Since it was asked in our forums I have been pondering on this question and thinking about the blogs I have read since the thought was raised; is it necessary to be an expert in your subject in order to have a successful blog? I have to say I am more sure now of my initial assessment than I was when I made it. Blogging is not necessarily about expertise, in fact you might be at a disadvantage if you think that is the case.
Let me explain my thinking with some examples
What, other than their entertainment value and popularity, do these blogs have in common? Both of those blogs have authors that are experts but the blogs are not popular because of the bloggers expertise!
Scott Adams is an expert in creating and drawing a massively popular syndicated comic but in his blog he writes funny stories about daily life or trouble in the middle east. It is actually quite rare for him to write about his work in any sort of detail.
For every serious post about freedom, copyright and campaigns on BoingBoing there is around ten that are just plain fun. Cory Doctorow is a science fiction author (a good one actually), but you never see a “how to write science fiction” tutorial on there.
OK, I know you are thinking of a bunch of blogs where the author does share his or her expertise. You might include Performancing in this category, I don’t know. Fact is for any given “expert blog” there are many non-expert blogs. I love bloggers that share their expertise, it is a good thing. Just, you know, not entirely necessary.
What I think sets apart a good blog from a bad one in most cases is not the knowledge or experience of the blogger but how interesting they make the content. If Scott Adams wrote the very same ideas in a serious political blog I would never subscribe to it, as well as his off the wall way of looking at life it is his writing style that grabs me. If you are not an expert but can be interesting or write particularly well I believe you can more than make up for a lack of expertise. Have all that and expertise you will probably do even better but don’t hold back because you don’t consider yourself an expert.
So what if your subject requires a tutorial or knowledge approach? Take a quick look at Darrens Digital Photography School blog and tell me what you see. A bunch of tutorials and tips right? His blog has quickly become probably the most popular photography tips blog on the web right now, mentioned everywhere including newspapers etc. Well he is a decent photographer but I don’t think Darren has turned into Ansel Adams any time recently! He is sharing a well-researched passion, not necessarily expertise. Much of what is in his blog is already available, what sets his blog apart is the accessible way he presents the information in daily, clear, uncluttered, simple, bite sized chunks.
For a while I attracted quite a lot of attention from tutorials, articles and books on certain programming technologies. People considered me an expert on the subject but I thought of myself as anything but. Whatever I wrote about was usually something I had only just figured out for myself. With my own photography blog part of the aim was to learn by teaching, it has certainly helped.
It is like the old joke about the two hunters being chased by a bear, one stops to put on his running shoes, “you really think those will help you out run a bear??” “No, but I might just outrun you …”. You just need to be interesting and one step ahead of your audience. There are so many resources you can turn to for the information you might not actually need to know much about your subject at all (although you might feel a fraud it is only what authors have done for years). It’s better to have both but if you do have to choose between “expert” and “interesting”, choose “interesting” every time!