On back-biting, sniping, competition and awe…

If I told you that there was a kind of person who wrote on a regular basis, was obsessed by the internet rankings of their writing, commented regularly on the work of other writers and tried to artificially improve their own “position” by writing bad things about other people, what kind of writer would you think of immediately? Webloggers, by any chance?

This position on weblogging has been lurking in the background for a while now, but has been recently brought out into the harsh light of day in an article I commented upon (in a rather uncharitable fashion) a few days ago [Deconstructing ‘You’ve Got Blog’].

But actually I wasn’t talking about webloggers at all. There’s an article in the Guardian today about people who write novels and their relationship with Amazon. The article, under the title of, “Look, I’ve sold one more copy!” describes activities that professional novelists undertake which will be immediately familiar to the owner of any weblog. Here are a couple of examples:

What better than to keep an eye on your children – and at the same time, those of your competitors? Checking your book page on amazon almost feels like working.

Why is it so compulsive? Well, for starters it updates your chart position every hour, on the hour. Not only that, but the “people who bought this book also bought_ xxx” section connects you to your nearest rivals for comparative purposes.

Of course, what one would never do is order lots of copies to influence the chart position because “you can always cancel it later”.

But the chart is only the first half of the story. Next stop is the comments section. Oh my God!

I think the time has come to accept that people who write weblogs are, at the end of the day, just acting as writers. And that writers will always care about how their work is doing, the people they feel in competition with, as well as be in awe of their forebears and heroes. These things are not just going to end because we’re writing in a new form, for a new medium.

But equally each of us, individually, has a responsibility to ourselves and to the medium we work in, to try to submerge the baser parts of our territorial, competitive and aggressive instincts and to get on with the business of writing entertaining, involving and intelligent pieces for our respective audiences – whether they be our fellow webloggers, the readers of the New Yorker or the world at large. Despite its flaws, this vast unformed writing community is something I’m still proud to be a part of.

[Deconstructing “You’ve Got Blog” was a response to an article You’ve Got Blog, as originally published in the New Yorker. Link via linkmachinego. The whole matter is currently being discussed at great length over at metafilter].