inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #0 of 105: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #1 of 105: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #2 of 105: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #3 of 105: 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 blog’s 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, it’s 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.
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #4 of 105: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #5 of 105: 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, I’ll 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 isn’t surprising that repressive regimes followed,
temporarily shutting down the populist voices.

While Europe’s 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. Luther’s 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.
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #6 of 105: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #7 of 105: nape fest (zorca) Wed 29 Nov 06 11:18
    
It’s true that political blogs get the lion’s 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 you’re interested in
political issues as they relate to blogs, I recommend checking out his blog
(policybyblog.sqarespace.com).
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #8 of 105: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #9 of 105: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #10 of 105: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #11 of 105: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #12 of 105: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #13 of 105: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #14 of 105: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #15 of 105: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #16 of 105: 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.)
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #17 of 105: Hal Royaltey (hal) Wed 29 Nov 06 17:34
    
For those reading this who aren't Well members, please email
comments / questions to:

   inkwell@well.com

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.
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #18 of 105: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #19 of 105: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #20 of 105: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #21 of 105: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #22 of 105: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #23 of 105: 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? 
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #24 of 105: Jeffrey M. Field (topsy-turvy) Thu 30 Nov 06 02:15
    
Typo, sorry... http://consilience.typepad.com/our_stories/
  
inkwell.vue.286 : Suzanne Stefanac, "Dispatches from Blogistan"
permalink #25 of 105: 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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