June 3, 2005

What's better, a group blog or an individual blog?

Gordon Smith has a lot of interesting things to say comparing group blogs and individual blogs. Is one sort of blog better than the other? It seems that there are a lot of variables that make some group blogs better and some individual blogs better. But what are all these variables? Gordon gets the subject going. Some pairs or sets of bloggers make each other better because they generate more posts, with more regularity, and because they play off each other or balance each other in some way. But sometimes a blogger you like adds a co-blogger to plump things up and only dilutes the quality of the blog. One blog I used to read every day added a co-blogger, and I found myself reading less and less over time, so that now I check in maybe twice a month.

Some blogs have so many people it's just irritating. HuffPo is the egregious example here. What a mess! Some political hacks churn out whole columns, some comedians jot down some notes that are kind of funny if you imagine the way they'd say it out loud, and some slightly well-known people repeat very conventional observations with no style at all. No one seems capable of keeping a solo blog, but if there were a few people in there who could, I wouldn't know, because I'm not going to slog through all the bad. And I find the environment there so un-charming that it doesn't put me in the mood to find the good.

I like running an individual blog, though I did temporarily group-blog last fall when Megan McArdle, Michael Totten, and I took over Instapundit (scroll down). When I did that, I still kept this blog going, and I was very aware of the different feelings I had writing in the two places. Over here, the whole blog is my self-expression. I don't have to stop and think about whether my saying something is good for the group. But operating within a group is good in different ways. It occurred to me as I wrote that that it's like the difference between living single and living in a family. There are benefits and limitations in both, but once you've made your choice, it's going to change what kind of a person you are.

Gordon wonders whether some individual bloggers -- he names me and two others -- could make some big, popular megablog, and he thinks it probably wouldn't work. The whole would be less than the sum of the parts. I guess that's a compliment! Are there people you want to read solo whom you'd like less if they were matched up with some appropriate co-bloggers? (And who would be appropriate for me?) And are there group blogs that you read that are written by individuals you'd shun if they set up a separate site?

A side note: the group blogs Gordon especially likes -- Marginal Revolution, Crooked Timber, and Volokh Conspiracy -- all put the blogger's name at the beginning of the post. I wish all group and partnership blogs would follow this pattern. Too many times have I read a post thinking it was one blogger only to realize it was one of the others, and on some blogs I only like one of the bloggers, and that little extra trouble of scrolling down to see the name and then back up to start reading is a disincentive to go over there at all. I know this is a default in the software, but changing it is important!


Kris said...

As a group blogger at Dummocrats, one of the advantages I see is that I feel much less pressure to post. I post when I have something to say, rather than to be sure there's a new post every day.

I think that I probably do a bit of self-censoring because my words are not just mine anymore. What we say represents everyone on that masthead. But, self-censoring isn't necessarily a bad thing. It makes it far more likely that I can be proud of the things I post, rather than occasionally embarassed by them.

Finally, not everyone has the time to post enough to keep up their own blogs. Group blogging lets those people still build an audience.

David Manus said...

I like group blahgs like Powerline or Polipundit because they post more, but I don't really check to see who posts what, they are more informational. They seem to speak with one voice most of the time anyway.

Blahgz like Althouse are more personal, and I read because I like the personality and opinions of the writer.

EddieP said...

Ditto Doc, I really like the personality and opinions of Professor Althouse. I read some group blogs like QandO and Powerline, but favor those written by individuals.

However, I'm fickle and need at least a daily post to keep me motivated. The Pajamas Media thing looks appealing and hope it works out well. It certainly has great founders.

I've tried reading Arianna's blog but find it so much blather.

DaveG said...

An indication of the difference between Powerline and Althouse is that when I run across one of Powerline's periodic music reviews or whatever, I scroll right on past. Conversely, I will stop and read about Ann's dinner with her son or her road trip to Cleveland.

I suspect that the difference is solely down to group blog vs. individual blog.

I propose that another difference between a group and an individual blog would be the tolerance for "repeat[ing] very conventional observations with no style at all." That's all I do at ShortFinal and I have at least 5 or 10 repeat visitors :-). Only one is family, so there must be some interest in it. Conversely, my reaction to Huffington's was the same as Ann's: ho-hum.

Fundamentally, it probably comes down to the idea that with an individual blog you tend to feel like you're in a conversation. Huffington's feels more like a noisy, crowded room.

David Manus said...

My problem with Powerline's music posts might be they are a half a generation or more older than me and I am not interested or totally disagree with their taste most of the time. It's like music has to be a certain age before it aquires resonance, and they are about a decade off mark (speaking very generally). Ms. Althouse is of a generation that I consider worthy music, so I read her music posts and comment (formerly emailed) a lot about them. Plus even the old stuff the PL guys like seems like crap to me, 90% of the time. They should stick to politics and leave off the pop culture. Maybe they are just too geeky to really know what is cool? Some of them actually worship Springstein, a hack for the ages.

Walter said...

Slightly off topic,

when reading the HuffPo, does it cut off [become all white] about 45% of the way down the page?

Jib said...

Speaking from my experience as an individual blogger and administrator for a group blog, I don't know that you can really say one is better than the other. Since the individual blog rests on the shoulders of one person, I think there is probably a higher percentage of 'bad' individual blogs. But those excellent individual blogs are good because it is one person speaking in one voice who controls the entire editorial content, and therefore tone, of the blog. Their voice doesn't get diluted by the voices of others

The group blog has the advantage of being able to rely on the talents of multiple people. I also think that the bad ones die out more quickly because the members know they are bad, so it is easier to find a 'good' group blog. A good group blog is a little tricky to form, though. The members have to figure out their role or voice in the group blog, yet everyone has to have something of a common direction or it ends up a chaotic mess like the HuffPo. As an example, look at The Corner. They have a lot of bloggers as well, but they have a common direction and the entire thing feels very cohesive.

There are great individual blogs and great group blogs. Preference often comes down to individual tastes, but from a quality standpoint, I think both are equally as good.

nappy40 said...

Ann, you and Richard should do a group blog. If you can get Tonya to sign on with her bitterness towards marriage and her ex-husband, then we'd have something.

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chuck_b said...

As much as I love reading Instapundit--and I really do (even bought a t-shirt!)--I never loved it more than when Althouse, Totten and McArdle took over briefly for Mr. Reynolds. Complementary, synergistic, downright exciting stuff, and I was sorry to see it end. I only wish they'd made it a foursome for a little longer.

Not so much re: Powerline. When they're good, they're good, but in general their voices and interests are so indistinct, I can't tell them apart. And w/ all due respect, none of them writes especially well either which makes them appear less intelligent than they probably are. I only get to Powerline when I'm bored and crave extra blog action. I certainly wouldn't bother to read individual blogs from any of those three.

The only group blog I read regularly is BoingBoing and perhaps I should should put blog in quotation marks when I use that word to to describe that site...?

I read Volokh periodically. The subject matter there trends toward the technical and lawyerly, whereas I consider myself a general interest reader. Therefore, I'm happy Volokh exists as a group blog and not a bunch of individual blogs. Volokh is more than the sum of its parts.

Insofar as Althouse alone is concerned, I'm an addict but the offerings don't always excite me as much as I might like. Same thing with Reynolds alone, et cetera.

And that's fine--my computer came with a mouse that I can use to click on links to different sites and I'm so very happy about that. Perhaps I would have come to feel the same way about the group experiment on Instapundit too had it gone on longer--who can say?

Regardless, since the question was asked, in my perfect blog world there would be a wildly stimulating Althouse/Instapundit/Totten/McArdle group blog going all the time.

(And no blog anywhere would write every single sentence in the passive voice and all sentences would end happily somewhere before the 30-word mark. And commenters like me would get their thoughts out in a clear, concise and correct format the first time so they don't leave an embarrassing trail of deleted comments in their wake... Erm. It's not me, it's the Chartreuse!)

All that said, I reiterate: I'm still very happy in the 95% perfect blog world.

Ann Althouse said...

Nappy: I think Richard and I function better with some distance between us. It's fun to barge into each other's comments section, but I guarantee you that if we were writing on the same page, we'd each have a big problem with the other's style. I think my feeling of needing to control my own space would be at its height if I were sharing it with my ex-husband.

But more generally, I could never just share this blog. I could participate in another blog as a group blogger, but I need a room of my own.

Leland: That Instapundit group blog thing was exciting in part because it was in the last days of the presidential campaign. Also, we guests knew we had a limited time to make our mark and the insane spark of suddenly having a quarter million readers a day. That was quite an incentive to do well.

Mark Daniels said...

Frankly, Ann, because of the amount and diversity of original writing you do on your blog, I've always thought of it in the same way, on good days, I think of my own: A group blog written by an individual.

But because they're written by individuals, they have unique voices which may more easily allow people to connect with them.

Few group blogs seem to foster this. They tend to overwhelm one with content and to under-communicate for lack of a coherent voice.

There are exceptions, of course. But this seems to be the case with most group blogs.

Ann Althouse said...

Mark: Thanks. Excellent point. That expresses exactly the problem I'd be concerned with if I group-blogged. I can just look back at the things I wrote on this blog when I was guest-blogging on Instapundit to see that. I wouldn't simul-blog Halloween over there. I wouldn't do multi-photo posts (with the exception of the Kerry rallly). I couldn't say quirky things about "American Idol." Or if I did, I'd have this extra layer of thinking about whether it's right. And if I had a partner here trying to do a similar mix with me, it would necessarily change the mix even if they tried to do a similar mix. I'd have to think about them thinking about what constitutes being the appropriately in tune with me and that would change me.

Bruce Hayden said...

Too bad about Ann and Richard. Their dynamic together is always interesting. I can't even envision doing such with my ex.

My experience is that few individual blogs are prolific enough and interesting enough to make it worth my time and energy to keep up with them. This one is unique. Ann talks on a number of subjects, many interesting.

So, mostly, I prefer group blogs. But that is really no surprise - I got into them from an email from Eugene Volokh on some IP subject. Probably his .sig or something got me interested.

Probably because my practice touches on many of the volokh.com interests, I do follow it pretty closely. And, it probably helps that I have met some of the bloggers there (in their pre-blogging days) at conferences, CLE events, etc. But, always, I find that I like the Volokhs the best there.

At Powerline, the Corner, and Polypundit, I often can't distinguish the voices that easily. This is both good and bad. Good in that there is consistency. Bad, in that it often becomes boring. Indeed, Ann's solo blog is more interesting than many of these group blogs. But, as I suggested above, hers is very good.

purple_kangaroo said...

I liked your suggestion of having the author's name at the top of the post instead of the bottom--that would be nice in comments, too.