Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Lots of businesses get hate mail, but few owners react the way Heather Armstrong does. She prints out nasty e-mails, puts them in her driveway and drives over them with her car.
"That's the attitude I have," she said, "and it's made my life a thousand percent better."
Steeling herself against vitriol is one of the challenges of being, by many measures, the nation's top parenting blogger. The 32-year-old at-home mother's irreverent, occasionally profane and often hilarious musings on prosaic topics from potty-training to postpartum depression have propelled her blog, Dooce.com, to No. 59 among the Web's top 100 blogs, according to Technorati, a blog search engine.
The Salt Lake City resident enjoys enviable influence and enough ad revenue that her husband, Jon, quit his job in 2005 to manage advertising for Dooce (rhymes with moose).
Among the Web's 200,000-plus bloggers on parenting and family, few have succeeded to the extent of Heather Armstrong; countless at-home parents would love to be in her position. But less obvious is the behind-the-scenes price an at-home mom pays to shoulder her way to prominence in the blogosphere giving up her privacy, sustained time off and any remnants of work-family boundaries at all.
Most powerful individual bloggers, such as Arianna Huffington of HuffingtonPost.com on politics, or Mario Lavandeira of PerezHilton.com on celebrities, keep a measure of personal distance by blogging on public topics. In contrast, Armstrong writes about herself, her husband, her 4-year-old daughter, Leta, clashes with her parents and the escapades of her dog, Chuck. She has the ability "to make the mundane seem interesting," said Pete Blackshaw, an executive vice president at Nielsen Online. In a measure of fans' devotion, a recent post on removing a raccoon from her chimney drew 530 comments.
Mommy blogs in general tend to be everyday diaries of details one might share over coffee baby's first step or the perils of finding a preschool. Most are blander than Dooce, less humorous and significantly less profane.
Most Web diarists, for example, are too reserved to report, as Armstrong does, that she's "married to a charming geek," had "lived life as an unemployed drunk" for a while, or landed briefly in a mental hospital for postpartum depression. Some mommy-bloggers find her cursing and vulgarity offensive. But it's that outrageousness, humility and raw honesty that also feed her bond with readers, making her dominant in an emerging Web sector Blackshaw calls "The Power Mom."
Armstrong's fan base is a powerful lure for advertisers. Neither she nor her husband will discuss ad revenue, but they and the Internet rating service Quantcast say that Dooce draws about 4 million page views per month. In a "quick back-of-the-envelope guesstimate," Shani Higgins, Technorati's vice president, business development, estimated the site could yield $40,000 a month in revenue from companies coveting her traffic, such as BMW and Verizon.
Armstrong's product endorsements bestowed only on items she's purchased, she said wield impressive clout. Yukiko Kamioka in Colchester, England, said she was struggling with only 10 visitors a day to her Web site, seabreezestudio.co.uk, until Dooce endorsed her handmade bags; 3,000 visitors immediately swamped her site, and she soon sold out of her merchandise.
The life of a blogger, though, inflicts significant strain. A scathing parody on ViolentAcres.com, set up as a letter to her daughter Leta, said, "Since your father and I started exploiting you for cash, neither one of us has had to work a real job for a few months now. Score!" Recently, another popular blogger on parenting, Boston writer Steve Almond, quit his BabyDaddy blog on Babble.com, citing "angry and aggrieved" responses to his writings.