Flogging Blogging

How does trust between reader and author evolve with the art form know as blogging -- and how that can become perverted as casual blogspeak takes over for real reported

August 19, 2004

6 Min Read
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The increasing popularity of blogs has me worried. My first thought was that as more and more people document their lives, journalists may become mere curiosities: You mean you actually get PAID to write for a living? What an antique notion. Today, I realize that the more interesting issues concern how the trust between reader and author evolves with this new documentary form, and how that becomes subverted and perverted as the casual and anecdotal blogspeak takes over for real reported work and thoughtful analysis. I'll get to this in a moment, bear with me for now.

It could be that 2004 will be a watershed year for the Web: from this moment, more people will be writing blogs than reading them. If this doesn't happen, it certainly seems imminent. And I am sure that somewhere someone has already made that assertion on their blog.

A good blog is hard to do. It takes a lot of time to write, and to post, and to read comments and respond to them. They provide insight into the blogger's daily trials and tribulations, a combination of modern age diary and Kerouac experiential writing.

Sometimes, the boundaries between a blog and a moderated discussion page or a frequent Web column (such as this one) are hard to really define -- at least for me. One of my former colleagues -" a very prolific writer and successful columnist -" tried to write a blog, and lasted a week or so before giving up.

But despite these hurdles, soon everything will be transcribed and documented by someone online. Good indicators of this trend are what I call clogs -" CEO blogs "- that are done by the head honchos of Sun Microsystems (Blogs.sun.com) and the Dallas Mavericks (www.blogmaverick.com). Both have been blogging away for some time. That link to Sun's site will lead you to dozens of other employee-based bloggers, some of whom have thousands of visitors. Maybe this is why Sun is in such trouble: instead of blogging away, how about selling some more product and getting a better handle on this Linux thing for once and for all? But I digress.There is even blog-based humor. (I wrote one after the Martha Stewart trials began and it can be found here:)http://strom.com/awards/332.html

The number of blogs attributed to our president are much more interesting to read than the "real" one, if W. actually writes his own. My favorite prez pun blog is here:http://www.theonion.com/images/395/article_popup2910.jpg

Okay, enough flogging of blogging. Let's get on to the bigger blog issue, which as I mentioned earlier revolves around the trust between writer and reader. As the number of blogs increases, it becomes harder for readers to stay with a blog long enough to develop a rapport with the blogger. If I am a devoted reader of the New York Times, I generally trust the stuff that I find in that venue and come to appreciate its liberal leftist leanings on the news. The same is true with blogs: I would tend to follow those columnists, or personalities, that I have affinity with. As one blogger put it, "the all-around-good-guys and platinum members of that exclusive fraternity of techno celebs who are my close personal friends."

But as the number of blogs approaches the overall computer population of the planet, it becomes harder to locate and align with the right-(or left-) thinking bloggers.

But it isn't just the sheer quantity. The bloggers themselves are beginning to see where having the training of journalists (or those of us who pretend to be) helps. They need the experience to make judgment calls about the information that they present to their devoted public. Let's look at the example of Mark Willett's blog called music.for-robots.com:http://music.for-robots.com/archives/000423.htmlIn this posting, he talks about accepting and promoting an MP3 that was emailed to him from the PR department of Warner Music. Willett's blog links to little-known bands that he actually listens to and likes. After hearing about this episode, I found many similarities with what I am doing here at Web Informant, where I talk about little-known technologies that I actually use and like (or well-known technologies that I don't like).

What is the big deal, since I get tons of free products from vendors to write about? It is not that I am tainted because I get all this free stuff. I write about what I use, and so does Willett. You trust me to make the call about the technology, and I am sure Willett's readers trust his musical judgment to make the call about the songs and artists that he likes and doesn't like too. As it turned out, he did like the song that was sent to him.

Well, there are some distinctions. First off, sites like Willett's are fiercely independent and try to maintain their personal voice and take on the music. While my musings on technology are also fiercely independent and personal, generally the stuff either works as advertised or it doesn't, and if it doesn't, it fails in usually interesting and amusing ways that generate these essays. With music, one man's great band may be just another's noise. The trick is finding the right kindred spirits who share similar tastes.

Second, what happened was that Willett posted a link to the song he received from Warner PR. But then he got several positive postings to his site about the song. Upon some great sleuthing, he found out that the messages all originated from the same IP address within Warner's corporate network. Essentially, after sending him the song, Warner sent in comments that appeared to be coming from ordinary readers. That is dirty pool. At CMP we have had this happen on some of our discussion boards too.

Third, there is a difference between the computer and music industries. With our industry, technology is part and parcel to our daily lives and we wish it to be so going forward. The music biz is still somewhat uncomfortable with technology. After all, these are the very same folks that are trying to deal with students copying music over peer networks, illegal bootleg copies of CDs from Asia, Real Networks hacking into iPod code, and so forth. The idea that Warner would stoop to blog-stuffing makes emotions run a bit higher than if Cisco (just to pick a random vendor) were to send me a bunch of faked emails complaining about a recent router review.So where does this leave the average blogger? I think eventually the better ones will develop the same discrimination and skepticism skills that the better journalists have, just as a matter of self-preservation. And it doesn't hurt to be adept at network protocol analysis either so you can determine where your postings are actually coming from. I do think that readers will also become more discriminating, and perhaps less prolific as the blogosphere expands. In the meantime, keep reading, and keep documenting your world.

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