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Weblog Entry

Weblogs vs. Old Media

April 04, 2003

A guy conducting a research study on weblogs e–mailed me this week. He wanted to discuss potential commercial applications. It wasn’t a question I really had much interest in, since I’d rather not see weblogging become a corporate thing. But I guess it’s as inevitable as the .com rush so I’ll likely have to grin and bear it.

The exchange got me thinking, and spurred by my reply to a recent comment by Kris, I clarified my cynicism a little more. Weblogs have been touted as an alternative to traditional, mainstream reporting. The eye on the street for the people, by the people; Sallam Pax being the latest big story.

So if they start becoming muses for the corporate world (as is, inevitably, inevitable) then what happens to this resurgent vox populi? I see the old media embracing the new form, and while it may stay fresh for a while, we’ll inevitably see a lapse right back into the old habits.

I think traditional journalism is looking rather shaky, with the publishing power that average Joe now has. Given corporate sponsorships and almost willful censoring, the internet is casting a lot more doubt than ever on old–school reporting techniques. But they’ll find a way to survive; through homogenizing, no doubt. Their livelihood depends on it.

That’s why everything popular goes commercial, when it comes down to it. The Old Ways of doing things have the pockets to adapt to the New Way. Without the ability to adapt, they’re dinosaurs that sink into the mire of their obsolesence. Keeping a finger on the pulse of pop culture is the only way to predict new trends.

Beginning of the trend: Project Blogger, and the Raging Cow debacle (who have given in and resorted to a more traditional marketing site, if you haven’t noticed yet.) It’ll get worse. Personal sites will take on ghost writers, corporate sponsorships, and I can see one or two selling their voice to the highest bidder. Jason Kottke, in the words of Nestle, anyone?

Just wait, it’s coming.

Reader Comments

Keith says:
April 04, 01h

I think I see what your saying and agree with you as far as the act of “blogging” goes. However, the use of blogging technology for other means I think is huge. The main content channels of the Intranet I work on are using Movable Type. It works great, for the most part, and it was my experience with blogging that lead me to think about going that direction. That said, we don’t use MT to “blog” really so…

In the end the tools are just tools right? I can see lots of commercial applications for blogging tools - I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

To Blaine’s point. I imagine you’d need to set up ground rule, as with any community type collaboration ideas. I used to work for Boeing on their Intranet and we had threaded discussion that had to be heavily monitored. Some topic threads were discarded because of “shady” post and some individual posts axed as well. I think there is more upside (user to user support for instance) to that sort of collaboration and community building than not, but really it depends on your situation. Obviously a company would need to weigh the potential risks.

Dave S. says:
April 04, 03h

Interesting points guys. A weblog is a tool, to be sure. And it’s fully adaptable to any purpose, I would think. My personal favorite variation of the moment is Mike Pugh’s Vagabonding, an MT foundation chronicling his around-the-world trip. I explained that I was cynical in my post, but I didn’t really touch on why.

What I feel a bit hesitant about is the muddling of the personal and corporate, and the abstracting of authority. Right now the community is still in its infancy, but there are some very strong voices we can generally trust, and the beauty is that they’re just people — they owe no one anything. There is no censorship to appease sponsors, or cutting of material because it doesn’t test well with an audience.

It’s do-it-yourself free speech, and the mandatory “running it by legal, watering it down, and double-checking with the sponsors” that goes along with corporate backing is a quick way to ruin a good thing.

Blaine says:
April 04, 09h

I think the biggest drawback for companies is this is raw and uncensored. What if an employee says something that puts the company in bad light? What if something is reported and is not true?

Dave S. says:
April 05, 06h

Kris: Your last line made me laugh Starbucks Organic Shade Grown Mexican coffee out my nose.

Good points; maybe I’m taking my hyperbole a bit far. The modern weblog is, of course, a direct descendant of the older BBSes and Usenet forums. There’s a difference in more than just medium, however. Consider heirarchy and power — links are used as a virtual currency, and those with the most links become leaders. You never saw that happening on your local WWIV board. Self-consciously referencing Jason again, he did a great study on this phenomenon a few months back.

The community does seem to elect leaders, consciously or otherwise. While right now I truly believe we live in a golden age of free speech, how long before a savvy marketer realizes that someone getting hundreds of thousands of hits a day has a rather captive audience? And if they can’t keep up with server costs… how hard would it be to take on a bit of corporate sponsorship to keep their site running?

The reason I’m convinced there will be cross-over is because a web log and a news site are two very similar ideas already. In a sense, all news agencies with frequently updated web sites have been blogging all along. It may very well be that independents remain independent and thrive side-by-side with the big guys. Can they exist together?

As weblogging catches on, maybe one day a site like Fark will rival ABC News. Whereas the latter creates its own content, however, the former relies on the community supporting it to do so. They are two very different approaches, and maybe there will be room for both in the end.

April 05, 12h

Interesting stuff you got going on here, Dave…

While the whole blogging culture will shift, and change like anything else, I think blogging, by it’s very nature is not slick and stylized and will likely remain that way – after all, who wants to read the reports of a million hack journalists reporting on the same thing?

What is cool about blogging is that you can put your opinion forth in the most unrefined fashion (even to the extent that you will disagree with yourself a couple of days later) and have interesting conversation grow out of it. In this sense, blogging is more like the idea of the salon, where all the intellectuals and artists hang every week or so to spill their brains and cross-pollinate ideas, opinions, recipes, etc. (except we’re not wearing ascots, no one has come around to refill my glass, and the house is big enough to have everyone over who wants to come).

The web log’s techie grandparents are the Well, happenin’ newsgroups (the one’s without the pictures of naked folk), or those old BBS’s. Blogs are a new generation of the family and have furthered the tradition by posting daily pics of their hounds in the sidebar of the discussion.

Frankly, I don’t think companies want to wrap their pinstriped arms around blogs… this blog business is too slippery and unpredictable. They DO want to align themselves with the buzz, and the technology, and will likely borrow from the culture that which is compatible with their cash registers. But that’s a different matter…. wearing your underwear on the outside doesn’t make you Superman.

If mainstream journalism is looking shaky right now, it is partly because mainstream journalism is being scrutinized collectively in blogs and is being augmented, at times, by blogs. It’s not being replaced. They aren’t hot-swappable fill-ins for each other. On a good day blogs could only replace the editorial section of the newspaper.

[ This blog comment is sponsored by 7-Up and Pirelli. ]

naveen says:
October 30, 03h

good informative article on a relatively less discussed topic of immense importance.