on the rise of trollblogs

I don’t know Robert Scoble at all, other than meeting him and drooling over his tablet PC at Gnomedex a couple of years ago, but I read his blog pretty faithfully, even though he works for the Borg. He’s a smart, insightful guy, and I read him for the same reason I read Seth Godin and Bruce Schneier: when I’m done with their blogs, I always feel smarter and more enlightened. These guys make me want to have a deeper understanding of the issues that affect all of us who make our livings on the Internets.

Over the weekend, Robert wrote a post about unsubscribing from memeorandum that really resonated with me. In his words:

Reading Dave Winer this morning
made me realize I’m just falling down a dark hole. It’s the same hole I
was in in the 1990s when I posted about 100,000 items on various
newsgroups: in a group the writer is in control, not the reader.

I miss my RSS reading. Reading RSS makes me smarter, not snarkier.
Why? Cause I choose who I’m going to read. Pick smart people to read
and you’ll get smarter.

Hint, the smartest people in my RSS are usually the least snarky. Why? Cause they could give a f**k about all the traffic.

Why is all the snark going on? Cause everyone wants traffic. Why did
I call this the John Dvorakification? Cause he figured out in the 1980s
(yes, he’s been at this so long) that if you attack a community
(particularly the Apple one) that everyone will get all up in arms and
will start talking about the attack. That translates into traffic.
Traffic = advertising dollars.

Trolling online is nothing new, but trolling to drive traffic to your blog and make money is definitely on the rise. I first noticed this new trend a few months ago when this guy obsessively attacked blogging.la for weeks, with copious links back to his own blog, where he did little more than bitch about what other people were doing. I’m sure it was a coincidence that the people he was complaining about all happened to be high-traffic blogs, right? I’ve also noticed a disturbing increase in blogs which try very hard to be sarcastic and acerbic, but just end up being cruel and mean . . . and of course draw a lot of links from the widely-read bloggers they target.

So why do these people do this? In a comment on Scoble’s blog, reader billg said:

Ah, Grasshopper, you have learned the secret of Talk Radio. If you
make half your audience Mad As Hell while the other half wear a
self-congratulatory Ego-Boosting Smirk, then they’ll all tune in
tomorrow.

An awful lot of blogs — especially political blogs — draw traffic
this way. Their comment sections have all the attributes of a bar
fight. Maybe we ought to christen them “Talks Blogs”.

Bloggers should never censor their opinions because they may be controversial; the whole point of this medium is that we all have the ability to express ourselves on a relatively equal footing, and we can learn a lot from each other when we disagree about things. But bloggers who stir up controversy where there is none, or intentionally attack other bloggers for the sake of generating traffic to their blog are just like UseNet trolls and should be plonked accordingly.

Scoble includes a few examples of people who make him feel smarter when he’s done with thier blogs. I just cleaned out my bloglines subs, and I’d like to add a few new blogs. If you’d like to share a blogger who makes you feel smarter (not just someone you always agree with, or who you find entertaining, or who you want everyone to read just because. Try to be honest, please – they challenge you and make you feel smarter) when you’re done reading, please leave it in the comments.

62 thoughts on “on the rise of trollblogs”

  1. Great post, Wil. I’ve noticed it to some extent in the poker blogging community. Start a controversy by talking smack about a particular blogger or entity, get people angry, get the angry people to comment about it on their own sites, increase traffic. I think part of the problem are the “reactors” and also the general mob mentality to protecting the attacked party. If people wrote the attacker off as expressing his opinion (and thereby not getting personally offended) they’d stop the cycle at the start. But I guess that is just part of group dynamics.

  2. Let’s see. Besides you, here are some blogs i can think of off the top of my head that I have to read every day:
    Pesky Apostrophe: Mac is hilarious, very socially concsious, and isn’t afraid to piss people off. My kind of gal.

  3. oops, here’s some more:
    Hippy Dave’s Random Ravings: Yeah, I host him, but his blog is so superior to mine, it’s nuts. He’s a Liberal Christian with a lot to say about the death penalty, Darfur, poverty, and lots of other social issues. I wish more Christians could be this open minded.
    Stupid Evil Bastard: Les is one of my heroes. Lots of great stuff here.
    8 Bit Joystick: Jake posts a lot about video games and other geeky things but also about politics.
    And finally, Kevin Smith, even though he’s horrible about keeping it updated. His journals make soda come out of my nose on a regular basis.

  4. Funny thing that he realizes this after reading Dave Winer… that man has got an ego the size of the two Dakotas, when it comes to “geek-related” items… JM2C of course… I just find it ironic.

  5. Being a law student I read a lot of law blogs. Some are really good at giving insight into legal issues that the mainstream press generally misses, but for the most part not in a way that requires a law degree to understand. (At least I don’t *think* so, but then, I’m 5/6ths the way to having mine so it’s hard to filter out what I know now from what I used to know…)
    Some good ones in particular:
    http://www.concurringopinions.com/
    http://www.theconglomerate.org/
    http://www.discourse.net/
    http://lawandpolitics.blogspot.com/
    http://www.volokh.com/
    Some of them have a slightly political bent, but nothing too onerous or snarky. All but the 4th are written by law professors, and all but the 3rd and 4th are group blogs. I like these blogs in particular because they are pretty well-written and I find I enjoy the personality of their authors.

  6. Snarkness, talk radio, Memeorandum, Robert Scoble, Wil Wheaton and why RSS feeds don’t necessarily make you smarter

    I was trolling around the A-listers looking for ways I could skewer them without justification and provide more traffic to my site, and I came across The John Dvorakification of the blogosphere (Im signing off of Memeorandum) over at…

  7. Hm. Well, I make a conscious effort to fill my Bloglines with a diverse group of blogs. Not just voices that are just like mine, you know?
    So in that spirit, may I suggest Modestly Yours? It is a well-written and thought-provoking group blog. They welcome conversation, and even when I totally disagree a post, they always present an interesting voice and opinion to think about.

  8. One of the blogs I frequent is Major K. A soilders POV from Iraq, although he is home now. I dont feel smarter after reading him, but I certainly dont feel any dumber.
    Waiter Rant is always good for some entertaining reading. Not guaranteed to improve IQ, but will make you smile.

  9. Ahhh that´s what I need to do to get more than 3 readers…..
    BitchPhD
    (http://bitchphd.blogspot.com)
    is a great one for lefties, women´s rights and academic type issues.
    Atmospheric Harmonies for Lone Voice
    (http://atmosphericharmoniesforloners.blogspot.com)
    is a fantastically written theatre critic that lets me put a small foot back into the Melbourne theatre scene and feel all cultural.
    Finally, Twelve Two Two Fondue
    (http://12tutufondue.blogspot.com)
    for wonderful writing that makes me go “God damn it I suck.”

  10. BitchPhD is a fun blog. :D
    I run a liberal, North Dakota-focused blog called the Flickertail Journal. Every now and then I cherrypick a post from one of the two big conservative blogs and critique it.
    I like to highlight the offensive nature of some of those posts (calling transgendered people “freaks,” etc.). North Dakota gets a bad rap as a backwater, intolerant hole in the ground because of people like that and it’s really unfortunate.
    I care about my state a lot (I’m even running for a seat in the state legislature) and I want people to know many North Dakotans do have values that include respect for everyone, even if they are different.

  11. I have nothing but smart asses and people that make me laugh in my Bloglines “people” feed.
    I don’t visit blogs that make me think or make me feel smarter. That’s what my books (and Discovery Channel) are for.
    To me, blogs are for sheer fun and goofing off and the distinct possiblility that projectile coke snot will run another $300 monitor.
    That said, my blog, Diary of a Fat Man (http://spaces.msn.com/fatblog), will make you feel smarter, but just because I write on a third grade level and you can feel vastly superior.
    Two blogs that make me feel dumb, because they are so funny that I am utterly jealous are: http://www.pamie.com and http://www.bobofett.com.

  12. If you have the patience to get into some truly great writing, I’d give Lorianne DiSabato a chance.
    http://www.hoardedordinaries.com/
    She is an English Professor at Keene State College (my alma mater), and echoes Thoreau in her subject matter and tone, but with a thoroughly modern–and female–point of view. It is a weblog filled with remarkable writing that always leaves me feeling a bit like a kid trying at an adult game with my own writing.

  13. http://www.paperfrog.com
    He hasn’t updated lately due to a lot of commitments he’s needed to meet. I like that when he does update it’s not just filler.
    Sometimes his posts are about local things, other times national or international. Either way they are all thought provoking and I come away with knowledge I didn’t have before.

  14. An interesting blogger with a different take on marketing and the future of business, who also refers to Scoble and other big names, is Hugh MacLeod:
    http://www.gapingvoid.com
    Big proponent of something called the Cluetrain Manifesto; does his own business-card sized cartoons; sometimes can snark with the best of them.

  15. Granted, I read a pretty niche group of blogs: beer and brewing blogs, as I am a beer blogger myself. Here they are:
    http://brianbeer.blogspot.com/
    http://badbensnanobrewery.blogspot.com/
    http://sudspundit.blogspot.com/
    http://marcobrau.blogspot.com/
    http://prantran.blogspot.com/
    http://fishmuse.blogspot.com/
    If you are interested, this is my beer blog:
    http://hunahpu.blogspot.com/
    What excites me about them is that it is a small community. Rather than compete for readers, we all read each other and post in each other’s comments.
    For me, when a blog is about real person, that is when it is good. It does not have to be necessarily well written. It just needs to be real.

  16. Can I be a blog geek now and say how wonderful it is how even this small sampling of blog readers has such a diverse set of interests and ways of reading blogs and what they value in a blog? LOVE IT.

  17. Okay, rather than just name my fave blogs, I’ll link to a handful of posts, and will tease by noting that these are not even the best posts of these particular blogs:
    http://www.faultline.org/place/pinolecreek/archives/001996.html
    http://iayork.livejournal.com/74858.html
    http://x-h00ine.livejournal.com/120457.html
    http://slit.livejournal.com/297723.html
    http://tsenft.livejournal.com/266406.html
    Unfortunately, I don’t always feels smarter after reading their blogs — in fact, I often feel more ignorant. But it’s the most pleasant, humbling sort of ignorance.

  18. I’ve always liked:
    Baghdad Burning – http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/
    A very thought-provoking and sincere blog written by an eloquent female Iraqi blogger about the current situation in Iraq. It’s nice seeing it from a totally different perspective every once in awhile. =)
    I also read this blog regularly:
    Twilight Invasion – http://www.twilightinvasion.com/
    Because Matt’s uber-cool… And he’ll probably beat me up for posting a link to his blog here. Muhahaha.
    I troll WWDN every once in awhile (ever since the days it had a webforum.. whatever happened to that?).. but for lighthearted entertainment when my brain is numb from studying or working too much, I like to read Rickey.org, a.k.a. “Pinoy Rickey”.

  19. great post wil,
    i suppose i’m late to the game here, in that i don’t actually read that many blogs, only a handful, and so i hadn’t noticed the ‘talk blog’ syndrome….but like talk radio, i suppose it’s just another one of those crappy things people do to get attention……
    on a better note tho, if i could share a few of the blogs i do actually read that make me feel smarter, i would definitely say any folks here that share wils political views (that pretty much are the same i have) should do themselves a favour and read these two blogs…very political, but without the ‘snark’…just plain intelligence, thank you very much….excellent reading…please enjoy:
    Justin Podur: the killing train
    http://www.killingtrain.com/
    and
    Noam Chomsky
    http://blog.zmag.org/bloggers/?blogger=chomsky

  20. This is the best blog I’ve found to make a person think( also, the commentators on this blog are just as insightful as the posts) David W. Boles at http://urbansemiotic.com/
    The blog most likely to make me spew my drink out of my nose: Danny at http://www.dadgonemad.com/
    The person I consider the Queen of the Blogs: Heather B. Armstrong at http://www.dooce.com/
    The blog that reminds me of Wil’s writing the most, The Magazine Man at http://www.masthead.blogspot.com/
    This is also the blog that makes it worthwhile to go thru the entire archive, start at the beginning and read everything this man has ever posted. Well worth it.
    And don’t forget to check out the adorable blog he started for his boy Thomas at http://artlad.blogspot.com/ It contains some pretty fantastic drawings for a seven year old. Up now is the valentine he drew for his dad. It is absolutely priceless.

  21. damn hunahpu…excellent suggestion about the Matthew Good blog..i was going to link that myself (being a big big fan of Mat Good’s music) but when i went to check the link, his blog was down…hope it comes back soon….for those in the ‘know’ and everyone else, matthew good is a well known canadian musician who used to front the Matthew Good band, but has now gone solo…absolutely amazing lyricist and musician…check out some of his stuff, like ‘apparitions’ or ’21st century living’…you’ll be amazed….and just as amazing is his insightful and completely bullshit free blogging on foreign policy (canada and the US)…excellent writing…

  22. Web Cartoonist Howard Tayler, creator of Schlock Mercenary.
    You might not agree with him all the time, but he’s smart and he does try to keep up on things and he’s funny too. You can read his blog ( http://www.schlockmercenary.com/blog/ ) or his Live Journal ( http://howardtayler.livejournal.com/ ) – I do both. He enjoys his family just as much as you do yours. In fact, he gave up a very well paying job to be a full time cartoonist, so he could do more with his family.

  23. I think there are a lot of blogs that deliberately try to wind people up, and give them something emotive without something rational to go with it.
    I think there are also a lot of blogs that are intellectual without feeling strongly about anything, and that makes them feel dry and sterile.
    One of the things that I like about YOUR writing is that you’re able to talk about feelings in a pretty open and frank way. You somehow understand that humans are animals, and have feelings, but humans are also self-aware and able to self-examine.
    I personally am drawn to bloggers who SAY how they feel, honestly, but don’t try to wind me up or persuade me. I don’t want to be manipulated into feeling something, but I do enjoy sharing a feeling with someone else who is having it.
    I wonder if your acting experience allows you to express a certain emotion without letting it carry you away?
    Thanks as always for sharing your writing with us.

  24. The political blogs don’t make me smart. They just make me depressed, really. But Art is Fun! The best and smartest blog I read is by Nick Currie, who sort of was a musician called Momus, but writes a lot about culture, design, art, technology and Japan… he even has a column in Wired, how’s that for a recommendation. He’s a very good writer, and posts long, thoughtful, well-researched things almost every day. But the best part of reading his blog is that he helps me open my eyes more, to see that the people and things around me in daily life are actually really interesting and great. He writes at http://www.livejournal.com/users/imomus/
    and though as he will be the first to admit can be really pretentious at times (and his comments are so pretentious, I can’t bear them!) he always makes me very smart.
    Second best is Neil Gaiman, but we all love him already of course.
    cheers
    Stephanie

  25. Other blogs (and news posts) I read that you might like:

    Steve Pavlina, Personal development for smart people:  http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/feed

    Kevin Kelly, Cool Tools: http://www.kk.org/cooltools/index.xml 

    LifeHacker, Productivity blog: http://www.lifehacker.com/index.xml 

    Penny-Arcade Gaming (and game industry) News:  http://www.penny-arcade.com/rss.xml

    Ali Davis, Aspiring Hollywood Phony: http://www.livejournal.com/users/alidavis/data/rss    She doesn’t post very often anymore though :-(

    Cooking for Engineers (and Geeks):  http://www.cookingforengineers.com/atom.xml

    Also, here are two defunct blogs that I think were great. Well worth reading through their archives.
    Ali Davis, True Porn Clerk Stories: http://www.improvisation.ws/mb/tpcs.html
    Cheeseburger Brown’s Diary of a Dark Lord (Darth Vader’s Blog): http://www.darthside.blogspot.com

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