Blog Appraisals

Tim Brister —  September 20, 2007 — 20 Comments

Here is something I wrote for Said at Southern yesterday. Love to hear some feedback on this one . . .

Over the course of the past three years, I have encountered thousands of Christian blogs and currently subscribe to well over a hundred. Each day a new blog enters the blogosphere with the hopes and promise of being read and recommended by others. This past week, I have been thinking about making explicit the criteria I have implicitly considered when appraising blogs/bloggers. I thought I would share with you some of criteria I consider when evaluating whether (or to what degree) I read or follow a particular blog. Let’s begin with the blogger.

The first thing I hope to find in a good blog is (1) someone whose life is not defined by their blog. I know that sounds weird, but I want to know that this person has a life outside the blogosphere, is making a difference in their world with the gospel, and is known for their investments in family, ministry, and church and not just their blog. The (2) second thing I look for in a blogger is humility. A blogger can have some great content and substantial things to say, but if their content is not grounded in a humble disposition as a learner and listener, then I rarely visit. This leads to my (3) third aspect of the blogger, which is their treatment of others. Disagreement happens. Stupid comments happen. Unfortunately, vitriolic ad-hominems happen. How the blogger handles criticism and those who agree with them is important because it shows me whether they respect others and genuinely want to engage in a conversation or just want to blow them off. Lastly and most importantly, I want to know that the blogger is (4) gospel-centered in their blogging. This does not mean that every blogpost has to explicitly be about the gospel; rather, I want to see that they are blogging with a gospel-centered approach. The gospel should shape what we say and do not say, and how we say it.

Now let’s turn to the blog itself. There a number of factors I consider when reading a blog. The ones I read regularly have most of these, though not all. They are enumerated as follows:

1. Relevancy – If the blog is a journal of your everyday life or some esoteric hobby, then not only will I not read your blog, I will repent of the time I wasted in doing so (okay, not really). But seriously, if the blog is not geared to an audience in which I find myself, then I won’t buy the ticket to the show.

2. Originality/uniqueness – There are so many Christian blogs out there. They are so many Christian blogs out there saying the same thing. I am drawn to the blogs who are unique in their formatting of the blog and original in the content. We all know and read the evangelical Drudge Report, and those who are blogoclones (that’s my new word for the day) do get tiring. The blogs that have something unique to contribute to the blogosphere (which requires a little more effort) are worth a look and should be given greater consideration.

3. Precision/argumentation – Exegetical and logical fallacies are annoying. On the other hand, I really enjoy articles and posts that are carefully thought out, coherent, and critically precise (critical in the scholarly sense, not mere negation).

4. Depth/knowledge – If you are going write about a certain topic, do your homework and be as thorough as you can. Sure, blogs are not scholarly articles, but good blogs become excellent by synthesizing and presenting both a breadth and depth of knowledge that is enlightening and informing.

5. Consistency/regularity – This does not mean that all good blogs post everyday, but it does mean that one can expect some measure of regularity when you post. Furthermore, when a blog is consistently good, they develop a reputation for being a quality blog. The blogs I highly appraise are those that, whenever I click on their site, I know there will be something worth reading.
6. Style of writing/engaging and persuasive – It is not enough to think well (precision/argumentation) but also to write well. I have heard that blogging produces bad thinking and bad writing. Like any form of media, there is a mixture of the good and the bad (as in television programming). In the Christian blogosphere, I have seen both, and while I may not be really interested in the topic, I will read enjoy a blogpost that is engaging and persuasive.

7. Content-driven – Blogs can serve any purpose, from journaling to marketing to networking. Yet the blogs that I am drawn to are the ones that are content-driven, meaning that the substance of what they write and communicate are rich, sound, and substantive. When a blog is driven by content, this serves as a filter to keeping a high standard of formatting and posting.

8. Appreciation of History – I know this may sound odd, since blogging is considered a technological fad focused on trendy novels of our day. Nevertheless, blogs that have a historical consciousness and are rooted in an appreciation of the writings of yesteryear provide a balance and perspective which I find necessary and helpful. Chronological snobbery is bad news.

9. Personal edification – After having spent some time reading or reflecting on a blogpost, I want to know that it was profitable, edifying, and personally enriching, even if it is something I may disagree with what was said.

10. Blog aesthetics – Lastly, I like blogs that are aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate. If the text is hard to read or the format is busy and confusing, then I am discouraged from reading the blog. If you want others to read what you have written, then it is important to make the effort to present it in such a way that others will be attracted and drawn rather than frustrated or discouraged.

Lastly, I feel like I should mention a few turn-offs. First, don’t be controversy-driven or try to build a readership by focusing on controversy. If controversy happens, then so be it, but don’t make it the centerpiece of your blog. Second, don’t prostitute your blog. By that I mean don’t go commenting on other popular blogs for the sake of getting people to your site or by begging people to link to you. There are several blogs that have a wide readership and draw a lot of traffic but at a high price. Don’t be a sell-out. Build your blog one post at a time without trying to gain favors or be propped up by another. Third, don’t be a jerk. Close to that would also a caution to be careful when using satire or sarcasm. Most of the time it just isn’t appropriate. Fourth, beware of self-promotion. It is an honor if others recognize you but foolish for you to try to make a name for yourself. Be grateful for the recommendation of others but beware of the temptation to promote yourself or your blog. Fifth, allow comments. Blogs by nature are conversational. Those which do not allow comments are not real blogs. Sorry. Lastly, don’t get into the “inner circle” mode with your blog. There are some good blogs out there that I would possibly enjoy reading more (and commenting), but I don’t visit their blog because they have developed an “inner circle” mentality. This is more likely to occur in group blogs than individual blogs. An example of this inner circle mentality is the IX Marks blog. I think it has great content but clearly gives the impression that the primary audience is not intended for your and me, but that we are lucky to have listened to their conversation.

I guess that’s it. In case you are wondering, here are some examples of blogs I find worth reading. Tim Challies, Mark Lautherbach, Joe Thorn, Erik Raymond, Thabiti Anyabwile, Nathan Finn, and Trevin Wax (there are many others, of course).

>> So what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my criteria? Anything else you might add?

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20 responses to Blog Appraisals

  1. I forgot to mention that I will be out of town and most likely away from the blog for the next couple of days. If you think about it, please pray for me as I will be speaking twice this weekend. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the honor, Timmy. I like what you’ve said here… especially about having a life outside the blogworld, maintaining an attitude of humility, and the appreciation of history.

  3. It’s not for anyone else to really agree or disagree with your criteria for blog reading, since this is the filter through which you prefer to read. My own criteria is very much in agreement with yours, but I do like blogs that chronicle day to day life as well, it brings in a more personal touch. I do disagree however that blogs without comments are not really blogs at all. I read a few blogs that don’t have commenting and I appreciate them very much. I also agree about the inner circle impression – there are many like that and I suspect they didn’t set out to be that way, but just sort of settled into such a niche.

  4. Tim, well written. I enjoyed and agreed with your ‘blog turn-offs’ it is always helpful to be recalibrating yourself (and your blog) with the ultimate goal of life (1 Cor. 10.31). Also, thanks for the ref. …I’ve been reading P&P for awhile now and have enjoy it, keep it up.

    erik

  5. Tim,

    This article is awesome, and it will also be very helpful to those who are about to enter the world of blogging or want to improve their blogs.

    Our ultimate goal should always be to follow Christ and honor and exalt Him. It’s always a good thing to be reminded of that.

  6. So I guess if I post a comment it will be taken as a blatant appeal for my own blog. Oh well, damned if you do…etc.

  7. Tim,

    Thanks for the article! I came across it at an oportune time as I have just started Journey of Words. You have some wonderful advice that I plan on implementation and pondering as I write.

  8. Challies.com pointed me here so he must agree with your criteria.

    Good stuff it is.

  9. So I shouldn’t post here in the hopes of being discovered? Rats!

  10. Carla,

    You are right. My criteria is subjective. I am not making it a prescription per say, although it may appear to be that. I just felt like it would be helpful to give some specific things I look for in blogs/bloggers in the same way I appreciate a professor who shares what he looks for in a research paper.

    As far as the personal journaling goes, I not big on it because I am not a celebrity and don’t pretend to be one. 99.9% of Christian bloggers are ordinary people. Can they journal about their lives? Of course. Do I think it is helpful for close friends and family to keep up? Yes. But I would venture to say that 95% of the people of read my blog could care less about the everyday ongoings of my life (I may be wrong on that). Rather, they are coming for content, ideas, discussion on issues, resources, etc., that are relevant to them. On another note, I fear that blogs can lead Christians that they can be celebrities in a virtual world and lead them to miss out on a meaningful life in the real world. I hope that makes sense. :)

    John and Steve,

    You are both now permanently banned from the blog. Just kidding. I knew someone would do that!

  11. Timmy, yes, it all made sense :) It’s a subjective thing for each blogger, and yes indeed, blogging can lead one to think more highly of themselves than they ought to, sadly. I appreciate your thoughts on this subject.

    SDG,
    Carla

  12. Thanks Carla. BTW, I met a lady who knows you. I told her to tell you I said “Hi.” I think it from the James White Discussion Board.

  13. Timmy: it’s a small world, isn’t it? :)

  14. don’t prostitute your blog

    I did it once off David “JollyBlogger” Wayne’s site and coined the word “piggy-tracking” to define the action.

    And I guess I just did it again. ;-)

    Bad blogger. (slaps my own hand)

  15. Timmy,

    Thanks for the kind props. Great post.

    NAF

  16. I like blogs that are aesthetically pleasing

    Yea, but what happens when you don’t have mad photography skills and are only able to finagle your way through Microsoft “paint” ?

  17. That’s funny Ched!

    I make my blog headers available to anyone who wants to use them. I have somewhere around 75 right now. The dimensions are 740×180. Feel free to use them if you like.

    Microsoft paint? Really?

  18. Timmy,

    Do you think it’s possible for bloggers to “mature” and grow, to get better and more Christ-like in their blogging, their articles, and how they relate to commenters and critics? I’m referring mainly to myself, and my efforts in the blog world.
    You said a lot of wise things here, too, some of which I’ve adopted and all of which I hope I am mindful of going forward. Thanks for your work on your blog and for this and other articles you’ve written, and thanks for posting this among your top 30 posts of 2007 – otherwise I wouldn’t have remembered to read thru this post again.

  19. Brian,

    Absolutely I believe there is a maturity, in areas including style, content, and trajectory. In style, you learn about programming, blogging aesthetics/functionality, and the character of your community and their comments.
    In content, what you choose and do not choose to write about. Your content will also filter the comments.
    In trajectory, where you are headed or hope to accomplish.

    In all these and perhaps more I can say that blogs mature and change, hopefully for the better. Now, there are those who have an axe to grind and will keep on doing the same thing over and over, never learning and never growing. I personally do not pay much attention to them.

    The fact that you brought that up leads me to believe I should write about blogging in general some more. I think it would be helpful, for me, and I hope for the greater blogging community.

  20. Thanks, Timmy.

    If and when you do write more about blogging, I’d like to hear you expand on trajectory.

    Being that we are Christians, and we address Christian issues in a blog, how important is it to discern God’s will for your blog? Is this something you can just do on your own, or do you need to have clear direction from God as to whether to blog or not, and then what to blog about? And how would you discern that?

    Those are issues I and a few others on my blog have been grappling with. We have some clarity, but not to the degree I personally would prefer.

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