Arguments for and against blogs

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This page considers various arguments for and against blogs.

gwern says:

I have read blogs for many years and most blog posts are the triumph of the hare over the tortoise. They are meant to be read by a few people on a weekday in 2004 and never again, and are quickly abandoned - and perhaps as Assange says, not a moment too soon. (But isn’t that sad? Isn’t it a terrible ROI for one’s time?) On the other hand, the best blogs always seem to be building something: they are rough drafts - works in progress. So I did not wish to write a blog.

What you write is essentially useless if it doesn’t last1. As gwern highlights, link rot is a huge problem, and human memory is highly fallible. Ideally, you want to track each revision of a text so that even if you update it according to criticisms, people can still look back on the original to see the context in which comments were made. Something like Git is great, although now even WordPress has version control built in (not that users have access to past versions of an entry). In general it’s best to plan in the super long term.

Blogs are bad because they send off a bad impression if you haven’t written a new post in a while; with static sites, it’s harder to tell (nor does it really matter) if you haven’t written anything in a while, because the content isn’t displayed chronologically. Think critically whether chronology is important for something you’re writing: unless it’s a diary or daily log or something, it’s unlikely that organizing something by date will be useful for the reader.

Blogs can be good since if people use RSS (or another notification system) to get content, blogs ensure that people who want to read what you write get it when it comes out. Also on Facebook people post articles often, but not many pages from static sites (since those mostly go through minor adjustments over a long course). On Facebook, what wins is a coherent message packed into an article, not an exhaustive investigation spanning many years. So blogs might get you more publicity (at least while you have the energy to write continually). That said, it is possible to set up RSS feeds on Hakyll and using other static site generators (Hakyll even has a blog option, after all!), but this will usually include minor adjustments or just when a page is first created; i.e. it isn’t possible to tell when a page becomes “finished enough” when everything is a perpetual draft (like what gwern does). Posting a monthly “what I did this month” sort of thing would work too (as again gwern does with his website); but then, it’s possible to just make that announcement on Facebook?

Dan Dascalescu discusses here the difference between a blog and a wiki.

If you want to convey your thoughts on a topic at a certain point in time, or in response to time-critical material, then a blog might be the best way to produce content2. Timeless echoes this:

A blog is perfect for writing about changes: a person’s life, the society in general, the progress of a project, or other events. The readers are encouraged to frequently visit the blog in order to keep up to date, and in some blogs (these days: most blogs) they can also post comments and take a part of the discussion.

So simple and so effective that it has slowly taken over the internet, which isn’t only positive. Useful information is hidden beneath “September 2008”, but is still as relevant today. Posts with glaring mistakes are left online because all blog posts should be immutable. People forget to write down the context (in the technical world: version numbers, operation systems etc), so it’s impossible to know if the post still applies a few years later.

The blog has become the norm, even in the places where it doesn’t fit at all.

The conclusion is essentially identical to gwern’s:

The goal of Timeless is that every articles should be timeless. Well, not timeless in the usual meaning of the word, but timeless as in every article should include enough context to be easily understandable if you discover it a month, a year or maybe even ten years later. The article should be regularly updated as we learn and discover new aspects of the topic.

See also

  1. There are two arguments against this view: (1) it is often said that the act of writing something down is significant in itself (think of a diary or a learning blog: “They say that the best way to learn is to teach, and I figure blogging is close enough”); (2) if the writing makes an immediate and lasting impact on the people who read the content, then it might not matter whether the content survives or not.↩︎

  2. But version-controlled pages would work too.↩︎