Blogs: Getting to the Good Stuff

  By Shamus   Aug 22, 2006   27 comments

I just found Criminally Weird yesterday, even though his blog has been around since 2004. I hunt for blogs like this all the time, but I usually only find them by accident or a chance link. I like geek blogs, but I like personal geek blogs. I like hobby operations run out of love much more than big things like Joystiq. The problem with smaller geek blogs is that they are danged hard to find and get lost in the noise of the major blog subjects like politics / movies / pop music / celeb gossip / teen angst. Blogs about anime or (even worse) videogames have a really, really extreme long-tail effect, so that most sites are miniscule or monolithic.

But now it occurs to me that many of the blogs I read might not be “small”. I really have no idea how big they are. If a site has forums and lots of ads and looks like they are running a business, I think “big”. If it looks like this blog, with no ads, no forums, and just a few comments (or no comments), I think “small”. But ads are not a proper measure of site size. For all I know Chizumatic has the same readership as Joystiq. How would I know? The only clues I have are how easy the blog is to find using Google or Technorati, both of which are terrible at finding the sorts of blogs I like. (Which is, I guess, why I think of them as small.) How would you do a Google search for sites like Augury, Haibane.info, The Rampant Coyote, Houblog, or Machine Overlords. I’m not sure you can, unless you want to dig for a long time. I found almost all of the above when they linked to me. (Which brings up the question of how they found me. Maybe everyone else knows some tricks that I don’t for culling these searches and cutting right to the good stuff.)

So, I started thinking about why I like the blogs I do. Videogame blogs are kind of scarce, so why am I so darn picky? What makes me like a particular blog? I’d never really given it much thought until now. I sat down and enumerated things that make me like a blog aside from good writing and interesting subject matter. (Which should go without saying, except, of course, that I just said it.)

  1. Informal, conversational style. I like when the author is blunt and honest. Website “articles”, written like a magazine product review, sound too clinical and leave me cold.
  2. I like people who use their real names more than those who use pseudonyms, and I like pseudonyms better than pure anonymity. (The difference between the last two being mostly how long they’ve been using their pseudonym.) I’m unlikely to read something from a never-seen-before pseudonym. Nothing wrong with that. Some people are private. Just not for me.
  3. No ads. Banner ads are better today than they were seven years ago. During the dot-com boom, the internet was lousy with blinking eyesores and faux-dialog box traps. Those are still around, but anyone serious about holding an audience usually goes with something a bit more subtle. Having said that, even diminutive Blogads bug me. So, I tend to gravitate towards the ad-free sites.
  4. I prefer dark lettering on light backgrounds. This didn’t used to be a problem, but as I decay into toothless old codgerdom I find white-on-black harder and harder to read. When I look away I see the horizontal bars burned onto my vision for a while afterwards, and that just can’t be good.
  5. I prefer to read what adults have to say, and I’m not talking about age here. I’ve found quite a few videogame blogs that are a wasteland of juvenile flames and trash talk. Yeah kid, your guild 0wnz me. Good for you. Be sure to put that on your resumé.
  6. I like one-author blogs better than group blogs, but only because I like to know who I’m reading. I’ve never seen it done, but I would actually enjoy a group blog if each author had a little icon or something at the top of the post, similar to what I do with categories. I really can’t stand blogs where I have to look to the end of a post to know who I’m reading, since that’s the first thing I want to know.
  7. I like some info about the author. I don’t need an autobiography, but I at least like to have some idea of the age and gender of the author. I hate hunting around for clues like oblique references to their spouse and children (or absence thereof) and trying to extrapolate who the author is from that.

    This is more important than most people realize. If I see a 40 year old guy who thinks DOOM was the first 3d videogame I’m going to write him off as someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. If an 18 year old expresses the same opionion I’m a lot more likely to cut him some slack. At the same time, a grandma who can beat Quake ][ in 55 minutes is a lot more interesting to me than a college kid who can do it in 30. Context matters.

None of these rules are set in stone. Aside from #1, I have exceptions to every one of these in my regular reading list. Most of these are just matters of personal preference, and all of them are trumped by solid writing. But more importantly, you can’t search for blogs with these criteria. If I do a search, I can’t narrow it down based on their color scheme, posting style, author disclosure, and ad density. All you can do is search by subject, and the results will be sorted according to “popularity” as calculated by inbound links. This is not a bad system, but it doesn’t tell me what I want to know.

What else am I missing? If you have a geek blog – anime, videogames, tabletop games, or anything else cool, if you have a blog yourself and I’ve never linked you, if there is a site you love or at least visit often, please put a link in the comments or link me from the blog. Don’t worry if it meets my own nitpicky list above: anything cool that you think I may have overlooked would be great.

20727 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.


  1. I actually found you via Steven. I think that google isn’t the most optimal vector for finding a cohort of people online who share your values or interests; Google has high signal and high noise, whereas word of mouth/word of link has low signal but low noise. The SNR is just better this way, and the fact that blogs of genuine interest to ourselves are hard to find guarantees we dont have too many on our plate. I can pay attention to the handful of otakublogs that I follow much more avidly than I can with the plethora of poliblogs out there.

    # I like people who use their real names more than those who use pseudonyms, and I like pseudonyms better than pure anonymity.

    I have to agree. When I began Haibane.info I was tempted to go totally pseudonymous, mainly because I didn’t want my political rep following me into this sphere. But then I figured, hey I’ve always blogged under my real name, and am I proud of what I’ve written in the sum or not? It’s not a secret who I am and I use the pseudo mainly because Steven kind of christened me with it.

    …even diminutive Blogads bug me. So, I tend to gravitate towards the ad-free sites.

    I catually think ads are ok. Why not moonetize? the income isn’t enough to live off of but it will cover the expense of hosting the domain, which is really all I need. I don’t like putting blogads in prime real estate though – I tend to use my sidebar or the break between a post and its comments. And I like Amazon links more than ads per se, because they are a form of content themselves. I spent quite a lot of time choosing what specific products to display when you click on certain categories at haibane.info, for example.

    # I prefer dark lettering on light backgrounds.

    amen.

    # I like one-author blogs better than group blogs, but only because I like to know who I’m reading. I’ve never seen it done, but I would actually enjoy a group blog if each author had a little icon or something at the top of the post, similar to what I do with categories.

    I want to do this myself for haibane.info. If you have any code to share to help mehack this, I’d appreciate it. I also am not above using “characters” on my blog for fun and having an avatar function would really help with this.

    # I like some info about the author. I don’t need an autobiography, but I at least like to have some idea of the age and gender of the author.

    here I’ve been remiss. I plan on adding an About Me page to the site soon.

  2. ubu roi says:

    Also found you via Steven.

    “This is more important than most people realize. If I see a 40 year old guy who thinks DOOM was the first 3d videogame I’m going to write him off as someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

    So what was the first 3D game? Castle Wolfenstien? Also, ISTR some x-file-like game with goofy weapons like “Excalibat” and rows upon rows of disks, some of which acted like elevators. That was back in the day when we had to hook up the co-ax, run batch files on our DOS machines, and hope for the best.

  3. Shamus says:

    The first “3d game” is of course open to debate. It depends on how “3d” you want the world. Even before Wolfie there was Catacombs of The Abyss and some other RPG which escapes me at the moment. You could make the case that Descent was “true” 3d because it didn’t have the limitation that rooms could not be stacked, and that the player couldn’t look up and down, which were some of the tricks Doom used to do its thing. But Descent also had other odd limitations that weren’t as apparent but which greatly restricted what sort of world you could build. You could make the case that Quake was the first “true 3D”. Or you could argue for some late-80’s wireframe / filled poly game.

    I should have been more precise: “If a 40-year old guy thinks FPS games started with Doom…” That might have been a better way to say things.

    I didn’t really mean that I’d get all worked up by somebody not knowing their videogame history. It’s not that big a deal. :) I was just saying my expectations of people – particularly when it comes to historical knowlege and trivia – differs quite a bit depending on age.

  4. Shamus says:

    Oh yeah: Excalibat was in the game “Rise of The Triad”, an odd game which came out after Doom but which was based on Wolfenstein / Catabombs style grid engine. I never cared for it, but I gather it was pretty popular. It was sort of a gimmick machine with lots of crazy weapons, goofy powerups, bizzare foes, and other off-the-wall stuff.

  5. a followup question is, how did Steven find you, Shamus?

  6. Shamus says:

    Otaku: Sure, I can do the author avatar thing. I don’t know how comfortable you are with PHP, so I don’t want to just mail you some code. The best way would be for me to modify an existing theme. I’m open to however you want to proceed. shamus-at-shamusyoung.com

    I’d be glad to do it.

  7. Shamus says:

    How did Steven find me? Hmmm. I’m pretty sure I linked him and emailed him once or twice. Either the incoming visitors or the emails caught his attention, I’d guess.

  8. Will says:

    I started back in 2004, but you can see from my archives that I’m horribly inconsistent about posting. I tend to allow my real-world introversion to influence what I post online. I have a very high “is this really worth posting” threshold. Of course, that can be overruled from time to time. The Morrowind/Oblivion post, for example, was just a way for me to put up some screens of my character so I could link them from another forum that doesn’t allow images. I’ve never really felt compelled to buy a domain and set up hosting for a personal site. Blogspot is more than enough to suit my needs.

    I’ve been using the “yaminohasha” pseudonym since 1998 on various forums and boards. It’s unique and embarrasingly geeky in origin.

    Oh, and BattleZone was the first game I ever played that I would consider “3D.”

  9. There was a 3D tank battle game in the “Tron” arcade console, wasn’t there?

  10. Gothmog says:

    otaku: there’s a author image plugin for WordPress that I’ve gotten to work here:
    http://www.coffee2code.com/wp-plugins/#authorimages

    The only reason I’m not using it on my site now is that my php-fu is weak and I can’t figure out how to properly place the image so the rest of the post flows around it.

  11. Robert Dytmire says:

    Actually,

    Wasn’t there an old “hunt the wumpas” 3-D floating around back in the early 80’s?

  12. Will says:

    Wikipedia has a description and a followup link, but no images. I was only knee-high to a grasshopper in ’82 when that movie came out.

    And I just realized… I must have broken my template at some point because the nifty little “previous-main-next” links that are normally near the top of the page are gone. I can’t even navigate my own page properly. Meh, it’s probably time to scrap the old template anyway.

  13. Mark says:

    I found you via the infamous blond joke. I didn’t link to you for the joke, but it turns out that we linked to the same place (and we both apparently found out about the blond joke from Steven). I found you because I was intrigued by the blond joke phenomenon, and made a half hearted attempt at mapping the tree of links (once I realized how many branches and branches-of-branches there were, I gave up) and since you and I had both linked to the same place (and pinged it), I found your site rather quickly. All it took was a glance at the front page, at which point I saw a few things that I found interesting and worked into one of my posts, which you then noticed and linked back to and so on.

    Most of my favorite blogs were found through such serendipity, and it is precisely because of that blond joke that I no longer dismiss lame memes out of hand…

  14. Ubu Roi says:

    Oh yeah, ROTT. I have fond memories of unloading on other players from the far end of the map with Excalibat. “WHAT the F***!!! It’s got a ranged mode????”
    “Yep.”

    Good times.

    More on the subject, I miss on items 2 & 3 out of the list, but it’s not like I have a choice on the pseudonym. And the ads/cyberbegging is driven by the pathetic pay from my employer. I could probably get more traffic and $$$ if I posted hentai and signed up with some online ad agency (since the whole PJM thing didn’t work out), but frankly, I prefer to keep Houblog’s appearance simple, and the site (mostly) work-safe. Flashing ads and obnoxious banners are not my speed.

  15. BeckoningChasm says:

    I’m also here via Steven. It’s interesting what people look for in what they read. I don’t have any biographical info on my own site, because I figure who really cares about that. I do find that a personal viewpoint is much more interesting than pure information; I can usually find reviews anywhere, but personal reactions are more distinct and a better guide (no matter what’s being discussed).

    Ah well, that’s why the internet is as big as it is, I guess. It does make finding the good stuff harder, but it also means there’s probably more of it out there.

  16. Cineris says:

    Just for reference I found your site via Steven.

    And though it may just be my continual exposure to my own referral logs, I’m surprised how often I find my site relatively high ranked on Google. I don’t do anything to game the system. For example, searching on “Guild Wars Dervish Avatar” my site is currently the number one result. On “RIAA lyrics tabulature websites” I’m also the number one result. Ultimately though how you find blogs with similar interests is via other people. I try to hit blog rolls frequently, particularly if they’re well organized and short.

    I tend to get a good ranking in these highly specific niche searches [somehow], but because my blog isn’t singleminded about one particular subject but rather covers a variety of my interests it’s unlikely that I’ll get similar results for simpler searches (ie, “Guild Wars” or “RIAA lawsuits”).

    As for ads, I don’t see a problem with them. Using Adblock Plus for Firefox and the NoScript plugin it’s rare that I see any. Even if I do see some, if they’re obnoxious I can always specifically block the ad-server. Particularly because subjects like D&D are a niche interest I actually do derive some benefit from ads though. I may not buy a $10 shareware “Fantasy Name Generator” or other niche RPG product, but occasionally well-targeted ads can expose me to just what I was looking for.

    For reading lots of text I tend to prefer dark backgrounds with midtone (usually green) text. I find it causes a lot less eyestrain than either white-on-black or black-on-white. Lighter backgrounds are stylistically more flexible and appealing than darker values, though.

    I feel somewhat sheepish about responding to this considering it seems my site’s been marginal on at least three of these (the Terracotta layout I was using wasn’t White-on-Black but I don’t think it was really optimal for reading either).

  17. Lynn S says:

    Hmmmmm…. I’m not much into game blogs or anime but I am sort of a blog collector. I’ve collected so many that I have to put them on a separate page: http://www.lynnspace.com/links.html You might find something interesting there. It’s sort of loosely categorized.

  18. Pixy Misa says:

    Excalibat? Pipiru piru piru pipiru pi!!!

    I have a solution for the whole long tail thingy – in this case, finding blogs that you find interesting but that aren’t popular enough to hit the mainstream radar – but this comment box is too small for me to explain it.

    Actually, it will be launching later this year. Unless the project gets sidetracked again. :(

  19. David V.S. says:

    For the statistical record, I found you from Steven, too.

    Woflie 3D is usually not judged to be “true 3D” since you could not move up or down. All floors were of one height. So each level was merely a 2D world painted in 3D like the games Battlezone or (some of) Tron.

    The first truly 3D game, by most people’s definitions, was Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss. Here each level was truly a 3D world.

    But what I really miss from those days is huge Bolo LAN parties. If some company made a game somewhat like (3D?) MMO Bolo I might well lose a couple days’ productivity before resurfacing. Currently the WinBolo community is pretty nonexistent.

  20. Traversing the Geek Tail…

    Shamus laments the difficulty of traversing the long tail of geek blogs, and I can sympathize. The need for better……

  21. Acksiom says:

    Another data point her for SDB originally sourcing you.

  22. Shamus says:

    Yes! Ultima Underworld! That was the RPG I was trying to think off. Yes. Before Doom came out Ultima was there with sloped horizontal surfaces. It was, I believe, the technological precursor to System Shock, a game which I have belabored so much in the past that I hesitate to bring it up. The engines are very similar in functionality, and I would not be be surprised to find that the latter was built upon the former.

  23. Don says:

    Here’s one more person who found “Twenty-Sided” by way of Steven. However, I regularly read “The Lemon” while it was active.

  24. Pixy Misa says:

    Hey, that makes two “The Lemon” readers for you, Shamus!

  25. Alex says:

    Well, I’ve travelled back in time to give you a new “geeky” site that I’ve launched: Batrock VGMM, an acronym of mystery. I’ve put it here because I’m not yet confident of it and don’t have a banner but wanted someone to know.
    Shine on, Shamus. Shine on. Sorry to abuse your request in such a fashion.

  26. tomas says:

    I’ve found your site when someone linked to your “DM of the rings”

    And yes, i’m necroposter.

  27. Ben says:

    I found your site via a DMotR link, but later noticed that you were also linked from chizumatic and Kaedrin. (Someone needs to do some work on whether SDB is actually the center of the internet at this point.) Probably half the blogs I read regularly, in fact, all connect together somewhere.

    As far as my own blog, I won’t go into how I started using MidniteTease, but it’s been in use for over a decade now…I’m not sure if I regret that or am proud of it…

One Trackback

  1. By Kaedrin Weblog on August 23, 2006 at 12:06 am

    Traversing the Geek Tail…

    Shamus laments the difficulty of traversing the long tail of geek blogs, and I can sympathize. The need for better……

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