More notes on blogging

By Felix Salmon
July 13, 2009

I got some very interesting feedback on my notes about blogging, in the comments, from other blogs, and from participants at the SAJA seminar I led. Karl, in particular, had some extra questions, which are worth answering:

When and how much should you quote someone vs. a simple link? How much context do you need to give vs. expecting that people are following the conversation?

Quote what’s necessary, and provide a few extra links which provide background if necessary. Make it easy for a newcomer to go back and follow the conversation from the beginning.

When responding to someone do you just focus on the persons best points or address the entirety of their argument?

Great question. In the blogosphere there’s a tendency to treat other comments as part of some kind of debating competition — that results in focusing on your interlocutor’s weakest points, rather than their best ones, and ignoring the ones which are actually pertinent. It’s worth making an extra effort to be intellectually honest and to treat the entirety of the comments made, rather than trying to make yourself look as good as possible.

How worthwhile is it to link and/or quote something you agree with. It seems boring to say “yeah what she said” but if you never agree with anyone are you a douche?

“What she said” is often a great blog entry — bloggers are aggregators as much as they are commenters. (This is one reason why Tumblr and Twitter have caught on so well — they’re as much reblogging services as they are microblogging services.) In general don’t be too afraid to be boring — something which is common knowledge to you might not be to your readers.

On that same note is it arrogant to aggregate or have link dumps when you are obviously small time and most of your readers have probably seen this stuff already?

No.

What’s the etiquette if people much more established than you link to you. Should you thank them? Is that kosher?

I don’t know anybody who objects to being thanked. It’s polite.

On that same subject should you make a concerted effort to link to people who link to you? Or, should you focus on the stuff you read the most?

There’s a natural tendency to read people who link to you, because by definition they’re taking part in your conversation. Once you’ve read them, there’s no need to make any extra effort to link to them. If they’ve said something you want to respond to, then you will; if they haven’t, then you won’t.

I think my points here run counter to what James Kwak is saying:

It’s important to have an original perspective on those issues. Because if Krugman makes an argument on Monday, and you make the same argument on Tuesday, even if your post is better, it’s unlikely be to be cited (unless Krugman triggered an ongoing debate).

James is a great blogger (and his whole post is well worth reading, it’s very good), so he might be on to something, but my feeling is that the aggregate weight of blogospheric opinion is important: a lot of bloggers all saying the same thing can really make a difference these days, and one shouldn’t be afraid to echo the thoughts of others. What’s more, blogging isn’t some kind of competition as to who can be cited the most. Or it shouldn’t be, anyway.

James also links to a comment from Dave Winer, who, in his trademarked curmudgeonly manner, says that (a) he subscribes to James’s Twitter feed instead of his RSS feed, but that (b) he prefers truncated feeds because they make it easier for him to create “rivers” like the one he’s built for the New York Times and which has been copied and improved by the NYT itself. There is a tiny minority of readers who prefer truncated RSS; for them, feel free to create a truncated RSS feed. But it should always be in addition to, rather than instead of, a full RSS feed.

Finally, at the seminar, I met someone who had worked with Bloomberg who explained why Bloomberg is so averse to RSS feeds and to Twitter: the powers that be there think that a huge part of the value they add is in their headlines, and that therefore anything which “pushes” Bloomberg headlines out in real time is a competitive threat to the Bloomberg terminal. Weird.

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