The Top 5 Best and Worst Things About the Blogosphere

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.

The Worst

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 Best

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.

– Loveland

13 thoughts on “The Top 5 Best and Worst Things About the Blogosphere

  1. Dennis Lang says:

    Yes, I think you’ve nailed it nicely. My original take: blogging in general no more than self-absorbed mental masturbation serving zippo purpose communicating little of value to a few like-minded readers with nothing better to do until they got bored and stopped reading, and the bloggers got bored and stopped blogging. The farthest thing imaginable from a credible information exchange.

    I’ve changed. These open forums are indeed capable of communicating information, conjecture, opinion, discovery, in matters of concern and interest, that without this medium might never see the light of day. In fact the Internet is changing how “journalism” itself is being defined.

    Volumes of useless garbage out there of course. But cyberspace has lots of room. Ultimately (at the risk of hyperbole) a 1st Amendment triumph. We all have a voice.

  2. This is a valuable conversation to have, Joe. Anyone who has dealt with the “moderating” — (i.e. hyper-cautious, fretful, status quo-biased and conflict-averse) — nature of modern news rooms, environments under intense commercial pressures from advertisers and their private equity masters, quickly comes to appreciate the uncompromising nature of a well-written blog.

    One of the stumpers of my 15 years in the mainstream was the insistence on both a standardized prose style — even for columnists — and a highly conventional point of view.

    It’s sad that the blogs of very few mainstream reporters venture any further outside the parameters of content and style than their dead tree work.

    Obviously, on the consumer level, it certainly helps to have developed a critical filter for bullshit and sleight-of-hand rhetoric. The mainstream press takes almost no role in advancing that kind of literacy.

    The downsides you mention do not out weigh the benefits of this sort of dialogue. Raging fools are a part of the fabric of a democracy, and eventually become self-marginalizing.

    Good one, my man.

    1. Erik says:

      Raging fools…eventually become self-marginalizing…sayeth the guy who winds down his career writing The Glean.

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      Ah, well done PM! No doubt, as intimated elsewhere here at the Crowd, you’re fast becoming a culinary adventurer.

      And a peaceful, healthy, joyous holiday to all!

      (PS: As usual I have no idea what Erik is talking about above, but will celebrate that he does in fact have the freedom to speak–in a public forum! Go for it Erik.)

  3. john sherman says:

    An under appreciated advantage of blogs is they are another platform for people who know what they’re talking about. There are actual experts–scientists, researchers, etc. Most people in the media have to know at best something about a lot of things, but almost none of them are experts on anything. The problem is that the normal venues for experts are things like academic journals which are painfully long in production and tied to formats and styles that range from incomprehensible to repellent. Blogs allow experts to say as much as they want to say, calibrate their level of confidence and speak in a voice open to ordinary readers.

    One of things I like about some blogs is what I like about a lot public radio–obviously knowledgeable people who are candid about what they don’t know and deferential to somebody who knows more on a given subject. This is an instructive comparison to most cable news shows where admitting a failure in omniscience is akin to suicide.

    Blog style seems to me a pretty good example of natural selection; those who can’t write clearly and interestingly don’t get read. I like it that a blogger can call an asshole an asshole; though it can be, and is, over done, it’s better than the Times’ “Mr. Hitler” and “Mr. Stalin” fake civility.

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      Great essay. So much of this online interaction inane babble. That was my bias. But on reflection I wonder if we’ve just begun to tap its virtues, and how it is shaping the future of those to follow.

      “Only by uninhibited publication can the flow of information be secured
      and the people informed concerning men, measures, and the conduct
      of government. . . . Only by freedom of speech, of the press, and of
      association can people build and assert political power, including the
      power to change the men who govern them.”
      Archibald Cox, The Supreme Court,
      1979 Term—Foreword: Freedom of Expression
      in the Burger Court, 94 HARV. L. REV. 1, 3 (1980).

    2. john sherman says:

      The explanation is Facebook. One of the reasons I’m not on it is that I refuse to believe anyone could be interested in the minutia of my everyday life; I don’t even find it very interesting. Yet the premise of Facebook is that it solicits a positive response, at least for those over about seventeen.

      Somebody puts something up and those who don’t like or are indifferent to it say nothing; the only responses come from those who like it. In a way it is like being a child with doting parents–everything you do is wonderful. Actually it isn’t, but I’m not going to waste my time telling you that, and besides it would be like farting in church.

  4. On the best side of the ledger Joe, you neglected to mention creative procrastination, the opportunity for the blogger to put off paying work he or she just doesn’t want to do. I will be posting a prime example shortly.

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