Assume Blog A attracts 500 visitors per day, and Blog B attracts 300 visitors per day. Some people visit both blogs. For the sake of argument, assume that 100 people visit both blogs daily. If the authors of Blog A and Blog B combine to form a new blog -- say, Blog C (Conglomerate!) -- how many visitors should they expect to attract?
The answer, of course, is that it depends. When people blog together at the same site, their blogging may be influenced by their close interaction. They may blog more often than if they were blogging alone because they feel pressure to provide content to the joint enterprise. Or they may blog less often because others are carrying part of the load. They may blog about different topics than they would have were they blogging separately. In any event, my experiences here at Conglomerate and at Times & Seasons convince me that group blogs have interaction effects. In other words, the group blog is different than the sum of its parts.
Are group blogs always more than the sum of their parts? I think the answer is obviously "no." Without naming blogs, I have had the experience of enjoying an individual blogger, but abandoning that blogger when she joined a group blog. The blogger's value was diluted by the group, either because her blogging changed or because it was just too much work to slog through the other bloggers to get to the one I enjoyed.
This leads to the big question: what is the key to creating a successful group blog. Vic and I have discussed this, and he used the word "voice." I have come to believe that this is key. For me the most enjoyable group blogs (Volokh Conspiracy, Marginal Revolution, and Crooked Timber spring to mind) are blogs with a consistent voice. I do not intend to suggest that all of the bloggers must hold the same views on every topic, but rather that they are united in style (e.g., the blog doesn't have one blogger doing all goofy posts and another writing serious tome-posts) and issue-sympathetic (that is, they like to write about similar issues ... the blog has a theme).
It's been entertaining for me to watch Prawfsblawg organize. At first, the posts seemed like a wholly random collection of thoughts, mostly about law schools and law teaching. As time has passed, the bloggers over there have been refining their blogging styles and converging on a more consistent style. Moreover, they have expanded their topical repertoire, and they now post on all sorts of legal issues while retaining an affinity for topics relating to law schools and law teaching. My sense from looking at the long list of guest bloggers is that they are still figuring out the ultimate direction of the blog, but they are in the process of creating a really good product.
Returning to my initial question about projecting visitors to a group blog, my hunch is that traffic at Blog C would be difficult to predict on the basis of traffic at Blogs A and B. There will be some correlation, to be sure, but I think Conglomerate is a much better blog than Venturpreneur + Biz Fems Speak! And our traffic supports that view. On the other hand, imagine combining some of the more successful individual blogs into a metablog, say Althouse + Bainbridge + Lessig. It's hard to say for sure, but that looks like it could easily be a value-decreasing combination.
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