Blog Critics

The posts below are selected and edited from a Blogroots thread I posted on 2 June 2003, and another posted by prolific on 18 July 2003. Comments by people other than myself are highlighted in blue.


"Maybe blogs are a way of keeping the truly antisocial out of harm's way," says The Register's Andrew Orlowski in a story which, because the number of blog readers is "statistically insignificant", will "almost certainly be the least-read item of the day" at his employer's site. So why write it?

It's not that I disagree with everything Orlowski says; just that his way of saying it is as subtle as a Victorian schoolmarm shoving cod liver oil down your throat. Who is he hoping to convince with all of this? Bloggers now see him as a troll, and non-bloggers, as he himself says, don't care. When is The Register going to take his "nobody reads blogs" line at face value and tell him to stop wasting his time reporting on such an "insignificant" phenomenon?

I actually followed each of those links in Orlowski's intro, rather than assuming they were accurately represented by his comments on them, and ye gods: Doc Searls expressing weary disappointment about "just another big media put-down" is a "capricious tantrum"? A terribly minor debate about the meaning of "shibboleth" on the boingboing message board shows "the frustration of trying to use grown-up words, but failing"? The "vote links" proposal is a sign of "the helpless feeling that world is conspiring against you"? It's not like it's hard to find examples of "popstar fantasies" and the like among the millions of blog posts floating around the web, but these examples scarcely qualify.

Which raises the more interesting question: why do the Orlowskis of the world persist with their potshots at blogging? Why do eight-year-old throwaway posts by Dave Winer linger in their minds as examples of the Evil that Blogs Do? Why this need to characterise it all as the work of a bunch of "teenage girls" (with all the offensive overtones to bloggers and teenage girls that Adameft notes)? Orlowski may be the most outspoken example of this attitude of late, but we've seen plenty of others like him. What is it about blogging that inspires such journalistic denigration?

The question particularly interests me after reading Tim Berners-Lee's Weaving the Web and thinking about how blogs get close to fulfilling his original vision of what the Web should be: not just browsable, but editable, so that readers can annotate and interlink as well as just read. The combination of easy-to-use blog tools and Google has brought us much closer to that vision. By contrast, the pronouncements from journalists like Orlowski are an example of the old gatekeeper model of publishing, even though they're appearing on the Web: journalist files copy, editor approves it, someone else publishes it to an official-looking website, and readers read it in the same way they read other pronouncements from Media with a capital M.

Of course, once you give the masses a tool for posting comments in the same space (the Web) that the "official" media are using, you might find they say things you weren't expecting, or that you don't think are important, or that disagree with what the official media has said: things like "I was hoping for something thoughtful and understanding, but alas: it was just another big media put-down, all the worse for its withering intellectual tone." And even if you try to dismiss those comments as "capricious tantrums", you'll find others who dismiss your dismissal as nonsense. And so on and so on, as point and counterpoint grow into a giant tangled web of information and opinion, and a world-wide one at that. What a terrible state of affairs that would be.


Google hogged by blogs. Another web magazine chips in: "Blog culture has made links and idle comment into ends in themselves, irrespective of the merit or relevance of the content being linked to or commented upon. It is this failing of blogs, not any failing of PageRank, that has meant that the assumptions which made PageRank work so effectively are no longer tenable." ¶ posted by prolific

Exactly which blogs is the reporter talking about here? A Google search on any "serious" subject is hardly likely to turn up dozens of stereotypical what-I-had-for-lunch blogs. She seems to be implying that thousands of bloggers are rattling off entries like "Gee, I wish I knew something about particle physics, but concepts like neutrinos and superstrings and the heat death of the universe are all way over my silly little uninformed head, so instead I'll just link to this here picture of my cat", and making life a misery for Google-searching physicists everywhere.

If blogs were devalued just for being blogs, searches for William Gibson, Dave Barry, Douglas Rushkoff and Neil Gaiman would fail to turn up the very sites on which they themselves are actually writing new stuff for the web.

And just because journalist X hasn't heard of blogger Y doesn't mean that they aren't an authority on whatever they're writing about. Personally, if I see a blog full of entries about a particular topic, I assume the author is actually interested in it and knows what they're talking about, at least to some extent—and, if it's a traditional links blog, can point me to more useful information on the subject. True, every now and then you'll run across a blowhard, but until Google perfect an artificially intelligent search engine with inbuilt blowhard-detection and the ultimate expert system on absolutely everything, we're kind of stuck with that.

Once we had to comb through articles in print sources by hand, and checking out and dismissing the blowhards took whole minutes. Nowadays sweet relief is only ever seconds away.


There's more discussion of blog critics in this post.


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