October 17, 2008, 3:11 PM — A personal diary, the latest tech gossip, new Web sites of note, hypertext links to upcoming Apple products -- there's a blog for just about every topic under the sun, and the quality of these daily journals is all over the map.
Many are, quite literally, written by young adults who still live with their parents. Many are just a collection of juicy links. Yet, there's a handful of well-written, well-edited and exceptionally literate blogs. This top 10 list includes a few surprises, such as Download Squad -- a site that covers new software, but always seems to write with enthusiasm -- and a few (such as the personal blog of Roger Ebert) that should probably win journalism awards.
1. Real Dan
Dan Lyons is the print journalist who created the Fake Steve Jobs blog . His new blog, called Real Dan, isn't nearly as entertaining but is just as well written.
It's clear that the best blogs are often written by people who have a background in journalism and writing. As a blogger, Lyons has one important skill: He can write about a dry subject with wit and character, and will often drop an off-handed comment that catches you off-guard, such as a post where he commented on the Bloomberg obituary on Steve Jobs that was released prematurely (Jobs is alive and well).
More recently, he also had some fun with a report about Jobs and a bizarre bicycle accident (complete with hilarious photo) and Jobs reportedly having a heart attack .
Lyons has an ability to make technology subjects interesting to those who don't follow every Apple press release, or who don't even read blogs. "I think my blog originally caught on because of the rabid Apple fanboy base," said Lyons by e-mail. "They were the first to start reading the blog and spreading the word. Eventually, the audience went beyond fanboys and tech weenies. I guess because it was funny even to people who didn't know that much about the tech industry."
2. Roger Ebert
Movie critic Roger Ebert started blogging not too long ago, and the result is one of the best-written journals around.
His thoughtful posts sometimes shift away from movies, but his best entries -- like this one about the use of nondigital effects in movies and this one about how the U.S. Postal Service removed a cigarette from the image of Bette Davis -- are usually the most literate and worth reading. Equally entertaining are the comments from readers, which are about the best you will see on a blog, often including nuggets of trivia from movies.
3. Rough Type
Easily one of the best-written blogs on the Web, Rough Type is the personal journal of author Nicholas Carr, who has written about Web 2.0, cloud computing and about how Google might be making us think less and search for every answer online.
Most posts reference his magazine articles and books, but they are thoughtful and insightful on their own as well. "People get bored pretty quickly with sloppy writing and sloppy thinking, and that's true whether you're publishing online or in print," Carr told me by e-mail and, as always, he makes a good point.
Stringing together a sentence with a strong noun and verb combination might not seem all that difficult, but many bloggers write like they are on the school bus using a crayon.
GeekDad assumes you actually want to read more than 50 words and is not afraid to post long explanations about how to build a tepee in your backyard or discussions about a new prototyping show on the Discovery Channel or video games as art.
Ken Denmead, the GeekDad editor, explained why good blog writing is important.
"Well written is always important, articulate depends upon your audience," he said in an e-mail. "Blogs, by their nature, are meant to be conversations between the writers and the readers. The writer has to both draw an audience in with their voice, and adapt their voice to the audience. That's a function of being a good writer, and figuring how to write what you write well. Being articulate is less important because you don't always need big words to be understood. But an attention to grammar and punctuation will always lend you more credibility. If the average reader can't make fun of your typos and misspellings, they're going to be far less likely to dismiss what you're saying as well."
5. Level Up
Another Newsweek writer in our round-up (the first was Dan Lyons), Level Up is the creation of N'Gai Croal.
Lately, he has been on a kick posting simple interviews with gaming experts, but the blog really hits a high plateau when it debates issues such as whether The Sims should be made into a movie. Croal goes deeper than the typical fanboy hysteria, raising thought-provoking questions about game characterization (such as, is it better to only hear a character's words or should you also hear his thoughts).
Jason Kottke doesn't give himself enough credit for his own writing.
Kottke.org is mostly a collection of sanguine links to compelling stories, such as this one about the best sports journalism stories ever.
Yet, its Kottke's quick but insightful comments about those links that makes his blog worth bookmarking.
7. Sore Thumbs
As the newest site in our round-up, it might be too early to list Sore Thumbs as a best-written blog, and many of the posts so far seem hurriedly written and maybe a little cheeky. Yet, the dynamic duo of Dan "Shoe" Hsu and Crispin Boyer, both former editors at Electronic Gaming Monthly who have legitimate writing experience, seems like a winner so far. (Full disclosure: Boyer was one of my editors at EGM.) Sore Thumbs has become an outlet for the editors to share behind-the-scenes details about their careers, and the writing is engaging enough to keep you reading.
Gee, you mean The New York Times has a well-written blog? Yes, and most importantly it's not just a re-hash of the main feature articles online.
Even when the site is just reviewing a new HDTV, it calls out the most important feature and avoids a simple list of specs or techie comparisons. Posts about tech companies like this one on Sun -- always seem to engage you with the facts.
9. Download Squad
Here's an interesting site that you might not think of as a portal for good writing, Download Squad covers new software and Web 2.0 sites. It's compelling because the summaries get right to the point and whet your appetite for the program they are discussing. Lead blogger Grant Robertson explained why the site chooses to focus on these summaries instead of simple links and screens.
"If you have super-secret undiscovered Apple patents or information no one else has access to, you can pretty much write 'ZOMG! PAtents!!!!11!' and people will still come running," said Robertson in an e-mail. "If you're looking for an audience that comes back day after day, being well written and articulate is crucially important. Download Squad has an editorial style guide we wrote for use internally and, we're really proud of the work we put into quality. Being first doesn't matter as much as being salient, interesting and readable."
10. Publishing 2
Posts have been less frequent lately, but Publishing 2 is usually a thoughtful exercise in comparing print media to the Web and journalism in general, such as this Oct. 13. blog about "link journalism."
Most posts -- like one about how magazines don't understand the Web, and its predecessor about what newspapers don't get about the Web -- are as well researched and written as what you would read, well, in a magazine or newspaper.