Interview with David Glickman

He is better known as DG of the BCC Weblog

David Glickman is maintaining the Boylston Chess Club Weblog. While his first intention was to provide information about the club and its players, the BCC Weblog has quickly evolved into the meeting point for all the chess bloggers in the universe. His sense to spot interesting things and present them in unique way, combined with wonderful humor, have made me the BCC Weblog daily visitor for already two years now.

Referred to as – GM Blogger DG (by Man de la Maza), House Reporter (The Chess Wanderer), On-Quests-for-up-to-date-listing (Takchess), Knights Errant Historian (by many) – David, the man who knows how the chess blogosphere breaths, had kindly accepted an interview for Chessdom.

David Glickman

David Glickman

At the beginning, can you tell us what topics are of interest for Boylston Chess Club Weblog?

BCC Weblog is ultimately the synthesis of two perspectives – 1) what am I (and the other occasional posters) interested in writing about and 2) what do the readers respond to. I’ve experimented with a variety of different types of content and have had varied results. For example, coverage of the Knights Errant and the US Chess League has been very well received. So has the series of Caption Contests. On the other hand, when I tried to invite the blog readership to participate in a correspondence game the club was playing there was very little interest at all. Posts touching on the lighter side of chess in the news sometimes work and sometimes don’t.

Content specifically about the club, its events, its players, etc. has been a bit of an enigma. Going in to this effort, I certainly thought that this would be a major component of the blog. But frankly, people only seem interested if there is some controversy attached. It became clear to me early on, that the vast majority of the readership were not going to be club members and that therefore cross tables listing the names of people they’ve never heard of wasn’t likely to be of much interest. I still get complaints from time to time from members who feel that more club-specific content should be posted. My response is always the same, “Sign up as a poster and do it yourself.” Unfortunately, far too few take me up on the offer.

From an overall thematic perspective, I decided after a few months of blogging that BCC Weblog’s unique positioning would revolve around coverage of the chess blogosphere itself. There was no point in competing with Mig on International Chess coverage (I don’t have the contacts he has) or Dennis on Chess Analysis (I don’t have his skills or aptitude for the game). Maintaining a comprehensive listing of chess blogs is part of this, as is bringing interesting posts of others to the attention of readers. Where I can, I enjoy trying to find (sometimes esoteric) connections among the writings of different bloggers. There has also been pretty good response to my series of articles on Measuring the Chess Blogosphere.

It was certainly flattering when Michael Goeller wrote that BCC Weblog was “…the center of the chess blogging universe…”, but in fact, from a marketing perspective, that was exactly the unique positioning I was trying to claim.

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Bloggies Awards

You are maintaining an impressive list on your blogroll and bloglines. What are the trends in chess blogosphere?

Well, the first trend is the explosive growth of the chess blogosphere which makes it almost impossible to keep up. As of today (6/11/07), my listings include 259 Active blogs (which have posted at least one item in the last 45 days), 209 Inactive blogs, and another 132 blogs which were Inactive for more than one year, went 404, or were highjacked. In Bloglines, I am subscribed to over 520 chess blog feeds and receive between 100-200 posts per day (of course, Susan Polgar’s blogs account for 10-20% of the daily volume). It’s a lot of skimming to find the small handful posts worth a read, a comment, or that might make good fodder for a post of my own.

And the onslaught continues… I add new blogs every week and could probably do so daily if I wanted to. To make this point, I accepted a bet from About Chess’ Mark Weeks where he challenged me to find 5 chess blogs he had never seen before in two hours. I found about 5 times that many in only one. The good news is that there are many more interesting, unique, high quality chess blogs available to find; the downside, however, is that you have to weed through many mediocre ones, often covering the same old ground, to find them.

Another trend is the increasing use of video in chess blogs – both posting of content found on sites like YouTube and self-produced chess videos. I remember how unique it was when Chris Kilgore posted a homemade video on his blog a couple years back. Now dozens of chess bloggers do it. Chess Vibes has produced a very high quality, “semi-professional” blog largely based around their unique chess video content. There’s even a community site specifically focused on developing and sharing chess videos.

One other trend I might note is the use of advertising on chess blogs. In the early days (you know, 2004-2005!), we used to have long debates about the appropriateness of putting Google ads on chess blogs. Today, that debate is over; almost everyone has them. However, if my experience is a guide (and I think it is) then no one is getting wealthy from them (no one except Google, that is).

What is, in your opinion, the importance of the chess blogs?

The world got along fine for thousands of years without chess blogs, so I’m hesitant to suggest that they are important at all. On the other hand, a world without chess would be bleak indeed. But, that’s a story for another time.

Within the chess community itself, I think chess blogs often play a similar role to blogs in other areas. They offer a broader range of independent perspectives and they cover more niche topics than are available in the traditional chess media. Through blogs, anyone can be a tournament reporter, a game analyst, or a chess improvement theorist.

Interactivity, and the sense of community which it provides, is key. Readers continue the discussion by posting comments; others bloggers can respond in their own blogs. The result is a virtual community of people with shared interest who can experience a common set of information and continually extend it. Through chess blogging, I now have chess friends from all over the world (in fact, in places like Serbia, the only people I know are chess bloggers!). Within the chess blogosphere, there are even sub-communities, as we’ll discuss later.

What are the motives behind one’s decision to start a chess blog?

One things for sure, it’s not for the money or the girls. And nobody cuts me any slack over the board because they’re playing the chess blogger. I haven’t been to one of the big open tournaments like Foxwoods in years, so I don’t know whether I’d be swarmed by chess blog groupies, but I doubt it.

I suspect there are a number of different motivations. Some people just want to share their games with others. Some want to collect their thoughts and ideas somewhere and don’t really care if anyone actually reads them. Others are looking to benefit from being part of the community (this is particularly true for the chess improvement crowd). Some have a niche interest they want to bring greater exposure to. Others probably just enjoy writing about chess.

There are other motivations as well. Certain club blogs seek to promote their clubs, while others simply share event announcements and tournament results. Susan Polgar uses her blogs to promote her chess-related activities and run her USCF Executive Board campaign. IM Ben Feingold has used his blog to solicit donations to fund his chess travels. There are purely commercial blogs seeking to drive traffic to sites which sell chess-related products (sometimes openly, other times surreptitiously).

As for BCC Weblog, I had several sources of motivation when I started. I wanted to:

- Learn more about blogging, blog-related technology, and the development of on-line communities

- Have a creative outlet to work on my writing and composition skills

- Bring additional exposure to the club and potentially even some economic benefit in the form of new members, new tournament participants, donations, etc.

- Create an interactive space for members of the club to share any/all chess-related information (this has turned out to be the most difficult one to achieve)

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Boylston Chess Club tournament

Can you introduce Knights Errant group?

Soon after I started BCC Weblog, I was trolling around trying to find other chess blogs to share links with. Unlike today when it’s almost impossible to avoid tripping over a new chess blog, back then it was quite a challenge finding them. In any case, I came across two blogs who seemed mostly to be talking to each other – Don Q’s Mandelamaza and Sancho Pawnza’s Tactics Tactics Tactics!?. Both were pursuing the intense tactical training regimen advocated by Michael De La Maza in his book “Rapid Chess Improvement”. They had chosen to blog about their quest using the story of Don Quixote as a thematic backdrop. I contacted them, offered to share links and they gladly accepted.

Within days I came across Pale Morning Dun’s Self Flagellation to the Goddess Caissa where he wrote that his blog was “…In the tradition of (Don) Man de la Maza and Sancho Pawnza…”. At that moment, I realized that something really interesting was going on, though I couldn’t have known how big it would turn out to be. I decided to document the goings-on of this little band of chess bloggers at BCC Weblog. Every few weeks or so, I put up a post summarizing some of their more interesting posts and as new blogs joined the group I sought them out and maintained a list of their members.

For a short time, the group stayed relatively small. I still retain a soft spot for the original six – those mentioned above plus Pawn Sensei, Generalkaia and J’adoube (who I named “the off-center knight”, despite the fact that he has since trademarked the phrase – I’m sure the royalty checks will be arriving soon :) ). Each was also pursuing the De La Maza program and posting about their plans, progress, thoughts on improvement, issues with CT-Art, etc.

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Knights Errant

And then, things just exploded. Suddenly there were 18 to 20 active Knights. We were finding new ones almost every week. Some blogs started strong and fizzled out quickly, but many have stayed active and strong to this day like Temposchlucker, Takchess and BlueDevil. Over time the Knights Errant group has evolved – while it is still focused on chess improvement, its members have broadened their approaches beyond De La Maza’s narrow prescription. As long time members have left, new “leaders” have emerged. As disputes among members have occasionally risen, it has been remarkable to watch how the community has self-regulated itself.

The Knights Errant is truly a remarkable example of the development and strength of a virtual on-line community existing in the blogosphere. It’s continued growth and prosperity is a testament to its founders.

The problem with Wikipedia is not solved?

I’m not sure I have much to add here. There have been a couple of attempts to include articles in Wikipedia on chess blogs or the Knights Errant and in each case the Wikipedia community (I affectionately refer to them as “Pinheads”) has decided to remove them. Clint Ballard ran into the same problem when he tried to post an article on his controversial BAP chess tournament scoring system.

It seems that the free, open Encyclopedia isn’t as free or open as we’ve been led to believe. I’m reminded of a quote from Orwell’s “Animal Farm”: “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.”

Looking at the links on your sidebar, Blogger.com appears to be the most popular platform. What is the reason?

It’s free, easy to setup and easy to use. This doesn’t mean it’s a particularly great service. In fact, Blogger has many limitations and several annoyances. There are alternatives, especially if you are somewhat technically savvy. However, if you just want to sign-up and start blogging in the next few minutes, Blogger certainly meets that need.

You use Haloscan, Ping-o-matic, Sitemeter. What are the other blogging tools?

Haloscan is a third party commenting and trackback utility. When I started BCC Weblog, Blogger didn’t have trackback capability. Trackbacks are a method of blogger-to-blogger communication where Blogger A informs Blogger B that the he posted an item which links to one of Blogger B’s posts. They also serve to assist readers in following a related conversation across multiple blogs. In any case, I implemented Haloscan so BCC Weblog would have this capability. Haloscan also offers some useful comment management tools.

Ping-o-matic goes back to the old days when you had to “ping” search engine services to let them know that you had posted a new item. The “ping” lets them know that they should come by and reindex your site. Today, this all happens automatically behind the scenes, so pinging services are pretty much obsolete.

Sitemeter is one of two visitor tracking tools I have installed. It provides information on the number of visitors, their location, who referred them, how many pages they viewed, what search terms led them to the blog, where they went when they left, etc. In particular, I often find the referral data useful in identifying blogs which have recently put up links to BCC Weblog. Watching your visitor stats can get addicting and I remember one blogger who said something along the lines of “…when I realized I was checking my stats every hour, I knew it was time to quit blogging.”

I also have some tools listed which I use to find new blogs and chess-related posts – Technorati, Blogshares and Google Blogsearch – and others where I create chess diagrams and game applets – ChessUp and ChessPublisher.

Let’s move to another important subject. Can you tell us how are chess clubs organized in the US?

As a seven day a week club with its own dedicated space, the Boylston Chess Club tends to be the exception to the rule in the States. There are other full-time clubs like the Marshall in New York and the Mechanics in San Francisco. However, in most places clubs tend to be more informal one night a week affairs held at local community centers, bookstores, libraries, etc. One club in our local area, the MetroWest Chess Club, falls somewhere in between the two models.

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BCC Logo

Thanks to the efforts of former club President Peter Sherwood and current President FM Paul MacIntyre, our club is part of a charitable foundation, the Boylston Chess Foundation. This allows us to seek tax-deductible contributions to support our efforts in chess education, community outreach, etc. We have a slate of officers and a board of directors which is elected annually.

With what kind of challenges are chess clubs facing nowadays?

Money and participation.

For a club like ours which rents its own space, ensuring that we can generate enough income to cover our expenses is always a challenge. We depend on membership dues, tournament income, and donations. Obviously clubs that “borrow” their space have fewer economic concerns.

There is no doubt that there are plenty of people playing chess on-line but not venturing out to play over-the-board in clubs. Finding ways to reach out to these players and creating a compelling club experience to keep them coming back is a challenge.

You have actively participated in promoting US Chess League. What kind of benefits is expected from this event? How can US Chess League help chess clubs?

This is probably a question better answered by league commissioner Greg Shahade. My main impetus for covering the league is that virtually all the members of the Boston Blitz are either members and/or players at our club. Therefore, I expected that there would be significant local interest in the team. I was not disappointed; in fact, the coverage has been of interest beyond the local area. In its first couple years the league has been a source of many compelling stories and it’s been quite fun to wear the “local sportswriter” hat.

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Boston Blitz

Will the league continue to grow and prosper? Who knows, though things look good so far. Will it raise the profile of chess in the U.S. or change the economic prospects for our GMs? Seems like a stretch, but let’s wait and see. Will clubs eventually play a role in the league? I don’t know, but I can envision an eventual U2000 B-league which could be organized around clubs.

There’s only one thing I’m reasonably confident about. Whatever happens, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to read about it at BCC Weblog.