Don’t Drink the Balloon Juice

Good, bad, and ugly things to name your blog.

As the just-completed YearlyKos convention demonstrated—with the presence of 1,500 liberal bloggers and nearly all the major Democratic candidates —the influence of the blogosphere, for better or worse, has reached a new peak. I’ve been covering the medium for Slate for two years, and of all the questions that have come from friends, family, and e-mail strangers, the most interesting is, “What should I name my blog?” Whether you plan to write about food, your miserable day job, or a viable exit strategy for Iraq, the answer is always a negation: It’s more a matter of what not to name your blog. When CNN calls to ask for your expert opinion on farm subsidies, do you really want to be known as the Intrepid Ploughman? What follows are a few mild observations and modest suggestions based on a frightening amount of Web trawling.

1) Irony is a cruel mistress.
One way to enhance your online charisma is through self-deprecation. In cyberspace, no ego goes unpunctured and no comment thread remains friendly for long. So, why not rile your enemies by wittily pre-empting their nastiness right on your masthead? (The lamented applied this tactic with terse aplomb.)

If you choose to make a tongue-in-cheek debut, be sure your humor will outlast your self-importance. 2 Blowhards is a good name made better by the fact that its contributors are consistently enjoyable curmudgeons. Shiraz Socialist beats “limousine liberal” or “Mastercard Marxist” as the alliterative epithet of radical chic, and Bookslut gets the job done fine.

But when a dip into irony percolates right back up as literal-mindedness, the results can be unintentionally funny: See Rightwing Nuthouse or The Superficial.

2) Mind the allusions.
For some reason (don’t ask me why) conservatives christen their sites with geek pop-culture references more often than liberals do. The Jawa Report  seems to think those hooded midgets at the beginning of Star Wars were acolytes of Milton Friedman, and the prolific and always-quotable Ed Morrissey of Captain’s Quarters presumes to pilot not the ship of state but the Starship Enterprise.

Lefties opt for more tragically hip allusions: Shakespeare’s Sister, the blogging name of Melissa McEwan, is a tip of the beret not to Virginia Woolf but to Morrissey, which is almost a distinction without a difference.

If you must be literary, please stick to one text. The excellent Ministry of Truthwould work better as a clearinghouse of guarded information if its main page didn’t muddle references to George Orwell (the name), Guy Fawkes (the graphic), and Mikhail Bakunin (the quote).

3) Inside jokes doom.
Nicknames and private giggles are fine for yearbook inscriptions and e-mail passwords, but as blog titles they’re a nuisance. You don’t want your ideological call to action muffled by a faulty bullhorn. Take the DailyKos. This mega-trafficked “netroots” site derived its outré gazette name from founder Markos Moulitsas Zúniga’s old Army handle, “Kos.” Quite unselfconsciously, his minions now affectionately refer to themselves as Kossacks—hardly the historical outfit with which a “people-powered” revolution should want to identify.

Also, silliness is no substitute for directness. It’s quite a trip down the long slide of progressive opinion from I.F. Stone’s Weekly to John Cole’s Balloon Juice.

Right-wing blogger Allahpundit started out as a satirical persona who mouthed post-9/11 hosannas to Islamism in the voice of the Muslim god. Now “Allah,” as he’s still known, blogs for Michelle Malkin’s Hot Air and sounds off on everything from Michael Bloomberg’s fecklessness as mayor to the Iron Man movie. Omniscience has its price in Web 2.0.

4) Choose antagonists wisely.
If your raison d’blog is to monitor and annoy another Web site—one you hate; one that formerly employed you—be sure you’ve got the right obsessive tendencies to keep up with your quarry and do only that. The Drudge Retort  was conceived as a liberal alternative to Matt Drudge that would emphasize news that he and other conservative media ignored. This, apparently, is steady work.

Not so Spencer Ackerman’s Too Hot for TNR. Ackerman started his pundits-gone-wild rebuke to the New Republic while he was still employed there. (Lee Siegel might take a lesson in chutzpah.) Editor in Chief Franklin Foer described the blog as the “proximate cause” for Ackerman’s highly publicized sacking. But now Too Hot for TNR is just another anti-war portal, and one that has become more in sync with the retuned editorial position of the magazine it tweaks.

5) Beware the pun.
Every URL should be as memorable as Go Fug Yourself. Otherwise, puns should be used sparingly. Good ones include Direland, by radical journalist Doug Ireland, and Samizdata, an anarcho-libertarian blog with an ingenious banner of a handgun resting atop a copy of Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies. Oftentimes, however, the double entendre crumples like a wet sock: Eric Alterman implies he wants an Altercation at his blog, but he’ll have to travel elsewhere—like D.C. media gatherings and post-debate parties—to find one.

6) MoveOn.Snore
Don’t shy from tabloid pungency just because you want to appear thoughtful and sophisticated. Conservatives must know intuitively that a site christened Stay the Course or Status Quo Zonewould scarcely warrant a click. I prefer the barking assuredness of Sister Toldjah to the lame sententiousness of TruthDigor ThinkProgress. Would I ever want to excavate falsehood or consider inertia? 

7) Embrace the solipsism.
Unlike Alterman and Ireland, most journos use their own bylines to identify their blogs. As Michael Kinsley previously wrote in Slate, even a “modest, soft-spoken, and self-effacing” journalist can appear an “egotistical monster” when www precedes his name. Yet what seemed horribly pretentious when the dot-com bubble was first inflating became commonplace by the time it popped. The logic behind this is simple and self-serving for those starting out: If one day you should happen to land that paid writing gig, think of the bankable identity you’ll have already established.

Andrew Sullivan’s site is called “The Daily Dish” officially but that gossipy title never caught on. The Atlantic, home to his blog, lists all its bloggers by their highly recognizable names, including Matt Yglesias, who captured the narcissism of a commentariat with unchecked (and unedited) publishing privileges by labeling his first cyber-incarnation as “proudly eponymous.” Words to blog by.