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Cliquey Blogging – Breaking Down Exclusivity in Blogging

Posted By Darren Rowse 12th of September 2006 Miscellaneous Blog Tips 0 Comments

Gomez-1Do you know what it feels like to be the only one in a crowd that doesn’t fit in? Perhaps some of your blog’s readers feel this way too….

Tangent Time – Seeing Gomez

Earlier this month I went to see Gomez perform at the Hi-Fi bar in Melbourne. I wasn’t planning on heading into it, but at the last minute a mate rang and asked me if I wanted a free ticket.

I said yes straight away – for starters I know a few Gomez songs and like them and secondly… it was a free ticket to a sold out show and I’m always up for a freebie!

As I say, I know a few Gomez songs, but would never have called myself a big fan.

This hit home to me a couple of songs into their set when I looked around at the audience of 1000 and saw virtually every other person in the room with their hands in the air, singing screaming along with every word.

These were fanatical fans – they loved Gomez. Not only did they know every word, they knew what song was being played the instant a chord was played, they got all the in jokes that the band said and they were all decked out in Gomez gear.

I loved the show – but as it went on I increasingly felt like something of an impostor – I didn’t fit in and I knew it.

As I drove home from the show in the early hours of he morning (smelling like smoke and with ringing ears) I reflected a little on how I felt as ‘the odd one out’ at the show. It struck me that it’s not an uncommon feeling.

The Odd One Out


“One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?”

Almost any place that people gather together around a common interest or activity something happens between them that forms them into some type of community.

The community might be a temporary or transient one (like a concert where fans from around a city gather) or it might be a permanent one (like a club or church where the same people come every week) but as the community forms a number of things happen including the development of a common language, the emergence of symbols with meaning and a shared memory of experiences that also have meaning to those in the community.

These things are wonderful to be a part of – but to those on the outer they highlight the fact that they don’t belong (I’m sure those with a clue or two about sociology could explain it a lot better than I can).

Exclusive Blogging


Blogs can be one such place where community forms and these things happen.

I’ve written numerous times about building community and interactivity on a blog – but it struck me last night that for every blog reader that feels a part of a blog’s community that there must be a reader (or more…. or less) that feels on the outer for one reason or another.

Another way of putting it might be to say that Blogs can be great at bringing people together to form community and belonging – but that they can also be quite cliquey.

On one level I don’t have a problem with this – I think it’s valid for people to gather together with other people like them to speak in their language, to share similar experiences, passions and interests however on the other hand I’m interested in building communities with fuzzy and open edges that are accessible to newcomers also.

Over the past four years I’ve been a part of a variety of niches of blogging (Christian blogs, blogs about blogging, tech blogs etc) and they’ve all struggled with the exclusivity thing. I see it largely happening in two main ways:

1. Within a Niche – I suspect that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for new bloggers to carve out a space for themselves in their niche. Four years ago when I started blogging (and I was a latecomer to the scene) it was a lot easier to start a blog and become accepted by other bloggers on the same topic. These days things have become more competitive and the market has become more crowded (and as it has it’s become more difficult to keep track of everyone). There’s regular talk of the exclusivity of the ‘A-list’ of bloggers – but I suspect that it happens not only at the highest levels but also within different niches.

2. Within Blogs – Once a blog’s been running for a period of time there is potential for it to slowly become a little cliquey also. You gradually see the same names popping up comments each day and a little community emerging. This is not a bad thing – but for an outsider it can feel exclusive and difficult to break into.

I’m not sure I’ve got the answer on how to make a blog (or a niche) more open and welcoming but in tomorrow’s post I’d like to suggest a number of strategies that might work – particularly on an individual blog level.

In the mean time – I’d like to hear people’s experiences of blogs and blogging – especially newcomers to the medium. Have you felt excluded from a niche or individual blogs?

I’m not wanting to start a ‘bitchy’ thread about it – but am interested to hear if people have felt on the outer or not.

I’m also interested to hear from more established bloggers on how they work against exclusivity in their blog and blog’s niche.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. I’ve noticed this too – when I first started my blog, I got an influx of new commentators, and then things kind of flatlined in terms of new visitors participating in discussion. There is a certain ‘fear factor’ in interrupting conversation between people who’ve grown such steady relationships.

    I think the best way to combat this is to welcome first-time newbie commentators and not to favour regulars, and also, to include open-ended questions in posts that even outsiders can answer, which therefore allow them to contribute to the post’s comments without feeling embarrassed that they’re ‘speaking up’ for no good reason.

  2. You hit a strong vein there, Darren. Community can be a two-edged sword.

    It’s great when you can say your blog is a community – and all that goes with it (inside jokes etc) but for outsiders it can feel a little daunting, and in fact I believe puts some off getting involved for fear of being rejected as an “outsider”.

    I know this from experience. I’ve been involved in a few blogs (not mine) where a strong community has evolved. It’s all great fun for those who get in early and develop a rapport but I’ve stepped back lately and looked at it from an outsiders point of view – and I see how hard it is to get involved.

    I don’t really know the answers for established bloggers against this type of exclusivity – it’s tough, because you want that community to develop but not at the expense of shutting out others.

    Maybe a regular post that introduces the blog, it’s community and its ways to new readers. Maybe a special page on the history of the blog that explains, encourages/invites others to get involved – a sort of ice-breaker.

  3. Well, Darren, over at Syntagma we’re gradually transforming our 44 “blogs” into a magazine format that will concentrate much more on the publishing side of things, much as a print mag does, and less on the bloggy, tech, in-crowd side of things.

    We’ve fielded quite a few sniffy remarks – nothing excessive – but there’s a sense that some people feel threatened by this, especially if they’ve incorporated or embedded the word “blog” into a business. But you always have to be pushing the envelope outwards if you are to break free of a too-nichey audience.

    It’s not easy, but it’s worth doing.

  4. I’m very new to blogging, and took it up simply because I have something I want to write about. On the few occasions that I’ve left comments on the blogs of others, I think it all started with my feeling like the blog/ger was accessable and even more, genuine.

  5. Thank you for putting that little Ernie and Bert song in there!!! I used to sing along to Sesame Street eons ago!
    I feel a little left out sometimes on the forums. The “big guys on campus” are all very chummy with each other and I am totally embarassed, as a newcomer, although I do participate.
    I’m just hoping that time and hard work will make me one of the “big guys on campus”…..

  6. Darren, this is something I worried about from the very first day of my blog. And I still think I had valid concerns.

    I started my blog with the encouragement of a lot of online friends who wanted to talk about nutrition/health/weight issues but didn’t want to swamp the online communities we were a part of with Off Topic discussions. So from my first day I had 80-100 visitors (who knows how many ‘unique’.) And it was real chatty and we all knew each other’s name — knew each other very well, in fact….

    And I was very grateful for all the activity (they even contributed a lot of articles that are still popular) but I knew that our very comfort with each other might be ‘off-putting’ to the casual drop-by-visitor. And that I was sort of at the mercy of their interest. That as they drifted away (and they mostly have now) my blog could disappear if I didn’t take steps to meet new people and interest them in Eat4Today.

    And even then I tried to keep the cliqishness out of my posts, even when I couldn’t totally control the tone of the comments.

    Your blog has been a great service to me. Hints like making comments on blogs I visited have kept a (tiny) trickle of new visitors coming to see me and I think I might make it after all.

    Thank you very much.

  7. Within my region, there are directories of blogs, and since we’re a cultural minority, we tend to stick together. That being said, looking at the blogrolls of my peers, I have to say that “they” tend to include the “same bloggers”. The popular ones are in everybody’s blogroll. Am I jealous? Yes and No. I wish I was in every people’s blogroll, but then, I would be like everybody else. Instead, I value people who inclue my blog in their blogroll in their “free will”. This makes it all the more valuable.

    I have a very non-popular view of the world, and in that sense, people tend to snob me. I’m also rather blunt when I voice an opinion, so sometimes I can hurt some sensibilities. But this is what makes me myself. That’s why people read me. Because I cut on the bullsh(t.


  8. Adele says: 09/12/2006 at 2:04 am

    This post pretty accurately (and scarily) describes my feelings after a few days’ research on a new topic of interest. :)

    I’ve emerged from my own, familiar niche to read up on freelancing (grad school can’t last forever), and so far it’s felt like:

    1. the niche consists of five blogs with enormous readership.
    2. they all link to each other, but not outside of this small circle.
    3. I’m the only person who doesn’t know who these illustrious bloggers are.

    And here I was, thinking that starting a new school was scart… Try reading in an unfamiliar niche!

    If I could make just one request as a reader (rather than a blogger), it would be for big blogs to link to a greater variety of sites. It would make getting a grip of a new topic so much easier…

  9. I will admit that I have elected not to comment on another blog when I might have otherwise because of this phenomenon. It seems to hit me the strongest when there’s a lot of personal content in comments left by others. It feels like you’re a stranger breaking into a conversation between close friends. The bad part about it is that it doesn’t have to have anything to do with the blogger him/herself. The post could be formally neutral and the blogger may not have even responded to the personal comments. When commenters start talking to the blogger with familiarity, however, it gives the whole post a different mood.

    Don’t you think, Darren? It’s just like that one time. You know what I’m talking about. ;)

  10. I’m new to blogging, but I’m already finding that it is largely the same people commenting. I appreciate the community that is developing, but I am concerned that new readers will be slower to comment because of it.

    The only strategy I’ve tried so far is to go out of my way to welcome new commenters, and I hope this will communicate to those who haven’t yet commented that it’s safe to do so.

  11. Same feeling here. It’s quite evident that commenter’s have a built up relationship with bloggers and are readily received and responded to on a regular basis. You see the same names daily on both blogs and wonder why?

    I would suggest that if your confident in your blog and your blogging community, why not extend a formal welcome to NEW bloggers, make them feel a part of a growing community proud to accept new friends and learn together. You never know who’s on the other end, could be a tremondous asset to your community.

  12. Clicks are very prominent in all societies. The online world is no different. I have encountered many clicks on lots of online things I have done over the years. They have been on games, forums, blogs, social sites etc.

    I have found that they can be very hostile and mean, just as they can in the real world. There are also nice clicks out there. Unfortunately you are just as likely to encounter a mean click as a nice one. That’s life though.

  13. As blogging evolves, I have a hunch that cliques will become more of the rule than the acception. Don’t get me wrong, cliquey blogs will never take over completely, because the #1 rule for every blogger should be getting as many people as possible to read their blogs regularly, but I’ve always wondered that as more people start listening to bloggers, more bloggers will feel the need to lock down their blogs through a subscription only basis.

    It’s not a stretch for me to see bloggers who are validated/rewarded for the things they say (with massive feedback and commenting) feeling that they could survive by making people pay for the things they say. It’s analogous to broadcast versus cable. After all, we’re talking egos here. Everyone blogs because they feel they have something to say. We’re already attaching value to those blogs through advertisements, not to mention their rise in popularity.

    The day will come when I will be asked to pay for content on a blog, and I will be interested enough and the price will be just right that I will without hesitation.

  14. Brian, that’s a good idea. I’ve had several “Welcome Wagon” Posts and new visitors do seem to like it.

    Out of some sort of fear/shyness, I don’t do it regularly. I tend to do it after I’ve seen links coming in from referrers that I’m not familiar with. Especially if I notice a lot of new visitors without corresponding new commenters (I don’t expect everyone to comment, but for a bunch of new visitors, there should be 1 or 2 new commenters.)

    I really like this topic. It’s interesting to think about ways to make each feel special, maybe especially commenters (who do add a lot of value to a blog) without making lurkers feel like outsiders.

  15. Darren – in lots of ways I think it’s not just about breaking down the barriers within a blog or within blogging.

    Blogland desperately needs to open its borders to the outside world. It’s way too comfortable and clubby (dare I say tribal?) in Blogland and its inhabitants want to keep it that way … just as John is finding out.

  16. I’ve been blogging for a few years and recently added a new blog. However, I’ve always seen very few comments, given that I receive a lot of traffic. I know I have a large list of regular readers, but it always surprises me that people don’t leave comments very often.

  17. What d you think about this – YoTube for Advertising and building a following?


  18. I actually hadn’t thought about this until you mentioned it – and in exploring why that is the case, I’d like to add my own $.02.

    1 :: I think that a sense of “cliqueyness” – or lack thereof – does first reside with the blogger. Darren, you’re a very approachable guy, so right off of the bat your attitude diminishes the risk. Also, your group writing projects consistently work to invite new people into the ‘group’ so to speak – so your actions are congruent with building an open community, not a walled community, or a clique.

    2 :: That being said, there will always be people that feel that they are on the ‘outside’. I guess the question is – who is responsible for the way they feel? I personally think everyone needs to take responsibility for their own emotions. It is up to us to choose to knock on the door and say, “Can I play too?”.

    3 :: On a third note, I do believe there are blogs out there are tend to give off an ‘exclusive’ attitude, and are indeed Cliquey. I guess, if it works for them, great. Small communities are indeed important and have their place in the blogosphere. But when Cliques are combined with power and influence, we can only hope they are responsible with the power they hold. And if not, ultimately it will work against them rather than for them, and we must trust in the laws of karma. ;)

  19. I think comment spam has caused some major problems as well.

    Before nofollow if you went round building up a portfolio of genuine comments on multiple blogs, you got the blog traffic and you got the google juice.

  20. Out of the blogs I read most are people I sort of know so I feel comfortable posting a comment on their site. I either know this person personally or through another blogger I know personall. Problogger is the only site where I think I post comments on where I “don’t know” Darren.

    On my own blog this seems to hold true as well. I usually only get comments from friends and a select few at that even though I’m averaging now about 1000 unique hits/month, that’s not a lot but only having comments from 5-10 different people seems weird. There’s even posts where I ask for comments/criticism advice and I still don’t get responses. The clique may be existant for the blog in that it is more of a personal blog then a learn how to do X blog but getting comments from other readers to know they are out there would be nice.

    The main topics I ask for comments on is most of my photography posts where I’m asking for comments on what I can improve and usually I only receive comments from the subjects of my work saying they like what I’ve done… it’s good to hear but not what I’m looking for.

    I think it depends on how the person wants to be known online. I was actually talking to a friend a couple of months ago and he posted a comment on my site regarding his band and questions people had about them in comments of a related post. He told me that it was the first time he’s ever posted a comment on any blog and he’s been reading them for awhile, I wouldn’t have known he even checks them out if he didn’t comment and I didn’t ask him about it.

  21. I’ve been a part of the in crowd and the new kid on the block. One thing I do when I’m the new kid on the block is lurk for quite a bit. Then, if it’s a “big” blog I follow the links of some of the comments that I liked and comment on those blogs. Then when I appear as a newbie on the big blog at least someone knows my name.

    As a blogger, if I recognize a new name in comments, I go to that person’s blog, comment on a post and thank them for commenting on my blog. I also reply to the blog directly.

    I came up with this way of getting people in the mix and getting in the mix myself from adapting my real world behaviour. If I realize I’m the newbie in an environment, I pick out a few “second tier” insiders and chat them up. If I’m on the inside and I recognize a new face, I go out to meet that person and introduce them to someone else.

    Blogging is just like real life, only in a virtual medium.


  22. A great point to ponder on, that’s why I don’t leave comments on every blog I visit, sometimes I feel like I’m just really passing by and it would be better off not to disturb the commnunity.

  23. Provocative and timely thread.

    I came here looking for ideas about bringing the kind of readers I want to my blog. I don’t advertise at this point, so I am not interested in traffic for traffic’s sake, but I put a lot into my writing, and obviously, would like to have it read. What I have noticed about my very small readership to date is that people tend to become invested and stick around.

    The feedback (if not the numbers) I do get is very affirming of my writing style and subject matter. I feel I have something of quality to offer a certain readership, but I am stimied as to how to get it in front of them. Much of the traffic-building how-tos seem to focus just on raising the numbers. I’m not really looking for a stampede; just more thoughtful readers. Any suggestions?

    p.s. I initiated a good thread on blogher.org recently on what motivates or prevents commenting. The header is “Hello? Is this thing on?”


  24. I call this the playground effect – my blog actually has few commentors, but enough visitors, which I don’t mind.

    It *is* a niche blog, and a fairly narrow one, but what is nice is that my commentors and visitors tend to be all over the map, not just people interested in opera music.

    I am sorry to say that I don’t find this happening on other blogs – I find a lot of shut-out happening, which is really too bad for the people who still feel the need to treat the world like the elementary school playground.

  25. Cliques are human nature, they’re not going away.

    That said, the winery blogging world has been very welcoming since I started El Bloggo Torcido a few months ago. I was a little surprised actually, but the warm reception has encouraged me to be supportive back and I think all benefit. I hope we can sustain this for a long time!

    For my own blog, every commenter gets a response, either in the blog or a private response (as appropriate). I know that when I comment and get no response I’m left wondering whether it was appreciated or not – and I may not comment the next time or I may simply not come back.

    I think blanket responses are OK when you have 25+ comments :) – but it a comment is particularly good, I’d at least try to send a private thank you.

    cheers! – j

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