Archives for "March 2003"

Next US President Will Be A Blogger

Gary Hart at ComputerLast month I told you that presidential candidate Howard Dean had started a blog. Now another candidate, Gary Hart, has launched a blog.

It remains to be seen whether Hart will update his own blog. More likely, it will be be updated by his "entourage". The comments section is moderated by someone called Kevin Thurman, who edits/deletes posts and limits the number of comments. To be fair, however, Mr. Thurman has allowed many negative/critical comments to be remain, such as the following:

Dear Mr. Hart, what makes you so different from all the other rich, old, white men who have the luxury of being big-time politicians?
Posted by Chris at March 28, 2003 09:30 AM

I'm glad to see you back in the game, Mr. Hart. Would you consider a speaking engagement at Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, NH?
Posted by matt at March 28, 2003 09:40 AM

Senator Hart:
Do you know what you're getting yourself into? The Washington press is nothing compared to the avalanche of commentary from every corner of the populace you're going to get once you get Instalanched. Think OJ, only without the subtlety and good manners.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. Senator. I hope this works - despite my snark, I think this is a great way for public figures to communicate with population at large. Maybe you'll start a trend.
Posted by George at March 28, 2003 09:44 AM

These high-profile moves into the blogosphere, whether you regard them as cynical or otherwise, at least indicate the growing recognition of the world's most exciting narrative form to have emerged in a generation.

*****

Speaking of the blog as narrative form: that was the thrust of the proposal I prepared with Gerald Adams for the upcoming BlogTalk conference. Unfortunately (for us), we learned yesterday that our proposal was not one of the lucky ones selected to be developed into a paper for the conference.

Still, I believe that Gerald and I managed to thrash out some good ideas in our proposal (albeit, admittedly, rather unfocused), which we may try to nurture and articulate more succinctly in the future.

Media Wars

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Continuing the trend it has set ever since it broadcasted tapes of Bin Laden after 9/11, the Arab-language news station Al-Jazeera is proving to be the most widely sought-after news station of the current war.

Not that the station is universally admired; it has received criticism from the US administration for being impartial. The station's Kabul office was bombed (accidentally, said officials) during the recent Afghanistan war.

Al-Jazeera has once again captured the attention of viewers in the west, by broadcasting gruesome pictures of the effects of the war in Iraq -- images, for example, of dead and mutilated bodies of soldiers (on both sides) and Iraqi civilians. While the interviews with captured American POWs were roundly criticized in the west for being contrary to the Geneva convention, other horrific images go unseen on western tv channels, presumably because of fears of the effects of such images on the "hearts and minds" of viewers.

So westerners have gone in search of the images via the internet. This week, Al-Jazeera launched an English version of its website, which immediately came under attack from hackers. Earlier in the week, web users searching for the site found themselves redirected to an image of the US flag. When this problem was rectified, the site was hit with a mischievous "denial of service" spike, which has slowed its performance. The live stream of its television broadcast has been similarly affected.

The rise of the station's popularity is nevertheless indicative of the shift in media politics that is accompanying the shakedown in national politics. It's worth remembering too that the BBC's reputation grew enormously during WW2, when many Germans tuned in to for a less partial source of news than that provided by the Gestapo.

It's perhaps not surprising, either, to learn that many of Al-Jazeera's leading journalists were trained at the BBC.

I don’t claim that Al-Jazeera is impartial. I don’t watch Al-Jazeera; but there's no such thing as impartial news. Still, it's certainly an alternative to the increasingly similar western bulletins (regardless of political leanings), where “embedded” journalists seem as eager to promote their own celebrity as to create news.

It’s worth asking ourselves, too, whether viewers are seeking out Al-Jazeera’s images in order to spice up their “consumption” of a war that has become, for those not caught up in it, armchair entertainment. In arabic cultures, pornography as “entertainment” is largely prohibited and taboo, while the “real” pornography of war is freely broadcast; the inverse seems to be true in western cultures.

Blogosphere's Glass Ceiling

Patricia Drey, in yesterday's Minnesota Daily, reported that University of Minnesota graduate student Clancy Ratliff is researching into (alleged) gender inequality in the blogosphere.

Ratliff is examining why the most popular (or "A-list") bloggers tend to be male. Her comment indicates there is a conspiracy theory at play. "Men tend to link to other men more often than they link to women," she claimed.

Of course! Men get together in "virtual locker rooms" and hatch plots to prevent women's blogs from becoming popular, refusing to link to them. Hmmm... but don't women, too, tend to link to women's blogs more often than they link to men's?

Maybe there are just more male bloggers than female bloggers? Apparently not, according to Lisa Guernsey, who explored the male dominance of the A-list in the New York Times a couple of months ago:

Women are, in fact, blogging in big numbers. Mr. Rosenberg, who keeps an eye out for new bloggers and links to them from his Salon.com blog, estimates that the ratio of women to men is something like 40-60, or perhaps 50-50.

So, no equality of access problems. What then? Why are male blogs more popular?

Guernsey asked Virginia Postrel, "one of the few women who is commonly listed among well-known bloggers," who suggested "that the imbalance was probably a holdover from the world of print, where men continue to dominate the opinion pages."

Pardon my ignorance, but what does "a holdover" mean exactly? There are no editors of individual blogs, and bloggers (male and female) are free to promote whatever sites they want. It's not enough to argue that a situation that exists in print journalism is simply "held over".

Guernsey quips that men's sites get "promoted by male journalists". She doesn't offer any analysis to back this up. I would argue that female journalists seem to write as much (if not more) about the phenomenon of blogging than male journalists. Don't believe me? Type "weblogging OR blogging" into Google's News Search, look back through the various articles about blogging that have appeared in newspapers and magazines across the world in recent months (including the two referenced here!). Many, perhaps most, were written by women -- and promote female blogs.

Still, expect feminists to conjure up myriad theories as to why most A-list bloggers are male. The one theory you won't hear -- the implicit theory that they'll bend over backwards to avoid -- is this: that men's blogs are simply better!

For what it's worth, I don't believe that men's blogs are any better (or worse) than women's. But I'm somewhat persuaded by one of Guernsey's arguments, that men and women tend to have different blogging styles:

The Venus-Mars divide has made its way into Blogville. Women want to talk about their personal lives. Men want to talk about anything but.

Guernsey is having a snide swipe at men. But maybe it's women who are fearful -- afraid to talk about worldly issues. Of course, Guernsey wasn't going to embarrass "sisters" by telling us how much the introspective nature of their blogging reveals about female self-obsession.

Let's face it, a site about one's personal life isn't going appeal to as wide an audience as a site about news, current affairs or other topical issues.

Not that all women write personal blogs; I enjoy Karlin Lillington's blog, for its insightful, informative and up-to-date commentary about what's going on in the Irish IT community and beyond. (Shame about the naff design!)

Conversely, not all men avoid personal weblogs: my own web diary is certainly personal and introspective in nature, if not in the direct manner of a pen-and-paper diary (but the web is a different medium, and the audience is more than one).

I find introspective, revealing (non-whining!) sites more engaging than extrospective, informative ones. The latter have a different function, and may attract more visitors ... but is large-scale popularity the holy grail of blogging?

I think not. I'm with Scottish music artist Momus, who proclaimed (correcting Warhol) that "in the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people."

But hey, I'm just a male, Z-list blogger. What do I know?

(Note: See my update to this post, September 2003.)

Any Money In Blogging?

godinhead.gifJB Holston, writing for the Always-On Network, asks the important (well, important to me) question of whether bloggers (and web content-creators in general) can ever expect to be paid for their ouvres.

Holston points out that some better-known bloggers look for "micropayments"; or donations/tips (e.g. using PayPal), or link to Amazon wishlists. He calls this panhandling, since it is not a pay-for-content (subscription) model, but one based entirely on hope.

He also suggests (and here, in my experience, is where the real value for bloggers lies) that site traffic "can lead to more pings for the thing you do to get paid." In other words, blogging is a way of marketing yourself. Holston gives the example of Seth Godin, who uses his blog as a way of publicising his own speaking engagements. I would add that Godin's blog is a means of keeping the conversation with his audience open, as well as continually building up that audience.

*****

Further to the Salam Pax hype, and with a growing number of blogs devoted to the war in Iraq, I've added a list of "War Blog" links on the right hand side.

Most are individuals who claim first-hand experience of the war, but some (the last three or four) are news-type blogs.

As for what's wheat and what's chaff, I'll let you decide...

Salam Saga Continues

Yesterday evening, having already posted another entry on Salam Pax's Bagdhad Blog, I read the Guardian's and came to its G2 section -- to discover a front cover and five pages devoted to Salam and his diary!

Contributor Leo Hickman questioned the blogger's identity, pointing out some teasers that I hadn't noticed:

To start with, there is the mystery of his cryptic name. It doesn't take long to realise that "Salam Pax" is a simple play on words meaning "peace" and "peace" in Arabic and Latin respectively. This mirroring motif is reflected in the website's address, www.dear_raed.blogspot.com, with its palindromic "dear" and "Raed". There has also been a lot of chatter about the true identity of the eponymous "Raed" from the website's title, Where is Raed? Is "Raed" a euphemism for a family member in trouble with the Iraqi authorities? Or is he Salam's gay lover?

Hickman insists that what lends Salam's blog authenticity is "the detail of his day-to-day life." (Note, if you're intending to fake a blog: detail = authenticity!) The Guardian sleuth nevertheless makes the mistake I pointed out yesterday (*blush*) of assuming that alleged "old entries" were indeed created in the past:

Why would he [Salam] make it all up, especially for the long period before it even became the internet phenomenon it is today?

Hickman's piece serves to justify the Guardian's subsequent four pages of extracts from Salam's diary. But the previous day, the Independent on Sunday printed an extract from Salam's site and attributed it, without any of the Guardian's agonizing, to a man blogging from Baghdad!

*****

Meanwhile, another war blog has been bubbling into the web limelight. Its author is Bettejo Passalaqua, an Iraqi peace activist. For this reason, Bettejo's identity immediately seems authentic. But let's not get into that again...

War Blog Censored

kevinsites.jpgNo sooner had I found another "war blog", this time by a CNN journalist, but it was shut down. The television news channel has "ordered" Kevin Sites, who is currently in northern Iraq, to "stop filing reports from the front on his personal website."

In my last post (four days ago), I mentioned that Salam Pax's blog feels authentic, but we should be aware -- especially in times of war -- that blogs could be used for propoganda, by any "side". (Not that Salam's blog makes claims that would influence one's political opinion, which reinforces its aura of authenticity.)

Since then, he has posted an entry asking people to stop emailing him asking if he is "real". (Oops.) And another blogger, this time an American (I think) called Diane, has vouched for Salam on her blog. (Eh... but how do we know that Diane is for real? Her website, after all, is *highly* political. Maybe someone will vouch for her too. Etc. ... ad infinitum.)

*****

Further to the blog identity/authenticity debate, Gerald Adams and I touched on this in our proposal for the upcoming Blogtalk conference.

And for readers who aren't familiar with how blogs -- or even websites -- are created, be aware that you back-date entries (i.e. just because an entry says "March 12, 2000" doesn't mean it was created on that date).

Taking this concept a little further, I'm about to launch a photolog which I intend to update over time, as with a normal blog -- but I also intend to backwards-update i.e. I'll gradually scan in and add old photos. So I'll be updating the blog from the middle outwards, temporally speaking.

Confused? You will be...

War Diary

baghdad televisionIt had to happen -- as war breaks out, someone was bound to be blogging from Baghdad.

Yet Salam Pax's "Where is Raed?" blog is quirky, touching -- and it feels authentic.

Authenticity is the telling attribute: since blogs are so easy to create, set up and maintain, and so difficult to censor, they are the propagandist's dream.

Could a fake -- i.e. propagandist -- blog create the feeling that it was genuine. Why not? On the internet, aren't all identities "fake"?

SPOOKY POST SCRIPT:
Just a few seconds after I'd written the above, I googled myself (i.e. I typed my name into Google) and found that there's a mirror of my diary site somehwere in Japan.

What does that have to do with internet identity? I'm not sure. Feels spooky though...

A New Web Ethos

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The internet's "gold rush" phase may be over, but the web hasn't stopped changing the rules of business growth. The Google paradigm has now replaced the Amazon paradigm as the how-to manual for internet-era success.

Fast Company this week revealed much about Google's ethos by talking to some of the company's lesser-known employees. This follows on the heels of a Wired Magazine article, which posed similarly ethical and directional questions to Google's founders and leaders.

Other Google news from here in Ireland: Google is to set up its European HQ in Dublin, creating 200 jobs.

Clearly no-one told them about the rain.

Email & Office Culture

call centreThe effects of email on culture -- particularly office culture -- is one of the quiter, yet most transformative aspects of the internet revolution. I once worked on a huge web project (an internet bank), where 400 of us worked (to a tight deadline!) in three giant rooms. Most of the day, we sat looking at screens, pointing, clicking and typing: most of that time, we were turning our email around.

Who were we mailing? Each other, of course. Most of the emails I sent/received were to/from the colleague who sat nearest me!

Messages between us were often trivial, like leaving post-it notes. Among the wider community that evolved and disappeared in those months when the project went from scratch to launch, the most frequently sent message was the "blame mail": an ongoing record of "requests" -- i.e. who asked whom to do what. These requests would often generate unweildy list-mails, with the history of the request -- a long chain of messages -- attached to the bottom of the current message. Not all of these were to do with our IT project; the most trivial social matters ate up much of the system.

The subject of a "blame mail" might read: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Parking Spaces, followed by a message thread that would begin (at the bottom) with a complaint about someone parking in someone else's space and a request to provide a new space, followed by a list of arguments about whose responsibility it was, rebuttals, refusals, buck-passing, all of which was sneakly CC'd (or, even slyer, BCC'd) to "senior management".

There's probably a book or two to be written on how email has changed office culture. Hey, if you're thinking of writing one, an essay currently ranked high in Popdex, entitled The Tyranny of Email, is a good place to start. Just rememeber to credit me on the inside cover ;)

Pro-Internet, Anti-Blogging

A few years ago, I was getting tired of answering the question "What's the internet?" This morning, I realized it's been a long time since I've had to answer that question. Chances are I will never answer it again. (No-one's likely to ask me what television is, either.)

Yet defining what the internet is today is more challenging a task than ever, because the internet has evolved rapidly, and continues to do so. A-list bloggers Doc Searl and Dave Weinberger provide some stimulating answers on their World of Ends site.

These days, I get asked "what's a blog?" (a question that feature-writers the world over are now feverishly answering).

Just as there was (and still is) a resistance to the growth and spread of the internet -- a resistance that includes many understandable concerns about privacy, the effects of pornography, protecting children, etc. -- now the anti-blogging argument is underway too. Mainstream journalists are voicing thier opposition to this all-too-easy and unregulated form of web publishing.

Writing on the BBC website last month, Bill Thompson insisted that blogging is not journalism. Dave Green, in last week's Guardian, didn't go so far, but nevertheless derided the activity as "a form of subjective sub-journalism, a stream of non-sequitur musings."

Such resistance is utlimately positive -- the brakes on the growth of new media. Let us look before we link.

Dr. Pepper Targets Tastemaker Bloggers

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It was bound to happen: Dr. Pepper is recruiting influential young bloggers to help them market a new spin-off drink. Bloggers aren't payed for advertising, but get promotional items instead (all the Dr. P they can drink?).

I believe this move indicates the future for online advertising, which up to now hasn't succeeded on the internet. New media users are empowered, not passive; when confronted with advertising, they generally dismiss it (by closing pop-up windows, not following links, etc.).

The logical next (counter-adaptational) step for advertisers is to merge advertising messages with what appears to be 'ordinary' content (as already happens in other media -- e.g. where magazines write feature articles that endorse advertisers' products/services).

Henry Copeland has suggested -- a suggestion he's trying to make a living from -- that advertisers should utilise thin media, but it's doubtful whether his idea of blogads will catch on. The placement of the ads isn't the problem; it doesn't matter if clickthrough banners appear on corporate sites or personal ones. No, the nature of online advertising (currently intrusive and reliant on user participation) is likely to change.

I once came across an article (now lost in cyberspace) about how Hollywood promoted movies by creating sites that masqueraded as fansites; preferring sites that looked amateur rather than professional, since they appeared more authentic.

As for students becoming advertisers, well, isn't branded clothing one of the most sinister form of advertising? Not the most outrageous though. That award goes to UK agency Cunning Stunts, who are offering students 88.20 a week to wear corporate logos ... on their foreheads !

Presidential Thin Media Campaign

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The first thing to point out about US Presidential candidate Howard Dean's blog is that the politician doesn't maintain it himself. To be fair, the folks behind it don't claim that he's personally involved. They say that the blog "is intended as a resource for people who want to learn more about him [Mr. Dern] and his bid for the presidency."

Interesting that they've chosen to keep a blog, and not just a site. This shores up my belief that the blog is becoming the standard web format; that the weblog is a killer app.

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Mediajunk was Michael Heraghty's blog from 2002 to 2010, with articles on usability, UX, SEO, web design, online marketing, etc. More »

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