Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Square Pigeon in a Round Hole

Stumbled across an alternative to the standard blogroll at this South African blog:

A blogroll is really just a “blogger’s list of hyperlinks to other blogs”. More often than not it quickly degenerates into a you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours rewards mechanism. I decided to drop it from my sidebar because I was concerned that by linking without prudence I’d give unfettered consent to views disparate from my own and I had a deep sense of discomfort with that thought.

The result is a Watchlist (probably not as sinister as it sounds), a table of blogs categorised by theological positions. It's probably a mark of my innate aversion to theological disputes that, even if I fit into some of those categories, I couldn't tell you what they meant.

There are some blogs I enjoy reading but whom I wouldn't link from the sidebar, because, as the quote above notes, links imply consent. I guess the easiest way round that is to change the sidebar heading to 'I don't agree with all of these but you might find them interesting'. There also seems to be a desire to protect his readership from false teaching and mistaken points of view.

1. If I wanted to protect my readership from false teaching, I should stop blogging. As one of my tutors used to say, "10% of what I say is wrong, the trouble is I don't know which 10%". 10% is probably way short of the mark.

2. Do readers need 'protecting', or is that just not treating them as adults? This is all linked to the debate on censorship, and having joined the campaign to get the adultery ads removed earlier this week, I would want to argue that, all other things being equal, we should be commending good things rather than bad things. I mentioned the site concerned, but deliberately didn't link to it. Being a church leader adds its own set of dynamics - I blog as myself, but I'm also conscious that there are standards and expectations attached to being a vicar. Part of what I've promised, and what I'm committed to, is encouraging and building up Christians in their faith. So I guess that's one of the filters which comes into play when deciding what to link/sidebar and what not to.

3. Does categorising blogs by theological position really help? I've probably got more to learn from people I disagree with than people I agree with, and interacting with bloggers of no faith, or different faith to my own not only helps me think through my own ideas more thoroughly, it exposes me to points of view and insights I'd not come across otherwise.

4. A sidebar link isn't unfettered consent: I'll often follow a link from here and go over and disagree with it. Unless its a Bishop, of course.... But I suppose it's a fair assumption that anyone listed in a blog sidebar is, effectively, recommended by the blog owner.

5. There may be safety in silos, but I really can't see what good it does if Christians retreat into bounded sets of like-minded people. The Biblical writers/speakers were out there in the market place, talking about politics, economics, relationships, war, agriculture, work, family, poverty, justice, you name it. It may feel more comfortable if we only have those conversations with ourselves, but it doesn't actually do any good. If Christians actually believe that their faith has something to say about these issues, and that the Bible is relevant to 21st century life, then we need to have the courage of our convictions and be ready to debate these things in the public square.

6. My baseline is, normally, not to link to something I wouldn't want to find my kids reading.

Having said all that, I'm aware that my sidebar consists primarily of sites which I enjoy reading, or which I agree with, and most of them are Christian bloggers. A bit more diversity might be the result of me putting my hyperlinks where my mouth is.

Last question: does anyone out there deliberately link to sites they aren't fans of? Most of my linking to other points of view happens within posts on specific topics, and the sidebar functions a bit like an Amazon page: 'if you like this then you might like...... '

Ht Khanya who points out that categorising people can prevent us from hearing what they're actually saying.


  1. I tend to the view that I'll put in on the blogroll if it's interesting, and not obscene. So many things I may agree with don't end up on the list, and many that I don't agree with do. Plus the doilies, of course.

  2. Now you've got me worried as I'm not on your blog roll! My own rule of thumb for inclusion on my blog roll is people who I read regularly and the roll acts as a feed letting me know when they have posted. It also acts as a way of highlighting to others the blogs I think are worth reading. I do include some blogs coming from different positions to my own. I also have a links list with other sites of interest and that is more diverse.

    Like you I tend to avoid including blogs that I would not want my children to read. I tend to link within posts to sites on one off issues and many of these are not sites I would include in the blog roll because they aren't of ongoing interest to me.

    I don't think blog rolls are about rewarding and back scratching. I see them as a way of developing an on line blogging community. The problem is keeping it manageable.

  3. I link to one site which I usually disagree with but which welcomes me as an occasional guest blogger!!!

  4. Hi there,

    Very constructive comments. I’ve taken more flak for the 'CIA-silent-black-helicopter-dodgy-big-brother-Watchlist' than any other post I’ve ever written. I’m still waiting for the accolades to roll in ;).

    In Christ,


  5. I take feeds from a broad range of blogs I agree with sometimes and disagree with on other occasions, on the basis of interest or quality, not theological position. I wouldn't consciously link to (or take a plugging comment from) anything that was illegal, immoral, racist or exploitative, and I have a preference for individual blogs that convey a strong sincere point of view. Ones that just go on and on abut single issues soon become boring, and I have unlinked from one or two of these. I also avoid anything that comes over as pure advertising. I have learnt most from some blogs whose positinos I am least inclined to agree with, and I'd want to share that experience with people on my blog, and I hope the variety in itself (from Conservative RC to ultra progressive) makes it plain, in itself, that my lnks are expressions of interest, not the Good Housekeeping seal of approval...

  6. Hi Mark,

    Maybe you should do it in a range of colours!

    I'm intrigued by the possibilities though, it's a very creative alternative to the classical blogroll, though my column headings would probably include: politics, humour, music, arts, mission, Churchy stuff, pundits, news etc., so it'd be more about the content, rather than the ideology.

    As I said, I'm not a massive participant in the theological debates, and there's probably a section of the blogsophere for whom whether or not Calvinism is right is the only issue in town, and so the Watchlist for those kind of blogs would reflect that.

    If it became a common thing, the Watchlist would probably be as good a guide to the kind of blog you were reading, as the columns and categories would give you a good idea of what that blogger was concerned about. How easy is it to customise?

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  8. Philip - I clicked the 'Follow' button on your blog, so you should be in the sidebar. It's a mystery. Have to check my backscratcher.....!!!

  9. I have blogroll like yours in the sidebar of my Blogger blog Notes from underground, which I use to see if there have been new posts in blogs that I like to follow, whether I agree with them or not. And I've used yours to find new (to me) and interesting blogs, some of which I may add to my blogroll too.

    I also use social blogrolling sites like MyBlogLog and BlogCatalog to see who has visited my blog, and list blogs I'm interested in, though they don't show how recently those blogs have been updated. But the "Recent visitors" widgets on blogs that interest me might show people who themselves have interesting blogs, so I follow them, though if I find tags on boring stuff like money, marketing, and entrepreneurship I don't go any further. My main criterion is that the blogs should have things that interest me, not that the authors should necessarily agree with me, doctrinally or in any other way.

    So my blogrolls are for me, and not necessarily recommendations for others.

  10. David, I don't think the follow button feeds through to blog rolls in side bars unless there is a setting I'm missing. Where they do appear is in the Dashboard under Reading list which feeds the latest posts and also appears in Google Reader but no one else can see that and I don't look at it that often. I wonder if there is a way of clicking on the follow button to add to a blog list as this would seem the obvious thing to do and cutting and pasting urls to insert manually is a pain. Someone else using blogspot may have the answer.