Why blogging matters

Why blogging matters

Summary: As a Web communications tool, blog software utilizes a fairly standardized format for sticking content on the Internet. It's far easier that building a personal or business Web page, and is appropriately scaled for dashing off notes and responses or posting passionate, or more detached, manifestos, proclamations, encomiums and rants.

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TOPICS: Browser
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socrates3.jpgAs a Web communications tool, blog software utilizes a fairly standardized format for sticking content on the Internet. It's far easier that building a personal or business Web page, and is appropriately scaled for dashing off notes and responses or posting passionate, or more detached, manifestos, proclamations, encomiums and rants. RSS, trackback, OPML and hopefully something like SSE make the mammoth blog flow more manageable, and comments, photos, video, podcasts and links provide for meaningful clues, validation and avenues to pursue in search of enlightenment or disillusionment.

Fundamentally, blogs are fodder for conversation, with no credentials, job titles or degrees required other than whatever authority is embedded in the voices and accorded by readers, listeners and watchers. We vote with our clicks. The conversations, which occur within (comments) and across blogs, can sputter into inanities or resolve into truths and action, and every place in between.

Admittedly, the tools are relatively primitive and threading conversations across blogs via trackback or other mechanisms is hapharzard. In many instances, dozens, hundreds or thousands of bloggers converge on a topic, often blind to one another's discourse, glancing off an adjacent post, or piling on an overworked meme. For the most part, self assembling communities of bloggers hold a kind of virtual Socratic court, sorting out the issues of the day in a public forum, open to anyone, including spammers. It's not a serial conversation by design; it's more in the tradition of the deconstructionists, multiple parties challenging assumptions and riffing off (sometimes ripping off) of one another.

Memeorandum is a first generation attempt to corral a limited range of newsy blog content (tech and politics, so far) on a timely basis. The comment universe is an invisible substrate, which is unfortunate. Unlike Technorati or other blog search engines, Memeorandum doesn't list every blog posting it can find; instead, it cluster posts by a few selective topics based on a source-picking algorithm. It eliminates a lot of the noise, as well as some of the valuable content. A next step would be in presenting the clusters (feeds) in a easy-to-read format and allowing users to rate or rank the posts to add personalized filtering to the service. TailRank, which just launched, provides collaborative filtering of blog content. 

For a journalist, technologist, politician or anyone with a pulse and who doesn't know everything, blogs matter. Every morning I can wake up to lots of IQ ruminating, fulminating, arguing, evangelizing and even disapassionately reporting on the latest happenings in the areas that interest me, people from every corner of the globe. That's certainly preferable to the old world and worth putting up with what comes along with putting the means of production in the hands of anyone with a connection to the Net...   

Topic: Browser

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  • Yes, very similar to a Socratic Court

    "For the most part, self assembling communities of bloggers hold a kind of virtual Socratic court, sorting out the issues of the day in a public forum, open to anyone, including spammers."

    As anyone who has read Plato's dialogues can tell you, the Socratic Court never reaches a conclusion, nor does it ever converge upon The Truth. Read through "The Republic" and laugh as Glaucon et al get mad at Socrates, begging him to tell them what is what instead of just picking apart what they say. It's eerily similar to reading the TalkBacks and comments on blogs. Socrates was put on trial for four crimes, two of which were bogus accusations to make him look bad, and two very serious crimes. In "The Apology", he makes a weak argument against one of them, the charge of being a Sophist (making the right seem wrong, and the wrong, right).

    The reason why I lay this out is because this reminds me all too often of what I see in blogs. I do not read blogs for fact, I read blogs to discover the opinions of others. Bloggers are already showing themselves to be a powerful force in some industries, including politics. It would be quite wonderful if, in the future, readers will realise that blogs are, as you put it:

    "Fundamentally, blogs are fodder for conversation, with no credentials, job titles or degrees required other than whatever authority is embedded in the voices and accorded by readers, listeners and watchers. We vote with our clicks. The conversations, which occur within (comments) and across blogs, can sputter into inanities or resolve into truths and action, and every place in between."

    All too often do I notice people treating blogs (and what they read on the Internet in general) as fact. Wikis (Wikipedia is a great example) suffer from this as well. The difference between a "blog" or a "wiki" today, and the GeoCities pages of yore, is that the blog/wiki format lends the appearance of credibility. "Why look! There are a dozen people agreeing with the author in the comments! And the site is so professional appearing, no way could this just be some crank typing in his basement!" Modern design tools, software, and templates have obliterated the days when the cranks typing away in the basement were easily spotted by the falling snow backgrounds, blinking text, and inspiring MIDI background music. Now they are using software such as WordPress and MovableType, software good enough for a site as large as ZDNet, and installable and useable by any crank typing away in their basement.

    Is this a good thing?

    Yes and no.

    It's great that the barrier to entry has dropped so low in terms of people being able to express themselves. There are a lot of ideas being kicked around, a lot of intellectual momentum being generated, a lot of fantastic things happening to our society and our world thanks to improved communications. As you said yourself, "Every morning I can wake up to lots of IQ ruminating, fulminating, arguing, evangelizing and even disapassionately reporting on the latest happenings in the areas that interest me, people from every corner of the globe."

    But it is "... certainly preferable to the old world and worth putting up with what comes along with putting the means of production in the hands of anyone with a connection to the Net..."? Remember, fifteen years ago, the neighborhood crank was at the bar talking to anyone who would listen, or on the street corner with a sandwich sign, or handing out pamphlets on college campuses. We all knew not to listen to that person. Now that person has as much credibility as you or me or anyone else with a web browser, some time, and a topic they feel motivated enough to write about.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm all for free speech. Heck, I'm a card-carrying member of the ACLU and proud of it. But I also beleive in the free market of ideas. In the free market of ideas bad ideas (product) are rejected by manufacturers (publishers, movie studios, newspapers, encyclopedias, etc.) because they have a profit margin to chase after. Putting out bad product lowers their credibility, and therefore their value. These more credible (after Jayson Blair, it is hard to call even the venerable New York Times 100% credible) sources as profit seeking enterprises have considerable motivation to filter out the cranks typing in their basements. Jeff Gannon proved to us the power of a crank typing in his basement with a web browser at his disposal.

    In this situation, a Holocaust denier can develop as much credibility as a Dan Farber or Jonathan Schwartz or a Doc Searles. Indeed, his readers are so passionate about the subject, they make actually make more comments on a per-reader basis than your ordinary blog reader. As a result, as these cranks in their basements type away, they continue to perpetuate falseness and wrong ideas, backed up with "fact" and links to each other's websites to "prove" that they're right. I can make a website that shows that Windows 98, with some "minor modifications to some hidden registry settings" is more secure and scalable than Solaris. I'm sure that someone will read this and try it out. The continued success of phishing attacks is all the proof you need that a clean, credible *appearing* website or email is all it takes for ordinarily intelligent people to make very bad decisions. In the book "On Bulls**t", Dr. Frankfurt holds an interesting conversation regarding the topic of BS. He makes it clear (and I agree) that when pulling a BS move, polishing a turd is the primary step to getting other people to accept it (I just had a sudden flashback to the restaurant scene in "American Psycho", the book, which was sadly left out of the film if I recall). Websites, blogs/wikis in particular, allow the cranks in their basements to polish their turd ideas to a gleaming chrome finish.

    Maybe one day, the people out there will learn to not beleive everything they read. My sister stopping clicking on every "Your PC may have a virus!" banner after she ended up with a couple dozen virii and three or four dozen pieces of spyware. Then again, to this day, my sister still falls for, "is that Antonio Banderas in the backyard?" Until the day comes when enough people have gotten burned by what they read and hear on the Internet, phishers, spyware distributors, virus writers, and cranks in their basements typing into web browsers will have a steady pool of victims. The Internet is a lot like New York in the early 1900's. There are still enough people moving into it, wide eyed and amazed, that the people trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge will find enough trusting people, fooled by the slick talk to make a living. Until the day when enough people fall for it that it becomes a joke in popular usage. The day when sitcoms start making jokes about Nigerian "hidden asset" scams is the day that those scams stop working. Until that day comes, I'm taking everything with a grain of salt. And I'll still be cautious, even then.

    J.Ja
    Justin James
    • socratic court

      Thanks for your well thought out, articulate comments...and breathing more life into Socrates reference. I think we agree that separating fact and fiction is a human condition from day one...but the digital world brings a much bigger amplifier and multiplier...as you say, caution is advised, but we don't want to give back the toys. It is the early days (1900's in New York, you say) and many of the issues that come from giving everyone a kind of printing press and a nearly frictionless means of distribution are still unresolved...and will be for a long, long time...a sucker is born every minute, as the saying goes, and whatever the medium, it will be abused by some. Over time, there will be better ways to assess content, establish reputations, verify authenticity, filter out the noise....the sooner the better...
      dbfarber
      • I think that is what is missing most in education.

        The tools to reason. It appears that critical thinking is seriously lax in our country. It is be something I would be inclined to advocate for school lessons on. So that we do not raise a society of dupes and suckers. Of course that goes against consumerism, unfortunately. And that's bad for the economy! Apparently.
        Zinoron
    • Thank you!

      That was an excellent, articulate, well-thought-out post. You captured my thoughts on the matter perfectly. I especially appreciate your views on the idea of Wikipedia and "wikis". I've always been concerned about the idea that something is "true" just because people agree on it; that smacks too much of social constructivism to me. It's disturbing to see people quote Wikipedia as an "authority".

      Carl Rapson
      rapson
      • ..and yet..

        [i]"I've always been concerned about the idea that something is "true" just because people agree on it.."[/i]

        And yet you think that Microsoft software is a standard because so much of the world "agrees with it" or uses it. Go figure..;-)
        Jeff Spicoli
        • Not true

          You have me confused with John Carroll, or maybe No_Ax_to_Grind. I've never tried to claim that Microsoft's software is any kind of "standard".

          Carl Rapson
          rapson
  • deoonstructionism

    Use the Wikipedia description...far superior to answer.com
    mgardner
  • deconstructionism....

    a true deconstructionist would say I MEANT to misspell it!
    mgardner
  • Blogging

    Blogging sounds like Letters to the Editor on the Internet. The only thing that's changed is we're all supposed to be impressed. It all sounds like mutual masterbation.

    Tom Rodeheaver
    tomcatv1@msn.com
    tomcatv1
  • It's nice to vent, but sure eats time

    Must be a whole lot of folks with a lot of time on their hands. No wonder we borrow $4 for every $1 we produce in this country.
    sduraybito
  • What About Reality Blogs?

    Everyone is swept up in the technology of what can, and can not be accessed and the credibility of what is posted. Blogs have their place. Over the years I have noticed that e-communication has displaced real communication as a primary form of interaction. I see children sit for hours in front of video games and adults glued to their cell phone PDAs. Instead of actually physically seeing someone and talking with them they e-mail, blog, IM, or something similar.

    What about the neighbor next door, or down the street? What about your family relations who may not live that far away? When is the last time you dropped by instead of e-mailing or calling? Even if it is not the best time? Technology is great in its place and it has its time, but what about a balance? What about reality blogging with them? That means actually seeing them in perosn! And not just on holidays. What about the other 364 days of the year? Sure there are economic realities that make contact difficult across distances, but what about what is right under your nose? Do you apply the same criteria to people with whom you interact in person as you do in blogs?

    The holiday season is upon us as will be the coming year, and I hope it is a good one for all.

    Vladimir--------
    Vladimir Druzhshchienschkyy