Friday, April 24, 2009

State of the chess improvement blogosphere?

A little over six months ago, Liquid Egg Product wrote a provocative post The demise of chess blogging I've been thinking about this topic lately...

The following is a revised version of the comment I left there at the time, with a new bit on the state of the chess improvement blogosphere and the Knights Errant in particular. Note this is focusing mostly on chess improvement blogs, not chess news blogs or blogs associated with a particular chess club.

Prehistoric chess blogs (?-2004)
Early on there were a bunch of disconnected blogs, most of them associated with local chess clubs or conveying chess news. People like Mig, Glenn Wilson, DG at BCC, were on the scene, but there wasn't a real community of independent chess improvement bloggers.

Growth Errant (2004-2005)
Then the Knights Errant emerged and basically ushered in a social network of interconnected chess improvement blogs. They focused almost exclusively on posting things like ‘Man, I did my tactical puzzles today, it was intense.’ Back then, Man de la Maza, Sancho Pawnza, Pale Morning Dun, and a few others were the gods of chess improvement blogging. DG, who maintained the BCC news-focused blog, kept tabs on the Knights Errant as part of his blogging. Indeed, the Knights Errant sometimes called him the 'Official Historian' of the Knights Errant.

For a while, almost all the improvement blogs were Knights Errant related. I was part of this growth spurt, as was Temposchlucker, J’adoube, and others. Plus, a couple of more eclectic blogs hit the scene such as the Kenilworthian and Polgar's blog.

Diversification (2005-2007)
Probably late 2005, we had an explosion of non Knight errant related improvement blogs, and the friction really started. Multiple threads of people saying the circles were stupid, many people modifying the circles (this started in early 2005), and lots of very healthy discussion of the best way to improve. The blogosphere became less incestuous. I think we can all agree this can only be good.

Perhaps the best examples of this genre are from Quandoman, Patrick (the dead Chess for Blood), Dutch Defense (blogs dead), and Loomis. These were solid players who tended to have strong opinions on what sucked and what didn’t (Loomis was an exception--he was always soft-spoken and just as often right). DK Transform also was part of this explosion.

In other words, the chess improvement blogosphere became healthy. Many people using different methods, or no methods, in their focus on the game of chess, came on the scene. The Knights Errant became one little cluster in a growing improvement world.

Explosion (2007-2009)
Then things simply exploded. Most of the improvement bloggers of those older times had disappeared, while a new breed of blogger in the form of Chessloser, Liquid Egg Product, Robert Pearson and lots of others began around 2007.

Just as the first wave of change was from circles-narcissism to general chess improvement, the next wave was another expansion of topics. Things became much more idiosyncratic, ungroomed, irreverant, and eclectic.

Centralize or demise? (2009-?)
It may be me, but it seems there is another shift afoot. It seems that chess.com has become a sort of center of mass of the chess improvement community online. They have a great interface for blogging and displaying games. Many traditional bloggers such as Blunderprone have started cross-posting their work on chess.com just to increase their exposure.

There are probably more chess blogs than ever right now, which means it is hard to get people to read your blog. It makes sense that people would go to chess.com, which has a built-in way to distribute your work to many people on their home page. You don't have to worry as much about getting people to link to you or read your work if you are on chess.com. They do that for you, essentially.

I frankly miss the days when it was pretty much only the Knights Errant, all struggling with the Circles. That may be one reason I joined the International Chess School (ICS) and started a forum so I could work through the class with a bunch of other people struggling. I like working with people on a common task. You build up camaraderie, familiarity, and a sense of collective purpose that is largely missing in the chess improvement blogosphere right now.

Not that the Knights Errant are completely dead. They still exist in name, but with few exceptions it is hard to find any discussion of the Circles or tactics on one of their sites. Certainly it is good that things are less monotonous, but there isn't much of a sense of collective effort coming from the Knights Errant anymore. At the ISC forum we've started to recreate that sense a little bit. It is fun working with a small community of people toward a common goal. Plus, it is more balanced than the Circles. :)

Take this with a grain of salt
At any rate, the above is my rambling historical dissertation on the chess improvement blogosphere. I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about what you think, where you might disagree. Please don't be offended if I left out your blog by name. I tried to pick representative examples of bloggers.

16 Comments:

Blogger Loomis said...

Occasionally I miss my old blog (thebackrank.blogspot.com). I'm one of the ones who has migrated to chess.com. Essentially for one of the reasons you give. It first started when Erik asked what it would take to get me to post stuff like I had at blogspot at chess.com. So I just cross-posted one of my entries. Since there are an order of magnitude more readers of my blog at chess.com than at blogspot, I blogged there instead.

On the flip side, I am listed as a "top blogger" there and I feel promoted by the man. This in turn makes me feel like I don't want to just dump personal crap on my blog the way I did -- and liked doing -- at blogspot. So I'm taking the good with the bad.

I also find (and I know that you do as well) that life's ebbs and flows mean blogging consistency ebbs and flows as well. My chess blogging is in some sense in its 4th incarnation, or perhaps 3a or 2a. I had a decent period of blogging on blogspot and then was on a fairly long break to do life things. I returned to blogging at blogspot and kept it up for a while until life reared its head again. I'm now on my second stint of regularly updating my chess.com blog.

While I wasn't a knight errant, I probably benefitted from the community that they formed. Most likely, having a central theme was one of the catalysts that made the chess improvement blogging catch fire. I did follow the blogs of many of you and they definitely influenced me on what direction my improvement should go in (introduced me to CTS, I also did CT-Art).

I think in the world of blogging, older posts tend to die. This is unfortunate, because there was a lot of wisdom circulated through the blogs over the last 3-4+ years (I'm sure there was plenty of wisdom before I showed up :-) ). Anyone who finds themselves struggling with chess improvement could probably find a blog out there of someone who went through at their level what they're going through, but I doubt it's all organized enough to find it.

4/24/2009 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

It would be cool if blogger and Chess.com could cross-post comments and posts in some automated fashion. I guess one would become obsolete.

What amazes me is how quickly the blogosphere becomes transformed with just the addition or subtraction of a few key players.

Nowadays it seems it is conglomerates rather than individuals setting the tone, which is probably indicative of the shift I was talking about.

Imagine if chessloser had started at chess.com. It just wouldn't have been the same. The homogeneity of the formatting there somehow makes it easy to lose individual voices.

4/24/2009 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger Tommyg said...

Since I abandoned my blog in my Ross Perot moment and then decided to come back, I know that my opinion may lack a little street cred but I hardly ever read the blogs at Chess.com. I play chess constantly on the site and read and comment in the forums.

The blogs at chess.com tend to make me feel like I am reading an online newspaper. They are a little too impersonal to me. (ie: the conglomerate vibe you mentioned)

I think the good and bad of blogs of any type is that they are a personal statement.

I LOVE chess.com for playing both turn based correspondence chess and for live real time chess. I much prefer it to the ICC for playing needs. The forums can be fun and informative but even then they do not always have the spirit that independent blogging can create.

I am just postulating here, but one of the things that could be happening to the chess blogosphere is that it is growing up. What I mean is that it has progressed through its infancy, childhood and probably even puberty and is now in young adulthood. The people who are going to stay with the game are still around even if (like me) they should abandon blogging for awhile. This in turn creates a sense of stability and yes maybe even complacency. The early quixotic excitement that was probably felt at the beginning of the Knights Errant has transformed into the more subdued but equally committed feeling that usually comes when a person or persons have settled in for the long haul!! I think this happens in careers, love, relationships and yes even chess and chess blogs.

The joy comes when we realize the vibrant flame that could have burnt out is now a steadily burning ember that will never go away.

Having said all that, it is important to constantly feed that ember and to occasionally stir it up to a flame again.

Those are just my thoughts.

4/24/2009 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Tommyg: very interesting thoughts. I know what you mean about the chess.com blogs. It's all a little bit like bleached bread, not enough personal idiosyncracy.

4/24/2009 06:24:00 PM  
Blogger wang said...

Well I definitely fall into the 2007 crowd. My first post was back in June 3, 2007. While my chess hasn't improved much, I believe my blogging has.

I think what Tommyg said is correct. There is just a different vibe to the chessblogosphere & I don't care much for the Chess.com blogs. I post there from time to time, but it seems a bit sterile to me.

With that said I definitely do appreciate the site and it is handy for us Wordpressers as we can't post game boards with complete games on the page.

4/25/2009 06:09:00 AM  
Blogger Banatt said...

Coming in late I never really got a chance to see all these "early" chess blogs. My first post was somewhere around 2008, I believe. I would imagine it was a much more "family-like" atmosphere for a lack of a better word.

4/25/2009 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger BlunderProne said...

In the 2005-2007 meso-errant period, I was an adapter of the MDLM method and ran through the circles. But in 2008 I decided that there was mreo to improvement beyond the "seven circles of hell".

Committing to blog about my training is still at its fundamental root. It motivates me to move on... very much like the blogging as a knight errant did. "Must get to next level...mustn't dissappoint readers".

The same holds true on my magical history tour of chess tournaments. It gets me through those times when I say " why am I busting my but to finish another player study in this event?" It keeps me on track and regular... and as a resutl, my rating has lifted from teh post circle plateau by a little over 100 USCF rating points!

Since Late 2008, during the NY 1924 study, I decided to cross post at chess.com in case others might find it interesting.
I am listed in the top 10 bloggers ( last checked I was either 4 or 5). Which is sweet. I have a higher readership, I get even more feedback to my game analysis. Bottom line... more readership means more improvement in the form of feedback. PLus the added benefit of feeling that much more compelled to keep the posts regular. I'm going for 1800 USCF this year. I can remember hitting 1700 after the circles and then slip back down and feeling out of whack. THis is a great way to stay motivated.

I have future plans beyond the magic history tour once I'm at the 1800 threshold. I want to start a series on the evolution of chess openings following key players who influenced them. Stay tuned. ( note the shameless plug of a tag line to invite readership). One day, WHEN I do make it to the elusive plateau of 2000 ( a common goal of most improvement bloggers) I will put forth my book " How not to suck at chess"

4/25/2009 04:07:00 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Just random question. BDK, where do you get all your awesome pictures? Do you just take it off google images or something?

4/27/2009 02:45:00 AM  
Blogger Glenn Wilson said...

I wonder what impact, if any, the use of RSS readers has had on the sense of community for bloggers.

I often read blogs via the feed these days so I am less likely to be at the site and therefore less likely to leave a comment. If I do click through to the site I am at the permalink for a specific post and less likely to browse around.

4/27/2009 07:50:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

GW: Interesting I hadn't considered RSS feeds. Since I use my sidebar to navigate blogs I hadn't considered that. Interesting point! That's another way to sort of 'centralize' content to one locus, but according to your own specs.

Michael: I usually just do a google search for what I am envisioning. E.g., the last picture I just searched 'Woodstock'. I probably should give credit for every picture I use, but I'm lazy.

4/27/2009 08:49:00 AM  
Blogger James Stripes said...

Thanks for the foray into blogging history. Helpful post.

I like Chess.com, and I blog there. Indeed, I started blogging there. Even so, I prefer blogspot.

4/28/2009 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger Polly said...

A very interesting post. I too am of the 2007 era. I had been blogging about triathlons and bike racing for a few years before I decided to get into chess blogging. That blog was basically an online journal of how my races went.

I think what got me interested in chess blogging was Jack Lemoine writing about chess blogs at the USCF forums and starting a blog carnival for chess.

When I started my chess blog, I wrote about chess tournaments in a manner similar to how I wrote about competing in a triathlon or bike race. Racing has a little more action to it, but my story telling style seemed to work for chess too.

I don't consider my blog a "chess improvement" blog. It's more of a chess diary with an occasional chess lesson thrown in for good measure. Over the last year I've devoted more time to covering events that I'm participating in from a more journalistic point of view. As I've gotten more proficient with my camera I've taken to putting more photographs in with my writing.

I haven't read many of the blogs at chess.com. I do follow links on people's regular blogs to go to the games they have put at chess.com. I like being able to post my photos and game positions using blogger's upload features.

Sometimes I wrestle with myself in terms of my content. I wonder is my stuff getting old or tiresome? Are people tired of reading about time pressure induced implosions? Do people think I'm a moron for posting so many bad results? How come I don't get more comments when I know there are people reading my blog who never comment? Does it matter how many comments I get?

After awhile I just stop asking those types of questions, and tell myself to get over it. I'm not in it for the money and glory. I like to write and take pictures. Blogging gives me an outlet for doing that. Having people who are interested in what I write and photograph is icing on the cake.

4/28/2009 02:10:00 PM  
OpenID liquideggproduct said...

Thanks, now I had to stick in a chess post to keep up appearances. Darn you.

4/29/2009 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger Polly said...

LEP: Yes you do. You have way too little chess content to be a serious chess blog. :-)

4/29/2009 07:06:00 PM  
Blogger John aka Endgame Clothing said...

I think the blogging community is like any other community...people come and go and people have different reasons for doing so.

While I have only recently started blogging, I have followed most everyone who has commented here for several years. Even though I would only comment occasionally, I would always look forward to new posts and have a certain amount of affection for each of you characters. Kind of like having friends that you have never met.

One great coincidence a few years ago was playing in the team4545 league and getting stood up for my game. Upon my next meeting with this scoundrel, he proceeds to kick my ass. A few days later I am cruising through my favorite chess blogs and BAM!! BDK has a blog entry with the game we just played!!

As for what the future holds, I think we will all just keep on keeping on...

I really enjoy everyone's blogs and appreciate all the effort everyone puts into them.

Peace!!

John.

4/30/2009 04:24:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

John: that's funny. I must have screwed up the time or something as I loved playing in that league!

4/30/2009 11:38:00 PM  

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