Content granularity

I’ve decided to invent a concept that can be used by bloggers and other content creators. Content granularity is a measure of the size of individual pieces of content (or alternatively, the effort that got put into them). A fine-grained blog produces lots of little pieces of content. A coarse-grained blog produces large pieces of content, usually with lower frequency.

Why is this a useful concept? Because blogs tend towards uniform granularity. Usually, you don’t have a blog that publishes a 2000-word essay, followed up by several 280-character posts. Sometimes, this is because the blogger themself finds mixed-granularity to be aesthetically unpleasing, and this can become a problem if they find themselves unable to write the grand essay that they have come to expect from themselves. So let’s examine this in a bit more detail.

Why might blogs tend towards uniform granularity? Certainly, this is not always true, and there are several counterexamples in my blogroll. I would guess that bloggers produce the granularity that they themselves would prefer to read. If a blogger likes to read coarse-grained content, then they produce coarse-grained content. If they like fine-grained content, they produce that. If they like both mixed together, they produce both.

Personally, I don’t like fine-grained content that much. Some blogs produce too much fine-grained content and I can’t follow them. They flood my feed with a bunch of stuff I don’t want to read, and don’t have time to read. But sometimes I like a blog enough that I accept it, or sometimes they don’t produce enough of it to matter, or sometimes I enjoy it. But I don’t enjoy it enough that I want to produce much of it, not for an audience, anyways.

On the other hand, many bloggers do produce mixed grain content, but have a way of segregating the content. For example, a blogger may also use Twitter for their more fine-grained content. This shows that the blogger does not have a preference for either fine-grained content or coarse-grained content, but likes to produce content that follows an established set of expectations. This makes it easier on readers, some of whom may prefer only the fine-grained content, or only the coarse-grained content, or both.

As we know, anybody can start a blog, but most people have trouble actually maintaining one. One reason is what I’m calling the coarse-graining death spiral. Many bloggers start out with relatively light content, but then they try to write something bigger. And then even bigger, and bigger. It goes on like this until they run out of big ideas, or they can’t go any bigger. Then they just can’t write anymore without feeling like they’ve failed to live up to expectations.

Group blogs are particularly vulnerable to coarse-graining death spirals, since individual bloggers may feel pressure to conform to a content granularity that they didn’t even choose for themselves. On my group blog, I always want to tell other contributors that just because I write something long doesn’t mean they have to.

I think Twitter and Tumblr are more accessible than blogging (or vlogging), because they have built-in mechanisms that prevent coarse-graining death spirals. Twitter famously has that character limit. Tumblr has this thing where the comment system is really bad, and the only way to post long comments is by reposting the whole thing on your own blog, which prevents your blog from becoming very coarse-grained (and also makes comment moderation impossible, but that’s another story).

In my ideal world, rather than needing to segregate different kinds of content by platform, there would be some built-in standard universally used by content creators and followers. For example, Joe Blogger could tag each post with “coarse-grained” or “fine-grained”, and then depending on my preferences I could follow just one or both. In fact, this is already easy to do with WordPress. On my other blog, we have separate categories for Questions of the Week, Linkspams, and Articles, and on the sidebar we have links to separate RSS feeds for each category. Yes, WordPress produces separate RSS feeds for each category, behold! But hardly anyone uses this feature, and RSS itself has been slowly dying…


  1. says

    I’ve been forgetting to check your blog for months! So I was browsing and this really caught my eye.

    Yaaa I can relate to this.

    This is also a bit of why I ceased blogging at all. Now I just write on my wiki. The other factors have to do with social functioning besides length (such as good intros, being engaging, relevance, context, explanation, whatever) and the chronological format of all news feeds my posts would appear in (why is that how we primarily organize our outputs? by when it was written?). All that stuff hinders me so much.

    I’ve also been putting off making youtube vids for at least half a year…

  2. says

    A wiki that has incremental updates seems very different from a website with chronological content! I think chronological content is friendlier to a regular reader, since the reader may not want to reread a lot of content to see what was changed–chronological order offers a convenient hamiltonian path. But a wiki is friendlier to other types of readers–for example, if you’re archive diving, it would be easier if things were organized by concept rather than chronologically.

    From an outsider perspective, vlogging looks like just the worst for content granularity. Suppose you have some small announcement to make, like “I’m going to change my posting schedule”, what do you do with that? Make a separate video? Append it to the end of some other video? Put it in the video description? Post it on twitter? I see vloggers doing all of these things and I feel like none of the solutions are quite satisfactory.

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