Blogging = Freedom

Paul Boutin is a friend. I love the guy. I also think his latest Wired piece — Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004 — is a crock.* Two reasons. One is that blogs are fine, even if they seem passé. The other is that blogs are free and open, while Twitter, Flickr and Facebook to varying degrees are not.

Paul begins,

Thinking about launching your own blog? Here's some friendly advice: Don't. And if you've already got one, pull the plug.

Writing a weblog today isn't the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It's almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

I've been blogging since 1999. I've also been flickring, facebooking and tweeting for most of the time those services have been around. All are good for some things, but not everything, least of all for what blogging does best.

As personal journals on the Web go, blogs have no substitute. Twitter is fine for 140-character micro-postings, and for the ecosystem surrounding it. But micro-posts are not journals. Flickr is great for posting, tagging, organizing and annotating photographs, and for allied services such as creating groups and the rest of it, but it ain't blogging. Facebook has some blogging features, but at the cost of forcing the blogger to operate in a vast hive of non-journalistic activity — and flat-out noise.

Paul again:

Impersonal is correct: Scroll down Technorati's list of the top 100 blogs and you'll find personal sites have been shoved aside by professional ones. Most are essentially online magazines: The Huffington Post. Engadget. TreeHugger. A stand-alone commentator can't keep up with a team of pro writers cranking out up to 30 posts a day.

Keep up with what? Playing a popularity game, like you're still in Junior High? When my old blog peaked at #16 on Technorati, I knew it was a temporary artifact of an underpopulated sampling. Lemme see... Okay, on Technorati my current blog has an "authority" of 424 and a rank of 7,765. When I moved to that URL it had an authority of nothing and a rank down in the millions. But I still had the same few thousand readers every day, still had the same rough number of commenters, still had the same volume of inbound links, still had the same sense of participation in the world, that I've had since I started out.

He continues,

When blogging was young, enthusiasts rode high, with posts quickly skyrocketing to the top of Google's search results for any given topic, fueled by generous links from fellow bloggers. In 2002, a search for "Mark" ranked Web developer Mark Pilgrim above author Mark Twain. That phenomenon was part of what made blogging so exciting. No more. Today, a search for, say, Barack Obama's latest speech will deliver a Wikipedia page, a Fox News article, and a few entries from professionally run sites like Politico.com. The odds of your clever entry appearing high on the list? Basically zero.

That's just wrong. If you write quotably and link generously, your stuff will get read. Maybe not all of it, all the time; but you still contribute, and searches find your goods.

Blogs in the early day kinda "gamed" Google because Google was tuned to value lots of inbound links. But if Mark Pilgrim got more links than Mark Twain, so what? This is the Web, not the public library. Live stuff happens here. Mark Pilgrim was writing on the Live Web about relevant and interesting subjects. Mark Twain remained important, but dead. And it wasn't like you couldn't find stuff about Mark Twain.

And blogging still has pull with Google. Dave Winer's Scripting News still shows up on the first page of results in a search for Dave. I'm still in the first page of search results for Doc. I'm behind the gunslinger and ahead of the dwarf and all sports figures and musicians with the same nickname. Is this right or fair? Probably not. But credit blogging for what it still does.

As for this...

That said, your blog will still draw the Net's lowest form of life: The insult commenter. Pour your heart out in a post, and some anonymous troll named r0rschach or foohack is sure to scribble beneath it, "Lame. Why don't you just suck McCain's ass." That's why Calacanis has retreated to a private mailing list. He can talk to his fans directly, without having to suffer idiotic retorts from anonymous Jason-haters.

Not in my experience. We get a few trolls here on Linux Journal now and then, but we don't feed them. And we've got good spam filtration as well. Over on my own blog the dashboard says "Akismet has protected your site from 99,572 spam comments already, and there are 4,610 comments in your spam queue right now." Posts from unknowns are moderated. If you flame or spam you don't get in. I get flamed so rarely that I don't remember the last one. Strong disagreements, sure. But nothing wrong with those. Hell, bring 'em on.

One reason I don't get much flaming is that I don't play the popularity game. I know how to flog for buzz (and flames, and the rest of it). But that's not what I do with blogging, and not what I recommend for other bloggers. Write substantive stuff, link to others who have substantive things to say, and stay with topics as they roll forward in constructive ways. That's not a box-office game, but it works if what you want is to drive more understanding around a topic. Blogging has always been good for that, and still is.

Paul again:

Further, text-based Web sites aren't where the buzz is anymore. The reason blogs took off is that they made publishing easy for non-techies. Part of that simplicity was a lack of support for pictures, audio, and videoclips. At the time, multimedia content was too hard to upload, too unlikely to play back, and too hungry for bandwidth.

Social multimedia sites like YouTube, Flickr, and Facebook have since made publishing pics and video as easy as typing text. Easier, if you consider the time most bloggers spend fretting over their words. Take a clue from Robert Scoble, who made his name as Microsoft's "technical evangelist" blogger from 2003 to 2006. Today, he focuses on posting videos and Twitter updates. "I keep my blog mostly for long-form writing," he says.

First, why give a damn about buzz? Here are the main things it's good for: 1) popularity, by itself; 2) driving eyeballs past advertising. Nothing wrong with either, as long as substance is involved. Even if all you want is ad bux, it helps to remember that there isn't a 1:1 ratio between traffic and click-throughs. Quality still matters, and buzz isn't its only driver.

Second, Scoble still blogs. (Do you think for a second that he'd give that up like Jason did? Not a chance.) Also note the symbiotic relationship between social multimedia services and blogging. They support each other. There's an ecosystem here.

Hell, I have 23,950 items on Flickr , and mine are among the thousands more we have on the Linux Journal Flickr site. I love what Flickr does, including its open API, which allows me to suck my own pictures sideways out of Flickr and put them on Tabblo. (Here's a blog post about it from more than two years ago. The points still apply.) Bravo for them.

But let's remember that these are private services. They are, literally, proprietary.

Which brings us to the matter of freedom.

To the credit of Flickr and Twitter, they are mostly friendly to the open Web, and not roach motels tricked out as friendly walled gardens. No 'fence, but that's what Facebook looks like to me. (Argue that if you like, but you still have to admit that it's a private space rather than a public one.)

Meanwhile, blogging is free-as-in-freedom at its core. It's something you do as an independent human being.

Although most blogs run on hosted services, those blogs are still ours. Do it right, and the constraints are minimal. http://doc.searls.com is a WordPress blog on a Harvard server, but if I want to move it elsewhere, I can do that. I have data portability, and service substitutability.

Freedom matters. Independence matters. Not being utterly dependent on any single service provider not only matters, but is an essential virtue too rarely visited and too lightly respected. What Richard Stallman said about clouds (that they're "a marketing hype campaign" and "You're putty in the hands of whoever developed that software") has more than the ring of truth to it. His is a warning as righteous as those made by responsible forecasters of the financial meltdown.

Blogging at its best is free speech working in open spaces. That virtue persists, no matter how many slums get built in blogging's hosted services, and no matter how passé it seems at the moment.

* Seamus McCauley calls it "Most flagrant flamebait ever". I've seen worse, but, like Seamus, I'm biting anyway. Sorry, Paul.

______________________

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal

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www rigged

Anonymous's picture

I have insider information that the internet was profesionally rigged to look like it was quickly filling up with hyper cool stuff. ALL of the famous blogs that made news ..... were prewritten.

Bite that.

And yes, any INDIVIDUALS who think the stench of that could choke everything from war to whales - - - are welcome to email me about this.

But which of the truly freethinking free questioning spirits (who know their publicised 'like-minds' are rig-outs) read linux blogs ?

Don't attempt an answer please.

I must be behind the times

Calvin Dodge's picture

I read many blogs every day, but no Twitter or Flickr or Facebook stuff. In the case of Twitter, it's partly because so much of it seems to be of the "I had peanut butter on toast for breakfast" variety - yet another distraction from my day with no intellectual heft to it. To me it's like Sesame Street for adults - a collection of snippets whose long-term effect is to shorten attention spans.

The kind of stuff I'm looking for (primarily of the political variety) takes more than 140 characters to define, liked reasoned arguments, and quotes and citations from other sources. Multiple pages are fine, as long as they're interesting and informative.

And for moral and pragmatic reasons, the "freedom" issue is hard to beat.

P.S. your spam filter said the above text was suspect

It happens...

Webmistress's picture

But it is there to make LinuxJournal.com a nicer site to read and comment on, lest it become buried in spam.

Sorry for any inconvenience. It should not happen often.

Katherine Druckman is webmistress at LinuxJournal.com. You might find her on Twitter or at the Southwest Drupal Summit

Right on

Jillian C. York's picture

And a search for "Paul Boutin blogging" brings up this piece rather quickly!

I absolutely agree with you, particularly this statement: "Also note the symbiotic relationship between social multimedia services and blogging. They support each other." Since Twitter's arrival, I certainly blog less frequently, but my posts on the whole are more thoughtful.

Blogging is not dead and will not be dead anytime soon. Paul Boutin's writing career, on the other hand...

Flame-bait?

David in Malmö's picture

More like buzz-bait... I'm guessing he'll get loads of incoming links from upset bloggers to that piece. You shouldn't apologize to Paul, a "you're welcome" would be more in place, really.

yup! it is really freedom

podarok's picture

I got link to this article via shared items in my greader... I`m not english speaking man and have a little problem - can`t read long articles, But this article very nice cause I think like its author in most cases about blogging. Thanks

Of course blogging and

Kevin S.'s picture

Of course blogging and social networking complement each other, and blogging's still relevant. After all, all the major social networking sites include blogs as part of your account. Not to mention the fact that Boutin seems to ignore that you can copy and paste embed code to put images and video in your blog.

Now, I agree that people shouldn't expect blogging to make them an instant celebrity any more. It's also true that if you just want to write about the minutiae of your day, you're better off blogging on your MySpace or Facebook account, where your musings will be easily accessible by friends who actually care. But there is still a subset of people for whom a non-social-network blog is a perfectly viable option.

Blogging = Freedom

Mark Dixon's picture

I agree with you that blogging is still relevant. I am comfortable in being part of the long tail of the blogosphere. I find it interesting that my daughter's blog, which is all about the joys and challenges of being a young mother, is much more widely read and commented on than my more technically-oriented blog. I think that illustrates your point that blogging is freedom - freedom to express oneself. Success for failure of that shouldn't necessarily be measured by the rank on Technorati.

It says something about my

Anonymous's picture

It says something about my comparative hope for both companies that, on the whole, I would much rather volunteer for Yahoo than Microsoft. (Even though I have much more interaction, all of it positive, with individuals at Microsoft — perhaps because they're the ones reaching out to open development communities.) Yahoo was born of the Web. It's Net-native. wholesale lingerie Most of what it does adds value to the Net's platform, not just to one operating system

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