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Juan Cole on Informed CommentJuan Cole

Juan Cole on Informed Comment

Interview with Juan Cole, creator of the weblog <em>Informed Comment</em>.

Readers appreciate sincerity, expertise and the occasional humour. It's important to develop a distinctive "voice" in a blog, just as it is in fiction.

Juan R. I. Cole (Islamic Studies, 1984) is Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the University of Michigan. He is currently President of the Middle East Studies Association, having previously served as editor of MESA's International Journal of Middle East Studies. Cole is also the creator of the enormously popular weblog Informed Comment.

What motivated you to start the site?

I began the site in Spring 2002 as a direct reaction to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US. I had been active on email lists trying to explain what Al-Qaeda was and how it might be defeated, and it occurred to me that a blog might be a way to share those email messages more widely. I began making entries at the site and it began growing in popularity.

Why the title "Informed Comment"?

That was meant to be ironic, as it was an unknown blog by an unknown professor. All these high-powered journalists and talking heads were advertising themselves as purveyors of informed comment, and I thought they were mostly wrong when they spoke about the Middle East. When the blog grew to have sometimes a million page views a month, the joke was no longer apparent and maybe the title seemed a little pompous. Oh well, I'm stuck with it now.

What are the challenges of keeping the site current?

For a blog to be successful, the proprietor has to make daily entries. The main challenge is to find time to read the sources and comment on them every single day. When I have ample

things. So finding sources and getting stories is not a problem. Time is the problem.

What has been the response to the site?

I'm now running 17,000 unique hits a day, and nearly twice that many page views (every time a browser opens the site). Some months I've had a million page views. puts the site in the top 200 blogs in the world for incoming links. I get a lot of reader response by email, including from respected journalists, diplomats and military officers, both from the US and abroad. I've spoken on Iraq at the State Department and the National Defense University here in the US, and before audiences of government officials in the UK, France and Japan.

How does it feel to be online?

We academics often lecture to big audiences and and write opinion pieces for the press. The blog is an extension of those activities with a potentially much larger audience. Readers often write to say that they feel much better informed for having read the site, so that is gratifying.

Is there a particular blog writing style?

The best blog entries are concise. It's probably ideal to treat a topic in three paragraphs. I no doubt write at too great a length. Readers appreciate sincerity, expertise and occasional humor. It's important to develop a distinctive "voice" in a blog, just as it is in fiction.

What kind of preparation do you do?

The Arabic press uploads the next morning's newspapers around 10 pm EST, so it's a kind of time travel. I often blog into the wee hours, reading press dispatches and summarizing and commenting on them.

Center for Near Eastern Studies