The following is borrowed from Joe Carter’s Blog The Evangelical Outpost. For those not familiar with Joe, he is what many would consider to be an uber blogger – one of the blogging elite, especially among evangelical circles. Joe is both smart and gifted in writing. I have found what Joe is writing about here to be true, and as would be expected, Joe has condensed his thoughts much more eloquently than I ever could. I read a number of blogs on an almost daily basis (RSSreader!!) and have gotten a window into quite a few people’s minds I would otherwise never have gotten. It’s made me examine some of my long held beliefs on a deeper level than I had previously.

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Rather than present an argument for why we should care about the lives of other bloggers (I take it for granted that anyone who is concerned about community will have an interest in their fellow man), I offer a few modest suggestions for how to get the most out of reading a blog as autobiography:

Choose a blogger — Choosing a blogger to read in this manner will, of course, be a matter of taste. You might prefer someone who explores the contours of their emotional lives or opt to spend time studying a blogger whose opinions or ideas you find particularly intriguing. The types of bloggers are almost as varied as the people who blog but they all reveal themselves in some way. Having an understanding of why you choose a particular blogger, however, will help you gain the most out of the task.

The deeper the better — While insights can be gleaned from new bloggers, you’ll likely find such a reading more fruitful if you focus on someone who has at least six months worth of posts. While the depths of an archive do not ensure you’ll find vast treasures, as a general rule the more posts that you have to sift through the more likely you’ll be to find some gems.

Read chronologically — One of the most useful aspects of blogs is that they allow you to find information in a number of ways – by search word, category, month, etc. But for autobiographical reading it helps to read chronologically, starting with the bloggers first entry and reading forward. Doing so will give you a sense of how they’ve revealed themselves over the course of their blogging. You’ll also be surprised at how their style changes as they mature and grow more comfortable with the medium.

Handling links — Almost every post will contain links referencing other sites or posts on other blogs. Unless the links are essential to understanding, avoid the temptation to follow them away from the blog you’re studying. Often it is more important, for autobiographical reading, to apprehend what the links says about the blogger (i.e., do they value the opinions of other more highly than their own?) than it is to follow the link and become distracted by the details of the topic.

Skim for comprehension — Many blog posts will be about ephemeral concerns (i.e., news events) that are no longer of much interest. Skim these entries for contextual clues that might reveal something about the character of the bloggers but avoid becoming bogged down on mundane subjects. Try to imagine why they viewed the topic as worth writing about. Also, check for patterns in their topics and take note if they have a tendency to write about issues that are of no lasting value.

Search for epiphanies — Not every post is of equal merit so liberally skim those that of only passing interest. Spend the bulk of your time on the posts that are obviously more revelatory. While this may appear to be an obvious point, it is the inverse of the way that most blog reading is done. We often tend to read the short post in their entirety while skimming over the lengthy, more thoughtful entries.

Allocate the time — Don’t try to complete the task in one sitting. Consider how long it would take you to read a memoir or celebrity biography and allot that same amount of time for a blogger’s autobiography. If the blogger is not worthy of the time you’d spend reading the latest tome on Paris Hilton, then they are likely not worth reading at all.

Ask questions — Not only should you ask questions that you hope will be answered in your reading, but you should feel free to ask questions that are left unanswered. If at the conclusion of the project you are left with unsettled questions, write the blogger, tell them what you are doing, and ask them to clarify the points that remain. Most bloggers will be flattered that you have taken such an interest and –assuming that your questions are not inappropriate– will gladly provide an answer.

Share your findings — Once you have completed an autobiographical reading of a blog, share what you have learned with others. If you gain something worthwhile then pass that information on to your own readers. Point out intriguing posts that you’ve stumbled upon – even if they were written several months or years ago. All too often the blogosphere focuses on the current at the expense of the enduring.

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