Toward a supply-side theory of assorted links

Tyler Cowen posted recently about the apparent increasing popularity of bloggers posting daily lists of assorted links. He asks questions of his readers: Do they click? Should he care if they do? The comments are interesting.

That’s the demand-side of assorted links. What about the supply-side? Why do bloggers write these posts? I started providing daily morning links in January, 2008. I based the idea on the twice-daily lists of links provided by The Morning News, my expectation being that they would be a useful way of getting people to visit my site or subscribe to my RSS feed. The links are basically a loss leader: They take a bit of work each day and aren’t directly rewarding in terms of links back, but by attracting readers to the site they make it more likely that people will read my longer posts too. Or as Jason at 37signals put it in a post about why the Drudge Report is one of the best designed sites on the Web, “The more you send people away the more they’ll come back.” (The other main reason for the feature is to give myself a convenient way of linking to things I find interesting but about which I have little to say.)

My rough impression is that this has worked, based on positive feedback from readers and a near doubling in daily traffic in the year or so following the implementation of morning links. But there are confounding variables: In the same period I wrote more normal blog posts, published elsewhere more frequently, redesigned the site, and did a guest stint blogging at Radley Balko’s popular weblog.

Unfortunately the stat programs I’m currently running don’t tell me much about how many readers click on the links, especially those of you who read via RSS. So consider this an open forum on the morning links feature. Do you read them? Would you rather have more numerous, shorter posts, and fewer links each morning? Should they go off the sidebar and onto the main page? Anything else I could improve? Let me know what you think.

(In case you were wondering, I use Kates Gasis’ excellent Sideblog WordPress plugin to make the feature work. It’s a very simple way to shunt selected posts over to a sidebar.)

Comments

  1. Ben says:

    Well, I always appreciate the interesting reads.

    But let me put it this way….I’ve seen an increasing tendancy among my friends who also read your blog to take libertarian stands on Issue X and to cite Glen Greenwald and Radley Balko, two of your favorite people to link to. I think this has at least partly to do with the fact that we are reading more easily accessible libertarian content each day. (I want a liberal or conservative – read Democratic or Republican – take on an issue I have to search for it. I want a libertarian take, I just need to go to the links on Jacob’s blog.)

    So, I’d say the morning links are an excellent feature. They are ways that you can make arguments on issues you care about without having to put in the effort to actually write the articles…..and they are simple way to ensure your readers are likely to read – and be influenced by – more libertarian content.

    They are a good feature and should continue. And I say this as a friend who fundamentally disagrees with you on most philosophical and political issues.

  2. solinox says:

    I like your links. I come by every day to check them. I read your main posts, too, but I love how the links give me a nice selection of reading material to go with my breakfast each day (you often get up before any of the other bloggers I read!). I wouldn’t mind if you change how they are presented…as long as I can still get to them from your blog page.

  3. Jim says:

    A lot of blogs I read have recently added a feature like this (and I have been considering adding one myself). My problem is that I already subscribe to a lot of blogs and news sites that provide me more material than I can read in a day. So I have to be real discriminating with what I choose to click on outside what I already know I like.

    That said, I always read the headlines that you send out. But in the 2 or 3 months I’ve been a subscriber to LP, I’ve only clicked on a dozen or so links. But, of those, I have emailed half of those to select people I thought would be interested.

  4. I read the links every day, and often click on those that interest me (the libertarian stuff seldom does, but that’s my liberal politics at work, not the quality of the links themselves).

    However, I only now realized you can comment on the Morning Links posts. I always just read those posts in Google Reader and never click through to your blog for that purpose. There are ways to jigger your feed so that “Comments (#)” shows up in news readers; you might look into that so people know they can comment on the links.

  5. Jacob Grier says:

    Thanks for the feedback, everybody.

    @Ben: Thanks! Though to be honest, I think I get most of the Greenwald links from Jeff. I was just thinking last night that I need to add his blog to my feed reader.

    @solinox: I’m sure I get up much later than the other bloggers. I have the advantage of being on the West Coast and can put my “morning links” up the night before.

    @Michael Dietsch: That’s a good idea, and improving this blog’s RSS feed is on my to-do list. The feature I’d most like to see added to the Sideblog plugin is a way to add a “Comments” link like that appearing on normal posts.

  6. Matt says:

    As I have time I check out the ones that seem interesting. Of course they usually just get my ire up, and then I wish I hadn’t clicked them. Like most consumers in most transactions, with your links I make impulsive non-rational decisions that don’t ultimately reflect my preferences. ;-)

  7. Jacob Grier says:

    @Matt: Ah, but this just proves that you actually like being riled up. Revealed preferences trump your claim know thyself! :)

  8. Matt says:

    Oh that’s not a revealed preference, that just shows I don’t learn from my mistakes. Just like most people.

  9. Barzelay says:

    I like the links, but I wish there were a lot less smoking ban-related ones. The proportion of smoking ban links is way out of proportion to what I care about, and I think, to what you care about. That goes for posts, too.

    Other than that, I definitely appreciate the links.

  10. Chad says:

    I think that generally speaking, “assorted links” posts are useful, but that some styles are more useful than others. Personally, I prefer links posts with the following features:

    1) Number of links is manageable, say 5-6 max
    2) Descriptor is informative like a lede, not snarky like an inside joke
    3) Content is varied, increasing the odds that I will find something I like every day
    4) Additional commentary is brief or nonexistent, and doesn’t distract

    Tyler’s links posts subscribe to all these principles, which is one reason I like them so much. You are 90% there. Instapundit takes a different approach and has a jillion short posts a day, which wouldn’t be so bad except that it violates the crap out of rule #2.

    I totally agree that some links don’t require commentary, they just speak for themselves. I became a more consistent (and happier) blogger when I decided I didn’t mind posting links without much comment. One reason I don’t currently use a daily links feature is because every time I have tried a regular feature I’ve failed miserably at maintaining it, but your time management skills are better (or your opportunity costs are lower) because you seem to be getting along just fine. And even if you weren’t consistent, having an assorted links posts certainly gets the links online and out of your way faster so you can move on to whatever you’d like to focus on more substantively.

    My entirely nonscientific opinion about your increased readership is that the most important factor is consistency and the second most important factor is you’ve been getting your name out there a bit more via timely op-eds and guest blogging. If that’s true, then the best reasons to maintain an assorted links feature are (a) the educational value of making the links accessible in a timely manner to your readers, as per Ben’s argument above, and (b) the time savings for you personally, as per my previous paragraph.

  11. Jacob Grier says:

    @Barzelay: I never explicitly intended smoking bans to become such a large part of this blog, but it’s become a niche for me that very few other people are covering. As you can tell from recent comments, there are many people who read this site almost exclusively for the posts about tobacco policy. Since it’s interesting to me too, I’m going to stick with it. In the morning links the ban stories are easy to avoid. You’re right about needing more diversity in the regular posts, and that’s something I’d really like to improve.

    @Chad: I’m glad you agree that my links have educational value and help spread libertarian ideas. I expect an IHS Advanced Topics invitation any day now.

  12. I definitely check out your links most days. Given that you and I share a libertarian viewpoint and mutual hobby I usually find an interesting read or three.

    And keep up the smoking ban links! Even though I avidly follow news in that area, I often find links on the topic from you that I haven’t seen before.

  13. julie says:

    i’m a fan and semi-regular user of the morning links. i’d encourage the morning link move from the sidebar to the main page if only to allow you to provide a one-line explanation from time to time (making me more likely to click, even on political-esque links that i normally eschew), encourage comments, and de-clutter the sidebar of your main page.

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