Putting the "med" back in medlogs

Jacob Reider is mulling ways to increase the signal-to-noise ratio of his emminently useful (but increasingly noisy) medlogs.com.

By his count, he just registered his 200th medical weblog. By other counts, there's really only a few dozen (the rest are long-defunct, or medical professionals who blog about nonmedical topics).

One really nice thing he's thinking of doing is archiving the Grand Rounds posts in a separate section -- along the lines of what Pharnygula's TangledBank does for their rotating research carnival. As it turns out, archives of Grands Rounds have already begun appearing ... at an Undisclosed Location.

I made some suggestions in the comments of Dr. Reider's first post, but have more of an idea about what he's getting at (printing that Usefulness Equation really helped):

The important idea here is that in the past .. when there were only a handful of medical weblogs ... they were truly useful. I wrote mine as an effort to provide to myself and my colleagues an important and useful source of information .. and .. yes .. an outlet for my thoughts and concerns.

Nick's commentary describes his appropriate concern for the "outlet" component of weblogs. I've always thought of medical weblogs as a way to provide transparency into the thoughts and actions of real physicians. This sort of transparency is rare, and patients who see how we think may understand more about how to interact with their physicians, how to critically assess the news reports, and ultimately how to care for themselves better...

...I suppose that the view of the usefulness of a post (or weblog) depends on the perspective of the reader. When I post a lot about technology or dry medical topics, my wife complains that she misses the reflections of the life of a family physician. But would Nick complain if I whine too much about life in my practice?

A good (useful) medical weblog will weave the clinical usefulness with the personal components -- just as any good teacher will weave the content they want to convey into an interesting an compelling tapestry.

Nick's not going to complain, especially when he starts internship and turns blogborygmi into a nonstop gripe session. And whatever Jacob Reider chooses to post, I'm very grateful for the work he and and David Ross have done in making medlogs.com -- and heartened to see they're thinking hard about making it even better.

I think I can counter his latest brainstorm -- which involves embedded ratings icons in all our posts, which would get counted up and tallied on Medlogs. Yow! Who will answer the helpdesk phones for that imbroglio? Why not take a hint from Google and use a simple pagerank-style hierarchy: When every starts linking to Kevin and Rangel great posts about Vioxx, Medlogs could tally our links and give their blogs Usefulness points. This system relies on our impressions of what's useful and worth reading, rather than trying to develop its own impression. It'll work, so long as we stop linking to doctors' cat-bloggings.

But until the robots and ratings scheme works, I'm putting my faith in our low-tech Grand Rounds hosts to separate the wheat from the chaff. So far, GR has highlighted a number of new medical blogs that I've been reading. And we've got no shortage of volunteers to host, which suggests medi-bloggers are willing to put in a few hours of reading through submissions in order to snag the spotlight for a week.