Hal Royaltey (hal) Mon 30 Oct 06 19:51
Our new guest is Suzanne Stefanac, author of Dispatches from Blogistan. Welcome to the Inkwell, Suzanne!
Hal Royaltey (hal) Sun 26 Nov 06 20:53
Suzanne Stefanac started out as a chemist; wound her way round to music journalism; learned to make a living writing about new technologies; launched Macworld Online; executive produced The Site, an hour-long, nightly television program and website that aired on MSNBC; co-founded RespondTV, an interactive television infrastructure company; and recently was named Director of the AFI Digital Content Lab, requiring her to move to Los Angeles from San Francisco, her home of twenty-plus years. She likes the weather. Her new book, Dispatches from Blogistan: A travel guide for the modern blogger, is published by Peachpit/New Riders as part of their Voices That Matter series. Stefanac believes that search algorighms are second only to plumbing when ranking advances in civilization. Leading the conversation with Suzanne is the Well's own Jamais Cascio, a San Francisco-based foresight specialist looking at the intersection of emerging technologies and cultural transformation. In 2003, he co-founded WorldChanging.com, an award-winning weblog dedicated to highlighting ideas for building a better future. He knows all too well the demands of blogging; during his two and a half years at WorldChanging, he posted nearly 2,000 articles. He currently blogs at his own site, OpenTheFuture.com (at a considerably slower pace), and speaks around the world on issues of sustainability, collaboration and technology. Cascio has consulted for numerous commercial and non-profit groups, and has written for a variety of print and online publications. He has advised several science fiction TV and film projects, and designed multiple acclaimed game settings. He is a Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, and is an affiliate at the Institute for the Future.
Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Sun 26 Nov 06 22:10
Thanks, Hal -- and thank you, Suzanne. I should start with an admission: not only am I a blogger, Suzanne chose to make me one of the interviews for DISPATCHES. I'm among some impressive company: Cory Doctorow, Bruce Sterling, and Farai Chideya (...hmm... what do these names all have in common...?), as well as Craig Newmark and "Mr. Jalopy." Each provides quite a different perspective on what it means to blog. And that's appropriate. Blogging isn't a singular phenomenon, and DISPATCHES FROM BLOGISTAN makes that point extremely clear. Blogging is a writing medium, with content as varied as any other kind of writing. You wouldn't mistake Mr. Jalopy for WorldChanging, or BoingBoig for Pop and Politics -- but we all fall under the umbrella of blogging. But even as it exposes the diversity of blogging, DISPATCHES also identifies what makes blogging different from other writing media. DISPATCHES manages to combine travelogue, history and instruction manual, making it enjoyable reading for blogger and civilian alike. It's the first book I would give to someone starting out blogging, and to family members trying to figure out why the hell I spend so much time online, even on vacation. Suzanne -- what makes blogging different from just a frequently-updated web page?
nape fest (zorca) Tue 28 Nov 06 13:17
Thanks to Hal and Jamais for the welcome mat. The crazy thing about working on this book during the past year was the fact that blogging was exploding all around the world. Sure, blogs had been around for a while, but the growth rate suddenly became exponential. Technorati, a primary blog search engine, reports that one new blog is being launched somewhere around the world each second! These millions upon millions of blogs span the spectrum, representing diverse points of view, each with its own purpose. But as I began wending my through more and more of these myriad blogs, I realized that they shared certain characteristics. While some webpages are updated fairly regularly, most remain unchanged for months or even years. A blogâs front page changes much more often, sometimes even hourly. Also, blogs are, in general, much more casual in tone than most traditional webpages. This, along with the immediacy inspired by the regular updating, invites dialogue. The commenting and trackback tools included in most blog software packages make it easy for blog visitors to become part of the conversation. Geography and demographics are no longer barriers as communities of interest are growing up around just about any topic you can imagine. Finally, itâs just so damn easy to publish a blog. To create a decent- looking, functional website these days requires a skillset beyond that of most would-be publishers. Blog software not only makes publishing simple, many of the best packages are free of charge. Today, anyone with access to a web browser can launch a blog or participate in conversations taking place across blogs. Overall, it seems to be this lower barrier to entry that drives the phenomenal adoption of blogs as a publishing medium.
Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Tue 28 Nov 06 14:14
Blogging software certainly acted as a catalyst for the blogosphere explosion. I know that some of the ur-bloggers -- Rebecca Blood and (IIRC) Rafe <rafeco> Colburn -- started out using their own hand-made blogging tools, only moving over to packaged software much later. You spend a good bit of time in DISPATCHES showing how blogging fits in with the larger history of traditional media. Could you give us a capsule of your argument?
nape fest (zorca) Tue 28 Nov 06 18:10
As I began doing research for the book, the sheer number of bloggers all around the world seemed, well, boggling. I started looking back through history trying to make sense of it all. What was it that was driving the phenomenon? What I started to realize is that the urge is innate and that bloggers are just the latest in a long line of humans struggling to make their points of view known. That throughout history, new advances in technology would inspire, at least for a time, a flowering of open discourse. Repeatedly shut down by subsequent repressive regimes, these voices might lie dormant for a century or three, but again and again, as soon as there was an opening, a new mechanism for exchange, humans would leap at the opportunity to make their voices be heard, to find others with similar viewpoints. At the risk of belaboring the point, Iâll outline a few of the points I raise in the chapter I devoted to this exploration. (The chapter is available online at http://www.dispatchesfromblogistan.com/chapter-two.) Cave dwellers left their marks, literally, on the walls. Others would follow, layering on their own visual comments. By the time the Greeks had organized into city states, the agoras had become forums for the public exchange of ideas. All this openness has the potential to threaten power structures and so it isnât surprising that repressive regimes followed, temporarily shutting down the populist voices. While Europeâs voices were silenced during the Dark Ages, a similar urge took hold in the East. In China, for instance, the desire to share information gave rise to the first instances of movable type. In the Middle East, vast libraries that drew on all known cultures were opened to the public. Once again, however, after some time, less tolerant rulers shut down this access to information and discourse. By the time Gutenberg fashioned his first printing press, an educated middle class in Europe was agitating for more access to information than the royals and clerics were willing to share. Lutherâs savvy use of the new publishing medium inspired more than just a break with the established Church. An explosion of printed materials soon flooded all of Europe, inspiring revolts and a toppling of the existing hierarchies. An urge toward free expression was demonstrably taking hold among the citizenry. The British Star Chamber with its famous imposition of censorship and licensing laws actually ended up fueling a public demand for the right to free speech, for instance. The Enlightenment was a period rife with rationales in defense of open discourse. The American and French Revolutions were outgrowths of what increasingly began to seem an innate instinct. Subsequently, newspapers, radio, television, and now the Internet, allowed more and more individuals to make their voices heard. With the introduction of blogs, anyone can publish and anyone can comment and millions upon millions of people are doing just that. Looking at blogging through a historical lens helped me to see that in a way, there is nothing new here. The urge has been there for eons, taking hold whenever a confluence of enabling technologies and tolerant regimes allow. Blogging makes it so easy for self-publishers and so difficult for would-be censors that the amazing adoption rate seems somewhat inevitable.
Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Tue 28 Nov 06 20:35
What portion of the blogging world would you estimate focuses upon political issues? That certainly seems to be the form of blogging that most civilians are likely to have heard about.
nape fest (zorca) Wed 29 Nov 06 11:18
Itâs true that political blogs get the lionâs share of the press attention, but they actually represent a modest portion of the overall blog world. A recent study by the Pew Internet Project found that 11 percent of bloggers view politics as the most popular topic for blogs, but that leaves 89 percent favoring other types of posts. This is not to downplay the impact that political blogs have had, of course. Daily Kos (dailykos.com), Instapundit (instapundit.com) and Crooks and Liars (crooksandliars.com) are among the blogs attracting avid fan bases, for instance. The individuals writing, reading and commenting on these blogs are often among the more active political forces in their communities and so the blogs may well be having a greater impact than their mere numbers might suggest. The thing is that blogs are ideal for political banter. They update in real time, allowing citizens to carry on conversations about ongoing political events and issues. Individuals who, at best, might have had a letter to the editor or two published, now can make their viewpoints known on a daily basis to an audience that is potentially global. A few candidates have already made savvy use of blog dynamics. This is bound to become more prominent in coming elections. A gentleman named David Perlmutter wrote me out of the blue at some point last year, offering to write the forward to my book after reading my blog (dispatchesfromblogistan.com). I gratefully accepted. David is professor and associate dean for graduate studies & research in the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications at the University of Kansas and writing his own book on the topic, Policy by Blog. If youâre interested in political issues as they relate to blogs, I recommend checking out his blog (policybyblog.sqarespace.com).
Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Wed 29 Nov 06 12:21
That was a great catch for the intro. It turns out that DISPATCHES FROM BLOGISTAN is filled with some fairly prominent names, from Craig "Craigslist" Newmark to Denise Caruso. (For those of you who haven't yet seen the book, the interviews are available at the book's website, http://dispatchesfromblogistan.com/ .) How did you decided upon who to interview, and what kinds of questions to ask?
nape fest (zorca) Wed 29 Nov 06 13:17
These are all people that I know personally, or at least know virtually via the WELL. It seemed to be in keeping with the general blog temperment to reach out to my own circle. Happily, these individuals are all notable in their own circles and so bring a certain amount of authority to their contributions. I'm actually intending to continue to do interviews on various blog topics and post them to the blog. I've been a little lax in blog upkeep the past few weeks since my world turned upside down! I'm very happy ensconced here at the AFI's Digital Content Lab and Los Angeles is treating me well, but I'm still in boxes both at home and at work. In another week or two, I should be settled enough to get back into my usual blog reading/writing schedule. Besides doing more interviews, I am planning to post another chapter or two to the blog, as well as update all the links to resources. I'd actually always avoided writing books because they seemed so final and the things I always wrote about--technology issues, for the most part-- change so quickly. But the option to have a parallel blog that can reflect new developments and go deeper on certain topics mitigates that problem. Also, I very much like that people can comment and add their own thoughts to the blog. I hope some of the readers of inkwell will read through some of the topics and add their voices!
resluts (bbraasch) Wed 29 Nov 06 14:17
I like the way the book and your website work together. I've been asked what this blogging is all about by people who have no experience on the Internet. I gotta say 'that first step is a doozie'. You have to write something then push a button that says PUBLISH. Your book is a comprehensive guide to blogging, and I suppose your website could be the bloggers blog about blogging. Do you have any idea what the crossover traffic is between book and website?
nape fest (zorca) Wed 29 Nov 06 14:31
Thanks, Bill. I should say double/triple thanks. I just read the review you wrote about the book on epinions. I'm humbled. I don't know how much crossover between the book and blog yet. The book hasn't been out all that long, some weeks. And turns out one doesn't get sales reports from the publisher for months. And months, perhaps. I'm hoping to see some activity on the blog that gives me a clue. As I noted above, the ability to have a blog to go along with the book was part of what sold me on writing the book itself. This topic mutates practically daily. I tried to make the bulk of the content in the book fairly evergreen, talking more about concepts and approaches rather than making the whole book be about tools. There are tool chapters, of course, and there are recommendations, but I tried to provide enough information that bloggers could do research at any given time and hopefully make a better informed decision about which tools and services to use.
Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Wed 29 Nov 06 15:09
Given your experience with the online world, were you surprised by any aspect of blogging you discovered while assembling the book?
nape fest (zorca) Wed 29 Nov 06 15:36
Well, the single most staggering aspect of blogging is the volume. 50+ million blogs worldwide! The number of blogs has been doubling every six months for the past three years! That exponential growth has to slow sometime. Meanwhile, however, more than a million blog posts are going up every day, and I did find all these numbers to be quite amazing. Another point worth noting is that English isn't the most common language used on blogs. Technorati.com reports that only 31% of the blogs they're tracking are in English. 37% are in Japanese. 14% are in Chinese. In decreasing order of frequency, Spanish, Italian, Russian, French and Portuguese follow. Aside from statistical data, I think I was surprised by how our perception of privacy is changing. Young bloggers, in particular, seem to feel that few aspects of their lives should be withheld. Older bloggers who might flinch if a neighbor asked too pointed a question seem happy enough to answer all sorts of questions and volunteer intimate details on their blogs. There seems to be something about the mediation of the screen and keyboard that encourages individuals to tell all.
Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Wed 29 Nov 06 16:22
It's interesting that you mention that; this issue has popped up in several different discussions I've been party to in recent weeks. There's a stark cultural disconnect between those of us brought up in an era devoted to the protection of privacy and those younger people living in an era devoted to personal revelation (bordering on and often becoming exhibitionism). The surprise you mention sometimes manifests in other adults as warnings that these personal details will come back to haunt the younger bloggers in the years to come. I suspect that the younger people, in turn, would argue that, by the time they're old enough to consider professional implications, such revelations will be so commonplace as to be not worth noting. Do you think of sites like MySpace and Facebook as blogs?
nape fest (zorca) Wed 29 Nov 06 16:42
They are certainly blog-like in that they are easy-to-use personal webpages and they invite conversations just as most blogs do. At the same time, they seem quite different to me. A blog generally sits out on the net on its own. it has no built in ccommunity or mechanism for promotion. MySpace and FaceBook are first and foremost communities. This suits some people better than others. The numbers for these ubersites suggest that they have tapped into an audience that appreciates the structure they impose. I think there's plenty of room for both types of publishing.
Jamais Cascio, WorldChanger (cascio) Wed 29 Nov 06 17:03
Of the 50 million or so blogs out there, how many do you think are still maintained? Or, perhaps to flip the question, how do you know when a blog is no longer alive? (BTW, I'd like to encourage readers here who have blogs of their own to check in and tell us what you blog about.)
Hal Royaltey (hal) Wed 29 Nov 06 17:34
For those reading this who aren't Well members, please email comments / questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org We'll get 'em posted and you'll be part of the conversation. Of course you're always welcome to join the Well (www.well.com) and you can take full part in this and thousands of other conversations.
nape fest (zorca) Wed 29 Nov 06 17:54
>how do you know when a blog is no longer alive? haha. great question and one that plagues many a blogger. for some individuals, not posting for a week means that they've abandoned their blog. others post every couple of months and call that fine. But it's true that a good number of people do start up blogs and then never return to them. Again, Technorati tracks this sort of thing and they report that 55% of bloggers are still posting three months after their blog launches. The bottom line is that a blog is your own publishing vehicle. You can post as often or as infrequently as you like. If you feel like it's dead, it's dead, but that's really up to the individual blogger.
resluts (bbraasch) Wed 29 Nov 06 18:19
there was a new yorker cartoon about blogging recently. the guy was sitting in front of the screen looking over at his wife who was sitting on the couch. she was saying 'Harry, the reason nobody reads your blog is becuase it's all about you'. 50 million people writing about themselves are not earning adsense checks for them. Any idea what share of that number are drawing a crowd, and what share of that number are drawing enough of a crowd to earn a monthly check?
Public persona (jmcarlin) Wed 29 Nov 06 19:16
Recently Newsweek and the Washington Post launched a shared blog with quite a few notable people commenting on various religious topics http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/ I had not run into shared blogs before and find this one quite interesting because it allows me to read various perspectives in one place. Is this as unique as I've assumed or not? If it's new, do you expect to see more examples of this in times to come?
Marcy Sheiner (mmarquest) Wed 29 Nov 06 20:47
I started a blog, "Dirty Laundry," about a month ago: http://marcys.wordpress.com. It's a great outlet for me to write short opinion pieces...but nobody is visiting, other than my sister and a couple of people whose blogs I visited. I spent hours one day registering my site on blog directories, but so far that hasn't drawn any traffic. Is this typical? Why blog if nobody reads it? I've decided not to post anything else (I've got about five pieces up) unless and until I get some traffic. Advice welcome.
Jamais Cascio, OpenTheFuture.com (cascio) Wed 29 Nov 06 22:25
I find it interesting how the advent of syndication tools has changed our perception of a blog's viability. (For those who don't know, syndication is the publication of entries in a format for programs that regularly ping for updates; from the user's perspective, it's as if you've sent them the latest post when you write it.) In the past, when you had to manually check every site of interest, a blog on which the author posted infrequently or irregularly would fall off of your radar quite easily; with syndication, you can subscribe to irregular favorites confident that when the author decides to post, you'll see it. Suzanne, you've already noted that the initial explosion in blogging corresponded to the advent of easy publishing setups; syndication has arguably done the same for the readers, by making blog entries accessible to people without a lot of time to search. There's a surprising amount of tech-knowledge still required for successful blogging. <jmcarlin>, I can tell you that group blogs are pretty common, and can have a surprisingly large cast. WorldChanging.com, the blog I co-founded in 2003, had almost twenty contributors when I left earlier this year; now, due to the hard work of <jonl>, it now has probably nearly 50.
Jeffrey M. Field (topsy-turvy) Thu 30 Nov 06 02:12
Marcy, I'm like you in that respect... I started Cheeses of Nazareth (parts of which live on via the Internet Archive - type in cheesesofnazareth.com) back in the 90's as a way to publish my poetry. I started blogging in 2001. Getting people to read your stuff is no easy task, I agree. But, part of the fun, for me, is figuring out new ways of attracting readers. I've had Teachers' Lounge (http://consilience.typepad.com) for a couple years now. Last year I purged a bunch of overtly political rants because I felt I was getting off track since the Lounge is supposed to be about online teacher resources. I'm excited about Our Stories (http://consilience.typepad.com/Our_stories/), a school blog I started this summer, and two webquest blogs - Sharks (http://consilience.typepad.com/sharks/) and SpaceQuest! (http://consilience.typepad.com/spacequest/). I've discovered that blogs make the perfect vehicle for creating your onw webquests customized to the needs of your students. I should mention that I use, and recommend Typepad. The tech folks always reply promptly to my questions. And now that they feature widgets, well, by golly, you ever been let loose in a candy store?
Jeffrey M. Field (topsy-turvy) Thu 30 Nov 06 02:15
Typo, sorry... http://consilience.typepad.com/our_stories/
nape fest (zorca) Thu 30 Nov 06 12:56
Lots of good comments and questions! You'd think this was a blog! > what share of that number are drawing enough of a crowd to earn a monthly check? Not many. Blogging for bucks isn't really the best motivation. A very few individuals or multi-author blogs attract great numbers of readers, resulting in modest monthly checks from AdSense or other pay-systems based on numbers of visitors. While pennies might come in, enough for lattes to fuel writing binges, perhaps, most bloggers blog for the love it, not for broad fame or fortune. > Newsweek and the Washington Post launched a shared blog Shared blogs aren't exactly new. For instance, boingboing.net and worldchanging.com are examples of shared blogs that have done quite well for themselves. But it does seem that group blogs are becoming more common lately. Individual bloggers sometimes join together to reach a broader audience and I'm assuming that Newsweek and the Washington Post did it for similar reasons. Plus, the workload is shared by more authors, allowing the content to be updated more often without wearing out one author. The true upside, as <jmcarlin> notes, is that readers enjoy the benefit of contrasting points of view. > Why blog if nobody reads it? This is the blogger's choice. Various studies have shown that 30-50 percent of all bloggers primarily blog for their own enjoyment, to record their thoughts and watch the evolution of their own lives, and do not base their enjoyment or sense of fulfillment on whether or how many readers they attract. Others, of course, require readers to feel that their time spent blogging is worthwhile. Registering with directories is a good step, but in truth not that many people seem to go to the directories to find blogs to read. There is no substitute for really compelling content written to appeal to a specific audience. Then letting that audience know about the blog via email or posting on other blogs. Be careful with this last point, however, since there can be serious backlash if a blogger appears to be spamming an existing blog rather than adding to the conversation. It sometimes takes a year or more to accrue a really faithful body of regular readers. First-rate content and patience are the two keys that all bloggers need to keep in mind. > I purged a bunch of overtly political rants because I felt I was getting off track Staying on topic is critical. The blog universe is populated with vibrant niches that appeal to very specific audiences. Those audiences may not be large, but if they are made up of fellow aficionados, then the rewards can be rich. One way to lose that readership is to stray too far from the core topic that brought them to your blog in the first place.
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