A Tech-Econ Mashup with a Libertarian Flavor

Frustrations with Blogging: Where’s the Content?

Author’s Note: Technagora is going off-topic once again today, this time for a good purpose. I need to address my concern about some bad practices that I see currently plaguing the blogosphere.

I’ve grown frustrated with the increasingly mind-numbing pastime of reading blogs. Everyday, my Google reader is overflowing with blogposts, most of which I have no choice but to “mark as read.” What is often touted as the modern-day equivalent of relaxing with the morning paper has devolved into a repetitive process: select a feed, scan more headlines than my brain can realistically process, clear out the feed until the reader is satisfactorily emptier than it was when I started (I never even zero it out anymore). However, I’ve noticed that a “Quantity-over-Quality” pandemic seems to have infected the blogs I read. I see too many short, insubstantial, forgettable posts, and too few analytical, organized write-ups. My concern is the very large number of posts which have unoriginal content, little informational value, and are over-reliant on hyperlinks. Many bloggers are guilty of either 1) saying the same damn thing as twenty other bloggers, (frequent “hat-tipping”) 2) extensively using blockquotes to simulate a point-counterpoint-style response to another blogger, or 3) abusing the blockquote by copy+pasting another article, and capping it off with a pithy closing remark. Also, link lists are a particularly grating format of blogpost that I must also address.

I see a lot of posts that take an issue or current event and offer the author’s commentary, and often the same arguments that all the other bloggers have already written. Whether or not the author is doing this intentionally (or knowingly), the result is that I end up reading almost the same post in four or five different feeds. This is where the “hat tip” is most often utilized. When you see “hat-tip,” it means one of two things: either the individual receiving the tip has notified the author of blog-worthy news that few other bloggers have heard yet, or the author has pulled a story from another blog and is attepmting to put their own “spin” on it. Writing about a hot topic requires a fresh angle, or an analysis of a certain aspect that’s been overlooked. Regurgitating standard arguments just doesn’t cut it.

Another tedious post format is the simulated point-by-point counterargument. This format includes a long blockquote, usually written by an “intellectual adversary,” broken into pieces by the author’s interjected arguments. The author’s arguments are typically littered with links pointing to either documented evidence supporting their claim, or more likely posts they’ve previously written on the subject. Again, a lot of repeated material, and seemingly no thought given to constructing a compelling, well-organized argument. An essay response to an article, or an op-ed piece is not written this way – blog posts should not be, either. This is just plain and simple bad form.

One of the lazier kinds of posts I’ve seen is the long-blockquote/quick-closer formula. These posts take the form of “So-and-so over at (Hyperlinked blog name) has this to say about (some current event): [Long blockquote followed by author’s short and unconvincing analysis, an appeal to please ‘read the whole thing,’ or a clever closer].” These posts are, let’s be honest, completely redundant and unnecessary. There’s no real content to them. If it weren’t for the fact that every damn blogger uses this format all the time to link to a usually well-known blog, I would be much more forgiving. However, if I cared about what so-and-so had to say, I would read his blog. Already-prominent bloggers don’t need free advertising; save the linking for up-and-comers.

Finally, I’ve got a bone to pick with link orgies. You know, when the author compiles a list of “interesting” or “relevant” things they’ve read that morning. I have friends and bloggers whom I respect who use this format – I’ve even tried it myself – but it just doesn’t do it for me. These virtual feed-readers-within-feed-readers could be of value if the author includes short and concise summaries, or even humorous remarks, regarding said links; most often, they’re literally a list of hyperlinks. The author is essentially increasing the already unmanageable number of stories delivered to my reader! The nerve!!!

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Blogging an amusing picture, chart, or other graphic is great! Some of the funniest pictures I’ve seen have been on blogs. Videos should ideally be short, preferably with a summary (more than just “Trust me, it’s a hoot”). Finally, if you simply MUST do the list of links, please include a concise, yet compelling description for the page you’re linking – don’t just tell me what it is, tell me why I would want to read it.

I confess, I’ve been guilty of all of the above offenses at Technagora. I’m still a novice in the blogosphere, and in fact, I originally started blogging because I hoped that it would improve my writing. However, I’ve realized that a lackadasical approach to blogging will only make me a worse writer. That is why I’m making a declaration tonight to end these bad blogging practices, and to hold Technagora to a higher standard. Things will be changing around here. No more echoing other bloggers, no more abuses of blockquotes. No more heavy reliance on hyperlinks. No more posts that lack content (or at least base entertainment value). My weekly post-count may decline, but I’d rather expend my efforts each month writing a couple of good pieces that I can be proud of, rather than be prolific each week with a few listless, passing commentaries.

Before wrapping up this post, I’d like to give credit to some good bloggers whom I recommend:
Tyler Cowen and Megan McArdle are both very good writers and analysts, (though both are guilty of employing the quantity-over-quality approach, with too many short/link-y/inconsequential posts), Gene Healy, Tim Harford, PolicyBeta, Will Wilkinson, and my current favorite, Agoraphilia. I’ve noticed that the blogs I love the most tend to post the least. When the authors do post, they don’t just rehash the same old material that all the other bloggers have been writing about. Rather, they write engaging, analytical, substantive pieces that provide the authors’ reasoned insights into an issue, and I know exactly what to take away from the post. I wish I could say the same for the rest of my reader feeds.


Filed under: Off-Topic,

10 Responses

  1. Will Luther says:


    I know what you mean. And I am certainly guilty. I like to think there are two types of blogs: original and popularizers. Tyler Cowen, for example, is an original thinker. But he writes a lot of stuff that I could care less about. So a popularizer might scan through all of Cowen’s posts (and all of McArdle’s and Healy’s and etc…) and then pass on the most interesting. So someone with little time can come to the blog of a popularizer and get the good stuff without sifting through the rest. And popularizers will specialize in different subsets of Cowen/McArdle/etc. It is not always so distinct, but you get the point.

    I would say I am a popularizer at present. I would like to be more original. But if I only posted original posts they would be few and far between. And that is not a good strategy for blog success. So I link a lot and write original posts when I find time. Like this one on Signaling, Cheap Talk, and Relationships:

    As for the RSS feed, I think you should decide whether you want a feed of popularizers (and if so, which ones since similar popularizers overlap) or original thinkers. Too much overlap will result in a clogged reader.

  2. I think I can actually convincingly brag that my blog does none of these things. Never linked to another blog, never used a blockquote. Unless I’m guilty of quantity over quality posting.

    I do have the advantage of blogging about a niche subject that literally nobody else has ever blogged about.

  3. Angela says:

    I totes do these things. I am also guilty of mostly skimming this post do to its length and the enormous amount of stuff that floods my rss feeder.

    I do wish I had the time for more quality posts, but alas my more recent posts contain few of my thoughts if any.

  4. Jacob says:

    I’m definitely guilty of some of this. Lots of light pieces lately while I was traveling, and of course the egregious daily links thing. And I agree there’s a lot of fluff in the blogosphere. But I do the links for one simple reason: Since I started posting them every morning my site traffic has risen by about 60% and my number of RSS subscribers on Google has doubled. There are other factors at work too, but based on the timing and positive feedback I’ve received about it I think they’re a main consideration.

    A good analogy is to the “loss leader” in retail stores. That’s when shops sell a popular item at below cost in order to get customers in the door and spending money on other things. That’s basically what happens with the links. I don’t get much credit for them, but they don’t take that much work and they dramatically increase the number of people who visit my site and read my longer pieces. My occasional more substantive posts wouldn’t reach nearly as large an audience if I weren’t rewarding readers with links to new content every day they visit. For those of us without the time, inspiration, or talent to attract an audience with pure original content, it’s a useful way to keep site traffic coming.

    I do see your point about how they clog an RSS reader. That’s one reason I waited to do these until I installed a plugin that shoves the links over to the sidebar on my website, where they can be ignored if people like. In my site’s next design I might offer a links-free RSS feed for people who choose it, if there appears to be demand for it.

  5. Libby says:

    Thanks all, for your comments! Que Bueno!

    I read your blog, and I like your original insights. You should keep up with that. The rickroll was pretty amusing, too. You may be onto something with your original/popularizer analysis.

    Yes, you’ve found yourself a nice niche market. Have you decided what your next blog stunt will be after Berryline?

    I didn’t even know you blogged. What’s the url?

    I read your longer posts. I even shared one on google reader, remember! 🙂 I generally skip the links, although I have found some pretty entertaining things in your links posts before.

    As I stated, my preference when reading or writing blogs is for originality, depth, or if nothing else, entertainment (and also NOT flooding my reader with 20-30 posts a day… I had to remove Andrew Sullivan for this reason). In fact, I think my friends’ blogs are pretty good in this respect. This post was written mostly for myself, in any case, to help me establish my new ground rules for my own writing. If I hold myself to a certain number of posts per week, blogging becomes a chore, and I’d rather have it be fun!

  6. Andy J. says:

    And you just now figured this out? That checklist is precisely why I don’t read blogs — excessive low-resolution data. Nor do I write blogs: like I said, thieves everywhere; if anyone on the wwweb has anything important to say, they should write a book. (Pity the A.D.D. effort!)

    Original Content is “scarce” while hyperlink redundancies are “infinite”, so it would be stupid to distribute the former freely simply to serve as an appetizer to byproduct URLs placed on toy shelves of the latter. Swamping the market (ie., readership) with oversimilar ancillary junk devoid of saleable Originality creates an unnavigable glut and shopper frustration leading to a mass exodus of eyeballs. Therefore you must agree that Techdirt’s proposed market model of peddling hyperlink tshirts is crap. :p

    Websites which failed to succeed in the eMarket were those learning they couldn’t support the ongoing expense of paying staff to constantly create Original Content, such as writing exclusive articles. The internet model which has proven most successful is seen in those sites which treat Content as an externality to be contributed by the audience itself, like PooTube, MyFace, message boards, Gikipedia, blogs — information supplied at your own expense, thanks sucker — which is why those lanes are populated by derivative crap from scatterbrained amateurs and Non-creatives posting direct swipes, if not illegal uploading of copyrighted material as is rife on YouTube.

    ~ G.

  7. […] to analyze over there. Also, I wonder how accurate this tool is for blogs that heavily feature block quotes and links? H/T: […]

  8. […] a comment » Sorry for the micro post, but this is too funny not to pass […]

  9. […] a comment » I complained about it a few months back, but lately I’ve actually started paying attention this […]

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Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect.
-Mark Twain

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