On hurricanes and windmills and independent bloggers

When I looked at some of the myths related to social software, I received some very interesting comments, comments that I’m still working on. For some serendipitous reason, one particular aspect of my research grew faster than the others, so I thought I’d start the snowball rolling.

The issue in question is the independence of the blogger.

First, I came across a story in the Sunday Times headlined Glowing online reviews by hotels and restaurants dupe public, which then led to a longer article in their Focus section, A Five-Star Scam. [Thank you Sunday Times for ensuring there’s no paywall in between].

Then, as I moved from print over breakfast to my Netvibes, I saw a snippet by Doc Searls which then led to a fascinating longer article in Linux Journal, headlined Follow The Lack of Money.

And while mulling over these two, I went through yet another ritual of mine, checking incoming links to this blog. [I tend to use WordPress Admin through to Technorati for this, and occasionally I go direct to Technorati. Is there a better way?] One of the more recent links was from the unusual Insanity Creek. Besides taking me to a crazy Finnish Complainers Chorus on YouTube that you can view here, Michael of Insanity also took me on a journey to ReviewMe.

And all this started me thinking. The Sunday Times article was looking at how some people were writing rave reviews of their own stuff, and thereby conning potential customers about the quality of their particular poison. The article looked at the explosive growth of online reviews, and how this was driving various print guides out of business. It went on to describe the way the blogosphere was being gamed in this respect, with sponsored reviews, spammed e-mails and self-published paeans of praise.

Balderdash and piffle. Have we not had advertorials in MSM for years, with disclosure so subtle you were hard put to find it? Have we not had paid reviews in MSM for years, with little opportunity for criticism of the review in question? Don’t we still have the lobby system in place in much of the West, with all its attendant corruptions and cash-for-conscience trades? The blogosphere is not being gamed. Reputation is earned not bought. Given enough eyeballs all corruptions become shallow as well. And, as I stated in my earlier post, the corrections to the blogosphere appear where the corrections need to appear. Either in the text or next to it, either as amendment or as comment. This does not happen in MSM.

Doc made some fascinating points while commenting on Jeff Jarvis’s post The Stewardship of Journalism’s Future. Read both the posts, they’re well worth it. Some examples:

Jeff on the future of the newspaper industry:

  • And so I thought about the newspaper business. If these new, successful, innovative, smart, large media companies can’t invent, how can we expect for a second that the existing newspaper industry can invent its future? It can’t. Full stop.

And he continues:

  • The old players can’t do it. We need more new players to take hold of the future of news — not just journalists but entrepreneurs and managers and investors and inventors. It’s there for the taking.

While Doc comments:

  • Frankly, it’ll be a long time before newspapers fail, if they ever do. And magazines remain a healthy, if not a high-growth, business. Papers like the L.A. Times are actually quite profitable. They’re just not profitable enough to satisfy Wall Street.
  • That’s why I’m beginning to think that fixing big-J journalism (that is, fixing newspapers) with Yet Another Business is like fixing Catholicism with Protestantism, or fixing Windows with MacOS.

And he goes on with:

  • Computing gets better all the time because the operating systems business is being steadily replaced by building materials (mostly Linux) and practices (FOSS) that grow wild in human nature — and are hardly businesses at all. Yet they’re extraordinarily good for business, because they create a solid infrastructure on top of which all kinds of “solutions” can be built.
  • The same thing needs to happen in journalism.

Doc ends with a plea for inventors. I guess that’s how I see what we’re doing where I work, inventing new infrastructures that let both old as well as new participants, in sectors like journalism and entertainment as well as more traditional business, play on level playing fields with greater freedoms and lower costs of entry.

ReviewMe intrigued me in a strange kind of way, I had this feeling of revulsion coupled with mild interest. Told you I was confused. I felt that writing a paid review like that was a bit like putting up an article on myself in Technorati. Something not quite right.

I guess it could work, if there was useful collaborative filtering and adequate critical mass. But offhand I can’t be sure. There are many things I play with, many I lurk around in , and even a few I participate actively in. I could be wrong, but my jury’s still out on ReviewMe. Haven’t quite got it yet. I read reviews written by people I trust, and that trust is earned over relationship and time and some modicum of common perspective. I’m not sure how quickly I can get those via ReviewMe. But I’m going to watch it, there’s no point having a closed mind on anything like this.

So with all these serendipitous reads, what do I think?

  • I think the blogosphere can’t be gamed. Not over time, and time in the blogosphere is measured in small quantities.
    I think it’s OK to be paid to write things on the blogosphere. Even if I don’t think I ever will. There’s only one proviso, make it very clear you were paid to write whatever it is you wrote. Very very clear.
  • I think the blogosphere has an independence that can’t be taken away. Too late for that. Whatever gets shut down, something far more powerful will replace it.
  • I think MySpace and Bebo and even FaceBook and Flickr and YouTube are really blogs for younger people, covering different age groups. They all represent participative journalism and fiction and reportage and comment and and and. I have a FaceBook and Flickr and YouTube and Second Life account, just to try and understand what’s happening. No different from trying out eBay or Amazon a decade ago, or Mosaic or Netscape before that. You have to try things out.
  • I think, as Doc and Jeff aver, there is a need for entrepreneurs and managers and investors and inventors, to take all this to the next stage. Particularly inventors. Particularly independent-thinking inventors. Particularly infrastructure-focused inventors.

People used to say, in a gold rush sell spades.

I prefer the Chinese proverb When You’re in a Hurricane, Build Windmills.

2 thoughts on “On hurricanes and windmills and independent bloggers”

  1. Lots of food for thought there JP (and glad to see Doc back on territory he really knows about). One minor thing (that may actually not be minor) which struck me was your assertion that MySpace etc were blogs for younger demographics. Some time ago Guy Kawasaki posted a video of a youth panel he ran. I noted at the time that while all the participants had Facebook or MySpace accounts, none of them considered themsleves to have blogs and the reality of their use of these tools was, on examination, more as appointment/social diaries than as journal diaries which I see as the distinguishing characteristic of a blog.

  2. [serendipitous thought] They say the German power network breakdown (last week?) occured because of an upsurge in power production from their windmills in the North Sea (because of an unexpected gale); problem was -as usual with power networks- regulation… does that sound like a possible metaphor?

Let me know what you think

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