Best New Blogs of 2010

Editors Kevin Nguyen and Nick Martens talk with fellow bloggers about favorite new additions to their RSS readers.

Robin Sloan

Mediagazer doesn’t have the look of a classic blog; it’s laid out like an aggregator, and at first glance, it looks pretty mechanical. Sure enough, there are feed-reading machines behind the scenes — some of the same guts that make TechMeme go. But appearances are deceiving, because Mediagazer has an editor, too — Megan McCarthy — and as you follow the site day-to-day (I keep up using the Twitter feed) her voice becomes more and more apparent. Or, if not her voice exactly, then her eye. The Mediagazer mix goes something like this: lots of news about news, but not too much; a fascination with the future of TV; plenty of space for brainy ruminations, even (or especially) when they’re not crowd-pleasers; and the occasional curveball, which

is usually (but not always) a link to The Awl. She’s a new Romenesko for a new era, with a broader scope, a clock set to Pacific time, and a pet algorithm on a leash.

So in the last nine months or so, Mediagazer has become my single go-to source for media news, replacing about ten other blogs and feeds I used to read together. It’s not just that it’s quick, not just that it’s convenient. It’s something much more important, and something really very old-fashioned: I trust Megan.

Robin Sloan is a writer and media inventor in San Francisco. He blogs at Snarkmarket and you can follow along at @robinsloan. He subscribes to 560 feeds in Google Reader, but mostly uses Laterstars these days.

Liz Danzico

Change. Calculus is the mathematical study of it, and that’s why it’s somewhat appropriate that my favorite blog in 2010 both started and ended in the same year. A perfect arc of starts and stops was Steven Strogatz’ Elements of Math a 15-part series over on The Opinionator blog at The New York Times. That’s right, a math blog is what I’m calling the top blog of the year, perhaps not surprising for a neatly itemized year that saw a collection a day, Weeknotes, 52 Weeks of UX, and other things organized neatly.

But back to math. Flinching not at all at a population’s residual nervousness about mathematics, Strogatz made math elegant and abstractions affable. The mysterious become surmountable. It could be that his writing, perhaps transformed by a 30-year pen-pal friendship with his high school math teacher, steered readers clear of mathematical walls through the particulars of chocolate cake, Moonlighting, and

the velocity of jump shots. And suddenly numbers, once the enemy, became believable.

While Strogatz has gone on to other things, The Opinionator continues to stand strong (at the chalkboard it seems), with surprises like The Stone, a series on contemporary philosophy. Of course. Series moderator Simon Critchley always delivers a steady stream of insight on topics you least expect. I always have to google-star, instapaper, read, and reread a post, and welcome the chance to do it. The Stone specializes in going just over my head, getting me to look up and question things just a bit differently than I did before. Change. It’s what I want from internetland in the first place. Thanks Opinionator.

Liz Danzico is part designer, part educator, part editor, and full-time dog owner who writes part of her time at Bobulate. She subscribes to 282 feeds in Google Reader, and also follows 162 blogs on Tumblr.

Brandon Boyer

The answer is (obviously!) Uvula — the company blog set up by game designer Keita Takahashi and his wife Asuka Sakai. Takahashi is responsible for two of the most interesting videogames of the past several years — the PlayStation 2 roll-em-up Katamari Damacy and PS3/iPhone oddity Noby Noby Boy (a game which generally defies easy description, but which I’ve attempted regardless again, and again, and again) — both published by Namco Bandai, the legendary Japanese publisher both Takahashi and Sakai recently left together, to go “indie” as Uvula.

It’d be a tougher sell for a year’s best if the initial slate of content wasn’t already so charming: a rundown and samples of Sakai’s musical output, and an eye-poppingly colorful rundown of Takahashi’s game-ography is an album of the latter’s studio/sculptural work done prior to joining Namco. But even more valuable is the lineup of self-regulating and self-micturating goat-shaped flower-boxes and robot-transforming coffee tables that give a glimpse into why we’re all lucky a brilliantly whimsical mind like

Takahashi’s decided to get into games, even if in the end we didn’t fully deserve him.

It’s the blog that makes my heart tighten the tightest when a new post appears in my reader, because I know whatever’s about to appear is nearly always going to be something as utterly adorable this exhaustive in-progress look into one of the first Uvula releases: Takahashi’s new children’s playground for kids and adults and even dogs alike, due never-soon-enough for the people of Nottingham, UK.

You expected I’d say all that, and I’ll shamelessly say it once more: you absolutely should follow this blog.

Brandon Boyer writes more on Twitter than on blogs at the moment (as he’s up to his eyeballs organizing the 2011 Independent Games Festival), but expects that to change soon. He subscribes to 2004 feeds in Google Reader (having long-surpassed Reader’s undocumented upper-limit which causes a warning message about straining the system to flash each time he adds one more).

Katie Baker

Pitchfork is often tossed out as a zinger, easy shorthand for the absurdities of the new music scene and the so-so-so-serious writers who both hype and deride it.

But if Pitchfork is the lazy man’s punch line, Pitchfork Reviews Reviews is a cartwheeling, Aristocrats-ic romp of a joke, where the delight is in the telling and the point dances beside itself. PRR proves that rambling isn’t wrong, esoteric isn’t dull, punctuation isn’t vital, and earnest isn’t lame.

Born out of the frustration of a 22-year-old semi-anonymous music fanatic dismayed that Pitchfork’s singular voice was drowning out a more vital cacophony, PRR launched as a meta-critique that, yep, reviewed Pitchfork’s reviews.

What could have been just another gimmicky Tumblr instead crackles with sporadically capitalized originality, a function of both form — sans computer, PRR pecks out posts on his Blackberry — and of fervor. Yet it’s accessible to even the most musically clueless — and trust me, I’d know.

Much has happened since PRR’s first post in March: a New York Times mention; a film in the works; several stressful-sounding DJing gigs (he enjoys Mandy Moore); a meet and greet with Obama (“and i am looking barack obama in the eye and i say, ‘i write a blog about a popular music website!’” he wrote in a post that

garnered an official White House statement); and a visit to a party hosted by the love/hated Pitchfork itself.

That last party report was the first of many that layer an insider’s access with an outsider’s remove. He showed Rosie O’Donnell his Lil Wayne-themed inner lip tattoo. Kelly Osborne told him that her parents’ answering machine plays Black Sabbath. He turned down weed from Wavves. He asked Ashley Dupre how much her dog cost (spoiler: $3,500). Tom Wolfe sang to him.

As his experiences have broadened, his writing has too. But even without the Pitchfork hyperfocus, PRR is still a blog about music. My very favorite of his essays is a sweet tale of a plane ride with his mother, an iPod, and two sets of headphones. A tearjerking rumination on his own childhood obesity is titled “How Downloading Music Literally Saved My Life.”

“I don’t want my blog to be just a celebrity/new york party blog or just a music analysis blog or just a pitchfork blog but just, like, a weird life blog with all that stuff and i know it’s unwieldy but i am doing my best,” he writes. And as usual, he puts it best himself.

Katie Baker is a contributor to Deadspin whose writing has also appeared on The Awl, Gawker, and She lives in Brooklyn, blogs at Ramble On Rose, and has a day job.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper

A rash of books have recently been published about the rise and decline of WASP culture but none of them come close to the wit and criticism of Fuckyeahmenswear. It’s an anonymous Ivy style/men’s fashion/satire/stream of consciousness/poetry blog that gleefully catalogues the various style incarnations of the Ancient Order of the Moneyed Class with a Margaret Mead level of precision (the sockless Sart-blog cutie pie with hollow cheeks and blue blazer, the utilitarian chic Michigan denim explorer beard-boy, rolled turtle neck and tweed elbow-patched man snapping iPhone vanity shots in a bathroom mirror). The real treat though are the literary allusions done with chatspeak slang:

You better tighten up that Belstaff, brah.
Cause I’m comin for ya.
Swift and deadly.
Crispy and dangerous.
Hear those footsteps?
Pitter patter on Greenpoint streets.
Was it me? Won’t know until it’s too late.
I out stunt the shadows.
And cut you down in your American Apparel oxford.
Sell your Visvim moccies on eBay.
More fringe, more tassels, more beads, more money.
Holler at the heritage hitman.
For hire.
I’m on Twitter.

I also like that FYMW seems to have an ambivalent relationship to the recent explosion of WASPy swag and Americana flossin’ online. If you troll fashion blogs you’ve probably noticed there have been a lot of more dudes popping in boat shoes, madras, tartan sportcoats, and bow ties, all emulating some sort of sartorial nostalgia for the once powerful New England patrician class(thus the recent cache of prep books) and while FYMW recognizes the fashion prowess of these new Ivy evangelists, they also seize the obvious irony that comes posting a picture of a man in $800 Neiman Marcus flak jacket, crisp khakis in a cave. Nevertheless, none of the posts are ever snarky or mean spirited — it’s all affable satire.

FYMW also avoids the schlocky mistakes of other single serve sites (crowd sourcing, pandering, shit writing) and perhaps it’s because they are consciously embodying one the more gracious Ivy traits: restraint. They don’t post too often but when they do, it’s rich.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper is journalist whose work has appeared in print and online for the Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, and Interview Magazine. She is the author of Mad Men Unbuttoned and is the west coast correspondent for The Awl. She subscribes to 52 feeds in Google Reader.

Richard Dunlop-Walters

If you’re reading this you probably came across I’m Comic Sans, Asshole or Great Literature Retitled to Boost Traffic on McSweeney’s at some point this year — both were hilarious, relevant, and widely read. Their author — Mike Lacher — also runs a Tumblr blog of “written, graphical, and interactive sundries” called Wonder-Tonic. If your vocabulary isn’t as good as mine, “sundries” means “hilarious things.” Really, it does. I have no idea where his inspiration comes from — such is the existence of the tortuously uncreative — but Mike produced a steady flow of some of the funniest and funnest things I read, saw, or played with this year.

Michael Buble Being Stalked By A Velociraptor was my first introduction to Mike’s work and it was love at first sight. I’m sure you’ll understand when I say there’s something very comforting about imagining Michael Buble being ceaselessly stalked by a Velociraptor. Outside of the absurd, one of my favorite things about Wonder-Tonic is its cultural relevance: the TSA integrating with Facebook should be a thought that rightfully scares the shit out of all of us. And in a time when somebody let a 16-year-old pop star publish an autobiography, Waiting for Bieber hits just the right note.

Once you start playing with Mike’s interactive toys is when things get really fun. There’s something very Ze Frank-like in his commitment to making fun toys for absolutely no reason. I have no idea why anybody would need a Dunstan Checks In API, but Mike made one. I don’t know why anybody would need a URL shortening service that makes links look like spam either, but Mike made us one of those, too. And you’d be hard pressed to have missed the “Like” buttons adorning almost everything online, but now literally everything has a Like button. Again, thanks to Mike.

For most of us, the internet has morphed from a toy to something we use for work and “work” (that rare breed of work that requires you to be up to date with every single Apple rumor), and that’s fine, but sometimes it’s nice to forgo the substance for something a little lighter. I spent most of this year hunting down great journalism, and by the time I was done with that, things like “Correct Your Friends Like A Dick” were exactly what I needed to see.

Richard Dunlop-Walters curates Give Me Something To Read, a hand-picked selection of the best articles and essays saved with Instapaper. He subscribes to 65 feeds in Google Reader.

Matt LeMay

You can try to know, and own the fact that there are things you do not know, or you can be knowing, and hide your own ignorance with sideways shots of been-there done-that familiarity.

Nick Sylvester’s smart and passionate response to The Hipster Runoff Animal Collective piece is well worth reading in its entirety, but this line struck me as a remarkable statement of purpose. Can you still succeed as a music “critic” when you acknowledge the limits of your own understanding? Are generosity and authority mutually exclusive?

The answer, of course, depends on how you construct “authority.” In his new blog Riff City, Nick dives gleefully and curiously into the authority-eroding structural and aesthetic questions that critics tend to avoid. In a recent piece about hypnagogic pop and Ariel Pink (which is hands-down the best piece of music writing I’ve encountered this year), Nick discusses what’s at stake when we conflate music with The Theory of that music:

Is it even possible to make hypnagogic pop that is more interesting than (or as groundbreaking as) The Theory about hypnagogic pop? Will half-remembered Airwolf music ever be as good as the phrase ‘half-remembered Airwolf music’?

Here is a piece of writing that is sympathetic and supportive towards music beyond simply endorsing that music or granting it a “high score.” Nick has no interest in the kind of authority you accrue by being “right.” He distinguishes between music and culture — a distinction that is not nearly as simple or as obvious as it may seem. His writing enhances my appreciation of both music AND criticism, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Matt LeMay is a writer, musician, and producer/engineer. He makes his home on the internet at A Question of Frequency. His Google Reader has fallen into a state of neglect, and he now primarily relies upon Twitter and Tumblr as social filters.

Erik Bryan

Joshua Allen is a force for good. He’s been writing on the Internet for almost as long as there has been an internet to write on. His new site Chokeville isn’t quite like anything else showing up in my Twitter feed. It’s a collection of stories about a place called Fort Hook, which is being run (I guess?) by a mysterious organization called Feddema Global. The stories are gritty and humorous, whimsical and hard-boiled. I have no idea what’s going on, and I’m not sure I could really explain it, but I’m loving it.

There are hundreds of great sites that report on news and culture. Not to discredit any of the great work going into these sites, but so few people are working in solid fiction writing online. Allen’s personal site, Fireland, was a bellwether of online creative writing,

which he followed with the hilarious House of Wigs and Wiretap Follies. In the spirit of full disclosure, yes, Allen has been a contributing writer to The Morning News, but his ability to fully execute on a creative project more than speaks for itself.

I love keeping up with Kanye, and of course I want the new Girl Talk album, but there’s a time (usually lunch-) when I’d prefer to leave the rest of the web and explore the strange, exhilarating garden path of Josh Allen’s Chokeville. And now that I’ve bought in, I’m honestly fascinated to see how long he can keep up the act.

Erik Bryan is an associate editor at The Morning News. He follows 284 feeds on Twitter.

Leah Finnegan

“Clear is the new clever,” one of my journalism professors used to tell me as I wrote crappy practice headline after crappy practice headline in News Editing 101. (“Squirrel Goes Nuts In Central Park”? Not so much.) If such a maxim is true, then the blog Better Book Titles is the work of an uncommon genius. It’s where news writing and literature meet and join hands for the betterment of humanity.

Better Book Titles takes the work out of that thing we (I) love to hate: book-reading. I don’t have time to read books: I have too many blogs to read, too many emails to mark as read. In the internet age, Better Book Titles is a public service. It boils down the point of a

400-page tome to a few choice words, (mostly) managing to clearly AND cleverly state what the book is about in a graphically pleasing format. Some pertinent examples: The title of Lolita, according to the site, should actually be Likable Rapists. So true! Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close becomes Too Soon? LOL. And Hamlet? Ghost Dad. Stunningly apt. I’ll never read again!

Except for my 168 feeds in Google Reader.

Leah Finnegan edits the College section of the Huffington Post. She also writes for The Morning News and herself. And yes, she subscribes to 168 feeds in Google Reader.

Nozlee Samadzadeh

The Paris Review has always run things a little differently — eponymously flaunting their expatriate roots, publishing short fiction back when criticism was the fashionable thing, continuing to publish short fiction now when Foursquare updates are the fashionable thing — and has brought that sensibility to bear with the decision to start a blog, The Paris Review Daily.

The path from zero to hero came quickly: within their first week or two of blog posts, the Daily got caught up in a “blog fight” that was as adorable as it was memorable. The Awl (a Bygone Bureau Best New Blog of 2009) accused them of using the incorrect past tense of the verb “to sneak” in a blog post about a softball game between Paris Review and n+1 staff. The “Snuck Wars” escalated quickly, as Paris Review Southern Editor John Jeremiah Sullivan got all “pedantic as hell” in a scathing letter to the editor. After another round or two of posts, literary license prevailed and the Daily won the Snuck Wars.

Was it a publicity stunt to garner readers? Who cares! In between the strongly-worded letters full of OED references, they’d been churning out smart, topical writing on an infinitely faster schedule than their

quarterly print publication. Suddenly, America’s literary magazine had a sports column — their essays on the World Cup and the US Open were better than anything ESPN published that summer. Their advice column, written by editor Lorin Stein, deals with topics from how to fight writer’s block to how to seduce a man with a book. And speaking of sex, I never thought I’d read an essay on Salinger and sexual awakening that didn’t make me cringe until they proved me wrong.

It’s easy to accuse The Paris Review of favoritism. After all, there are only so many pages in an issue and only so many issues a year compared to the huge amount of new writing. Their website is making incredible steps to change all of that: the complete archives of their interviews are now online, and the Daily publishes posts by interns, book editors, and movie directors alike, on subjects from Friday Night Lights to Brett Favre, in addition to writing about books. Any print publication would do well to take their example.

Nozlee Samadzadeh is an assistant editor at The Morning News and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. She subscribes to 91 feeds in Google Reader, only 35 of which she reads regularly.

Kevin Nguyen

I get flustered at bars that don’t serve beer because I never know what to order. Each cocktail has its own reputation and history. They’re mythical creatures, like centaurs, only I probably know more about centaurs than I do about Mint Juleps.

Which is why I’m thankful for American Drink, a new blog about cocktails, written with the geeky enthusiasm that could only come from Apple nerds. It’s not so much a food blog, and though there are plenty of cocktail recipes, the site leans more heavily on personal essays, reblogged photos and links, and nods to pop culture.

American Drink thinks creatively about what makes cocktail culture fun rather than what makes it

pretentious. After reading Albert McMurry’s two-part post about making ice, I ordered a Tovolo King Cube Silicone Ice Cube tray from Amazon.

A couple months ago, I saw McMurry and another American Drink writer, John Moltz, at a bar in Tacoma, WA. They ordered Old Fashioneds — these Old Fashioneds. When the bartender approached, I pointed to McMurry and Moltz and told her, “I’ll have what they’re having.”

Honorable mentions: Thought Catalog, Flood Magazine, and The Idler

Bureau Editor Kevin Nguyen subscribes to 147 feeds in Fever.

Nick Martens

If we had run this feature in 2008, a fight would have broken out amongst our contributors over who got to write up Alan Taylor’s The Big Picture at The Boston Globe. By now, everyone on the internet has followed a link to it at some point; the blog’s single column of large, carefully chosen photographs remains the web’s most captivating source for image-centric current events.

Many imitators followed in its wake at other major media outlets, but its influence can also be seen in creative new projects that twist The Big Picture’s central conceit in unexpected ways. Jon Rafman’s 9eyes proves the power of huge images, simply presented. The “crazy stuff from Google Street View” trope seemed completely played out until Rafman, with judicious restraint, turned that very concept into a captivating Tumblr by letting the images speak for themselves.

But on Laura Brunow Miner’s Pictory, image and text combine to speak louder together than either could alone. The site’s tagline, “your best photo stories,” captures the concept well: Miner chooses a theme, then solicits submissions from photographers who also have a way with words. The best submissions are packaged

into large posts, each with a custom design either by Miner herself, or guest designed by some of the web’s finest, like GOOD Magazine, Nicholas Felton, Jason Santa Maria, or our very own Sleepover.

The sheer concentration of creative effort per post is impressive in its own right, but Pictory’s ultimate success lies in the emotional resonance of its photographs and the stories that go with them. A recent feature on the “Summer Jobless,” for example, captured the spirit of recessional languor in a pure and modern manner (I mean, come on). The post that this site was born to make, however, came in this summer’s “Are You There, Dad?” A collaboration with Lauren Ladoceour, the feature catalogs its collaborators complex relationships with fathers and fatherhood. Each photo seems to narrate itself, until you scroll down, read the caption, and realize how much deeper the story goes.

Bureau Editor Nick Martens subscribes to 117 feeds in Google Reader, and he realizes Pictory technically started in December 2009, but he makes the rules around here, okay?