Blogs as glamour magazines

I wrote previously about IE blog’s excellent quality. Unfortunately, there’s bad news to report, too. I’ve been noticing some trends in web design blogs. Many have a similar style to glamour magazines. While many elements of glamour magazines are not echoed in these blogs, to the extent they are, I think it detracts from them quite a bit.

Top X lists

Many blogs posts try to “bite-size” a topic. A common theme is Top n Lists. Some are good, but many are completely substanceless. Anyone can write one in a few minutes.

Compare this to the cover of a glamour magazine:

  • Ten sex tips that will drive him wild
  • Is your diet working? Take our 15-point quiz
  • 7 easy moves to firmer thighs

I think the appeal is the number itself. It subtly implies the list is complete – if the number isn’t there, the title doesn’t assert anything about completeness. Who wants to read Easy moves to firmer thighs? There’s subconscious psychology at work here. Of course, the list often falls short of a strong start, much less completeness!

Repetitive, non-original content

The Internet is becoming an echo chamber. Someone writes a post, then someone else writes a post about it, then… it’s not uncommon to find thousands of links to a post. Many of these posts appear to be original content, until you read carefully and realize it’s a formulaic, substanceless copy-and-paste (partial or complete) with little or no original content – sometimes not even a short intro sentence.

For an example, try a Google search for “top 10 custom javascript functions of all time” and see how many results you get. I’m getting about 142,000 results. MSN finds thousands of pages that link directly to the post on the author’s site. One such post, on a very popular blog, misspelled two words in the title until it was corrected a few minutes later! That’s an indication of how little time goes into these echo-chamber posts.

It’s becoming harder and harder to find original content in the soup of copy-and-paste posts. Some blog networks, such as 9rules (of which this site is a member) are acting as trusted filters, but even then a lot of the content is derived.

Glamour magazines are often similarly unoriginal. At first glance, many articles look like real journalism, but then it becomes apparent much of the material is secondary, often just copied from some “authority” on the subject with a few sentences framing the quotes. I know people who’ve been exploited by such “article-writing” practices. There are many vultures waiting for someone else to make something they can use.

How glamour magazines are better

I wish it weren’t true, but glamour magazines are often written better than blogs. For example, let me pick on one particular blog which claims to be well written, and is therefore a fair target for criticism: Good Copywriting. The second post contained this text urging people to clean up their spelling:

Spelling, grammar, what? This is an all too common mistake I find on the web. Web sites, even professional ones, are riddled with simple spelling and gramatical mistakes... Run your site through a spell checker and grammar checker...

Amusingly, the author misspelled “definitely” as “definately” a few paragraphs later. I corrected this in a comment, which never got approved by the moderator – but minutes later, the spelling was fixed. Subsequent posts have been just as bad, with jewels like “truely” (twice in a couple of sentences!), “guarenteed,” “an equal’s sign,” “brining” (should be “bringing”), “effected” (instead of “affected” – there is a difference), run-on sentences, and so forth. Glamour magazines, for all their faults, generally seem to be proofread!

The future

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I have a feeling people will tire of repetitive, non-original content. I think the current blogging fad will fade quite a bit, and the folks doing it for the better reasons will probably continue writing quality material. I welcome such a change.

One final note: please feel free to leave comments telling me how I can improve my own writing, too!

I'm Baron Schwartz, the founder and CEO of VividCortex. I am the author of High Performance MySQL and lots of open-source software for performance analysis, monitoring, and system administration. I contribute to various database communities such as Oracle, PostgreSQL, Redis and MongoDB. More about me.