Blog Assimilation: Resistance is Futile

Dave Schuler, who occasionally contributes here and at Dean’s World in addition to maintaining his own site, laments a trend he’s seeing among his favorite blogs:

Brilliant bloggers who posted once a day, maybe two or three times a week, are linking arms as associate bloggers on blogs with larger readerships. They’re still posting once a day, maybe two or three times a week. But because of the numbers of associate bloggers at the larger blogs those blogs are being updated ten, fifteen, or more times a day and the individual blogs of the associate bloggers are languishing. Posts are at the top of the page for a few hours, maybe minutes, and then scroll off, sometimes off the front page entirely.

I’m on both sides of the fence, since, as a blogger, I’ve been recruiting very good bloggers who update infrequently to OTB but, as a reader, I’ve quit reading a handful of old faves because they’ve chosen co-bloggers poorly.

Still, the trend is inevitable and largely good. Some great bloggers from my early days in the game fell off the map because the demands of everyday life kept them from posting with enough frequency to stay atop people’s “must read” lists. That tends to take a toll on readership which, in a vicious cycle, lowers the incentive to blog when time permits and further drives down readership.

That was bad enough in the old days, when most of us kept up with our favorite blogs via bookmarks and/or blogrolls. A couple years ago, though, readership started drifting towards aggregators like Memeorandum and RSS feeds. I was slow to catch on to RSS but now almost never look at my blogroll. And, if I happen not to look at the particular feed that has your updated-five-times-a-month blog the day you posted — or there’s a glitch in your feed or my reader or you got overwhelmed in a flurry of posts from other sites on the feed — I miss the post.

Enter the group blog. Collectively, a handful of good writers who post a few times a week can create enough content to make readers keep coming back. That keeps the bloggers motivated and the readers happy. The key, though, is putting together a group that’s more-or-less coherent so that the blog still has a “voice.” Perhaps the best examples of this phenomenon are Crooked Timber (a collection of left-of-center academics), Volokh Conspiracy (law profs with a libertarian-right bent), Counterterrorism Blog (CT experts) and Winds of Change (an eclectic warblog). With the possible exceptions of Eugene Volokh and Marc “Armed Liberal” Danziger, none of their lead authors are sufficiently prolific to sustain a major blog.

Despite a bevy of co-authors, OTB is still mostly me. I’ve always been prolific because I write fast and had jobs that allowed me to multi-task. Still, having additional authors gives our readers more content and showcases several fine voices who might otherwise not be heard. And it gives me a little breathing room.

Steve Verdon contributes several posts a week, often in a few flurries. He’s all but shut down his own site and does all his blogging here nowadays. He brings some genuine expertise on economics and a passion about some other issues to the table.

Rodney Dill has taken over the caption contests for me. They’ve have died out a long time ago otherwise, because the effort of finding pictures and picking winners stopped being fun and started being a distraction for me well before I turned them over. The contests are more popular than ever and, as an added bonus to our readers, someone other than Rodney now has a chance to win.

Alex Knapp and Chris Lawrence contribute when they can and add valuable insights to the discussion. Alex is an attorney by training and tech guy by trade and Chris is a gypsy political scientist. Robert Prather is currently internet deprived but promises to rejoin the fold any time now. All three are more libertarian in their philosophy than I am (Steve is, too, for that matter) but they’re close enough politically and, more importantly, in conversational and analytical tone that I think the group thing works.

The Pros and Cons, as I see them:

    PROS:

    • For the bloggers: Less pressure to crank out posts, a larger audience, and a possibility of earning some beer money
    • For the readers: More content and viewpoints in the same basic intellectual milieu

    CONS:

    • For the bloggers: Less control over the identity of the site, posts pushed off the page faster
    • For the readers: Some of the authors might appeal less than others, Occasional confusion over who said what

The pros of a well-constructed group easily outweigh the cons, I think. And those cons are easily mitigated. In OTB’s case, at least, each of the contributors effectively has a blog-within-the-blog, since all the posts they’ve written are put in their own category.* These categories have their own RSS feeds, and everything. So, conceivably, you could subscribe just to what Steve Verdon or Chris Lawrence or whoever your favorite(s) is/are and ignore the rest.

*The exception, oddly, is me. Since I wrote nearly 10,000 posts when this was a solo blog, there was no need for me to create an Author category and I have not gone back and added that category for many of the pre-October 2004 posts.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

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  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I think the mix is pretty congenial here, James. I find myself tailoring my posts to suit the particular styles and content of the blogs to which I contribute. I tend to put my politics and foreign affairs posts here, my laments at Dean’s World, and my longer essay-type stuff at my own blog.

    Just to put in a word, I think the commentariat contributes much to the style of a blog. OTB’s is one of the best; WoC’s used to be great but (IMO) has become somewhat strident and polarized in the last few months.

  3. yetanotherjohn says:

    This all sounds a bit like the evolution of newspapers (from what little I know of the subject).

    Individuals might collect news from the coffeehouse. Then they would add a couple of others and voila, you have the Times.

    The one point I would make is that there has to be a head honcho/Tsar/editor-in-chief. Someone to make the decisions of who comes on/leaves the blog. Not that they are a quality control gatekeeper of individual post content, but a higher level quality of poster content.

    Writing that I was struck by how the Japanese made a virtue of necessity and moved away from designate quality control screens and put each worker in charge of their own quality control. Imagine the potential for a newspaper to make a similar productivity gain. Of course such a system means you have to fire those who can’t self-control the quality.

  4. Bithead says:

    Time was, Group blogs were a real advantage, since blog rolling would show group blogs on top of the pile more often, thereby collecting more hits. Not so much, anymore, particularly since Blogroll.com or whatever started taking up so much time to do it’s thing.

    Your point about chosing your co-blogger(s) correctly is quite valid; we’ve both seen blogs go bye bye because of a poor choice, there. I think I got pretty lucky with the two co-bloggers I’ve taken on in the last year or so; they’ve added quite a bit to the party.

    But I don’t think they’ve added to the hit rate as much as they’d have done a few years ago, for the reasons I mentioned.

    PArt of what we’re seeing, too, is the move toward a more commercially driven blog, particulalrly among the higher end… say, Captain Ed, for example. In Ed’s case, that’s not damaged his output in any way, as best I can tell… but I wonder what would be happening there were he more of an obvious group effort.

    All that said, I wonder a little, at the dynamics needed, then versus now, to have and keep a successful political blog. There’s so very many of them out there that you have to be downright HUGE to be taken seriously, anymore. Most… hell… ANY single blogger, simply can’t keep up with the demands on time, thatb maintaining a high hit rate, demands, anymore.

  5. carpeicthus says:

    Example of good choice in co-blogger: Matthew Yglesias picking Ezra Klein.

    Example of disastrous choice in co-blogger: Jesse picking Amanda Marcotte.