Oct 282003

At Marginal Revolution Tyler Cowen plumps for linking, not thinking:

Glenn [Reynolds] is so successful because he understands the idea of blogs as portals. (This is my view, not Glenn’s own self-description.) Blogs that offer too much of the author, and the author alone, are vulnerable to other blogs that cream-skim them, and other blogs, thereby offering the superior product. The question is not who can write the best stuff, but who can collect the best stuff, and comment on it most effectively. Really smart people are not always used to these terms of competition, I might add. The future of blogging lies in the hands of those who recognize the intellectual and literary division of labor.

Now we non-portal types don’t rightly cotton to this. I can’t speak for Cowen, but I read the blogs I do precisely because they offer the author, and the author alone; “too much,” Steven Den Beste possibly excepted, is never enough. Blogs are amusing because they are personal. The “cream” of a blog always means more to the regular reader, who knows the author’s foibles and obsessions, than the skimmer who happens by only for that. By Cowen’s logic book-readers would restrict themselves to anthologies, and music-listeners to greatest hits. Cowen himself writes an entertaining blog where he ignores his own advice.

Linkers also think, and thinkers link, at least once in a while. The hard-and-fast distinction between “commenting on stuff effectively” and “writing stuff” eludes me. (Here I exclude “heh” and “indeed.”)

Cowen might ask why bloggers prostrate themselves before Glenn Reynolds for links. Is it because they are “vulnerable” to portal blogs like Glenn’s? Or is it, perhaps, because Glenn will drive readers to their site, and some of those readers may stick around to become regulars? Readers of portals presumably want to be ported somewhere. Instapundit, in any case, is not a portal in the sense that Yahoo is. Yahoo’s traffic allows it to sell services; Instapundit’s — well, I’m not sure what it does, besides bloat his traffic stats. By trade Cowen is an economist, and hobbies like blogging, into which many people put many hours with no hope of remuneration, are peculiarly opaque to economic analysis.

Cowen neglects to mention, but obviously understands, one key lesson of blogging: since the most devoted audience of blogs is bloggers, navel-gazing will always boost your hit count.

(Update: Rick Coencas comments. Nate Bruinooge comments.)