Results tagged “blogs”
July 3, 2013
One of the things I expected least to see in 2013 was that this year would mark the greatest flourishing of RSS reader applications in the decade since it first came to prominence on the web. But, with the death of Google Reader as a catalyst, dozens of alternatives and replacements have sprung up.
In just a few hours, with the help of many contributors from across the web, we were able to catalog over a hundred web-based RSS readers that are up and running today, and this doesn't include apps that run natively on your desktop, laptop, tablet, phone or gaming console.
So that's great news, but it drives me to a few conclusions:
- Stop making RSS readers. I'm sure you've got a great idea, but find a way to update one of the better open source apps with your feature rather than trying to outmarket a hundred competitors.
- Rethink the reading side of the experience. What we've largely ended up with is old-fashioned two-pane readers that clone Google's Reader (and Bloglines before it) or Pinterest clones that use a magazine layout which optimizes for skimming more than reading. Dave Winer, godfather of RSS, has long advocated a river of news (Stop Publishing Web Pages!) but oddly all these people have adopted his format without adopting his recommendations for reading.
- What I need now is a blog reader, not an RSS reader. In my ideal blogging tool (see these notes from a few months ago), what you'd get when you visit Dashes.com is essentially a single-site RSS reader that could traverse my archives arbitrarily by tag or date or topic, and eventually it'd be able to transclude content from the sites I link to. This would also let us decouple our publishing CMSes from our templating systems.
- RSS as a format hasn't much progressed since being frozen in its 2.0 format, despite supporting namespaces. How could we add a form of Likes or Reblogs (or even just tags/hashtags?) to have it more closely resemble the current web?
At the very least we can enjoy today as a milestone of unlikely success for a venerable format. And take the time to mark the date of that success!
July 20, 2011
We're twenty years in to this world wide web thing. Today, I myself celebrate twelve years of writing this blog. And yet those of us who love this medium, who've had our lives changed by the possibility of publishing our words to the world without having to ask permission, are constantly charged with defending this wonderful, expressive medium in a way that creators in every other discipline seldom find themselves obligated to do.
Some of this is because the medium is new, of course. But in large part, it's because so many of the most visible, prominent, and popular places on the web are full of unkindness and hateful behavior.
The examples are already part of pop culture mythology: We can post a harmless video of a child's birthday party and be treated to profoundly racist non-sequiturs in the comments. We can read about a minor local traffic accident on a newspaper's website and see vicious personal attacks on the parties involved. A popular blog can write about harmless topics like real estate, restaurants or sports and see dozens of vitriolic, hate-filled spewings within just a few hours.
But that's just the web, right? Shouldn't we just keep shrugging our shoulders and shaking our heads and being disappointed in how terrible our fellow humans are?
This is a solved problem
As it turns out, we have a way to prevent gangs of humans from acting like savage packs of animals. In fact, we've developed entire disciplines based around this goal over thousands of years. We just ignore most of the lessons that have been learned when we create our communities online. But, by simply learning from disciplines like urban planning, zoning regulations, crowd control, effective and humane policing, and the simple practices it takes to stage an effective public event, we can come up with a set of principles to prevent the overwhelming majority of the worst behaviors on the Internet.
If you run a website, you need to follow these steps. if you don't, you're making the web, and the world, a worse place. And it's your fault. Put another way, take some goddamn responsibility for what you unleash on the world.
How many times have you seen a website say "We're not responsible for the content of our comments."? I know that when you webmasters put that up on your sites, you're trying to address your legal obligation. Well, let me tell you about your moral obligation: Hell yes, you are responsible. You absolutely are. When people are saying ruinously cruel things about each other, and you're the person who made it possible, it's 100% your fault. If you aren't willing to be a grown-up about that, then that's okay, but you're not ready to have a web business. Businesses that run cruise ships have to buy life preservers. Companies that sell alcohol have to keep it away from kids. And people who make communities on the web have to moderate them.
- You should have real humans dedicated to monitoring and responding to your community. One of the easiest ways to ensure valuable contributions on your site is to make people responsible by having dedicated, engaged, involved community moderators who have the power to delete comments and ban users (in the worst case) but also to answer questions and guide conversations for people who are unsure of appropriate behavior (in the best cases). Sites that do this, like MetaFilter and Stack Exchange sites (disclosure, I'm a proud board member of Stack Exchange) get good results. Those that don't, don't. If you can't afford to invest the time or money in grooming and rewarding good community moderators? Then maybe don't have comments. And keep in mind: You need lots of these moderators. The sites with the best communities have a really low ratio of community members to moderators.
- You should have community policies about what is and isn't acceptable behavior. Your community policy should be short, written in plain language, easily accessible, and phrased in flexible terms so people aren't trying to nitpick the details of the rules when they break them. And then back them up with significant consequences when people break them: Either temporary or permanent bans on participation.
- Your site should have accountable identities. No, people don't have to use their real names, or log in with Google or Facebook or Twitter unless you want them to. But truly anonymous commenting often makes it really easy to have a pile of shit on your website, especially if you don't have dedicated community moderators. When do newspapers publish anonymous sources? When the journalists know the actual identity and credibility of the person, and decide it is a public good to protect their identity. You may wish to follow the same principles, or you can embrace one of my favorite methods of identity: Persistent pseudonyms. Let users pick a handle that is attached to all of their contributions in a consistent way where other people can see what they've done on the site. Don't make reputation a number or a score, make it an actual representation of the person's behavior. And of course, if appropriate, don't be afraid to attach people's real names to their comments and contributions. But you'll find "real" identities are no cure for assholes showing up in your comments if you aren't following the rest of the principles described here.
- You should have the technology to easily identify and stop bad behaviors. If you have a community that's of decent size, it can be hard for even a sufficient number of moderators to read every single conversation thread. So a way for people to flag behavior that violates guidelines, and a simple set of tools for allowing moderators to respond quickly and appropriately, are a must-have so that people don't get overwhelmed.
- You should make a budget that supports having a good community, or you should find another line of work. Every single person who's going to object to these ideas is going to talk about how they can't afford to hire a community manager, or how it's so expensive to develop good tools for managing comments. Okay, then save money by turning off your web server. Or enjoy your city where you presumably don't want to pay for police because they're so expensive.
Just a start
Those are, of course, just a few starting points for how to have a successful community. You need many more key factors for a community to truly thrive, and I hope others can suggest them in the comments. (Yep, I know I'm asking for it by having comments on this post.)
But as I reflected back on the wonderful, meaningful conversations I've had in the last dozen years of this blog, I realized that one of the reasons people don't understand how I've had such a wonderful response from all of you over the years is because they simply don't believe great conversations can happen on the web. Fortunately, I have seen so much proof to the contrary.
Why are they so cynical about conversation on the web? Because a company like Google thinks it's okay to sell video ads on YouTube above conversations that are filled with vile, anonymous comments. Because almost every great newspaper in America believes that it's more important to get a few more page views on their website than to encourage meaningful discourse about current events within their community, even if many of those page views will be off-putting to the good people who are offended by the content of the comments. And because lots of publishers think that any conversation is good if it boosts traffic stats.
Well, the odds are I've been doing this blogging thing longer than you, so let me tell you what I've learned: When you engage with a community online in a constructive way, it can be one of the most meaningful experiences of your life. It doesn't have to be polite, or neat and tidy, or full of everyone agreeing with each other. It just has to not be hateful and destructive.
In that spirit, I've tried to hold off on actually naming names of people who run sites that encourage hateful horrible communities. Mostly because the people actually running the sites aren't being granted the resources or power to make the choices they need to make to have a fruitful community. But I'm lucky enough after all these years that my words sometimes get in front of those who do have the power to fix the web's worst communities.
So, I beseech you: Fix your communities. Stop allowing and excusing destructive and pointless conversations to be the fuel for your business. Advertisers, hold sites accountable if your advertising appears next to this hateful stuff. Take accountability for this medium so we can save it from the vilification that it still faces in our culture.
Because if your website is full of assholes, it's your fault. And if you have the power to fix it and don't do something about it, you're one of them.
Thank you to John Fraissinet for the image.
January 4, 2011
Clive Thompson's newest Wired piece argues that the flow of short-form messages as we see on Twitter and Facebook is encouraging longer meditations in other media. I've been thinking about this phenomenon for a while in terms of the impact that it has on me and other bloggers, with the simple premise that I'd like to be writing the content that everyone links to in those media, instead of merely passing around links to other people's work.
I alluded to that concept in the lengthy conversation I had with Clive for the piece, and he captured one of the key points I was trying to make:
“I save the little stuff for Twitter and blog only when I have something big to say,” as blogger Anil Dash put it. It turns out readers prefer this: One survey found that the most popular blog posts today are the longest ones, 1,600 words on average.
Now, while I'd like to self-servingly pretend that everything I say here is "big" in the sense of being important, really what I meant is that some ideas are just bigger than 140 characters. In fact, most good ideas are. More importantly, our ideas often need to gain traction and meaning over time. Blog posts often age into something more substantial than they are at their conception, through the weight of time and perspective and response.
And blogs afford that sort of maturation of an idea uniquely well amongst online media, due to their use of the permalink (permanent link), which gives each idea a place to live and thrive. While Facebook and Twitter nominally provide permalinks as well, the truth is that individual ideas in those flow-based media don't have enough substance for a meaningful conversation to accrete around them.
Felix Salmon touches on this point well in his recent post about the evanescence of Twitter debates. In the particular case he cites, Twitter is the medium that hosted important disclosures that could be material to a case that a current Supreme Court justice has said could impact a future ruling on free speech.
This means that, in an upcoming court case with the highest possible stakes for self-expression in our country, we may be relying on content that will soon be unretrievable by design. (That linked page shows that Twitter will only let you retrieve your last 3200 tweets.) If Kevin Poulsen decides to write 3000 more tweets between now and the time this theoretical case hits the Supreme Court, then we're relying on the (admittedly likely) chance that Twitter, Inc. makes an exception to its policy in order to provide this evidence.
If You See Something, Say Something
But usually, the stakes aren't as high as the future of free speech in America. Sometimes, we just have ideas we're pondering. Maybe we aren't sure of the full implications of something we've noticed, but we want to help catalyze a conversation. It's that sort of brainstorming that led David Galbraith to invent the most popular form of autobiography every created. I get to experience small versions of it myself, as when I noticed a small trend in people's observations about Google lately, which seems to have helped to promote the idea that maybe there has been an inflection point in the evolution of Google's ability to search the contemporary web.
Here's the important thing: The only reason I was able to synthesize those few perspectives is because they were blogged. Certainly, Twitter helped bring those ideas to my attention, and Facebook or any other stream-based service could have played that role as well. But because these points were raised by people I don't always read immediately, the persistence and permanence of their words, as uniquely provided by blogging, is what made it possible for a pattern to emerge.
Capturing those ephemeral moments of observation in a permanent and persistent form is essential for the ideas to mature into something larger. I'd hoped, when I first recommended that everyone consider Twitter a few years ago, that Twitter would emphasize those traits about tweets sent on the service, but until and unless their current design choices change, there's an enormous amount of cultural data that gets lost every day, simply by having been shared through a platform with those constraints.
The Perils of a Low Stress Environment
Now, Twitter and other stream-based flows of information provide an important role in the ecosystem. Perhaps the most important psychological innovation of Twitter is that it assumes you won't see every message that comes along. There's no count of unread items, and very little social cost to telling a friend that you missed their tweet. That convenience and social accommodation is incredibly valuable and an important contribution to the web.
However, by creating a lossy environment where individual tweets are disposable, there's also an environment where few will build the infrastructure to support broader, more meaningful conversations that could be catalyzed by a tweet. In many ways, this means the best tweets for advancing an idea are those that contain links to more permanent media.
So, if most tweets are too ephemeral to reach their full potential as ideas, what do we do about it? Well, obviously, one big step would be to simply make sure to blog any idea that's worth preserving. It's perfectly fine to tweet about trivialities — I do it all the time! But if you're tweeting about your work, your passion, or something meaningful to you, you owe it to your ideas to actually preserve them somewhere more persistent.
And, of course, I should make a pitch that this is part of the reason I am so enamored of the work the ThinkUp community is doing. A free, thriving, powerful, relatively accessible app that archives Twitter and Facebook updates with a mind towards incorporating them into more persistent and meaningful media is an essential part of the ecosystem. This is especially true as political, social and artistic leaders start to rely on these ephemeral media, without realizing the cultural costs to those choices.
Given enough time, and without substantial changes to the way the big social networks work, if you didn't blog it, it didn't happen. In fact, I first wrote about this idea a bit on Twitter a few years ago. See if you can find it.
December 1, 2010
I love blogs. Nick Denton wrote over on Lifehacker about the pending redesign of Gawker's blogs, with a lot of great insights into the leading edge of web publishing today. As with any thoughtful, provocative writing of such length, it inspired some great responses, including two of my early favorites:
- Joel Johnson, in 133 characters, offered up "Gawker Media is the size of a moderately successful local McDonalds franchise. So I guess it's a compliment that it's so interesting."
- Felix Salmon, at 6000 words, covers Hungary and the Cayman Islands, Kinja and Blogwire, and probably other stuff that I missed.
“I think Nick [Denton] is eager to declare this a post-blog design as a sop to advertisers,” he said. “It’s still a blog, it’s just the blog is in a narrower column.”
This is true! I do think this — Gawker is still, and always has been, just a nicely designed blog. Same goes for its sister sites. But what neither Nick mentioned is an idea that I've shared with them both, that Gawker's redesign to me shows an interesting convergence around a pattern that is best exemplified by, of all things, the new Twitter design.
River On One Side, Party On The Other
Let's consider the core elements of a reverse-chronological headline flow, accompanied by a sort of "content well" where rich media items sit. I mumbled about this a bit a few months ago in Twitter, Transclusion and Trust, but basically a half-decade after RSS readers failed to take over the world, major media sites are all converging on the idea of a two-paned reader, with a river of news of headlines that can be clicked to yield an embedded article reader that prominently features video, photos or other rich content. Here's a side-by-side comparison, with the bloggy parts highlighted:
Interestingly, this sort of seems like blogs have finally adopted elements of web applications as part of their fundamental design. Many have noted how the new Twitter on the web seems influenced by Twitter on the iPad (though the order of the two platforms' release may not have been the order of their creation), but in chatting today Nick Denton mentioned that there has seemed to be a sort of convergent evolution around these ideas between Twitter's work, Gawker's redesign, and other apps as well. Nick specifically mentioned the Mail app on the iPad, and added, "When we saw Reeder on iPad, we thought: oh, wow, same thinking".
The relative widths of the columns accurately reflects the priority of the media companies that host them: Twitter is mostly about the stream, but also about the content; Gawker is primarily about the content but needs to have the stream.
In this way, blogs are emphasizing the trait that's always defined them, the fact that they're an ongoing flow of information instead of just a collection of published pages. By allowing that flow to continue regardless of which particular piece of embedded content has caught your eye, Gawker and Twitter are just showing the vibrancy and resilience of the format.
September 3, 2009
About seven years ago, Matt Haughey, Paul Bausch and Meg Hourihan ran a very cool early blogging community called Blogroots, which acted as watercooler for conversations about the evolution of the then-nascent medium.
I'd found some links to the site in the Web Archive a few months ago, and sent them around, and then was delighted to see one of them surface on its own again today. Gawker Media's Erin Pettigrew used the initial thread about the launch of Gizmodo (Gawker's first title), along with my post at the time as a jumping-off point for a look at Gawker's success seven years later. I'm a big fan of using the history of our blogs as a record of the lessons we've learned over the years, and I'm glad I wasn't (overly) harsh about Gawker's chances.
As far as advertising on blogs goes, though, I'll admit I've become a bit of a convert to the potential. Today's conversation prompted a quick glance at the numbers for the biggest blog advertising platforms in the U.S., revealing something kind of interesting:
Not too shabby, considering it's only been a little over a year since Six Apart Media launched. Another little trivia note — that first Gizmodo design, which inspired such an interesting conversation, was designed and implemented by Mena and Ben Trott, working as sort of an ancient ancestor of today's Six Apart Services. It's fun to see that everybody involved is not only still blogging, but succeeding at it.
November 19, 2007
A few brief thoughts upon the announcement of Amazon's Kindle ebook reader:
- Given that even my most skeptical friends have literally been desperate for ebooks for years now, there's definitely demand for such a device -- the question is whether all the pieces are in place, and whether regular people agree with us geeks.
- The choice of EVDO over wifi is very telling. I travel a lot, so I'm keenly aware of exactly how far wifi has to go to become really ubiquitous. And even the many places that wifi is available are tangled up an a complicated set of different payment and access schemes. Bundling access through an EVDO network that "feels" free is one of the most interesting parts of the announcement. Odd that they branded the network as "Whispernet", unless of course they plan to use it for other things in the future.
- I don't think they should be charging for blogs that are distributed to Kindle users. Obviously, I have a dog in this fight, since I've wanted a dedicated blog reading-device for years, but I don't even think it's got the potential to be a great business for blog publishers. Having blog content be free would be the perfect gateway drug to Kindle usage.
- I was really unsettled by the specificity of Robert Scoble's April Fool's joke about such a device, since it ended up being very accurate. On the other hand, I know that there are bloggers who've known about the Kindle, in one form or another, for a year or so.
- The 10-minute video extolling the Kindle featuring Jeff Bezos and a dozen best-selling authors is perhaps the most visible evidence of just how much Amazon dominates the book distribution industry.
- The videos promoting Kindle also show that, though he might not have Steve Jobs' showmanship, Bezos seems to be perhaps the most articulate CEO of any of the big technology companies when it comes to explaining the benefits of his own products.
- They should kick-start the market by giving these out as free Wikipedia devices to schools. One per classroom.
- Distributing books through Whispernet and controlling their sale dodges a lot of the more obvious blowback that they'd get about DRM and monopolistic sales channels if they'd have chosen to use a desktop app like the iTunes store does. Smart, or lucky?
- Does the fact that books or other content have to be converted to MOBI format mean that they're eliminating the potential for Long Tail revenues from Kindle users? They say they've got 100 out of 112 best-sellers supported already, but isn't the killer app the books that aren't NY Times best-sellers?
- A five-thousand word cover story in Newsweek entitled "The Future of Reading"? That's perhaps the most impressive PR coup for a hardware device that I've ever seen. The story is pretty good, but even the iPhone wasn't greeted with that kind of reception. ("The Future of Talking"?)
- I love reading on my iPod Touch, and indeed, it's a better reading device than it is an iPod. It's a little too small to really curl up with, as one does with a book, but when I showed it to an acquaintance in the book publishing industry a few weeks ago, she understood how I could say it was a lot closer to the "right" ebook experience than anything that's been foisted on us in the past. It'll be interesting to see if Kindle continues that trend.
Update: D'oh! I forgot two of the main points I wanted to make:
- I should be able to get a Kindle client for my laptop, and then if I buy a book every other week, I get free EVDO access. Maybe I'd have to pay for a card, but Whispernet is a great service.
- Amazon Prime members should get a Kindle for free. Make that program actually offer some tangible benefits to members. And again, free Whispernet for Prime members would be killer.
October 8, 2007
In his post this weekend, Rex Sorgatz points out that "mainstream media is hard". It's a truth I know firsthand -- I used to work both in the music industry and at a newspaper, and still get the chance to work directly with the people at the largest media companies in the world who are bringing them into the modern era.
The thing is, I want them to survive the changes, and to thrive. I detest that there's such an adversarial relationship; This weekend a conversation with a veteran of the book publishing industry reached something of a breakthrough when we agreed that framing the ebook conversation in terms of DRM was like picking which Barnes & Nobles to stock books in based on how much shoplifting they see at that location. It's not about stealing -- it's about making fans happy.
Similarly, news can be about making worthwhile journalism that respects both tradition and contemporary life. So I was really, really happy to see Rex and Mike Davidson announce that MSNBC has acquired Newsvine. We usually talk about big companies acquiring little ones in term of the survival of the smaller company, but this may well be one that boosts the longevity of both organizations.
And more to the point, I love the conversations that I have with (or pick up from the blogs of) Mike and Rex because, like me, they're part of a large, somewhat quiet, number of us who truly love both old and new media. It's been a failing of both parties that people still talk about giant media corporations as dinosaurs, or that the giant corporations see new media like blogs as a threat instead of an opportunity.
As Mike points out in his post, MSNBC sites like Rising From Ruin really show off the potential for companies to combine the reach of traditional media with the emotional resonance of the best of social media. I've had the privilege of getting to watch the site mature from its launch the weekend that Katrina hit (it's a TypePad blog), and seeing how human the stories are on that site, compared to, for example, the manipulative and off-putting versions of similar stories that one might see on TV was really a gratifying example of how a big company can do social news right.
I'm hoping, too, that the new relationship will somehow mean I get to finally meet either Rex or Mike. Despite traveling in the same circles for years and having avidly followed their work for more than half a decade, somehow I haven't met either of these guys yet.
September 4, 2007
I'd intended to post a correction to this NY Times story's recounting of the history of blog book tours, but was pleased to see that my friend, and intermittent blogger, Jason Kottke has already done the legwork.
For my part, here's Greg Knauss' post on my blog from his seminal tour for Rainy Day Fun And Games For Toddler And Total Bastard. (Which book I still heartily recommend, by the way.)
And then two years later, I hosted Danyel Smith for a quick stop as she promoted More Like Wrestling. Since then, Danyel's gone on to return as Editor in Chief of Vibe. Sure, it's a role she's uniquely qualified for, but I like to think that having a brief stopover at my blog on her book tour was really what sealed the deal.
August 6, 2007
Daniel Lyons, author of the heretofore-anonymous Fake Steve Jobs blog, which comments extensively on companies in the technology industry, was also the author of Forbes' November 2005 cover story "Attack of the Blogs", a 3000-word screed vilifying anonymous bloggers who comment on companies in the technology industry. In 2005, I spoke to Lyons for the article, though the comments I made about both the efforts that have been made to encourage accountability in the blogopshere, as well as the many positive benefits that businesses have accrued from blogging, were omitted from the story.
My initial temptation was to mark Lyons as a hypocrite. Upon reflection, it seems there's a more profound lesson: The benefits of blogging for one's career or business are so profound that they were even able to persuade a dedicated detractor.
First, some background. Attack of the Blogs attracted a good deal of blogosphere attention when it was originally published; It's difficult to overemphasize exactly how strident and one-sided the piece is. Some excerpts to give you a sense of the tone:
Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective. Their potent allies in this pursuit include Google and Yahoo.
The online haters have formidable allies amplifying their tirades to a potential worldwide audience of 900 million: Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, plus a raft of other blog hosts. Google is the largest player; its Blogger.com site attracts 15 million visitors a month, more than each of the Web sites of the New York Times, USAToday and the Washington Post. An upstart, Six Apart in SanFrancisco, owns three blogging services--TypePad, LiveJournal and Movable Type--that together run a strong second to Google.
With that mention of my employer, I have to begin the disclaimers. I obviously have a vested interest in preventing people from maligning blogs -- much of my career, and indeed the bulk of the work of my adult life, has been in helping promote opportunities around things like blogs. In addition, I spent a good deal of time on the phone with Lyons for the story, expressing in detail the steps my company had taken to encourage responsible blogging, and instead saw the second paragraph I quoted above, which implies that we somehow benefit from providing services to "online haters".
(To those who'd snipe that I'm only upset I didn't get quoted -- I don't have any interest in getting quoted in lazy, sensationalistic stories. And my points of view were more than adequately voiced by peers I respect, such as Jason Goldman and Frank Shaw.)
The deliberate antagonism of the story was especially frustrating to me because Six Apart, more than any other company involved in blogging, has taken its lumps for its advocacy and efforts around accountability and responsibility. We'd been taken to task years ago by the old-school blogging community for efforts like TypeKey, which provided authentication tools, and were derided by both bloggers and the media for encouraging any accountability for the tone and content of bloggers' words. At the same time, we've been maligned by stories like the Forbes cover for apparently not doing enough to encourage accountability, though I do take some pride (and offer a final disclaimer) in the fact that we host Forbes' blogs on our TypePad service, that Forbes offers the option of using TypeKey to authenticate comments, and that the content of the Forbes blogs is generally excellent.
The useful content of blogs like Forbes' highlights a particularly interesting bit of intellectual dishonesty in the original Attack of the Blogs story. Many of the examples of the most extreme negative behavior come from sources such as Yahoo message boards postings, vituperative emails, even abusive phone calls. Not to put to fine a point on it, but none of these are blogs.
So, should Forbes simply retract the story and issue a correction? Maybe so. Because the most dramatic oversight in the piece was that Forbes neglected its own editorial mission. I am by no means an advocate or supporter of the unalloyed capitalism that seems to be advocated by the magazine's editorial ideology, but I do think it's a position held in good faith, and so I can respect it. But Forbes professes to be an advocate for businesses and entrepreneurs, and by presenting blogs and blogging as a threat, instead of as the single most powerful new tool for improving business communications, the magazine does its target audience a profound disservice.
Which brings us to Fake Steve Jobs. There's no question Dan Lyons does great work under his pseudonym. The blog itself is a must-read, and the canny way the author's true identity has been managed was exceptionally effective at making the blog a breakout success. Since the New York Times outed Lyons, Forbes itself has wasted no time in claiming both the author and the blog as its own.
But the techniques and opportunities created by the success of FSJ illustrate perfectly the flaws in the original Attack of the Blogs story. The immediacy and extremely wide distribution of a blog make it possible to reach a large audience in a very short period of time. The blogosphere's lightning-paced mechanisms for promotion and amplification let the site attract buzz and attention from far outside of its core geek audience. The influence and connections of blog readers got the blog attention from the likes of Bill Gates, and yes, even (the real) Steve Jobs himself less than a year after its launch. And the business value generated was so obvious that Forbes.com compromised on its usually-staid editorial voice in order to include Fake Steve as part of its stable of blogs. And the blog was even hosted by the very same Google that "allied" itself with the "online lynch mobs", and will join those hosted by us who "operate with government-sanctioned impunity".
Blogs are such a good business tool that Forbes has given its most valuable editorial promotion to announce their adoption of one. This, from the magazine whose cover touted that "They Destroy Brands and Wreck Lives".
It makes sense to close with a quote from the story whose creation perhaps inspired Lyons to rethink his view on blogs after he'd completed it.
Google and the like argue they bear no more responsibility for content than a phone company does for slander over its wires. But Google's blog business looks less like a phone company and more like a mix of reality TV and an online magazine. Bloggers provide the fare, and Google maintains it for them free of charge, sometimes selling ads.
Google says ad revenue isn't the point. The real aim is "to let users embrace the Web as a medium of self-expression," a spokesman says. Google lets them run wild.
Dan, aren't you glad you got to run wild?
Some related links:
- The New York Times reveals that Dan Lyons is Fake Steve Jobs. Read to the end as John Markoff (through Brad Stone) not-very-subtly reveals the fact that he has Real Steve Jobs' IM handle on his buddy list.
- Attack of the Blogs, which helped inspire Mena Trott's speech about online accountability.
- An appreciation of an insightful perspective on FSJ by Caroline McCarthy of CNET.
March 2, 2007
I would just like to say thank you to all of you for supporting my site for almost 8 years now. This is an unbelievable honor.
February 2, 2007
How could I still give a damn about blogs, about the web, after all day, every day for eight years or so? Well, how could I not? Let me show you what it looks like to work with the most talented, most passionate people in the world.
That video is Mena making the announcement of a surprise trip around the world to Kristen, whose moving essay about reconnecting with her father won her and her friend each a trip to Paris, Tokyo, and San Francisco. As I asked on the sixapart.com site, "Ever change somebody's life?"
I haven't, but I work with a team that has. Mena's even captured an image of what happiness looks like. And while Mena and I are lucky enough to get to sometimes put a face or voice to the work that everyone on our team does, there are dozens of other people who are just as passionate.
I've been both delighted and touched by some of the other posts I've seen recently from my coworkers. Simon had written a brilliant news post on LiveJournal the other day, then stopped to reflect about the experience:
Because most of my coworkers came from the community I don't think they make the distinction between them and us that I think the community at large does. They get affected. Some of the comments users make hurt them. Deeply. Because I'm often on a different timezone to everyone else I've sat on the end of IM with people who can't sleep out of distress.
This is the flipside of The Cluetrain Manifesto that nobody talked about.
I'm a geek and a user and a customer and I'm passionate about the things that matter to me. And, amongst many other thing, LJ matters to me. I use it everyday. We use it for work. I feel a burning urge to make it completely awesome. I get defensive about it with other people. When I'm back in England and I'm talking to my (largely LJ using, nay OBSESSED) friends my eyes shine when I talk about it. I really want to finish search now because I've got a really, REALLY cool idea I want to prototype and get signed off which I hope will completely rock everyone's world.
And there's more. Steve is the tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold you might have seen at the end of our Six Apart Holiday Movie, explaining the "O RLY" owl on Blogs By Phone. He explains, for all of us, "this is why I'm here:
Today, though... I'm loving on THIS startup. Don't get me wrong, I'm usually loving on this startup, but today it moves me. I love that I work on a product that would move someone to write this, and that I work for a company that would reward such an action with this (those last two links are very much worth clicking on). I know I'll get half a dozen private messages or IMs from people telling me what a fucking cornball I am, but I don't really care. I'm very proud and happy to work here and be part of what Six Apart does, both in terms of innovation and technical achievement, and personal connections and relationships.
I think, just a few months ago, I was burned out on the trappings of Web 2.0 and all that crap. I had wondered for a minute, "Is it the work?" I knew I love the company I work for, the people I work with, and most of all the community we serve. I really feel like LiveJournal, TypePad, Movable Type, and TypePad kick all kinds of ass. But maybe I had just gotten tired of it?
And what I realized is that the distractions of being around people who weren't like my coworkers, who weren't just regular members of the community, is what was stressing me out. Paying too much attention to pundits and people who don't give a damn about the web, who weren't passionate about this medium, was what had made me dissatisfied. Part of the solution, for me, was presented when I had the chance to be a little physically distant from that environment. As much as I (already!) miss sitting in the office with my fellow Six Aparters, being in New York already feels like a breath of fresh air, or at least differently stale air, when compared to going to lunch South of Market and hearing someone nattering on about podcasting.
But mostly, what I missed was showing people this passion. We had a party the other night with many Six Apart employees in attendance. And I was lucky enough to get the chance to thank them for being not just an inspiration to me in the work that I do, but in making something profound, making something meaningful just like I'd been hoping for. To thank them for having the passion to eat, sleep, and breathe this sometimes thankless and difficult work.
But in addition to helping so many others, they've also blessed me with the ability to share that gratitude with the world in a simple, direct way. I don't know of anybody else outside our company who loves their job and the work they do the way that I do. So, apropos of nothing, on the anniversary of nothing, but just because we had a really good day, thanks to everybody I work with at Six Apart, and to the community that we've all built together.
Also, I just really love that video of the phone call with Kristen.
December 14, 2006
A few days ago, I foolishly described a table of my blog archives as my favorite view of my blog. As with all posts that I only spend 30 seconds writing, it got some good responses that really showed how little thought I'd put into the whole thing.
First, Tim Bray offered some good feedback on what he called The Dash View. I should quickly point out that lots of people, including me, have used this kind of display years and years ago. I've also had it on my current sidebar as my archive list for months. So I'm not pretending that it's any kind of innovation, just something neat to look at. Tim improves upon the design by listing his posts by month along with a count of the number of posts.
Jackson Miller followed up with some useful points as well, and Mark Bernstein muses some more about the name (I used to call my daily links "Dash Bored") but his closing point is the most interesting one:
Chronological access is literally geeky: we're exploring it because we can, not because it's useful. It's far more useful to provide good topical access, and still better to link things together. But if dates are what you have, then it's better to represent and use the dates than to treat your archives as fish wrap.
I've found a much better date-based organization of blog info: Ryan's got a year in review post that helps me remember just how eventful 2006 has been for me, too.
December 4, 2006
Rex has compiled a fantastic list of the Best Blogs of 2006 that You (Maybe) Aren't Reading. I'm flattered to be mentioned as a see-also suggestion, but mostly I'm just happy that someone has created such a list and that it's well-done. Not surprising, given that Rex is the king of lists, and maybe I won't feel so bad about the fact that I haven't gotten around to doing one of these myself.
November 12, 2006
Update: The fellow who asked the question actually doesn't want to participate in the lawsuit against Cohen. Wonders never cease!
On Ask MetaFilter a month ago, a question from the friend of someone who was ashamed by the things he said on camera while being questioned by Sasha Baron Cohen in character as Borat:
Last year, a guy came to my town claiming to be filming a documentary for Kazakhstan. He recruited my friend John to be in it. John signed the papers and everything- that's not the issue. However, the producers got John really drunk and he said some things he really regrets that made it to the final cut. John's terrified that everyone's going to see the movie and think he's an awful human being (which he's not). He's very distraught.
My own answer to the question was marked as one of the best answers.
John doesn't need to be terrified that people will think he's an awful human being. He should work on accepting that some large number of strangers, and small number of acquaintances, will think (correctly) that he has poor judgement or can say offensive things when he's drunk.
He needs to first make sure everyone he cares about is aware of exactly what he said, the context he said it in, and his true feelings on the topics being discussed. He then needs to proactively contact the appropriate campus authorities to let them know of the incident, along with the fact that he's remorseful -- don't let them make him a scapegoat for any brouhaha that pops up.
If he wants to go the extra mile, he should send a succinct, contrite letter of explanation and apology to the capmus [sic] newspaper, or ask for space in the paper to write, and acknowledge that he'll get some deserved grief.
There was a lot of great discussion in that thread, much of it centering around the fact that people have personal responsibility for the things they say, especially when they say them on camera in a major motion picture. And then, in the news on Friday:
Two unsuspecting fraternity boys want to make lawsuit against "Borat" over their drunken appearance in the hit movie.
The legal action filed Thursday on their behalf claims they were duped into appearing in the spoof documentary "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," in which they made racist and sexist comments on camera.
The young men "engaged in behavior that they otherwise would not have engaged in," the lawsuit says.
Well, sure, you could sue the filmmakers, but then you're just drawing attention to your own poor judgement. This is also one of those great examples of how blogging means that almost all of us are only one or two degrees away from almost any news event. I'm sure there are already suits pending against people who've blogged the things that other people say when they're drunk.
September 6, 2006
Okay, you probably don't need to be told that spam is bad. But you might find it interesting to learn about the economy that's sprung up around blog spam. Good thing, then, that Charles Mann wrote an extensive piece for Wired detailing this scary new world. I'm quoted pretty extensively in the story and, for a change, I'm not entirely unhappy with how it turned out.
The emails, Dash believes, exemplify the fundamental difficulty in fighting splogs and Web spam. With the rise of pay-per-click advertising, the big search engines have, in effect, created a kind of currency: ranking in search results. Put up the right Web site, with the right collection of links and keywords, and – ka-ching! This cash is available to anyone on earth who can manipulate search engines' site-ranking systems.
Little wonder that the entire world's supply of spammers is trying to seize the opportunity. They are combing through the Net so assiduously that they are attempting to capitalize on individual blog posts about products that won't even appear for months to come. No single company, Dash believes, can withstand that much collective rapacity. As a result, he says, "there's going to be a reckoning with the economy that's building up around search engine rankings, one way or another." Something fundamental will have to change, either in the search engine world or the blogosphere, because things can't continue the way they are now.
Ian Kallen has a smart look at the problem as well, informed by Technorati's unique perspective. "The blogosphere has thrived on openness and ease of entry but indeed, all complex ecosystems have parasites. So, while we're grateful to be in a successful ecosystem, we'd all agree that we have to be vigilant about keeping things tidy. The junk that the bad guys want to inject into the update stream has to be filtered out. I think the key to successful web indexing is to cast a wide net, keep tightly defined criteria for deciding what gets in and to use event driven qualification to match the criteria."
I think we have to bolster Ian's recommendations with a big push for accountability, as well, though that's a difficult thing to achieve with mere technology. It's especially challenging given the folks who are on the other side; I found John Jonas's blog an interesting read. Jonas is one of the sploggers interviewed for the article, and seems like, at least in his offline life, he's striving to be a moral and devout guy.
That leaves us with the problem of accountability: How do we make individuals feel personally repsonsible for the web, in the same way that we hope they're personally responsible for the their surroundings in their physical community? Mann asked Jonas' partner whether he thinks about the impact of their work on the web, and elicited the response, "I'm just making my living. I guess I don't think about that kind of thing very much."
Three years ago, Nick Denton made a prediction: "Google text ads will give blogs a business model; but they'll also warp the format." It appears he was right.
June 27, 2006
My position is that you need attention to have influence, and radicals can bring attention to an issue that is being ignored. But there are other ways to get attention. You can earn it from people who learn to respect you for intelligent work you do, problems you’ve solved, or smart things you say.
Interestingly, I'd summarize a lot of Scott's argument as a plea for civility and accountability. Put succinctly, you catch more flies with honey. I don't disagree, I just think the honey-tongued are inspired by those with a gut full of bile.
In projects and in life, you need those people who will challenge the status quo with reckless abandon. And you need those people who will calmly assess the status quo against the proposed changes, analyzing and logically weighing the alternatives to provide solutions. It's about balance, but it's also about tension.
On another topic, my ramblings on Office 2007's big bet have indirectly led to my quotes in Information Week's piece on TransMedia. I like both hosted web apps and installed desktop apps, and think they complement each other well:
"Writely and Word each enhance the value of the other, but they're for completely different purposes," he writes via e-mail. "Kids in junior high write their papers in Word from the Student version of Office, so we're at best 10 years from the workforce including a significant number of employees who had their primary word processing experiences happen with an online app."
Dash says desktop apps continue to offer obvious benefits: the ability to work offline and responsiveness that's not dependent on the performance of distant servers or network traffic. Then there's the issue of trust."I think there's something a little deeper behind people's attachments to desktop productivity software," he writes. "Documents created in Word are often lengthy, involved efforts, ones that people put a lot of investment into. The combination of browsers and AJAX applications isn't yet a platform that most people trust."
Nick Bradbury had a great take on my Office post, too:
Usability is the most important feature of any application, and the improved usability of the new MS Office is by far its best new feature. I agree with Anil that Microsoft has made a risky bet by so radically changing Office's UI, and it's a bet that will pay off.
That post also had the side effect of putting me right under Microsoft for search resuls on "Office 2007". I really should do something with that, but I'm struck by the fact that, despite the marketing team's efforts to rebrand as the 2007 Microsoft Office System, this is still what people are gonna search for. Shouldn't you also be posting info under that name?
Anyway, it's not all butterflies and hugs, some of the feedback has ranged from "Who the hell calls software brave?" to Could you possibly be any more of a corporate sycophant? This is your life? I can't imagine why some people think the blogosphere is an unkind place. Sure, that's a normal reaction to a conversation!
June 14, 2006
Congrats to Robert Scoble on his new gig, and no disrespect intended to great MS bloggers like Dare Obasanjo and Niall Kennedy, but for my blogging dollar, the best blog ever published by a Microsoftie is Jensen Harris' Office UI blog. I'm not the first to note it, but I wanted to chime in with my vote there. Honorable mention goes to Ray Ozzie, who's infrequent, but then some of the very best bloggers are.
It helps that Jensen's working on Office 2007. (If they paid me, I might call it The 2007 Microsoft Office System, but they don't. Speaking of branding nazis, there's only one "e" in "Movable".) Office 2007 is the single most impressive and ballsy effort that Microsoft's put into anything since Word 6, which I think was the best desktop software application ever created.
I'll hopefully expand on these thoughts more when I've got a few minutes, but I wanted to throw that out there while I'm thinking of it. Commence flames... now!
(More evidence of Jensen's greatness: The phrase "Install the Send a Smile tool" appears in a post. Really, shouldn't we all install the "Send a Smile tool"?)
June 7, 2006
When I'm not able to be a good blogger myself, I rely on the kindness of others. Let's see what's out there!
Snarkout, one of the finest blogs on the web, has got some profound musings on technology, permanence, extinction, and language, all things that have been weighing on my mind lately. I'd like to point you to Kevin Kelly's thoughts, which form the jumping-off point for Steve's post and were wonderfully articulated, but the Times does not want that information to be archived forever. I am not sure if that's irony. But hey, there's audio. Those audio formats never become obsolete.
Hey, wait, permanence? Archiving of digital formats? Openness? You might have missed Mark Pilgrim's post, which pretends at first to be about Apple and data loss (he's right about those parts) but then veers into preparing for future archaeology. I think Mark's got his priorities wrong on some of this stuff, but I appreciate having a zealot on the side of good.
You need to have someone hold an extreme position to get even moderate change. The hard part about being an advocate for the extreme position is that people like to make fun. My feeling is that it's a pretty good sign if you stand for something strongly enough that people can mock you for it. Take a look at the guy sitting next to you -- do you know what he stands for?
I know what Mike stands for, cynicism with a soft, sweet heart. Mike takes a bold pro-sports stance, refuting the "all geeks hate sports" myth with a combination of righteous indignation and a little bit of history.
Oh hey, speaking of myths and facts, Steven Johnson seeks out the facts with an intellectual honesty that Lou Dobbs wouldn't recognize if it stole his job. I'm just proud of my valuable contribution to the discourse. I told you we boys like to leave comments.
And then, best for last, Bad Acts. I spend a lot of time doing public speaking; So far I've managed to create a PowerPoint presentation featuring Dr. Phil, a pair of handcuffs, an American flag, cliché kitty, the Enron logo, the phrase "OMG WTF" in 72-point font, a line graph in which both the X and Y axes are completely unlabeled, the Easter bunny, and Santa Claus. It should be pretty easy to work in a game of Assassin. I love my job. And I wish everybody on the web wrote as well as Skot does.
February 19, 2006
I sure do love words. And even better, my friends do too. So they make great websites and books about it. Mark made Neologasm, which I am very partial to because it documents (among other things) the words we regularly make up around the office at Six Apart. I am very glad to spend my days in a workplace that enjoys wordplay. But that's not enough!
So, I return to the classics, Double-Tongued Word Wrester, the excellent word blog by Grant Barrett, noted lexicographer and author of the upcoming Official Dictionary of Unofficial English. In addition to his linguistic expertise, Grant was my original influence in learning how to become an expert on a subject by loudly and repeatedliy asserting one's own overwhelming authority on a topic until others can't help but acknowledge one's genius. Though this isn't a rare tactic in the technology industry, particularly in the niche which I inhabit, it came as a revelation to me that this technique could be so effective. Witness it for yourself in Grant's history of Ask MetaFilter answers!
But blogs have a lot more to give to the worlds of etymology: There's the concept of the snowclone, the trope of performing a selective search and replace on a familiar linguistic structure. Besides being a favorite method of titling blog posts, it's one of the few new words whose etymology is completely documented. Language Log is a great resource; Its history of covering the "many words for snow" myth that gave snowclones their name is well documented.
Of course, blogs have a long history of being obsessed with words. The blog that is responsible for the word "blog", as well as having most directly inspired me to start blogging, has had a peculiar etymological fixation for some time. Bloggers are the new neologists, if not the new etymologists.