Three Humble Suggestions for the History Blogosphere

Originally posted by Nonpartisan on 01/14/07

I’ve been a history blogger for, what, four months now?  And yet I presume to offer suggestions to people who have been doing this for years?

Well that just goes to show you how brash I am. 🙂  Seriously, folks, take all this with a veritable mountain of salt — I’m no expert.

  • 1. Advance the Technology.
  •   Too many history blogs I read look like this.  Investigations of a Dog is a fantastic site, full of incisive analysis and critical investigation — but you’d never know it from the bare-bones design.  No one cares what a site looks like once they read it regularly, but a nice appearance does make people give a blog a second look.

    When I joined the political blogosphere, just about every blog was spare and colorless.  (For instance, here’s the DeanBlog in 2003, when it featured Howard Dean’s campaign manager on the front page and was the online organizing home for thousands of volunteers.)  But the pressure of campaigns and the incentive of advertising dollars has altered matters dramaticaly in just a few short years.  Now blogs tend to look like this.  Sure, that one took a lot of work and money, but you can do just as well with smaller-scale formats: This is a beautiful blog with a small budget, and you can even do attractive things with Blogspot blogs.

  • 2. Facilitate Community.  Four years ago, when I got involved in the political blogosphere, so-called “community” or “group” blogs were really rare.  In general, people simply started their own blogs, using Blogspot or another free service, and then linked to other blogs when they wanted to comment on something another had said.  Or they commented on other people’s blogs in the comments section of those blogs.  This situation coexisted with more all-encompassing forums based on UseNet, such as DemocraticUnderground and FreeRepublic.

    That was then.  Nowdays things have changed somewhat.  So-called “community blogs,” where any registered user could post a “diary” on someone else’s blog, began with Kuro5hin and entered the political blogosphere with DailyKos.  (To see what dKos looked like back then, click here.)  For a while, there were only a few true community blogs around, but with the advent of SoapBlox, a software that costs next to nothing to implement and use (SoapBlox is the software our own site runs on), community blogs with user diaries have largely taken over the political blogosphere.  The result is a tighter-knit, more communal feel and a sharper exchange of ideas than ever before.

    The history blogosphere seems to be locked in the pre-2004 world of individual bloggers, commenters, and cross-links.  Certainly there is a community aspect — which bloggers like Ralph Luker foster as much as possible — but the lack of true community structure for history blogs puts an unfortunate crimp in the blogosphere as a whole that should be addressed by new bloggers and old ones looking to upgrade.

  • 3. Develop an Advertising Network.  The liberal political blogosphere has one, and so do gossip blogs, gadget blogs, and economics blogs.  These ad networks, or “hives,” are the work of BlogAds, a company that provides attractive, full-text advertising to sites from Perez Hilton to Institutional Economics.  The hives are a way to provide one-stop shopping by topic for potential advertisers, who order ads on one, some, or all of the sites at one fell swoop.

    So why doesn’t the history blogosphere have a hive?  In part, I’m guessing, because historians believe their craft should not be sullied by corporate advertising (though HNN takes ads).  That, in my estimation, is poppycock.  Even nonprofit blogs could use the money to improve infrastructure and fund projects like online wikis and the like; and the rest of us could sorely benefit from the money, as history isn’t the most lucrative of professions.

    Starting a history hive would take a significant time investment (more than I’m able to put in), but its results could be quite benefical for all concerned.  All interested parties would first have to sign up with BlogAds; if you’re interested, you’d need a sponsor — shoot me an e-mail and I’ll hook you up with one.

So there you have it.  If you’re a blog proprietor, a commenter, or any other resident of the history blogosphere, I’d be interested to hear your comments on this.  Consider this an open letter, open to the maximum possible response.

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