The Red Queen Effect: How many blog posts are too many?

redqueen250 The Red Queen Effect: How many blog posts are too many?I love the way Roger von Oech challenges me to see things from alternate perspectives. He says:

One of my favorite metaphors was concocted by the American biologist Leigh Van Valen who was inspired by the Red Queen character from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.”

If you remember, the Red Queen is the one who runs hard but never gets anywhere because everything else in the landscape is also running. As she tells Alice, “It takes all the running you can do to keep in place!”

Van Valen used the Red Queen as a metaphor for his evolutionary principle that regardless of how well a species adapts to its current environment, it must keep evolving to keep up with its competitors and enemies who are also evolving. Thus, the “Red Queen” effect: do nothing and fall behind, or run hard to stay where you are.

Roger lists a few examples of how the “Red Queen Effect” is taking place in modern society– you can see it in the business landscape, new technology development and the arms race, for example.

All around us there’s the seemingly constant need to one-up each other, not necessarily to create groundbreaking ideas and advance society, but simply to keep up with the status quo.

I was thinking: Do these intense evolutionary pressures occur in blogging?

Really, take a moment to think about it–do you ever get the feeling in your blogging life that you’re running hard simply to stay in place?

One thing that springs to my mind is the standard for having lots of posts on a blog. The more content the better, it seems.

You may have started out with the personal expectation of posting 3 times a week, then increased the expectation to 5 times a week, then all the sudden it’s the norm for folks to publish multiple times a day every day of the week, and you’re wondering, “Should I be posting more?”.

I have to tip my hat to those bloggers with Herculean stamina who can pump out multiple posts a day, year in and year out, but I’m starting to accept that it’s never going to happen with me. I would go blind from looking at the computer all day considering the amount of time it takes me to write a single post.

Darren Rowse at Problogger did an informal poll of his readers to discover what were the main reasons why readers unsubscribe from RSS feeds. The #1 reason for unsubscribing was too many posts (35%).

Something else interesting– Guy Kawasaki did a poll on his blog in which he asked his readers: “How often would you like me to write new posts?”

The options were 1) Once a week, 2) Once a day 3) Several times a week 4) Whenever the muse strikes

Guess which option got the highest percentage of votes? Yup, whenever the muse strikes at 35%. I bet you that Guy was breathing a huge sigh of relief when those results came in.

Obviously the best number of posts for your blog depends on what type of blog you have.

For example, it’s natural for a multi-author news blog such as 901am to generate 10-15 posts a day. That makes sense for both the writers and the readers–not all the posts are super long posts and the readers appreciate multiple news items with different opinions because it keeps them updated and gives them material for their own blogs.

For someone who is the owner of a single author blog though, it’s easy to feel like the Red Queen–“It takes all the [writing] you can do to keep in place!”

So how can we side-step the “Red Queen Effect” around posting frequency? Consider this:

woot logo The Red Queen Effect: How many blog posts are too many?The online discount closeout store is unique in that they only sell one product a day.

At midnight, Woot puts their deal of the day on the front page of their website. If it’s a popular item, the deal of the day will sell out fast, perhaps within minutes. Once the item is “sold out”, Woot is done for the day. There’s only one product for sale each day. At 11:59pm the product is discontinued. If you miss it, you’re just out of luck.

If you go look at Woot, you’ll see that it’s a hoppin’ site. It has a cult following, and folks will be poised at the ready at 11:59pm waiting to see what the new product of the day will be.

Also, the Woot folks know that, although brand new, their products aren’t cutting edge technology anymore, so instead of trying to hype up what they’re selling, they make fun of the products for our amusement. There’s an aura of excitement, humor and playfulness around the site.

Now, would people be staying up until midnight expectantly waiting to see what item was going up for sale if Woot sold multiple products throughout the day and night? Absolutely not. The limited nature of their site creates excitement and a spotlight on one particular product.

Although Woot and are both online stores, they will never be competitors of each other, and if either were to try they would soon feel like they were imitating the Red Queen with running, running, running, just to stay in place.

Woot will never have Amazon’s volume and revenue, and Amazon will never have Woot’s cult following.

So, when deciding about how much posting is appropriate for your blog, ask yourself–If your blog were an online store, would you like it to be more like Woot or Amazon? Also, do your readers want you to be super-prolific or would they be satisfied with fewer posts?

If you would like your blog to be more like Woot, ask yourself, “With fewer posts, what can I do to build excitement around my blog?”

You have to get creative with this, like the Woot folks did with their site. Even without posting a million times a day, there should be something special that you can bring to the blogging table that will set you apart and get you off of the Red Queen treadmill.

Perhaps you’ll focus more on community building, or do writing contests, or decide to write 3 high quality posts a week instead of 7 mediocre ones.

I’d like your opinion–Do you see a “Red Queen Effect” happening in your blogging life, and if so, what do you do to evade it?

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  1. So interesting and thought provoking. I love seeing you here, Sharon. You know what a fan I am of yours!

  2. Sharon: Definitely a nice treatment of the problem. I just wrote about the exact same thing a few days ago, but in nowhere nearly an entertaining manner as you did. It makes me realize that I am happy writing when the muse strikes (at least for my own blogs).

  3. Hey Maryam–welcome! Yes, the posting pressure can take it’s toll after a while! The admiration is mutual ;-).

    Hi Raj, thanks so much for your kind and generous words. I appreciate it, and you’re one of those bloggers who I don’t know how in the world you can write so much and still have posts that are long and in depth. The Herculean stamina gene is obviously in your DNA!

    Re: writing when the muse strikes. It’s a novel idea isn’t it? I mean, it’s hard for a person who blogs for a living on multiple sites to do that all the time, but definitely on our personal blogs we could adapt that philosophy.

    That’s it–I’m definitely changing to that way of doing things. On my own blog I’m going to write when the muse strikes. I feel a wave of relief washing over me already!:-)

  4. Hi Sharon,

    Great treatment of the “Red Queen” effect — especially as it relates to blogging. I like how you brought “Woot” into the picture!

    Personally, I’ve found that 3 posts a week works pretty well — especially if they are pieces that I’ve spent some time thinking about. Also, if a post is picking up comments, and an internal discussion is taking place, then I’ll leave it longer before adding a new post.

    BTW: thanks for the kind comment over the Creative Think blog.

    Best wishes to you and your readers!

  5. Sharon, you definitely have a compelling, storytelling style of writing. And what’s easy to forget is that it takes time to write like that, to agonize over the wording, the flow, etc. For me, I like to have the opportunity to write both and short and indepth posts in a given day, though not necessarily on the same blog.

  6. Hey Roger–thanks for stopping by! I like your approach of waiting to post again if the current post is still getting lots of discussion. That probably makes it easier to build community also–everyone is on the same discussion at the same time, rather than getting swept away like the Red Queen trying to keep up with the latest posts.

    Thanks Raj–

    Oh yeah, it is just embarrassing how long it takes me to write a post.

    It takes anywhere from 2 -7 or more hours to write up an essay post. And then to find the right image–it’s a full scale production!

    Maybe I’ll try to sprinkle in some shorter pieces so I don’t always feel like I’m writing the great American novel every time :-).

  7. Cool…


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