How to Really Read Blogs

People often ask me what blogs to read. So I thought I’d put together some thoughts on why some blogs are better than others, and how to get the most out of the blogs that you do read. There are five basic rules:

Rule #1: A blog isn’t a publication. It’s a person

Joi1The thing about blogs is that the most interesting ones are interesting because of the people who write them and the people who read them. You’ll find that while you’re drawn to a writer because of his/her interest in a particular subject, quite often they’ll write about something else which you’re also interested in. Take a guy called Joi Ito, for example, who is a Japan-based entrepreneur and investor in tech companies. Joi is a fascinating guy and his blog makes for great reading. But it’s not always about tech stuff. One post I read recently was about his reading a book by a woman called Betty Edwards about learning to draw. Joi is no artist, but this book was recommended to him as a way of relaxing. Now I know the book, and I know what he’s talking about. And because I like what he has to say about technology, I’m happy to read about his thoughts on meditation and drawing.

Rule #2: Never read someone who is “excited” about everything

Blogs don’t have to be brutally honest, but they can’t be fake. What makes Joi’s comments about drawing interesting is not just the fact that he has credibility in a field I care about (tech) but because what he writes is frank and, well, real. He’s not your average CEO type talking about how much money he’s invested in stuff and how excited he is by everything. We all have our ups and downs and they should be reflected in our blogs (I don’t do enough of this, to be honest. There, I’m being frank about not being frank enough.) The point is this: If we’re interested in reading someone’s thoughts on a subject, chances are we’re interested in their more life-oriented thoughts and experiences too. Without overdoing, it of course: I am very interested in Joi’s musings, but if he starts cutting his toe nails on his blog, even metaphorically speaking, I might not stick around.

Rule #3: Let a million flowers bloom, and then read them

Blogs thrive on the ability for readers to add comments. A great blog will have great, thoughtful readers, who add their comments on each article, or post. These comments will appear one after the other at the bottom of each post. Sometimes the comments are more interesting than the original article. Sometimes they’re not. But they’re definitely worth reading if you found the original article interesting. Joi’s post on drawing elicited a handful of comments which really added to the topic, especially after Joi added his comments to the comments. This is what the techie world calls a conversation. It’s not unlike a real conversation, actually, so it’s a good term.

Rule #4: Come in, the water’s lovely

If you’re reading blogs that interest you then you will quickly feel that you have some opinion to share. Share it. Still a startlingly small number of people comment on blogs but you really should. Chances are other people will love what you have to say, especially if you express it in a neutral way, as if you were joining a group of friendly looking people at a party. Of course, you have the advantage of knowing what they were already talking about before you sidled up, so be sure to read the original article and comments before throwing in your tupennies’ worth.

Rule #5: Follow the trail

Chances are if you like one person’s blog, you’ll like the blogs they read and the blogs they link to. Experiment. Try adding more blogs to your list of favorites and see whether you like them. If a couple of boring or off-color posts appear, you can always remove the feed from your list.

Remember: with blogs it’s not so much what you read, as who you read, and how you read ‘em.

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Web 2.0: Our Own Little Echo Chamber

The worm might be beginning to turn: Not everyone sees Web 2.0 as the bright new dawn it’s been claimed to be. Web 2.0 is the name given to this latest dot.com boom — much more interesting, relevant and realistic than the last one, and until last year sustained without the megabucks of big investors. But now there’s some talk that with the big players now jumping aboard, it’s beginning to look as wobbly as the last dot.com boom.

This may not be the case, but it’s prompting some interesting talk. I particularly like this one, from Scott Karp’s Publishing 2.0 » Web 2.0 Is Not Media 2.0:

Consumer-created media is transforming the content landscape for the better, and consumer-controlled media is undoubtedly the new paradigm. But the average person does not have much time (if any) to spend creating media and has patience for only a finite amount of choice. Bloggers and others who put a lot of time and effort into media consumption and media creation are outliers — people may want something more customized than the morning paper, but they still want the simplicity and leisure feel. Media based on Web 2.0 is just too hard.

Mitch Shapiro, over at IP&Democracy, understands the problem and has an interesting meditation on Memeorandum, in which he acknowledges that next generation of functionality (e.g. highly-customized RSS feeds) still “wouldn’t reach the ‘ease of use’ levels provided by Media 1.0 publishers.” Static media is on its way out, but “ease of use” remains the currency.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s what I’ve been harping on about, although not as cogently or eloquently. Most of my readers of the WSJ.com column are clearly not interested in spending as much time as the geeks and Internetophiles in finding and reading content. Heck, some mornings even I can’t be bothered to read the latest stuff. There’s a danger that this new world of tools we’ve created remains niche because it bounces around this big echo chamber we’ve created for ourselves. Only a handful of tools make it into the mainstream because most people have a life, sorry, have little time to spend on this stuff. They want to know what it does for them, and how it might actually save them time, not how it might make extra work for them. Most new stuff doesn’t do that.

Bottom line: the Internet is still a big distraction for most people; not an attraction. As it gets bigger the tools that save them time — not just in cruising it, but in learning how to use the tools that save them time — will be the ones that survive.