Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bloggish Navel-Gazing

It's true that anyone with a computer can get a blog, and anyone can write things in it. So it's not surprising that there are many blogs out there with many kinds of content. There are no rules. It's an ideal medium for experimentation.

And yet, and yet...

The blog form became so popular that magazines and newspapers have sought to co-opt it. Some buy themselves people who already were blogging, like Andrew Sullivan and Kevin Drum. Others apparently tell their reporters and writers that they will now blog, in addition to their other duties, and set them up with software that they may or may not be able to use.

Some of those people get into the form, and some never do. This seems to go for public information officers too.

Although there are no rules, some things work better than others. Short form is better than long form. (I know, I violate that one from time to time.) Interaction is part of it. (Which is why I often respond to what looks like trolling.) And some, but not too many, personal touches.

Most of the normal rules of grammar, composition, narrative, and reporting apply too, although this is partly a matter of taste, and I like to allow for experimentation.

My Google Reader and Twitter follows have presented me with some things lately that show that some still don't quite get what blogging is about. There's quite an amusing fight going on at Embargo Watch. Ivan Oransky, the owner of Embargo Watch, is a Reuters writer who keeps track of retractions of scientific papers and the absurdities of journal embargoes on papers about to be published. The scientific world is learning to live with 24/7 information and commentary, and Embargo Watch documents that learning curve, pratfalls and all.

It seems that Ed Yong, well-known and respected science blogger, wanted to ask a researcher at the University of Manchester some questions, and the university's public information officer (PIO, in the jargon), Aeron Haworth, told him, "I think you have all you need for a blog." Haworth then compounds the error by participating in the comment thread at Embargo Watch, exhibiting his total unfamiliarity with common internet pitfalls. I find particularly amusing his insistence that commenters identify themselves to him with something about their backgrounds.

Then there's James Fallows, who doesn't want comments on his blog at The Atlantic* (*cough* not enough time to moderate them *cough*) but is happy to receive e-mail and excerpt it with his shaping. He's been having guest commenters on his blog the past few weeks, and some are quite bizarre. Far too many of them haven't gotten the idea of a short form. One, a producer of erotic films, had a particularly insidious trick: no sentence need have any connection to the one before, and certainly not paragraphs, most of which were one sentence long anyway. This bothered me a great deal in skimming through the Google Reader version until I actually read a couple of his posts through from beginning to end. I had to do this twice with each post, because my brain kept looking for some resolution, some connections among ideas. But there weren't any. Once I determined this, the posts became much easier to skim.

Next up is someone who apparently has had an extensive e-mail correspondence with Fallows but doesn't blog. In fact, his first post (much too long, btw) was entirely on why he doesn't blog or tweet or do any of those silly internettish things. Most of us got over the temptation to such posts in our first few months of blogging, but he only has a week.

There have been a few more, but I quickly passed over them. Most of what is annoying me about these newbies is the assumption that they have some special capability or knowledge that is so important it must be showered upon the rest of us, no backtalk please.

It hasn't been that way for some very long time now.

It's worth mentioning that Steve Clemons has been dealing with problem commenters at his blog.

No comments: