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Rex Sorgatz

The Grey Album is less great in retrospect

dec 30
2008

30 Most Notable Blogs of 2008

If we could bundle up the internet into a few snappy headlines, 2008 might look like this:

+ Commenters Went Crazy
+ Twitter & Tumblr Went Mainstream
+ Rickrolling Went Very Mainstream
+ Big Media Went Nowhere
+ Oversharing Went Wild
+ Politicos Went Online
+ 4Chan & Lifecasting Went Awry

If not exactly an admirable time capsule, it still felt something like progress. I personally began the year promising a reduction in my daily internet intake, yet ended it with 100 additional sites in my rss reader. Perhaps it was a resolution meant to be broken.

In previous years, this list was dubbed "The Best Blogs You (Maybe) Aren't Reading." But that wordy contrivance seems presumptuous in these niche-filled times, where everyone seems to read everything yet no one seems to read the same things. So I took some advice that Lindsay gave me last year and dubbed this a collection of "notable" sites instead. That appellation seems more appropriate.

Maybe half of the blogs listed below are new, and the other half deserve attention for having reinvented the medium in some way. Consensus is an impossible task in a world this diverse, but that shouldn't stop us from pointing out excellence when we see it. So here they are, the most notable blogs of the past year:

30) New York Times Blogs
Given the variety, it's probably unfair to group them all under one heading, but the old gray lady boldly stuck her neck further into the blogosphere guillotine during a year when retreat would have been forgiven. Old mainstays like Krugman, Freakonomics, DealBook, and City Room continued to drive daily conversation, while new additions like Proof (drinking), Laugh Lines (comedy), Measure for Measure (songwriting), and Ideas (their first foray into link blogging) proved big media could still navigate the niches. The most consistently important, however, was probably Bits, a disarmingly lucid tech-biz blog that proved you don't have to be bombastic or supercilious to win the category. (See also: L.A. Times Blogs.)

29) Boner Party
If you operate a celeb/entertainment/snark blog, you know how you are supposed to talk. The voice, now deeply entrenched in the genre, must be mimicked by any new entrant: bitchy, sneering, unimpressed. Boner Party somehow hit REFRESH on the whole genre this year by instead being celebratory, horny, fanboyish. Unlike, say, The Superficial, which is all attitude and no love, Boner Party is pure happy-happy-boy-boy. Imagine remaking Cute Overload but with pictures of girls next to giddy prose, and you've got yourself a boner party. For instance: "For guys, vaginas are like a cross between a pocket knife, a really cool nightclub, and a wizard. It can do SO many things, you REALLY want to get into it, but you have no idea how it works, and therefore it must be magical." (See also: Street Boners and TV Carnage, Golden Fiddle, and Tumblettes.)

28) Newsless
Matt Thompson packed up his belongings this year and moved to the middle of Missouri to think about the future of news -- not a bad gig if you can get it! (Matt is also known for being half of Snarkmarket, the voice of EPIC, and the founding editor of Vita.mn.) His fellowship at the University of Missouri provides time to explore the issues that many of us in online media are grappling with: poor news filters, a top-down approach to news gathering, the lack of pertinent local information, a broken breaking news model, and so on. While he's been researching these problems and writing about them on Newsless, he also put his ideas into action by launching The Money Meltdown, a site that aggregates the most essential information about the financial crisis. Though his research proposal involves Wikipediaing the News, he isn't naive enough to believe that simply turning on wikis will necessarily produce anything of value -- the right solution will be more complex than that. With the news industry in crisis, it's good that someone is trying to find models for maintaining an informed populace. (See also: PressThink and MediaShift.)

27) Urlesque
Shouldn't someone really be keeping track of all these memes? Oh good, Urlesque is. (See also: Pop Candy, Metafilter, and Listicles.)

26) NonSociety
While a vocal minority of stoic internet enthusiasts screamed bloody murder when she landed on the cover of Wired (and others advised to just don't look), Julia Allison did something this year that many people have failed at: living a publicly transparent life -- or at least as close to it as possible. The snark machine may resent this, but it has been nothing short of notable. (See also: Reblogging Julia and Jake and Amir.)

25) Last Night's Party
While others were pointing to the rise of the street fashion blog, the party photoblog made a surprise resurgence this year. The fascination has always been curious -- sure, there's some prurient interest, but there's also that moment of abhorrence. The disturbing mix of envy and disgust are why party shutterbugs seemingly reinvented the moribund genre that seemed frozen in the summer of 2006. Perhaps the resurgence can be attributed to stack of party photo books that topples on you when walking into Urban Outfitters and Virgin Records -- or maybe it was the death of the hipster. (See also: Cobrasnake, Nicky Digital, Guest of a Guest, Hot Chicks With Douchebags, and Random Night Out.)

24) Gannett Blog
Have you ever wished there was an official record of the downfall of Rome? Welcome to the 20th century newspaper version. (See also: McClatchy Watch, Journerdism, and Romenesko.)

23) Know Your Meme
A subset of Rocketboom, the "Know Your Meme" series has been one of the few beacons of hope in the inspiration-deficient genre of videoblogging this year. The genius is that the episodes are funny while being actual history lessons -- sorta like the Daily Show for the internet. Personal favorites include Magibon, Reaction Videos, and FAIL. (See also: ROFLcon, Internet Superstar, Pop 17, and Internet Famous Class.)

22) Very Small Array
Chart porn: instead of dying this year, it almost seemed to flourish. Very Small Array made beautiful images out of random data sets, such as My Love Is A... (Google searches), Largest Minority Population (NYC demographics), and Hit Songs (music charts). (See also: emo+beer = busted career and infosthetics.)

21) io9
Though it already seems like it's been here forever, io9 launched in January as a less didactic BoingBoing. Some of the most memorable posts have included Twenty Science Fiction Novels that Will Change Your Life, Imagine an America Where Socialism is No Longer a Dirty Word, and Kevin Kelly's remembrance of Gary Gygax. Hurry, before Denton slices it into space shrapnel. (See also: Offworld and SF Signal.)

20) Ta-Nehisi Coates
In one of a few areas that it seemed edge out The New Yorker this year, The Atlantic maintained its provocative blogging tradition with Matthew Yglesias, Andrew Sullivan, and James Fallows. But it was Ta-Nehisi Coates who leapt from the monitor like no one else writing about politics and culture this year. In his remarkable profile of Bill Cosby, Coates took on one of the most complex areas of race (comedy) while teasing out Cosby's occasional similarity to Obama. In a political season strangely devoid of genuine race commentary, Coates was one of the few keepin it unreal. (See also: TNR's Blogs, The Assimilated Negro, and The Root.)

19) Magic Molly
Of course, we need a Tumblr in here somewhere. The Tumblr Awards highlight the idiosyncratic characteristics of the platform that has essentially reignited the personal blogging movement: reblogs over comments, overheard conversation over discursive prose, clique over mass, fast over deliberative. Magic Molly embodied all of these things, as her itinerant persona flitted around the internet, from penning the definitive piece on adderall for n+1 to contributing to This Recording. If the Tumblrverse seems like high school, Molly is the smartest girl in the class -- the quickest with the Phillip Roth quote but never hiding her Sasha Grey guilt. (See also: TopherChris, CatBird, hrrrthrrr, Kung Fu Grippe, Soup Soup, Dear Old Love, Mediation, AntiKris, Frangy, and so on and so on....)

18) What Would Don Draper Do? and I Am Chuck Bass
After serving as a useful foil for the past couple years, the fake personality blog expired this year. But a new form arose from its ashes: the blog inspired by a character. Rather than feigning a famous person, these sites explored a character through a different set of criteria. The outcome was such projects as What Would Don Draper Do?, which imagines the Mad Men mad man as a self-help columnist, and I Am Chuck Bass, which invokes the notorious boulevardier's name to explore the inner-torment of Gossip Girl. (See also: Fire Nick Douglas and Rex's Scarf.)

17) Tomorrow Museum
Responding to last year's list, Kottke made a semi-plea for "blogs done by people who are passionate about something, not writing for a paycheck." He's right, of course -- many of those sites get lost in the fracas of the mega-blog. One of my favorites this year was Tomorrow Museum, which contained nimble think pieces about such topics as Microcelebrity and Frienemies and New Media in Fiction. (See also: Marginal Revolutions and The Morning News.)

16) Buzzfeed
After first landing on this list in 2006, Buzzfeed has been slowly transforming from a blogger favorite to a legitimate cultural force. It has also become unbelievably fast at identifying online trends before they happen. (See also: Radar Archive and Stuff White People Like.)

15) Keith Gessen
You can say this about the guy: he tried. While the commenter meme was raging this summer, Gessen had taken up the noble peculiar cause of trying to tame the unwieldy beast. This didn't exactly go so well, but you can't help feeling like we all learned something from his mistakes along the way. (See also: The Millions, Lit Mob, Geekcentric, and Emily Magazine.)

14) Videogum
Launched in April as a Stereogum offshoot, Videogum aggregates, dissects, and comments on everything happening with viral videos. If you saw a funny video this year, it was probably on Videogum first. While popularizing such phenomena as the live puppy cam, Amelie Jr., and the Ice-T / Soulja Boy feud, Gabe and Lindsay mixed in the occasional funny routine themselves. And Videogum elicited the best overheard faux-insult of the year: "I hate you. I hope your viral video doesn't go viral." (See also: Tilzy, First Showing, Antville, and Flavorwire.)

13) The Big Picture
It seems illogical that a photoblog using generic wire service photos and sitting atop a MovableType installation could possibly cause such a stir, but The Big Picture did one simple thing right: super large photos. After its June launch (by Kokogiak), the design/photo blogs instantly sent their link love, causing Boston.com's traffic to reportedly skyrocket. (See also: Media Storm and Getty Moodstream.)

12) Gawker & Radar
Fourteen months ago, not long after the Grigoriadis story, I guest-edited Gawker for a few days while Choire went off to Fire Island to feed his demons or some such thing. Everything was chilly at the office, but I had no idea I was living in antediluvian times. Since then, too many things have transpired to even count. But let's try: Denton introduced a pay-per-click model for bloggers, Emily quit, Choire quit, Josh quit, Denton hired himself, whoa -- NYT Mag cover story!, Josh responded, Emily landed a book deal, Moe had that unfortunate incident, Moe went to Radar, no wait she didn't, ack, Denton axed pay-per-click model, Choire hopped to Radar, a new Gawker editor joined, Moe was laid off, poor Balk, oops Radar folded, Denton predicted the end of the world, Sheila published photos, not you too Pareene, and a few redesigns happened. What'd I miss? If this all seems like some sort of horrid bukakke ritual performed by the blogomedia on you -- it is! And yet, we somehow ate it up. So give the guy credit -- he knows how to turn his empire into a compelling, twisted tale. (See also: Fake Nick Denton and Cover Awards.)

11) The Technium
Kevin Kelly seemed determined this year. The mission: to use technology as a stick, or perhaps a poker, to shake and jab at society. No one has written more clearly about how technology is shaping -- and can be used to shape -- culture. In influential essays like 1000 True Fans and Better Than Free, Kelly showed how to use an emerging network economics to your advantage, while Cloud Culture, Screen Fluency, and Tools For Vizuality illustrated a future that is more evenly distributed. (See also: Metagold, Text Patterns, and TED Talks.)

10) Alley Insider
I'm as surprised as you are. When Alley Insider launched last year, it seemed like another unessential tech/biz blog whose purpose was to clutter the internet with more rewritten press releases. But Henry Blodget, the infamous former Wall Street analyst taken down by Eliot Spitzer in the first dot-com boom, had something else in mind. What immediately differentiated Alley Insider from the fracas of other also-rans was analysis -- sometimes provocative, generally accurate, and occasionally funny. A Wired profile chronicles Blodget's difficulties with living down his past, but the empire is growing with spin-offs like Clusterstock (financial dish) and The Business Sheet (business gossip). (See also: Paid Content and Techmeme.)

9) This Recording
From what I wrote in July: "What we have here is failure to communicate... strange little essays, or collages, usually around people, like Cronenberg or Ashbery or Anselm or Scarlett or Diablo or Sun Ra or Pasolini or Sasha (!!!), that are pieced together with aphorisms, links, pictures, and music, with lots of italics and ellipses. You don't really "read" the posts so much as "scan" them, which is not the same as "skim" -- it takes time. Sometimes they adopt the style of a writer -- Brett Easton Ellis -- and other times it's just something random like deducing who killed Chris Farley. Even the straight-up stuff, like the memo to Hollywood on which books to adapt, has this strange outsider voice.... It's more like some crazy ass pastiche, like this random thing about Mad Men from a few days ago, which we can either call an "essay" or visual-poetry-media-criticism-mashup." (See also: Public School Intelligentsia, Fey Friends, and Hipster Runoff.)

8) xkcd
It's been around for a while, but the pithy cartoons on the unpronounceable xkcd seemed especially poignant this year -- especially after YouTube took one joke and turned it into a reality. Known for poking at our peculiar online passions, some of this year's best strips involved pointing out the obvious weirdness of Wikipedia and the Large Hadron Collider. (See also: New Yorker Cartoon Lounge and Gaping Void.)

7) The Daily Beast
I don't know if it's really a blog either, but Tina Brown is creating, well, something over there. She has claimed in interviews that the site's intent is to sift through the online detritus for the best information -- a noble cause, but it already seems to be busting at the seams with its own information overload. Then again, features like The Cheat Sheet, Buzz Board, and Big Fat Story are at least trying to winnow the data flow to something manageable. (See also: Culture11 and AllTop.)

6) Kanye West
At some point in October, I made the most difficult decision of the year: I finally unsubscribed from Kanye's blog. The fatigue of trying to keep up with his 50-posts-per-day pace had finally set in. But I still say everyone should be forced to ingest all-things-Kanye for at least one week. And I mean everything -- including the random cut-and-paste jobs from IMDB and Google Image Search. And the comments -- oh yeah, you gotta read the comments. And you know what -- who cares if he's really writing all this stuff! You don't think Warhol made every painting, do you? (See also: Aziz is Bored, Lovely Package, and Pretty Much Amazing.)

5) Fred Wilson
Although there's no way to prove this, it seemed like the tech/media blowhards finally became less relevant this year. Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but the old guard of Scoble/Winer/Calacanis/Arrington/Cuban seemed to lose influence, while more sober voices emerged -- those who weren't creating incestuous diurnal feuds with each other to game Techmeme. In the vacuum, Fred Wilson, who has been around the scene for a long time, became the analyst to turn to. Though he is a venture capitalist (with investments in del.icio.us, Outside.in, Twitter, Tumblr, Etsy, FeedBurner, and Disqus), he uses his blog (and Twitter and Tumblr) to address everything from his music tastes and Halloween costume to investor liquidity and google juice. (See also: Shirky.com, Rough Type, and Steven Berlin Johnson.)

4) Waxy & Ana Marie Cox
Whattup, old skool? Andy Baio and Ana Marie Cox are blog pioneers, which means they would be forgiven for getting crotchety and sedentary like several of their grumpy peers. But this year they adapted to the changing landscape and invented new ways to deal with it. Andy tore apart the data-centric stories that no one else was bothering with -- by using Mechanical Turk to collect Girl Talk data, by visualizing one-hit-wonder trends, and by investigating pirated Olympics video. (Along the way, he also coined "Supercuts" and tried to end FAIL.) Meanwhile, after losing her job at Radar, Ana Marie launched a pledge drive to cover her travel expenses on the McCain trail. Both of them repurposed old-fashioned blog ideas -- the tip jar and the online investigation -- for modern times. (See also: Young Manhattanite, ASCII, Alex Balk, and Tony Pierce.)

3) Twitter
Though it came in tied at #1 on last year's list, Twitter gets a rare repeat appearance because it made a big jump this year from a chatty novelty to a legit news stream. Toward the end of the year, people were still struggling to define the microblogging platform on a continuum between publishing and communication -- a debate that only illustrated the complexity of a such a simple platform used differently by so many people. (See also: Posterous and 4chan.)

2) FiveThirtyEight.com
Nate Silver for president! (See also: Politico, Talking Points Memo, and Flowing Data.)

1) Single Serving Sites
More than any medium before it, the internet is fueled by gimmicks. This particular gimmick, the single serving site, has been around for a while, manifesting itself in odd forms like YTMND and The Hamster Dance. While amusing, these sites were mostly inside jokes for the Goatse Generation. But then something happened last year when the concept was applied to a useful binary question -- IsLostARepeat.com and IsTwitterDown.com, for instance. These sites provided the kernel of an idea that exploded at the onset of 2008, beginning with Mat Honan launching BarackObamaIsYourNewBicycle.com in February. Three days later, Jason Kottke officially coined the term, which unleashed the craziness. (In its own way, you could label Sergei Brin's one-post abandoned blog a single serving site.) This all concluded with the brilliant and inevitable IsThisYourPaperOnSingleServingSites.com, the definitive academic investigation on one of those short-lived phenomena that makes the internet feel continuously new, even if hitting refresh changes absolutely nothing. (See also: RickRolled and ICanHasCheezBurger.)

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Special thanks to Rachel, Noah, Andy, Emily, Spencer, Matt, Lindsay, Joanne, Matt, Karina, Kelly, Robin, and Taylor for their tips -- and inspiration -- in compiling this list. See you next year!

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This list on previous years: 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2006 | 2007

19 comments

Great list as always! Thanks for the great reading tips - some new, some I knew - but excellent stuff, all.

posted by Mark Schoneveld at 11:33 AM on December 30, 2008

Too insidery. Also, lacking disclaimers. More like a voluntary circle jerk than a forced "bukkake ritual".

posted by Anonymous at 11:55 AM on December 30, 2008

Some great tips in there, but surprised at the lack of love for the stuff white people like/garfield minus garfield two minute distraction sites.

posted by Simon Kendrick at 12:14 PM on December 30, 2008

Moe's "unfortunate incident" happened while she was at Jezebel, which is surprisingly missing from the list either intentionally or because you apparently think it is the same thing as Gawker?
Even if you hate Jezebel, you have to admit it is better than that god awful NonSociety thing.

posted by Olympia at 12:27 PM on December 30, 2008

Jezebel came in at #5 on last year's list.

I try not to do repeats, but there have been a few -- Buzzfeed, Twitter, Metafilter, Kanye, and Gawker -- in six years of doing this.

posted by Rex at 12:31 PM on December 30, 2008

Stuff White People Like gets a "see also" at #15, and Garfield Minus Garfield -- oops, I thought it was in last year's -- oversight!

But your general point is taken to heart. I think this is the most, um, canonical this list has ever been? I mean, there are fewer new/novelty things than there usually are. I suspect that's because it was a slow year for blog innovation beyond Tumblr/Single-Serving -- or it could be that I missed things.

posted by Rex at 12:51 PM on December 30, 2008

great list Rex, some new one's I had not heard of that I will have to check out. I particularly like the sound of The Technium.

posted by Karl Long at 1:30 PM on December 30, 2008

RE #24, The nytpicker is pretty good, though its just getting started.

posted by nedward at 3:27 PM on December 30, 2008

Nothing from the world of econ-blogging? Marginal Revolution, Megan McArdle, Ezra Klein, Brad Delong, etc.

posted by harryh at 4:06 PM on December 30, 2008

Marginal Rev got as "see also" at #17.

But you're right, econo-blogging would've made a nice little group meme for 2008.

posted by Rex at 4:11 PM on December 30, 2008

Thanks for the shout-outs Rex! The Mollys, magic and otherwise, really appreciate it.

posted by Molly Lambert at 5:52 PM on December 30, 2008

You know, I can make bizarre descriptions of blogs too:

"A snazzy light-based entry of the finest degrees has wowed us all with its intricate fashionings of old and famous articles that were written in a new trendy style of bubblicious fanciful entrees that can't be settled with more than one description!"

Why don't you write some descriptions that make, you know, common sense?

posted by James Booth at 1:33 AM on December 31, 2008

Also - Yglesias jumped ship to Think Progress, I thought it was last year, but maybe it was in early 2008... Glad to see Tomorrow Musuem get some love. That's a great site.

posted by James at 3:57 PM on December 31, 2008

"Although there's no way to prove this, it seemed like the tech/media blowhards finally became less relevant this year. Perhaps it's wishful thinking, but the old guard of Scoble/Winer/Calacanis/Arrington/Cuban seemed to lose influence, while more sober voices emerged -- those who weren't creating incestuous diurnal feuds with each other to game Techmeme."

TESTIFY!

posted by David Jackmanson at 10:59 PM on December 31, 2008

Thorough.

Dead-ass-exact re: the Kanye blog. I had to unsubscribe after a week too.

Much appreciated.

posted by Thaddeus Clark at 11:01 AM on January 1, 2009

The 2 Kevin Kelly articles you called out were my 2 favorite of the year, also. Though I can't get enough of CT2.

posted by ac at 1:31 AM on January 4, 2009

what about popurls.com?

posted by rob at 2:24 AM on January 5, 2009

Another great list Rex. You're a far stronger man than me to wade through all the rot gut to find the gems.

New blogs that I've appreciated are Sorry I missed your Party. The pics are great, but the writing is life saving.

Robert Reich


hmmm, maybe that's it ...

posted by Ted Rheingold at 1:16 AM on January 7, 2009

Awesome list. The Technium sounds worthy of further investigation. Thanks!

posted by Gavin Heaton at 8:07 PM on January 8, 2009




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