Business Journalism Personal Publishing

On Wonkette and the rest of Gawker media…

So Nick Denton’s Gawker media has released its latest offspring into the world, and so far (particularly after the enormous success of fleshbot) it doesn’t look like much of a contender. Wonkette has been described as Gawker for DC (by Glenn Reynolds, no less), but so far she’s evidenced little of the ready wit and weblog-savvy of that rather superior organ’s array of editorial talent. Wonkette’s Ana Marie Cox writes like a weblog-naif – she’s overly fascinated by the speed of the publishing and the novelty of not having an editor (and too involved in the immediacy of her voice over the quality of the material she’s referencing) to make the site a really compelling read. I’ve no doubt all this will change of course – the novelty of writing for a weblog can fade over time. But in the meantime: For God’s sake, calm down before you do yourself a mischief!

Gawker media is in my mind a lot at the moment, for a whole range of reasons. First and foremost, I’ve got a paper that I should be writing for an upcoming conference on e-publishing at the London Book Fair. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about writing about Nick’s model of nanopublishing and the way in which these small ventures can create grass-roots, highly-targetted brands – brands which could be floated off into larger ventures, used as branded chunks (syndicated columns perhaps) within larger publications or simply used to colonise the brain-space of people who feel disenfranchised by the large and inhuman face of large-scale media. In particular I want to talk about that alternative model of online publishing – in which large teams of individuals are brought in to run online presences / support sites for commercial magazines or other large media presences at tremendous expense – expense which evidently might simply not be necessary.

But of course the problem with Nick’s nano-publishing model (and he problem with my proposed paean to it) is that it doesn’t really seem to make anyone that much money and that perhaps as a direct consequence, no one else seems to want to do it. I mean, short of business ignorance (which we shouldn’t dismiss as a likely proposition) what other reasons could there be for the lack of competition to Gawker Media? I mean, it’s established a model that’s far from hard to replicate if you have a little money lying around and a certain amount of savvy. And it’s even generated a core concept (local savvy correspondents filtering and condensing the regional media down to thick paste that is as much about myth-making the place as it is purporting to give back-stage access into what’s really going on) that’s eminently replicable to every decent-sized on the planet. I mean, we can all imagine a London equivalent, a Tokyo equivalent or a Sydney equivalent – we can all see the possibilities in a version of this model for Rome, Paris, Edinburgh and Barcelona. Which leads me to wonder – where are they?

I have my theories, of course. Do you have any?

Journalism Personal Publishing

On 'two years' of weblogs…

Every single time I get asked by someone for my opinion on the whole “weblogs as journalism” thing, I give pretty much the same response. First things first – there are differences. That should be pretty obvious. One clear difference is that working for an established organisation or brand gives you access to the newsgathering machinery. By that I mean from the low-grade, cost-dependent things like being able to afford to get Reuters newsfeeds all the way up to the stuff that’s all about being ‘in the club’ – ie. everything from being invited to movie review screenings before the film is released through to being able to be present in the press room of the White House. These latter things work on the principle that it’s not possible to let all the world in to ask all the questions they might like, so there are representatives from the newspapers who ask those questions for them. Fair enough – to an extent that kind of thing is unlikely to be heavily democratised, and quite rightly so.

The other difference between weblogs and established mainstream journalism is in terms of the brand – and more importantly the mechanisms that are supposed to lie behind that brand. The trusted brand is supposed to reflect an organisation that makes sure its journalism conforms to good standards of fact-checking, that it is guaranteed to be professional, that it asks the questions that its readers want answered and that if it is not there is a space and a process whereby redress that can be made. This is what I normally argue when asked – that although there is a lot of overlap between mainstream journalism and weblogs (particularly around opinion pieces, editorials, reviews and … less fortunately … regurgitated press releases), there are some things that – for the most part – are done better by the professionals. Webloggery – as yet – cannot even think of competing with the professional newsgatherers.

Well that’s what I normally say anyway – despite the fact that absolutely anyone who’s ever been featured in a news story (or ever seen a news story about anything they actually know about) knows full well that journalists routinely seem to get quite important and easy-to-check facts wrong. Here’s today’s example in a piece about (what else) weblogging by Bill Thompson from the BBC: “All over for blogs?”. And the typically offending line?

“The earliest bloggers have been at it for two years now – how many days can someone keep on posting to their LiveJournal site, or visiting Blogger to add more details about their cat’s mysterious illness? ” [my emphasis]

Decent journalists, according to my training, when they put a date or a figure in their work are either supposed to check that figure and mark it as checked, or their sub-editors are supposed to check it for them, grudgingly and with a certain amount of irrtation. I don’t know where the gap in professionalism was that allowed this ‘two year’ figure to go to print, but I do know that it started with the person who wrote the damn article and should have checked in the first place.

The earliest webloggers have been going for two years, then? That should make me positively primordial, since I’ve been posting regularly since November 1999. Meg Meish in the UK was also posting around then, I believe. Cal Henderson and Matt Webb were both definitely posting regularly over three years ago. There were loads of other people across the UK and the US who started posting around or shortly after that time. And we’re all children compared to the long-haul people…

And what’s this? If you do a basic Google search for History of Weblogs you get seven articles about the origins of weblogs on the first page? And what do they say? That, “In 1998 there were just a handful of sites of the type that are now identified as weblogs (so named by Jorn Barger in December 1997). Jesse James Garrett, editor of Infosift, began compiling a list of ‘other sites like his’ as he found them in his travels around the web.” [Rebecca Blood] So that’s five years for certain – five and a half for certain if we include (one of the most linked-to and visited weblogs on the internet). If we look further back, then Dave Winer started Scripting News in April 1997, a few months before the term ‘weblog’ was invented by John Barger of Robot Wisdom. So now we’re nicely over the six year mark – and with what? Thirty seconds worth of research?

So where does that leave us with weblogs vs. journalism? Well I still stand by my word – for the most part proper news gathering is better done by paid professionals with the budgets, access and accountability. There’s still space for professionalism. And as soon as I find that professionalism evidencing itself in the opinion section of the BBC News Technology supplement, I’ll let you know…

Journalism Personal Publishing

The Balkanisation of Blogdex…

The last couple of days have seen a Daypop and Blogdex Top 40s that are totally overwhelmed by political articles from the States. If it wasn’t for the fact that many of these articles are concerned with the war in Iraq, you could be excused for thinking that nothing else was happening in the world at at all – even perhaps that there was no world outside the US.

Three years ago – back in the days of’s metalog – it was quickly observed that the various aggregation sites on the internet had a reinforcing effect on people’s browsing – that when they started, the popular links were getting two or three links a day, but that a month later they were getting up to ten or twelve. People linked to good things that they were exposed to – and they decided that aggregators represented an efficient way of finding those good things, prefiltered on the basis of popularity by the community at large. The effect? Sites that appeared on these sites got a significant extra amount of trafic, links, exposure. There’s significant value in this mechanism – it produces a manageable amount of links each day that an individual has a chance of being able to read. It also provides a sense of the overall community of webloggia and what they care about.

The problem comes when these aggregators don’t have enough granularity. Let me put it this way – Blogdex, Daypop, Popdex, Technorati and the like are no longer simple reflectors of a community’s activities – they are also one of our community’s best mechanisms for news discovery. To some extent they’re gradually becoming one of the most significant ways we find out what’s going on in the world around us.

Unfortunately it also means that the country with the most weblogs sets the international community’s agenda. There are only two obvious results of this – (i) that these aggregators will (or have) become less interesting or useful to people who don’t live in America or (ii) that the international community becomes used to the hideous unrepresentation of their own local news and debate. It used to be said that America had no idea of what happened outside its own borders. Can we really be working towards a new way of distributing and discovering media that means the rest of the world has no idea what happens outside America’s boundaries either?

There are a couple of ways that we could address this problem. Firstly there’s sampling – we could create a version of Blogdex that doesn’t work purely on the basis of popularity, but samples geo-coded weblogs from across the world in such a way that we are presented with a balanced world-wide view of what’s important. It’s a nice idea, but I think it’s impractical – for a start the linguistic barriers would make it less useful for many of us, but also because there would an infinity of ways of determining sampling rates across the world, none of which would likely be ‘fair’ or ‘clear’ to people.

No – the most practical way of approaching this problem is to find mechanisms which allow us to balkanise our aggregators – slice their responses – on the basis of metadata. There are many ways of geocoding weblogs in such a way that aggregators could have a sense of your nationality, location, language, time-zone and the like. And above and beyond such meta-tagging there are dozens of directories that include information based around clumping weblogs around interest groups and/or site locations. So I’m putting out a call now for someone to balkanise Blogdex. I want to be able to see the most popular links generated by people in my country – wherever the links themselves are based. I want to be able to slice these links in different ways, to see popular links mentioned on all English language sites (for example) or just those within the European Union. In fact I’d like to be able to see what gay webloggers are reading too. And people within my age group. All of this stuff should be possible, one way or another. I’d build it myself, if I had the expertise required… Can’t someone help me out?

Journalism Personal Publishing

Stop bitching. Make it better…

The main problem I have with the weblog-related positions of professional writers like Bill Thompson and professional trolls like Andrew Orlowski is that we’ve had all these debates so many times before. Debate around A-list cliques has existed for years – as have comments that weblogs are ultimately trivial. It was over three years ago now that A List Apart published Fame Fatale – and that wasn’t the first article along those lines. Some of the pieces had more justification than others. Some had little or no justification at all. Mostly, in time, people just changed their minds. We’ve walked around these particular avenues and alleyways several times now, each time accompanied by a new group of people who consider themselves slightly higher up the food chain.

It would be different if they accomplished anything. If Orlowski was working to improve weblog culture or pull it in a positive direction, then there would be value in that. If Bill’s work was trying to rectify inappropriate imbalances in the social system that has emerged, then we might actually be getting somewhere. I don’t think there’s a single weblogger who thinks that there’s absolutely no scope for improvement. But instead what happens is that legitimate concerns get pushed aside by florid rhetoric and high dudgeon, debate gets polarised, until eventually everyone gets bored and weblogging continues pretty much as it did before. Only this time with permalinks! Or comments! Or automated blog-rolling!

And the steady take-up of weblogging seems undeterred by these debates. People still continue to start weblogs faster than people stop writing them – there are now (by conservative estimates) hundreds of thousands of regularly updated sites. And with AOL and Microsoft rumoured to be getting in on the act, along with new ventures by Blogger, Movable Type, 20six (etc.) it looks like there’s going to be a hell of a lot more weblogs started in the next few years.

I think it’s now time that people started to face this fact. That whether or not they like it (whether or not any of us like it), weblogging is not something that’s going away in the next couple of years. Having an ‘anti-weblogging position’ is no longer even vaguely a ‘real-world antidote’ to unfathomable and unwarranted ‘weblog hysteria’. It’s just really unhelpful. It doesn’t accomplish anything. So you want my advice? Work to make it better or sod off. If you think there’s really a legitimate problem in the way that weblogs operate between each other then try and suggest a solution, try and suggest some things that are likely to be taken up and worked with by the extended community. Or think of something better than weblogs! That’s got to be a more creative, positive and useful way of interacting with the world than sitting on the sidelines and bitching… Surely?

This piece was grumpily forged in the comments of the iSociety‘s weblog.

Journalism Location Social Software Technology

Don't write off Conversations as a geek toy…

So there’s an article in the Guardian today about UpMyStreet. The article is called Street Plight and aims to understand why the company is in administration. Now generally, it’s a pretty flattering article – and a fairly accurate one – but there are odds and ends that are a bit annoying. Nonetheless I’ve decided that I’m going to look on the sunny side and concentrate on phrases like “Upmystreet is full of brainy types” and “[UpMyStreet Conversations is] a bit like a pub”. Yes. I think I’d much rather concentrate on those than the the rather less flattering “Technical people become dazzled by their own wizardry” and “Frankly, you could have more scintillating conversation with a curtain”.

Sigh. It’s no good. It’s not working. So here goes. Here’s why Clint Witchell’ss comments on Conversations are unfair:

One – it’s unfair to take the conversations in any one particular area and claim they’re representative of the whole site. Like every other community, Conversations is only as interesting as the people who participate in it, but unlike any other community – every area gets a different degree of participation. Certain parts of the country are beginning to explore the uses of the site and get involved in serious debates. Other areas are using it to chat about local news and to find local tradespeople. Other areas aren’t using it at all. It’s early days. All I can say is that if you don’t like the conversations that are ongoing in your area at the moment but you can see the potential and value in a site that could help your neighbourhood engage with local issues – then don’t just sit there complaining and feeling superior – start a conversation and see what kind of responses you get!

Two – Conversations is a new product for UpMyStreet and it pushes the ways the site can be used into completely new areas. One of our aims was to try and develop the relationship between UpMyStreet and the people who use come to it – to make people more regular visitors and power users at that. I think we’ve had a certain amount of success with this kind of work, success that I think will grow as people get more used to the idea and start to use the site in different ways. It’s a process of development that aims to move people from simple information finding into treating the site as a bridge into their local neighbourhood. But we’re not all the way there yet. These things don’t necessarily happen overnight…

Three – just because you can’t see obvious commercial uses for the forums software doesn’t mean that there aren’t any or that we haven’t thought about it seriously! If we get the opportunity, you’ll see exactly what we’re talking about and all the commercial/charitable/political uses for the technology, but at the moment – unfortunately – we’re all a bit distracted trying to keep body and soul together! Bear with us! Have some faith!

Journalism Personal Publishing

Designing for extreme readers…

So a mainstream news site is often comprised of many hundreds – thousands – of individual news stories. These stories are mostly designed to fit into a pretty clear taxonomy which reflects “what the news site is for”. This taxonomy is normally pretty clearly defined and normally has a pretty wide top level (the items that deal with the news alone are divided up into anything from seven to twelve sections – world, business, science, politics etc). Articles may be faceted or sit under several headings (heterarchical organisation), but the taxonomies concerned are fairly clear (often inherited from org-charts derived from parallel print products – but never mind, eh?). This kind of taxonomy results in the need for left-hand navigation (it’s simply difficult to put large lists horizontally on a page). This kind of navigation, in turn, is well-suited to the kind of readers that a news site tends to get – people who have an ongoing relationship with the publication in question (ie. they knew of the site before they went there) and are therefore prepared to browse the site because they came to it as a specific first port of call for a kind of information or to answer a specific question.

Weblogs are very different beasts – particularly those weblogs which are based around single-entry archives. Firstly, they don’t tend to have clearly definable taxonomies. Some may – but they are the exception, and tend to be the more professionally oriented. So there’s no need for large navigational structures or organised heterarchies. Weblogs are also not first port of call sites when you’re trying to answer a question or get a specific kind of information. They are specifically designed to be feeding out information as and when the publisher wishes, and not in direct response to anything going on in the world outside. You cannot guarantee that Jason’s site – on any given day – will provide you with all the news you need to know about any subject. Nor is the site organised to make the finding of entries on a specific subject matter as simple as possible. This is not a flaw in Jason’s site – nor is it a flaw in weblogging in general. It’s simply the way the form is structured.

In fact, while news sites are a coherent whole into which individuals dip themselves, weblogs have two very different types of readers with two very different forms of interaction. Firstly, there are those with a long-term association or relationship with the person / site in question. Secondly, there are those who are directed to a specific internal page by a link from another weblog or via an unfortunate (or inspired) search request. These extremes are more radical than a news site. On a weblog, it’s entirely possible that someone might find themselves on a specific internal page without having the slightest idea of the context of a post whatsoever – or anything about the site in question. This will be still more true about a site that allows people to publish individual entries to individual pages – like Movable Type.

Essentially, while a substantial group of readers are treating your site as an ongoing narrative centred around the presence of a singular human author, many other people are seeing nothing more than an infinitesimal slice of your content. For all they care, your weblogging application might not be producing one coherent site at all – in fact to any individual member of this second audience, your weblog will consist of just one of dozens / hundreds / thousands of bespoke self-contained and only loosely connected one-page sites that all happen to share a design. One of them might see “What Tom Coates did at the pub last night”, one might see “Niels Bohr and the War in Iraq”, another “Extreme Readers and Weblogging”. This group further breaks down into two groups – the group that might be persuaded to hang around for longer and those who came for information and information alone.

Most weblogs are designed for the weblog-literate – who you might want to lure across the rest of the content on your site by supplying them with previous / next links or calendars ,or by illuminating your (probably fairly haphazard) taxonomies through displaying lists of categories. But the average member of the general public will understand the page that they find themselves upon only if you supply context – above and beyond that supplied by a standard news or article based website. They need to be able to assess your trustworthiness, they need to be able to estimate the value of your writing. They also need to be able to figure out precisely what kind of writing it is.

So here are a few recommendations to webloggers who wish to be comprehensible to these readers:

  • Place a small piece of explanatory text on your individual archives explaining the structure of your site.
  • Elucidate or link clearly to information about you – the author of said weblog – including any pertinent details that make you qualified to talk about what you’re talking about (if it is a personal site, then that’s qualification enough).
  • For this audience it’s important to recognise that you’re not necessarily going to want to promote your own personal ‘brand’, so leave your navigational links simple, clean and self-explanatory.
Journalism Personal Publishing

The Ostrich of Journalism…

God what a stupid article. What a profoundly stupid article. I mean let’s not even start with the condemnation of Google as the closest thing to an online Superpower, because while there may be some truth to it, at the moment it’s pretty much just unsubstantiated scare-mongering. But reopening the ‘weblogs as journalism’ debate again? Now that really is stupid. Particularly if you’re not going to make any effort to look past the obvious towards a slightly more nuanced and intelligent reaction. For god’s sake, internet expert, push it a little further.

“Blogging is not journalism. Often it is as far from journalism as it is possible to get, with unsubstantiated rumour, prejudice and gossip masquerading as informed opinion. Without editors to correct syntax, tidy up the story structure or check facts, it is generally impossible to rely on anything one finds in a blog without verifying it somewhere else – often the much-maligned mainstream media.

Now I have no interest in getting involved in this “are they” / “aren’t they” debate – except to repeat my scandalous assertion that in fact news journalism is etymologically a subset of “journalism” – ie. journal writing – making news journalism in many ways a ‘special case’ / subset of weblogging. But I have to be honest, the idea that the limit of this whole debate could be ‘are weblogs going to replace journalism’ – well it pisses the crap out of me. Because while some journalists are sitting around complaining about about how you can’t trust anything you read unless it’s had an editor to correct the grammar, the actually interesting and significant debates are being totally ignored.

These are the debates about what effect an empowered and vocally reactive readership might have on journalism, or the debates about the implications of the huge traffic peaks that can happen when all of webloggia turns your way. These are the debates about how incredibly useful and important it would be to gauge statistically which news stories actually do matter to people, and what it means when hundreds of thousands of people decide to take the news they’ve been given and do something with it – push it further, do their own research – on occasion refusing or challenging the initial piece. How would that change the job of a journalist? What effect would that have, will that have, in two / five / twenty years?

In fact while these journalists are busy shoring up their own defences neurotically against the unlikely threat of freelance weirdos like myself putting them out of a job, they’re studiously resisiting every opportunity to actually interact with this huge distributed community.

This kind of facile superficial reaction would be totally acceptable if it came from well-established print journalists unfamiliar with what’s emerging online. But from technology journalists it smacks of disgruntlement, paranoia and a profound refusal to think past the most obvious conclusion they come to. These are individuals who have been told by some idiot at a dinner party once that their industry is under attack and have decided it’s time to put these “upstarts” in their place.

The whole thing is based on a really simple misconception – they keep viewing each individual weblog as if it was competing with the New York Times. But instead of doing that, they should be looking at how hundreds of thousands of (proper media) readers have completely shifted from passive reception of news to repurposing it, commenting upon it and – on occasion – challenging it… If they don’t do that, if they don’t shift from building defences to looking for the opportunities, then they really are going to be put out of a job – not because they’ve been squeezed out by other webloggers, but because some other companies (maybe even that tiny Google start-up everyone’s talking about) will find some way to do it first and do it better…

Journalism Personal Publishing Social Software

If this truly is the future of Google news, then the project I've been trying to persuade people to undertake for the last six – eight months is dead.

According to Google Blog there’s potentially a new front-page emerging for Google News. The current page can be viewed at, and its apparent replacement is here.

To be honest, this news doesn’t fill me with the love and happiness that you might expect. About six months ago I thought of something that has probably been thought of many times in the past. It was a kind of news site that used things like Daypop and Blogdex to determine what was timely and interesting to people on a per-link basis, which could then be pulled together using something like Google News to a by-story list and which could then be attached to commentary from the weblog community directly on the page. It would be like having a world of columnists and op-ed writers ready not only to collectively decide between them what was newsworthy, but also to directly comment on the stories on the same page as the story was displayed. It would be an immediate vox-pop. A gauge of a huge community of divergent interests… That’s when I started to get excited, because essentially you’d be talking about a site that allowed anyone in the world to write a comment piece on breaking news stories.. And this extended right past webloggers themselves to mainstream writers. And if you could figure out a way of organising micro-payments you might be able to read the thoughts of academics, actors, writers, thinkers from all over the world – along with your friends, the people who share interests with you, the democratically expert… This would be the place where a world of webloggery demonstrated that being mainstream didn’t mean individuals writing like ‘proper professionals’, where a journalist could equally be conceived as the person who was nearest to the event when it happened. Where the sheer value of hundreds of thousands of webloggers could be condensed and purified and injected straight into the world’s new media bloodstream.

Most importantly, although I knew that other people were thinking along similar lines, no one actually seemed to be doing anything about it. I talked to friends about the idea and how useful and cool it could be. Some were intrigued, some bored – as you’d expect. I wrote the whole thing down and pitched it in the general direction of people who might be in a position to allow me to develop a system as part of my working life. And now Google News is so close to the first stages of something I really wanted to be part of, and I feel like I did when I was in the middle of my doctorate, watching the dot-com boom happen all around me, knowing that wonderful things were happening elsewhere that would fascinate me, but that I had to accept I wasn’t able to be a part of… It’s terrible to have invested so much of yourself in an idea only to see it go ahead without you. Even if you’re hardly the first person in the world to see the potential…


An Englishman in Moscow

I think we’ll start with a little background… Several years ago when I first moved to London, I stayed with an ex of mine who lived in Belsize Park with his boyfriend of the time. They had a spare room, and I had nowhere to live, so all-in-all it was a fairly amicable arrangement. My ex worked on the science desk at the Economist. One evening – fairly close to the point where I was about to move out and get my own place – he pulled me outside to ask my advice about something. He’d been offered the position of a foreign correspondent – in Mexico. I was, of course, thrilled for him and stunningly jealous. He didn’t know whether or not he should take it. But of course he should. I knew then that I’d miss him a lot, and I miss him still.

From the first moment he left the country he started sending back these group mails about what he was getting up to abroad – and to be completely honest I tended to delete them unread. They were ok reading, I guess, but I didn’t like how impersonal they were. But as time progressed they got more and more interesting. At a certain point I remember talking with him about this over AIM and suggesting to him that he should really start a weblog – that the life of an Englishman in Mexico City must be fascinating to so many more people than the group of close-ish friends his e-mail termed ‘The Privy Council’. But he never really agreed with me. Nothing was done.

A few months ago he revealed to me that he was leaving Mexico and moving to Moscow, again learning the language as he went, moving to a country where he knew no one at all. What a challenge. I’d have been terrified. But this time he’s finally got his act together, and while he hasn’t started a weblog, he’s done something that’s more suited to sporadic updates – he’s started a broadcast-style mailing list about what it’s like getting familiar with living in Russia – a mailing list that anyone can join…

You can go weeks without receiving anything, but increasingly they’re little gems of culture-shock, written unpretentiously and honestly. Here are some example chunks:

On crashing his car
“I shall spare you the rest, except to note that whereas a typical British or American police car probably carries a GPS system, video camera and one or two computers, a typical Russian one merely has three radios of which one does not work; and that when a Russian traffic policeman is dealing with an accident, he stops two passing drivers at random and ropes them into to take all the measurements of the scene and then sign the diagram, so that there are independent witnesses.”

On finding a flat
“Marklen, my temporary Man Friday, recovering well from the bump on the head I gave him in the car crash, explains that Muscovites renting out property do not widely advertise it because they are afraid that someone will come along, kidnap them and take over the premises. So we had to hire an estate agency.”

Sign up today!

Journalism Personal Publishing Social Software

Proposal for a new relationship between weblog and mainstream publishers

The Situation:
Imagine, if you will, that a prominent web magazine had decided to start hosting Weblogs. Imagine if shortly afterwards another prominent online publisher said they were doing the same. And then imagine if rumours abounded that they weren’t going to be the only ones. And then imagine that you had been talking with a representative of a major UK newspaper who revealed to you that – if only for a short while – they too had been thinking of hosting weblogs on their site. What would you think? Would you think ‘what a wonderful thing for the medium’?

The Problem
Well of course it’s entirely possible that it would be a wonderful thing for the medium – but it almost certainly wouldn’t be a particularly wonderful thing for the publisher! Think about it for a moment – most people who become committed to weblogging eventually choose to set up a site of their own somewhere – sometimes with a domain name of their own – often with a design that’s resolutely their own. The logical consequence of this (surely) is that after a while any site that offers free weblogging with little flexibility in design or personalisation will eventually be abandoned by the dedicated. And in their wake nothing a but huge wasteland of tumbleweed blogs and – dare I say it – unreadable sites. How does that reflect well on Or Salon?

The Reason
It doesn’t take a genius to gather what is happening in corporate world at the moment – weblogs are ‘in’ – they’ve finally stopped being fashionable, and so are suddenly now becoming acceptable to the mainstream. Your executive at suddenly thinks that weblogging is the heart of the internet – the web finally fulfilling its promise. And of course they’re right… But does understanding the importance of weblogs and weblogging correspond to understanding how an information publisher should relate to weblogs and weblogging? I would say no….

The Solution?
I’m not going to claim to have the definitive answer to how (say) the BBC should interact with the ‘revolution in personal publishing’ (which is, I might add, the longest bloody revolution ever, I think) – but I have got a couple of suggestions. And they revolve around not trying to usurp the common space that weblogs exist in, but in developing ways of cementing and building upon the interactions between those two very different beasts – mainstream and personal publishers.

  • Provide tools that allow webloggers to hook into your content. At the most trivial, this includes newsfeeds and RSS/RDF feeds. Let people put them on their sites, but also let them play with them – let them develop interesting idiosyncratic ways of looking at the information you create.
  • Look at the meta-tools that exist already for webloggers – Blogdex and Daypop for example. Adapt these tools to provide a different insight into the content you produce. For example: Create a “What the web is reading” page on The Guardian – this page being nothing more or less than Blogdex’s recent links thing, but only reflecting Guardian articles. Your visitors get a guide to the best stuff on your site as chosen by the web itself. You get traffic to those articles and demonstrate your respect for the aggregate power and intelligence of the weblogging community as a whole. If you included the ‘sources’ aspect of Blogdex as well – so that everyone who has commented on an article on the Guardian is automatically linked to from the Guardian’s site, then you get a situation where both weblogger, publisher and reader benefit – the weblogger in terms of traffic, the publisher in terms of traffic but more importantly by being able to demonstrate a public, conversational aspect to their sites without any of the cost of development or legal implications. And the reader is directed to the very best content you have to provide as well as to second level commentators who might be able to provide a different perspective…

Conclusion: So here’s my challenge to large online publishers: rather than admiring the medium and trying to reincorporate it into your traditional models, why not respect what makes it different – the sheer volume of people doing it, the sense of link-filtering, the personal comments and ideas that it generates – and work to make the relationship between mainstream and personal publishers a symbiotic one borne of mutual respect for what makes us so different (and yet complementary) to one another? [Comment on this post]

I don’t want people to think I’m talking about Blogspot sites here – which fill a valuable niche in providing cheap or free presences for people who wish to be creative without investing large amounts of cash (but which – fundamentally – can be stripped of advertising, corporate branding and completely personalised).