the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Blogging Thoughts – August


During the BlogHer conference, I participated in a panel about blogging with my friends Schmutzie and Laurie.   The session was supposed to be a conversation, not a lecture, so we kept the pre-planning to a minimum, hoping to let a series of questions lead the discussion about the current state of blogging.   While it wasn’t planned as such, I found myself as the bad cop in opposition to the optimism of of the other two panelists. I even suggested that traditional blogging is on life support.

“Blogging isn’t dead,” said Schmutzie, to much applause. “A whole medium doesn’t die. Media evolve.”

That’s why she is more beloved than I am.


2) ROI

After every big blogging conference, there are countless recap posts written up.   After BlogHer 12, of them was by Jean Parks of The Shopping Queen.  She is a professional blogger, and her discussion on the ROI (return on investment) of going to a big conference struck a nerve with me.

In 2005 the first BlogHer conference event in San Jose, California opened & had 300 attendees, flash forward to 2012, this year’s event had over 4,000 bloggers in attendance. Phenomenal growth, particularly when you consider that that the vast majority of conference goers are not sponsored & are dipping into the family budget to attend. BlogHer has become like a yearly pilgrimage that many view as a “must do” if they are to achieve recognition in social media. Criticisms of the event & discussions about ROI are met with unease. Women, raised to “be nice” inadvertently silencing other women by encouraging them to “focus on the positive’ or gushing about the emotional “connections” we will all be making, the implication being that a complaining woman only values money or things.

I found this paragraph utterly fascinating, because although I am not a woman, I tend to value emotional connections over money.  When I first read this statement concerning ROI, I found it as utterly crass. Can you quantify an experience by something tangible, like the receiving of a job offer?  It seemed so…. wrong.   But after some thought, I saw the practical wisdom in her view.   How many of us spend our lives on activities and relationships that don’t offer us a “return on our investment?”   What if we lived our entire lives using ROI as a decision-making tool, from dating to business-deals, always asking ourselves “what do I get out of this?”  Would we all be happier and more self-sufficient if we overcame the feeling of this being a “selfish” question and instead, saw it as very smart.

Of course, any wise man knows that fate always gets in the way of our plans. We think we chose the right path when we are suddenly hit by a speeding bus.

I touched on this theme of fate in my recent post, Trucker Bob From Nashville, a true story about my flight from Los Angeles.  Because I was trying to be”nice,” I gave up my seat next to a hot babe so a husband and wife could sit near each other.   I ended up stuck near the restroom, sharing an armrest with a sweaty overly-talkative middle-aged Southern man.  My story had a happy ending because the bad decision  (sitting with the guy) ended up having a positive ROI (we struck up a friendship).

Still, one of my friends criticized that post as being phony and too “Hollywood happy ending.”

“If you were honest with yourself,” he said.  “You would realize that it was a negative story, and that you were a wimp for changing seats. No matter how you fool yourself into thinking this chat with the guy was a positive pay-off, you missed a bigger opportunity with the woman.”

What he means to say is that I traded in a low ROI (a friendly chat) for a potentially bigger ROI  (a date with the woman).

All this ROI talk makes me so uncomfortable that I feel the urge to come back to it in the future.  That’s how I roll.



The other BlogHer post that struck a nerve with me came from Liz at Mom 101.  As always, she is super sharp, and in this post, she smartly advises her readers to spend less time worrying about SEO, and to WRITE more.   If you want to be a writer, act like one.

This paragraph made me ponder my own relationship to blogging, writing, and reading.

“If you are a blogger, don’t just follow the blogs of the people you like. Follow the blogs of the writers you like. Read a lot of great writing. Read Harper Lee and Zora Neal Hurston. Read Kate Inglis and Eden Kennedy. Read Jim Griffoen and read McSweeney’s.”

This is a powerful message. To be a great writer or photographer, you must read great writing and study great photography.

But how does blogging fit into this?

How many of us in the blogging world fit into the canon of the great books and important artistic and philosophical movements of Human Civilization?  Is consuming blogs just one step above reading Snooki’s book?

I always read Kate’s blog, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that I know and like her.  Would I be so eager to read her blog, and follow her personal story, if I didn’t feel that personal connection?

I love blogging.  Some of you seem to be embarrassed about blogging, as if it is not “real” writing.   Let’s put this to rest.   Blogging is real writing.   But it is a different type of writing, because it usually involves socializing in some form.   I care about Kate’s life.  I do not care about the personal life of Stephen King.   I do not send him comments after reading one of his books.  I do not expect to ever dance with him at a writing conference.  I do not DM him with gossip about who said what.

For better or worse, blogging doesn’t feel like traditional reading and writing.  I mostly follow the stories of my friends.  Or strangers who I feel are my friends, even if I hardly know them.    I get a kick out of seeing baby photos on Instagram.  I would not feel the same way if I saw the same quality work in a museum.  The quality of the art is not the main selling point in whether I interact with you online.   If I was purely motivated by great art,  I would read Tolstoy or study Anselm Adams.  To me the ROI of blogging IS the social aspect.   There is always a hidden social element in my blogging.   I’m always hoping you follow me back on Twitter, or come read MY BLOG.   Or acknowledge my existence.   Sorry, but that’s the truth.   Can any of you honestly say that you only read the “best” that is out there?   If anything, we spend time nurturing and supporting the creativity of our friends.   That’s because blogging is social.   It is not just writing.

Blogging will die a painful death if we tout it as just “great writing or photography,” because so few of us are the great writers and photographers of the world.   What makes blogging a thriving place, and what makes it so powerful, is that the core of blogging, even the soul of it… are not the visions of the super-talented, but the voices of the amateur.


  1. Shannon akaMonty

    “I mostly follow the stories of my friends. Or strangers who I feel are my friends, even if I hardly know them.”
    That, to me, is blogging in a nutshell…at least MY kind of blogging.
    I am one of the bloggers who has never felt an ambition to be a writer – I just wanted my voice to be heard and the socialization has always been the best part for me.
    And I still barely even understand “ROI” or “SEO”. 🙂

    • Neil

      And I think your last post perfectly expresses this sentiment too.

  2. Twenty Four At Heart

    You really exist?
    I thought you were just a mystical creature inside my computer ….

    • Neil

      I am just a figment of your imagination. Your dream man.

  3. Neil

    That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy this type of blogging and not enjoy other types of writing too. Or want to be a writer. I’m just saying that I get a buzz from material online that I would NOT get from the same material if the social aspect wasn’t present.

  4. Lisa Rae @ smacksy

    I’m with you Neil. The ROI is the sharing and the friendships: the social.
    That’s my brand of currency.

    • Neil

      Lisa, but maybe that is a sucker’s way of thinking. I respect that woman for thinking about the practical considerations.

      • Lisa Rae @ smacksy

        Totally – that’s her brand of currency. Mine is the people.

  5. Lisa

    So was your friend right? Do you actually feel that you missed the bigger payoff? Were you not sincere when you wrote that you were happy in the end to meet this guy?

    • Neil

      Lisa, it isn’t a question of sincerity. We all have a habit of turning lemons into lemonade, especially if that is the way our minds work. But perhaps it is also a way we hold ourselves back. It did have a positive ending. I learned that this guy was not as bad as I thought, and got a moral lesson. But is that better than picking up this hot babe? Of course, chances are I would have never talked to her, but that is another issue. If I had sat down and weighed the ROI of best case scenario of the situation, I might have done things differently.

      • Megan

        Neil, what you did was kind. To perform a cost/benefit analysis on it seems so cynical to me. Kindness is not about what’s in it for you, it’s about making the world a little bit better even for a few minutes. And don’t forget the Butterfly Effect: Your kindness ends up touching more than just the person you are kind to. That’s a much bigger ROI.

  6. Alyce

    I don’t blog, I just read them. So I have no need to think about ROI or SEO, though I understand those who do.

    But by far the blogs I enjoy are those well-written, well-photographed, personal blogs that allow me the illusion of Internet intimacy. Plus baby pictures and home decorating and messy kitchens and toys strewn about. Those are the blogs I’ve read for years. And will continue to read.

    • Neil

      I am glad that you commented, because I am always interested in readers who don’t blog. I think many of us wouldn’t read as many blogs if we weren’t blogging ourselves. Why read a blog when I can read a published author or a magazine. Perhaps you can offer a perspective that I don’t have myself. What do you get out of reading a blog that you don’t get from other types of media? Do you feel more personal connection, like you are witnessing a soap opera, that you don’t get from reading a column in a newspaper or magazine?

      • Cathy in Missouri

        Non-blogger; reader/commenter, only, also.

        To read what real people are thinking in their own heads, under their own beds, in line at the grocery store, in traffic, on islands, in crowds, alone.

        (even if they made it up)

        To read un-edited (officially), un-marketed, un-varnished, un-managed, un-bidden.

        To read/write comments un-edited, un-marketed, un-varnished, un-managed, un-bidden.

        To escape in a photograph.

        To laugh. To like. To leave. To return.

        To thank.

        You, Neil,


  7. Major Bedhead

    “To me the ROI of blogging IS the social aspect.” and “That’s because blogging is social. It is not just writing.”

    This. This is what I get out of blogging and what I miss about it. I think the comments have mostly moved to Facebook and Twitter, which is OK, but I prefer the back and forth that happens on blogs themselves. I miss that. I mean to make more of an effort to engage people ON their blogs and to respond to comments on my blog.

    People who blog for their business are, of course, going to be looking for a different type of return on the money they spend. They consider BlogHer an investment. I consider it my vacation. And we’re both right. I don’t have any desire to monetize my blog. Other people do. Both of these things are fine, but for ME, any ROI I get is strictly of the hugs/chatting/dancing/drinking-at-the-bar type of currency because that’s what I want out of it.

    • Neil

      I’m going to try to do the same. Like actually responding to comments…. like this.

  8. V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios

    ROI isn’t always about $$$. It’s about understanding the delicate balance between effort, money, energy expended and reward. Rewards may be tangible or intangible, easily measurable or not. But here’s the thing: if you can’t figure out what you’re getting out of a job, relationship, experience, or investment, chances are you are doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. Being perceived as “nice” is not a good motivation, for men or women.

    Conferences cost a lot of money to attend. Transportation, conference costs, hotel rooms, restaurant meals, drinks, cabs. Plus there are the hidden costs of time away from home and office and family. Sure, maybe you have a great time seeing people, but is that worth the price? Could you “connect” for less in a better environment and actually have time to talk? Maybe, maybe not. But the ROI on something like BlogHer is definitely a question worth asking if you’re not going to the conference to try and gain a business advantage.

    • Neil

      I definitely get that, V. Even though the cost of the conference is not that expensive, you end up going out to eat, staying in a hotel, tipping every single person in New York, so it is an expensive “vacation.”

  9. dusty earth mother

    I like your thoughts, Neil.

  10. Mom101

    So many good thoughts Neil, wow. I could think about this all day. You bring up a lot of really interesting points.

    I think ROI as a term irks because it’s a business term. And it does suck to think of life in terms of return on our investment. (“My kid was just signed to the Yankees! Gee, those 20 hours of labor were sure worth it.”) But I also understand that when we pick and choose the experiences and opportunities that take us from our families or work, it makes sense to decide (in whatever terms) whether it was worth the trade-off. Still, I stand by my premise that you get what you give at Blogher, and unless you are there with the strict goal to land X dollars in sponsorship money by weekend’s end, it really is hard to imagine that someone would leave with nothing of value. Even if that value isn’t apparent right away.

    As for your thinking about bloggers and writers, I agree with so much of what you wrote. (And thanks for the mention here.) That’s why I recommended “don’t just read the bloggers you like…” I think it’s important to distinguish between good writing and enjoyable personal stories–if you want to be a writer. There are bloggers I will always read because I love them, but hey, Kate and I don’t know each other very well and yet I never cease to be inspired by the quality of her writing and the fabric of her personal narrative.

    I also never knew Erma Bombeck. I liked following her stories a whole lot too.

    Maybe this is all why I have always been uncomfortable when bloggers say that they “unfollow” people who don’t follow back, or only comment on blogs that comment in return. It goes back to the same point – can you get something out of reading it? Even if it’s not a comment in return? In a way, it’s just as selfish (in the technical sense) to read for inspiration as it is for comments–you gain something. Right?

    But then…you bring up the great point that for those people who are here for community first, then of course, your main goal is probably connection. So I really see how different people can engage for different reasons and with different priorities in mind. Thanks for the reminder.

    I’ll stop now. (Phew!) But not before saying I’m truly sorry I missed your and Elan’s and Laurie’s panel. It’s one of the very few regrets I have about Blogher this year. And boy, you killed it at the VOTY.

    • Sara Foley

      I’m pretty new at this, so I wasn’t even aware that there was a requirement to follow people that follow you! I always check out my followers blogs, but if they’re not my thing I don’t follow them. I want to be fussy about what I read – it has to be authentic and well written. I don’t understand why people write if they haven’t really got anything to write about! Why not wait until you do? Just saying 🙂

  11. Sara Foley

    I saw your blog listed on one of my favourite blog writers spot (Edenland), and because I totally respect her, I came for a visit 🙂
    I am studying media and communication and today I am researching communication theories, in particular mass society theory. It occurs to me that there is a tendency to seperate cultural expressions into ‘high culture’ and ‘low culture’, and that some people put blogging into the latter category. I guess because anyone can do it. Not everyone can do it well, but the can still do it if they want. The social feedback around blogs is a very important part of blogging ROI 🙂 and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. A feeling of community is important however and wherever you find it. I don’t like to evaluate everything I do with an economists eye for a return of value; I evaluate it by if I feel good by doing it. Thanks for this post, I really enjoyed it!

    • Neil

      Sara, I think the social element also makes it seem more low brow. Our vision of art tends to revolve around an individual working in isolation, creating a singular work of art. Unless a blogger closes off his comments, we forget that the comments and the interaction are as important sometimes as the initial post, and because of that we think the artistry is less than something that stands on its own, like a book or painting. We do not like our high art to be constantly in motion. We like it static, in a bookstore or museum.

      • Sara Foley

        yes, I totally agree. Anything that the ‘masses’ can interact with has to be by definition low brow. According to others!

  12. kkryno

    Just so you know; I feel that human connection with you, as well as other bloggers that I’ve yet to meet IRL.
    I lurked around your site because I liked your take on life’s everyday stuff. I was hesitant to ever comment, knowing full well that I could never match your writing skills. Your photos drew me in as well. I do believe that we all can feel and enjoy that association with each other, as well as benefit from that.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and observations with all of us.


    • Neil

      I’ve had those fears of commenting on other blogs myself, so I perfectly understand it. But we both realize it is base on insecurity, right? No one judges comments on writing ability. Hell, everyone loves comments!

  13. Alexandra

    For me, blogging is ever evolving, you see a person grow and change direction, sometimes.

    That is a fascinating study t ome.

    I have been following blogs for over four years, and blogging for 2.5 years.

    Many bloggers I knew years ago have become product bloggers, Some have just disappeared, some have begun a new life/new blogs. Like going into sports/health/recipes/book reviews/movie reviews/celebrity gossip/teaching websites.

    It’s the change that I love to watch. I can’t explain it, other than it fascinates me the choices people make.

    • Neil

      Like life itself, everything is all about change.

  14. Jack

    I take issue with bloggers who only comment on blogs that are written by people who comment on theirs. It is provincial, foolish and detrimental to the growth of your blog and you as a writer.

    I pay attention to ROI because I like to know that when I spend a lot of time doing something I get something in return. It doesn’t have to be financial. It can be educational and or social and still make me feel like there is something of value there.

    My favorite blogs are typically written by people who love blogging, or at least strike me as if they do. They write with passion and personality. It makes them more fun and helps push me to return to read more.

    • Neil

      I absolutely agree with you that you that the “I’m not going to comment on your blog if you don’t comment on my blog” is extremely childish, and only hurts the one acting like a child.

      That said, I only bring it up to distinguish blogging from traditional writing. There is that definite social element. We do tend to approach other bloggers as potential friends. We follow each other on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Friendship and camaraderie do play a big role in blogging, and it is disingenuous to dismiss it. My motivations for reading a blog or interacting with someone on Twitter are different than deciding which novel I should buy next for my Kindle. In many ways, traditional publishing and newspaper reading is becoming more like blogging. More authors are on Twitter, talking to their readers as if they were their “friends,” a necessary illusion in this social media world.

  15. Briar

    Thank you so much for writing this, Neil. It made me think deeply and realize some things. I had fallen off the blogging wagon and the conference, for all its flaws, brought me back. I mostly credit your session.
    I’ve been crankier for the past year. My husband is happier when I blog. And I am happier when I use my time reading the blogs of others. I use it as writing practice, as therapy, and as connection. I will say, though, that my year off of blogging has made me not care as much if I get any comments. I just need to write it and put it out there. Whatever happens is fine.

    • Neil

      Of course, the devil’s advocate argument is that we can always keep a journal or a diary. Why do we need to write about our personal stuff online? Are we just being narcissistic? I don’t know the answer to it. I don’t feel narcissistic. I just know that I wouldn’t keep a journal on my own. I don’t have an interest in writing solely for myself. I don’t write for a big audience per se, but I’d like to think that a few close friends are reading what I am saying, and if others come and enjoy it, why not?

      • Briar

        I did keep a journal as a teenager. I used to have my best friend read it! I have always enjoyed an audience.

        I think there is comfort in being able to find other people online who are like us. I think it is important to share stories and that hearing other people’s stories keeps us human. That is enough reason for personal blogs to exist, I think.

  16. Angella

    Love this, Neil. Not much to add, other than I’m in it for the community and the stories.

    Thanks for the photo walk in NYC. It was one of the highlights of my trip. xo

    • Neil

      next time, let’s not do it in the 95 degree heat.

  17. Kat

    You make some great points! I came home feeling guilty about the amount of money I spent on myself for a personal blogging trip as opposed to treating my family to something special together. At the end of my life, which pictures would I value more? Photos with friends I may or may not still keep in touch with or treasured memories with my family? Or possibly neither…if I’m on my death bed they probably won’t matter at all.

    My problem was that I could not rationalize what I saw as a frivolous trip. In terms of monetary value I did not even attempt to secure any deals with brands that might give me a return on my investment. But can that really be measured? Will my name cross the lips of a blogger who feels comfortable recommending me down the line because we made such a great connection over a glass of wine in the lobby? Perhaps there is not an immediate ROI, but who’s to say down the line how that might change?

    I still feel pretty conflicted about this and will change my approach to blog conferences. Perhaps flying my family down at the end of the conference will ease my guilt about spending money on myself…that’s really what this is all about for me. 🙂

    • Neil

      I know a few women who brought their families with them to the conference. I’d be curious to know if they enjoyed the conference as much, or if they were constantly torn between their friends and family. And man, bringing a large family to NYC must be a helluva expense! Imagine the hotel room cost alone.

      Also, it is so cool what you do for the community with your writing prompts, etc.

  18. Alex@LateEnough

    I think of blogging more like another genre of writing like fiction or nonfiction or poetry. The differences in the process alone — the speed, the lack of an editor, the comments, the idea exchange — create a different feel to the writing that cannot be found in other types/styles just like poetry feels different.
    I do think about ROI but not in terms of money but in terms of time and caring. I love writing and started my blog as a place to practice by writing in public so writing 4-5 times a week on my blog is great ROI even though it takes time away from other things and doesn’t make me as much money as say waitressing (although it has led to opportunities that make me decent money per hour). Leaving comments, Twitter, Facebook etc… face the same critique. I’ve stayed on Twitter because I like talking to my friends (it doesn’t serve my blog much) and it doesn’t have to take much time away from my family and writing. However, I didn’t start Pinterest because I don’t have time for another social media account, I don’t want to be a cultivator of things–I want to be a creator, and I don’t write about crafts or take good photos. I always think of any new or current online thing as how it will affect my time I dedicate to writing on my blog and my time as a IRL person. I think that’s thinking about ROI.
    In the end though, I’m an over-thinker and love thinking so I probably ROI everything to some extent — I am just wired this way and it happens that the blogging world plays to that strength a bit.

  19. Ruth

    Hi Neil, Thanks for this post — it made me laugh out loud twice, and by the end I was full-on smiling. Last weekend was my first BlogHer. Since returning to LA, I’ve spent all my free time checking out the blogs and twitter feeds (tweeds?) of my favorite panelists. What a treat. Although, I hope I don’t seem too stalkerish.

    You bring up so many interesting points. For me, I have to remember that ROI unfolds overtime. We never know what will come of seeds that are planted from the shortest of moments & actions. Re: writing vs. blogging — thank you! My blog is my gym, my lab — not original analogies. I love what Faiqa said at the session about the Olympics and running. Nothing’s going to stop me from getting in my regular writing work outs. The fact that we can share our work with the world? The fact that the gatekeepers are — for the most part — dead? The fact that we can build global communities from the comfort of our pajamas? It’s never been a more exciting time to be a writer.

    I’m really looking forward to reading more of your work.

    • Megan

      Amen, Ruth. Amen.

  20. kimberley bischof

    Amen and well said! I am an amateur writer. I just recently started blogging regularly and I have to admit it kind of hurts my feelings that people are reading but not joining especially the ones that are other well-known bloggers. I should be happy someone is reading and don’t get me wrong I am but commit to me damn it! I shouldn’t take it personally but I do and I think you get that out of this post. We are all humans looking for friendship, recognition and support. Validation. When a blogger I admire doesn’t join my blog I feel “kicked” where it counts, ya know? Silly me! I am just writing for myself (or at least that’s what I tell myself). Thanks for this!

  21. sweetsalty kate

    I’m just over here waving and smiling and contemplating the oddness and excellent rightness of cold tomato soup.

  22. Sandi

    Reading blogs, following people on Twitter or Instagram is creating/extending my social circle. Your words, “I mostly follow the stories of my friends. Or strangers who I feel are my friends, even if I hardly know them.” is exactly why I read/follow. I felt like I knew you long before I actually met you in person, I love that I finally got to meet you!

  23. Birdman

    I really liked this post a lot. I’ve never been to a blogging conference, but I will be going to Blissdom Canada in October. I want to meet other people that have the same passion as I do, and I want to sing karaoke with them. I feel almost alone when it comes to blogging, because none of my friends are into it like I am. No one understands when I get excited about you, Liz, or the countless other bloggers that I admire following me back on Google+. I want to meet Tanis Miller and crack jokes about rig pigs and the way of life in Western Canada from when I lived there. I basically want to meet people and if I meet a sponsor in the lube or obscene t-shirt manufacturing business, maybe they will like my off-colour blog, and sporadic sense of humour. If not… I didn’t have them in the first place. Did I? The way I see it is that for a $200 ticket, $20 worth of gas, and a cheap hotel, I really can’t not go, can I. Just to see what it’s all about is worth that.

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