part of what was once called an intranet.
  5. A blog can be defined by its technology, which enables anyone without technical skills to create a website and interact with others online. So what’s technically a blog is in some cases a filing cabinet or database, and it may not be on view to the general public.
  6. The WordPress content management system is widely used to make blog-free websites, or websites which happen to include a blog: an organisation’s blog may seem completely different from the personal sites of older bloggers.

So you see why I may have asked the wrong question. Regardless, we got some interesting results that could be explored further

My personal conclusions: older people feel comfortable with a blog  

  • Older bloggers tend to feel comfortable on WordPress or Blogger
  • Older bloggers have their reasons for choosing a blogging format instead of, or as well as, other social networking channels.

I think about this quite a lot. I am about to commit a coarse generalisation based not only on the data in the survey, but also on numerous comments from you, gentle readers, on this blog, and also in real life. In real life I talk a fair bit about the Older Bloggers Survey and consequently I get many unsolicited comments. I know that if I’ve got this completely wrong, you will tell me: please do!

I think plenty of older people feel a bit like I do. To me, blogging on WordPress feels like a comparatively calm, stable, steady, controllable environment. You have room to write long posts like this and freedom to write tiny ones. Blogging takes place in a community that is, on the whole, kind and encouraging. Although a baffling number of bloggers apologise for missing a regular posting date, it really doesn’t bother most readers how often or regularly you post or visit their blogs. You can keep track of other bloggers without religiously reading every word they write. You can write a blog for your own sweet reasons and never read a single one, you can commit wholeheartedly to the community aspects or remain aloof, you can use your blog like a megaphone or a hermit’s cave—in the blogosphere, there’s room for everyone.

What older bloggers say they don’t like about other social media channels

Many people have told me they find Facebook frenetic and manipulative, and they hate being bombarded by ads and political propaganda and news. Twitter and Pinterest and Instagram may seem fly-by-night and hectic to an older blogger. LinkedIn doesn’t seem to arouse negative feelings, but it’s a network for professional and career purposes; retired people may remain there out of inertia, I suspect.

When older bloggers consider any of the numerous other social media networks and potential blog platforms, they’ll either feel comfortable or not, for a similar range of reasons.  Intuitively we’re probably sensing whether or not it’s a safe place for us. Exploring social media is an adventure, but if a place feels unsafe or otherwise threatening, we won’t stay long. (Nobody has told me this: it’s just what I think.)

Speaking for myself, I use Facebook casually as a writer and to check up on certain family members. I’m still on LinkedIn but I wonder why (since I have sold my company, ceased contract work, and have no desire for a new job). I use Twitter randomly except in earthquakes. I can see the charm of Instagram but may never dig deep. Blogging suits me best, because I’m old.

Text and drawing Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2018

It’s not mandatory to join the blogging conversation

Blogger wearing a t-shirt with logo "I blog", speech bubble says "no comment"

That’s right: it’s OK to blog without reading or commenting on other people’s blogs! There’s no law against it. It’s fine.

My last post was about the frequency and time spent by older bloggers on writing a blog vs. reading and commenting on blogs. As you saw, respondents had very different habits, and some never read other blogs or commented on them.

I hope this post will help if you struggle to read all the blogs you follow, if you feel anxious or overwhelmed or even guilty for not reading and sharing enough. You’re not alone: many people in our survey indicated that they feel this way.

I’m here to tell you that you can stop right now—stop feeling worried, I mean, not stop blogging. Do it your way.

If you are (like me) pretty committed to reading what others write in their blogs and comments —and it’s obvious that I find your comments fascinating—then it can be hard to understand why anybody would say firmly, “I don’t read blogs” or “I don’t comment.” After all, you understand the blessings of a dynamic online community, and the delight of discovering a kindred spirit or a “friend” out there in the blogosphere. For you, at least half the point of blogging is the social side. You feel puzzled and maybe even a bit indignant at the idea of just doing your own thing online.

Yet not commenting is extremely common. That is pure speculation on my part, but I state it boldly based on information from ManageWP.com:

Here’s an incredible fact: together, you published more than 660 million posts on WordPress.com in 2015, and made more than 655 million comments.

Surprise surprise: the ratio of posts to comments was virtually 50:50 in 2015, and I doubt this has changed very much. Now, it’s unusual for a blog post to have only one comment—it’s far more likely to have zero comments or several, don’t you think? This implies that the vast majority of blog posts have no comments at all; which in turn implies that the majority of bloggers don’t comment. I deduce that:

  • many people blog but don’t read other blogs
  • many people read but don’t blog
  • most bloggers don’t comment

Since I began researching this topic of older bloggers, I have become less and less and less judgemental. Sure, we have common guidelines such as don’t be mean, don’t tell lies, don’t promote your own blog on somebody else’s, and so forth. But apart from these basics, everyone finds their own niche, their own style, their own goals—and yours are rarely mine.

But why would any blogger deliberately avoid reading and commenting on blogs?

There are many reasons for deliberately deciding not to read or comment on other blogs. It’s not caused by a character flaw.  Let me gently suggest nine reasons, all of which are true of certain people I follow. They’re related to time available, other pressures, and the purpose of the blog. You can doubtless think of many others.

  1. A blog may consist of highly academic long articles by someone who has a full-time job and blogs in his own time.
  2. A blogger may be very ill or recovering from a serious illness.
  3. A blogger may have a disability that makes blogging extremely demanding.
  4. A blogger may spend 40 hours per week researching high quality information, gathered not from other blogs but from primary sources such as reputable medical or legal government reports. She is performing a public service already, without chatting online.
  5. A blogger may have thousands of followers and get hundreds of comments each week; if she began to answer those comments, the high quality of her blog would drop—and high quality content is exactly why she has thousands of followers.
  6. A blogger may be so chronically introverted that just to publish anything is a triumph; to engage with readers would be just too painful.
  7. A blogger may use her blog exclusively for creative self-expression: readers are genuinely irrelevant to the writer.
  8. Some bloggers have lives apart from blogging, so they tell me!
  9. Although you and I may relish online social interaction, no personal blogger needs to justify a choice like this.

Many thanks to the readers who raised this topic—you got me thinking!

WordPress posts and comments are in the millions: article by ManageWP

Older bloggers: patterns of engagement with the blogging process

 

Cat lying beside a diary with a daily note to Blog!
Ursula is exhausted by her daily blogging habit

We asked 123 older bloggers a series of questions about their blogging habits—not just their writing habits, but also their patterns of reading and commenting. Our results, in my opinion, confirm a finding by Pew Research Center last year: that older adults who do use social media tend to view the internet in a positive light, and to be highly active and engaged.

Habits of reading and commenting on other blogs

Regardless of age, most bloggers are pretty keen to get readers and followers and comments on their own blogs, and this applies to both marketing and personal blogs. So we wondered how committed to online social interaction our older bloggers were. I was keen to find out how much time our respondents spent reading and commenting on other people’s blogs.

Question 6: Approximately how many blogs posts do you read in a typical week?

This was only mildly informative, because some blog posts are just a photo or a short quote, while others are long reads. For the record, here are the results (percentages are rounded):

Read fewer than 25 posts per week: 42%
Read 25–50 blog posts per week: 34%
Read 51–75 blog posts per week: 9%
Read 76–100 blog posts per week: 3%
Read 101–150 blog posts per week: 4%
Read more than 150 blog posts per week: 7%

In comments, the situation became clearer.

Ten respondents made it very clear that they were there to blog, not to read other people’s blogs. Some explained why they didn’t read more. Examples: 

  • “I don’t read blogs. I write a blog.”
  • “Very seldom come across a blog that I care to read regularly.”
  • “I unsubscribe from any blog that posts regularly more than once a week.”

14 comments showed a commitment to reading and commenting on other people’s blogs. Examples:

  • “I try to read all those I follow — not always successfully.”
  • “I read 25-30 a week, mainly to keep up with the bloggers who read and comment on my blog.”
  • “I respond to all who comment on my posts as well as some special interest ones.”

The largest group of comments consisted of 16 people who either said their reading varied week to week, or cited lack of time and other commitments. Examples:

  • “It varies week to week. Some days I read 20 in a day, other times nothing.”
  • “It really depends on the time available.”

This leads us to another group of 5 bloggers who struggle with the perceived need to read and comment on other blogs. Examples:

  • “I don’t know how to navigate this medium”
  • “It’s so hard to keep up with all of them!”
  • “It can be overwhelming since I also try to comment regularly. But, it’s hard to decide who to unfollow… and I keep adding more.”

Question 7: Approximately how long do you spend reading and commenting on blog posts?

30% of older bloggers spend 0–2 hours weekly reading and commenting on posts, and 10% spend more than 12 hours

What is startling about this graph, to me, is not that 30% of older bloggers spend 2 hours or less per week reading and commenting on blogs, but the fact that 11% estimated that they spent more than 12 hours per week on this activity. That’s a serious time commitment to the social aspect of blogging!

This question was a difficult one to answer, as comments made clear:

  • “Again, sometimes I don’t do it, other times I can spend up to 5 hours or so.”
  • “It’s hard to differentiate between reading comments on my blog and commenting on others, It’s all in the same mix, especially when using the app on a mobile device.”
  • “I try to keep a balance between spending too much time reading other people’s blogs and doing my own writing. I love supporting bloggers so I make an effort to read as many as I can.”
  • “Friends will comment on how much time it must take to write a blog. I always say it’s not the writing, it’s the reading of other blogs!”

Commitment to writing and publishing their own blog posts

To be published online is, by definition, the purpose of any blog, rather than social interaction, and here we can make some comparisons with marketing blogs.

Question 8. How often do you blog?

I was very surprised to see how many of our respondents published as often as once a week or even daily. The following graph shows the answers from our survey of older bloggers:

Graph shows how often older bloggers post. Less than once a month:

Compare the above with the results from Orbit Media’s 4th Annual Blogger Survey below. According to this 2017 survey of 1377 bloggers, our older bloggers are more than four times more likely to publish a blog post daily than the Orbit Media bloggers. I’m assuming that the blogs in Orbit Media’s survey are mostly marketing or professional blogs, and that the bloggers are on average considerably younger than our “older bloggers.”

Graph from Orbit Media showing how frequently bloggers publish

Bear in mind that our survey is not directly comparable with any other, especially as we don’t have a figure for “2–6 posts per week” as Orbit Media does. Even so, our figures indicate a heavy commitment from a substantial percentage of older, non-commercial bloggers.

Q.9 Approximately how long do you spend each week preparing and publishing your own blog posts? (Choose the best answer.)

time-prepare-publish-blog.jpg

The figures (rounded) are as follows:

0–2 hours per week: 28% (33 responses)
3–4 hours per week: 32% (38 responses)
5–6 hours per week: 13% (15 responses)
7–8 hours per week: 11% (13 responses)
9–10 hours per week: 6% (7 responses)
more than 10 hours per week: 10% (12 responses)

It seems that most older bloggers in this survey do not stint on the time they spend creating and publishing a blog post. Let’s compare their answers with some data in Orbit Media’s survey of 2017, below.

How-long-does-it-take-to-write-a-typical-post-.jpg

Orbit Media’s 2017 survey focused on the average time that bloggers spend writing their blogs, and they found that the average blog post takes 3 hours and 20 minutes to write. Again, that’s presumably for marketing or professional bloggers.

I suspect that patterns that appear in our Older Bloggers survey are fairly similar to those from Orbit Media. In itself, would that be surprising? After all, we are the same individuals that we were when we were at work five or twenty years ago, and maybe we just carry on with similar habits of work.

It’s late and I’m not good at arithmetic, but I have a hunch that the average blog post by our older bloggers took a little longer than 3 hours 20 minutes. Let’s not go nano over this, because our sample is comparatively small. But my personal guess is that older bloggers take a little longer on average than younger people to create and publish a blog post.

Maybe that’s because we are more dedicated. Or maybe it’s just because everything takes us a little bit longer…

I’ll be back with another instalment of the report this Friday. (The pressure! The pressure!)

Please share freely, with a link and my name, Rachel McAlpine. CC BY 2.0

 

Who answered our Older Bloggers Survey?

Cartoon of old man saying "I'm not older!" and a young girl on a mountain saying, "I'm older!"
Cartoon of old man saying "I'm not older!" and a young girl on a mountain saying, "I'm older!"
Who identifies as an “older blogger”? Choose your own definition of older.

First, how many people completed our Older Bloggers Survey in May-June 2018? Altogether 123 people responded. Some skipped a few questions, but most questions were answered by 110–120 people. Moreover, most questions evoked numerous comments, which illuminate the results.

Who were these older bloggers? We imposed no age restriction, so people made their own decisions about whether they qualified as “older”. To our surprise, 7% of respondents were under 45. I thought their decision to take the survey was perfectly understandable: at 30, it’s natural to feel much older than 20, and at 40 much older still.

Even with this interesting minority involved, we did reach our intended population. It’s difficult to find accurate information about the age of bloggers in general, but there’s no doubt that our respondents are significantly older than the average blogger, as a group. (Percentages are rounded.)

  • 40% were aged 55–64
  • 34% were 65–74
  • 11% were 75 or older.

Where do respondents live?

The survey shows that 47% live in USA, 24% in the United Kingdom, 11% in New Zealand, 7% in Australia, 5% in Canada, and smaller numbers in India, Italy, Malaysia, S. Africa, Thailand and Poland. I see nothing surprising about this information, which reflects these two facts: the survey is in English, and the survey’s designers live and blog in New Zealand.

When did the older bloggers start blogging?

Older people are stereotyped as technophobes and low users of the internet, and indeed there is evidence for this. But, as we see here, that’s not the full story.

Of the respondents to the Older Bloggers Survey, 40% began blogging between 55–64, and 21% began after the age of 65. One started at age 83—and one as a teenager. One was a very early adopter: “I started blogging a little before Facebook and laptops and smart phones.”

At what age did you start blogging? 40% of older bloggers were 55–64.
Graph showing at what age our older bloggers started to blog

Of the 46 comments on this question, most show that age was not the trigger but some life event. The “when” of starting to blog is entangled with the “why”:

  • 9 bloggers said they began when they retired
  • 6 started blogging for work, to promote a business or a book, to create an online professional profile or to help with a job hunt
  • 2 began after having their first child
  • several began when they gained a new interest, for example in wine, travel, sustainable living, a 900km hike, or the new technology.

The events that trigger a blogging debut may be complex and idiosyncratic. Here are two comments that demonstrate this rather gloriously.

  • “Started months after husband’s sudden death by accidentally publishing and not knowing how to remove from Internet so continued to save face.”
  • “I started blogging in order to publicise my books, as a vehicle for my creativity and to vent my spleen.”

What are their blogs about?

Our survey asked, What is the title of your main blog? and we got 122 replies. From their titles, I expected to learn something about the topic or theme of each blog. But it wasn’t so simple.

  • At least 43 blog titles give no clear hint about the topic or theme.
  • At least 20 have titles that suggest ageing or retirement is an important topic of the blogs, e.g. Middle-aged Warrior, My Retirement Journey, Waking up on the wrong side of 50, Time Goes ByWhat it’s really like to get old, and Savoring Sixty and Beyond.
  • At least 19 titles state or hint at the writer’s name, e.g. BeetleyPete, Candidkay, and Wendy Goes Outside.
  • At least 14 suggest that writing or blogging is the main topic, e.g. The Word, How to Start a Blog, and Jotting Ink
  • About 8 titles specify the exact topic of their blog, as in WineTalkGroup,
  • At least 6 titles denote a professional or technical blog, for example  Mobile Mum Tech Rescue, Low Visionary, and various authors’ blogs.

Please take this categorisation of blog titles with a grain of salt. You notice that each number is qualified by “at least” or “about”. That’s because older bloggers seem to have fun naming their blogs, so that many blog titles are ambiguous, inventive, comical, multipurpose, punning, mysterious, or all of the above. How to categorise susieshy45, for example, or Myricopia, or Tootlepedal’s Blog? (Fortunately for the reader, a blog’s tag-line usually clarifies the theme or main topic.)

Judging by their titles, we can safely say that the majority of these blogs are personal rather than professional. As you’ll see in the next article, this does not seem to detract from the time and energy and commitment invested by older bloggers.


PS As you see, the number of reports on this survey has already increased. Next report on Monday is about the habits of older bloggers: how often they blog, how much time they spend, and so forth.

Please share, with a link to this page. CC BY 2.0 Rachel McAlpine