I’ve had great volumes to say about what to do and what NOT to do as a freelance writer or editor. I’ve been called bitter, caustic, angry and generally too stern when talking about how to avoid the kinds of freelance writing mistakes common to noobs and pros alike. I’ve given the benefit of my experience, I’ve ranted, I’ve made fun of the goofballs in the industry, I’ve posted some dead-on predictions and some posts that were off the mark.
But one thing I’ve NEVER done up to now is write anything directly critical of writing blogs or bloggers. Why should I? We’re all in the same boat, trying to help each other out. Why bite the hand that feeds?
Because I’ve suddenly discovered that writing blogs are missing the boat in a very important area. Not ALL writing blogs are completely at sea, a couple of shining examples come to mind of how we could be closer to doing it right. But for the most part, we’ve lost the plot. Why?
What is the number one rule about building a successful blog? The most important thing a blog needs is a growing community. Blogging is not just one person’s voice, it’s a collection of voices. Look at a site like Pampelmoose.com, with its active comments on practically every single post. It’s NOT a writing site, but it’s dedicated to new media coverage, so it’s in the same zip code, for my money anyway.
AbsoluteWrite.com has an enviable forum, where there’s more activity than any one person could possibly keep up with except in specific niche areas on the site. It’s probably one of the best grassroots examples we freelance writers have. I might not take Associated Content very seriously at times, but the power of THAT website’s forum section can’t be denied.
Bu why do I think writing blogs–including Freelance-zone.com–are missing the boat?
Because of a site I’ve recently discovered which covers a radically different kind of freelance work. VoiceOverUniverse.com is a site dedicated to freelance voice talent; the people you hear every single day on the radio and television commercials. I’ve thrown my hat in the ring with freelance voice work (I was active in radio and television for 15 years so it’s a kind of work I’m used to) and I’ve grown to know this website quite well.
One of the most amazing things about this site is the active and practically non-stop chat room. There is a forum area just as there is on AbsoluteWrite.com, but the chatroom is where a lot of community-building takes place. It’s amazing to see, and I think VoiceOverUniverse.com is a shining example of what freelance blogs COULD be if we only built our sites to include chat and other community building tools.
The Voice Over Universe chatroom makes the site feel like a living, breathing entity. The participants have the same questions and concerns that we do as freelance writers; they are just addressing issues unique to that industry. At the end of the day the questions and answers are the same. How do I start? How do I get paid? When can I start doing this full time? What kind of equipment or training do I need? What do you do when your spouse or family won’t take you seriously in your new venture?
Chat areas are nothing new, but for some reason the VoiceOverUniverse.com chat really impresses me. One reason might be due in part to the fact that you are automatically entered into the chat area when you log into the site–it sits on the side of the screen unobtrusively til you get curious enough to check it out. The site takes on a whole new dimension with this feature, and it feels REAL–it makes mincemeat out of freelancing sites where content is presented in a much more one-way manner. I feel as though Freelance-Zone.com (and other blogs in general) could take a lesson from all this. Active communities keep a blog alive. Blogs with no discourse tend to die.
What’s the big thing which keeps people from adding chat to their sites? Bandwidth concerns aside, it’s the danger of not having anyone actually chatting. That is a daunting prospect for many site creators and I tend to agree–an empty chat or forum area looks pretty lame. But if you want to be in the business of building a community on your website, two-way discourse is key. Writing blogs miss the boat when they fail to foster two-way communication.
It’s an easy trap to fall into; after all, we’re WRITERS and our work is built mostly of one-way communication. But if we don’t change with the times, we run the risk of becoming irrelevant and eventually obsolete. I for one don’t want to fall into the technological equivalent of the La Brea tar pits.
It may be premature to say “watch this space”. Word Press architecture might not be enough to support chat or other two-way features beyond comments and forums. But I am still tempted to say it. I will hold myself back for now, but as I take a hard look at FZ in light of what I have learned from VoiceOverUniverse.com, I see that something has to change, and soon.