A blog is a relationship
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A blog is a relationship

I am in the process of writing a post about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog that I was going to share with some friends who don’t read it. I started thinking about points he’d made that I wanted to include, and tried to find the posts where he made those points by way of Google. Then I started going through his old posts page by page, and I realized that the whole is far more than the sum of the parts. He’s written some great sentences, and great paragraphs, and great posts, but the blog is a body of work that reinforces, illuminates, and colors the parts that one might want to pick out and share. This may be the first time I’ve had a real sense that blogs really are a new form of writing, different than even a regular column. People may appreciate the posts I select, but they won’t have the same relationship I have with the writing, having read it as it was published over a number of years.

The debate over share buttons on blogs
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The debate over share buttons on blogs

In March, Jason Kottke launched a redesign that included something that I had long looked down on — sharing buttons. He explained:

I’ve always thought of kottke.org as a place where people come to find interesting things to read and look at, and design has always been crafted with that as the priority. A few months ago, I read an interview with Jonah Peretti about what BuzzFeed is up to and he said something that stuck with me: people don’t just come to BuzzFeed to look at things, they come to find stuff to share with their friends. As I thought about it, I realized that’s true of kottke.org as well…and I haven’t been doing a good enough job of making it easy for people to do.

After thinking about it, I agreed with that argument and added some sharing buttons to my post as well — only to services that I actually care about. Lots of people who I know use Facebook. I am a big fan of people sharing things on Twitter and Tumblr, and I find Hacker News to be useful at times as well, so I included those buttons.

Jason found that people are using those buttons. He has seen great results from mirroring his blog on Tumblr. I find that some people are using the buttons on my site as well.

Today, inspired by a post by Oliver Reichenstein provocatively entitled, Sweep the Sleaze, I learned that including those buttons made me look a bit desperate. Lots of smart people who I read agree with that assessment, and I more or less agreed with it myself until Jason Kottke changed my mind.

What Reichenstein’s post immediately made me think of was Nick Bradbury’s post from yesterday, Screw the Power Users. Here’s his advice:

But if you’re building a mainstream consumer product, then from day one you need to tell yourself, “screw the power users.”

That’s hard to do – after all, you’re a developer, so you’re one of the power users. You want to make people like yourself happy.

But I’d argue that’s one of the biggest problems that has plagued the software industry. We’ve all built stuff for ourselves, even though the vast majority of software users aren’t like us.

This is essentially the point of view that I came around to when I added the buttons. Am I a user of these share buttons? No. They’re a waste of space as far as I’m concerned. But other people do use them. They’re not slowing down the page load to any meaningful extent, and they’re pretty unobtrusive. I reserve the right to remove them the second they start to annoy me, but for now, I see including them as a worthwhile experiment.

In the meantime, writing a strident post entitled “Sweep the Sleaze” that takes dead aim at fish swimming around in a barrel is a much more obvious cry for attention than any number of sharing buttons on a blog post.

Where does blogging stop and republishing start?
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Where does blogging stop and republishing start?

Blogging is mostly about pointing to interesting stuff and, for some people, commenting on it. Whether you’re paid to blog or not, one of the real ethical conundrums involves walking the line between quoting or summarizing enough of the work you’re commenting on to interest your readers and providing so much detail that there’s no reason to visit the original piece.

For sites like Business Insider and the Huffington Post, that’s no dilemma at all. Their business models are based on essentially republishing other people’s work, as explained by Ryan McCarthy on Felix Salmon’s blog. I found that post through Marco Arment’s first-hand account of having his work reliably published on Business Insider’s site as though he is one of their authors. It’s also worth checking out Business Insider’s response to Marco, in which they argue that Instapaper and Tumblr are essentially in the same business as they are.

Ideally search engines would return links to original material ahead of aggregated material but that strikes me as a really tough problem to solve. Until that happens, aggregating other people’s writing is going to be profitable. And as long as it’s profitable, publishers are going to keep doing it.

RSS readers are for professionals
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RSS readers are for professionals

A lot of people are wondering about the relevance of RSS readers these days. These days, there are lots of ways to maintain a healthy flow of inbound information. Twitter is perhaps the hottest, but there are plenty of other options as well. And so a lot of people are wondering about the old standby — subscribing to feeds in an RSS reader. Read Write Web had a post this week, RSS Reader Market in Disarray, Continues to Decline. Dave Winer has taken the time to point out (again) that the river of news model is right, and the email client model is wrong.

And then this morning, I read the following in the Patrick Appel interview that I linked to in my previous post:

I get up around 8 am, check Memeorandum, and skim new items in my RSS reader until about 10 am. As I’m reading, I open around fifty posts in tabs for closer inspection. I then read through those tabs, delete most of them, and draft the best. According to Google Reader, I have 1,086 blogs in my RSS reader and have read 16,070 posts in the last 30 days. This is down from a high of about 32,000 posts during the height of the election.

If you’re a serious consumer of information from a wide variety of sites, there’s still no substitute for subscribing to feeds in an RSS reader. Twitter is great, but it’s not the same. And I think that’s particularly true if you’re a blogger. If you’re just linking to the stuff that people are all talking about on Twitter or that floats to the top of Hacker News, you may as well give up on your blog, as far as I’m concerned. Everybody already sees that stuff. You have to dig deeper to offer more interesting information, and an RSS reader is the best tool you can use for that purpose.

Behind the scenes with Andrew Sullivan
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Behind the scenes with Andrew Sullivan

The League of Ordinary Gentlemen interviews Patrick Appel, one of the “underbloggers” at Andrew Sullivan’s blog. First of all, if you have an inferiority complex about your own blog when you read Andrew Sullivan’s blog, this interview will make you feel a lot better. Andrew Sullivan actually has three writers working on it full time — more than full time, really. Appel says he works on the site 10-14 hours a day.

There’s a ton of other great stuff, too, though. Here’s how Appel decides what’s worth linking to:

A few of the questions I ask myself when pondering whether to link to a post containing political opinion: is the writer intellectually honest? Is the post timely? Is the writer an expert on the subject? Is the perspective new and original? Would I want someone else to bring this post to my attention? Does this post help me better understand the news of the day? Does the post help me better understand a political, economic, scientific or philosophical concept? Is is accessible and well written? Does it help me understand an ideological viewpoint?

It’s a really interesting look at how blogs work these days at the largest scale. If you like the interview, you might also be interested in Sullivan’s own explanation of how his blog works.

Being a blogger
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Being a blogger

In a post about how economists often separate their personal beliefs and professional work, Tyler Cowen describes bloggers like this:

In many ways the core of blogging is a willingness to apply what you know to every problem you encounter, and see how good a job you can do of it in a more or less integrated fashion.

That’s pretty much a perfect explanation of what my goal is for this blog. I break down the problems I encounter in terms of the things I already know and believe. I make mistakes and try to learn from them. There are a lot of blogs that don’t fit this model, but it certainly describes many of the blogs I enjoy most.

One definition of blogging vs. journalism
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One definition of blogging vs. journalism

I thought baseball writer Rany Jazayerli’s description of blogging versus journalism was interesting:

If you define a “blogger” as someone who delivers opinionated commentary over the internet from an informed but access-free perspective, then I’ve been a blogger since the founding of Baseball Prospectus over 13 years ago, which is to say for longer since the word “blogger” has existed. The part about “access-free” is critical, because that really is they lynchpin of the whole blogger/journalist dichotomy. Joe Posnanski has one of the most well-read blogs on the internet, but he’s not a blogger: he’s a journalist with a blog.

For all the criticisms that the mainstream media heap upon the blogosphere, most of them are just variations on a single theme: that bloggers neither have nor need access to the subjects they are covering, and because they don’t have access, they also don’t have accountability. It’s a simple fact of human nature that it’s a lot harder to criticize someone when you have to see them face-to-face on a regular basis.

He goes on to explain why this is one of the most compelling features of blogs. Certainly lack of access is one of the hallmarks of this blog.

More on Say Everything
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More on Say Everything

I’ve finished Scott Rosenberg’s history of blogging, Say Everything, and wanted to finish writing up my thoughts. The other day I wrote about the first half, now I’m adding my impression on the whole thing.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, Scott does a truly outstanding job of capturing the essence of events as they occurred. The toughest job for a historian or journalist is making the events recognizable to those who observed them closely, and Scott succeeds admirably on that front.

There are also pieces of analysis in the book that really impressed me. There’s a discussion of sincerity and authenticity that I found illuminating. I never really considered the differences between the two, but they are important and meaningful. I’d classify this blog as a “sincere” blog, but not an “authentic” one, by Scott’s definition.

He draws a distinction between “professional” bloggers and “traditional” bloggers that never occurred to me but that defines things perfectly — the pros write about what they think will interest their audience. The traditionalists write about what interests them. The difference is profound. I read all sorts of amateur blogs but very few professional ones. And what’s interesting to me is that the line is not whether the author gets paid or not — it’s the sensibility they bring to their work.

I also want to note that Scott incorporates quotations from blogs throughout the book, and the quotes are very well selected. The quotations not only underscore the points he’s trying to make, but are also almost always important in their own right. There are very few quotations from blogs in the book that were new to me.

This is a book about blogs that any blogger would enjoy reading. It’d also be great for people who have never gotten what blogging is all about. It’s really a fine book.