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Monday, June 09, 2003

David Weinberger: Why Weblogs Matter

Blames Doc Searls for his always being referred to as "Doctor" David Weinberger. Why blogging matters? It really, really does matter. You can see it in the excitement level. Causes excitement at a level not seen since the beginning of the Internet. I'm not sure exactly why it's really important, but that's not going to stop me from talking about it.

The Bubble was never what the Internet was about. The Web is not primarily a commercial space, not even primarily an information space. The interest is not there because 800 million people woke up and suddenly decided they wanted to be research librarians. The bubble went away, but the Web absolutely didn't. The Web remains interesting and important. Nobody would have said a few years ago we'd have 20 billion pages on the Web. It's not just markets that are conversations, it's businesses themselves.

I am going to address the question, what is a weblog. They tend to be daily, tend to be a few paragraphs, often (almost always) reverse chronological, almost always very linked. Message is I want you to go away. Here's something I'm interested in, go take a look. These little acts of selflessness are what make many weblogs very interesting. They also have a voice. The paradigmatic blogs are full of voice. If it turned out that Dave and Doc hand coded their pages and uploaded them with FTP, they'd still be blogs. The technology enables the other stuff. The technical stuff does not help explain why blogs are interesting. If it's not the technology, what is it? Partially rhetoric, and as rhetoric it's important that it be written—badly. The reader knows then this is closer to the writer's actual self. Weblog readers also tend to be forgiving and helpful for this reason: prone to forgive bad spelling and gramar, write in about broken links or inaccuracies. Beyond rhetoric, their social. I hate this conversation: it's just like Usenet, only a little different. It's not like Usenet. It's a permanent, persistent place where indirectly and inadvertently, you are creating a proxy of yourself.

Are bloggers authentic? The normal view of self is an m-&-m view: an outer shell and an inner, private self. This doesn't work very well on the Web, because all you have on the Web is this persistent place in which you talk. There is non inner self, so what does this mean about authenticity. It's written, we're writing ourselves into existence on the Web, and with that comes all the virtues and flaws that go along with being an author. What does this mean? It favors good writers. It seems to push for self-exposure (mentions his nephew's blog). The recession also was timed perfectly for weblogging, because it favors the unemployed.

So, I want to talk about journalism in terms of this. Or really, blogging and truth, which is underneath the journalism question. Objectivity and subjectivity. Journalism strives for objectivity, and this has some strengths: multiple stories, expert sifting, providing a community baseline. The problem with this is journalism can't be fully objective. Objectivity admits of degrees, can be more or less. Same goes for subjectivity, and it's claim to be able to show us our world as it really is. The strengths are it acknowledges the observer and the situation, and captures more of the experience. On the other hand, it tends to be more scattershot, raw and individualistic. So why bore you with this? Blogs allow multi-subjectivity. What Dave said this morning. He wants multiple perspectives, likes reading the different reports. We have this now. For the first time, there aren't just little subjective islands scattered around. Now we can read myriad perspectives, from myriad locations, cultures, disciplines. Tis is part of why so many of us are so thrilled about weblogs. It's amazing that we can do this, we've never been able to do it before. So, what's not to like about this>

This is actually quite upsetting to many people. "This is an assault on knowledge, young man and young woman!" Particuarly true of businesses that mistake themselves as forts. They see knowledge as a weapon. Weblogs, as we heard in two panels today, are a way of providing insight, punching holes in the wall, letting in light. You can allow it to happen, but even if you don't, it's going to happen anyway. Another group of people not thrilled about this assault on knowledge are those traditionally who have been the gatekeepers of knowledge. There are notable exceptions: Dan Gillmor, there is not a person who more deeply understands, and is synthetic sympathetic! (sorry! the man himself pointed out this rather funny miscue) to what has happened. Over the course of thousands of years, the quest to discover what was worth listening to turned into a quest for certainty, and maybe I'm gerneralizing just a little bit, but we wound up with Descartes. Knowledge became so anorexic as to be uninteresting. Knowledge grew out of the body, and turned into an anorexic, purely rational thing that has no connection with the human body any more.

So let's talk about what constitutes knowledge on the Web. Time to market: increase the unit, then double it. Brings up Sears Web site. By the way, throw out the Cluetrain thesis about advertising not working. It's very effective for tricking people. We still know who the Shell Answerman is. Back to Sears. Nothing here tells you immediately whether the washing machine you want to buy will fit into the hole you just cut in your counter. If you search Google for Kenmore+Maytag+Discussion (or sub in Complaint for the last), you get a discussion forum that tells you exactly what you need, and more. "Jim," whether or not he works for Kenmore, is believable (and if he is a plant, he won't be able to hide it, will be found out in a matter of days). The Sears store or the Kenmore site will not tell you if there are issues with the annoying buzzer. They're trying to pitch and sell you. But Jim will, and a whole conversation thread may emerge from how best to deal with the buzzer issues. And someone named Rinso—a physicist of lint!—has even more to add. Another example: over the weekend, my blog went down, and then TiVo broke. (Audience groans). I know, you don't want to be next to me on an airplane right now. This was a really bad weekend. The Movable Type community (and any other weblog community) is amazingly supportive and solved the blog problem. Could the information have been wrong? Sure. In this case, the forum happened to be moderated by God (as Anil pointed out), but I didn't know that. This is what knowledge looks like on the Web.

So, why is the world turning upside down for this? Why are people so dedicated and excited. It makes sense in the context of a deeply alienated world. The Matrix, the AI Singularity: the fact we can even believe in this for an instant shows we live in an insane, alienated world. It's an insane, alienated reality to think we can go into work each day and talk like someone other than ourselves. Brings up AKMA's blogthread on forgiveness. You could maybe at this point read more about forgiveness by reading that thread than you could from any "objective" source. Weblogs exist in a new place, the Web. They allow us to have persistence in this space. With WiFi, the correspondence between this personal and public space will be mindblowing. (With that, someone IMs David's computer with a "Hi Dave!" Classic.) Any other questions?? We've never had anything like this before. And now we do.

Questions ("Or do you want to just take IMs?"): audience member asks about the fortress and knocking holes in the wall. How do you actually do it? David: Every time you link to someone you knock a hole in the wall. "Sticky eyeballs" concept, the most degrading possible way to think about a customer. Every time you put in a link, "you are Stickin' it To The Man." Question about Usenet, there's a computer group that has been runing for years on Usenet. It constitutes a kind of community blog among folks with a high level of knowledge about computers. You look at blogs, and you could go nuts trying to filter the computer information. Why are blogs an improvement on the Usenet group? David: they're not. Groups, mailing lists are really, really valuable. It's not a question of who's better. Weblogs are different. Question about another cultural phenomenon that has taken off—Yeah, American Idol, I know where you're going—no really, reality TV. Voyeurism, are blogs also connected to that. Not unlike watching someone suffer through a reality TV program. Phil Windley says his is like that, it's a lie. Dave Winer says this is ridiculous, blogs are not like that. It's like a telephone, the conversation is whatever you want it to be. If you want a blog like American Idol, you can write one that way. One can have a view of the world of blogs that substantiates either view. Brings up example of the Trent Lott story. The blogging world is so big, that Dave Winer, an "expert" on the blog world, didn't hear about Trent Lott on a blog, but on TV. Depends what's on your radar. Halley chimes in that sometimes what's for breakfast conveys a sense of the person: Doc, blogging about watching the stars with his son. The important part of most blogs is you get a sense of the person, that's what keeps people coming back.

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