The big blogging fad

In the past few weeks, as I've been rather quiet on this site, there's been an explosion in weblog coverage by various news sources, including: Wired's Blah, Blah, Blah and Blog; Canada's National Post 'Bloggers' emerge from internet underground; Henry Jenkins (director of the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT), Blog This; three Guardian articles (1, 2, 3); Andrew Sullivan's, A Blogger Manifesto; and today's New York Times article, Is Weblog Technology Here to Stay or Just Another Fad?.

Goodness, but that's a lot of coverage in a short amount of time. Unfortunately most of it fails, once again, to penetrate or probe in any sort of meaningful way. Of especial disappointment to me is the New York Times' piece asking whether blogging is just another fad, not because I'm afraid of the answer but because I think the question is so meaningless. Fad, especially as it relates to anything Internet, is a terribly loaded, and potentially dismissive, word. And its use in this instance precludes a more interesting examination of where the hype is coming from. Bob Tedeschi, the article's author, asks, "[I]s it simply that in this, the Internet's fallow period, anything even remotely buzzworthy is given more of a spotlight than it deserves. Is the Weblog, in other words, a fad that is destined to fade?"

Previous Internet fads, which had all the longevity of a firecracker (the expectant hush, a boom and burst of light, and then nothing), included Portals, Vortals, Push, B2B, B2C, and the whole "dot-com" thing. But those fads emerged in a top-down fashion — they were created by marketers and analysts making big pronouncements because they had something to offer or gain by doing so. The weblog hype, for the most part, has come from the bottom up, from the people actually doing the weblogging. Sure the tool makers/bloggers (Dave Winer and LiveJournal come to mind) have spent a great deal of time proselytizing, but the majority of the weblog buzz has come from the individuals themselves. As the amount of bloggers has grown, so has the collective noise.

The term fad describes something that's popular for a short period of time. Whether blogging will be sustained, and more importantly, continue to evolve, remains to be seen, but I believe it has a greater chance of success than previous Internet fads because of its grassroots beginning. The increase in professional media coverage simply demonstrates an increased awareness of the weblog phenomenon. And whether that's due to the dearth of more deserving fads, I cannot say.

[Snarky aside: The best part of this article was the analyst from Forrester who, "predicts the technology will be adopted by the big portal sites for reselling to their users." Portals + Weblogs = Two Great Fads that Taste Great Together! [Additional aside: Big portal sites? Who's left besides Yahoo!?]]

And speaking of professional media coverage, the "blogs-are-not-journalism" camp is quick to point out that capital J journalism is focused on researching and presenting facts. Journalism is concerned with credibility and to that end employs editors and fact-checkers to ensure that the public receives a valid and informed piece of writing. And yet with a quick glance at the articles above, I see errors — errors that have been continued from one weblog article to the next, the same "facts" repeated over and over. Of course Journalists are informed by previous pieces that have been published on the topic they're writing about, but does that relieve them of their fact-checking obligations?

Take for example this quote from Andrew Sullivan's "A Blogger Manifesto," which ran yesterday in the Sunday Times of London, "Blogger – pioneered and still run by one man, Evan Williams – makes that completely easy". People familiar with Blogger may recall that there were three of us at Pyra when that product was launched. And there were many more folks that poured lots of time and energy into Blogger, at various points in its lifecycle, to create the product that's seen today. It's even mentioned on the Blogger/About the Company page yet I've lost count of the number of articles that have given Evan credit for creating and building Blogger all by himself. I'm not trying to be a brat here, and in fact I've avoided pointing out most of these mistakes as they've occurred because whenever I do I get an inbox full of email saying, basically, "Sit down and shut up, you left Blogger so stop your whining." And perhaps because of that, because some other webloggers and I have not spoken up and pointed out mistakes, these mistruths prevail.

My point is we shouldn't be so quick to say that Journalists get it right and webloggers don't. I think the weblog articles are a good example of the often shallow approach taken by mainstream media towards "quirky" topics and demonstrate that fact-checking may consist of copying "facts" from previous articles on the same topic. Of course, it's easy for me to spot mistakes in these stories because I participated in the events being described. This isn't black or white, fact or opinion, journalism or weblog. We're well into shades of grey, into a fuzzy realm where the distinction between amateur and professional is blurred. Where and how articles are published should not overshadow the examination of the quality and credibility of what's being written.

[Note: the author does not wish any of the above to be construed as Journalism.]

Over at Jason's an interesting and related discussion is taking place.