What Blogs are Not

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_This article is by Guest Contributor Kate Trgovac, reporting from the “BlogOn”:http://www.blogonevent.com/blogon2005 conference. Here are Kate’s impressions of “What Blogs are Not” by “David Weinberger”:http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/ – Fellow, Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society and co-author of the Cluetrain Mainfesto._
I’ve been a fan of Weinberger for quite a while (not so much the Cluetrain Manifesto, but for his newsletter “JOHO – Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization”:http://www.hyperorg.com/ *and* because he has the best email address in the universe – self@evident.com). He certainly did not disappoint from an energy or content perspective. Weinberger (possibly by virtue of being a Harvard Fellow) gave a presentation that was a perfect mix of some ivory-tower stuff with some actionable takeaways.
The first half of Weinberger’s talk was about what blogs are not. Note: I think he is addressing his talk to marketers trying to understand how to enter the blogosphere (either as participants or observers); he’s not trying to describe the blogging process to the general public.


First, blogs are not “About Cats” (cat blogs got picked on a lot). The point here (I think) is that blogs are not about one defined interest. Blogs are not the Encyclopedia Britannica where topics are carefully selected and documented – topics of general broad interest. Blogs are more like a distributed “Wikipedia”:http://en.wikipedia.org/ (a place where you can have entries about “Heavy Metal Umlauts”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy_metal_umlaut), a place where multiple interests intersect. Blogs have multiple pages on multiple topics. They are *expressed* multiple interests that individuals have.
Second, blogs are not journalism. They don’t (necessarily) compete with journalists (and journalists actually regard some blogs akin to “stringers” – leads for stories). Blogs really function as a Managing Editor in a publication. Blogs comment on and filter the facts and news that come from journalists. Commentary, reflection and analysis – rather than news – that is the blogosphere’s function.
(Weinberger also had a discussion about The Long Tail phenomenon. If you’re not familiar with the Long Tail, you can read “Chris Shirky’s original article on the long tail of weblogs”:http://www.shirky.com/writings/powerlaw_weblog.html or the full “Wikipedia article on the Long Tail”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Tail which includes links to Chris Anderson’s Long Tail blog and other economic discussions).
Third, blogs are not Mass Media (One to Many). Nor (surprising to some) are they vehicles for One to One marketing or for personalization. Blogs are places where individuals have conversations, places where people talk to each other. So the model is really a Some-to-Some model for communication.
Fourth, blogs are not about single individuals. I found this to be a “light-bulb” moment for me. He believes that as bloggers, we are in the process of constructing a new public-self. A process that is taking place *while* we already have a public self. This is unprecedented in human history on such a large scale (me: people have had multiple-selves before, but limited perhaps to con artists). This construction-of-self (where “my blog” = “me”) is one reason we feel so attacked when someone criticizes our cat blog.
[Aside: I’ve been “nursing an ongoing confliction”:http://www.mynameiskate.ca/2005/08/clean_sweeping_.html about which public-self to construct in my blog – is it a “professional” public-self or a “personal” public self. I still find this a tricky question. Am going to follow up with Weinberger on this.]
Weinberger then went on to describe what blogs *are* and why it may be difficult for marketers to understand/use them successfully.
First, blogs are written quickly (often with poor spelling and poor grammar). As a result, we see a more intimate side of the blogger than we would typically expect. As a blogger, we approach our audience with a sense of pre-emptive forgiveness. It is this assumed forgiveness that allows us a level of comfort about our shared intimacy (the perfect virtuous circle). Our presumption is that audiences will forgive our spelling errors if we correct ourselves in a transparent way.
[My extension on this is that our audiences will forgive us our factual errors if we correct ourselves in a transparent way. Different bloggers have different standards around factual correction. This is something that is more serious than spelling and grammatical errors and will need to be pushed by the blogosphere.]
Second, good blogs are constantly encouraging people to leave. Good blogs are rich in descriptive and annotated links. Contrast to a publication like the “New York Times”:http://www.nytimes.com/ which encourages people to stay.
Third, blogs are multi-subjective. [Warning: this is a bit of a heady topic.] If I understand Weinberger correctly, he asserts that previously (pre-blogosphere) if we (as communicators) wanted to be able to embrace multiple views, we essentially had to resort to objectivity – where no view is placed above another. In the blogosphere, we are able to embrace a wider, more nuanced view; as participants in a set of linked conversations we can get a richer perspective via multi-subjectivity.
Fourth (and a close cousin to multi-subjectivity), blogs allow for multi-dispute-ism. In short, blogs allow for us to have our different opinions (as well as our ambiguities). No one needs to win. Blogs allow for combatants to simply let an argument go and drift apart. There is no “let’s take this outside.” [Me: I think a lot of this has to do with the availability of the medium. I have access to a similar set of publishing tools as, say, the New York Times. I may not have the *brand recognition* of the Times, but I have the equivalent distribution mechanism and potential audience. This leveling of the distribution channel goes a long way towards feeling less combative.]
Finally, blogs are not about *you* (where “you” = “your company”). Old Model: Fort Business. The company controlled absolutely what info went outside the company and what their employees said. Customers could not easily share information. New Model: Networked Markets. Customers know more about your products and your business than you do. And they are connected. Companies need to move away from Fort Business in order to be successful in the blogosphere.
Following this, Weinberger offered an action plan:
# Start blogging internally. It’s better than knowledge management systems. Practice, see what works, see what doesn’t.
# When moving to external blogging, four steps:
## Listen: listen to what people are already saying in the blogosphere about your company.
## Audit: (in a non-threatening way) find out who is already blogging in your company. Someone certainly is.
## Engage: Find the right people in your organization. Not your CEO, not senior management, and likely not marketing. People who like customers and who like to talk to them. Product engineers are a good start.
## Give Up Control: hardest message. There is no control in the blogosphere. You don’t own your brand, customers do. And if you can’t give up control, then now is not the time to start blogging.
# Make your mistakes and move past them. Weinberger asserts confidently that corporate bloggers will make two: 1) We will believe that we know more than our customers and 2). We will be boring.
# Understand that blogs need real voice (not just a canned, controlled corporate voice) and they need to be engaged in a conversation (not in *telling*).
Great discussion ensued from the audience.
Biggest question: “OK, but *really* how do marketers engage?”
* Maybe a company doesn’t have its *own* blog. Either piggyback on someone who is already blogging in your company and is a trusted voice in your industry, or, see what is happening in your industry and contribute to the conversation.
* Find out what makes people *passionate* in your company – that’s what companies should be blogging about. You should blog because you just *have* to tell someone. What is *interesting* about your company? What do people care about? *That’s* what you blog.
_Kate Trgovac is currently Manager, Web Evolution for Petro-Canada. Prior to joining Petro-Canada, Kate spent eight years developing user experience strategies for clients at several interactive agencies in Toronto. She writes about technology, branding, user-experience and other topics of note on her blog “mynameiskate.ca”:http://www.mynameiskate.ca/ ._

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One thought on “What Blogs are Not

  1. David Weinberger

    Excellent summary-and-more, Kate. Thank you!
    One clarification about something I was way too murky about. By “multi-subjectivity” I mean that we now have multiple subjective viewpoints in conversation with one another. We’ve always had multiple subjective viewpoints, of course; now for the first time those viewpoints are talking with one another, and you can follow the links to see how they interact. That makes subjectivity a more reliable way to the truth than before. I think.

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