January 23rd, 2006

Blogging to a Higher Standard

by

The quality of analytic thinking in the blogosphere is too often marred by sloppy reasoning, lack of cogency, groupthink, unreasoned orthodoxy, and just plain laziness. I’m no master of analytic precision myself, but it’s something I care about and something I wish the blogosphere would care more about.

In fact, I think the poor quality of thought and analysis in consumer-generated media is such an important issue that I’m going to take it on even though I will probably come off as being pedantic — I’m willing to take that risk (and a great deal of heat, I’m sure) if there’s a chance I can raise consciousness (even a little).

The problem became apparent to me after several of my posts reached top spots on tech.memeorandum and garnered a lot of attention, which gave me a chance to examine a wide range of responses. While most of these responses we’re thoughtful, and some quite insightful, many of them fell into one of two categories:

1. People who thought I was right because I was being iconoclastic, but who didn’t respond to the substance of my argument. I’m always wary when someone agrees with me completely — I can’t possibly be that right. (A related category is people who agreed with the iconoclasm, but then proceeded to argue the conventional wisdom.)

2. People who argued I was wrong by repeating conventional wisdom or insistent refrains that, again, did not seem to respond to the substance of what I was saying. For example:

– You’re defending Old Media
– Old Media doesn’t want to change
– Bloggers are changing media for the better
– New Media is a completely open system
– There are no gatekeepers
– RSS is a great technology
– Don’t make the application easier, make people work harder
– You’re trying too hard to be contrarian (whatever that means)

I’m being reductive and generalizing, of course, but I too often found myself saying, “that’s not what I said” or “how can you make that argument, it makes no sense.” Lack of clarity on my part is aways a problem, but so much of what I heard was, on the face of it, either entirely facile, misconstruing the argument, or poorly reasoned (or all of the above).

Some of the problem can be attribed to laziness, which I suspect stems from the effort required to both consume and create media (something I struggle with) — I’ve gotten responses that made me awfully suspicious that the responder didn’t read the whole post. (Yeah, I know mine are long, but there are plenty of blogs that publish sound bites).

For example, Stowe Boyd responded to my post about fixing RSS by saying:

Karp carps about the terminology, as if using ‘subscribing’ instead of ‘syndicating’ would solve the real broken parts of the whole RSS mess. Paul does a better job enumerating real problems, which can be summarized as feed overload.

and

So the problem is not RSS, which should be just a low-level protocol that tools rely on. The problem is the amazingly static and non-innovative way we are using RSS.

I don’t know if Stowe read my entire post, but I clearly stated:

Here’s the real problem — RSS feeds are still static media, just in a different package. The New Media revolution will come when content is completely atomized and fully tagged, so that it can be remixed into perfectly tailored packages to suit every taste, i.e. truly what I want (when I want it).

It’s fine for Stowe to argue that the static nature of RSS is a larger problem (I think he’s right), but I never said that changing the terminology would fix that problem. I said it would fix the problem of no one knowing what “RSS” means (which I still think is a major root cause of slow adoption). But Stowe didn’t address the issue of whether poor awareness of RSS is a “real problem” (i.e. it doesn’t matter that no knows what RSS means BECAUSE…) or, if it is a real problem, what a better solution might be. Instead, he argued that changing terminology would not fix the static media problem. Well, of course not — it wasn’t put forth as a solution to that problem. He’s also conflating the role of the technology (it is “just a protocol”) with the issue of how we identify the function to the user (calling it “RSS”).

A more cogent approach would be to look at each discrete problem and evaluate possible solutions, rather than conflating problems and solutions — and just because a problem is less serious, doesn’t mean it doesn’t require a solution. Minimizing a problem doesn’t solve it and doesn’t make it go away.

Here’s another response to my RSS post:

IF it ain’t broken…

RSS rant

don’t fix it.

Fran may be right that RSS isn’t broken, but I haven’t a clue as to why he thinks so.

I was also struck by the responses to my post about the new media gatekeepers, which prompted many people to stand up and argue that there are no gatekeepers. I could probably write this off as a quibble over semantics, but it strikes me as an example of flawed logical reasoning. I’m going to pick on Stowe again only because he offers another ready example, not out of any disrespect (and he’s probably upset with me already anyway).

Here’s his response to my post:

In the perfect world, the answer would be that each person should be their own gatekeeper. The reality is that we are unequipped — we do not have the time or resources. So we are thrown back onto one of four (potentially complementary or competitive) approaches to dealing with this conundrum:

1. Institutional authority — If you agree with the editorial stance of a particular group or company, then you allow them to decide what’s important, how many words to devote to it, and your life is easy.
2. Individual authority — If you like what Doc Searls has to say about open source or the future of media, put his RSS feed in your reader, and ta-da, life is good.
3. Emergent authority — If you trust in the wisdom of the crowd, then Slashdot, digg, the Always-On-Network, or del.cio.us/popular will be a good choice, as they rely on collective decision making about what is interesting and what is not.
4. Machine authority — Various software approaches to determining what is important, like Google, Blogpulse, tech.memeorandum.com, or Technorati, mine the social gestures that people leave behind, like links and traffic, and pass it through an algorithmic blender, to yeild a metadata-based approach to what is most important.

And then…

So, the answer is: there is no gate. There are many waypoints, many street signs, and many ways to go, but no one is barring the gate, or deciding who is let in. This is confusing if we try to apply the old map to the new territory, but not if we try to perceive the new media universe as it is.

How can Stowe argue that “there is no gate” after having done such a great job identifying the four types of gates? Technorati tracks 20 MILLION blogs — not all of them get attention from the blogosphere. Why? Because there are both human and technology-based gatekeepers that determine what gets attention. A completely open system makes no sense, because we’re not living in state of information entropy (although media proliferation often makes it feel that way) — when I go online, some things get my attention and others don’t. Why? Because someone is “barring the gate.” I think the term “gatekeepers” just offends bloggers’ liberatarian sensibilities, but regardless, the existence of gatekeepers in a structured information system is axiomatic.

Amy Gahran has a fantastic article on problems with blogging, which get at some of the root causes of the problems I’m describing: 10 Reasons Why Blogs Are an Awkward Conversation Tool.

I would add to Amy’s observations that blogging is a big ego-fest (again, I’m guilty), which often substitutes “my thought” for “sound thought.”

So enough about the problem, onto solutions — a step that is missed in too much blog commentary. I’m going to offer some suggestions (again, at the risk of pedantry) for how we can improve the quality of thinking and analysis in consumer-created media:

1. Respond directly
Before responding, read the whole post and all comments. Understand what the original post said and the chain of conversation up to that point. Introducing new ideas, perspectives, or counterarguments can often advance the thinking, but not if they’re entirely disconnected from the run of argument.

2. Support your argument
Disagreement makes for great debate, and can be the key to advancing the thinking on an issue, but an argument without support is like a table without legs — it falls down and is not particularly useful to anyone.

3. Pressure test thinking
Be wary of anything that sounds like orthodoxy, especially when discussing innovation or purported revolutions. Sometimes the conventional wisdom is right, but it can also get stuck in neutral. Above all, pressure test your own thinking. We all have our preconceived notions and pet theories. And we may very well be right in some instances — but not just because we insist that we’re right.

4. Look beyond your own experience
Not everyone sees or experiences the world in the same way. Many active participants in the blogosphere are several standard deviations away from the mean. If it works for you or makes sense to you, that doesn’t make it so for everyone else.

5. Value quality over quantity
Read more. Think more. And if necessary, post less. Some blogs do a tremendous service by following the latest developments, but not every blog can or should be newsworthy (or gossip-worthy). The problem of information proliferation is growing exponentially. Try as much as possible to increase the signal-to-noise ratio.

6. Think before you post
Blogging has made it too easy to publish without thinking (maybe those pesky editors were good for something). Try rereading everything at least once, if not several times, before posting it.

I don’t claim to be a sterling example of any of these suggestions, but we all need something to aspire to. As micropublishers, bloggers are liberated from many of the constraints of Old Media — but that doesn’t mean we should be liberated from intellectual standards. Many in Old Media, as well as many media consumers, are wary of blogging because they think it lacks standards, and to a large degree, they’re right. Blogging is dynamic, liberating, and self-empowering, but with that freedom comes responsibility. If consumer-generated media is the wave of the future, then we need to hold it to the highest standard.

(NOTE: The first draft of this post was unfocused and poorly argued, and I re-wrote it several times. I may not have improved it in re-writing it, but at least I tried.)

Comments (31 Responses so far)

  1. Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 posted a piece about standards in blogging and responses to comments on his earlier writing on gatekeepers . The comments in this post turned more toward gaining attention in the blogging world. These two topics are very much related. If it is the goal of a blogger to move up the rankings, get more hits, get more links, s/he is best served by creating a

  2. Publishing 2.0 » Blogging to a Higher Standard

  3. engaging in the site-indexing business is more than a little over-the-top, I would argue. Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0, who has said in the past that he wishes bloggers would take more time with their posts and not say things just to be inflammatory , says he wonders whether “total power [will] totally corrupt Google.” Just one question, Scott: Since when does Google have anything approaching “total power?” It’s a search engine, for pete

  4. in this case – well, I’ll allow myself this once. Publishing 2.0 – Recent sampling of : Who Are the New Media Gatekeepers?, Blogging to a Higher Standard , Is there Hope for Content Brands. Don’t agree with everything he posts, however, it’s thought provoking and Jeff Jarvis now has some

  5. do we face those problems and how do we solve them? Scott Karp went even further calling Doc’s response defensive and, in another post , adding: I think the term “gatekeepers” just offends bloggers’ liberatarian sensibilities, but regardless, the existence of gatekeepers in a structured

  6. Scott, the problem with this article is that in the bogosphere, one generally gets points for being popular and/or inflammatory, not for consideration and accuracy. So, while you can certainly write that we should be thoughtful, the structure of the system amplifies the demagogic.

    The whole point about gatekeepers shows this. There’s an extensive critique of blog evangelism, major aspects usually fairly well-known among the marginalized. But it’s not echoed and marketed, so it has little impact. On the other hand, the near-scam of “No gatekeepers!!!” is repeated so often it’s become a kind of mind-shutting chant to those who incant it.

    Look at it this way – Suppose someone wrote, “In blogs, like elsewhere in the media, attention on a topic is dominated by a very few, exclusionary, crony-istic, individuals. If you want to be heard, you have to please them, or at least endure being kicked by them. You probably need to suck up to them to get even a small audience. Otherwise, you’re going to be doing the equivalent of singing in the shower, and go on only if you get deep emotional satisfaction from the equivalent of singing in the shower.”. That wouldn’t be a good sales-pitch. It wouldn’t get a venture capitalist interested in funding it, or an academic think-tank position about The New New Thing. But if one says “In blogs, it’s a new era. It’s unlike anything that has ever happened before. The Internets are paved with gold. You can get rich. You can get famous. All you have to do is believe this.” – well, that’s more popular, more profitable, more crowd-pleasing all around.

    I suppose I should take my own advice, and stop here.

  7. Seth, I suppose you could construe this article to be essentially sticking my head in the echo chamber and telling it to quiet down a bit. But I don’t think this is an argument against shouting too loud — I’m saying that whatever approach you take, at least try to make some sense. I realize that if you tell people to quiet down a bit, the response will be, hey, we’re having a party here. So instead I tried an appeal to intellectual pride, which I think everyone in the blogosphere has, or else we wouldn’t go to the trouble of publishing our thoughts.

    And I disagree that you need to “suck up” to the blogger A-List — I’ve disagreed openly with a number of those people and still attracted an audience. And sure I’ve been kicked around, but I haven’t just “endured it” — I’ve used the back and forth of commenting to try to clarify my position, as I’m doing with you. That doesn’t mean I’ll convince everyone, but that’s not the objective. The objective is to have a real dialogue. And I have managed to change some minds. The blogosphere is no different than anywhere else — getting your point across is hard work. It’s the same in Old Media — extreme voices get an audience, and the outlets that strive to be truly “fair and balanced” have to fight to maintain their audiences.

  8. There’s a standard for blogging?…

    There isn’t one per se, but Scott Karp thinks people should act as if there is one, and I agree.
    As I was reading his post, I was wondering if my post about a previous post of his was included in the first group of people he mentioned.

  9. Hi Scott,

    You definitely make some good points in your piece. You are right in that many people who respond to posts or to comments a blogger might make on someone else’s post, don’t necessarily get read properly and responded to properly by others. I recently had this problem on Terry Heaton’s blog re last friday’s incident at WaPo. A young man made a comment to my comment to Terry’s post….thing is, the young man didn’t read my post accurately. Terry’s blog rarely, if ever, receives comments from women, so I’m sure this young male felt it necessary to help the Alpha Male defend his territory (there are indeed gender issues in blogging…but that’s another topic for discussion)

    I’ve also been accused, by young males, of forwarding “straw man” arguments when I’ve disagreed with their favorite alpha male bloggers. Often it is a case of the young males not being able to understand rhetorical arguments. (In their defense, I also have several young male bloggers who are super-supportive of my blogging.)

    Be that as it may, Seth makes very good points also. I know that my blog Snarkaholic would not have received the minor attention it has if not for zinging both Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen after BlogHer. Still, readership on that blog is smaller than my personal blog…not just because its aim has shifted, but because I’m a female doing media commentary–almost an oxymoronic combination in both the blogosphere and old media…and I do not write like I’m doing a term paper or corporate presentation. The standards for female bloggers doing commentary are often much higher than for males–but that, too, is another issue for another time.

    Still, good writing is no guarantee of getting recognized in the blogosphere–trust me on this one. Status that an individual has outside of the blogoshpere is far more helpful to a blogger than good writing. Why do you think you were linked by Stowe Boyd? I’d venture a guess that it has more to do with your status at Atlantic Media than it does with what you said. There are many, many people who do wonderful commentary who are never linked by A-listers because they are not personages in Old Media or the tech industry. Sometimes what it takes to get A-listers to recongnize Unlisted bloggers is to go where they are–conferences and such–and glad-hand the old fashioned way. This, however, is not necessarily economically feasable for most bloggers. Our recourse is to link to one another…

    Speaking of which, I have noticed that your blogroll consists mostly of A-list, media personages. Have you taken some time to actually look at blogs of others who are *not* old media nor A-list? Just a suggestion :-)

    T.

  10. Tish, first as to my blogroll, you’re right that it is desperate need of revamping.

    I’m struck by how this discussion has turned to the issue of getting attention in the blogosphere. I purposely removed references to Atlantic Media from my About page because I was too often being cited as the company’s public representative, which I’m not.

    That said, the affiliation did get out into the public sphere, but I don’t think that’s why Stowe linked to me. Most of the attention I’ve gotten has come from making it on to tech.memeorandum — I don’t really know why I’ve had a lot of success there, but somehow I doubt they have anything in their algorithm about professional affiliations.

    (If anyone else links to this post we might all ride the elevator onto tech.memeorandum — it’s technology, so it doesn’t take personally efforts to game it.)

    I’m tempted to reduce your reaction and Seth’s reaction to “Sloppy analysis? Yeah, it’s all those damn A-listers.” Perhaps that’s unfair, but we should be careful not to let frustration cloud our thinking on an issue.

  11. Hi, Scott. Interesting piece.

    You wrote: “The quality of analytic thinking in the blogosphere is too often marred by sloppy reasoning, lack of cogency, groupthink, unreasoned orthodoxy, and just plain laziness.”

    I must say, I frequently see that problem in ALL media – online, broadcast, and print. I don’t think the problem is unique to weblogs. Ever watch Bill O’Reilly or read Alexander Cockburn?

    In contrast, many sharp thinkers are producing incredibly useful weblogs. Two of my favorites are Bruce Scheier’s weblog on security (http://www.schneier.com/blog), and James Hamilton’s blog on economics (http://econbrowser.com)

    …So I suggest that blanket generalizations about content quality in any media such as you’ve offered here are, logically speaking, “straw men.”

    IMHO, of course. :-)

    – Amy Gahran
    RightConversation.com

  12. Amy, you’re right that the problem is by no means unique to blogging, although the problem does present uniquely in the blogosphere, which foots back to your 10 problems with blogging as a conversation medium.

    I’m picking on consumer-created media because if it wants to be a true alternative to old media — and eventually overtake it — then it needs to hold itself to higher standards. We need to reward the sharp thinkers in the blogosphere as much as we reward the gossip hounds.

    And you’re right that all generalizations are straw men, but we need something to aim at.

  13. …Also, to put in context my article you mentioned (and thanks for the link), that piece was a followup to an earlier article, “Missing the Conversation for the Blogs.”
    http://snipurl.com/luky

    To be clear, neither of these articles is “anti-blog” in any way (although several people are choosing to misconstrue them in that way. My point in both cases is that blogs are playing a leading role in the development and popularization of conversational media. Consequently, blogs are getting a lot of attention. However, as useful and versatile as blogs are, in terms of conversational media they are far from a perfect tool. I was trying to highlight areas for further refinement of this tool.

    – Amy Gahran
    RightConversation.com

  14. Amy, yeah, it’s so like the blogosphere to take constructive criticism as hostile action. I did read your earlier article, which is also great. I think your 10 problems with blogging reads like a prescription for change, i.e. they show a clear path forward — if only the blogosphere would be more interested in self-improvement.

  15. Oh, and Tish commented above, in part, “I know that my blog Snarkaholic would not have received the minor attention it has if not for zinging both Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen after BlogHer. Still, readership on that blog is smaller than my personal blog…not just because its aim has shifted, but because I’m a female doing media commentary–almost an oxymoronic combination in both the blogosphere and old media…and I do not write like I’m doing a term paper or corporate presentation. The standards for female bloggers doing commentary are often much higher than for males–but that, too, is another issue for another time.”

    Right on the money, there, Tish! (Though I know we’ll both take some heat for saying so.)

    – Amy Gahran
    RightConversation.com

  16. Amy and Tish, before Amy’s comment, I had noted with dismay that the two of you may be the only female bloggers who I’ve crossed paths with.

    Do you think there’s something inherent to the ego-fest of blogging — “my post is bigger than you post” — that makes it so testosterone drenched?

    My bias is that much of the “post without thinking” problem I describe above is a Y chromosome issue, as Tish also suggests in her coment.

    I’m curious to know what you think.

    And you should raise gender blogging issues wherever and whenever — men need a sledgehammer to raise consciousness.

  17. Scott, I wanted to second what Amy said — I don’t think the problems you are describing are particular to blogging, it’s just that the immediacy and interactivity make it more obvious. I also wondered whether you aren’t trying to impose arbitrary limits on a medium that (I think) is admirable in part because of the freedom and openness that it allows.

    I’m all for pressure-testing opinions and supporting an argument, and the other noble goals that you’ve outlined, and I support your efforts to improve the quality of thought in the blogosphere. But at the same time, if everyone spent the kind of time you’re talking about and subjected each post or comment to that sort of rigorous analysis, it wouldn’t really be much of a conversation, would it?

    I’ve always thought of the blogosphere as more like a debate over beer at the pub than a presentation of scholarly papers at a symposium of some kind. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think that’s part of the attraction. Yes, people are going to make ill-informed and possibly inane arguments, and fail to back them up — they might even disagree with you while doing so. And people will post comments that miss the point (as I am possibly doing now). You could always just ignore them — or challenge them.

  18. Oy vey, Mathew, your comment, while welcome as always, is indeed an example of what I’m talking about.

    “Think before you post,” for example, is hardly an “arbitrary limit” — I never suggested that you need to think for an hour — just an extra 10 seconds would hugely improve the state of blogging discourse. Just because you don’t have to get dressed to blog doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a shower once in a while for the sake of personal cleanliness.

    I’ve had a lot of sharp-edged conversations over beer, but once you get too drunk to make sense, it loses a lot of its appeal.

    You’re right that we shouldn’t push my suggestions to the extreme, but that doesn’t mean we should embrace the status quo either.

    My kingdom (such as it is) for some middle ground!

    I’d say you’re trying to hard to be contrarian, but I’ve already discredited that riposte ;)

  19. Hi, Scott. You wrote: “Do you think there’s something inherent to the ego-fest of blogging — “my post is bigger than you post” — that makes it so testosterone drenched?”

    Well, if you’re asking whether more bloggers are male or female, I’d say I don’t have an exact statistic, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually 50/50 — or perhaps even majority female.

    I’ve never had a bit of trouble finding female bloggers and podcasters. But then, I rarely focus on the so-called “A list” — which I think is drastically overrated, personally.

    I have noticed that male bloggers are the ones who tend to ask “Where are the women?” So I’d suggest that most men, perhaps yourself included, aren’t looking in the right places and following the right conversations to encounter quality blogs authored by women. In general (and there are exceptions), women do tend to have a less dominance/combat-oriented style of discourse, which is unfamiliar territory for some people.

    One place to start is BlogHer.

    – Amy Gahran
    RightConversation.com

  20. Amy, excellent points, all. I will definitely check out BlogHer. You’re probably right that blogging overall skews female, and it’s only the grandstanding type of blogging that gets more hyped attention which skews male.

    I agree with you about the A-listers — since I started getting attention through tech.memeorandum, I’ve spent much of my time learning about what those who responded to my posts are doing themselves on their blogs, which has been much more interesting

    It can’t be hard to find great blogs written by women since I found your blog easily enough :) Perhaps this is a good first step towards my breaking out of the A-list rut I started in and getting involved in more diverse conversations and heading down more interesting paths.

    I give Tish credit for flagging this for me early on, and I will definitely spend more time on it.

  21. Ah, the gender issue! The question “where are the women bloggers?” has been going around probably since the inception of blogging–and then came the denial that there even is a gender issue.

    Yet there are two key factors to this: that men are always early adopters of technology, and, as a result, the favored mode of communication in the blogosphere is what Deborah Tannen would call “report-talk”–so information based blogs (the ones that have loads of links and talk like boardroom presentations, or are very newsy) are often the most widely linked.

    Another case in point from my own blogstory: I keep two blogs because when I put media commentary on my personal blog I found I was rejected by both men and by women for different reasons. The men felt the personal memoir detracted from the credibility of my commentary. The women felt my commentary interferred with the emotional value of my personal memoir.

    Interesting, eh??

    Perhaps the main reason you have crossed paths so far with only Amy and myself is that we are but a handful of women who are interested in this sort of commentary and debate (who aren’t already in media and who are bloggers). As I said, and as Amy reiterated, women bloggers doing this kind of commentary are held to a much higher standard than males. This definitely speaks to the weak male ego and fear issues that strong, intellectual women have been dealing with since the days of Plato’s Symposium.

    And as for posting without thinking–oh, guys don’t have a monopoly on that one! Sometimes women get into it with each other for the same reasons–usually on blogs where there aren’t any male commenters, so guys don’t see it. I think it’s just a blogospheric thing–like incivility. It’s not male nor female, confined to msm or a-listers…it’s just the nature of the blogbeast that causes people to shoot from the hip without thinking it through. (how’s that for a mixed metaphor!)

  22. Scott, I think you’d be oversimplifying to reduce to “Sloppy analysis? Yeah, it’s all those damn A-listers.” – rather, the idea is the more nuanced “Popularity trumps accuracy”. And I used the A-list *discussion* in part (besides my frustration :-)) because YOU used it, in the form of the reactions to your “Gatekeepers” point. So it indeed seems unfair then for you to imply that frustration is clouding our thinking on an issue (no offense taken).

    The “discussion has turned to the issue of getting attention in the blogosphere”, for the connection that attention is generally given to the popular and/or inflammatory, not for consideration and accuracy. There’s always exceptions, but *overall*, that’s the amplification structures. Appealing to people’s intellectual pride doesn’t change this. The result may just be that the people who take your advice then get out-competed by those who don’t.

    And, going back to the discussion of attention in order to address your point, I strongly agree with what Tish said “Status that an individual has outside of the blogosphere is far more helpful to a blogger than good writing. Why do you think you were linked by Stowe Boyd? I’d venture a guess that it has more to do with your status at Atlantic Media than it does with what you said.”.

    When you write about memeorandum “but somehow I doubt they have anything in their algorithm about professional affiliations”, this misses that they do have aspects of their algorithm which reflect attention-patterns, which *in turn* reflect professional affiliations. And Memeorandum does not send a tremendous amount of traffic (I’ve tracked hits to my site when on the front page, it’s around 30, I’ll take them, but no big deal). I think you’re mostly confusing cause and effect there. The links/traffic you get is *mostly* not because of memeorandum, but rather you’re on memeorandum because of professional affiliations leading to the links/traffic you get (there is a meaningful difference).

  23. Scott, I wouldn’t deny that I enjoy being contrary — but not just for the sake of being contrary. I posted my comment because I think your recommendations risk squeezing the life and energy out of a medium that depends on them — the bar analogy was not just chosen to be glib. I would also argue that you dismissed my argument in much the same way you are criticizing others for doing — by either not reading it fully or deliberately misrespresenting it.

    I didn’t say bloggers (or commenters) shouldn’t think about what they post — in fact, I specifically said that I agreed with many of the points you made. I just think the kind of rigorous pressure-testing and so on you seem to be recommending is antithetical in many ways to what makes blogging what it is, and there’s a tension there that I don’t think you’re recognizing.

    Anyway, I don’t want this to turn into a pissing match, so I will end it there. And for what it’s worth I think it is a debate that is definitely worth having, and I appreciate your bringing it up.

  24. Wow, great conversation. Allow me to catch up.

    Seth, where to begin? First, I got 330 unique visitors last Saturday when one of my posts hit the top spot on tech.memeorandum, which dwarfed all other sources of traffic combined, so it feels a lot like a cause to me. I wrote about a topic on a lot of people’s minds, the problem with RSS, picking up on a previous post by Paul Kedrosky, who then linked to my post after I emailed him (no mention of my affiliation!), and wham, there it was on tech.mememorandum, where it stayed for most of the day.

    Maybe I’ve had an easier time getting attention because of my professional affiliation, but you seem to be suggesting that writing interesting posts that hit on key issues has little to do with it. The vast majority of the links to my site refer to me as Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 — has the quality of what I’ve written done nothing to help build that brand? And these links were mostly from people I suspect couldn’t care less where I work or have ever even heard of it (many were outside the US). Also, according to my site stats, most people don’t check out my About page (which no longer lists my affiliation). So I don’t think you’ve disproven the converse of your argument, which is that those who are not getting enough attention don’t have good enough material (or professional looking sites, or a host of other factors) — I DON’T believe that’s true. As you may have gathered, I’m skeptical of any argument pushed to the extreme. As with so many things, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle (although no one seems particularly satisfied when I conclude that).

    Mathew, thank you for engaging in this debate, because you make it interesting :) I completely agree that taking my suggestions to the extreme would take all the spontaneity (and fun) out of blogging. I’m not suggesting “rigorous pressure testing” or overly rigorous anything — I made it clear that my suggestions were aspirations, not limits to be stringently applied. Frankly, I’m surprised that there’s been no response to my conclusion, which is that if blogging is to be a serious alternative to Old Media, then it needs to hold itself to higher standards — if blogging is a just a hobby, then sure we can just be spontaneous. But if we’re “media” then we have a certain degree of responsibility. I believe in the notion of citizen journalism, but “conversation” feels a little bit too casual as a paradigm for something so important. (Sorry to get so serious, but I think it’s a serious issue.)

    Tish, it’s fascinating and enlightening to understand what’s going on beyond my own experience, so thank you. One thing you said really jumped out at me, that you and Amy “are but a handful of women who are interested in this sort of commentary and debate (who aren’t already in media and who are bloggers)” Why is this so?

    All, thank you for this fascinating and multi-faceted discussion. I’m enjoying this tremendously.

  25. Scott, are you saying that you got 330 unique visitors specifically with referer fields listing tech.memeorandum as the source? I’m kind of dubious it has that sort of effect. Are you sure you’re not misreading something? I’d believe 330 visitors *total*, from *all* sources, but not memeorandum itself. Checking over the sequence of comments, there’s a lot of mentions of Kedrosky. I’d have guessed that to be the prime source of traffic to you.

    Regarding “writing interesting posts that hit on key issues has little to do with it.” – well, it’s actually that interesting posts are a factor that is far from dominant. This is proved by how much attention an A-lister can get by writing the sort of standard name-dropping conference-attending post. I mean, those are interesting posts in an Entertainment Tonight way, but I don’t think it’s what you had in mind. On the other hand, a Z-lister can write his or her heart out, and if it’s not pitched to the right gatekeepers, in essence, NOBODY WILL READ IT. The important point here is that this is mathematically true. Given the exponential nature of the power-law distribution, there are very few high attention slots available for all the material competing for them. In sum, “interesting” is just one factor among many. It’s very clear from your site that you’re a media person. Why deny that you bring your social network with you?

    Now, to try to connect this all back to the main topic, does “interesting” mean “appealing”, or “accurate”? Of course in an ideal world everything would be both. But in a contest between “appealing but inaccurate” versus “accurate but unappealing”, which is likely to garner the lion’s share of attention? Again, this is a *structural* issue.

  26. Seth, are you thinking of the tech.memeorandum listing where your blog is listed as one of the commenters? I’m talking about when your blog post is the main listing: http://tech.memeorandum.com/060121/p22#a060121p22. Are you really dubious that this type of exposure can generate that much traffic? I’m surprised I didn’t get more? Paul’s site generated some traffic, but only a fraction of what I got from tech.memeorandum. The fact that you’re trying to explain this away by suggesting I can’t read my stats logs is telling.

    And what do you mean that it’s clear from my site that I’m a media person? Is it the appearance? Or that I sound on rare occasion like I might know what I’m talking about? Because I don’t see why I have to work for a media company for my site to look like a media site — I just have to know something about media. I made a conscious decision not to title my site Scott’s Random Thoughts on Random Stuff (like so many sites I’ve seen). I purposely chose a clean, uncluttered layout. So much of this is how you come across — if you want to be taken seriously you have to look the part. But I think there are many ways to do that.

    You’re absolutely right that accuracy is not enough — who wants to read something that’s unappealing. But given the blogosphere’s ability to self-correct, I don’t agree that appealing but inaccurate is going to be any more successful than accurate but unappealing. And I think you’re being way too dismissive of the A-list, suggesting that much of what they do is just the “standard name-dropping conference-attending post.” Sure, there’s plenty of that, and while I don’t think the A-list is MORE likely to be insightful than people on the Z-list, I don’t think they are necessarily LESS likely.

    I’m curious — since you seem to think the system is flawed, how should it work?

  27. Scott, I understood what you meant about the main listing. I had such a listing myself recently (frankly surprising, given that I’d simply tossed up the post to get some use out of some other writing):

    http://tech.memeorandum.com/060121/p15#a060121p15

    34 unique visitors from tech.memeorandum. I’ll take them, but hardly impressive.
    In my experience, it’s not a huge traffic driver, so yes, I’ve wondered if there’s an error somewhere. People make mistakes in reading reports, or statistics programs get fooled by blog-spammers or buggy aggregators, etc.

    Regarding being a media person, for one simple example, you have “Romenesko” on your blogroll, that’s almost a secret handshake in itself :-). From the description line “The Business of Publishing in the Digital Age”, the topics, the tags, the sites on the blogroll, it’s immediately apparent you’re a professional media person on the business end of that industry – before reading anything much in the posts themselves, or even your name.
    This isn’t a magic trick. It should be regarded as obvious.

    How can the bogosphere be seriously said to self-correct when the top blogs are often the most incorrect? (or at least the most partisan – it doesn’t matter which side of a partisan divide you’re on, as a rule, they can’t both be correct!)

    I’ve thought a lot about how one might make a system work, and sadly, the result has pretty much been that I don’t know. That is, it’s very clear why the system doesn’t work – at the core, it’s popularity over accuracy. To me, it’s like asking “How do you get rich?” I don’t know. However, I do know that e.g. playing the lottery essentially won’t work. But when I say that, the promoters often reply “But the barriers to entry for buying a lottery ticket are very low. And every ticket can win. And look at that guy, he won, it’s *possible*. All you need is a dollar and a dream, err, a blog and an RSS feed”. Any analysis that can’t handle simple mathematics – that the lottery has around a negative 50% expected return, or the exponential distribution and echoing structure of the bogosphere – is meaningless.

  28. Scott,

    Glad you asked about the women in media thing! You know, I have a speculation, but not sure it’s a bona fide or proveable answer. Some of it has to do with the discussions that went around during the Michael Kinsley/Susan Estrich nastiness, where Estrich raised the fact that there are so few women in high editorial positions in newspapers (although Estrich shot herself in the foot during the whole thing by bringing up Kinsley’s health–was a low blow and probably blew it for a lot of women).

    But she was right: there are few women on editorial pages and few justifiable reasons for the lack. And, it’s not that we don’t want to be–but that, IMO, we don’t get the chance. There are some glass ceilings still out there, and this is one of them. Why this remains? I don’t know. Could be newsroom attitude–could be the whole “newspaperman” ideal–there are probably lots of variables.

    When it comes to media commentary, and discussions like this one, as I said, I don’t think there are alot of women who really enjoy this kind of quasi-philosophical wrangling with concepts. It’s a “guy thing”….think about how many women go in for philosophy ph.d.s and you can see what I mean.

    However, I’d like to address a point that Seth brings up–that even if you no longer list your affiliation on your About page, you’re still Google-able. Oh, and the social network of blogging is helping you, too….look at the comments! People read and follow them, too.

    I do, though like this point that you make: nn

    Frankly, I’m surprised that there’s been no response to my conclusion, which is that if blogging is to be a serious alternative to Old Media, then it needs to hold itself to higher standards — if blogging is a just a hobby, then sure we can just be spontaneous. But if we’re “media” then we have a certain degree of responsibility. I believe in the notion of citizen journalism, but “conversation” feels a little bit too casual as a paradigm for something so important. (Sorry to get so serious, but I think it’s a serious issue.)

    nn

    The thing is, not all bloggers are on the same page as to what blogging is or is not. There are loads of bloggers who have no clue about Technorati. There are loads of bloggers who have no clue about conversations like this one. There are minions of the clueless, so trying to establish a standard is tough. Those of us who know one another, respect one another, can perpetuate the standard among ourselves and hope it reaches others. But, for the moment, we have to kind of look at comments as conversation because that’s what “folks” understand.

    (dang! I’m long winded today!)

  29. [...] I responded to the original uproar over gatekeepers in Blogging to a Higher Standard: Technorati tracks 20 MILLION blogs — not all of them get attention from the blogosphere. Why? Because there are both human and technology-based gatekeepers that determine what gets attention. A completely open system makes no sense, because we’re not living in state of information entropy (although media proliferation often makes it feel that way) — when I go online, some things get my attention and others don’t. Why? Because someone is “barring the gate.” I think the term “gatekeepers” just offends bloggers’ liberatarian sensibilities, but regardless, the existence of gatekeepers in a structured information system is axiomatic. [...]

  30. [...] Publishing 2.0 » Blogging to a Higher Standard (tags: toread blogging) Technorati Tags:No Tags [...]

  31. [...] “The publishing industry is the new technology industry”This follows a flurry of blogs and articles on new publishing paradigms and technology including this one on Publishing 2.0 and this one in The Economist on New Media vs Old Media.I suggest you read all of the pieces above. There are two points here: One which I have made in a previous post and the other which I think is a really important debate topic for the online content industry.1. We are in the early stages of a new phase of our industry where many more layers of the technology industry have commoditized. If we can think of a previous era where the microprocessor commoditized and the OS commoditized and then value moved to the app layer. Now the hardware, OS, apps infrastructure and browser have commoditized and the value moved to the content. This low cost technology platform is revolutionizing the content/publishing industry very rapidly as it radically lowers both the cost of distributing content AND the cost of creating content. The value going forward is in the content and publishing and not the technology used to create it. Think about companies such as Yahoo and Google running on commodity servers and OSes and companies like Vistaprint revolutionizing the printing industry in similar ways to the way Dell revolutionized the PC industry.2. The key question in this new industry is whether more value is being created at the level of filterers/aggregators or content creation. Clearly in these early days, the aggregators are out ahead. Seekingalpha, the financial content aggregator, just took a Forbes Best of Web award; techmemeorandum, the blog conversation aggregator, is a must read for all technology people; and our portfolio company Metacafe is growing by leaps and bounds as are their competitors Youtube and Revver (and check out techCrunch’s review of FireAnt). But licensing and rights issues are coming to the fore and differentiation may require more content creation. Also, unique content that can develop an audience has big advantages as a stand alone business although it may be less scalable.This quote from Foremski’s blog is salient:”The first wave of technology-enabled media companies are corporations such as Yahoo, Google, AOL, Amazon, EBay, and Craigslist. They publish pages of content and advertising. Except that most of their content is obtained for as low cost as possible; it is harvested by servers and algorithms or their content is contributed by their communities of users, such as at EBay or Craigslist. [...]

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