The Difficulty of (Blog) Discovery
It’s hard to find a good blog these days.
Not that there’s any shortage of good blogs, and that’s, in fact, half of the problem. The other half is finding them, or more specifically, finding the ones that scratch my personal itch. I find reading other writers to be a vital tool to inspiring me to write—at least for fiction. A good novel or short story has a tendency to get me writing something. So, I often seek out good fiction. I recently finished reading Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov. I picked that up because it was mentioned in Of Course, You End Up Becoming Yourself, the amazing and sad long-form interview with the late and lamented David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky. I picked that book up because I love David Foster Wallace. I love David Foster Wallace because a friend turned me on to him due to a shared love of Haruki Murakami. I discovered Haruki Murakami by sheer chance, flipping through a book of contemporary Japanese short stories at Central Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia in my college days.
It’s easy to find a good book, though sometimes I will drag my feet when it comes to reading one. It’s much the same with music. I’m a passionate music fan, but I approach a new band with a certain wariness, happy to sit in the little musical rut I’ve created for myself. Whenever I hear a lot of good buzz around a band or an artist, I get suspicious. I had been told multiple times by multiple people that I would adore the band Sparks, for example. I put off listening to them for ages, but when I did, it didn’t take long for Sparks to quickly become not just a favorite band, but my second favorite band of all time.
How It Was in the Past
Many moons ago, when the Internet was a young, wild frontier that spread out upon a metaphorical prairie stretching to an infinitely distant horizon, it wasn’t hard to keep on top of what was new. Yahoo! began life as an Internet directory, and you could even see what new pages had been added to the Internet each day. By the time I got online around 1997, this was no longer quite the case, but other directories abounded. In fact, my first website was on the now defunct GeoCities, which organized sites by a system of virtual addresses on streets in various themed neighborhoods. When I moved out, the address my site used was taken over by a Dukes of Hazzard fan page. Directories were even useful in the age of blogging. When I set up this site, I had it added to nycbloggers.com, a directory of New York City bloggers, arranged by subway stop. It’s still listed there, under the subway stop by my first college.
Still, as more and more people got online, and more people started posting things, and there were more ways to start websites that were easier and cheaper, it became harder to find cool stuff. I spent a lot of this period on LiveJournal, which made it easy to find people who might be into the same things you were, which isn’t the same thing as finding good writing about those things, but it’s the closest I’ve come. The best part it that a lot of this discovery was mostly organic. I found interesting people who shared my interests and turned me on to new ones.
Anil Dash hit me in his “The Web We Lost” essay, but his lament comes from the technical side of things. I never bothered with Technorati tags in my attempts at blogging—in fact, I always considered tags to be a kludgy and ugly way to organize writing. Still, the early days of “Web 2.0” were all about discovery of content, and now that’s fallen away. The buzzword now is curation, which is fine, but I think there’s a place left for writing, long and short form.
What scratches the itch right now
I organize my RSS feeds in a system similar to Patrick Rhone’s. In my “A-List” folder, I keep Daring Fireball, Marco.org, The Brooks Review, Minimal Mac, and 43 Folders on the off-chance that Merlin will start posting there again. I keep a “B-List” of sites like Metafilter and Boing Boing that post cool stuff, but also have a fair amount of non-signal posts that don’t interest me. This folder also holds other blogs that sometimes post neat stuff. Beyond that, there’s a folder for the friends whose blogs I follow, a folder of miscellaneous blogs that post items of interest or amusement such as bands and humor sites. Then, there’s my big-ass folder of webcomic RSS feeds.
The blogs that I follow in the A-List have certain things in common: a distinct voice, and an interest in technology and Apple products. These are not requirements, however. What is a requirement is a willingness to write long, in-depth articles on things that catch their attention. It doesn’t hurt that most of them are podcasters, too, and I listen to their shows. Sometimes, they link to interesting things, with a short blurb and/or quote, but the thing that draws me to them is not what they link to, but what they write. When I bemoan finding good blogs, I bemoan the difficulty finding blogs that do the long-form writing. I can get links anywhere. That’s why they have [Reddit].
RSS Versus Twitter Versus Whatever Else
A while back, I remember reading of people bemoaning RSS readers, and giving up subscribing to blogs in lieu of having people cultivate links for them via Twitter, or whatever. There’s been a recent trend in e-mail newsletters, like Dave Pell’s NextDraft, which I subscribe to. Apps like Flipboard can scrape out the links from my Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr feeds and put them in a shiny, magazine-like UI for me.
Maybe I’m just old school, but I like RSS readers. I don’t see it as an obligation to get to the bottom of the pile, though I do anyway. I launch my reader of choice, Reeder, when I want to read something. When I’m done, I close it. It only fetches things when I run it, and I’ve disabled the litle red notification dots on my iPad and iPhone so that I don’t have anything nudging me to read the things I neglected. Thanks to Instapaper, if something piques my interest, I can save it for later, and read it on the subway. I don’t care how often they update. I want good, interesting writing about the things I care about, or a writer who is capable of making me care about new things.
And that’s hard to find. But I know they’re out there. When there’s one, or five, there’s even more.