The Internet Summarized (Boba Edition)

A boba shop in California is struggling through a Yelp bombing after a customer falsely claimed a tea had been thrown at her and her child.

When reached for comment on Sunday, the user defended penning the review but did not answer whether they had been to the store themselves. “Everyone can not be lying,” they told the Daily Dot, pointing to screenshots of other negative reviews—most of which were no longer available on Yelp on Sunday.

The Internet – I can’t be wrong for kneejerk reacting to a post on the internet because the mob who kneejerk reacted can’t be wrong, too.

“Bring Out Your Blogs” and Just Write

2019 is shaping up to be the “Year Of ‘Hey Remember Blogs’ (Navel Gazing Edition)” and I like it.

Sure, maybe it’s just me, considering that the only times I seem to make myself blog is when talking about blogging (see Writing In The Age Of Silos, on replacing Facebook with personal websites, and if blogging social media’s savior to name a few) but more people are pointing people back to blogs and saying, hey, here’s a home for you.

This week’s take comes from Marc Weidenbaum who notes that 2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the coining of the term “blog” and reflected on the state of things today:

If this year marks the 20th anniversary of the word blog, next month marks the sixth anniversary of Google killing off Google Reader, despite it having been the most-used RSS tool. Around the time I read several tweets conspiratorially tracing the decline of the internet as a safe place for self-expression to that turning point, Reynolds penned a mea culpa about the lost act of “inter-blog conviviality,” as subsequently mentioned by Warren Ellis in his excellent weekly newsletter. I thought, in turn, about why I link less to other blogs than I used to, and I recognized it’s in part because there are fewer other blogs, leading to me being reminded it’s 20 years since the birth of the word blog, if not of the act. In any case, thanks to all them for the brain nudge and habit nudge.

“Inter-blog conviviality” is a great term and really highlights what made blogging great back in the day – blogs sharing other blogs. They fed off of one another in a way traditional media didn’t at the time, and allowed the building of conversation through platforms and soapboxes that could allow ideas to spread and take shape beyond just catching headlines and memes. It helped feed great blogrolls where you could tell a lot about someone just by who they highlighted among their daily reads. It was a true social network.

Somewhere along the way blogging became something else. A pejorative. Then the “savior” of things like traditional media. As more people paid attention to blogs, blogging became serious, and a serious business. Instead of springboarding off of the mainstream media, blogs were starting to break the news. Then make the news. Then dictate the news.

Now, just about everything is blog.

One of the things that made blogging fun was that it wasn’t publishing – it was essentially journaling. It was rough. It was a quick take. It was a way to get thoughts out to a larger audience who then helped you flesh it out if you didn’t want to let it go.

Weidenbaum captures a little bit of this when he advises the reader to not worry about whether or not you can “write”:

And don’t concern yourself with whether or not you “write.” Don’t leave writing to writers. Don’t delegate your area of interest and knowledge to people with stronger rhetorical resources. You’ll find your voice as you make your way. There is, however, one thing to learn from writers that non-writers don’t always understand. Most writers don’t write to express what they think. They write to figure out what they think. Writing is a process of discovery. Blogging is an essential tool toward meditating over an extended period of time on a subject you consider to be important.

Shaun caught onto this point in a larger post worth reading:

Wiedenbaum nails it here. Previously, writing was an end. Today writing is a pleasurable end that — quite frankly — I tend to reserve for myself. Do I mind opining on current events and the things that interest me? Most certainly. Does it make me any money? Never has… at least, I don’t see myself becoming an editor at National Review or First Things anytime soon. Yet writing-as-meditation has nearly always been my style… to work out what I might think so that I can express what I actually think, or better still to express the parameters for what I might believe.

As I said above, blogging isn’t publishing. It’s a public scratchpad for folks with ideas larger than a tweet or an emoticon. It’s at its best when it’s not pretending to be the New York Times or Gizmodo or FOXNews. It’s great when it’s responding to challenges like #1000wordsofsummer where you’re just looking to get the words out and you can figure out what you meant to say later. (If I count other people’s words, this post is around 850 words, nearly there!)

I like this renaissance in blogging. And I hope it brings more people back into the fold – and some fresh blood while it’s at it.


Speaking of fresh blood: Keep an eye on Blusterhouse. Jericho Vilar and I have partnered up for a new blog that’ll be about more serious stuff than “hey, I should blog more.” If you like good writing, watch for Jericho’s stuff (dude’s a mean writer). If you like OK writing, I’ll have some stuff there, too.

Blogrolling and the Blog Digital Graveyard

Old blogrolls are a fun way to dive back in and maybe be inspired now and then.

Jason Kottke’s blogroll, February, 2005 (via Archive.org)

You can tell a lot about a writer by what they read.

There was a time when the most fascinating aspect of some blogs wasn’t their posts but their sources, often shared in a list on the sidebar as a blogroll. These semi-permanent placements allowed a bit of a peek in where they found ideas and inspiration and sometimes helped generate the content they’d share day to date.

Blogrolls are rare these days, rarer than blogs themselves. And most that do still exist are outdated, linking to sites that haven’t seen updates in years or domains long since expired. Which only makes sense given that the medium of blogging has moved on – as the content has dwindled, so have the links.

But in many cases, sites still live, lying dormant on WordPress or Blogger or on domains kept alive by authors who use the URL for their email or the hosting for other stuff so they keep their old thoughts on life support.

A blogroll used to also serve as a public bookmark where the blogger could just click on through each morning to see what folks were saying. Google Reader (RIP) helped make some of that work easier and now Facebook and Twitter serve up links hot and fresh. Now, if you want to stay up to date on a site, you follow it’s page on Facebook or the RSS feed in Feedly. Why have a blogroll if it’s only going to be a handful of blogs that could go away at any moment?

Still, going down the rabbit hole of blogrolls can lead to some fascinating trails through digital history. And every now and then a surprise when you find a site still being updated. Or, in the case of jyuenger, discover that the author recently posted for the first time in more than a year and has dedicated to keep at it.

Some blogrolls worth checking out if you want to see how the world used to work:

Andrew Sullivan’s The Dish has links to a range of political blogs, some mainstream, some not so much, many of them long dead, but still fascinating.

Things Magazine (which is still live and makes my blogroll on the right) has a ton of sites broken down into categories from architecture to people to music and more.

Flaming Plabum is a new addition to my Feedly and has a blog roll (“For Those About To Blog… We Salute You” – I can dig it) that has some links to voices of NYC, music and more.

Archive.org is also a great way to find blogrolls of the past like Jason Kottke’s.

There are so many snapshots of life just sitting on the internet, time capsules from five, ten, fifteen, more years ago. Authors may have moved on, but they’ve left their thoughts behind, a vast archive that used to mean something and maybe still does. Old blogrolls are a fun way to dive back in and maybe be inspired now and then.

Is Blogging Social Media’s Savior?

Social Media isn’t going anywhere – but it’s showing its growing pains and the limitations of its ability to truly inform and educate a public, not that that was every its intent or purpose.

A lot of the efforts to reshape social media, or to walk away from it in favor of RSS feeds or something else, are really attempts to recapture those utopian elements that were active in the zeitgeist ten, fifteen, and twenty years ago. They still exercise a powerful hold over our collective imagination about what the internet is, and could be, even when they take the form of dashed hopes and stifled dreams.

Tim Carmody – “How to Fix Social Media by Injecting A Chunk of the Blogosphere”

It’s more a call to arms for bloggers than a recipe for fixing Social Media on the whole, but Tim Carmody’s entire piece over at Kottke is still worth a read. But I latched on to the same closing question as Kari did:

Was it just a place to write and be read by somebody, anybody?

I think, in the beginning, for most people, yes. Blogging was an outlet for those who had thoughts and opinions on things to just get them out. Or for others to just share a public journal or diary of sorts. And I think that created the perception to this day of bloggers as this unprofessional basement dwelling class that, while it could help stir up some news and nonsense once in a while, was generally disregarded as amateur and ultimately illegitimate compared to other, more professional outlets.

There’s a folly in that view, though, because social media has sucked in most of those who’d fall into the “unwashed masses” category. Tim touches on this briefly when he talks about different categories of people that don’t fit a one-size-fits-all solution to social media:

Many more still have little capital to trade on to begin with, and are just looking for some kind of meaningful interaction to give us a reason why we logged in in the first place. The fact that this is the largest group, for whom the tools are the least well-suited, and who were promised the most by social media’s ascendancy, is the great tragedy of the form.

For those that used blogging merely as a platform to stay in touch with friends and family, share silly links once in a while, or generally fart around the web, Facebook and Twitter fits the bill.

But there was a group of people who always used it for a little bit more. Maybe it was professional, maybe it was personal, but they added more than just a nodding head to a conversation. They weren’t just thought leaders, they were thought creators. For them, blogging was the means of breaking out and getting a platform typically locked away in an academic journal or on the editorial pages of a news publication.

The problem for the blogosphere is the best and brightest were sometimes acknowledged as such and were able to utilize the tool to move on to bigger and better things. In some ways that’s great, especially for those individuals, because it showed the power of a democratic web allowing cream to rise.

In other ways, though, it caused the platform to suffer because as a brain drain occurred the medium was left with either blogs run by those who did it as a labor of love (and so sometimes had to prioritize other things over producing quality content) or the committed few who represented the loudest, aggravated voices who wanted a place from where they could shout into the darkness — only, because it’s the Internet, the darkness shouted back and they found friends.

Woah, got heavy there for a second.

Social Media isn’t going anywhere – but it’s showing its growing pains and the limitations of its ability to truly inform and educate a public, not that that was every its intent or purpose. For those who do want more out of it, especially those who found it back in the early 2000s via blogging, the solution may be going back to the old way of doing things or some sort of hybrid. That solution is up to us to figure out, because as Tim concluded:

I don’t think we can treat the blogosphere as a settled thing, when it was in fact never settled at all. Just as social media remains unsettled. Its fate has not been written yet. We’re the ones who’ll have to write it.

SOMEWHAT RELATED NOTE: Another piece worth reading is “So, What Really Happened to The Cauldron?” where its founder, Jamie O’Grady talks about the rise and fall of the sports news site. It’s a lot more on the business end than where I focus, but it shows how quality content comes up against a lot of weird valuations and metrics these days, ultimately leading to the demise of a site that had quite a few reasons to be considered a success.

“We Should Replace Facebook With Personal Websites” — Yes. Yes we should.

2018 has not been a kind year to Facebook. Most of their problems are self inflicted, of course, but how folks are responding in the wake of story after story after story is interesting. Especially as people have started to think more and more about how to get out of the Facebook silo and back to using personal sites to share our stories:

There’s a subtext of the #deleteFacebook movement that has nothing to do with the company’s mishandling of personal data. It’s the idea that people who use Facebook are stupid, or shouldn’t have ever shared so much of their lives. But for people who came of age in the early 2000s, sharing our lives online is second nature, and largely came without consequences. There was no indication that something we’d been conditioned to do would be quickly weaponized against us.

Facebook has of course become something much larger than a single website, and has, despite its flaws, “helped connect the world” for better or worse. But Facebook tapped into a trend that was already happening—it didn’t invent the idea of letting people put stuff about their lives online, it just monetized it better.

When I think about my own Facebook use, I think often about that first website I made, and how that site served the exact same purpose then that Facebook does now. My original sin wasn’t making a Facebook account, it was abandoning my own website that I controlled (the original site was hosted on Tripod, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d pay for web hosting.) All these years later, maybe it’s time to update Jason’s Site.

I’ll be the first to admit that my blogging and overall writing was absolutely wrecked by social media. Have some random thoughts? Let’s see if I can fit it into a Tweet. Find a link? Up on Facebook it goes. I don’t even have to add any of my own thoughts for context. And all from the comfort of my own phone (which is hard to craft a blog post from, let me tell you).

But as much as we can challenge ourselves to rebuild the world of blogs and personal websites, the problem isn’t so much in how we create content online but in how we consume it. Facebook does a real good job of feeding people information quickly and easily, all tailored to fit their data driven desires. Sure, we can embrace personal websites again, but this ain’t no Field of Dreams, just because we build it doesn’t mean anyone will come.

I touched on this a bit back in June when writing about how Facebook is a terrible gatekeeper. Breaking free of Facebook’s hold on data is up to the user and requires work:

It requires manual typing and visiting sites that look different from one another or update at random times throughout the week. Or using an RSS reader like Feedly. Yeah, you’re probably still going to stick with what you know and like, but you’ll at least challenge yourself to go beyond a format that rewards sensationalism and outrage to reach the lowest common denominator in as few words as possible.

Or maybe simply changing the way we utilize Facebook to serve up third party content will make a difference. Even then you’re up against the algorithm which wants to keep people on Facebook and seeing their advertisements.

There are no easy answers. But as users are faced with more and more reasons to worry about Facebook’s ability to keep our data secure, many are going to be looking for other ways to get the same fix. Maybe there’s the next big thing around the corner. Maybe Facebook figures it out. Or maybe folks just start looking for new stuff on their own.

Until then, I should probably keep up with this site a little more often. Just in case they do come.

Writing In The Age Of Silos

It’s no longer a matter of tailoring a message, it’s often a matter of manually having to dive into the site to feed it.

Dave Winer has an interesting take on how Facebook and Twitter are not only contrary to an open web, but building silos that demand unique content and keep people in:

Writing in the age of silos. After their August 1 change, I can’t cross-post to Facebook. So if I want to speak to people I know on Facebook, I have to write on Facebook. Today if I want to even post a link, I have to do it by hand. And Twitter, new forms of writing have developed there to work around the 280-char limit. Again, if I want to write for people I know there, I have to write it there. This is what always happens with corporate platforms, they become silos. Maybe they start with good intentions, on FB, the open graph, with Twitter their API, but over time, they evolve to become their own completely self-contained very unweblike worlds. You can see that evolution in action today, at a super-high pace. For me this is the Nth time around this loop, so I have an idea what to expect next.

On some level the silos have existed as long as the platforms: Twitter’s then-140 but now-280 character limit and how they deliver their feed has always been distinct from Facebook’s multimedia method of delivery backed by an evolving algorithm that changed what you saw based on how folks interacted with content. You’ve had to keep the two different methods in mind when crafting any message because cut and pasting a headline and a link from one to the other was hardly best practice.

But now they’re breaking the tools that allowed you to easily tap into each platform from the outside. It’s no longer a matter of tailoring a message, it’s often a matter of manually having to dive into the site to feed it.

This makes sense from a business perspective. Twitter and Facebook are in the business of making money and that money comes from advertisements and you don’t see those ads if all you do is write a blog post and hit a button to push the new content to other platforms. In fact, that costs them money. But that violates the spirit of the open web.

Facebook in particular has shown a strong interest in keeping you in their environment. The way they prioritize content in the algorithm (Live vs. embedded video vs. picture vs. link vs. text) to how they present external content (downgrading YouTube links from being able to play in FB to having to be external links), it’s all efforts to force content creators to simply embrace Facebook as their home and ignore any other outlet for fear of being left out.*

But Twitter and Facebook breaking themselves off from the rest of the web — the more they pull away the more they isolate their users — that’s good for them and bad for everyone else. And not just other content production platforms like Twitter or medium and the like, but for content producers themselves. Businesses, organizations, non-profits, people who have their own hubs outside of Facebook, they’re the ones ultimately sucked into the silos and anyone with limited resources is going to make some decisions on how much effort they’re able to put into each platform and for what kind of reward.

Or maybe they just walk away.

*This isn’t even considering how the Facebook silo gets worse when you consider how the algorithm works, feeding you more of what you’re already interested in, hiding anything that wouldn’t fit your analyzed tastes, singing to the choir of existing beliefs (See: Facebook Is A Terrible Gatekeeper).

Facebook Is a Terrible Gatekeeper

Stop Reading What Facebook Tells You To Read – Mashable

By going to websites as a deliberate reader, you’re making a conscious choice about what you want a media outlet to be—as opposed to letting an algorithm choose the thing you’re most likely to click on. Or! As opposed to encouraging a world in which everyone is suckered into reading something with a headline optimized by a social media strategist armed with nothing more than “best practices” for conning you into a click.

There was a time when prevailing minds on the Internet debated about “The Cult of the Amateur” and how any Tom, Dick, and Harry having a website or publishing an ebook or posting a song on MySpace was going to be the end of culture as we knew it. Facebook has made all of that seem quaint.

Before publishing houses, record labels, newspaper editors filtered the noise, acting as gatekeepers and sorting the good from the bad, the legitimate from the meh, the real from the fake. Now culture is driven by data and algorithms spurred by sensational headlines.

In 2001’s Republic.com, Cass Sunstein feared the creation of a Daily Me as the result of a democratic Internet. The concern was that the online world promoted isolation into tribes, choirs, and echo chambers insulated from competing thought. Facebook is a result of that – it’s a way for users to digest the firehose that is the World Wide Web through a one-stop-shop, often in a way tailored to fit however we have defined ourselves through our friendships, our likes, our comments, our shares. For many it is a primary means of getting news (67% of Americans somewhat relied on social media for news last year). And when Facebook identifies you as a thirty something white guy with right leaning political views, guess what angle it’s going to feed you? Or who they’re going to sell access to your feed to?

Breaking free of that requires work. It requires manual typing and visiting sites that look different from one another or update at random times throughout the week. Or using an RSS reader like Feedly. Yeah, you’re probably still going to stick with what you know and like, but you’ll at least challenge yourself to go beyond a format that rewards sensationalism and outrage to reach the lowest common denominator in as few words as possible.

Actually browsing the web doesn’t just allow you to be a better reader, it asks authors to be better writers. Clickbait headlines and regurgitated Reddit thread listicles are lazy writing, but profitable. If you put your time toward quality work you reward quality effort.

[Y]ou’ll give them a reason to be different, and interesting, and independent, and to carry out some kind of mission that isn’t aping what everyone else does just to stay alive in the 2018 media climate. You’ll make everything just a wee bit better. You’ll incentivize them to keep you coming back for more. And you’ll be taking more control, and opting less for the control Facebook takes from you, and everyone else.

UPDATE: Old favorite Kottke.org had a great post back in April about how “Blogging is most certainly not dead” and had a great quote from Kari at karigee.com:

I also keep it out of spite, because I refuse to let social media take everything. Those shapeless, formless platforms haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it. I’ve blogged about this many times, but I still believe it: When I log into Facebook, I see Facebook. When I visit your blog, I see you.

Virtually Farming For Public Relations or How Not To Game The System

Let’s say you’re BP. You are nearly fifty days into what could be the worst environmental disaster in United States history. Ouch, that’s going to be a heck of a public relations nightmare, isn’t it? But, wait, here’s an idea! Why not invite all those connected Facebook users who live along the Gulf coast to play a game to raise awareness about the environment!

Volunteers could “check in” at locations via Foursquare and unlock badges for their volunteer efforts. Or they could earn patches of the ocean as rewards — similar to the (Lil) Green Patch game on Facebook that empowers users to fight global warming.

That’s just the kind of strategy companies and organizations need to be pursuing to win public relations battles in this social-networking era. (Source)

Yes, because while you’re looking out on the shore and see the oil on the horizon threatening your family’s future and your community’s economy and environment FarmVille will solve the problem.

I’m sorry, but if I were living in Louisiana and BP sent me an invite to “check in” and unlock badges or get myself a patch of the ocean as a reward I’d tell them where to virtually stick it.

Social gaming is pretty darn big as anyone with a Facebook account and a million invites to Mafia Wars will tell you. With applications like Foursquare and Gowalla providing virtual merit badges for physically roaming about town, there are opportunities for businesses to really turn online interest into offline activity in new and exciting ways (insert “ooohhhh” and “aaahhhh” here).

Social gaming requires a certain level of buy in and effort by the users, usually for little reward other than bragging points. It is the companies who help create real world reasons to play that capitalize best off of this.

Richmond has already experienced a few local examples of businesses utilizing Foursquare successfully. Westpark Beer & Wine hosted a Foursquare Swarm Badge party in March, filling the store with over 50 customers who enjoyed a wine tasting and received a 10% discount through the end of Spring just by showing their Swarm Badge. Many local businesses are already rewarding Foursquare users all sorts of discounts and freebies not just for Mayors but just for checking in.

National brands such as Starbucks have also started offering rewards. Pepsi has developed it’s own application, Pepsi Loot, that tells you where to find the closest delicious Pepsi and rewards you for checking into Pepsi serving establishments with free music to enjoy while partaking of your delicious cola.

What makes these attempts successful are the REAL rewards given for virtual efforts. Foursquare just gives you badges that look neat on your phone and maybe profile. Foursquare + businesses = free stuff that make you really want to play more because, hey, who doesn’t like free stuff?

Companies aren’t just getting on board with location based games. Zynga, the folks you should blame for FarmVille and Mafia Wars, have teamed up with 7-11to provide packaging for your hot dogs that include codes to get you stuff for Zynga games. Not only that, but 10% of the United States spends their time playing FarmVille. Yes, that’s right, your grandmother and at least two of your cousins are playing FarmVille.

There’s gold in them there virtual hills for businesses and organizations who can wisely invest in the medium.

It’s a matter of finding your niche and utilizing it properly. But also working the measure into your already existing Public Relations strategy (or nightmare depending on what’s happening).

If you’re, say, Roundup and you want to spread your brand’s name, latching onto something like FarmVille might be a smart play:

But Roundup isn’t faced with an environmental disaster that will take years to measure the full results of.

If you’re BP, is this a wise investment? Do you really take your money and personnel and image and buy into a game when public opinion right now is that you aren’t doing enough to stop the spill? That you aren’t taking it seriously?

That’s thousands of dollars BP could and should be putting into clean-up costs, measures to help small businesses in the effected area, local charities that will be directly impacted by the catastrophe. Real world investments that are the kind of public relations BP needs to be “buying” right now.

Look at Nestle, a small chocolate company you may have heard of. They got into a bit of bad publicity that they handled very poorly on Facebook when an organized Greenpeace effort to give them grief over its use of palm oil succeeded mainly because Nestle’s social media presence acted like jerks. What did Nestle do to help their image? They didn’t invite folks to plant virtual trees in their farm. They didn’t ask people to volunteer to go to the rain forest and replant trees they had a hand in cutting down in exchange for virtual badges or plots of forest to claim as their own. No. They partnered with The Forest Trust and began work on changing the way they do business to be more environmentally conscious in the future. They developed a strategy that created real world results for their efforts.

BP’s trying to buy forgiveness. And you don’t get that with virtual rewards that rely upon the efforts of those you are trying to win over. You get that by actually investing in the physical things that play directly into the results you want to see. You spend your time and money focusing on the communities directly impacted by the disaster. Because no matter how bad this spill gets, Facebook, FarmVille, Foursquare? They’ll still be there. But will the Gulf Coast?

Web 2.0: The Sleep Of Reason

Part I

The life of the mind in the age of Web 2.0 suffers, in many ways, from an increase in credulity and an associated flight from expertise. Bloggers are called “citizen journalists”; alternatives to Western medicine are increasingly popular, though we can thank our stars there is no discernable “citizen surgeon” movement; millions of Americans are believers in Biblical inerrancy—the belief that every word in the Bible is both true and the literal word of God, something that, among other things, pits faith against carbon dating; and, scientific truths on such matters as medical research, accepted by all mainstream scientists, are rejected by substantial numbers of citizens and many in politics.

Human beings learn, essentially, in only two ways. They learn from experience—the oldest and earliest type of learning—and they learn from people who know more than they do. The second kind of learning comes from either personal contact with living people—teachers, gurus, etc.—or through interaction with the human record, that vast assemblage of texts, images, and symbolic representations that have come to us from the past and is being added to in the present. It is this latter way of learning that is under threat in the realm of digital resources.

Part II

The flight from expertise is accompanied by the opposite of expertise—the phenomenon that Andrew Keen has called, in his new book of the same name, “the cult of the amateur.” This cult, says Keen, “worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer. It suggests that everyone—even the most poorly educated and inarticulate amongst us—can and should use digital media to express and realize themselves.” He is referring to the impulse behind Web 2.0, but his words have a wider resonance—a world in which everyone is an expert in a world devoid of expertise.

Interesting reading. I hope to have more thoughts once I have time to digest this.

Times-Dispatch on Blogging

“The audience just has to realize that a blog is more akin to the op-ed page of their newspaper as opposed to the front page,” Kenney said.

Well, earlier this week a happy little e-mail floats into my inbox from the Richmond Times Dispatch asking if I’d like to be interviewed about Virginia bloggers. And I figure, sure, why not. Besides, it’s probably a blanket e-mail and I’ll just get lost in the crowd.

Well, I wasn’t. Todays article in the Times Dispatch:

Blogging is easier than sending e-mails to your friends about that new restaurant you checked out last weekend, and it’s cheaper than making long-distance phone calls to your college-student brother in California. You don’t have to be a computer geek to blog. All you need is a computer, a modem and a few thoughts to share.

And blogs are like snowflakes: No two are the same. One blogger may be careful to include research and diverse points of view in his posts. Another will be tantamount to verbal diarrhea, “like a tabloid, all splash and trash,” Richmond blogger Jason Kenney, 26, said.

Heh, while I didn’t use the term “verbal diarrhea”, I wish I had.

Some bloggers believe the medium will overtake mainstream media (“MSM”) in the near future, rendering obsolete most newspapers and TV news. Others disagree, arguing there’s room – and need – for blogs and traditional news media.

“I think what people need to keep in mind is that blogs are not true journalism,” Walters said.

VCU professor Jeff South, who teaches classes in media ethics and in communications technology, said most blogs don’t contain any original reporting; rather, bloggers rely on mainstream media for fodder.

“Blogs tend to be so anti-establishment and anti-mainstream media, and yet they really need the mainstream media to feed off of,” he said. “In this brave new world of new media, the good news is that everyone can participate, and the bad news is that everyone can participate.”

It’s difficult to say whether blogs are an important part of communications, South added, because they vary so widely.

“Blogs can be very amateurish, unethical hack jobs, and blogs can be highly professional, authoritative journalism,” South said.

There is a gray area, though. Recently, some newspapers and TV news outlets have caught on to the blogging trend, adding staff-written blogs to their Web site or even inviting readers to create their own blogs. For example, The Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record has more than a dozen blogs written by staffers that include the behind-the-scenes details of local news stories.

“The audience just has to realize that a blog is more akin to the op-ed page of their newspaper as opposed to the front page,” Kenney said.

Check out the article for more.

Now, for the sake of total disclosure or what not, I give to you my full response to Ms. Akin’s questions:

> Name, age, job (if you want to tell us):
Name: Jason Kenney
Age: 26
Job: Currently a full-time student at VCU and I work part time shipping and receiving at Virginia Book Company. I started blogging as a receptionist for a lawfirm in downtown DC.

> Blog site:
J’s Notes (http://jsnotes.blogspot.com)

> How long have you been blogging?
Since August of 2001.

> Why did you decide to blog?
I decided to blog in order to have a central location for friends and family to get information on me as people began to grow up and on in life.

> Does your blog have a theme?
I wouldn’t say there’s a unifying theme to J’s Notes–it’s just a bunch of random links and news mixed with a bit of personal information and opinions. For a while there was a focus on politics and news in particular, especially with covering events in downtown DC (IMF and anti-war protests). But it has come back to just links and occasional updates on the life and times of me.

> How often do you blog?
I try to update J’s Notes daily, though sometimes I miss while other times I end up tossing up ten or more posts in a day. Depends on having the time and my mood, really.

> Is the site for your friends and family, or do others read? Do they respond to your posts?
With the content being a lot of links and news, the potential audience is anyone, but it currently entertains my friends and family. There was a time when the audience was wider than that, pulling in assorted bloggers and random readers, but after I took some time off from blogging in 2004 that audience moved on.

> Do you regularly read other peoples’ blogs? How many?
I usually check out about a dozen or so blogs every day, ranging from family blogs to news and link blogs where I get some of my content (since blogging really turns out to be a lot of shared information anyway). Daily must reads include Instapundit (http://www.instapundit.com), Commonwealth Watch (http://commonwealthwatch.blogspot.com/), The Beat (http://www.comicon.com/thebeat/) and others.

> What is the “future of blogs”? And how do you think they fit in to the world of “information dissemination” (for lack of a better term)?
I think the “future of blogs” is going to look a lot like the present, only used by a wider market. For example, there has been a large push lately to see blogs used more in the business sector for customer support, news, insights and such, and I think you’ll start to see more of that as the internet continues to evolve. And while some news bloggers believe that blogs are the future and that the mainstream media (MSM to some) is a dinosaur, I don’t agree. I think you may see an increased used of blogs by journalists, but only for them to have forums for their own thoughts. News blogs need the structured, reviewed, and editorially overseen MSM in order to survive–or rather, fulfil their purpose.

As for “information dissemination” I think blogs have a limited place in filling that need, mainly because of the bias of the blogger as well as the audience. This relates greatly to your next question:

> Is a blog a valid source of information, or more just a place to unload your thoughts?
Like any source of information, validity is entirely dependent on the filter of your source. Some bloggers are more akin to an encyclopedia, taking their time on their presentation of information through research and patience and presenting a thoughtful post that covers all the bases. Others are much like a tabloid, all splash and trash with unfounded statements, citation of questionable sources, and contradictions every other post (or even within a post).

Most, thankfully, fall between these two categories. However, mistaking one for the other is not really the issue since your average internet savvy person can distinguish between them (though there are still those who believe “anything on the internet is true”, a concept which will ideally pass like “anything seen on television is true”).

With that said, blogs represent many different areas of interest, from politics to programming to random links to gaming, and so on. To an extent they provide information to their audience in as much as they provide what information they WANT to share. The internet is a great service where people can find out nearly everything about anything with the click of a mouse. But it also leads to people purposefully (though perhaps not consciously) selectively educating themselves. An internet user can choose to only visit certain sites for all of the information they want or need on a particular topic, never having to even entertain the notion of other ideas existing.

It’s a trap some blogs fall into and feed. Many bloggers associate their sites with those of like minded bloggers or news sources, linking to them, sharing information from them, and then redirecting their audience to those other sites. This bias turns
most blogs into nothing more than journals of opinion, even when they link to news articles or information from objective sources. It is their decision to share some of this information over others that creates their slant.

Their audience may believe this and swear by it, getting their information only from this source and never entertaining alternative news, views or even the truth. As I said, the internet provides people the means of finding the information they want to find, the stuff that they want to hear, and they can just keep coming back, never having to deal with those other sites that don’t speak their language.

This also limits the effectiveness of a blog spreading information because their audience ends up containing only like minded individuals, a situation where they are simply preaching to the choir any time they have a thought or even an actual news event or fact that should perhaps get more attention and coverage.

After looking over my response I realize that I’ve taken a fairly negative view of blogs when that’s not really how I feel. Blogs are great supplemental information to the world. Whether in providing more through observations on a political view or a book or how something works, Blogs can help to educate their audience on many things they might not find out otherwise. The danger exists of a reader falling into the trap of what Cass Sustein called “Daily Me” in Republic.com, but that is not a problem with Blogs. The audience just has to realize that a blog is more akin to the oped page of their news paper as opposed to the front page.

With that said, I’ve always been under the impression that blogs in and of themselves aren’t too entirely revolutionary. There have been many means for sharing personal information available on the web since it’s mainstream birth. Forums, websites, chat rooms, mailing lists, they’re all there. What is revolutionary about blogs is the system behind them, the publishing software like Blogger or MoveableType, because they make the quick and easy sharing of information as simple as pushing a button.

But blogs are really no different than journals or diaries, like what you find at LiveJournal. It’s all about how one uses them.

Also, the article opens with talking about a Matt Walters. I think I know that guy from high school…

UPDATE: The Virginia Blogosphere comments:

Commonwealth WatchHopefully they’ll do a follow-up or two on political blogs.
One Man’s TrashIt’s not a terribly good article, seeing that its focus seems to be largely on bloggers found in an around VCU.
Commonwealth Conservative

And I can’t argue with that. A more thurough article would have been nice, covering not only the big guns of Virginia blogging, but Virginia bloggers on the national scene, like Meryl Yourish and others. But I get the feeling that this was done in three or four days (since I was e-mailed on Wednesday). Maybe there will be a political follow-up, especially with state elections around the corner.

UPDATE 2: The Matt Walters in the article IS the same Matt Walters I hung out with for a bit back in high school. Small world. Yeah, yeah, I’m only an hour away from my high school, but still.