Personal Publishing

A public response to Neil McIntosh…

I don’t hold Neil McIntosh fully accountable for the concept I’m only prepared to refer to as ‘a bloody stupid idea‘ (and I advise you to do the same). Neil suggested on a publically available mailing-list that when I suggested that the Guardian’s motivations for a weblogging award might not be entirely altruistic that they were much more likely to generate traffic for webloggers than the other way. He also thinks (as I do not) that webloggers won’t prostitute themselves for attention and that the event is rather like the Guardian’s first book award. I have replied as follows:

“Thanks for replying so thoughtfully Neil.”

“Before I start, I’m going to state right off that when I talk about
weblogging, I’m generally talking about the most common kind of weblog –
there’s a bit of their life in there, a bit of their interests, a few
links, some thoughts or monologues etc. I think most of it applies to
varying extents to the other things that people do as well, but maybe
not all…”

“Taking your last post first, I think there is a sizable difference
between the first books prize and this – in that the authors in the
first books prize are professional writers who write both for art’s sake
and for money. They are, in a sense, already prostitutes, already ‘in it
for the money’. That’s fine, we all have to make a living!”

“But this simply isn’t the case for the vast majority of webloggers, who
are doing it out of love, out of having a space to express themselves –
and often a place to put their lives out in the open. In the process
these people are often exposing themselves in quite significant ways.
There seems to me something profoundly wrong with asking people to
compete in such an environment. At some level it’s inevitably a
competition of self-exposure – it’s asking people to take the space that
they’ve used to talk openly and honestly about their thoughts and their
interests and often their lives not because it’s a valuable and profound
space for them to communicate, but to compete against their friends for

“Obviously there’s also an aspect which is about popularity, and being
read and your opinions listened to as well. But if you look at the
opinions that matter to people, it’s mostly not celebrities or media
figures. In many ways, for a large number of people, they’re almost the
enemy! They’re relics from the past where for the most part we are kind
of the future – the future where everybody is a superhero! Where we all
get a slice of the cake, a bite of the cherry. And more importantly,
there’s a real feeling that these people most often don’t understand
what we’re doing anyway! We’ve seen people like this for years – it’s
all PR blurb and airbrushed skin. I don’t think that’s what the
weblogging publishing revolution is about! Make them start their own
weblogs! (Jen excepted, she’s so blog)”

“I suppose what it comes down to is this sense of WHAT IS A WEBLOG FOR?
When you talk about book prizes – then you’re really talking about a
product that is made for the consumption of audiences – press is
important because you sell more copies, good reviews are fundamental
because you sell more copies, prizes are good because they allow you to
make a living. The book itself is something created for the people who
are going to buy it. But significantly at least one aspect of running a
weblog is to have a place for yourself, that means something to you.
It’s a place that’s not supposed to be for sale.”

“If you asked people “How do you feel when you lie about your life on
your weblog”, you’ll probably some really mixed answers, but a decent
number of them will express that this is something that makes people
feel really uncomfortable and untrue to themselves. There’s a bit of a
confessional in it, there’s a bit of a the personal diary in it, there’s
a bit which is about having an artifact of your life and thoughts which
you can keep with you.”

“This feels to me too much like selling out, too much like old trees. You say it’s
the choice of the blogger themselves, but is it really? Who can turn
down the possibility of winning £1000 for what they do everyday anyway?
And of course that’s going to affect how people post. Did you not watch
the Bloggies at all? Everyone played up to their audiences. It was
almost the point!”

“Anyway – I’m getting a bit heated now, and I have so much work to do
that I’m going to back off now. But I would like to say that I’ve
already had conversations with people yesterday and today who 1) don’t
understand how something like this can even be judged, 2) don’t find the
idea of the competition particularly palatable or in the spirit of why
they took up – or continue to do – weblogging but 3) feel rather
disgusted with themselves that they probably will enter, because the
potential exposure is too irresistible and the potential financial
reward vaguely intoxicating. It’s also already drawn out the competitive
instincts in a few people too – seriously – you may not believe it, but
it’s evident behind the scenes.”

“I hope that’s all vaguely clear and not too lunatic or nuts. Obviously
I’m not talking for anyone but myself and everything I’m describing
could just be my interpretation of the conversations I’ve been having.
Everyone else may very well disagree with every single thing I’ve said.”

PS. You’re absolutely right – the Guardian has done lots to promote
weblogs, which I think we’re all – or at least those of us who’ve been
mentioned in them :o) – are profoundly grateful. And clearly no
individual weblog is going to double the traffic to the Guardian’s
weblog or to that part of the site. But I think you’re being overly
demure when you say that this will send substantially more traffic to
the weblogs concerned than it’ll receive itself. I think we can expect
this to be metafiltered, probably slashdotted, potentially b3ta‘d (which
I believe to my horror has tens of thousands of e-mail subscribers and
is one of the most highly trafficed websites in the country now) – quite
apart from the sheer number of links it’ll get on weblogs.”

“For good or ill – intentionally or unintentionally – this will generate
a substantial amount of traffic for the Guardian’s site… It may not
have been a motive, but I think I could pretty much guarantee that you
couldn’t buy the number of page impressions you’ll get out of this by
paying for ¬£2000 of banner ads!”