My award by Crispian Jago as Pod Delusion Blogger of 2009 is as good excuse as any for me to put down some personal and subjective thoughts as to what constitutes good blogging.
(By the way, one should treat Crispian's kind and unwarranted gesture with more than a pinch of sodium chloride. I regard each of the bloggers I mention below, and all the others on Crispian's list, as more deserving of the Pod Delusion award.)
In putting down these thoughts, I will draw primarily from the skeptical bloggers I know and admire, but I believe my points are of more general application.
My starting point is that many good bloggers would also excel in other media.
For example, Crispian Jago himself is simply an outstanding satirist and should be snapped up by Private Eye, whilst the respective writers of Gimpyblog and The Quackometer should be hired to do investigative writing by any quality newspaper.
Similarly, Graeme Archer of Centre Right is a thoughtful and elegant prose stylist and would grace any serious publication, as would the relentlessly analytic The Heresiarch.
In all these cases - and many others - it can be fairly said that these are good writers and creators who happen also to be good bloggers.
In this respect they complement bloggers such as Ben Goldacre and Petra Boynton, who are established and skilled writers in other media.
However, in my view, not all good writers are capable of being good bloggers. And, if I am correct, the qualities of good blogging must thereby be different from good writing generally.
So, as well as good writing, I think good blogging tends to have one or more of three particular qualities.
First, good blogs are independent.
This independence means that one can, for example, provide a timely and thorough response to some new piece of information, or give an insight into a breaking story, or gloss or analyse a matter of widening concern.
Independence is the benefit (most) blogs have from not being tied to the publication cycles of mainstream media; and such blogs benefit also from not being subject to internal editorial, advertising, and (indeed) legal considerations.
As soon as something is worth blogging about, it can simply be blogged about.
This goes for Gimpyblog having patiently unearthed and sourced some scandal regarding CAM (complementary and alternative medicine), or for Crispian getting a new idea about how to satirise the world around him, or for Petra responding to some silliness in the media on reporting sex and relationships.
Independence - or autonomy - from editorial or commercial pressures also means that one does not have to blog if the blogpost is not worth the effort or would not add anything new; bloggers are free to blog or not to blog, and so are never reduced to "churnalism".
Of course, the speediness of blogging is not an entirely new phenomenon: in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, pamphleteers such as William Cobbett or William Hazlitt also quickly self-published their reactions and critiques.
What to my mind differentiates modern bloggers from being merely regenerated pamphleteers is what I see as the second quality of good blogging: sourcing and linking.
Linking to the source information to which one is referring effectively elevates the good blogger from being a mere internet pamphleteer: the reader can go and check for themselves.
Again, sourcing and linking are not novel: they are the hallmarks of any competent scholarship. The links of a good blogpost should stand up to as much scrutiny as the footnotes of an academic monograph.
However, instead of being footnotes at the source of a printed page, and having efficacy only if one also happened to have access to an appropriate research library to check them, sourcing and linking brings the hard tests of scholarship to non-academic writing.
It is for this reason that I think phenomena as different as "churnalism" and CAM have been found wanting as written communication becomes more internet based: both will tend to suffer once assertions can be tested against original material.
Accordingly, there can be no real surprise that, whilst skeptical bloggers thrive (with writers of the calibre of Ben Goldacre, Gimpy, Andy Lewis (of the Quackometer), Professor David Colquhoun, Martin Robbins (of Lay Science), and so on), the entire complementary and alternative health communities have not produced a single blogger of any note.
In my opinion, the combination of speediness and linking explains why skeptics naturally gravitate towards blogging: independent and source-based writing will always attract the intelligent and deter the credulous.
For me, the third and ultimate quality of good blogging is originality.
Regardless of independence, and regardless of any sourcing and linking, the best blogs do things not to be found in mainstream media: if they were, there would probably be no need to blog.
My two favourite bloggers (er, after Crispian, of course) are Petra Boynton and Jourdemayne, both of whom feature on Crispian's list.
Petra draws from her background as an academic and mainstream media writer to provide compelling and highly-interesting blogs on sex and relationships - issues which are usually badly dealt with by squeamish, sensationalist, or smirking journalists. Until I came across Petra's Blog, I had no idea that these fundamental subjects could be written about in such an intelligent and constructive way.
Jourdemayne (whose blog is not as well known as it should be) draws her insights from a different background: profound historical knowledge of the extraordinary things people have believed in. She then uses this to contextualise more contemporary matters.
But all the bloggers I have mentioned have the quality of originality: providing new information or new insights, and often both.
Indeed, many bad science and skeptic bloggers are necessarily original, as they are consciously correcting the omissions of mainstream media in covering science and other issues.
Originality, like good writing, is not the preserve of bloggers; but each good blogger is, in my view, someone who adds something new: informing the interested reader, or forcing the reader to reflect.
Of course in all this I am biased: I am a blogger; I know personally many (but not all) of the bloggers I mention above; and I share many of their concerns and have learned much from their insights and the knowledge they have shared.
But if this blogpost is just an exercise in bias, the reader can simply decide never to visit this site again; if the links do not stand up to my assertions, then the reader can discount what I have to say; and if this blogpost says nothing new or original, then the reader knows that I have failed against my own ultimate criterion.
And in each of these cases, the reader can just move on - free of any charge and obligation - to other bloggers who are independent and original, and whose sources do stand up to scrutiny, for - in my opinion - such bloggers are the good bloggers, and should always be preferred.
No purely anonymous comments will be published: always use a name for ease of reference by others.