Saturday, December 20, 2008

Blogs I read (and blogs I don't)

I read a lot of blogs. Some of you know this, and have asked about it-- specifically, why do I read so many blogs, and what sort of blogs do I read?

First, the “why”-- I consider most of my blog-reading to fit into the category of “personal development,” in the same way that someone might read a newspaper or a trade journal. Maybe a dozen of the blogs I read are written by friends and strictly for the purpose of keeping me informed of their lives. The rest are related to something I am or that I do: ministry, writing, technology, productivity... plus a small handful of news blogs and feeds.
This post is a perfect example of why I read blogs.

Now, a few more words about what sort of blogs I read. Here are some key factors for deciding whether I’ll continue to read a blog or feed:
  • Teach me something frequently. A lot of the blogs that have earned a longstanding, permanent place in my feed reader* are there because they regularly give me something to chew on-- even if it’s “just” a quote or a short snippet of an idea. If you want me to look forward to seeing a new post from you, give me something to think about.
  • Write with humility. Help me see that you don’t think you have the final word on a topic, unless it is your own opinion-- and in that case, help me see that you don’t think that yours is the only opinion that matters.
As importantly, here are some things that almost guarantee that I’ll drop your blog from my reader:
  • Spending all of your energy selling me something. I won’t deny any blogger the right to make some money from their blogs, but don’t make it all about that. Just yesterday, I removed a feed because every post was centered around a book that was linked to (through an Amazon affiliate link) and the gist of each post was, “to REALLY learn about this, buy this book...”
  • Toot your own horn often. It’s great to hear about something you’ve done that is praiseworthy. If more than half of the posts in a given week or month are all about your accomplishments (especially if they read like, “let me tell you about the great thing I just did...”), you can bet I’ll stop reading soon.
  • Focus often on a topic that isn’t germane to your blog. It’s one thing to offer an occasional comment or idea about something that is apparently outside your normal field of topics; it’s another to spend a lot of time (yours and mine) on it, especially with a tone or voice that suggests that I should take your word as more than just another opinion. During election season, I dropped a couple of blogs from my feed-- one from a popular Reformed writer, and another that is supposed to be a news source for our denomination-- because both spent at least every other post hawking the editors’ personal political views.
  • Put yourself forward as the watchdog for a particular group or cause. Someone recently said, “commentary is, sadly, always a few notches below creativity.” One thing I’ve come to despise is the set of blogs from folks who spend most of their time pointing out where everyone else is wrong. I tried reading some of the blogs that offer frequent discussion about matters in the PCA, but I just couldn’t stomach it.
  • Write with no concern whatsoever for grammar or style. There are a few blogs that I would read regularly, if only the writers would use decent punctuation, capitalize properly, and break their text up in to paragraphs. As much time as I spend staring at a computer screen, if my browser is suddenly full of text that looks like an unbroken string of characters from top to bottom, my eyes glass over and everything goes fuzzy.

So, for whatever it’s worth, thats a quick summary of why I read blogs, and what sorts of blogs I read (and what sorts I don’t).

*I use a piece of software called a “newsfeed reader” that handles all of my blogs and other feeds. The one I use is called
NetNewsWire. I only read blogs that offer an RSS feed (or something like it, that my reader can use)-- these notify me of new content and automatically summarize it for me. If a blog doesn’t offer a feed, I won’t read it with any regularity.

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