Monday, April 13, 2009

aggravating blogs

I read, start reading, and abandon reading, a fair number of blogs. The turnover is due sometimes to a set of qualities (other than content, obviously) that has become somewhat predictable.
  1. Over prolificacy: I'd rather read two great posts a week than 20 two-sentence tidbits a day. I only lasted about two weeks with Lifehacker, despite the extreme usefulness of many of their posts. ESPN's NFL news feed is the same way, but I put up with it because just glancing at the headlines is enough to stay up to date. MarginalRevolution and Freakonomics are really pushing the boundary, but have enough must-see posts to get away with it.
  2. Too many links, not enough substance: If I wanted to read every blog, I would. If you're going to re-post lots of other blog posts, they had better be excellent. A combination of this, #1, and the anonymity of posts is why I finally gave up on FreeExchange. MarginalRevolution should be applauded for their rare-enough link posts, sans comment, with a high percentage of legitimately interesting outside material.
  3. Too much personal info / self-congratulation: Cafe Hayek is killed by this, and the Austrian Economists isn't great either. Greg Mankiw can be pretty bad too but at least he's more intentional/overt about it and labels the textbook ads as ads. Pharyngula is so cynical and hilarious that he gets away with it. Note: unnecessary self-immolation is just as bad as unnecessary self-congratulation.
  4. Too much repetition: I'm almost getting tired of hearing about kidney exchange on Market Design. And after eight years or so I definitely have Slate fatigue, but occasionally a brilliant article makes up for the tedium. One week of Zen Habits was enough to learn every lesson they've ever tried to teach on there.
  5. Aesthetics and style: For some reason I cannot get over the large font size of the Austrian Economists feed. It just screams "a child wrote this in block letters", no matter how interesting the post is. I can't read Paul Krugman for his unbelievably disdainful writing style. Brad DeLong fails on counts 1, 3, 4, AND 5. I haven't read Robert Reich for very long, but I suspect the grandiosity and so-slightly disdainful tone will get to me soon, as great as he is at speaking. (But I'm trying to push through for the sake of subscribing to more stereotypically liberal economists...)
But here's where I'm confused. Many of these blogs (Krugman, Delong, Zen Habits, Free Exchange, Lifehacker) are immensely popular. A few, like Marginal Revolution and Freakonomics, are very popular and also don't seriously have these problems. Some, with none of the above problems, are not widely read at all except by those with a serious interest in the subject (Willem Buiter, Scott Sumner.) Is it just me? And why, when there is free entry and zero cost (except time) to blogging, aren't there better substitutes for things like ESPN, Lifehacker, and Slate?