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The Importance of Quantity

Some good blogging advice from Felix Salmon:

As always, there’s a trade-off between quantity and quality. Should you write more, with lower quality, or less, with higher quality? Fortunately, the blogosphere has been around for long enough that we have a simple empirical answer to this question: given the choice, go for quantity over quality. You might not like it — I certainly don’t — but I defy you to name a really good blogger who doesn’t blog frequently.

Often bloggers are the worst judges of their own work; I can give you hundreds of personal examples of blog entries I thought were really good which disappeared all but unnoticed, and of blog entries I thought were tossed-off throwaways which got enormous traction and distribution. Mostly, blogging is a lottery on the individual-blog-entry level — and if you want to win the lottery, your best chance of doing so is to maximize the number of lottery tickets you buy.

Personally, I’m not very happy about this fact. But it is a fact. And although I might gravitate towards those blogs in my RSS reader which have only one or two unread entries, I know that empirically speaking success in the blogging world is pretty much directly proportional to frequency of output. I thought RSS would change things. It didn’t. Ah well. And don’t worry about time of day, either: people read blogs at the craziest times, so once it’s written just put it up.

That's certainly my experience. A big part of building your audience is making your blog a habit for your readers. And people don't become habituated to things that are irregular. A side point to this is that a lot of writers -- myself included -- don't like to write when they don't have anything particularly interesting or original to say. In certain ways, that's a perfectly sound instinct. But it forgets that a lot of the value we provide is not in the things we personally create but in the things we promote: important newspaper articles and interesting bits of analysis and useful research reports. Effective aggregation doesn't do very much for a writer's reputation, but it does make him or her useful to readers.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 10, 2009; 6:03 PM ET
 
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Comments

"I defy you to name a really good blogger who doesn’t blog frequently."

Jay Rosen.

Posted by: pj_camp | July 10, 2009 6:25 PM | Report abuse

"I defy you to name a really good blogger who doesn’t blog frequently."

Do you mean really good blogger or really good writer? Because the blogs I read for the excellent writing feature less-frequently posted--but consistently excellent--material.

Dashed-off news analysis and up-to-the-minute opinions are available everywhere, all the time; truly good writing is a rarer treat. Both are good to have, though, and I'm grateful for the array of choices.

Posted by: litbrit | July 10, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

your indispensable aggregation is the reason I read you. It's getting habitual to turn to your column for a riff on an issue rather than to study the source issue.

You are a great writer, you can re-package an issue on-the-fly extremely well. It's called reporting.

And good writers almost always cited their reading as a big ingredient of their craft.

Posted by: wapomadness | July 10, 2009 7:52 PM | Report abuse

I think the most successful blogs establish a rythm and stick to it. It's not necessarily the number of posts but rather the expectation on the part of the reader that something new and hopefully interesting will be there when they visit.

The blog I comment on most frequently (Digby's Hullabaloo) doesn't get going until later. Which is good for me because it is most active when I come home from work. Yours is more a 9-5 blog. I check it during the day from work but I have no expectation that you are even around in the evenings. Sometimes you engage in a flurry of blogging and it's hard to keep up. But you get points for consistency and interest.

Eschaton is active pretty much all the time and I check it frequently but don't really comment there much. But they have a huge base of readers and there's always something new.

Anyway, quantity is good. But I think getting your readers and commenters into a groove is more important.

luko

Posted by: luko | July 10, 2009 8:01 PM | Report abuse

Apparently I'm an outlier, but I couldn't agree less with the premise. I can easily name several bloggers - Andrew Sullivan and Matt Yglesias, for example - I removed from my RSS reader because the quantity of their posts overwhelmed. I came to the conclusion that while I valued their particular viewpoints on a lot of issues, far too often they were all aggregating the same things from each other. Digging through all that to get to the gems was a waste of my limited time.

Posted by: adagio847 | July 10, 2009 9:43 PM | Report abuse

I also disagree with Salmon. Well, I think he's right for some bloggers and wrong for others. My newsreader's feeds range from very busy tumblogs to blogs that are only updated about once a month but are very well written and insightful. I'm especially excited to see a new post from them.

Posted by: itch | July 10, 2009 11:48 PM | Report abuse

Agreed. I very much appreciate Ezra's take on the news, but I also appreciate Ezra *finding* me the news.

Posted by: tomveiltomveil | July 11, 2009 1:10 AM | Report abuse

Imho it's wrong to tie this criticism of the blogosphere. Especially since the problem isn't simply quantity over quality, but much more regular content over quality. The rule seems to be that you have to put up new stuff regularly to meet your "customers' expectations", and only then care about the value of your "product". And that seems to be true for media in general. Newspapers don't reduce their page count when they can't come up with high quality stories about the news, either. TV news aren't cut short when the quality of the takes isn't convincing. Before you show blank pages or empty screens, you better show at least show something, even if it doesn't meet your own thresholds. Really, looking at the stenographing in newsrooms today, and TV news which seem to be iterchangeable, regardless of the channel you see, this problem isn't limited to the blogosphere.

But at least most blogs get feedback from their readers in form of comments, and that's a strong incentive for quality. The "content creators" at the papers or TV news are much more shielded from such direct response, and imho this shows in their stuff. So, don't blame the blogosphere for this somewhat universal problem, and don't make it sound as if bloggers are the worst offenders!

Posted by: Gray62 | July 13, 2009 1:59 AM | Report abuse

Steve Benen over at WashingtonMonthly.com's home page (i.e. Political Animal) demonstrates every day that quality and quantity aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. He religiously posts hourly from approximately 8 AM to 5:30 PM (on the dot) on weekdays, and until early afternoon on weekends. In response, I religiously go to his page every hour for insightful commentary. Most bloggers don't have as much structure as Benen does (his fellow blogger, Hilzoy, seems to have none at all), but I appreciate the reliably timely information from one of the hardest working and highest quality bloggers out there. (I guess I would advocate that other bloggers follow his model).

Posted by: cjo30080 | July 13, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

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