Influential Blogs

Tim Challies discusses the question of how the influence of a particular blog/blogger is to be measured. It is quite an interesting discussion. I agree with Challies that traffic and inbound links are poor indicators of the influence of a particular blog. I doubt that there is one sure way to ascertain the degree of influence that a particular blog exerts (I also doubt that ‘influence’ is even quantifiable in principle, believing that there are many different ways in which we can be influenced and that many of the influences that we experience are fundamentally incommensurable).

The bloggers that influence me the most are probably the ones to whom I go for book recommendations. The blogs that influence me the most are not always my favourite blogs. Many of my favourite blogs are those of people who share the same influences. Their writing does not have a great influence on my thinking, but I benefit from their company in our shared theological journey (The Boar’s Head Tavern being a good example here). The theological trailblazers and scouts do not always make such enjoyable company.

The blog that has influenced me the most is Peter Leithart‘s. I have probably read a couple of dozen books on Leithart’s recommendation. These books have gone on to profoundly influence my thinking.

The issue of who you are influencing is a big one, in my opinion. I would far rather influence an elite handful of scholars than directly influence a mass audience. Mass audiences tend to be fad-driven. If you really want to change the world it seems to me that you must address a more limited audience of thinkers. Mass influence is cheap and short-lasting by comparison.

Another important issue is the question of who blogrolls you. There are many bloggers out there with vast, but homogenous, audiences. Outside of a particular narrow subsection of the Church these bloggers are regarded as largely irrelevant. The ability to escape the limited confines of your own tradition and address an audience with a more interesting and varied demographics is an important one. Having one’s writing regarded as significant by widely-read thinkers from different theological traditions and from different social and cultural backgrounds is a good indicator of a greater degree of influence, it seems to me.

As for comments, I am not sure that they are a very reliable indicator of influence. There are forms of blogging that welcome comments and other forms that do not. I doubt that I would comment much on Leithart’s blog if he had comments enabled. Barb’s blog, on the other hand, is always a great blog for comments, consistently getting more comments than I ever could. My blog is nowhere near as good a place for stimulating conversation in the comments.

What do others think? — What are some of the forms of influence that blogs exert on you? What are some of the best ways to ascertain a blog’s level of influence? Which blogs most influence you?

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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12 Responses to Influential Blogs

  1. Weston says:

    Self-consciousness meets blogdom.

  2. Scott says:

    I look at the number of subscriptions on bloglines to guage how broad an audience a given blog really has.

    But on a personal level, the blogs which I find to be most influential are those which I most tend to emulate in terms of style and content.

  3. Al says:

    Scott,

    I don’t think that Bloglines can give a good indication of the breadth of the readership of a given blog. Take, for example, Leithart’s blog, which only has about 47 subscribers. My blog has 46. I strongly doubt that our blogs have about the same level of influence or breadth of readership.

    Take another example. James White’s blog has about 110 subscribers. I really don’t believe that White has anywhere near as broad and significant an audience as Leithart does. Nor do I believe that White is anywhere near as significant as Al Kimel’s Pontifications blog is, which has about the same level of subscribers. It seems to me that people like White are just big fish in small pools and exert very little influence once one gets beyond the narrow circles in which they operate. Theologians and thinking church leaders with a broad theological background read people like Leithart and Kimel; I doubt that many influencers read White. White and others like him are on very different levels of the blogosphere’s food chain to people like Leithart and Kimel.

  4. Jon says:

    So… because no one reads my blog… it influences you a lot?

  5. Al says:

    Jon,

    Having one’s blog read by Jim West and being a guest blogger on Ben Myers’ blog must count for something. It is not the quantity of one’s connections in the blogosphere that matters, but the quality of them. Whether you are yet an ‘influencer’ is another question. However, you are certainly in with the right crowd if you want to become an influencer in the future.

  6. David says:

    Alastair,

    I tend to agree with you that the blogs from which I get book recommendations are the ones that most significantly, if somewhat indirectly, influence my thinking.

    Influence is really hard to measure. I wonder how many people would name James Jordan as an influential theologian, yet I notice a whole slew of theological blogs today that are pretty much saying what James Jordan said 20 years ago. Who would have guessed back then that this would be the case?

    David

  7. Tim Enloe says:

    Challies is right about the “controversy sells” point, bigtime. When I was fighting with James White and his fans, I routinely had posts with 20 or more comments, and occasionally even ones with over 100. When I wrote posts that took on popular Catholic apologists, I had similar high comment numbers. But as soon as I moved away from the controversies, comments dropped. The number of hits has dropped, as well, over the last 3 to 4 months as I’ve posted more challenging things that aren’t likely to hold the average surfer’s interest. You’re right that mass audiences are not the way to have influence.

  8. Scott says:

    Yeh, I knew you probably wouldn’t accept the “subscription count criteria,” but I just threw it out there since you asked.

    Also, I wouldn’t underestimate your own influence. I know of several Reformed Baptists in Jacksonville, FL, USA whom you influence through reading your writing in Scotland. In fact, it could be argued that what you might consider here (on your blog) to be trite meditations has resulted in a change in the liturgy of my own home church. Subtle changes, mind you, but important ones nonetheless. And it’s not really necessary to consider this an isolated incident. (Remember the FV Views on Justification post?)

    Why do you believe that affecting the handful of scholars will be more valuable than affecting a large number of pop-type folks? Especially, considering the thriving masses of congregational style churches and generally democratic slant of the West. I’m not arguing, of course. I’m asking.

    Thanks, BTW, for exposing me to Mark Horne, Peter Leithart, James Jordan, Joel Garver, and N.T. Wright.

  9. Byron says:

    You could run a polll on whether you were influential. That always seems to be way that bloggers gauge things…

  10. Do Jordan and Wright have blogs? I read their stuff but am totally unaware of any blogs. By the way, Alastair, your post on Scripture and personal Bible reading influenced me profoundly.

  11. That is not to imply that I am, in fact, profound.

  12. Al says:

    Scott,

    I wouldn’t dismiss influencing the masses as unimportant. However, I would rather be in the position of one who influences a select group of influencers than in the position of one who influences many who are easily influenced and exert little influence over anyone else.

    I may have some influence, but to a large degree my influence is the channelling of those people who consistently influence me. Even if Peter Leithart only had a couple of hundred people reading his blog, his ideas could be very influential, as many of those readers are profoundly influenced by him and go on to mediate his views to a far wider audience.

    Justin,

    Neither Wright nor Jordan have blogs that I am aware of. Actually, I am quite pleased about this. Wright would not be able to start blogging without setting his deadline for his next tome back a few years, and I have been waiting long enough already!

    The place to read Jordan’s regular musings is on the Biblical Horizons e-mail discussion list on Yahoo! BTW, Jordan and Wright are good examples of what I am speaking about. In Reformed churches the number of people who have read Jordan and Wright are not that great compared to many of the more popular authors around. Most people are exposed to Wright and Jordan second or third hand. Nevertheless, the thought of Jordan and Wright is perceived to pose a deep threat to the future orthodoxy of Reformed churches as their thought is highly influential among progressive and young Reformed thinkers. Jordan and Wright have captured the minds and imaginations of many of the influencers of the future. For this reason, they cannot be dismissed as just the latest theological fad, as most of their critics appreciate.

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