inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #0 of 36: Gail Williams (gail) Mon 31 Aug 09 15:07
    
How much has blogging really changed things? We're delighted 
to explore the sweeping influence of this young medium with our 
next Inkwell guest. 

Scott Rosenberg got his first experiences online at The WELL, but
succumbed to the Web in 1995, when he helped start Salon.com with a
group of colleagues from the SF Examiner. After a decade as technology
editor and managing editor there, he took time off to write DREAMING
IN CODE. He returned to Salon to start the Open Salon project, then 
left in 2007 to write his new book, SAY EVERYTHING: How Blogging 
Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters. Today he's working on 
a new project funded by the Knight News Challenge called MediaBugs. 
 
Leading the conversation is Dr. Jeff Hershberger, who spent seven
years as a staff scientist for the U.S. Department of Energy, working
on improving the efficiency of the nation's trucking fleet, and is now
in the semiconductor industry. Since the late 1990s he has participated
in online communities tabletalk.salon.com and The WELL.  His year-old
personal blog is at myfuturepast.blogspot.com.  He is interested in the
face-to-face network-building aspects of blogging and newer forms of 
social media.
  
Welcome, Scott and Jeff.
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #1 of 36: Jeff Hershberger (jhersh) Tue 1 Sep 09 04:30
    
Thanks, Gail!

Scott, in the chapter on "The Perils of Keeping it Real", you talk
about how anonymity and the absence of nonverbal communication can
cause otherwise reasonable people to behave regrettably.  (It's worth
noting that The WELL is one of the few non-anonymous places online.) 
As I write this, I'm wrestling with the potential disbandment of my
local blogging meetup group.  Since 2002, the Cleveland bloggers have
used meetup.com to gather once a month, and we're looking for a new
organizer.  We'll find one, but I take the general dismay as another
indication of how important these face-to-face connections are.  A blog
is the one place where you don't have to back down, but putting a
human face on your words can temper your more extreme stances and add
whole new dimensions to the experience.

Have you attended any blogger conventions, or did any of your
interviewees talk about them?  How did it affect their sense of the
network of blogs they work in?
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #2 of 36: Scott Rosenberg (scottros) Tue 1 Sep 09 10:48
    
Hi, Jeff! Thanks for doing this.

Let's talk about anonymity first. One of the most common questions
I've gotten from interviewers about SAY EVERYTHING is one that's been
prevalent since the early days of blogging: How can you trust blogs
when so many of them are anonymous? And it always flummoxes me, since,
in my experience, so *few* blogs are anonymous. Yes, there are the
frustrating blogs that don't make it easy for you to figure out their
authors' identities (via a properly linked ABOUT page or sidebar note).
But that's less and less common. Then there are the truly anonymous
blogs, most of which hide their identities for obvious reasons (they're
writing about the company they work for, or from under a repressive
regime, or other whistle-blowing circumstances). That leaves us with a
very tiny sliver of anonymous blogs that are anonymous because the
author wants to lob stinkbombs. Sure, it happens -- but as the author
of the "Skanks in New York" blog discovered recently, your anonymity is
unlikely to survive a brush with the law. 

Anonymity, despite the howls of folks like Lee Siegel, is not central
to the story of blogging. Blogs are more commonly about self-revelation
than about identity protection. And yes, once people reveal themselves
and find kindred souls, face-to-face meetups and parties and
conferences are a natural next step. The WELL discovered early on that
offline, face-to-face events are a highly valuable way of strengthening
the connections (and, sometimes, smoothing over the disconnections) in
an online community. 

I attended the very first BloggerCon that Dave Winer organized in, I
think, 2003 at Harvard. I was running Salon's blog program at the time.
I talked on a panel that Ed Cone moderated (with, if I remember
correctly, Josh Marshall and Glenn Reynolds). It was a stellar
gathering, with lots of well-known bloggers but also lots of people who
were just starting out, and it certainly focused my awareness on just
how important blogs were becoming in our media environment.  I've also
been to Blogher and Wordcamp and other blog-related gatherings. There
have obviously also been important face-to-face gatherings in the
evolution of the progressive Netroots blog world, in the form of the
event formerly known as Yearly Kos. 

I didn't focus deeply on the topic in SAY EVERYTHING but my sense is
that any blog community that reaches a certain size is just naturally
going to want to have in-person events. There will always be some
minority of bloggers who are less comfortable in person than behind the
keyboard; but the majority, it seems to me, will have a blast.
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #3 of 36: Jeff Hershberger (jhersh) Wed 2 Sep 09 04:20
    
Wow, that's a lot of face time.  

Early on I heard a phrase that stuck with me:  blogging is a
fundamentally networked activity.  As I settled into blogging I thought
about that, and about the mechanics of linking to each other and
commenting on each other's posts, and I started asking around for
better tools.  For example, how about an RSS reader, like Google
Reader, that will tell me whether or not there are unread comments on a
post I'm reading?  (That is, without actually subscribing to the
comments as a separate RSS feed.)  I asked at the Cleveland Blogger
meetups but I came away more or less empty-handed.  What I didn't
realize was that those connections were being made right there, face to
face.  

I can't find the passage in your book right how, but you talked about
how blog networks grow organically, accidentally.  It's almost always
through personal connections--whether local or distant--that you start
reading someone new.  I started blogging specifically to find a
community like that; I ended up being surprised that it happened face
to face.
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #4 of 36: Scott Rosenberg (scottros) Wed 2 Sep 09 08:33
    
I guess we shouldn't be surprised that human networks grow from human
connections. The real wonder is that people still imagine they can
create value in a network *without* the intervention of old-fashioned
human interaction. 

I certainly agree that blogging is "a fundamentally networked
activity." But it's important not to lose sight of the rest of the
picture. If networking is your central goal, then there are more
efficient ways of achieving it than starting a blog. We've always had
online communication forms (like WELL conferencing or Usenet) that
allowed group formation in which participants stood on roughly equal
footing. Today we have phenomenally popular social networking platforms
that allow you to manage a network of friends (or "friends") far more
easily than you can do via a blog.

Blogs are unique, I think, in providing an environment that gives
primacy to the voice of the individual blogger while still placing that
voice within the wider network. As I wrote in "Say Everything," each
blog sits at a sort of fulcrum-point between the individual and the
group. This gives the form some of its distinguishing traits: its
ability to amplify the strengths and flaws of individual writers; the
alchemy that can happen when an individual writer's experience sparks
an avalanche of responses. 
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #5 of 36: Ari Davidow (ari) Wed 2 Sep 09 13:01
    
Scott, I read the book last month--gulped it last month--so I apologize if 
I am misremembering anything, but what I took away from the book is less 
evangelizing of blogging, per se, but this intricate, wonderful 
explanation of these different problems that get solved, from the order of 
posts so that people see what's new to the question of commercialization 
and how to make money from your blog. I handed the book to our staffer who 
spends most of her time on our blog just to give her a sense of where this 
tool is coming from and a nice sense of what she might be doing with it.

I might add that the book arrived just as said blogger posted her first 
"link roundups". When our Executive Editor hit the room about these links 
being posted that took people off-site, I was quite pleased to show her 
the chapter in the book where you talk about link roundups and how good 
they are at helping establish both readership and (if I remember 
right--this would certainly be my belief) community.

I really enjoyed the book. I'll probably have to get another copy at some 
point--I'll never see the original again.
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #6 of 36: Scott Rosenberg (scottros) Wed 2 Sep 09 13:52
    
Hey, Ari, thanks! You're not misremembering anything. I really didn't
set out to evangelize at all, but to tell stories that I thought would
be valuable.

I've found, though, that in the current media environment, if you are
not willing to join the "blogs suck" mob, or the "blogs are destroying
journalism as we know it" crowd, or the "blogging is old hat so who
cares" cadre, then you are going to be seen as a
promoter/advocate/evangelizer. Simply by making a case for blogging, no
matter how nuanced, I have cast myself as such in the primitive
allegory playing out in the minds of so many media people today. 

So I've tried to just roll with it. When I find it too demoralizing, I
can turn to some of the emails I've received and conversations I've
had that echo what you say here: that the stories the book tells are
actually of practical value to people who weren't there at the Dawn of
Blogging and are trying to navigate the world it has shaped today. 

It is strange to think that there are still folks who don't understand
the value of linking to other sites, but plainly there are -- so
anything I've done to help explain that I'll take a little
public-service credit for... 
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #7 of 36: David Wilson (dlwilson) Wed 2 Sep 09 15:04
    
Hi Scott.

I read the book and was struck that within your history of blogging,
you keyed in on a few technological features such as putting the most
current post on top.  You discussed others which I forget now, but my
reaction was that you were doing something similar to what
archeologists do.  They dig up garbage from the the past, sort it, and
then extract the tools.  They analyze the form and function and then
extrapalate what social uses were.  They get good at projecting
themselves backward into the civilizations that they are studying.  You
are focusing in the same way on the "tools" but you have the good and
bad actors around so you can query them.
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #8 of 36: Gail Williams (gail) Wed 2 Sep 09 16:22
    

For those who are reading without logging in, or offsite via RSS, you 
don't have to join The WELL to ask a question -- you can also email 
questions for posting in this conversation.  Send them to 
inkwell@well.com -- and please include "Say Everything" in the 
subject line.
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #9 of 36: Gail Williams (gail) Wed 2 Sep 09 16:22
    
That's a very nice comment, David.
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #10 of 36: Scott Rosenberg (scottros) Thu 3 Sep 09 07:57
    
Hi, David -- I'll very much embrace as a compliment the "archeologist"
comparison. I should add, though, that for me, the work of "projecting
myself backward" and extrapolating is a lot easier because I was there
-- I was following most of these stories as they happened. So it's a
sort of archeology where the person who's digging already has a mental
map of the culture since he experienced it himself. Makes the job
easier! 

And of course being able to interview so many of the participants, and
review so much of the record on the Web itself, then enabled me to
check my recollections against others. Though I knew there was no way
to keep all error out of the book -- nobody's perfect -- I was
determined to get as much of the detail right as I could. 
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #11 of 36: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 3 Sep 09 15:04
    
Scott, since you started out talking about anonymity, and you've
watched the dialogue about identity online evolve, what do you think
the tension around credibility has done for reporting?  I've been
saying that we still have not seen the first major news hoax spread by
blogs, twitter, forums and all.  There have been some small ones, like
the recent fake story of the rapper who made her record company send
her to school, but no major ones -- that we have become aware of so
far!

Of course, in the history of journalism there were plenty of hoaxes
cheerfully reported as the truth in ink on paper, too.   

Are we just lucky that this has worked out, or is a networked world
more immune to disinformation and fake sources?  Are we more critical
of where information actually originated, or less?  
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #12 of 36: Scott Rosenberg (scottros) Thu 3 Sep 09 19:51
    
It's funny -- I can still remember the time, not that long ago (a
decade or so), when large numbers of reporters simply wouldn't take a
quote via email: the medium itself was suspect. I *think* now we're at
a point where most reporters understand that every communications
channel -- telephone, webpage, email, semaphore! -- has its uses and
its issues. Deception is possible in any of them. (Remember that
Canadian radio-show prank-caller who got Palin on the phone last fall
pretending to be a foreign dignitary?) It's just that, when a
communication form is new, the journalists don't always have their
antennae properly attuned to detect the deception. (And, I guess, some
politicians never learn...)

I thought the tale of the student who seeded the false quote in
Wikipedia about Maurice Jarre, shortly after his death earlier this
year, was pretty instructive. Wikipedia fixed it pretty quickly, but
not before a large number of news outlets had lifted the quote for
their obituaries. The record would never have been corrected if the
prankster hadn't stepped forward and pointed it out. 

This falls into the Orson Welles/War of the Worlds category: a
deliberate falsehood spread intentionally. I think that every new
medium has these incidents; they put people on guard, as well they
ought to be. The larger issue with the Web is not with such pranks but
rather with the game-of-telephone style spread of half-truth and
misinformation. It's been a war between bad and good information from
the early days of the Net, for sure. But if you apply reasonable
skepticism (and if you don't, surely, you ought to), you have a lot of
good resources to turn to.

One of the things that blogs allow for is the accretion of trust over
time to an individual blogger as you observe how he or she handles
incidents that arise. This does you know good if you land on a blog for
the first time. But if you're a regular, you'll have a pretty good
idea of where you can trust a blogger, and where you should be
suspicious.
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #13 of 36: Scott Rosenberg (scottros) Fri 4 Sep 09 12:58
    
"know good" should obviously be "no good," above!
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #14 of 36: William Pauly (almedia) Fri 4 Sep 09 14:14
    

I enjoyed trying to parse the original; almost poetic ! :-,


Of course, deliberate disinformation and other viral techniques are
almost impossible to combat or compensate for.

All media are susceptible to those, but the immediacy and density of
the Net seems to make it particularly vulnerable to that kind of
manipulation.  Television and radio, for example, have expensive
infrastructures and hierarchical organizations to buffer them from
random propagation of memes; to start a virus in either you must first
get those cameras and microphones pointed at you.  Not so difficult to
get a blogger's attention.
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #15 of 36: Gail Williams (gail) Sat 5 Sep 09 10:20
    
I might have thought that some years back, but I can't think of a ver
good example of that, personally.

There's another interesting trend of bloggers being sponsored by
companies that has been talked about a lot recently, and that too
mirrors the kinds of pressures of traditional journalism.
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #16 of 36: Gail Williams (gail) Sat 5 Sep 09 10:23
    
Scott, how do you see "microblogging" like Twitter chnging blogging,
if at all?
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #17 of 36: Cogito, Ergo Dubito (robertflink) Sat 5 Sep 09 13:01
    
It occurs to me that an extremely reliable medium would set us up to
be so trusting as to over react to a manipulative deviation.  While
skepticism may cause us to miss some opportunity or truth, it may be a
better strategic mindset than trust.  

I understand that affinity groups are an easy mark for the Madoffs of
this world because they are so trusting.

BTW, as a skeptic, I find considerable validation in current media and
may be disconcerted by too much reliability ;-).
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #18 of 36: Christian Crumlish (xian) Sat 5 Sep 09 18:30
    
Hey Scott! Nice to see you hear. Two quickies:

1. When you spoke at Yahoo a month or so ago I think you were asked
abut microblogging or statuscasting or whatever Twitter is (and
possibly Tumblr and the wall/Friendfeed aspect of Facebook) and pointed
out that all of the same criticisms that were applied to blogging are
now applied to this (it's trivial, who cares what you had for
breakfast/your cat, etc.), and I think we can all stipulate that those
reactions are missing the forest for the trees. But I wonder if you do
see any substantive differences (for example, aside from Livejournal
and Vox and Tumblr and Posterous and Radio and recently Blogger, you
didn't typically used to have formal "following" in blogging, whereas
it seems core to microblogging and may provide a bit more of a
structure for conversation than that yelling into the void that
blogging sometimes feels like)?

2. The current Nora Ephron movie on Julie/Julia is based on the book
by the New York Times writer that was based on her blog from before she
was a professional writer called the Julie/Julia Project that was one
of the Salon Blogs hosted on a custom Userland server that also is the
context in which we "met" (although we may have exchanged an email or
two in the brief ezine era before that).... She is one obvious breakout
success from that experiment. Others might be Crooks and Liars and How
to Save the World. Any thoughts on what you learned from that effort?
Have you looked at Open Salon which seems like an evolution of what
some people thought the Salon Radio Userland Blogs community might have
been dreaming of being?
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #19 of 36: Scott Rosenberg (scottros) Mon 7 Sep 09 18:22
    
To Gail's Twitter/"microblogging" question: I've argued, not so much
in the book but over on my blog, that Twitter's success makes blogging
smarter. Bloggers (as a group, and sometimes within individuals) have
often been torn between using their blogs as a repository for
substantial observations and as a receptable for ephemera. As more
people put the ephemeral stuff on Twitter and other similar services,
this frees blogs to be seen as the substantial outlets so many of them
have always been. 

The blog form has a beautiful balance between valuing the present
moment and organizing the past. Twitter, so far, has pretty much
ignored stuff once it's no longer current. Twitter has not offered us
much help for those of us who might be interested in using it as a
means of recording the present for the future. In this sense, it
remains far inferior to blogging. But it's easy to imagine how that
can, and indeed must, change.

Hi, Christian! The point about "following" is also relevant. I think I
always thought reading blogs involved a kind of "following" anyway; we
used to use blogrolls to declare our "follow" list. But of course it
was less formalized (and less user-friendly) than Twitter-style
following. 

The Salon Blogs program that started in 2002 was a transformative
experience for me, and that experience is definitely one of the
motivations behind SAY EVERYTHING. I was half-sure in 2002 that Salon
was *too late* in starting a blog program; surely everyone who might
want to blog had already started one, I worried (having been reading
blogs and proto-blogs myself since at least 1997). I learned just how
wrong I was, and how right Dave Winer and others had been in foreseeing
how much larger this thing was going to be. 

Open Salon was definitely conceived, at first, out of the need to find
a replacement for the Radio-based Salon Blogs effort. The idea of
finding a migration path for that program ended up taking a lot longer
than we'd originally planned, and when I returned to Salon after
writing Dreaming in Code it morphed into Open Salon -- which I worked
on for a year and a half, before leaving to write SAY EVERYTHING. We
definitely saw Open as an opportunity to continue what was best about
the original Salon Blogs while also learning from our mistakes. I think
we actually managed to achieve some of that, given Open's success --
which must mostly be credited to the Salon folks who took over the
project after my departure.

PS I didn't know that Crooks and Liars had any connection to Salon
Blogs -- are you sure about that? How to Save the World, definitely.
Others I remember include Real Live Preacher, Reverse Cowboy, Rayne
Today, the Raven, Fried Green Al-Qaedas, Dave Cullen's blog... I'm sure
I'm forgetting tons of others who deserve to be recalled.  
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #20 of 36: David Wilson (dlwilson) Tue 8 Sep 09 09:55
    
Scott, could you write more about the Salon blogs.  I nibbled around
the edges by reading some of them and following how you did a digest of
them.  I never bit off a full bite because they were in the "personal
journal" phase and I wasn't interested in that (go ahead, you can mock
me for being a straight man for that pun pregnant sentence).  Further,
I had no idea of what I would write about.  It is only in retrospect
that I can see what a potent set of tools blogs turned out to be.  You
write up a good history of it in the book.  What I want to know is the
fits and starts, the problems, and then when the synchrony started to
kick in for the Salon blogs.
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #21 of 36: Scott Rosenberg (scottros) Wed 9 Sep 09 10:37
    
Thanks for asking, David.

We started the original (2002) Salon Blogs program at a time when,
really, Salon was at a low ebb -- this was at the bottom of the
post-dotcom era bust, when we didn't really know how much longer Salon
could stay in business, we'd just had three rounds of layoffs and there
were no resources to spare for doing anything new. But in the
meantime, there'd been this explosion of energy in blogging -- it was
one of the only bright spots on the Web landscape. I'd been writing
about the phenomenon and it seemed to me there had to be a way to for
Salon to participate. But we couldn't build anything ourselves and the
only way I could get the CEO to agree to a new initiative was if it
held some sort of potential, however small, to bring in new revenue.

The deal with Userland that I put together with John Robb, who was
then running Userland, fit that bill: Salon was basically promoting the
sale of licenses for Radio Userland and splitting the revenue with the
software company. They ran the server for us; we ran the community.
("We" in this case essentially being "me" -- I pretty much ran this
project in my extra time.)

The thing kicked in very quickly -- we had a rush of sign ups at the
start. There were two main problems: (1) Userland stopped development
on Radio roughly at the time we started the program. Unfortunately,
paid blogging services weren't the future, in the face of increasingly
good free alternatives. (2) Salon's editorial staff and leadership,
distracted by its own troubles and somewhat inflexible in its thinking
about user contributions, never fully embraced the notion that this
random collection of user-created blogs could be integrated into the
"real" Salon. My blog got home-page placement, and I used it to promote
other Salon blogs, but we should have been far more innovative and
aggressive about mixing it up. I think Open Salon learned from that
mistake, and Salon has gotten a lot more willing to break down
arbitrary barriers between "pro" and "amateur" material. 
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #22 of 36: David Wilson (dlwilson) Wed 9 Sep 09 14:50
    
Here is another question.

One of models to promote business blogs and indirectly the business
itself is the give away "free" strategy.  Then once you've captured a
following, you offer "premium" features for sale.

I remember the rough and tumble days when if anyone tried to promote
or sell their product or service, they were shouted down.  Times
change.  Usenet was the boxing ring and then blogs came along and
changed that.

What is your take on that?
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #23 of 36: Scott Rosenberg (scottros) Wed 9 Sep 09 20:46
    
I'm not sure which "rough and tumble days" those were, David -- you
mean the pre-Web Internet, when the network's denizens were dubious
about anything commercial (and the network itself was largely
off-limits to commercial activity)? 

By the time blogs came along -- whether you date that to 1997 or
before -- the Web was pretty plainly a commercial environment. Most
blogs were personal sites produced for personal reasons, though. Andrew
Sullivan raised a significant amount of money from his readers in
2000-2001 and there were a handful of other instances of people making
blog-related money. But it wasn't until Nick Denton and Pete Rojas
started Gizmodo in 2002 that the whole idea of publishing a blog in
order to sell ads and make money materialized. (Don't forget that in
2001-2 there wasn't a whole lot of ad money sloshing around the Web,
anyway.)

Today we have the blog-as-business, the blog-as-hobby, and the
blog-as-reputation-enhancing-device (indirectly profitable rather than
direct source of remuneration). I tend to find the most interesting
bloggers in the third category, but all three approaches seem to be
thriving. Though the blog-as-business thing does tend to push people in
the direction of spam-like activities, "auto-rebloggers," SEO tricks
and so on. 
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #24 of 36: Jeff Hershberger (jhersh) Thu 10 Sep 09 04:15
    
And within blog-as-business, we have the current trend I like to call
user-generated literature.  The entrepreneur starts with an idea, like
"awkward family photos", sets up a site, takes user submissions,
institutes a community rating system, and waits until enough material
comes in to fill a book.  The LOLcats empire must be on their, what,
eighth book?  For me the tragicomic feature of this genre is having
readers rate each other's submissions.  That says, 'look, this is so
not about me - it's all you, guys.'  It's a complete abdication of
editorial responsibility, but it's totally appropriate given the
content.

Of course, an RSS feed full of cat photos can only loosely be
described as a blog.  Still, they seem to be good business.
  
inkwell.vue.364 : Scott Rosenberg, Say Everything
permalink #25 of 36: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 10 Sep 09 16:59
    
Scott, how much of the success of blogging is really about RSS? 

How will all these new approaches, from Google Wave to Tornado web and
the RSS Cloud, etc. change all this?
  

More...



Members: Enter the conference to participate

Subscribe to an RSS 2.0 feed of new responses in this topic RSS feed of new responses

   Join Us
Home | Learn About | Conferences | Member Pages | Mail | Store | Services & Help | Password | Join Us