December 5, 2007

Rethinking Blogs: The importance of fewer posts and preaching to the choir

Category: Academic,Politics,Tech,Web 2.0 — Biella @ 6:45 am

It is hard to believe that I have been blogging for over five years. And what is clear is that being an assistant professor is not all that conducive for blogging and this is materially evident in my sparse posting pattern over the last few months. It has been particularly bad in the last month thanks to a week long international trip, back-to-back sickness over Thanksgiving week, and finally going to Washington D.C. for the AAAs.

But this retreat from blogging as well as teaching on so-called Web 2.0 software, like blogs, has made me rethink the value and limits of the craft of blogging and so I am going to take some time (that I feel like I don’t really have, but oh-well..) to write them down as I am preparing a short piece for on the politics of Web 2.0 and I hope I can transfer some of these ideas there.

So as I have already mentioned, I am an now infrequent blogger. Prior to the era of RSS, this could have meant the death of my blog because if people went to visit my page and there was no new post and then this happened a few more times, they would just stop visiting.

The magic of RSS is that it brings the blog post to you and this alters the landscape of possibilities within the context of what has been nothing short of a seismic explosion of blogs. What I am finding—and this will be no surprise to anyone—is that it is just too difficult to keep up too many of a certain class of blogger—the prolific poster who posts medium to long posts and worse, nearly everyday! To make a point about the effects of this, allow me to tell a story: Two blogs I really like are Joe Reagle’s blog on Open Communities as well as Tenured Radical. Both provide captivating posts but I recently unsubscribed to Radical Tenure and not Joe Reagle’s. Why? My decision was purely pragmatic. Because she posts way too much, I just can’t keep up. If I stop reading her blog for 2 weeks, and then pay a visit via bloglines, I am faced with a blogolanche and I am trying to avoid, at all costs, overwhelming situations. On the other hand, if I stop reading Joe’s blog for 2 weeks, there may be one or two posts so I feel like I can spare the time to continue reading. Ironically, I will now visit Tenured Radical every month, much as I did prior to the RSS era, just to take a quick scan and see if there is anything I must read.

There is another class of blogs, such as Sivacracy, that update their site frequently but the posts are tidy and short and so I can usually keep up and they provide important news for my projects. But the type of blog that provides longer ruminations has proliferated (and I really like reading those) but I suspect that as the blogosphere has expanded, less people can commit to those types of blogs. In other words, today, you may hang on to more readers, if you only blog 1 to 2 times a week instead of 3-5 weekly posts that are medium to long in length.

Now I may be completely OFF the mark with this by generalizing my own experience so I would be interested in hearing people’s experiences or better, if anyone could point me to someone who studies these types of pattern, I would really appreciate it.

On a related note, last week I taught a now famous piece by Cass Sunstein on political balkanization on the Internet that is in part secured by blogging. His core argument, which I think stands to some degree, is that the blogosphere is less an arena where people with different inclinations and views meet to debate, and thus change their views, but is an arena where your pre-existing ideas are reinforced because you are simply reading and debating with people who hold your worldview.

As I mentioned, I think this is true in so far as you don’t see people on the left and right engaging in some debate that substantially transforms their ideas. But the argument is faulty or missing something crucial about the nature of politics, in so far as that the so called left or right or so called liberal and conservative positions are truly not unitary so that if different types of liberals/lefties are engaging with each other to change positions and ideas within that group, well then, the critical function of blogging is in fact well and alive. To state using an example, there are plenty of liberals who, in my opinion, could use a little radicalization and perhaps this is happening in the blogosphere because people come across a spectrum of ideas and positions from within their political pole.

Finally and this point really is not mine but I am poaching it from Jeff Juris who made it last weekend at the AAA meeting during his presentation on activist videos. One of his findings was that activists were the only ones watching video’s documenting protests when hosted on radical political sites like Indymedia. When they were placed on Youtube, the audience expanded considerably: conservatives were also watching them, but they effect was not to make their more sympathetic toward the left and their political points, but simply to reinforce their position, which is evident in the archived comments expressing their great distaste of the left. This is a perfect example of the Balkanization that Sunstein talks about but with an important reversal: it comes from confronting difference not avoiding it!

But Jeff made the excellent point that there is a critical function in preaching to the choir: it ensures that the choir will not stop singing! That is, your political passions are not simply ensured, they must be renewed and given the massive amounts of apathy peppering our population, renewal by confronting what you believe in, is vital.

So my advice is keep producing posts, keep reading even if it tends to be stuff you already believe in BUT please, post less. Less, I think, is really becoming the new more….


  1. I have no pointers to any research but I share your experience about blog posting lengths and frequencies.

    Comment by gregor herrmann — December 5, 2007 @ 11:51 am

  2. I can understand the reaction to a video in MySpace vs indymedia. MySpace is like a tv displaying in a store window. As folks pass by and stop to watch, they’d give their view to the crowd. If someone else agrees, they’d join the crowd on the left and if someone disagrees, they join the crowd on the right. And you’d have two crowds building and reinforcing their views. But on somewheres like indymedia, its like any like-minded meeting where folks cheer on their cause and help motivate others, hopefully to action. (LUGs, etc) The internet allow geographically diverse folks with similar interests to be social (which is a fun thing and which many governments find dangerous). As for folks looking for a place on the internet to educate themselves… You can research pro and cons on any topic (I do) but when I post to a forum or channel or such, I would do so in a like-minded one. So what would be visible on the web would be ‘pro’ views but what I research or know would be more than what I expose on the web. What would be the outcome of me posting in a photoshot list about the wonders of the gimp ;-) There there are people who use aliases for different forums to allow for their different personas which might allow folks to post in cognito. ( is worth reading)

    Comment by Kevin Mark — December 5, 2007 @ 10:01 pm

  3. My solution to the issue of posts that I don’t have time to read is PGDN…

    As for group polarisation, one factor that should be considered is that people have different views on various issues. Someone who you agree with in regard to one issue (and therefore communicate with) may disagree with you on other issues.

    For example the various Linux planets have a range of views represented on a variety of issues.

    Comment by Russell Coker — December 6, 2007 @ 2:53 am

  4. Good point about keeping the choir singing. I’d like to add that it doesn’t just ensure and renew political passions. It also gives a warm fuzzy feeling of belonging, which is one of the most important things in life.

    Comment by mikko — December 6, 2007 @ 6:16 am

  5. seems to suggest a self interest: that blogs be shaped to your purposes as reader. What of the writers own purposes? In blogging my way to a PhD the process of writing helps me to formulate and clarify my own thinking. sometimes this involves familiarisation with methodologies so my blog may playfully explore applications in a lighthearted way. Other times, its a practice space for engaging deeper thinking- but it is primarily for myself even though this occurs in a public domain.

    Comment by ailsa — December 6, 2007 @ 11:00 am

  6. I think you mean ‘fewer’ posts.

    Comment by ben — December 7, 2007 @ 8:48 am

  7. But then, many of us bloggers worry that we don’t post *enough* to keep people’s interest: Margaret Soltan posts every day, and I more or less thought she was the gold standard.

    On the other hand, I just discovered you & will return — good thinking.


    Comment by Tenured Radical — December 8, 2007 @ 2:02 pm

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