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Healthy skepticism of blogs important, but they do count

I have to say I got a totally different impression from yesterday’s blog event from Brian. The point that came across was that we needed to move beyond the hype – for example that blogs make politics more important to people’s lives and therefore all MPs should be given taxpayer money to blog. I once heard someone claim that blogs were great because they allow everyone’s views to count equally. But they do not. While the printing press permitted those with sufficient funds to vanity publish their thoughts, it did not enable worthless books to get read. With blogs, you have to write good content and build up a readership who come back because they like it. The blogosphere is a meritocracy.

It is precisely the virtue of the blogosphere that blogs act as a filter. Boring, uninteresting blogs do not get read. That’s a feature, not a bug.

When you cut away the hype, you see real uses of the technology. William Heath, one of the speakers, talks about how blogs really can help bring fresh thinking to policy problems. He spoke on how his blog Ideal Government has enabled dozens of diverse thinkers on government IT – including users and geeks, as well as purchasers – to share what they think about how government IT could be made to work better. That is a real use of blog technology to improve communication. It has been presented to and read by the government’s Chief Information Officer.

Stephen Pollard talked of how blogs are not replacing the existing media, but they are serving an important role in fact checking. His own blog is very popular, which I would suggest helps his ‘brand’ stand out further among newspaper columnists, and it also lets him talk about things he wouldn’t be able to sell an article on.

So the seminar’s theme was not that blogs are no big deal, but that we need to move away from the hype and look at real end uses of the technology. There has been too much sloppy thinking about blogs in the past, often by those who desperately want politics to count more. As Perry de Havilland said, blogs tend to be more anti-establishment, having severely tarnished the likes of CBS News’s Dan Rather in the US, and tend to open authority to more scrutiny than in the past. Blogs are starting, however, to be used as important tools, especially by those with views to express. As I pointed out at the event, the ASI gets a fair few media calls as a result of topical pieces that have been posted on its blog. So it answers a need to be able to publish quickly a position on something and get noticed by the mainstream media, by government departments and politicians and so on. Let’s forget the hype and look at where it does useful tasks.

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20 comments to Healthy skepticism of blogs important, but they do count

  • “the seminar’s theme was not that blogs are no big deal, but that we need to move away from the hype and look at real end uses of the technology. ”

    agree, about blogs (i was in texas). blogs fill a niche in real time. people, like myself, who choose to be informed can further inform others.

    “…blogs tend to be more anti-establishment, having severely tarnished the likes of CBS News’s Dan Rather in the US, and tend to open authority to more scrutiny than in the past. ”

    yes. this moves authority, redefines it as it should be. authority should consider itself responsible; consider itself to be responsibility-something equally distributed throughout humanity.

  • “the seminar’s theme was not that blogs are no big deal, but that we need to move away from the hype and look at real end uses of the technology. ”

    agree, about blogs (i was in texas). blogs fill a niche in real time. people, like myself, who choose to be informed can further inform others.

    “…blogs tend to be more anti-establishment, having severely tarnished the likes of CBS News’s Dan Rather in the US, and tend to open authority to more scrutiny than in the past. ”

    yes. this moves authority, redefines it as it should be. authority should consider itself responsible; consider itself to be responsibility-something equally distributed throughout humanity.

  • Are people really suggesting that MPs should get extra money to blog? I blog a lot, and it costs me about 50 quid a year for the account. Other than that, I blog for free.

    How much would an MP get paid if taxpayers had to subsidize blogging? £50 000? Because of course they’d have to hire an administrator, and a secretary to look after the comments, and researchers to get their facts straight. etc. (and then blogging would become regulated, etc.).

  • But Alex surely the uses of blogs will become apparant (or not) all by themselves. Why is it necessary to “look at real end uses of the technology”, why not just let blogs evolve organically? Any attempt “to guide” their usefulness will probably result in unintended consequences like regulation.

  • ernest young

    but they do count?

    As a very useful tool in the IT arsenal? – yes.

    As a legend in their own lunchtime? – no

  • The significence of blog is NOT as an IT tool, but as a networking medium. IT folks are usually the least likely to really understand that it is not blogs per se but the blogosphere that is the revolution.

  • John Ellis

    …isn’t “revolution” coming it a bit strong? The Internet itself – yeah, OK. Blogs? Useful, fun…but a revolution?

  • Jacob

    Perry is right.
    As I wrote in a comment on the previous topic – each blog in itself might not be very important, but the blogosphere as a whole offers an immense amount of good information and commentary.

    Let’s not forget that an important part of the contents of the media is commetary and opinion. In this area, at least, the blogosphere has already surpassed the old media.

  • John Ellis

    Well even if we grant that it has surpassed “old media” in the way you describe, the change seems evolutionary to me, not revolutionary.

    And I’m not sure I grant that premise yet, either. The bloggers are hardly yet more numerous than their print siblings (excluding dilletante commenters like you and I) and whilst they owe little or no due to proprietors they obey no market imperative either.

  • Perry is right.
    As I wrote in a comment on the previous topic – each blog in itself might not be very important, but the blogosphere as a whole offers an immense amount of good information and commentary.

    Let’s not forget that an important part of the contents of the media is commetary and opinion. In this area, at least, the blogosphere has already surpassed the old media.

    I agree.

    Steve

  • As several people have said (political) blogs allow everyone who wants to be an op/ed columnist to attain that goal. And the problem with this is what exactly?

  • John Ellis

    OK, for the last time: I have no problem with blogs being useful and/or fun. I waste much too much time on them myself. But I query that they are “revolutionary”.

    Sometimes bloggers are guilty of taking themselves too seriously.

  • Yes, blogs and their consequences (intended and unintended) are revolutionary. We don’t write about it here on Samizdata.net much but just bother to read Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Dave Winer, Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, Dan Gillmor, Robert Scoble and many others and a clear picture of just what is happening in journalism, business, marketing, PR in particular and in online dynamics in general emerges.

    And it’s not caused by ‘blogging’ but by all those who use blogs as tools to do things that they couldn’t do before. Add to it the network effect and the whole thing looks pretty revolutionary to me. Just crank up your RSS readers…

    Bloggers don’t really need to take themselves seriously, just get on with their agendas that blogging greatly furthers. It’s like saying that printing press wasn’t really revolutionary – it was the same as the monks’ writing the codices just done by a machine. No need to take the fact that suddenly vast number of people were able to read books and do more things with that knowledge too seriously… In fact, Renainssance and Reformation was just evolutionary. Indeed.

    What does it take for something to be ‘revolutionary’ in your opinion? I have lived through one ‘revolution’ already and it’s not excitement all the way…

  • Euan Gray

    Yes, blogs and their consequences (intended and unintended) are revolutionary

    The internet and the widespread cheap access thereto is the revolutionary thing, not the blog or its consequences. As has been pointed out before, people have been doing on the internet for years exactly what blogs now enable them to do a little more easily, and to this extent there truly is nothing new or unique about the blog. If blogs didn’t exist, people would still do the same thing but in the way they did it before.

    Perhaps one can compare the internet to the invention of movable type, but in such an analogy the blog is more akin to the invention of the paperback rather than the concept of the printed book – more convenient, easier to use, but it’s still just a variant on an old idea.

    EG

  • Jacob

    “The internet and the widespread cheap access thereto is the revolutionary thing”…

    Ok.
    And blogs are one of the more important applications, or uses, of this new technical means of spreading info (the internet).

    What was revolutionary about the invention of the printing press ? The press itself or the multitude of cheap books and newspapers that it produced ?

  • Euan Gray

    What was revolutionary about the invention of the printing press ? The press itself or the multitude of cheap books and newspapers that it produced ?

    But the internet has already spawned several ways of disseminating information freely, long before blogs (or even the web) came along. I’m not going back into long discussions of the various tools available on the internet, but suffice it to say that the blog does not permit one to do anything that could not previously be done.

    It is true to say that the blog makes it easier to do these things, but it didn’t invent the process. It’s at best a more convenient and user friendly system, but it isn’t anything new or revolutionary.

    I maintain that the truly revolutionary thing is the wide availability of the internet and its instantaneous, global nature. The blog is just one of several ways in which information can be conveyed on the network, but it’s no more than a refinement of existing methods. There’s nothing unique to the blog about archived threaded discussions – usenet has been doing it since 1979, FGS.

    These tools are all very good, but they are useless if nobody can get at them. It is this ready, cheap access to the tools which is important, not the tools themselves. How good are the “multitude of cheap books and newspapers” if nobody can get access to them?

    EG

  • Rob

    Euan “gets it”, I think.

    Blogs are just the latest in a long line of technologies built on top of the internet. Usenet, message boards, mailing lists and so on are examples of previous similar systems. 5 years from now, blogging may well be added to the list of “remember back when…?” technologies, supplanted by some new “revolution” in online communications.

    The remarkable thing is the global network, with its vast multitude of discrete nodes. This is what allows such a wide variety of content, supplied by differing authors from differing cultures to a global audience of billions.

    Blogging does innovate in several ways though. In particular, the fact that blogs have “owners” means that content can be focussed much more so than on Usenet (which descended into anarchy (the bad kind ;-)) once confronted with the vast hordes of AOL users and the like). The Usenet model gave everyone equal rights to post and essentially offered a “communal” ownership of the “discussion space” (argh, I’m using manager-speak!). This resulted in rampant abuses, principally spam though also viruses, off-topic posts and posting of unsuitable/obscene material.

    Blogs, on the other hand, are “owned” by specific individuals who take responsibility for their content, and can manage and moderate the comments posted to them. This might seem dictatorial in comparision with the utopian, happy-smiley communal approach of Usenet, except for the fact that anyone can have a blog and can make their voices heard. Whether anyone wants to listen is another matter, but if your blog is worth reading then people surely will read it.

    There’s certainly a deep significance to the blog model, but you’re all intelligent people and I’m sure you can grasp it without me blathering on any longer 🙂

  • John Ellis

    What does it take for something to be ‘revolutionary’ in your opinion? I have lived through one ‘revolution’ already and it’s not excitement all the way…

    Adriana, for something to be revolutionary, in my opinion, it needs to merit the definition of the word:

    markedly new or introducing radical change

    …for example. I side with Euan that whilst the Internet is revolutionary, blogs aren’t. They are just one method (and a convenient one) of publishing one’s views. If they have a comment section like this one, non-editors can get involved. But Bulletin Boards, UseNet, Forums and suchlike all do some or all of the things blogs can do, just in slightly different ways.

    Maybe it’s arguing about angels dancing on pinheads but I stick with my opinion that blogs are NOT “revolutionary”.

    Renaissance and Reformation WERE revolutionary, because they involved a step change in attitudes and technology and a rate change in both of an order of magnitude.

  • Euan Gray

    5 years from now, blogging may well be added to the list of “remember back when…?” technologies, supplanted by some new “revolution” in online communications.

    Call me cynical, but I’m willing to wager that if this comes to pass the same people now touting the blog as the answer to a cybermaiden’s prayer will be the ones punting son-of-blog to the unsuspecting masses…

    (argh, I’m using manager-speak!)

    No, if you were you’d be saying something far more intelligible and obvious like, for example, ‘offered a partnershipping paradigm as the new dynamic for deriving context from the lexical meta-space.’

    In a meaningful and proactive way, of course.

    EG

  • Obviously i am really against it that blogs make politics more important to people’s lives .totally disagree with that point who ever has given it.!