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Monday, June 09, 2003

Dave Winer: What Are Weblogs?

Remembering back to the start of the PC market, progression of adoption that eventually included business. While the Web was growing, this Weblog thing was happening slowly and quietly. Dave first started blogging in connection with a project he was working on at Wired called 24 Hours of Democracy. Wanted to show that the Web could be used for something very positive. Invited anyone who wanted to to write an article explaining why having the Web be an open, free, first amendment protected environment was a good thing. Put up a Web site for this, kind of internal but not password protected. Started linking to the new things that were coming online in reverse chronological order. "How many people are blogging this by the way?" 70% of the room. "Wow!"

Think of it this way: is there someone in your work group who is constantly sending around links and articles? That's your blogger. (Says hi to some of the many bloggers around the room. Hi Dave!) Talks about blogging versus journalism. Talks about posting your cheesecake recipe: it may reveal some truth about you that may wind up revolutionizing your life. If I were starting a business today, I would make it a weblog. This is why I wanted Doc and David to be bloggers when I read Cluetrain. The idea is to be yourself. Go ahead and put your cheesecake recipe out there, because your customers can see through your b.s. They want your real voice. Integrity: they want to know what your biases are up front, want to know where you're coming from. Comes back to Cluetrain again. Blogs are what a personal Web site is in 2003, will be even more sophisticated in 2007. Users are getting more sophisticated, while technologists are better learning how to make these things easy to use. I went from being a CEO to a university fellow because I felt that now we understand sort of how the software should work, have a backlog of features that haven't yet made it out to the users, and the question is how are they going to be used in various situations?

We had an experience at Harvard, I think it was in April this year. The RIAA had a new tactic of going after individual college students, five on five different campuses. Wrote to the Dean of Harvard College: do something about these downloads under the DMCA. Dean took some actions including denying the student Internet access, and we covered this on the Harvard weblog. Then, one of the fellows at Berkman, Wendy Seltzer, wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times, but thought it probably wouldn't get published. Had a revelation: why not post this (very respectful) letter taking issue with the Dean's actions on a weblog? Dave found this very interesting: we have expertise on this, let's run the story. They ran it, and the Dean's office said absolutely nothing.

Question: how do the words blogger and journalist relate? Blogging isn't journalism, but it's not not journalism. Journalism=disclose your interests and never say something you know is not true. Can you do that on a blog? Yes. Follow-up: is editing a necessary quality of journalism? Dave doesn't think so. Sometimes, copyediting winds up breaking rule 2. You can end up saying things that aren't true with your name on it. Doc: editing is necessary, it's just a question of where you get it. Professionally I get it from an editor, on my blog I get it from my readers. Dave observes there always are parallels like this between the business and blogging worlds. Question about journalism always having to be the sophisticated big stuff? Dave says no, importance of triangulation, getting news on an event from many sources. Halley: comments about objectivity/subjectivity. Jeff Jarvis: only difference with bloggers is that they're commentators, often. Journalism is more about gathering facts, but bloggers can do this well too. Dave: what's going on over time is the costs of running a professional news organization are outstripping demand, so they're getting smaller. Let's say you're going to Chicago tomorrow. In 1991, you wouldn't have gotten real time information. Today, you'd expect to get real time information on anything, and the professional news organizations will be able to provide some but not all of it. Audience member comments about journalism/blogging convergence from BBC regarding peace demonstrated. Another audience member comments that on the ground reports from individuals can be more objective than a professional journalist's account. Dave: so many of the press reports about blogs cast it as us v. them, and by the end of the article conclude journalists won't be replaced by bloggers. But bloggers don't wake up in the morning wondering how they're going to replace a professional reporter. They wake up thinking they love this new medium. New York Times as cautionary tale: if Times had been blogging, Jayson Blair would not have been able to go as far as it did. Dave met with Martin Nisenholtz a week ago today, mentioned they need an internal blogging process. Another audience member cites the Blair incident as an example of a breakdown of the professional editing function. (Dave's playing referree with the audience, exchanges going back and forth: This is a Keynote, folks...) Dave: I've never read an article in the New York Times in an area where I have expertise where I felt like they had really gotten the story right. I love the New York Times, but sometimes they just can't have all the information.

So, employees with weblogs. (Great segue!) Dave says he has sort of a balls-out reputation on these things, but actually not. However, at UserLand everybody was required to have a weblog, it's a weblogs tools company. Philosophy was if you don't like them, don't work here. Not the most natural thing for programmers. One person kept posting things that were not, generously speaking, team-spirited. Weblogs are prosaic things. Don't think of weblogging as a calling. It's a utility, another way of communicating. But the same basic issues of trust apply, you have to be able to trust that a particular person is not going to disclose a company secret in public. Halley: getting at the big T Truth, how much truth does any business want to tell. Dave: I think you have to be really transparent, at least in certain areas. A company's PR function should have a weblog. I'd also like to see customers being able to tolerate the truth, i.e., I know things are screwed up at any company, at least this one's honest. Jeff Jarvis: companies need credibility, but we know their goal is to put their message out. It's understood. Question about whether UserLand worked out its rogue blogger issue. Yes, we came up with ground rules. If someone's aware of the rules, but not trying to work with you, what are you going to do? Have to fire them. It's not any different than what you might not want people to do with the photocopy machine. Audience comment: you're going to find the people who are team players more quickly, you're going to see their cheesecake recipe. Dave agrees. Back to the Natural Born Blogger (NBB, birth of an acronym?), this becomes even more powerful when you put it together with an aggregator. There's a communication revolution waiting. Sure there are risks (and that's also where the fun comes from). Audience member (Update: Ah, that's Beth Goza, I met her earlier) asks about working at a company (Microsoft) where employees constantly are asked to get a clue, then penalized for getting one. Her site is, she was in the Register. Issue was she made no secret about working for Microsoft, talked about various Microsoft things (using the XBox, her Tablet). She admitted to cheating on the XBox, and got in trouble. Dave: I think people like you who don't make a secret of their corporate associations are to be applauded. (And she gets a round of applause.) But flames happen. Another question about pre-screening posts: do you think that works? No. If an employer is reviewing every blog post, you miss Michael's permission-no-forgiveness point. There's a humiliation factor, you're a professional. Absolutely though, an employer has the right to tell you a particular post is inappropriate and should be taken down. "I didn't like the way I was being edited, and I quit." Can they, will they, should they: all distinct questions. Audience member comments on ranges of behavior that become known or are made explicit within organizations. Dave: what I have been willing to tolerate has been a moving target over time. If you look at things from the 1996 perspective, the world has gone nuts, particularly in areas like copyright. Dave got reamed for posting a picture of Elian Gonzalez. It's illegal, but its happening a hundred thousand times a day. Things become more or less controversial over time. (Back to blogging:) Nobody's gone to jail yet over this stuff. Idealism: don't knock it if you haven't tried it.

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