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Dear High Preists of Weblogs,

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Niek Hockx writes on blogging weblogging conferences:

“It is of course a well known fact that geekers and geekorettes get off simply on the fact that a new and exciting technology exists, without asking themselves for one moment if that technology is actually the best one to communicate a message to the world.

To me all that live conference blogging looks a lot like trying to reinvent the wheel. IMHO a simple old fashioned, automatic video camera on a tripod and some Quicktime streaming over the Internet would do a much better job at getting a keynote speaker accross than 10, 12, 20 people all trying to keep up with him or her, sort of quasi stenographing the speaker’s words, in a difficult to read, reversed chronological order on a web page.”

This meshes nicely with some thoughts I’ve been writing about how many “key” webloggers have begun to only focus on themselves, their linkage and their “great” ideas, forgetting that most people know nothing about weblogs and are perhaps just a bit curious.

Speaking to the small crowd at my local Mac User Group (MUG) about weblogs really brought to the forefront some basic issues about weblogs, what they are and how people perceive them. Regular readers of the big discussion threads in the blogosphere can easily get caught up in the finer points of the weblogging discussion (RSS, accessbility, who invented blogs, “j” vs. “J”, etc). It’s tempting, no easy, to get caught up in the same group of people that go from conference to conference, like a travelling show, talking to each other about weblogging. Now don’t get me wrong, these discussions are very important and pertinent to some webloggers, but they should not be the main focus of discussion.

Oh, so you invented weblogs? Who cares. Oh, you get 4,000 hits/day? Who cares. Oh, you started an online publishing software company? Who cares. Oh, you fly around the country for each and every conference some guy with too much time and money puts on? Who cares! Who cares, who cares, who cares.

The point is being missed and some of the people involved in the tech and intellectual side of weblogs have turned inward, focusing only on themselves and their neat ideas. And yes, your ideas are interesting, dare I say, intriguing. However, they are not in focus with the people who want to learn more about weblogs or, imagine this, start one of their own.

This was apparent to me as I attempted to introduce an audience of 30+ to weblogs. I began with a question: “Who has a weblog?” No hands. Okay, “who knows what a weblog is?” No hands. Wow. Suddenly I found myself in the position of evangelist and educator. Where are the weblog evangelists? I’m not talking about people who evangelize to other conference attendees, many of whom already know about weblogs. Who preaches to the people? Dave Winer does it at Harvard. He was brought on-board to initiate weblogs at Harvard. Okay, we have Dave. Who else? I honestly cannot think of anyone.

Webloggers, and I’m making a gross generalization here, are caught up in their own pile of shit at the moment. We are not toppling major government officials, we are not stopping wars or affecting world events. We think we are much bigger than we really are. Sure, we have many loud voices online. But we need more if we really want to return to web to the individual person.

During my presentation I was asked why weblogs were started. Tricky question and I wasn’t sure I knew the exact answer off-hand (remember I was pinch hitting and had only 10 minutes to prepare). So, how did I answer? I said that weblogs were formed to bring back the individual voice to a web that has been overrun by corporate thugs, threatening to turn an excellent medium into television. I don’t know who said this, hell, I don’t even know if it’s true. I do know, though, that it’s the reason we should be preaching weblogs to those who have not yet been introduced to them. Just because everyone at every conference you go to is blogging and has a blog does not mean everyone blogs. Turn around and look outside your circle. Stop talking to the same people. Try to initiate conversation with some new people, people who are still learning how to converse with the weblog medium.

About Ryan Irelan

  • http://www.unproductivity.com Tom Johnson

    Concerning Dave Winer at Harvard – I have frequently noticed for many months a number of hits in close succession from Harvard.edu in my site’s stats and wondered what was going on. Now I’m wondering if my site isn’t being *studied* by some Harvard students?! Scary . . .

  • http://www.murphyhorner.com Mmmmurphy

    You have a very good point.

    I just moved from Silicon Valley to L.A. last year. In SV, I felt out of it because I DIDN’T have a blog yet.

    So I start one.

    Then I move to LA and people I meet think I’m some kind of tech goddess because I have a “web page.”

    I barely considered my [then] blogspot site as my webpage. I didn’t design it, after all.

    But even with all their awe of the “web page” here, still, no one reads it.

    They tell me, “I can’t read anything off a computer screen.”

    I don’t have that problem. But some people do.

    And if our lofty, humanitarian goal as Bloggers is to “reach the masses with the REAL scoop”, we are failing.

    The masses aren’t reading. Maybe the don’t want the real scoop. Or maybe we’re not using the right medium.

    i don’t know, but we still have a long way to go.

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Dave Winer is a great evangelist for weblogs, and I’m not sure that I believe that there are no others. All weblog creators are in a sense evangelists, showing the world what can be accomplished. Some are just more influential than others.

    Part of your argument sounds as if you’re trying to define what should or should not happen in a weblog. This is a natural and understandable desire, but also completely wrong-headed for weblogs. People blog about what is interesting to them. That’s natural – we aren’t being paid to write about things about which we do not care. Sometimes it seems like a closed circle, but what is the alternative? Write about things we don’t care about to draw in new readers?

    Every week there are more articles and stories appearing around the web and in print about weblogs. Every day more people hear about them. Some are attracted to read them. Others are attracted to start one of their own. Could each of us be doing more? Some of us certainly could, but I don’t see why I should have to evangelize. My weblog is a big part of my life, but some of my friends don’t even know I write one. Most do.

    Dave Winer has banked his reputation on weblogs, and he has done a marvelous job of pushing the limits and showing what they can be and how they can be useful. Not all of us can be Dave Winer. :)