An open offer to professional journalists

If you are a professional journalist writing about weblogging, I’d like to help you out. Just run your article or column by me before it’s published, and I’ll do my best to keep you from sounding like a complete and total ass to anyone who knows the first thing about weblogs. That should make you the only one who doesn’t.

No doubt my non-journalist readers are tired of seeing dissections of crappy articles about weblogging. Sorry, here’s one more. Skip it if you are so inclined.

In the March 25th edition of the Boston Globe, Hiawatha Bray wrote about weblogs in the traditional print style: write about Evan Williams and Blogger. From the top:

Cute lead, but Ev doesn’t get 480,000 visitors a day in his home office, since the servers are housed in a data center. And given that you are planning on cutting the number down to a quarter of that later in the article, it makes even less sense.

Just because every other writer who has covered weblogs has presented them as written by obsessives covering a single subject, doesn’t make it true, or necessary.

Evan Williams, co-founder of Pyra Labs. It’s not that hard to find out that he wasn’t the sole founder, and it even makes a good story.

I presume that URLs as text rather than as links is beyond your control as a writer, but using “authored” and “created” to describe “written” or simply “by” is not. A weblog “created by” someone is one which they started, but which has other writers. The End of Free is a weblog created by Evan Williams. is a weblog written by Glenn Reynolds. There is a difference. Words mean things, with the possible exception of “authored”.

I’ve already gone on too long, with more to go, so I’ll skip the “birth of Blogger” except to say that the people who were there at the time don’t write it quite that way.

“Williams pays the bills with advertising that appears on most people’s blogs.” Really? Are “most people” actually using Blogspot, rather than their own server? Pays the bills is a bit ambiguous, too, since he claims that ad revenue doesn’t even cover Blogspot costs, much less Blogger costs. “Or users can pay $35 a year for the elite Blogger Pro hosting service, to ensure an ad-free blog.” Once you have picked yourself back up off the floor and gotten over the idea of “elite Blogger Pro” (it’s a paid public beta, a way to buy Evan a few pizzas, a couple of six-packs and a cup of coffee so he can keep developing Blogger: how elite is that?), note that the second item on the Pro FAQ is “Thus, ad-free Blog*Spot is not included in the price of Pro”. Misinterpretations are bad enough, but complete errors of fact that take a few seconds to verify are the surest way to make anyone who knows better dismiss everything else you have to say.

“More troubling is the fact that three quarters of Williams’ subscribers got bored and gave up.” Even if that were true (it’s not), it wouldn’t be troubling. Blogger makes it very easy to find out whether or not you want to write a weblog. There’s no other way to find out than by trying. Not everyone will end up want to continue writing one. So what? But the numbers are completely specious. You have two numbers: the actual number of times that someone has typed a fake name into the “sign up” form, and Ev’s estimate that a quarter of those are being updated. I personally have signed up for at least four accounts, though I only update the blogs on one regularly, so from my example, every single person who has ever signed up must still be using Blogger. Then there’s the fact that not updating a weblog on Blogger does not translate into not weblogging. Pixelkitty may not be powered by Blogger anymore, but it’s still a weblog. I’d guess that a significant percentage of Greymatter and Movable Type users also have a Blogger account in their past. Then there’s the bizzare conclusion that just because only a quarter of the people who have ever used Blogger continue to use it, the whole idea of weblogging will disappear in a year or two. That’s not journalism, that’s twisting a meaningless statistic into support for your preconceptions.

Finally, the last damn thing on the face of the earth that Blogger or weblogging needs to save it is a Yahoo-like directory. I know of maybe a couple-dozen weblogs that only cover a single topic, and for the most part they aren’t very interesting. It’s far more useful to search for a topic, getting the weblogs that talk mostly about that topic higher up in the results list, than it is to get someone else’s idea of a few weblogs that talk about nothing else. While search will turn up a good writer with interesting ideas doing the occasional post about Star Trek, a directory will only turn up Bray’s apocryphal Star Trek obssesives. The directory era ended a couple of years ago. Yahoo and DMOZ are virtually useless, and it’s time to get over it and embrace search.

The biggest problem with articles like this, where a knowledgeable reader will find that virtually every word is wrong, is that you then have to assume that every article about things you don’t know well is just as wrong. Next thing you know, you’re just like me, having not picked up a newspaper for about eight month now. Bray says that “[a] thorough reading of one or two good blogs will leave you almost as well informed as this morning’s newspaper” but in fact a thorough reading of three or four good newsblogs and their links will leave you well informed, unlike reading a single newspaper, which will only leave you sadly misinformed. When it’s done well, newsblogging gives you the same result you would get if your newspaper editor could read three or four articles on each topic, and select the least wrong one, while suggesting that you also read another article on a related topic, and an article in last Tuesday’s paper.


Comment by pixelkitty #
2002-03-31 00:38:04

I gave up reading the newspapers when I discovered the internet in 1992. Mainly because you get journalists like the one you write about here Phil. Journalists who dont know what research is and write for word count, not factual and entertaining content.

Comment by Shannon #
2002-03-31 01:37:50

Well said, Phil.

Comment by ruzz #
2002-03-31 03:13:59


they never ever mention BigBlogTool!


Comment by Burningbird #
2002-03-31 20:03:19

Extremely well said!

I solumnly promise that if I write an article related to weblogging, to run it by you. Cross my heart.

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