It's a Free Internet

By Sean Carroll | July 15, 2007 6:02 pm

Simultaneously, and without apparent coordination, Phil Plait, PZ Myers, and Chris Pirillo put up posts that say basically the same thing: “I like to blog about stuff I am interested in, which includes more than one thing. If your interests do not precisely coincide with mine (which should hardly be surprising), you are welcome to skip over those posts you don’t care for, and enjoy those that you do.”

Hmmm. A daring, quirky, somewhat off-the-wall point of view. I wonder if it will catch on?

  • PZ Myers

    I doubt it. We’ll probably be berated forever more every time we post anything that doesn’t fit someone’s concept of what we’re supposed to post.

  • Ian B Gibson

    What? You mean we don’t have to read every single post in every weblog we frequent?

    Good god, why didn’t somebody tell me this until now?

  • Phil Plait

    PZ, maybe we could spend a week switching. You post about astronomy, and I’ll complain about my students^h^h^h I’ll take on squid.

  • Zeno

    People pay nothing to read blog posts, yet they can be very demanding about what they want those blog posts to be. Funny.

  • Neil B.

    Sure, but it is a bit confusing and a sort of false advertising, if your presentations often don’t follow the mold of the advertised theme. OTOH, I like seeing some political and philosophical material here, just like I like seeing offbeat ruminations at Washington Monthly off and on. (BTW, Drum’s threads attract the most eloquent and knowledgeable commenters I see around, on a par – albeit more scrappy and snarky – than at DeLong. And even the trolls, some legendary, are clever and diverting!)

  • Chris Pirillo

    You do not normally write about me, so please go back to not writing about me.

  • absolutely

    And don’t forget… you don’t have to read over all the comments. Just skip the ones you don’t like.

  • PK

    I think it is perfectly OK (preferable even) if you treat those comments as spam and delete them. I take it you want mostly high quality comments, and these only start the old arguments again. You can warn people up front about this with a disclaimer above the “leave a reply” area. In fact, why don’t you do this already? (Of course, I don’t want to tell you what to do with your blog…)

  • Alex R

    I think that there are very few who would deny bloggers the right to blog about whatever interests them.

    However, I also don’t see any reason why readers can’t let bloggers know how they feel about their content selection. If bloggers have a strong “I’m going to blog about what I want to blog about, and I’m not interested in anybody else’s opinion” policy, they can let their commenters know about this and take appropriate action (from comment deletion to banning, depending on the level of the offense). But barring such a claim, again, why shouldn’t readers comment on the choice of topics, just as they do anything else?

    My own view is that there are several different issues that “content-complainers” are concerned with. One that hasn’t really been mentioned is focus-drift, where a blog changes its focus over time to become in many ways a different blog. Readers who come to a blog, and stay because they like its mix of topics, may start to get annoyed when the blog changes that mix over time. PZ’s blog, in particular, has seen some of that over the years. He’s always blogged quite a bit on politics and atheism, of course, in addition to science, but in my possibly mistaken perception, this ratio has changed over time (a smaller fraction of science posts) as has the overall tone of his religion (or should I say, anti-religion?) comments. If former readers are being pushed away by a change in tone, why shouldn’t they let him know?

    (By the way, by my perception, Sean’s “mix” hasn’t really changed that much, though now that he’s on a group blog it can be a little harder to tell…)

  • Snikpan

    Not enough blogging about Sasquatch or Outer Thetans, but mostly Sasquatch.
    – mom.

  • lt.milo

    well said Alex R. I see nothing wrong with telling the writers why we are here and what we come here to read. Of course we are not paying anything, but suggestions as to what we are looking for in the blog should not be considered spam.

  • John Faughnan

    I think this response is arising from a meme about “commodity bloggers” and “echo chambers” that’s been simmering but was fired up by a recent Jakob Nielsen post.

    CH has a good overview:

    It’s a submeme of the “blogging” is “destroying all that is good and pure and noble in human civilization” usually alternating with the “wikipedia is destroying eduction” meme.

    Beyond the memes is an unspoken wariness about the increasingly subtle distinctions between an “echo chamber” blog and a splog — the more sophisticated splogs are eerily similar to low end commodity blogs.

    I’ve nothing else to add to the good comments above, save perhaps that my own very low readership blogs are really written for these audiences in this order:

    1. Myself. It’s how I learn and think.
    2. The GoogleMind: building inferential links for search and retrieval.
    3. People who find my posts searching on a topic (esp.
    4. My tiny audience.

  • Allyson

    You don’t blog enough about how awesome I am.

    I’m going to have to stop reading your blog.

  • Phil Plait

    Alex R, that may be true, but what I am finding in my own blog is that many of the people who leave tend to be on the other side of the argument as I am, and they leave after making The Grand Speech, saying they thought it was supposed to be an astronomy blog.

    Why didn’t they leave when I posted the Bugs Bunny cartoon entry? Or the *Playboy* bunny entry?

    Anyway, my problem is that some people are complaining about what I write as if they are paying for it. I expect people to disagree with me on many topics, and I certainly would expect some to be unhappy if I posted nothing but political rants day in and day out. But the majority of my posts are on astronomy and skepticism, and that’s what Bad Astronomy is all about.

  • John Baez

    I mainly talk about math, physics and philosophy on my blog with David Corfield and Urs Schreiber. We avoid more interesting topics to keep the audience small. So, we don’t get outraged people telling us they’re gonna stop reading our blog – they never started reading it in the first place.

    If your blog attracts a big audience, it’s bound to attract some people who complain when you post about something they don’t like. What we’re seeing now is bloggers getting upset at this newly discovered law of nature.

    What I really can’t stand is when it gets dark at night.

  • Arun

    PZ Myers’ atheism posts would be great if they had exhibited the same intelligence as his posts on biology. Therefore I have not returned there for months.

    It is all very well to change the focus of the blog over time. What you all seem to be assuming is that the quality remains unchanged when you do that.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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