5 Reasons Blogs Are Better Than Books

Scott Young had a good post the other day asking the question, “are blogs better than books for mastering complex ideas? I’ve written in the past that most top selling business books are a waste of time and could be summed up in a couple of blog posts. Most business books start with a good idea but are executed terribly. They’re too long. They’re repetitive. They have too many redundant examples.

The reason for this is simple: the most effective way for a business writer to monetize an idea is to put it in a 300 page book and get it published -- regardless of whether or not that idea warrants 300 pages.

But the problem is you don’t need 300 pages to communicate most ideas. You really only need 1 to 3 pages.

With that in mind, here are five reasons that business blogs are better than business books:

  1. Blogs allow you to read about an idea every day or every week in short bursts, instead of in one, single commitment, so it continues to be top of mind. A much better way to learn.
  2. Because blogs enable real-time communities you can see the challenges with the idea and see it continuously evolve and improve.
  3. You can participate in conversations about the idea with people that care about it. Again, a better way to learn.
  4. Blog posts tend to be sharper and a bit more opinionated or controversial than business books. When you’re trying to sell your product to millions of people you sort of have to find a middle ground that most people will like. Bloggers generally don’t do this – blog post are shorter and sharper.
  5. Most people don’t read blogs – and they certainly don’t participate in the communities. You have an advantage over most people who just consume the initial idea and don’t iterate or engage.

I’m not saying I’m going to stop reading business books – I’m usually reading a couple at a time -- but I'm finding that more and more of the good stuff I read is in my blog feed and not my Kindle.

5 Reasons You Should Read Blogs Written By VCs (even if you're not a VC or a founder)

The other day I was looking through my blog feed (I use the Reeder iOS app) and it occurred to me that I follow just under a dozen blogs written by venture capitalists. My three favorites are Fred Wilson, Chris Dixon and Bijan Sabet.

I started thinking about why I read so many of these blogs. I'm not a VC, and I don't really want to be. Are they really worth the time?

Here's why I think they are absolutely worth the time. Any why you should read them too.

1. Because of the risk profile of VCs they are always ahead of the game. VCs focus on ideas and technologies that, for the most part, are ahead of their time. They make investments in ideas that are highly risky that haven't yet gone mainstream but eventually will. Whether you're just investing for yourself, thinking about staying ahead in your career or just a curious person, it's important to be aware of what's coming next. In addition, most of them are investing in consumer products. An extra perk is that VC blogs will help you stay aware of consumer software and services that you might want to use yourself.

2. They attract communities of smart, motivated people. Every day I read blogs on sports, career, fitness, healthcare, technology and marketing and it seems that the VC blogs get way, way more comments from readers than the others. In addition, the quality of conversation happening in the comments sections of VC blogs is extremely high. Often when I read a VC blog I'll only scan the post but I'll scroll down and read the most popular comments in detail (there's great stuff in there). The people hanging out on these blogs are people you want to hang out with (at least virtually). In addition, I'm sure there are some out there, but I haven't yet seen a VC blogger that doesn't interact with their readers.

3. They'll make you a better blogger (and thinker). One of the neat things about VC bloggers is that they don't have all the answers -- and they know they don't have all the answers. In their posts, you'll find that they're really just putting out ideas, and thinking out loud (if they had all the answers, their investments wouldn't be so risky). As a result, they'll help you generate some great ideas on things to write about and think about. See an example here.

4. They write about things that you should know about. I remember back in college the career counselors would tell us, "before you go into an interview, make sure you know what's being written about on the front page of the Wall Street Journal." Those days are over. These days, if you're interviewing in tech, you better know what VC bloggers are writing about.

5. They'll give you better context. One of the challenges in working at a startup (or any company, really) is that you don't always get to see the context of leadership. I always try to remind people to keep in mind that everyone has a boss (the exec team reports to the CEO and the CEO reports to the board). CEOs don't make decisions to make your life miserable, they make decisions to help make the company better -- or, more practically, to make their boss (the board) happy. I've found that by reading what's going on in the mind of VCs (who very often hold board seats) I get to see a bit of what a founder or CEO is facing. And that gives me a better understanding of what their context might be when making decisions that impact my team. In any company or any situation, context is crucial.

I highly recommend the three blogs I mentioned above. In addition, Forbes did a pretty good article a while back on the Top 10 Best Venture Capital Blogs. I recommend checking out some of those as well.

Healthcare Blogs

The other day a colleague asked me which healthcare blogs I read. I thought I'd capture them here.

I’ll check out KevinMD once in a while but I’ve removed it from my feed.  Too much stuff that isn’t relevant to me.

By the way, for all of my blog reading, I use Feedly on my desktop and the Reeder app on my iPhone. I recommend both.

New Year, New Design

You may have noticed that I’ve redesigned my website. I decided to move to this new theme (the Ari theme) for a few reasons.

  • Much cleaner look (lots of white space and fewer widgets).
  • Larger font size for easier reading.
  • Wider main reading column allows for less scrolling.
  • Brighter, more conspicuous hyperlinks.
  • Clearer navigation – it allowed me to put the monthly and category archives on the same page.

I’m pretty happy with the change, I hope you like it.

5 Years Of Blogging

Last month marked the fifth year that I've been writing on this blog. As I did last year, I thought I'd post a graph showing the number of posts I've written each month. I wrote 77 blog posts in 2012 (6.4 per month), the most since I started writing -- and the trendline shows that I'm definitely writing more over time, which is a good thing.

One of the challenges I've had with writing more frequently is that I'm always concerned that the quality of the posts will suffer. I'm going to try to worry a little less about that this year and plan to commit to writing 15 posts per month. That's a big increase over last year -- we'll see how I do.

Post per Month Graph

Where I Get My News - 2012

Growing up my parents were news junkies. As a result, I sort of pride myself on knowing what’s going on in the world. The other day I was asked where I get my news and it took me a while to answer the question. So I thought I’d think about it and lay out the answer in a blog post. I’ll try to order these sources from most consumption to least consumption. Here goes. Blogs. Currently I follow 52 blogs and I read them daily. The topics include business, technology, sports, current events and healthcare. Most of the blogs are written by individuals, but I do follow the What’s News section of the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker and Techmeme which aggregate posts from a wide variety of writers and sources. I use Google Reader to manage the blog feeds on my desktop and the Reeder App to view them on my iPhone and iPad.

Twitter. I follow about 200 people on Twitter. I get a ton of news from individual Tweets as well as links to other content that I’m interested in that gets Tweeted. I follow a variety of news outlets, bloggers, traditional writers, businesspeople, athletes and musicians.

Podcasts. I follow 14 podcasts. My most listened to podcasts in order are a variety of shows on WEEI (Boston’s sports radio station), the Adam Carolla Show, This American Life (NPR) and the B.S. Report (Bill Simmons).

Television. I watch far less TV than I used to. I watch Meet the Press and 60 Minutes every week without fail. And I sporadically and somewhat infrequently catch parts of the local broadcast news and national cable news.

Newspapers. Because I'm from Boston I read the online version of the Boston Globe virtually every single day. Living in New York, on a rare, rare occasion I will pick up a copy of the Times, the Post or the Daily News.

Magazines. I subscribe to hard copies of Men’s Health and Outside Magazine. With some regularity I’ll download the New Yorker, the Atlantic or the Economist onto my iPad.

Other Social Media. Occasionally I’ll find a link to an article posted by a friend or connection on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Kindle. I got my first Kindle back in March. I love it. But so far I haven’t used it for anything other than reading books, though I plan to use it to read newspapers and magazines when I get around to it. Currently I’m reading Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote. Both are great.

So there’s my somewhat organized list of where I get my news. It’ll be interesting to see how this changes over the next few years.

4 Years of Blogging

I started this blog in December of 2007 -- 4 years ago this month.  Since then I've published 160 posts totaling around 50,000 words -- technically enough words to be classified as a novel. The chart below shows posts per month over the last four years.

I'm happy that after four years I'm not only still writing on this blog but I'm writing more consistently than I ever have.  And this month I'm on track to post more frequently that I have ever have.

I've tried to go on runs where I write a post every day but I find that inevitably I get busy with work or other things and the quality of the posts begins to suffer.  That said, I definitely plan to post much more frequently in 2012.  I'll post this graph again next December to see if that holds true.

Posts per month

Evil Plans

Evil Plans

I've always believed that most business books never should have been written.  Instead, the ideas in the book could have been summed up in a couple of blog posts or a long-form article.  I prefer to digest business content in the form of a blog rather than a book.  Too often business books are stuffed with superfluous examples and repetitive fluff in an effort to turn a somewhat simple concept into a 300 page, $14.99 book.  Like most people that are apt to read a business book, I don't have the time or the desire to read a lot of fluff.

Hugh Macleod, the blogger, artist, and writer must share this opinion.  He's an excellent business writer.  He writes a bit like he's paranoid that the reader is going to get bored.  He knows how to write books for people that are busy.  He makes short and simple points (often with a real life example) and moves onto the next thing.  He almost forces you to read faster than you normally would.  He did this extremely well in his first book, Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity.  Ignore Everybody was one of the best business books I've ever read.  It's full of insightful ideas that are communicated concisely, without the fluff.  I wrote a post on Ignore Everybody a while back where I called out some of the best tidbits.  I highly recommend reading Ignore Everybody.

Over the weekend, I finished reading Hugh's latest book, Evil Plans: Having Fun on the way to World Domination.  While not as insightful as his first, it's just as inspiring.  In short, Hugh asks his readers to develop and act on an Evil Plan.  What's an Evil Plan?  Hugh sums it up well in this line from the book:

"It has never been easier to make a great living doing what you love. But to make it happen, first you need an EVIL PLAN. Everybody needs to get away from lousy bosses, from boring, dead-end jobs that they hate, and ACTUALLY start doing something they love, something that matters. Life is short."

The book is written with a sense of urgency that suggests that the writer has some personal interest in getting you to move on your plan.  Now.

The book is a great reminder that with nothing but a laptop and an internet connection, we all have the power to shape our lives and careers and link up what we do each day with what we love and are passionate about.

If you're looking for a bit of inspiration to get off your butt and start moving on what you love, I'd recommend picking up a copy of Evil Plans.  It won't be a waste of time and I guarantee that it'll at least make you challenge whether or not you should be working on what you're working on.

Short-Form Blogging

One of the challenges of blogging is deciding when a thought or idea warrants a blog post.

Often, I'll have a thought about something and it'll be months before it develops itself enough to warrant a 300+ word rant.  And of course, most of my thoughts and ideas never make it onto this blog.  This is either because I don't have the time or I simply don't put the energy into expanding the thought into long form.  

If I have a thought that can be summed up in a couple of sentences, very often I'll simply Tweet it; Twitter is a great medium for things that pop into your head that you feel like sharing.  Twitter doesn't require a lot of thinking, which may be one of the reasons why it's so widely used...

I think the challenge for many people that like to share their thoughts on the web lies in the middle ground: somewhere between a thought you can fit into 140 characters and a thought that is robust enough to blog about in long form.

Many people fill this gap by using short-form blogging communities such as Tumblr.  They'll post photos, quotes, ideas, reblogs, etc. onto Tumblr to fill their "short-form blogging" needs.  It allows people to share anything they want, without the 140 character constraint.

I've chosen not to use a short-form service like Tumblr.  I like the challenge of the middle ground.  I like the fact that if I want to share something online I have to make a choice about whether or not to Tweet it in a sentence or two or to make the commitment to flesh it out in a blog post.  I think this struggle -- of whether to Tweet, blog or leave it alone -- forces me to think harder.  And it causes the things that I'm most passionate and thoughtful about to bubble up and come out on these pages.  

Blog Comments

I've started commenting on blogs a lot more often and I'm finding it to be really fun.   Many times the comments section of a blog post is more interesting and insightful than the blog post itself.   And interacting with the blogger and other readers allows you to engage much more into the topic.

There's a web service called Disqus that runs the comments section of many popular blogs.   Initially the idea of a web service for blog comments seemed silly to me but it's actually pretty cool (except that it doesn't work well on an iPad or mobile device).  You can setup a Disqus account or simply log-in with Twitter or Facebook.    Once your account is setup, you can build a profile and an 'about me' page and the service will track all of the comments you make across blogs that use Disqus.   You can even "follow" commenters that interest you and be alerted whenever they comment.   You can see my profile here.

Disqus is brilliant in that has formalized the interactions we have on blogs. It allows us to learn about the people we interact with and easily stay in touch with them over time.  In many ways, it's really another social network...not that I needed to join another.

I could see Disqus being very useful for recruiting employees, consultants and partners.  A blog community that focuses on your industry is a great place to find people that can help your organization.   And Disqus allows you to interact with them, watch them communicate, understand how they think, learn more about them and get in touch.  

Ignore Everybody

I ordered Hugh Macleod's new book Ignore Everybody from Amazon and read it cover to cover in one sitting after getting home from work tonight.  Great book.  There were a lot of really cool ideas and observations that I felt I could really relate to.  Some of his lines about New York were right on. ..

Anyway, here are the lines I liked the most and I hope I don't forget.

  • ...most team members are far more concerned with the power relationships going on inside their immediate professional circle than with what may be actually interesting and useful to the customer.
  • Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.  You may never reach the summit; for that you will be forgiven.  But if you don’t make at least one serious attempt to get above the snow line, years later you will find yourself lying on your deathbed and all you will feel is emptiness.
  • Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece on the back of a deli menu would not surprise me.  Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece with a silver Cartier fountain pen on a antique writing table in an airy SoHo loft would seriously surprise me.
  • Art suffers the moment people start paying for it.
  • Never try to sell a meteor to a Dinosaur.  It wastes your time and annoys the Dinosaur.
  • Quality isn’t Job One.  Being totally f***ing amazing is Job One.
  • It’s hard to sell if nobody has bought in.
  • Stay ahead of the culture by creating the culture.
  • Nobody moves to Ne w York in order to survive.  Of course that’s what most of them end up doing.
  • A lot of people in business say they have twenty years experience, when in fact they only have one year’s experience, repeated twenty times.
  • The biggest mistake young people make is underestimating how competitive the world is out there.
  • "I don’t need a lot to be happy," said Eric.  "Just enough to pay the rent and enjoy a beer with my friends.  I don't think that’s asking for too much."  Eric was obviously a deranged lunatic.
  • Work hard.  Keep at it.  Live simply and quietly.  Remain humble.  Stay positive.  Create your own luck.  Be nice.  Be polite.

Marketing this Blog

To date, I've had virtually zero traffic on this blog. I've also done zero marketing.

The primary reason I haven't marketed it yet is that I'm unclear on what the value is for someone other than myself. I only blog because I like to write. And this seems like a fun place to do it.

There are a couple things that need to fall into place before I'll start actively marketing:

  • A more narrow focus of topics
  • Time and ability to regularly provide content that is remarkable; something that people will tell their friends about

Lastly, I'd like this blog to be an outlet for a certain area of expertise; an expertise that supports my career. I'm the best in the world at something -- something specific and narrow -- but I haven't identified it yet; I have some ideas, but I want to be sure. I literally have no idea when/if these things will come together. But in the meantime, I'm ok with a few hits a month.

The Hype Machine


The Hype Machine is a music blog aggregator that trolls the internet to find out what's hot and to give it attention. They just released their Top 50 Artists, Songs and Albums of 2008. For the last two weeks, I haven't stopped listening to the Top 50 Albums. You can find them here.

While I consider myself a music lover, I also recognize that I have terrible taste in music. I've always gone for what's most accessible, catchy and easy to get listen to. Hype Machine's Top 50 is not made up of that kind of music, not at all. In fact, I've only heard of five of the 50 artists:

  • REM
  • Beck
  • Coldplay
  • Kanye West
  • Lil Wanye

All of the others are completely new to me. I've already found a few new favorites:

  • Frightened Rabbit
  • MGMT
  • Vampire Weekend
  • M83

This music takes some time and commitment to enjoy, but it's well worth it.

Of course, the best part of Hype Machine is the Bloggers that are discovering and writing about the music.

Here are a couple of quotes that will inspire you to listen to the music and appreciate how cool this site is:

  • "...could be the soundtrack to an early morning drive down a country road."
  • "Who'd have thought the classic "American" punk album would be reinvented by a New Jersey punk band rocking out the basement circuit."
  • "Good music to listen to while jumping on a trampoline."
  • "It's dark, creepy and if it happens to be raining where you are, it'll be the perfect soundtrack."
  • "...an album best listened to alone, or at 3am at an open-minded party."
  • "It's the musical equivalent of reading someone else's diary."
  • "It's like watching the sun rise over distant mountaintops, over and over, familiar and captivating all at once."

If you haven't heard of a lot of these bands, I highly recommend giving it a listen.


Paul Mulshine had a good column in the Wall Street Journal recently defending traditional journalism (newspapers) and criticizing the amateur bloggers that are putting them out of business.

He makes the point that because most bloggers aren't paid for their work they'll be less willing to, say, sit through a three hour school committee meeting and summarize the key points in an easy to read article. So in the future, the casual follower of events at the school will be left unaware of what transpired at the school committee meeting.

I agree with the Mr. Mulshine that, generally speaking, this is scary and would no doubt be a bad thing.

Here's where we differ: it's not going to happen.

Blogs and newspapers have fundamentally identical business models; they generate attention or "eyeballs" that can be monetized in the form of advertising fees. Some also charge nominal access fees though typically this doesn't generate significant revenue relative to ads. On a macro level it is this business model that dictates what does and doesn't get reported or blogged on. To make money, editors and bloggers have to answer a simple question: what will generate attention? If an article on the school committee meeting will generate eyeballs, then it will be reported on, or monetized.

Newspapers are disappearing not because people don't care about the school committee meeting, they're disappearing because people's attention is shifting online. Quickly. And the scalability of online advertising doesn't change the underlying business model.

Because many bloggers are unpaid, amateur, dishonest and uninteresting, Mr. Mulshine assumes that the industry will remain this way. But assuming there's always demand for information from honest, reliable sources, the blogging industry will slowly morph into more of what we know as traditional journalism, only better.

As is true with most industry changes, I think we'll find that the maturation of blogs and web content and the absence of newspapers is good for everyone -- including newspaper reporters.

Bloglines and Bloggers

One other thought on Bloglines. (the blog aggregator that I plugged in an earlier post). The interesting thing about these services is that they allow a reader to completely avoid the ads served up on blogs. That is, you never actually leave Bloglines' site -- they simply feed you the text from the blogger's most recent post(s). Most of the blogs I read don't actually serve ads. They're simply using the forum as a way to generating interest and eventually selling more of their product or service. But for those bloggers that are generating substantial revenue by serving ads, these services present a big challenge.

Top 1,000 Blogs

Bloglines tracks the top 1,000 most trafficked blogs on a daily basis.

I know people love these lists but doesn't this conflict with the  spirit of blogs?  To me, the value of blogs is that they give every nobody a voice and provide really targeted and interesting content about really targeted and interesting things.  So if you're a left-handed vegetarian Red Sox fan living in Dubai you have a forum to talk about things that are interesting to you and meet other left-handed vegetarian Red Sox fans living in Dubai

If this is indeed the spirit of blogs, who cares which one gets the most hits?

Why am I blogging?

Not sure...but here's a thought....

New marketing companies leverage things like blogs, web video, targeted emails, etc.  Old marketing companies -- at least the really big ones -- do dumb things like advertise during the Super Bowl -- the epitome of wasted ad spending.  If there really is something to this new marketing thing, I'm going to bet that, on average, companies that advertise during this year's Super Bowl will see their stock prices decline over the next three years.  I'll list a bunch of these companies the day after the Super Bowl.  It'll be interesting to see if my theory is right...