People either love or hate blogs, with little in between. When I first started writing this one, I was definitely a hater. In fact, these were the first words I ever uttered in the bloguverse:
“Blah, blah, blog. I hate blogs. Self-centered, self-righteous, self-reinforcing, self-gratification. Seldom right, but never in doubt.”
Thus began my self-loathing career as a person who writes blogs, but most assuredly is not a “blogger.” (Those people are pathetic, don’t you think?)
But almost six years later, my take on blogs is a bit more nuanced and ambivalent. Upon further reflection, this is how the pros and cons of the blogosphere net out for me.
Anonymous contributors and the vitriol that brings. Where blog participants are allowed to be anonymous, conversations get juvenile and shallow in a hurry. That says a lot about human nature, and it limits the promise of blogs. For me, this is the worst part of hanging around blogs.
The lack of fact-checking. When it comes to truthiness, you can trust mainstream news outlets much more than blogs, because there are accountability rules and editors at the ready at mainstream news outlets. Lots of bloggers don’t care about accuracy, and their readers take them at face value and get deceived. Even bloggers who care about accuracy make bad mistakes when they are blogging on the fly in the middle of a work day, with no support staff to save them. All of the inaccuracy in blogs is bad for blog readers, and for the credibility of the medium.
The overwhelming volume of information. The Google machine tells me that there are currently more than 180 million blogs in existence. The sheer volume of blogs makes it very difficult to find the worthwhile needles in this cyber-haystack. That limits the promise of blogs. The “drinking from a firehose” cliche is inadequate here. Drinking from Niagra Falls?
The echo chamberiszation of the planet. In the blogosphere, most of us seek out voices that support our preconceived notions. That balkanizes opinion, insulates us from true contemplation and make us all boorish.
The rush to judgement. Unlike traditional publications, blogs can be published in the time it takes to click a mouse. This makes the world move a lot faster. If bloggers don’t post on breaking news now, they feel like the post will be stale. As a result, bloggers often bypass education and deliberation, and go straight to pontification. The world needs more education and deliberation, and less instant pontification, and breakneck speed of blogging aggravates the situation.
The lack of information gatekeepers. Pre-Internet, very few of us had the money to start a publication to share our own thoughts. Very few of us were talented enough to get published. Even among professional writers, very few were allowed to write whatever they wanted. Bankers, publishers, and copy editors have historically been among the many powerful barriers to mass unfiltered self-expression. But free services like WordPress allow anyone to say whatever they want whenever they want. If their mutterings are interesting or provocative enough, they will get spread around to others, for free. Blogs have made free speech a little more free.
The lack of money influencing publishing decisions. Almost no blogger makes money blogging. That means that blog writing is less likely than mainstream media reporting and commentary to be influenced by commercial considerations, such as “what will the advertisers do if I write that.” For this reason, there often is more speaking truth to power on blogs than there is in the mainstream news media.
The focus on connecting the dots of the daily news. Only a relative few bloggers uncover actual news. The rest of us merely connect the dots of news that is reported by mainstrain news reporters. What mainstream reporters do is more important than what we do here, because it is a necessary prerequisite of what we do here. But connecting the dots is not unimportant. News events are not stand alone entities unto themselves. The interplay of news events matters. These are important things for citizens in a democracy to be discussing, and more of that type of discussion is happening because of blogs.
The coverage of previously ignored niches. Mainstream news reporters necessarily can’t cover every societal niche. But 180 million bloggers can come pretty close. For people like me with nichey minds, that’s a good thing.
The lack of editing and style guides. Many of my English major friends who cuddle up with Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and my journalism and PR friends who are slaves to the AP Stylebook, can’t abide the no holds barred nature of blog prose. They mourn the fact that no editor is used by bloggers to spare readers from the ravages of cliches, clunky phrasing, inconsistent usage, misused-hyphens, and unconventional word choices (e.g. see “bloguverse,” “nichey,” “The Google machine,” “truthiness”) . But the raw semantic and syntax anarchy you find in blogs also brings much color, fun, creativity, risk-taking and spontaneity to the conversations. It makes information exchange a little less stuffy and controlled. Sorry, Strunk, but I love all of that unsanitized prose.