jan 2

blogs of the year

It's more difficult to make a "best of" list for weblogs than for any other cultural catagory. Blogs are inherently meta -- they span the entire range of contemporary human existence and thought. Nonetheless, defiant in the face of cacophany, here's my annual list of 30+ Best Blogs of 2003:

1) Blog For America -- I admit, I only occassionally checked in on Howard Dean's blog this year, but this thing simply changed politics, the media, and America in general like nothing since Drudge. When Dean wins in November, Joe Trippi will take a post in the administration that completely alters the way communities and governments function. Finally, a future to look forward to.

2) Metafilter -- The abridged four-year history of MeFi: first it was great, then good, then dull, then good again, then kinda sucky, surprisingly reactionary, suddenly progressive, good again, but just falling short of great, then bad for a while, but whoa that was a good month. And that one post was so good! And I want to throttle the guy who posted this thing again! If it happened in 2003... well, let's be honest, it did not happen first on Metafilter. But this is where it entered the market of ideas -- inflated or deflated on the rigorous balance sheet of comments calculus and trackback trig. And the franchise expanded this year with ask.metafilter.com, which is just plain awesome.

3) ABC's The Note -- This is the only item on this list that treacherously stretches the definition of blog, but I've gotta believe that this ridiculously popular beltway online journal is determining the stories that get told, the events that get attention, and the shape of democracy. Plus, it's one of the main reasons Trent Lott isn't pestering us anymore.

4) Buzz Machine -- Question: Is it odd that the founder of Entertainment Weekly is now America's biggest proponent of Iranian bloggers? Answer: Nope. Jeff's commentary on everything from Iraq to Howard Stern has been crucial reading this year. And one day someone will write a decent Persian translator that allows me to read all those Iranians.

5) Gizmodo -- Gimme!

6) Lessig Blog -- You read Lessig to remind yourself of all the issues you've guiltily not been paying attention to: internet security, digital rights, everything in the Creative Commons, etc. Lessig (who guest-starred on the blogs for Howard Dean and John Kerry this year) is there because you aren't.

7) Smart Mobs -- The most important industry-ish books I read this year were Salam Pax's The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi, Steven Johnson's Emergence, William J Mitchell's Me++, Michael Wolff's Autumn of the Moguls, David Weinberger's Small Pieces Loosely Joined, and Howard Rheingold Smart Mobs. The website for the latter was constantly attuned to Big Ideas -- where we're headed and how to avoid a collision-course with destruction.

8) Gawker -- It's probably not fair that Nick Denton has three sites on the list this year. Nah, scratch that, it's totally fair. It's too early to tell whether he's milking the meme or inventing a mini-publishing revolution, but he's doing something that all the rest of us are watching with a tinch of envy.

9) The Diary of Samuel Pepys -- The idea is simple: publish an entry from the renowned 17th-century London diarist every day. The outcome is infectious. If they make a website into a movie, it should be this one.

10) Daily Green Cine -- Oh, you like film? How quaint. These guys really like film. This offshoot of Netflix-competitor GreenCine is a master of its genre.

11) Anil Dash & Kottke.org -- They've become our avuncular stylists, haven't they? Similiar forms: Anil has the sideblog on the left with the occasional essay on the right. This year, Kottke experimented (unsuccessfully, I'd argue) with placing the remaindered links inside the blog. They helped invent the blog and they continue to redefine its potential. And they'd smirk at being described like that.

12) Book Slut, Maud Newton, Language Hat -- All those Dave Eggers and Zadie Smith and Elizabeth Wurtzel links? I probably found them at one of these places.

13) Low Culture -- This dual-columned blog -- baby blue (shallow) and soft orange (grave) -- seemed to just appear out of nowhere this year. This was the rookie of the year.

14) Amy's Robot -- Want snarky celebrity news before celebrities even know it happened? Check.

15) Romenesko and I Want Media & PaidContent.org -- I'd rather cut my toes off and feed them to the rabid offspring of Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly than imagine a world where this triumverate didn't arrive in my inbox every morning. I Want Media had juicy interviews and links, Paid Content was a feast of daily tech/content news, and Romenesko could be #1 any given year but that would be tiresome.

16) Gothamist & Lockhart Steele & NewYorish.com & The Morning News -- For quality of writing and diversity of links, these four NYC blogs deserve as much attention as Gawker, but they just happened to not get picked in the mini-publishing corporate draft. Which in some ways makes them more important.

17) Lost Remote -- The cool thing about Lost Remote is that it's a well-defined industry blog (succinctly, the future of tv) that always transcends its genre.

18) Babelogue -- I'm surprised this experiment hasn't gotten more attention. The local Voice-owned indie weekly boldly launched a staff weblog this year that mixed unique voices in the community. It's like a local blog central for anyone in the Twin Cites -- let's call it My Own Private Gawker.

19) Large-Hearted Boy & Catherine's Pita & S/FJ & Useful Noise & I Love Music & Neuma & Rocktober -- It's a bit unfair to group these diverse music-themed blogs under one heading, but these were the places where I discovered new bands, found off-beat MP3s, heard smart conversation, and truly missed writing and playing music.

20) Greg.org -- The Sofia interview and the Cremaster coverage alone made Greg de rigueur reading.

21) Blogumentary -- C'mon Chuck, finish the movie already!

22) LucJam & AdRants -- With reportage on everything from Paris to hip-hop brand success, Lucian somehow made marketing an undirty word in 2003. And AdRants made sure that advertising stayed dirty.

23) Magnetbox -- This local peronsal fave always makes my recommendation list because of shared interests: the interplay of technology and music distribution, online economies, social software applications, and generally rad stuff.

24) Waxy.org -- It felt like 1999 again when everyone was passing around links to goofy movies (except everyone had broadband at home this time). The Star Wars Kid movie had all the characteristcs needed to be labelled a phenom -- intrigue, parody, backlash, Times reportage, and free iPods.

25) J.D.'s New Media Musings & E-Media Tidbits -- The media is the message. These two blogs continued to preach the story that online news is changing the way we consume information.

26) Arts Journal -- Culture links galore. Leans a bit toward the high-brow, but since everyone in America is now middle-brow, that shouldn't matter.

27) The Map Room -- I love niche publishing, especially when it's a niche worth adoring. A site all about mapping? I'd probably pay for this.

28) Press Think -- No way in hell I could find the time to read all the words that spilled out of Jay Rosen's blog pad this year, but when you get an NYU j-school prof talking this much, there's usually something to hear.

29) Archinect -- Blog + Architecture = This.

30) Fleshbot -- Paris was the internet event of the year (followed closely by Friendster and Howard Dean), and you can attribute much of it to Fleshbot. Can't say I was into the Kariwanz Fetish Gallery or the Supreme Hentai, but nothing mainstreamed sex this year like the Paris video, which was chronicled here on the site's first week of existence.

There are days that I think this little cultural petri dish known as blogging has become a cesspool. But then I look over this list and realize it's a radically robust machine that we've created. And it's cool knowing that next year will be full of more surprises that I can't wait to link to.

Finally, it's my nature to take a few swipes. Disappointments of the past year: Where is Raed? (recently), Boing Boing, Arts & Letters Daily, Plastic, The Kicker (so far), The Nation, Idea A Day, and AndrewSullivan.com.

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