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Wine Blogging Comes of Age


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This professor and student attitude many wine writers present is really ridiculous. The true student of wine recognizes the more they learn about wine, the more they realize they don't know. The attraction of many blogs is that they share the process of discovery with the reader in an honest and almost disarming way. Sure they make mistakes, but that is part of their educational process, which they are sharing with the reader.

This point reminds me of the way cooking and gourmet magazines used to be. I felt so intimidated--as if I could never be a part of that world. Now I enjoy most of the major food publications precisely because they feature authors who take us spelunking in exotic Indian forests looking for hand-harvested mountain teas, and books by food authors who describe their first visit to an oyster bed. Food has become an adventure.

That, I feel, is what is missing in the major wine publications, which are all quantitative and lifestyle oriented. If food can graduate from elitist to adventure, so can wine.

And yes, Craig, I agree with your earlier comment on the lack of investigative reporting. The number of wine scams and frauds out there are shocking! And what about this whole Beckstoffer bully pulpit? I notice he's abandoned his argument that it's "bad for the vines," and is now putting forth that he's looking out "for the consumer." Every time an article is written about him in the St. Helena Star or the SF Chronicle, I notice that no other growers are interviewed on these issues. The Megapurple article was a step in the right direction, but there's so much more out there to be ~un~covered. And what an exciting assignment that would be!! There are writers who would tackle these assignments for free just to prove their talent. The fact that they are not covered is due in large part to the inertia of the wine/lifestyles, and also due to the very long lead time required by the glossies. They need to rely on 'evergreen' pieces, as they are called in journalism--pieces that will not go out of date tomorrow or next week.

Blogs are current, informed, and relevatory.

Blogs are to mainstream as the stiletto to the epee.

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Staying on the subject of wine and not so much on potentially deadly weapons, I might be no less tempted to say that the stilleto is to the Tannat grape as the epee is to Pinot Noir...

Several points and reactions:

(a) Defending some professionals but certainly not all.......the professional wine critic or writer who takes the professorial attitude is as much a fool as the one who thinks he/she knows all there is to be known. It is not only bloggers that learn and make mistakes - pros who love wine do much the same. That is part of the process of being human and is also one of the reasons why honest professionals value the feedback they get from their readers. .......and are not afraid to admit in public to their mistakes.

(b) As to having backsides kissed and egos flattered, the professional critic who is not aware that such games are being played deserves to be fired.

© As to the influence of various individuals or magazines, let us keep in mind that the reader qua wine lover qua consumer has a certain amount of responsibility to bear as well. Those who buy wines only or even primarily on the basis of so-and-so's sores deserves whatever.

(d) Let's not be so certain that newspapers and magazines need articles that will not go out of date. There is an old axiom, quite accurate, to the effect that today's newspaper is what you wrap fish in tomorrow.

(e) I'm as much today for "power to the people" as I was twenty, thirty and forty years ago. I'll grant, however, that to some extent today I'd like to know to which people that power is going and who gave it to them.

(f) As to being "famous for 15 minutes", not at all new. Although most credit the expression to Andy Warhol it was actually uttered by Ultra Violet, one of Warhol's friends and was later used as the title of her quasi-confessional, quasi-autobiographical, quasi-fictitious book.

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Craig

The wine industry has become obsessed with Parker and the Wine Spectator.

First--it was/is the industry that slaps shelf talkers on every bottle of wine on the shelves.

(in fact, this is often done without the accompanying notes--Parker at one time tried to control this practice).

For any consumer who is more trusted to provide some guidance in buying wines?

An independent critic or the wine maker, the distributor, the retailer????

If looking for guidance in buying and automobile is it not wise to look at Consumer reports or car and driver or should one just rely upon the salesman or the manufacturer?

So after quoting Parker and the WS endlessly-- many of the same folks turn around and complain that people only follow Parker or the WS.

In fact--wine makers themselves bask in good reviews then complain bitterly when they get a less than perfect score--or even when a critic doesn't review their latest offering.

We have quotes from retailers who say they can't sell a wine if Parker doesn't review it highly and they can't sell wine if Parker doesn't review it at all.

I would say the business has a problem selling wine period!

Whose fault is this???

Your views of the American consumer are totally faulty--"American consumers are well proven followers"

really? I didn't know that following some advice to try something was uniquely American. were not the British led by importers when buying Bordeaux for years and years?

Did not the French actually (and really wisely) make their Bordeaux to please the British importers?

There's a saying--The french made bordeaux for the Brits and Burgundy for themselves.

so Americans are basically sheep when it comes to buying wine?

Parker and the Spectator turn them into "obsessed madmen to try wines they have never tasted?

really?!

Well the key may be "try"--are consumers supposed to wander in aimlessly and buy anything?

Is it possible that Parker and the Spectator are simply good at what they do? That maybe people like their recommendations/advice? (if they don't there are myriad other critics).

No you folks would rather believe that people simply like only the wines they are told to like.

That someone will actually drink something they don't like because someone --anyone--told them they should like it?

That we will continually return to a restaurant we don't enjoy or like because the Times or Michellin gave it three or four stars?

Why just Parker and the WS--why are you not railing against all critics?

Why is a blogger's advice ok and Parker's not?

This is why the wine industry is screwed up.

there is a complete misunderstanding of consumers.

You also have a complete misunderstanding of critics.

It is because most retailers and all of their salespersons do not (in fact can not taste every wine they offer)--that people turn to critics for some guidance.

It is why --so many use shelf talkers quoting scores!

Parker isn't pasting them up--Laube or Kramer certainly are not!

Advice in buying anything is good.

The credibility of the advice giver is key.

Do you think for a minute that if people who subscribe to any critic did not like the recommendations offered they would continue to follow that advice?

You would be suprised to learn that most people who buy wine do not subscribe to Parker or read the WS.

The vast majority in fact.

Yet far too many people have bought lousy wine on the advice of wine salespersons or

because it was a Grand Cru or because it was French or.....(I can't tell you how many times I listened to a wine maker shuck and jive about a poorly made wine).

I am in total agreement with Daniel Rogov here.

You can argue that the WS and Parker are bad for wine all you want--you ought to be arguing that any critic is not good.

You ought to be wondering why a large part of any business believes that consumers are sheep--no wonder folks turn elsewhere for advice.

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(f) As to being "famous for 15 minutes", not at all new.  Although most credit the expression to Andy Warhol it was actually uttered by Ultra Violet, one of Warhol's friends and was later used as the title of her quasi-confessional, quasi-autobiographical, quasi-fictitious book.

Actually, the quip I heard was "famous for 15 people," a take-off of "Warhol's quote" (though I didn't know it was Ultra Violet who had actually said it).

Derrick Schneider

My blog: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com

You have to eat. You might as well enjoy it!

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I think that the net should be free but I also put a premium on anyone who takes a risk anyone who puts their talent out there in an arena where there is some winnowing out process where the strong--talented survive!

I'm not sure your Batttle Writing arena works as well as you think. Getting into that arena--magazines, newspapers, and books, I suppose you'd argue--requires more than writing talent. In fact, it often seems to not require much writing talent at all. Timing, connections, and a unique perspective are all factors. Usually more important than one's ability to turn a phrase.

Blogs offer another ticket into what you view as "legitimate" or "professional" writing. I got my first magazine assignment in part because of a writing sample from my blog (though, in retrospect, I'm not sure how that swayed the editor--I'm a much better writer now than I was then). I know of five or six food bloggers who now have book contracts--publishers drool when they see the built-in platforms of the better-known bloggers--and expect wine bloggers to follow suit soon.

How are these folks not legitimate again?

edited to fix a typo

I am not in disagreement with you.

All I am saying is there is a lot of writing on wine available from many sources.

There are some blogs that are good--most are bad--really bad.

I am talking about the diaries--the diatribes and the rants mainly.

The accessibility of the webb has lowered the level of discourse--legitimacy?

For the most part--one who is not educated enough to know better has no way of knowing if a blog is insightful or pure fantasy.

I suppose that one should look to many sources for information etc as a safeguard.

Again--I would ask the question that if a blogger is covering a topic then what are they offering?

--that is new or fresh or not covered better elsewhere?

The same question an editor or a webb master might ask when confronting a proposal.

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JohnL - you should really get your own blog. You put up more words on the internet each week than most bloggers. The only difference here is you get a built in audience because of the stature of eGullet, while on your own blog you would have to build your own readership.

As far as Parker, I consider him an outstanding critic. It's The Wine Spectator that I mostly differ with. Other than that, I think most critics do a great job. I also think many bloggers do a fine job.

For the rest of your post, let's just save time and say you're right.

Edited by Craig Camp (log)
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JohnL - you should really get your own blog. You put up more words on the internet each week than most bloggers. The only difference here is you get a built in audience because of the stature of eGullet, while on your own blog you would have to build your own readership.

As far as Parker, I consider him a outstanding critic. It's The Wine Spectator that I mostly differ with. Other than that, I think most critics do a great job. I also think many bloggers do a fine job.

For the rest of post, let's just save time and say you're right. By the way, are you a Plotnicki understudy?

I honestly believe that I really don't have much new or refreshing insight to warrant a blog!

:wink:

Thanks though (I think).

I like eGullet precisely because there is a built in audience--a relatively high quality one at that (there is a weeding out process here).

I also like the feedback--the challenges from others.

I agree that there are many fine blogs---I am not anti blog at all--I think I agree with Mr Rogov.

(he should have a blog!--actually he does sort of).

The problem is that the overall level of discourse on the internet is much lower than most other outlets. (this is a bad result or trade off for some good things--total freedom easy access etc).

I have said over and over--the really good blogs IMOP are those by people who have some credentials--usually industry pros who often provide interesting perspective on various aspects of the wine world.

The real problem blogs are mostly by "wannabees"--people who are trying to be wine critics or writers--first we have a ton of them already in print and broadcast--many great some not so great.

Also many of these bloggers are uninformed--everyone's an expert or so tentative as to be not worth reading.

Yes a few are excellent--

As for Parker and the WS etc. I subscribe to about a dozen newsletters and journals etc. (including Parker and the WS).

To be honest--I cull a lot of information and advice.

I was in marketing for twenty five years and now as a second career am in the wine business (retail sales) I am in the WSET diploma class (I have a level three certificate).

I must say that I have never seen such an insecure business. Witness the obsession with Parker.

Some warranted most completely off base.

I am curious as to your "problem" with the Spectator. (perhaps another thread would be more appropriate).

There are bloggers who believe that Parker must be countered--to stay on topic here. As if this were a noble crusade. There are any number of other writers/critics who have challenged Parker.

I find this a rather dubious reason to blog.

I also find your thought process to be fascinating--I disagree with it-- though I believe we are in the same place at the end.

I am in total agreement with daniel Rogov from start to finish.

The wine business is rife with insecurity--there is an amazing paranoia that has led a lot of people to attribute massive powers to Parker--he is worshipped and hated at the same time.

I have found that a lot of retailers are incredibly ignorant of wine and worse do not understand consumers and really do not know how to sell wine as a result.

Distributors are also a mixed bag. Wine makers are another animal altogether. They are like parents--all their kids and grand kids are worthy of our attention--even if some are ugly and untalented.

Thus the critics and writers step in--consumers need help.

In the end the blogosphere is just another place to get information the danger is to rely on it too much. (or take it too seriously).

Edited by JohnL (log)
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Caveman

Bad writing and thinking is......well...bad writing and thinking.

I recommend the brief discussion in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Wine.

by the way--there is plenty of faulty thinking and writing out there not just in Blogs!

I don't doubt that most bloggers are not good guys or gals or are even knowledgeable.

I think maybe we are all overheated here (a bit).

I am not really attacking blogs and bloggers--I am raising some problems/issues.

that's all--really.

As for the "wine for points" thing.

well--see my posts in response to craig camp below--we could have a really good discussion of that one.

maybe I will start a thread!

best

John

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Thirty years ago my English professor told me that bad writing is based on generalizations. Good writing is based on specifics. That one failing essay has dogged my steps like toilet paper stuck in my skirt for the rest of my life.

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Thirty years ago my English professor told me that bad writing is based on generalizations.  Good writing is based on specifics.  That one failing essay has dogged my steps like toilet paper stuck in my skirt for the rest of my life.

Ya mean like the "Parker palate..."

:wink:

sometimes generalizations become "conventional wisdom"

they are easy to accept easy to recycle.

unlike toilet paper!!!

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I'll start.

According to alawine.com's list of the top 100 wine blogs, based on links, the #1 blog would be LJ (LiveJournal) Wine.

However, this is an open author interface where pretty much anyone can post comments, like this:

WinePod - Personal Winemaking Portal.

There's an article about this gizmo on sfgate today.

I'm not sure how I feel about it. Neat idea I guess.

There is a total lack of focus and voice on this site. There are some very upfront conversations and a refreshing cleanliness--a lack of shilling, gremlins, and 'bots. It's sort of like a clean burger joint for wine conversation. Nice to wander into, but I would need some really juicy tidbits to entice me to return.

It would benefit from more owner-author posts and comments. It has a few great links, including our own Mr. Daniel Rogov (Strat's Place), but when I looked for background or author information, I got this.

Rating: Disorganized

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I'll start. 

According to alawine.com's list of the top 100 wine blogs, based on links, the #1 blog would be LJ (LiveJournal) Wine.

However, this is an open author interface where pretty much anyone can post comments, like this:

WinePod - Personal Winemaking Portal.

There's an article about this gizmo on sfgate today.

I'm not sure how I feel about it. Neat idea I guess.

There is a total lack of focus and voice on this site. There are some very upfront conversations and a refreshing cleanliness--a lack of shilling, gremlins, and 'bots. It's sort of like a clean burger joint for wine conversation. Nice to wander into, but I would need some really juicy tidbits to entice me to return.

It would benefit from more owner-author posts and comments. It has a few great links, including our own Mr. Daniel Rogov (Strat's Place), but when I looked for background or author information, I got this.

Rating: Disorganized

Agree.

also

I am totally confused--this is not a blog!

it is a web site.

If this is the #1 site then I really have to question the criteria used to rank these sites.

the first question:

Could someone recommend a good zin...?

someone?

who

an anonymous person?

why not just ask anyone --a neighbor for eg or someone at work--why bother with this site?

awful

read the tasting notes--

"2003 peachy canyon zinfandel from Paso Robles. I keep wishing I had the discipline to let my zinfandels age but that means not drinking them! this is not the biggest best zin of recent memory! But damn its good after a long day."

This is what I (and others) am talking about--utter banality from faceless and obscure sources.

Next!

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A web site is a single page (spidering into other pages) owned and controlled by a single entity.

A blog is generally a bio-log written by a single author.

In blogging software there are now options in which multiple guest authors may post. Blog softwares allow the owner to blog individually, invite carefully selected authors, or make it a totally open interface. LJ Wine is an example of an unedited multiple interface.

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In blogging software there are now options in which multiple guest authors may post. Blog softwares allow the owner to blog individually, invite carefully selected authors, or make it a totally open interface.

Broadly speaking, the contrast from the normal range of Web sites is not obvious to me, Mary. (For instance, many people might say that eGullet meets the description above. Does eGullet call itself a blog?)

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Does eGullet call itself a blog?

We offer a service called eG Foodblogs, where one of our members blogs for a week or so. We like this approach because the most interesting people often don't have the time to write an infinite-duration blog, but they'll blog for a week and we reap the benefits.

There's a term that hasn't gained much traction, "clog" (community blog), that might describe our eG Forums offering. Most people just call that "forums" or "boards," though.

Of course we have many other offerings: we publish an online literary journal or webzine (the Daily Gullet), we have our online culinary institute (eGCI), we have our eG Radio foodcasts, we have eG Spotlight conversations, we offer food media digests, RecipeGullet, ImageGullet . . . we're pretty diversified. We're web 2.0, or so we're told.

In terms of what we call ourselves, it has nothing to do with the web. We call ourselves a nonprofit organization, specifically a culinary arts society. Most of our offerings are online and focus on increasing awareness of the culinary arts and the literature of food and drink, but some, like the eG Scholarships program (which gave away $20,000 in culinary scholarships this year), are more like traditional philanthropy (our status, legally, is that we're a "public charity").

To get back to the main part of the topic, I've got to say I'm not sure anybody has raised any particularly compelling arguments against blogs. As far as I can tell, what we're hearing is that most blogs are bad, and a few are good. I assume every single person who has posted here agrees with that? If so, what's the problem?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If this is the #1 site then I really have to question the criteria used to rank these sites.

Most of the ranking systems out there rely on quantity, not quality. Specifically, the number of links pointing to a site. This was a trend started by Google, whose PageRank system measures (among many other things) the links that come into a site. (As an aside, this idea was good at the time, but has now been so hopelessly compromised as to border on useless--it's common practice to set up "splogs" or spam blogs which do nothing each day but post a zillion links to one site).

A far better indicator of quality is to find a blog you like, and find out which sites they recommend. But Alder, for instance, who most would consider the "best" wine blog out there, has links to all the wine blogs out there. Likewise Becks and Posh, one of the most popular food blogs.

Derrick Schneider

My blog: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com

You have to eat. You might as well enjoy it!

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If this is the #1 site then I really have to question the criteria used to rank these sites.

. . . it's common practice to set up "splogs" or spam blogs which do nothing each day but post a zillion links to one site).

Yes, and there are the consolidation sites that steal tidbits from other blogs on a daily basis and promote themselves as a Readers' Digest sort of blog, with zillions of links. It can be a good way to acquire links, but you may lose readers to them. As Derrick points out, the best way to find sites you might like are from blogs with a 'short list' of carefully chosen suggested links.

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Can I add my $0.02 here (to no one in particular)?

My thought is, what do I (and by extension, you) consider an interesting or useful blog? As a TechGeek, I can tell you there are a zillion newsgroups, forums and now blogs about everything from programming languages to operating systems, to why Microsoft sucks, or why it doesn't. We TechGeeks are often in need of help getting some really geeky new toy to work. My new Sony-Ericsson cell phone is a perfect example. Without going into detail, I searched for sony-ericcson bluetooth or some such, and most results were forums and, yes, blogs. Would I read the stream of consciousness posts of one person who happen to have a cellphone and bluetooth woes? Not! But if the answer were there, I'd grab it.

My point is, wine, women, song or geeky toys, it isn't the style but the content that counts. I don't care if the stuff has a little calendar next to it and a Moveable Type credit at the bottom. I don't care if there are dates or "posted by" lines (wait, all forums have that too). If I could find one blog that had a lot of stuff I'd like to know about wine, I'd be reading it all the time. But I never have.

The reason I prefer forums to blogs is that when a large community is gathered in one place, they tend to handle thousands of time more subjects than a single individual ever could. On the other hand, if the "blogger" (I hate every word based on 'blog', but you gotta move with the times) somehow has similar interests to my own, he or she will likely follow a similar path of discovery. This is certainly true in the tech stuff. Does this not also sound a bit like why you like certain wine writers in the first place?

Edited by ParisTechGeek (log)
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Does eGullet call itself a blog?

We offer a service called eG Foodblogs, where one of our members blogs for a week or so. We like this approach because the most interesting people often don't have the time to write an infinite-duration blog, but they'll blog for a week and we reap the benefits.

There's a term that hasn't gained much traction, "clog" (community blog), that might describe our eG Forums offering. Most people just call that "forums" or "boards," though.

Of course we have many other offerings: we publish an online literary journal or webzine (the Daily Gullet), we have our online culinary institute (eGCI), we have our eG Radio foodcasts, we have eG Spotlight conversations, we offer food media digests, RecipeGullet, ImageGullet . . . we're pretty diversified. We're web 2.0, or so we're told.

In terms of what we call ourselves, it has nothing to do with the web. We call ourselves a nonprofit organization, specifically a culinary arts society. Most of our offerings are online and focus on increasing awareness of the culinary arts and the literature of food and drink, but some, like the eG Scholarships program (which gave away $20,000 in culinary scholarships this year), are more like traditional philanthropy (our status, legally, is that we're a "public charity").

To get back to the main part of the topic, I've got to say I'm not sure anybody has raised any particularly compelling arguments against blogs. As far as I can tell, what we're hearing is that most blogs are bad, and a few are good. I assume every single person who has posted here agrees with that? If so, what's the problem?

You just made a compelling argument--"most blogs are bad."

I don't believe that anyone is arguing that somehow blogs should be outlawed.

Perhaps Mary was on to something--maybe the critiquing of blogs is a good thing in helping to publicize the good and to point out problems with the bad.

One thing is clear, the level of discourse is lowered by the proliferation of blogs overall. A price paid for the accessibility the net provides.

Also the proliferation of blogs has accelerated the development and spread of "conventional wisdom." This can be a bad thing when that wisdom is based upon a faulty premise or when supported by erroneous "facts" or misinformation with malicious or innocent intent. (it can be difficult to tell).

These problems exist with any medium--the web's breadth and sheer size simply magnify them and make it more difficult to counter.

So, I believe that the discussion is a good one, and much needed.

As with most topics here (or anywhere) most probably learned something (at least I did) and no concrete conclusions or solutions have been developed (par for the course).

Interestingly, eGullet provided a somewhat unique forum wherein bloggers, people who work in the industry covered by bloggers, critics/writers from conventional media and just plain folks could "hash things out."

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Can I add my $0.02 here (to no one in particular)?

My thought is, what do I (and by extension, you)  consider an interesting or useful blog? As a TechGeek, I can tell you there are a zillion newsgroups, forums and now blogs about everything from programming languages to operating systems, to why Microsoft sucks, or why it doesn't. We TechGeeks are often in need of help getting some really geeky new toy to work. My new Sony-Ericsson cell phone is a perfect example. Without going into detail, I searched for sony-ericcson bluetooth or some such, and most results were forums and, yes, blogs. Would I read the stream of consciousness posts of one person who happen to have a cellphone and bluetooth woes? Not! But if the answer were there, I'd grab it.

My point is, wine, women, song or geeky toys, it isn't the style but the content that counts. I don't care if the stuff has a little calendar next to it and a Moveable Type credit at the bottom. I don't care if there are dates or "posted by" lines (wait, all forums have that too). If I could find one blog that had a lot of stuff I'd like to know about wine, I'd be reading it all the time. But I never have.

The reason I prefer forums to blogs is that when a large community is gathered in one place, they tend to handle thousands of time more subjects than a single individual ever could. On the other hand, if the "blogger" (I hate every word based on 'blog', but you gotta move with the times) somehow has similar interests to my own, he or she will likely follow a similar path of discovery. This is certainly true in the tech stuff. Does this not also sound a bit like why you like certain wine writers in the first place?

You make some very good points!

Your comparison of forums and blogs is right on.

I believe that forums are more apt to provide better information than blogs.

Plus a forum allows for differing viewpoints and they are, for the most part, more interesting more dynamic.

To me, blogs can offer interesting or good perspective but most fall short in the other areas.

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I believe that forums are more apt to provide better information than blogs.

Plus a forum allows for differing viewpoints and they are, for the most part, more interesting more dynamic.

To me, blogs can offer interesting or good perspective but most fall short in the other areas.

Indeed, differing viewpoints and added verifiable facts, when appropriate, make forums what they are.

The biggest attraction of blogs is that they are usually one person's opinion. The biggest fault of blogs is... that they are usually one person's opinion. Some blogs allow or even encourage comments, but then they may be censored or not bring anything new to the mix. In my book, that one person writing the blog has to be a serious guru, which, as we all know, doesn't exist for things like wine :wink:

Edited by ParisTechGeek (log)
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One thing is clear, the level of discourse is lowered by the proliferation of blogs overall.
It was ever so. (This was an observation on Internet fora even in the 1980s.)
Also the proliferation of blogs has accelerated the development and spread of "conventional wisdom." This can be a bad thing when that wisdom is based upon a faulty premise or when supported by erroneous "facts" or misinformation ... (it can be difficult to tell).

I think you are on to something.

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