On the quality of blogs and blogging

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“…media has always had the inherent problem of separating out the wheat from the chaff, the insightful from the banal, the incisive from the divisive. Such is the price for the democratization of speech that the Internet brings: anyone with a computer has equal access. It’s probably true that most of everything is crap-but it’s a shame that we must work so hard to find the non-crap.” – Ben Radford

In a recent post on the Center for Inquiry’s website titled “Still Skeptical of Blogs,” Ben Radford shares why he feels that “most blogs are generally worthless” by noting many problems he has with blogging, blogs, and bloggers. In the spirit of Radford’s post — and as I usually do — I will summarize Radford’s analysis and offer some commentary of my own.

Radford notes that although the internet has allowed for more transmission of information [because anyone with a computer, spare time, and an opinion can blog], this hasn’t improved the quality of information. With more available information and — as Radford notes — over 120 million blogs, the “signal to noise ratio is higher than ever.”

Radford mentions another problem – that “[b]logs are inherently personal; they rarely include references; they are short, thus allowing for little or no detailed, critical analysis.” Radford continues, explaining that communication — now coming in smaller and smaller bites — is transmitting even less information which, as it seems, leads people to less understand the world around them.

The immediacy of blogging — the seeming impulse that people have to report their ideas surrounding a recent event — Radford explains, can lead to misunderstanding. He writes, “Skeptics (should) value truth over immediacy, period.” He continues, “The point is that real understanding of an event takes time, distance, and context – none of which are really provided by blogs. Blogging is anathema to careful analysis of facts and responsible journalism, and therefore reasonable skepticism.”

Radford continues his analysis with noting problems relating to the nature of blogging and bloggers writing,

 …I have been witness to (and occasional victim of) flame wars, troll attacks, misrepresentation of others’ positions (both obvious and subtle), and so on. We’ve all seen bloggers resort to feigned outrage, insults, and ivective in their efforts to stir up controversy and increase page hits. This sensational, shock-jock sleaze is nothing new […] It’s not helpful or productive, but it gets attention.

I am very sympathetic to many of Radford’s concerns and, being a blogger myself, I lament seeing much of what Radford sees as “not helpful or productive” get page-views and attention [here’s one example I saw today and yet another coming from PZ Myers’ blog which I recently lost much respect for].

Obviously, I think my work is high-quality content (as other bloggers likely similarly think their work is high-quality content). I take time to gather information before I post, often answer criticisms that people may levy at my position depending on the nature of the post, interact with commenters after I post, include links in my posts to related/helpful information, and am careful to explain my position (as opposed to simply asserting things), and try my best to use clear language. I also do my best to eliminate personal attacks and trite name-calling from my blog in order to engage with arguments rather than attack persons.

One problem with Radford’s analysis is that he seems to believe that blogging is similar to that of responsible journalism with critical analysis. Some posts are best delivered in a short fashion and may be similar to a letter to the editor or op-ed piece…but others can be longer, filled with critical analysis, and contain references. A mix of both can be a great thing. In all cases, though, posts ought to be free of personal attacks and should instead include attacking of ideas lest, as Radford notes, posts are “not helpful or productive.”

The high-quality content might not get the page-views and thus will fall to the wayside in comparison with content that lacks quality. The lengthier posts — those which contain the critical analysis — may not get read while a post on the same topic that is quite uncritical will get the pageviews. Perhaps even worse — at least as I notice and have heard from other bloggers — is that many posts on a blog vary in terms of pageviews; it seems that many blogs do not get a steady audience, but rather views differ depending on factors such as time of a post, the time of day, and other people sharing it.

With so much content available on a specific topic, it’s very difficult for one person to stand out. After ‘top blogs’ are already ‘established,’ competition may be very difficult. The junk might be consumed by many and regarded as really good content while what is really good content is not yet realized.

To perhaps be ‘picky,’ as some may call it, a lingering question surrounding Radford’s analysis concerns what it means for a blog to be of worth. It seems that Radford considers lengthy posts coupled with responsible journalism and critical analysis to be of worth, but others may be looking for shorter posts which are ‘pure opinion’ and lack critical analysis.

“Separating out the wheat from the chaff” in the blogging world is quite difficult. Readers ought to look for good blogs based on the quality of the content rather than the page-views they get (and, as is obvious, page-views don’t guarantee good content). The fact that one is a blogger doesn’t mean that their blog is worthless, but it also doesn’t mean that their blog is worth something. The quality of content should be an indicator of a good blog.

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