Rethink.

Ora sono ubriaco d'universo. (Ungaretti)

Prompt: If you’re thinking about starting a blog, don’t

In my experience, anonymous or not, the quality of one’s insights and shrewdness of one’s observations are the things that tend to push a blogger up through the ranks.

Dan Drezner

I actually laughed out loud reading that.

I realize I have given advice that was semi-skeptical about blogging nowadays. Right now, I’m even more skeptical than ever before: the market looks over-saturated to me, and while I love the amount of choice I have as a reader, I can see the struggles people are going through to get started and get an audience.

You can pull off having a blog with really solid traffic: if you have multiple authors, stay current, update several times a day and promote like crazy, you have a chance. And some of you may need to take this chance – I blog because I know that even people I respect and admire aren’t doing enough to make sure as many people as possible share in real learning and the questions which attend that enterprise. But I can safely tell you that for most of you, this isn’t worth it, and the key is in seeing how wrong Drezner is in the quote above.

For the earlier generations of bloggers and content creators on the web, few or no people were doing what they were doing. By being first, they established themselves firmly – without even trying – in search engines, web culture, even among mainstream media. It didn’t matter if they were boring or derivative: what matters is that they were first, and time has made them that much bigger and decreased the odds of the rest of us having that sort of success.

In a deep way, they’ve shaped the audience we have on the web, and made that audience frightfully limited in its capacity. The gulf between content creators and people who post in forums or hang out on places like Digg seems to me to be vast: one set of people is usually actively looking for better stuff online, better personalities, experimenting with different resources and strategies to see what might appeal to people or make better content. The other set links to whatever makes their point, at best: usually, they’re here because they can be heard, and that’s all that matters. You can kinda see how this came about when you ask “hey, how many longtime readers of one of the first blogs established something successful and noteworthy?” I’m sure plentiful examples exist, but I can guarantee they’re not saying anything “insightful” or “shrewd.” Their “success” is coming about because the online audience is conditioned a certain way: all this talking, and truth be told, there isn’t very much online that’s actually unique.

Anyway, while I think Drezner is wrong, I’m actually ranting to set up a question: Am I correct about the significance of being “first,” or is this incoherent? If I’m not correct, are there other reasons why Drezner may be wrong? Or is he ultimately right? After all, I’m reading and linking to a number of things I like online: I don’t hate it here. I do think there’s an enormous amount of redundancy, though, and that’s indicating something about the web: it isn’t about “insight” or “shrewdness” usually – it’s about catering to an audience and affirming them, rather than challenging them.

5 Comments

  1. I do think there’s an enormous amount of redundancy, though, and that’s indicating something about the web: it isn’t about “insight” or “shrewdness” usually – it’s about catering to an audience and affirming them, rather than challenging them.

    You pretty much summed it up right there. Absolute hysteria dominates, if you read (as I do), the comments sections after any given article. Take the NY Times for example. If Krugman pumps out an article with a few talking points (how did this guy win a Nobel?), there are literally hundreds of sycophants that are just WAITING to say, “Paul, thanks for the great article! I completely agree!”

    There have been a couple times that, upon seeing this trend, I have offered an opinion on the readers’ forum that didn’t quite fit squarely with the author. I was doomed to the bottom of the pile, with few people hitting the “I like this” (or whatever it is) button under my post.

    Outside of those uber-mega organs, ie the Times, it almost seems like pure chance: I only find what I like by stumbling across it, literally. That’s even how I came across Rethink: just hit the Stumble button, and see what pops up.

    I think you have a point about being first, too. Drudge really isn’t anything special, and the same even goes for RCP. There are any number of people who could do the same exact thing — those sites are basically echo chambers. But lots of ppl know of them! I just wonder if the democratic nature of blogs hasn’t ruined them — it seems like pharmakon, both a cure and a poison.

  2. Thanks for the post and comment, guys. I totally agree!

  3. :)

    Seriously, I do think that people search the internet for like-mindedness and self assurance. Not for a challenge or insight. I’ve certainly been guilty as such. It’s not hard to understand that while you are feeling awkward or weird in your beliefs it’s nice to find… concurring opinions.

    It does seem odd to me, however, that people don’t really seek beyond that. I’m always fascinated by the other side, alternatives, and I do love to learn.

    But do most people? I could make an argument in both directions. I don’t know what the answer is, but in this case I might be leaning toward an explanation of laziness or a sense of being overwhelmed by all of the information “information” out there.

  4. hmmm well i have to disagree, I think that as long as one is willing to work hard && post about things that are authentic+interesting the blog will be sucessful. Posts that make one feel that life is more ‘meaningful’ will result in a thing called ‘mad hits’ I recently started my blog and I do get ‘mad’ hits on some and on others I get a few but it’s all right. I just keep it fresh/relevant and enjoy the ride.

    A good example of a good blog I feel is a very good ex. is HIPSTERRUNOFF.COM

    great blog, fun reads, authentic, and alt doesn’t post a ton every day and is a blog I feel gathered an ‘audience’ fairly recently to say it wasn’t the first. And only one author.

    I think the benefit+problem of this blog is that it’s very very niche oriented in a way. kind of hard to relate sometimes and fairly long w/o visual aids. In other words and bluntly said ‘boring’. but I still enjoy reading it b.c I feel that I learn something new about life.

  5. I guess the Oscar’s “boring” remark says it all. I hear, i.e., read, the same kind of remarks regarding an online course I teach. Of course boredom merely speaks of your particular present mood, and not anything about the topic under discussion as such. Blogging encourages such assertion–“I completely agree.”

    It should not be forgotten that “meaningful” posts which get mad hits aren’t always meaningful, and niche blogs which receive no hits are often meaningful.

    It is difficult as a blog reader these days to make headway through this vast universe of discussion. The “democratic nature” of blogs–as t-hag notes–limits discussion. Add to that the anonymous character of much of the speech online–even when the blogger tells us who he/she is–and you get the redundancy and banality of much discussion.

    So we have some sort of a contradiction between particular self-expression and abstract generality. This seems to be the place where “established” bloggers step in. They carry some sort of authority for being there the earliest, and they become the “blogs of record.” Drezner himself is one such example.

    So indeed it does matter who had right of first possession–as it were– on the blogosphere. The city on the frontier was named after the founder, and other erstwhile founders continued westward. Has the blogosphere reached the year 1890–the year FJ Turner tells us the US Census Bureau announced the closing of the frontier?

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