30 Best Blogs of 2009
While compiling this list, I asked a few people a dumb question: What was the biggest online event of the year?
Random answers included Oprah joining Twitter, Michael Jackson's death breaking on TMZ, and Susan Boyle coming and going. Someone even tried to argue that a writer who detailed his firing from The New Yorker on Twitter was momentous.
But frankly, I've got nothing better. So try this out: Matt Haughey selling PVR Blog on eBay for $12k was the most emblematic online event of 2009. Why? Because the amount seems both ridiculously high and preposterously low at the same time. It proved that if there was ever a time when you couldn't tell what the fuck something was worth, this was it.
With Kim Kardashian making $10k per tweet, even internet fame seemed synchronously bankrupt and filthy rich. Or as someone else asked, how didn't we notice that Perez Hilton had accidentally become more famous than his namesake Paris? And how is it possible that more people are reading Reblogging Julia than Julia herself?
So it's time to stop being wishy-washy about our value assessments. A few years ago, someone convinced me to drop the title "Best Blogs" from this annual list and change it to "Most Notable" blogs of the year. It made sense at the time, when the medium was still figuring itself out: chiefs were being chosen, voice still being refined. But as I began to assemble this year's list, it became clear that, no, these blogs actually were my favorites, not merely the most interesting.
So here they are, the 30 Best Blogs of 2009:
30) Dustin Curtis
Woe, the personal blog. It's a small tragedy that the decade began with the medium being used primarily by single individuals to gather and share small insights, but ends with the impersonal likes of Mashable and HuffPo. In the age of more more more, it's remarkable to see someone dedicate so much time to a single post, making sure the pixels are aligned and the words are all just right. Dustin Curtis' personal site is one of the dying breed of personal bloggers who care about such things (similar to how Jason Santa Maria puts art direction into every one of his posts). Start with: The Incompetence of American Airlines & the Fate of Mr. X. (See also: Topherchris, We Love You So, A Continuous Lean, and Clients From Hell.)
29) NYT Pick
The bloggers behind NYTPicker had quite a year: they got Maureen Dowd to admit to plagiarism, they pointed out several errors in the Times obituary of Walter Cronkite, and Times contributor David Blum was revealed and then un-revealed as one of them. In the process, they showed that blogs can comment on the New York Times in a more substantial way than making fun of silly Sunday Styles trend pieces. If anyone really still thought blogs couldn't be the home of original reporting and research, NYTPicker proved them wrong. They watch the watchdogs! Just wait for an enterprising blogger to start NYTPickerPicker in 2010.
28) Gotcha Media
Every year it seems like a site should emerge to take the video aggregator trophy, but the space is still a hodgepodge of sporadically embedded YouTube clips. Gotcha Media was the closest to the quintessential destination for finding video events we remembered through the year, whether that be Kanye crying on Leno or Michele Bachmann leading a anti-health care prayercast. (See also: Gawker TV and Mag.ma.)
As Virginia Heffernan recently asked in a recent NYT essay, what exactly should a magazine look like in the digital age? Once a sporadic print title, Animal is now one of the last remaining examples of what an underground magazine could look like online. (See also: Black Book Tumblr and Scallywag & Vagabond.)
26) Shit My Dad Says
Several people tried to convince me to change this entire list to "Best Twitterers of the Year," a listicle that someone probably should compile but which exceeds my pain threshold. In the meantime: "Son, no one gives a shit about all the things your cell phone does. You didn't invent it, you just bought it. Anybody can do that."
25) The Rumpus
As literary magazines go, The Rumpus is something of a mess. Created by Stephen Elliott, who spent most of the year jostling around the country in support of his novel, The Rumpus defined itself mostly in opposition to what it is not. But columns by Rick Moody and Jerry Stahl, along with a rambling assemblage of interviews, links, anecdotes, reviews, and whatever fits onto the screen, make it the best case going for a reinvented online literary scene. (See also: HTML Giant, The Millions, Electric Literature, and London Review of Books Blog.)
24) Best of Wikipedia
...Coprolalia, Foreign Accent Syndrome, Stendhal Syndrome, Dude, Mopery, Sokushinbutsu, Tyvek, Shm-reduplication, Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome, Pica, Kayfabe... (See also: Double Tongued.)
23) WSJ Speakeasy
It didn't start off very well. In the backdrop of the Wall Street Journal announcing Speakeasy in June was the chatter about Rupert turning the internet into a clunky vending machine (put a quarter in, junk food drops out). And the coverage at this culture blog was spotty at first, but the gentility eventually morphed into a more conversational aesthetic. (See also: NYT Opinionator.)
22) Script Shadow
"I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process," said Tim Robbins' cocky producer character in The Player in 1992, and Hollywood seems to have listened. By reviewing movie scripts before they get made into movies, this site turns the focus back onto the written word. (See also: First Showing, Movie of the Day, and Go Into The Story.)
21) Newsweek Tumblr
It isn't enough that Newsweek is the only mainstream media organization dangling their toes in the rocky stream of Tumblrland; it also happens to be doing it better than most of the kids. (NYTimes.com has been threatening to do "something interesting" with the medium for a couple months, but there's still nothing to show for it.) It's tricky for an established old media company to find the right voice on a new platform, but the Newsweek Tumblr has figured out how to mix their own relevant stories with the reblog culture. (See also: Today Show Tumblr.)
20) Asian Poses
The Nyan Nyan. The Bang! The V-Sign. The Shush. These are just some of the poses Asian Poses introduced us to this year, illustrated by photos of cute Asian ladies. Is it offensive? Maybe, but many of the most interesting blogs straddle that offensive/not-offensive line. Also, based on the well-known "members of a group can make fun of that group and you can't" rule of comedy, this is not offensive since it is run by a Chinese guy. But maybe it objectifies women! Color me confused-pose. (See also: Stop Making That Duckface, This Is Why You're Fat, Really Cute Asians, and Awkward Family Photos.)
19) Look At This Fucking Hipster
If you thought the Internet had run out of ways to mock hipsters, Look At This Fucking Hipster and Hipster Runoff proved you wrong this year. Look At This Fucking Hipster took the more direct approach, simply asking you to look at photos of these fucking hipsters, complete with caustic one-line captions. It may come as no surprise that the author, Joe Mande, appears to be a self-loathing hipster, posing in black-rimmed glasses and a flannel shirt on his website. Literary-minded hipsters are surely jealous of LATFH's book deal.
18) Hipster Runoff
Hipster Runoff's Carles took a more satirical approach, blogging about pressing hipster issues such as the music meme economy and whether you should do blow off your iPhone in fractured, "ironic quote-heavy" txt-speak. Many people suspected that "Carles" was actually Tao Lin, since Carles' writing was so similar to Lin's affectless prose, but Lin denies this. Whoever Carles is, he is most certainly another self-loathing hipster. He knows far too much about Animal Collective to be a civilian.
There's a long-standing joke on this annual list to mention Metafilter every single time. But this was the first year it seemed that more people were paying attention to what was going on in the conversation threads on Reddit. For the uninitiated: Reddit takes some of the features of Digg, mixes it with the aesthetic of Twitter, adds the editorial of Fark, and accentuates it with the comments of Metafilter. But better than that sounds.
16) Smart Football
If you had told me at the beginning of 2009 that Steve Pinker and Malcolm Gladwell would get into a heated debate about football esoterica, and that this debate would happen, in all places, within an internet comment thread, I would have said, "Yeah, and Brett Favre will have the best season of his life at 40." But every once in a while intellectuals wander into sports, and recently the NFL seemed the place where the Chronicle of Higher Ed crowd is hanging. So if you want to get smart about football, this is the place to do it. (See also: Deadspin and The Sports Section.)
It looks like a conspiracy that Snarkmarket has made this list a few times now, but unlike most blogs that become sedentary in their success, it just keeps innovating. This year, Robin Sloan quit his job at Current TV to become (among other things) a fiction writer -- and one of the most fascinating ones on the scene in some time. Matt Thompson had been gigging at the Knight Foundation, but recently hopped to a new gig at NPR. With them being so busy, Tim Carmody settled in as the new scribe of ideas. If they let me give it a tagline, it would be "The BoingBoing it's okay to like." (See also: Hey, It's Noah and Waxy.)
13) Nieman Journalism Lab
Where were these guys when we needed them? Sure, it's another think tank, but Nieman Journalism Lab has been putting its not-for-profit money where its mouth is by also breaking news, such as the item about Google developing a micropayments sytem, the crack-ass idea from the Associated Press to game search, and little factoids like NYT's most frequently looked-up words. It also happens to be the only place still hiring journalists. (See also: Reflections of a Newsosaur and Newspaper Death Watch.)
12) Anil Dash
At some point during the year, I asked Anil for an explanation in the upsurge of blog posts on his site. He said it was merely recognizing an opening: there are so few people writing intelligently about technology today. True! Daring Fireball may have the links, and TechCrunch may have the coverage, but there are scant intellectuals left in the space. When it was announced last month that he was leaving Six Apart to work for a new government tech startup within the Obama administration, the techno-pragmatism all made sense. (See also: Obama Foodorama.)
11) Slaughterhouse 90210
Slaughterhouse 90210 combined lowbrow TV screencaps with highbrow literary quotes, making it kind of the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups of Tumblr blogs. Another comparison: an intellectual I Can Has Cheezburger. Seeing a quote from, say, The Bell Jar underneath a Friends screencap is pleasantly shocking -- especially after you realize the quote fits the show perfectly -- and a reassurance that it's okay for smart people to like stupid things. Could be a good candidate for a book deal, if it weren't for those pesky copyright issues. (See also: The G Maniesto and Fuck Yeah Subtitles.)
10) Letters of Note
We've known for a while that the best blogs are dedicated to a precise nano-topic, but there is also a new thread emerging: the blog dedicated to disappearing technologies. The tagline of Letters of Note, "Correspondence deserving a wider audience," says it all. There's Hunter S. Thompson starting a screed "Okay you lazy bitch," there's Kurt Vonnegut writing his family from Slaughterhouse Five, there's the letter from Mick Jagger asking Andy Warhol to design album cover art, and there's J. D. Salinger's hand-written note aggressively yet delightfully shooting down a producer who wants to turn Catcher in the Rye into a movie. (See also: Significant Objects, Iconic Photos, and Unconsumption.)
Launching another media blog didn't sound like rearranging Titanic deck chairs; it sounded like booking a flight on Al Quada Airlines to Jerusalem. But not even six months after launching, Mediaite was already on the Technorati 100, eventually landing somewhere around #30 on a list of players who have been there for years. Sure, it can go a little bananas with the seo/pageview bait, but it's also one of the few entities in the whole bastardly New York Media Scene to actually have the will to take on Gawker (or its pseudo-sibling, The Awl). (See also: Web Newser and Politics Daily.)
8) Clay Shirky
There were only, what, a dozen or so essays on his blog this year? But one of them, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, caused such a little earthquake in the industry that tremors were still echoing months later. Shirky is the only guy in the whole space who doesn't sound like he has an agenda, who doesn't have a consulting agency on the side that he's pumping his half-baked theories into. (See also: Umair Haque and The Technium.)
6) Harper's Studio
The book industry is about to go through the same disruptive changes that the music industry set upon a decade ago -- this, it seems, almost everyone agrees upon. But just as with the previous natural cultural disaster, no one is sure how to prepare for the earthquake. The editors at the new Harper Studio are the most likely candidates for turning all the theory behind "the future of books" into actual functional products. An impressive list of inventive works on the horizon hints at their agenda, but the blog, which is something of a clearing house for discussing everything that has to do with the future of publishing, is like an R&D lab for print. (See also: Omnivoracious, The Second Pass, The Penguin Blog, and Tomorrow Museum.)
5) Eat Me Daily
As one competing food blogger put it to me, Eat Me Daily is the Kottke of food blogs. Which, if you want to follow that obtuse metaphor, makes Eater the genre's Gawker and Serious Eats its Engadget. And which, if you understand any of that at all, means that this blurb can end now. (See also: Eater and Serious Eats.)
3) TV Tropes
If you don't know TV Tropes, it's too bad, because I probably just ruined your life. If you've ever recognized a hackneyed plot device on a tv show and thought "I wonder if anyone else has thought of this," the answer is: yes, a lot. I don't even know where to suggest starting in this labyrinth, but try entries like Butterfly of Doom or Chekhov's Gunman or Bitch In Sheep's Clothing -- or just hit the random item generator. My dream is to have Tarantino spend a month here and come out with his Twin Peaks. (See also: Television Without Pity and Urban Dictionary.)
2) The Awl
The Awl is too good to exist, or so goes much of the catty banter in the media business scene. There is seldom a conversation of The Awl lately that doesn't ask, "How the hell will they make money?" But let's set aside that gaudy little question for a second and instead ask, "Why has The Awl become an internet love object?" I've done the math, and I have a theory, involving at least two factors: 1) It winks at all the sad internet conventions while both debunking and adopting them at the same time (Listicles Without Commentary and those Tom Scoccha chats are the best example). And 2) it is willing to go to bat for the unexpected without sounding like one of those intentionally counter-intuitive Slate essays (Avatar and Garrison Keillor are two good recent examples). In short, it's just less dumb than everything else. Even Nick Denton joked about it at launch, and I don't know how they'll survive either, but The Awl already exists in an admirable pantheon that includes Spy and Suck. (See also: Kottke and Katie Bakes.)
Go ahead, scoff. But I will tell you this: no site in the past year has better personified the internet in all its complex contradictions than 4chan. Blisteringly violent yet irrepressibly creative, vociferously political yet erratic in agenda, 4chan was the multi-headed monster that got you off, got you pissed off, and maybe got you knocked out. When I interviewed moot in February, I discovered a smart kid who had seen more by the age of 16 than someone who actually lived inside all six Saw movies. People tend to think of 4chan as pure id, but there are highly formalized rules (written and unwritten) within the community. Inside all the blustery fury of the /b/tards, there is more going on psychologically than we are equipped to understand yet. (See also: Uncyclopedia, Encyclopedia Dramatica, and Know Your Meme.)
Special thanks to these exceptionally nice people for contributing ideas to this list: Caroline McCarthy, Joanne McNeil, Melissa Maerz, Chuck Klosterman, Soraya Darabi, Mat Honan, Katie Baker, Erin Carlson, Noah Brier, Jason Kottke, Taylor Carik, Nick Douglas, Lockhart Steele, Matt Thompson, Anastasia Friscia, and Kelly Reeves.