Too Much for Just One Man

No new ideas here, but if I can’t think out loud on my own damn blog, where can I?

It is an interesting coincidence that just as the Boyz are recruiting our splendid new personnel, the mighty Glenn Reynolds finds himself reaching a physical limit on what one guy can do. In his post he notes that both Lileks and Sullivan are similarly hitting a wall. Iain Murray, busy with work and family, has recruited assistance. And, the creation of blog-collectives, beyond even a “group blog” is epitomized by The Command Post.

The number of people who can maintain a high quality blog single-handedly, over the long-run is, not surprisingly, small. Reynolds has tenure, so he can “blog at work” and get away with it. And Sullivan is a journalist, so he can work on any schedule he wants. But the only way to be a solo blogger and still be very good without running yourself into the ground, it seems to me, is to be retired from any other work, like Den Beste. (This idea is contradicted in part by the phenomenal “Wretchard” of Belmont Club; I just hope he can keep up the frequent, lengthy, high quality posts.) My idea when I joined Jonathan on this blog was for it to be less ideologically coherent, and perhaps lighter in tone, with more of a finance focus, but otherwise to be something roughly like Libertarian Samizdata, which has long been my favorite blog overall. We seem to be heading satisfactorily in that direction, with a decent mix of “linkers” and “thinkers.”

I think the 2000 election and 9/11 and the war, plus a dissatisfaction with the mainstream media, and the sudden easy availabiliy of cheap or free programs came about in close sequence. This combination got a lot of people interested in blogging. But several years later, the war goes on, and a new election looms, and even the best of the blogosphere’s warrior chieftains get (very) tired or start repeating themselves. The evolution toward more group blogs composed of larger groups of contributors will, I suspect, continue for this reason.

11 thoughts on “Too Much for Just One Man”

  1. Maybe, maybe not. I see 3 important countervailing trends here:

    1. Precisely because blogging is a low cost entry thing I suspect that there will be many new bloggers for each old blogger who has burned out. In that regard blogging’s a lot like the acting profession or like professional writers. Always more where the old batch came from.

    2. One attraction of blogging is the ability to pursue one’s individual vision. Group blogs ultimately make you just “one of the crowd”. So I suspect that there will always be many bloggers who prefer an individual path just as there are many who are comfortable as part of a group.

    3. From what I’ve seen, the hobby of blogging is a lot like being a DM; A lot of the ones who’ve been at it for a while will complain about it or get tired but then they’ll just keep right on with it in part because it’s become a habit they can’t walk away from and in part because they still enjoy doing it. In the end the same things that made them start doing this will keep them at it down to the end of their days. They may slow down or change their approach but keep at it they will.

    In addition, I probably should note that I don’t consider frequency to be that big an issue. For a blogger I like I’m willing to wait a week or a month between entries. And I doubt I’m the only one to think that way. So long as these things are true I doubt the individual blogger will be that spent a force.

    – S.P.M.

  2. S.P.M. makes good points. I do not think they are incompatible with Lex’s (and my) position, however. To the extent bloggers proliferate it becomes more difficult both for readers to keep up and for bloggers to attract readers. Group blogs, if they are managed well, make things easier for both groups.

    BTW, what’s a “DM” — direct marketer?

  3. I think SPM is correct that lots of people will be blogging. I should have specified that I meant both blogging and obtaining a readership. I’m not sure how many people will slug away year after year getting fewer than 100 hits per day. I think SPM is unusual in not insisting on frequent posts. My experience which I suspect is common is that if you like a site but find that nothing is going on there, you stop checking it after a while. A week is a long time, a month would be fatal. As to individual vision v. “one of the crowd”, I think the individual posters on group blogs maintain their identities while getting the advantages of a frequently updated site as well the interaction among their fellow posters.

  4. RSS aggregation may solve the “three posts a month” problem. The reader’s difficulty is the overhead of checking to see if something new is there. For example, just on this blog i’m very interested in the FDR thread, and i’m glad i scrolled down and found the three new comments today. But it’s getting to be a nuisance.

    But if you work with an RSS feed, you can consolidate “what’s new” pointers from several sources, and the overhead of checking is left to the program. *was* a good idea, and it can be improved.

    So how do you get an RSS feed? Many professional sites (eWeek, news sites) etc. have an “XML” icon you can click on to link RSS. There are scads of articles when i google “RSS aggregators”. But i can’t recommend any, as i don’t have any of this running as yet. For most people, it’s probably just a wait until MS builds it into Windows…

    Matya no baka

  5. Matya,

    I think that we already have an RSS feed. The links are below the search window on the right side. Is this what you have in mind? If so, maybe I should move those links to an obvious spot near the top of the page.

  6. “I’m not sure how many people will slug away year after year getting fewer than 100 hits per day.”

    I dunno, Lex. 2,000 to 3,000 hits a month seems to be pretty good to me. (Hey, Jonathan! What does The Boyz get?)

    I started out posting on a very wide range of subjects at my own blog, but I soon found that I got more reponses to a rather narrow selection. So I tailored my posts to reflect what my readers seemed to be most interested in. Now I still post on whatever I like but I weight the posts towards the more popular subjects.

    This means that my readers are enthusiasts on a narrow band of subjects. According to many blog authors that I talk to, this is pretty much their experience as well.

    So we have the political or religious blogs, which deal with subjects over which many people are polarized and have strong feelings. They get the majority of the readership, mainly because there’re only 2 postions that the majority of people have. (They either agree strongly or disagree vehemently with your position.)

    Then there’s the vast majority of blogs that appeal to a narrow band of people with similar interests. With my blog it’s self defense, the military, law enforcement and history.

    I’ve just checked my logs and I received 6800 unique visitors last month. That’s huge compared to most, and it only took me 2 years of trying to post 3 entries every day to get there. ;)

    So what’s the point of this long comment? Just that the success of a blog has to be measured one blog at a time. The people who give up before a year goes by propably aren’t the guys I want to read anyway. The yardstick should be the longevity of the blog, and if the readers enjoy the posts.

    After all, we can’t all attract high traffic.


  7. James,

    My experience WRT topics and readers’ preferences is very similar to yours.

    Lately we average about 500 unique visitors per day. This figure varies a lot, depending on how much we post and what’s going on in the world. It wasn’t so long ago that a good day was fifty visits.

  8. Jonathan, i was thinking more about the client problem of going back to a blog without seeing it change. It seems easier to watch a slowly changing blog in an aggregator than to use a browser and bookmarks. I think the loss of interest problem will lessen as more people use aggregators like AmphetaDesk. So the group blogs like yours are great, because they maintain a quality read without fatiguing any particular author. But individual people with occasional comments and things to say should be able to maintain an audience.

    That said, it also seems to me that someone using an aggregator would want finer control of the aggregation than just “grab this site” or “grab this feed”. For example, it would be great from a user perspective to tag the comment stream from the FDR posting so it gets included when updated. Right now i don’t know of any client software that would let me do that. And you probably wouldn’t want to modify your feed to look at the comments posted. The point of aggregation is to see enough to decide whether reading the whole article is worth it.

    I thank you for the link position. I was looking for an orange XML tag and did indeed miss the RSS 2.0 link on your page.

    Matya no baka

  9. MNB: Thanks for clarifying (and for reading). I’ll move our RSS links to a more conspicuous location.

    James: I should add that I also agree with your comments about blog longevity. Having more contributors is one way to increase a blog’s odds of long-term survival.

  10. Jonathan,
    DM = Dungeonmaster. In the roleplaying game called Dungeons and Dragons he’s the one that creates the world the players’ characters live in, sets up the story(ies) they go through and provides the friends, enemies and neutrals with whom they interact. It sort of requires both the ability to prepare and the ability to depart from the script and improvise as needed on a second’s notice when the players do something you hadn’t expected. In other roleplaying games he’s called the GM (Gamemaster) but the general role is the same and “free candy” and “public utility” would probably describe the way a lot of DMs feel when we’ve been at it for too long.

    I guess my being accepting of long intervals comes from the fact that I was into fanfics and webcomics long before I was into blogs. Some of the longer and more involved fanfics can be quite a while between installments either because of writer’s block or Real World problems and webcomics can sometimes go dormant for 3 to 6 months for similar reasons. The Muse comes when she wills not when we wish. Clio, the Muse political bloggers follow, is a more frequent visitor than some but she’s still a Muse. So as far as I’m concerned once a week is good and I’m not going to jog the elbow of anyone from whom she’s been absent lest I make things worse. ^_~

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