September 7, 2003
The idea, of course, is that in a world of more and more weblogs, readers tend to hew to sites that post strong new material constantly, and a group is better able to provide that steady flow. Certain my own recent occasional posting habits have had a downward effect on my traffic, whereas Teresa’s greater productivity has driven hers up; Making Light is now well ahead of Electrolite in daily hits, despite being linked to by significantly fewer other blogs. This suggests that frequent posting, not linkage, is the important factor.
A danger of group blogs, of course, is that without strong writerly voices, the participants’ individual personalities can be somewhat hard to discern, which matters to those of us who read blogs for the “strong voices” (vernacular, unintermediated, you know the drill) that they often afford. The folks at Crooked Timber don’t have much to worry about on this score. I have a harder time remembering who’s who when I read some of the others. One thing both CT and Not Geniuses do that some others could stand to imitate is put the damn authorship credit at the beginning of the post, not at the end. Which means we go into reading the post with a name in mind, thus giving us a head start toward building our own sense of the personalities involved. (Of course, if your group blog’s ambition is to subsume all individuality into a single collective voice, that’s cool too, providing the voice has a tang of its own. I enjoy the group-written and unattributed Tapped, leaving aside their peculiar and, one would think, self-damaging decision to absorb Matthew Yglesias rather than make use of his well-established and popular “brand.” But that’s a different argument.)
As in so many areas of life, the really deadly temptation is to make it all too complicated. The simplity of the weblog is one of its glories: short and medium-sized pieces of writing, every so often, with the most recent stuff on top. I’m unfond of “continued on page X” jumps in magazines, and I’m not wild about them in weblogs, either; kinesthetically, whether I’m at a desktop or a laptop computer, it’s always easier to keep scrolling down than it is to reach for the pointing device and bring up a new page. When a weblog has five new posts each of which is continued on a separate page, that’s a bunch of extra work. Yes, granted, only in America in 2003 could you find an able-bodied adult male actually calling the effort of a few mouse clicks “a bunch of extra work,” but consider this. When I’m running through my daily blog trawl, which consists of several dozen of the things, I find, increasingly, that sites that demand extra mousing-around tend to slip to last. Which means that if I’m interrupted by more pressing matters, they don’t get read as regularly. Even when they’re as good as Crooked Timber. I doubt that I’m alone in this.
Of the new crew, by far the worst design offender is Open Source Politics. More like a magazine than a weblog, OSP offers up an elaborate proscenium arch, from which are linked each day’s several new posts. It’s like Slate, complete with the dismaying sense that there’s too much here and not enough of it is going to be good. You also know from the front-page presentation that every one of these new “posts,” each behind its own link, is going to aspire to the condition of a full-fledged “article.” No wiseass bloggy one-liners here. There are some smart people and fine writers listed among OSP’s contributors, and much of the material is definitely worth your time, but as a piece of weblog design it’s all throat-clearing and trumpery, the exact opposite of inviting. [11:30 AM]