August 16th, 2006

Blogging Is the New Novel/Screenplay Writing

by

There’s yet another (tiresome) dust-up in the blogosphere over the existence of an “A List” and its relationship to the “long tail” of 50 million+ bloggers — and whether it’s fair — courtesy of Nick Carr, everyone’s favorite lightnight rod. Here’s the filter I always use to make sense of this — technological advances (e.g. blogging software) may be the great enabler, but people don’t change. That’s why I would posit that blogging is the new novel/screenplay writing.

When I was in college, I worked for a literary agent in New York. Part of my job was sifting through mountains of unsolicited manuscripts that arrived at the door everyday — if I had grown up on the west coast, it would probably have been screenplays. There were so many people pouring their hearts onto reams of paper, and most of these manuscripts would never be read by anyone other than friends, family, and college interns like me.

And yet people kept writing, partly on the distant hope of making it big, but also because they had something to say.

Some fraction of the manuscripts that ended up in the reject pile may have been written by great undiscovered talent — and that may be the case with some bloggers who toil in low-traffic obscurity. A tinier fraction made it big, and joined the book writer “A List.” But the vast majority never got published and never got attention — and probably never deserved much attention (which is not to say they might not have had a small niche of attention, had that been logistically possible, as it is now on the Web). Does that mean that those writers wasted their time?

I don’t think so. Writing, including blogging, is overwhelmingly an avocation — the attention pie is way too small for most people with something to say to get a meaningful share of attention, even within a niche. But if you’ve got something to say, in most cases you’ll probably be a happier person if you get it out rather than keep it inside. Many people write journals for precisely this reason. Others get satisfaction from other people reading what they have to say, but even if no one does, there is typically still satisfaction in the writing.

I am also a believer in talent. Most of the time attention correlates with talent — sometimes those with relatively little talent get a disproportionate amount of attention, and sometimes those with a lot of talent get unfairly overlooked — this is as true in the blogosphere as it is in so many other spheres. But the correlation between talent and attention holds true on average.

As for Nick Carr, I continue to read his blog because he is a talented writer and an incisive thinker — he almost always makes me think, and even if I end up completely disagreeing with him, that’s something I value. Does he carry the link baiting thing too far sometimes? Probably. But let’s get real — all bloggers link bait, so let’s not get on our high horses. Nick’s link baiting works because he does make people think — and the blogosphere is at its best when people can disagree with him.

That said, the blogosophere would be a nicer place if we could disagree without so much vitriol and ad hominem attacks.

So I’ll be a good blogosphere citizen by giving some link love to Rex Hammock, for responding to Nick with a funny counter fairytale, and to Rob Hyndman, for not being afraid to admit that he reads Nick Carr and for advancing the thinking on the topic rather than just reacting emotionally to it.

I’ll end by saying that even if no one reads this post, I feel better having written it.

UPDATE

I can’t resist observing the following ironies:

– There is arguably no better way to get attention and links in the blogosphere than to blog about blogging and bloggers — we all love to read and talk about ourselves and what we do — that’s just human nature. If Nick Carr is a troll, he’s awfully good at it, as Robert Scoble observed. Nick understands what makes us all tick.

– I didn’t write this post with the intention of getting attention from A Listers, but sure enough I got a link from Dave Winer and Scoble stopped by to let me know he had subscribed. It would have been very hard to aim at either of those outcomes — they had to be earned somewhat unintentionally. (Although as I pointed out to Rex Hammock below, intention is difficult to parse, even for the intender.) The same is true of the attention that this post got from other prominent bloggers I admire and respect, like Rex Hammock, Mathew Ingram, Brian Clark, and Rob Hyndman.

The first rule of blogging, as with novel writing and so many other endeavors, is to do it principally out of passion and conviction. That’s what motivated this post (at least I’m pretty sure it was). It’s kind of a Zen thing — you have to let go of your expectations before they can be met. I can’t claim honestly that I write every post out of pure conviction, but I do find that it correlates strongly with attention. And the converse is true — when I’m too focused on getting attention, I generally don’t get very much. Links and readers need to be earned — they are hard to manufacture.

So why did I write this Update? Because I found these observations interesting, even if no one else does.

(Admittedly, the Zen thing is hard — you can hurt your brain if you try too hard, which is where not taking yourself too seriously is a useful crutch.)

Comments (46 Responses so far)

  1. [IMG] Back-linking love: Scott Karp: “Blogging is the new novel/screenplay writing” Also: Mike Arrington.

  2. Back-linking love: Scott Karp: “Blogging is the new novel/screenplay writing

  3. [IMG] Scott Karp / Publishing 2.0: Blogging Is the New Novel/Screenplay Writing

  4. Blogging Is the New Novel/Screenplay Writing

  5. fighting

  6. What I really value is new information or ideas that I receive from reading blogs. I don’t care so much about being heard, because I know from experience that there really isn’t very much of that going on. Scott Karp: “Even if no one reads this post, I feel better having written it.” So to Scott, that may be the only joy available from blogging, the satisfaction of getting something off your chest. It really can be therapeutic, and also, having written it, you can

  7. [IMG rex] Back-linking love: Scott Karp: “Blogging is the new novel/screenplay writing” Also: Mike Arrington. [IMG] [IMG] [IMG]

  8. [IMG rex] Back-linking love: Scott Karp: “Blogging is the new novel/screenplay writing” Also: Mike Arrington.

  9. Who’s zoomin’ whom here? Is this a real controversy or some elaborately staged pro-wrestling contest? Is this a real battle for the soul of the blogosphere or a cry for attention? Scott Karp gets to the heart of why (some) people blog, Blogging Is the New Novel/Screenplay Writing. Scott also reminds us that rejection has been the fate of the vast majority of all people who write for fame and money long before blogging reared its Hydra heads. (and tails.) Why do so many bloggers have to graduate from the Monty Python Argument

  10. It’s Thursday, so it must be Geek and Poke. GaP asks: Nick Carr – The Don Quixote of Web 2.0? [IMG] We asked chuquet.com, and found these: Corante Technology Hub: “Nick Carr on The Innocent Fraud of the Blogosphere” Publishing 2.0: “Blogging Is the New Novel/Screenplay Writing” ben barren – rss’ing down under: “Hellay Dystopia Infiltrates the Bitchesphere.” gapingvoid: “more gatekeeper-y goodness” mathewingram.com/work: “Nick Carr is right — sort of” Software Only: “

  11. [IMG rex] Back-linking love: Scott Karp: “Blogging is the new novel/screenplay writing” Also: Mike Arrington. [IMG] [IMG] [IMG]

  12. An important point and well put — thanks. Nick’s writing also seems to elicit the best writing from others. Anyhow, some of the follow-ups to his post (like yourse) have been richer than his original piece.

  13. like yourse — whoops :-)

  14. I read it. (But only because you linked to me…) Nick is one of the few bloggers who gets under my skin — perhaps it’s because, like you, I am impressed with his intellect and writing skills. But I am continously surprised when someone with such intellect and skill using them to belittle and ridicule those who do things for motivations other than his. Nick obviously feels the need to blog. I just seems odd to me that he feels a similar need to blog about why others shouldn’t feel the same need.

  15. Rex- Maybe Nick is the Camille Paglia of web 2.0. As if that explains anything.

  16. Thanks, Scott.

    I’m frequently provoked into writing by Carr’s blog – which is the point, I guess.

    :)

  17. Sid, I think the Camille Paglia comparison is right on — not sure how much of the blogging/Web 2.0 crowd is familiar with her, though.

    Rex, maybe I’ve got blinders on, but I don’t see that Nick’s principal intent is to “belittle and ridicule.” And I didn’t get the sense that he was saying “don’t blog.” I think his principal intent is hype-busting, in this case, “don’t have a illusions about blogging based on the hype.”

    Of course, there’s a fine line between being contrarian and iconoclastic, and unnecessarily rubbing people the wrong way — I’ve crossed it myself enough times.

    Maybe Nick’s “allegory” was too harsh a way to discuss the issue — but that doesn’t mean the issue shouldn’t be discussed. I don’t think he was so far off to apply the concept of “innocent fraud” to perceptions among bloggers of how the blogosphere works. But many of the responses to his post were as much (if not more) a response to his attitude than his analysis — which is not to say he doesn’t bear responsibility for that outcome — I guess I just find personally that there are other attitudes in the blogosphere that put me off more than Nick’s.

  18. I notice that Nick has answered other questions posed in his comments section, but not mine, in which I asked him why he blogged. I’d love to know the answer.

  19. [...] Scott Karp: “Even if no one reads this post, I feel better having written it.”  [...]

  20. Mathew,

    Perhaps you should do a post titled “Nick, Why Do You Blog?”

  21. [...]  Wednesday, August 16, 2006Scott Karp: “Even if no one reads this post, I feel better having written it.”  [...]

  22. [...] To that extent, I think my M-lister friend Kent Newsome is right when he compares blogging to songwriting, and I think my old-media pal Scott Karp is also right when he compares it to screenplays or manuscripts (incidentally, I notice that hardly anyone has made note of the fact that Kent is the one who got this debate started, which I think is at least a partial refutation of Nick’s “innocent fraud” argument). And yes, Rex Hammock is also kind of right when he compares Nick to a troll. [...]

  23. I read it, and just subscribed.

  24. Nice… you’ve got your link karma down, Scott.

    Hugh MacLeod commented on Nick’s post and said no one links unless there’s something in it for them, which I agreed with.

    However, it’s much less analytical than that may sound. Just like in business, you give with some form of an expectation of a return, but you just can’t always be sure what form that return will take.

    Also, agree on the “blogging is the new screenwriting/novel” thing. Everyone wants to write that Great American Blog nowdays. :)

  25. Scott – re: Nick’s intent to belittle and ridicule… I’ll agree that that was not his principle intent in the post, but I don’t necessarily agree that his principle intent was to bust hype — his principle intent was to generate incoming links.

  26. [...] A note to Nick, Scott and Mike, and people who think the number of people who “read” your blog means anything… [...]

  27. Rex,

    Intent is never easy to determine, even by the principal actor. My principal intent with this post was not to generate incoming links (at least I don’t think it was), but sure enough that’s what happened.

    If Nick’s analysis is cogent and thought-provoking, then I’m not sure if I really care what his principal intent was, because I get value out of reading it.

    If he stops being interesting, then people will stop linking to him — so I really don’t have a problem with him link baiting or getting links. Isn’t that what’s so great about a free and open blogosphere?

  28. Rex: You’re making a classic straw-man attack. One of the ways discussion is deflected from the immense inequality of power, is to accuse the person pointing out the inequality of somehow being against those on the bottom (“belittle and ridicule those who do things for motivations other than his”). I’ve seen this tactic over and over in the A-list discussion – if someone points out that the supposed “conversation” is actually a top-down pontification gatekeepered by a very few BigHeads, a response will be “How dare you devalue those people who are writing for their friends and family, who do’t care about ever being heard by anyone else”. It’s a demagogic diversionary tactic.

  29. [...] Nick Carr scores big attention by complaining that he doesn’t get enough attention.  In response, Scott Karp gets his Link Zen going… Bonus Link: [...]

  30. Seth:

    There is no immense inequality of power, just the natural distribution of talent. There will always be a small number of people who are more intelligent, better writers, or in some other way are more talented than the rest of us. Your ‘BigHeads’ derive their status and power from the bottom-up process of readers recognizing the value of their ideas. Anyone can become the next major voice in blogging if they are able to provide content that others want to read.

    The inequality of power argument is a poor one because power/influence is not equally distributed, but rather is distributed based on the talents of each individual.

    I also do not buy into your top-down gatekeepered pontification argument, as there are just as many blogs that dissent with the gatekeepers as there are blogs that espouse what is being pontificated.

  31. Well, Scott, I have to tell you:

    I felt better just reading your

    post, even if no one ever wrote it,

    because the real reader

    sees reading as an avocation,

    not a profession;

    Those who need an actual text

    in order to read

    are just whores.

    ++++
    ‘sup! positious

  32. Brian, there is no absolute way to disprove your statement, just as there is no absolute way to disprove that most of the wealthy and powerful are white males because gosh darn it, it just so happens that “the natural distribution of talent” favors white males. It’s the same argument, and I’m not going to win it. All I can do here is point out that it is the argument.

  33. [...] to Scott Karp’s comment in passing. [...]

  34. You got my attention – without trying :)

    “It’s kind of a Zen thing — you have to let go of your expectations before they can be met.”

    I agree totally – well put.

  35. A transparent — and liquid — market for the ad spaces on single-creator media solves the problem, as abitrageurs will profit from identifying and helping to popularize undervalued media…

  36. Seth:

    If that is the argument, I consider it a poor one. People do not become wealthy, powerful or influential by accident. The majority of these people got to where they are by hard work and intelligence. Most societies provide ample opportunity for people to succeed if they apply themselves. Playing the role of the victim and claiming that the powerful are keeping you powerless, while the easy way to go, does nothing to help you improve yourself. People need to take personal responsibility if they will ever have a chance to become successful.

    Lets try to look at an individual deeds and work, and not worry about whether they are a white male or not. I reward bloggers with my readership based on their content, not on ethnicity or other irrelevant factors. If you write intelligently on interesting subjects or provide novel ideas, people will read you blog. The only inequality I see is in the quality of blogs available. Some people have great blogs, other people don’t. Why should we be surprised that the people with better ideas or a flair for writing tend to become more influential within the community?

  37. Brian, very, very simple:

    Fact: Most of the wealthy are white and male.

    True? False? I believe this is not worth disputing.

    If merit is the sole factor for wealth, then it follows that non-white-males must not be as meritorious. Some people do indeed believe this, to very elaborate lengths. I even understand the reasoning. But this comment-box is too small to hold all the refutations.

    Repeating that it’s a perfect world, no matter how many times you do it, is no escape from the logical problem here.

  38. hmmm….once again, same group of male malcontents arguing the same old points and stoking the blogosphere in their favor by airkissing each other’s flat behinds….

    It would be *so* nice to see guys doing something about the problem, if there is one, rather than just posturing like a bunch of gorillas, and then link-grooming one another.

  39. Tish- That’s hilarious! I’m more of a builder than a talker. I created a service, a sort of social networking site for bloggers/startups. Its main feature is an eyeball bartering ad system. I based it on the premise that bloggers/startups have little funds for advertising and a surplus of ad space. It’s called LinkLike.

    So, say you discover my site on LinkLike and want to trade eyeballs with me. You send me an invitation and I accept (double opt-in, isn’t it?). You paste the ad code on your site and my ad begins appearing. Your ad begins appearing on my site, too. For every pair of eyeballs you send to my site, I must send a pair to yours. Otherwise my ad stops showing on your site until the click flow balances out.

    This click metering might seem like overkill, but I wanted high caliber sites to feel comfortable partnering with low caliber sites.

    Is that what you had in mind? If you try it out, I would like to know what you think of it. Thanks- Sid

  40. Seth:

    Ironically, you are now the one making the straw man attack. If I said that hard working, intelligent people tend to become wealthy, does it follow that lazy unintelligent people tend not to become wealthy? Most of us live in societies that reward hard work and talent. You are distorting my argument that hard working and talented people are justly rewarded when you imply they have gained their wealth/influence solely based on their ethnicity or gender. Also, being talented and hard working does not guarantee you anything, but it certainly opens up more opportunities. Let us unmask the question by asking how people have become wealthy or influential instead of just looking at superficial attributes like ethnicity or gender. I would be willing to bet that regardless of their ethnicity or gender, the wealthy and influential members of a society are on average harder working or more talented then the general population.

    I feel this is a digression of the original discussion however, which was about influence and power within the blogosphere. You speak of the immense inequality of power and top-down gatekeepered pontification. If you want to look at the logical problem, let us use Occam’s razor. When trying to explain the phenomenon of influence within the blogosphere, is it simpler to assume that those bloggers who are more talented writers or contribute the most to the community will become the most influential? Or shall we assume that there is some sort of conspiracy and architecture in place where the powerful hold back the powerless? I would put forth that mine is the simpler, and therefore more likely explanation.

  41. Brian, this is the strawman: “hard working and talented people are justly rewarded when you imply they have gained their wealth/influence solely based on their ethnicity or gender”

    The argument is this: Ethnicity and gender is A FACTOR, because of networking effects. *A FACTOR*. So, statistically, one can see this factor at work in the way the wealthy and powerful are overwhelming white males.

    What didn’t this say? It didn’t say “hard work” was meaningless. It did say that you can work very hard, and not succeed based on another barrier, race, sex, etc.

    This is a very objectional idea to some people, because it implies many disturbing consequences, most notably that some sort of social awareness is important. So they repeat, endlessly, that isn’t so. But endlessly repeating something doesn’t make it true.

  42. [...] Blogging Is the New Novel/Screenplay Writing Excellent follow up to Nick Carr’s earlier comments. (tags: Blogging Blogosphere) [...]

  43. Seth:

    I agree with you, ethnicity and gender can be a factor in someone’s success. I just don’t agree that it is the factor. Where you are born, your genetic makeup, the way your parent’s raise you, the socio-economic background you come from, it all is a factor. You can work very hard and not succeed even if you happen to be white and male. Race and gender are factors, but not overwhelming so. Talent and hard work are by far the deciding factors in someones success based on my experience.

    I am aware that I might be passed up for a variety of opportunities due solely to the fact that I am not a minority or female, so I see your point about networking effects. ;-)

    I agree also that we all need to have some social awareness when it comes to discriminating against others. I just want an even playing field instead of a system that puts ethnicity/gender ahead of actual qualifications. If we look at a profession like firefighting, statistically it is predominantly held by males. Everyone has an equal opportunity to take the tests that the job requires, so why the disparate ratio in genders? It could be that males have some sort of physical advantage or it could be that for social reasons it appeals more to males. Making assumptions based solely on statistics is poor policy. Have a standard, make sure that everyone has equal opportunity to meet the standard and then select the best candidates. In my opinion, this seems like the most rational way of doing things.

    Since by taking a position not in line with yours I am just “repeating endlessly that it isn’t so”, I guess this will be my last comment. Your argument represents the truth, and my side is therefore irrelevant. I enjoyed the discussion with you (though I wonder if Scott has grown tired of us). Although it seems that “endlessly repeating something” is working out for you. Cheers.

  44. [...] But I wrote them for myself and everything else is profit. I wrote them because I wanted to hype myself for my own Dissertation writing. Even if no one reads those posts, I feel better having written them. [...]

  45. [...] Scott Karp looks at the loneliness of the long distance blogger a bit further: “… the attention pie is way too small for most people with something to say to get a meaningful share of attention, even within a niche.” [...]

  46. Why the needless politicizing? It seems pretty obvious to me. The “BigHeads” got to the top with a combination of talent, intelligence, hard work and luck. Some people have talent, intelligence, and hard work, but no luck, and have not risen to the top. Or maybe they just have poor strategy with their blogs, or don’t even care about rising to the top.

    Either way, the reason those on the top are hard to shake is that they’re established. Once any group of people are established, they create a barrier to entry by others. Especially if their dominance is mutually supportive. Top bloggers link to each other and support their dominance. Just like any established elite does. It’s not good or bad, it’s just the nature of human systems.

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