Ades of AdesBlog.com has a theory: that top bloggers don’t read other people’s blogs. To test his theory, he asked several big-name bloggers — Michael Arrington, Darren Rowse, Jeremy Schoemaker, and Yaro Starak — about their blog-reading habits. Except for Darren Rowse, they all said they read few or no blogs; Rowse said he subscribes to 700 but only skims the whole list occasionally — there are about 50 he looks at on a daily basis.
This is far from an exhaustive sample, but it’s got me wondering: how do you know when you’re reading too many blogs? I can’t imagine dropping blog-reading entirely — I get too much useful information, both for my professional life and my personal life, to consider blog-reading a total waste of time. On the other hand, though, do I read too many (I’m subscribed to 295)? Should I be more selective than I already am — or should I have a better system for processing the ones I do read?
Pros and Cons of Blog Reading
There are lots of good reasons to read blogs, including:
- Inspiration: Reading blogs gives me ideas that I can use or build on in my own work.
- Keeping up with current events: Since local news is useless, and cable news only slightly less so, blogs are often where I learn about the most important news of the day. I also learn of important news that the regular news outlets aren’t even covering (or are covering badly).
- The pulse of the times: As someone with a professional interest (as both an anthropologist and a writer) in how people and society act, reading blogs offers me insight into the way people see and react to the world around them.
- Things I wouldn’t think to ask: While I am an adept Googler when I need answers to some pressing question, a lot of time I’ve learned things from blogs I wouldn’t have Googled because I didn’t even know I didn’t know them. For example, I learned this year that I can deduct mileage between my home office and my classrooms, since I don’t have an office on campus.
- Entertainment: I find reading a strong writer’s thoughts on the topic of their expertise a far more entertaining prospect than watching 22 minutes of sit-com pablum (with 8 more minutes of commercial nonsense).
Are those pros balanced by the cons, though? The negative side of blog-reading includes:
- The echo-chamber effect: I read blogs that, for one reason or another, I like, which means it’s possible that I’m hearing viewpoints and opinions that resonate well with my own to the exclusion of others. To be honest, I don’t think this is a big problem, since blogs aren’t the only medium through which I engage with the world, but it’s something to think about.
- Time consumption: I’m not really sure how much time I spend reading blogs every day. An hour in the morning and again in the evening seems about right for most days. I that time that could be better used for other things?
- A sense of urgency: I sometimes feel pressure to go through more posts, because even a day or two of scant reading leaves my Google Reader inbox at “1000+”. A thousand of anything seems like a lot of work to do — am I setting myself up with a great deal of unnecessary stress and anxiety?
- The other echo-chamber effect: There’s only so much news in any niche, so when something noteworthy happens, chances are several sites will end up running the same story with only slight differences. I can either spend time reading each story to make sure I don’t miss any subtle detail, or skip them (which also takes time, and may mean I miss some key detail).
- Headlines that don’t pay off: You can process a lot of RSS feeds in very little time if you just look at headlines and delete anything that doesn’t look promising. There are two problems with this:
- Lots of bloggers are better headline writers than they are post writers. They know “10 Ways to Be Sexier” will attract readers, but only know 3 good ways to be sexier.
- Lots of other bloggers are better post writers than headline writers. Their incredibly insightful posts are given useless headlines like “I hadn’t thought of it like that…” and “Another Story I Like”.
Developing a Blog Reading System
One way to deal with some of these blog-reading downsides would be to change how I organize my RSS feeds. Currently, they’re organized by topic — I have a set of feeds for “productivity”, another on “writing”, a third on “education”, and so on.There are a few topics I try to read at least partially every day, and some I only read when I get around to it. But maybe I should adopt a system I’ve seen some others use, categorizing by priority?
- Daily reads: Top authorities in their niche; the top 10 or so blogs worth looking at every day.
- Weekly reads: Strong blogs that post less frequently or post stuff I really want to spend some time on, so I could review them on my day off and not worry about rushing through them.
- Occasional reads: Blogs on topics I enjoy reading about but which aren’t essential to my day-to-day life. To read whenever I have free time.
- Probation: For new subscribes while I figure out a) whether I really want to give them my attention, and b) how high a priority I should make them.
I’m not especially thrilled at the prospect of re-tagging all my feeds in Google Reader, but maybe that’s what it takes to make sure that I’m not wasting my time on unessential reading when I could be doing something more important.
What about you?
I’d be interested in knowing how other people handle their blog-reading. Are Arrington and the others mentioned above anomalies? Do you read a lot of blogs? How many? Do you have a system for limiting the time you spend reading blogs? Do you not have one and feel like you do? And while we’re on the topic, what blogs do you consider “essential reading”?