Advisio: commentary in the sidebar

You may have noticed, even as Valerie and I have begun posting more frequently, we still both of us don’t actually post all that frequently any more. There is a reason.

Really, there are two very different models of blogging out there. The first is what you might call the newspaper model. Newspapers are published every day, with articles prepared on a set deadline. If your newspaper were delivered erratically, you’d cancel your subscription and ask for your money back. All the famous blogs that I’m aware of post according to this model, and that is why I try not to read any of them. When I was first getting in to blogging, the mantra you could hear from every angle was “Post every day, no matter what, no matter how hard it is. Blogging is a discipline, and you have to keep your name in people’s minds on a regular basis or you’ll never get anywhere.

Of course, all that was before the advent of feed readers like Google Reader. You had to post every day because people were manually clicking over to your site on a regular basis. If you went several days without saying anything, that meant that people would be viewing your page several days in a row with nothing changing there. Eventually they’d say to themselves, “what’s the point?” and hey, presto! no audience.

With feed readers, things work just the opposite. You might call it the RSS model. Most of your readers aren’t manually going to your site anymore, they’re opening their reader and seeing whatever’s new that day. If you say nothing for a few weeks, nobody’s the wiser, and then, when you *do* say something, if it’s any good, it’s a pleasant surprise. In this case, the worst thing you could do is insist on posting every day, but posting drivel 90% (or more) of the time. That means you’re always popping up in the reader, but mostly you’re popping up as an annoyance. That would be bad.

I especially noticed it when I was trying to keep up with Instapundit. He didn’t just post every day, or even twice a day, but often six or seven times in an hour. Sometimes the post would be a single word – a link to something interesting he had read, with no analysis. My reader was flooded! I couldn’t see anybody elses stuff, and almost everything he had to say was… nothing. Now I don’t bother with him; I don’t care how popular he is with the other kids.

Which is why, early on, I decided that I wasn’t going to be doing much in the way of link sharing at Neumatikos. If I posted something, it would be because I had something to say. The only time I was going to write a post merely linking to another site, it would have to include with it something of my own thoughts, or it wouldn’t go up. Hence fewer posts.

Tim Challies and others like him got around the flooding issue by creating two very separate feeds. One for normal blogging, and another with short, link-oriented posts, usually in the sidebar somewhere. I found that it wasn’t very feasible to set up something similar on our site without a lot of convoluted programming that I just wasn’t all that interested in doing. If I read something really cool, I would email it to the fortunate (or else not so fortunate) few, and that was that.

Enter Google again. Now they’ve added two linked features in their Reader called “Shared Items” and “notes.” Any post in your reader (or even out of it) can be shared with the click of a button, and you can attach any kind of commentary – a “note” – to it. (It’s also possible to post notes unattached to any shared item, but that sounds a little too much like blogging to me, which would be redundant.) If we IM each other regularly, these shared items will automatically show up in your reader, separate from the neumatikos weblog.

But even if you don’t use Google Reader, you can still see our shared items, conveniently located in the sidebar. One for Convallaria, one for Puretext, each with it’s own separate page, conveniently generated by Google. Even better, each has it’s own separate RSS feed, so you can subscribe to either (or not) and no flooding.

So there you have it: link sharing in the sidebar without any messing around with the site infrastructure. And if ever the pace of actual blogging slows down, even if we aren’t writing, at least you’ll know what it is we’re reading.

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