Reflections on the first decade of blogging

Reflections on the first decade of blogging

Summary: I ran into my old friend Dave Winer at the San Francisco airport on Wednesday last week. He was on his way to Boston for  the Public Media Conference.

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I ran into my old friend Dave Winer at the San Francisco airport on Wednesday last week. He was on his way to Boston for  the Public Media Conference. We traded pictures and chatted over early morning (6:30 AM) coffee about developers, synthesizers, speech givers, chroniclers--how people play different roles in shaping perceptions of the past, present and future.

My chance encounter with Dave reminded me that he does have his fingerprints all over important technical and publishing innovations--outlining, XML-RPC, blogging, RSS, podcasting--and hasn't gone the route of asserting IP rights, as Doc Searls expressed in his introduction of Dave prior to his speech and Q&A (audio here) at the Public Media Conference.  

In April, Dave will have been blogging for ten years. He can be considered the proto-blogger and developer of the proto-blogging software. Today, about 70 million blogs have been created--tens of thousands per day sprout up. Most of them don't get much sunlight or simply lie fallow over time, but that doesn't diminish what Dave and other pioneers of the blogosphere have wrought.


Just as Gutenberg's press unleashed knowledge from the privileged few in the 15th century and the combination of the Macintosh, PageMaker and the laser printer around 1985 turned millions into desktop publishers, the Internet and blogging is turning billions of people on the flattened, globally warmed over planet into publishers of text, audio, photos, animations and videos.

Blogging is a democratizing force on a large scale; the tools of production for personal expression are in the hands of the masses...as well as the incumbents who are struggling to figure out how to adapt to and maintain control in the changing media universe.

Within a decade blogging has became mainstream, by virtue of the fact that bloggers are highly influential in forming public opinions, although not necessarily canonical truths. Every entity, from newspapers and political campaigns to corporate executives and PR pros, has adopted blogging as a communications medium, many from a defensive posture. So-called citizen journalists and notions of participatory journalism are reshaping, in fits and starts, how news is gathered and disseminated. 

Along with the millions of voices churning out blog posts and the long tail of conversations spawned by them comes the noise, and the noise to signal ratio is way out of whack. But, the unacceptable, illogical alternative is going back to old world, with the concentration of power and expression in the hands of a few rather than spread out to reach the edges of the network.

Andrew Keen, who will soon be blogging for ZDNet, has a written a book, The Cult of the Amateur: how the democratization of the digital world is assaulting our economy, our culture, and our values (due out June 5). I read a galley proof of Andrew's book this weekend. It is very engaging, and quite controversial and provocative. He doesn't hold back any punches, arguing that unfettered blogging and social media is a kind of curse on culture, threatening the quality of public discourse, stifling creativity and encouraging plagiarism and intellectual property theft.

He posits that citizen journalists don't have the resources to provide reliable news, lacking the filters of traditional media, and that the hordes of amateur journalists often distort the news. In the introductory chapter of his book, Andrew writes:

...instead of creating masterpieces, these millions and millions of exuberant monkeys [Internet users]--many with no more talent in the creative arts than our primate cousins--are creating an endless digital forest of mediocrity. 

Andrew of course isn't wrong about the noise to signal ratio problem and issues related to establishing trust, professional standards or creating a more safe online environment for kids. On the other hand, his elitist stance stance on the digital forest of mediocrity isn't a solution to filtering out the noise or even a possibility.

In fact, as Doc said during the Public Media Conference, we have an "embarrassment of riches," with people from any part of the world who bring knowledge about water quality, roads, religions or other subjects to inform the conversations.

During his presentation, Dave called the blogosphere the "unbundling of all sources." He added all the people stifled in getting ideas into the mainstream are doing blogs. "They are not all gadflies or flaky--some of them are scientists, economists, professors, ex-captains in the Air Force. They can be knowledgeable people, and you have to figure out how to qualify them, but they are now making themselves known."

The genie is out of the bottle. It's not a battle to the death of mainstream media versus the blogosphere. Over time, better filters and search mechanisms; measures of authority and trust; and natural selection will improve the noise to signal ratio, potentially for every individual's preferences, and change perceptions about what constitutes mainstream media.  

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  • Gutenberg's and Dave Winer

    Just like <a href='/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movable_type'> Gutenberg </a>, who is not the inventor of the movable type printing but got the credit of printing press, Dave Winer has nothing todo with the invention of RSS ( Rahul Guha of Netscape) or XML-RPC (Dave Teague of DataChannel) he is just a loud cheer leader.
    Ramana Kovi
  • Excellent observations

    Dan this is an excellent quick take on a blogging milestone, though 10 years is misleading in the sense that the true tipping point is about ... now .... as blogs are now a key shaping force in so many aspects of society. Mediocrity? Of course, but that is hardly something that distinguishes blogging from conventional media which has *always* been a few shiny gems buried deep in an ocean of irrelevance.
    JoeDuck
  • Good read

    [i]He [Andrew Keen] posits that citizen journalists don't have the resources to provide reliable news, lacking the filters of traditional media, and that the hordes of amateur journalists often distort the news.[/i]

    The problem is, the traditional media and electronic news machines are rarely any better, and their noise to signal ratios are amongst the highest (and most deafening) to be found anywhere. Distort the news? Which news network comes to mind first?

    Seems wherever there is a vacuum, it quickly gets filled once new means or methods avail themselves. The genie is out of the bottle indeed.
    klumper
    • Since when does traditional media have effective filters?

      I agree. Traditional media's filters accomplish only two things.

      1) they attract new eye and retain existing eyes to the media service, often by presenting a sensationalized view of the underlying facts.

      2) Push the media service's political and ethical viewpoints.

      At least one reason that blogging has become successful is that the public at large is growing tired of the bias in the media's filters. I know I am.

      .........Wayne
      WFreeze
      • Bingo

        Always playing to the lowest common denominator, and expecting us all to suck it up blindly. Forget it. Same reason talk radio took off, and remains popular to this day. A wider variety of "unwashed" views.
        klumper
  • Blogging and spreading the word

    Bemes are memes spread by blogs, and carry ideas, opinions, rumors and media in a viral, wiki fashion. I have recently posted an article about the subject in my blog: http://www.web-soul.blogspot.com/2007/02/beme-is-giving-power-back-to-people.html
    The velocity these things have works both ways, just like anything else that's powerful. When it comes to the great power of blogging it seems everyone wants some of the action. Well, can you really blame us?
    Ravit Levrann
  • Survey the Oscars ads for the zeitgeist

    If you watched the Oscares last night on ABC, a good deal of the ads showed
    corporations airing the voices of their communities. The impact of blogging,
    or citizen journalism or user-generated content -- call it what you will -- is a
    genie out of the bottle. Gannet gets it now. The power of the discussion has
    moved into the world wide web scale, yet still scales down to an audience of
    one. People can still talk to themselves in their blogs. Thanks Dan and Dave.
    Dana Gardner
    • Well put Dana

      Count me in, scaled to an audience of one. Nicely put.
      klumper
  • As least they provide a fresh point of view

    OK, it's not filtered, but guess what? The traditional media's filters aren't that great either. They tend to be heavily biased, and you don't get all of the facts from them.

    IMHO, it's always best to go the extra distance and do your homework, regardless of whether something's "filtered" or not.

    Personally, I think "filter" is a codeword for "we don't like people expressing opposing views."

    Besides, I [b]expect[/b] blogs to be nothing more than personal opinions. I do not expect them to be unbiased or accurate.

    It is my opinion that the filtering should be done on the reader's side, [b]not[/b] the side of the people giving out the information. I want my data raw, I'll do the filtering myself, thanks.
    CobraA1
    • And it beats shouting at the boob tube

      At least with blogs things are far more interactive, and your tiny viewpoint CAN be heard (or read). It amounts to two way action, where the traditional forms have fossilized into 'like it or leave it'. Sure beats shouting at the boob tube :: only to realize you're only shouting at yourself.
      klumper
  • IF YOU CAN'T SAY IT IN YOUR NEWSPAPER

    Then tell the world in a Blog.The Blog documents the mind set of the time.Somewhere in a Federal memory bank is a wealth of information once thought important to someone."In 2007 this is what I said".Some of this stuff like Yahoo Answers ends up in search engines.Gutenberg pulp is still out there and is considered important and collectible.Remember in 2007 this is what I told the world.
    BALTHOR
  • re: Reflections on Blogging

    My impression of Blogging, is that is far too much of what should be kept private in one's private Diary. If you want to keep an electronic Diary with a computer, use a USB Key to keep it on.
    cbradshaw@...
    • An "open book"

      You may want to remain hidden behind a "USB key" and that is your right but you've heard the expression "my life is an open book;" well some people take that quite literally and with the abundance of free blogs they can (and do) act on it.

      We all make personal choices as to what to read, what to ignore, what to write and what to withhold -- that's as it should be.
      harveygrund@...
  • The Real Blogosphere

    I agree, more quality writing in the blogosphere could only be a good thing.

    My argument with Mr Keene, however, is base on my belief that the blogosphere AS IT IS is a beautiful thing; any Jack or Jane Doe can put his or her thoughts out there and perhaps pick up a following of people who either like their thoughts and want to publicly agree with them or disagree with their thoughts and want to argue with them. THAT is (to me at any rate) the REAL blogosphere ? and it should not be, as Keene SEEMS to be suggesting, turned into some private reserve only for ?professional? social critics, however well-spoken they may be.
    harveygrund@...
  • The World has Changed

    As a very early blogger, literally empowered by Dave Winer, I can tell you the difference between blogging and anything that came before (I've written newsletters for over 30 years) is immediacy.

    Now I can write about an event oro a thought to my readers RIGHt AWAY and they can respond (and they do).

    The blogosphers is a highly diverse space. It includes everyone from the political and cultural bloggers, with their huge audiences, to the technology bloggers (like me) to milliions of bloggers who just want to say something about their life or their place in the world -- maybe only one time --but blogging is addictive.

    Amidst this diversity, there are obvious differences in qualifications and resources. But just as I read any print magazine or newspaper with a jaundiced eye, until I decide whom I trust, I would expect readers of the blogospher to progress similarly. Of course, they have an advantage. Find one blog you like and trust and you'll have found dozens more that your faavorite bloggers links to, extending your trusted circle.

    The genie is out of the bottle. He's not going back in.
    amywohl