Some more thoughts on blogging, and its future

The Thinker by Rodin

In a couple months, I will have been blogging for three years. In Internet time, this is practically a lifetime. Many will try blogging but few will keep it up. No wonder. Even if your blog is just a stream of consciousness mostly for the amusement of you and your friends, it still takes time to put the words down and publish them. In my case, since I set a high standard for myself, most entries require quite a bit of thought, research and editing. This means they take considerable time. Since I also have a full time job and duties as a husband and father, (Wednesday, for example, was Back to School Night) finding the time to put together a good blog entry even every other day is challenging.

Thus I am somewhat in awe of those who can spew out lots of very good content on a more frequent basis. I am not sure where they find the time. I figure they are either independently wealthy, have a part time job, unemployed, or single. On the other hand, in order to blog perhaps they steal a lot of time from their employer. I do not do this. Aside from the ethical implications, I simply do not have the time. My job is very much a full time occupation. It could easily consume the rest of my personal life if I let it.

To write an excellent topical blog entry usually requires constantly sniffing through the blogosphere. In addition, I assume the best bloggers are reading lots of news articles and opinion pieces online and in print. These are necessary habits for those who want to be taken seriously. Perhaps these habits become second nature if you are a journalist, which I am not. All of these necessary activities take even more time. This makes it all the more remarkable when a blogger can put it altogether and consistently write excellent blog entries.

This is why I admire Billmon. I have written about the power of Dailykos.com. Kos is a huge progressive political site but to call it a blog is ridiculous. I know its owner Marcos keeps touting it as a blog. Sorry, it is not. It is better described as a “megablog”, allowing pretty much anyone to post one of two “diaries” a day, each of which amount to a blog entry. It is also a discussion community. Without allowing people to comment on stories and diaries, it would be a practically useless site. In short, Kos exists for the progressive blogosphere to talk about issues of the day.

Occasionally it actually goes beyond talking and generates real and effective action. Cindy Sheehan is one result of the Kos phenomenon. Cindy is the antiwar mother who lost her son Casey in Iraq. She spent August in a ditch outside of Bush’s ranch in Texas, and was encouraged and empowered by the Kos community. I do not think she would have done what she did without so many of us cheering her on. Cindy like the rest of us hangs out regularly on Kos, and most days posts a diary discussing her concerns and feelings. She often replies to people who leave comments on her diaries.

While Kos and some of his other authors often provide insightful diaries, they often feel rushed and not very well thought through. That is not true of Billmon and his site “The Whiskey Bar.” Billmon will also put out short blog entries, although he tends toward fewer and longer blog entries. I, and most of his barflies, hang around for the longer entries. His political analyses are just jaw dropping excellent. He can write not just coherently, but in a way that engages and amuses the reader. I hit many political blogs and Billmon stands by far above the crowd. He is truly a blog phenomenon. In fact, he is better than any political columnist I have read. If his entries were perhaps a touch less snarky then he could easily find himself as a columnist syndicated worldwide. He is that good. In addition to his essays, he is also a Photoshop whiz. His entries are often adorned with clever Photshopped images, many of which are hysterical.

If these attributes were not enough, his mind seems to be an encyclopedia. Billmon remembers quotes going back decades and can juxtapose old and modern quotes in a way I have never seen before. He sees patterns that most of us cannot see. While I am sure he makes frequent use of search engines like Google, using search engines effectively also requires a deep understanding of the problem domain. Billmon has it.

Blogging thus has the potential to liberate otherwise unheard of voices and give them some prominence. Sadly, many good bloggers get almost no readers. Content alone is no guarantee someone can jump out of the blog pack. It also requires people to find your blog and recommend it to others. I do not expect this blog, however good that I hope its content is, will get beyond a backwater blog.

Huffingtonpost, Arianna Huffington’s blog community, is pointing to perhaps a new blogging model for others to emulate. It is a collection of blogs, with the common theme being that posters are friends or friends of friends of Arianna. Arianna, of course, is rich and has prominent liberal friends including politicians and celebrities. Getting them to put out their own stories straight to the public makes a lot of sense. (I suspect that many of her authors are wise enough to have their works edited by others before posting.) Many of her celebrity bloggers already seem to have tired of blogging, but that is okay. It was sufficient to launch her site, and now it has its own buzz, as well as a fair amount of news.

While there are blog aggregator sites out there like blogspot.com, the bloggers there have nothing in common. Blogs on such sites range from excellent to dreadful. A choosy blog consumer like me would prefer to go to one site where we know the blog authors will be first rate. That is why I think Billmon should set up a megablog site like huffingtonpost.com. It should consist of only the best of the best bloggers. Billmon would be the lead blogger, of course, and its feature attraction. However, he could host a much larger community of top rated bloggers, all of whom have demonstrated his unique gifts of eloquence and insight.

Such a megablog should, in my opinion, not be strictly a political blog site. It should include areas that offer insight into the whole range of human experience. For example, I have a significant metaphysical category on my blog, the result of a lot of thought and a fair amount of reading. I do not think I am the best blogger in this area by any means, but such a megablog would include perhaps a couple premier bloggers in the metaphysics area.

With this model, consumers would get a simpler way of finding excellent content. I also think that bloggers, or at least those that rise to the top, would have a means of making a living off their hobby. Because this proposed site, like Kos, would either support targeted advertising or allow users to pay to opt out of advertising.

I am not sure how bloggers would be chosen for such a site. Perhaps criteria would include user input, existing page views and a committee that examines potential contributors. The criteria though should be very high. If the blogger cannot write coherently then they should not be hosted. Indeed, they need to be able to write very well, use authoritative sources and have expertise in their domain. For example, Juan Cole and Josh Marshall both have gravitas in their spheres of influence, and can speak with some authority. Both would be logical choices for contributors to this megablog.

I do not think this would kill the rest of the blogosphere. Technorati will still be out there. However, just as The Well was, at one time, an oasis of sanity in the online universe, so one of more megablog sites could also be useful, easily separating content worth our time from the dreck that sadly comprises much of the blogosphere.

As for Billmon, if you have not read him you are missing a real treat. While I think I may occasionally write a better entry than Billmon, and while I certainly tackle a lot more on this blog than just politics, no one does progressive political blogging better. Moreover, I doubt anyone else will. I just hope Billmon can keep it up. He is a blogging treasure.

One thought on “Some more thoughts on blogging, and its future

  1. Interesting thoughts. Billmon is one of my occasional reads. I think I read him more during the summer since, as a teacher, I really don’t have much time to keep up on a lot of different peoples’ diaries during the school year, no matter how well they’re written.

    That’s circuitously related to why I don’t bother reading the Daily Koz, the Huffington Post, or even Josh Marshall’s spin off megablog, the TPM Cafe. To really get much out of reading a large group weblog community such as those, I’d have to know enough about the community overall to be able to sort the wheat from the chaff. Yet getting a sense of the whole community at even one of these blgging communities would require so large of a time commitment from me that I really find I lack the enthusiasm to start reading them regularly.

    I think I’m pretty typical of blog consumers in that I prefer to just follow a few individual diaries which I’ve stumbled across and found good insight and careful wordcrafting from. Like, say, Occam’s Razor.

    One tiny nit, however. Blogspot isn’t an aggregator–which I think is generally defined as a collector of highlights from other weblogs. It’s more of a blogging service provider. The movie analogy would be that blogspot is a multiplex while a good aggregator is an Ebert. Aggregators would be automated sites like Technorati or human-run reviews like DU’s Blog Box (my Ebert of choice).

    –Bucky
    a Brown Bag Blog

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