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Some issues the blogosphere needs to address

Automatically inserted editorial note: this post was written 12 years ago, it may no longer represent my own views. Or just be a crazy post from my youth!

(Updated for grammer. Not to self: don’t post to your blog at 2am in the morning.)

If there had been some big announcements or ideas to away from the Les Blogs conference, than this whole thing between Mena and I would have never been the focus of people’s attention. So, I’ve decided to suggest some talking points that I would have like to have seen at the conference (or perhaps at the next one).

I hope people will chip in with their views, either on the comments on this blog or on their own blog.

1. How do we enable “real conversations” in the blogosphere?
Those of us who are passionate about blogging are probably actually passionate about enabling, facilitating and partaking in conversation on the Internet. Blogging is just a tool that enables us to do that.

But let’s take a quick look at the state of the nation:

We’ve got a predominantly text-based medium that synonymous with email – it’s impersonal and very hard to convey emotion and tone. We all know this already from corporate email environments, etc. And yet it’s the predominate medium in which we are holding our conversations.

Text is simple to produce, easy to transfer and ideal for searching – so it makes sense to use it in this perspective. But what can we do to improve the medium so that tone, emotions and other elements of ‘real conversation’ can occur?

After our public spat, Mena Trott and I had a useful conversation in which we discussed some of the issues. We both touch on the issue I am discussing here, with Mena describing the problem as follows:

“We both came to a good question that could, in theory, sum up my entire speech:
“Is it possible to have the sort of productive face-to-face connection or conversation that Ben M. and I had offline in an online world? And what can we, as bloggers, do to facilitate that?”

Who knows why eBay really bought Skype – but the reason I see most analysts offering is that eBay wanted to improve the communication methods between buyers and sellers. eBay identified that a bit of a text in a website, on it’s own, is not the best way to describe many types of goods and services. So why are we doing just that with our conversations?

This all comes down to the way in which we gauge nuances around things like civility (heaven forbid) in “real conversation”. We monitor the tone of the other person’s voice and their body language and combine them with instinct – not use a list of prescribed rules and protocols.

So how can replicate or emulate those real-world conversation extensions onto the blogosphere?

2. Persona representation
As blogging matures, one of the biggest issues I’m seeing is persona representation.

A lot of people say that when I blog on this, my personal site, I am representing my employer (the BBC). I am adamant that I am not – and I have disclaimers to that affect.

But I can tell I’m in the minority on this view, with most people equally adamant that they cannot separate what I do at work and what I blog about on my personal site.

(To my defence I do criticise the BBC as well as praise it, but this issue is far bigger than just my blog)

I think it’s wrong to deny people the integrity of being able to own multiple personas and will potentially limit what people feel they can write if they feel they are always “on record” of their employer.

So I’m interested in hearing whether people think there are any frameworks or ideas we can setup that do facilitate separate personas.

3. The Place of Marketing in the Blogosphere
The blogosphere is clearly coming (if not already come) to the attention of marketers – looking for a new way in which to promote their wares that those of their clients.

I’ve already talked at length about Stormhoek and the way they have used the blogosphere to promote their wine (in a way I feel somewhat unpalatable). Recently bathroom cleaner Cillit Bang even went as far to create a fake blogging personality to engage with people blogs (often at a far too personal level) in order to promote their product.

I personally find both these campaigns disappointing as I feel they exploit the principles the blogosphere was founded on and manipulate them in a way that is not in keeping with the same spirit the rest of us engage with the blogosphere.

During the recent London Geek Dinner I had a conversation with Jason Korman of Stormhoek about the marketing of Stormhoek on the blogosphere. I came away from that conversation with the impression that Jason (a self-described “wine entrepreneur”) had no real threshold above which he wouldn’t consider marketing his wine (other than legality, I’m sure). From what I could see (in the context of the blogosphere at least), if it was legal – he’d consider doing it.

Which disappointed me as many brands take ethically and morally lead decisions around how they market their product in the traditional mediums – including choosing not to advertise near schools or during children’s television programmes, etc.

Of course, wine is for adults and this is the blogosphere – but it didn’t appear that any of the equivalent issues on the blogosphere were of a concern to Jason. His view all the way seemed to be that he’d do whatever and if the blogosphere didn’t like it than they would let him know via the very same medium.

Maybe they would – and so my rallying point here is to ask for people’s views on just how far is too much? We’re going to get many more brands piling into the blogosphere and so now is the time to decide where the acceptable limit lies.

These are my three talking points so far. I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on any/all of them. And any other ideas you think should be here too.

Published in Thoughts and Rants

23 Comments

  1. Photar Photar

    Please proof read your first few paragraphs.

    Ben replies: Yes, thanks for the heads up. I was desparate to get my post out, and by the time I finished it I was too tired…

  2. my point of view of the above mentioned is that marketers ( I myself being educated in Marketing/PR) are extremely attracted to new media, particularly because it makes it easier for people to communicate ( and for the marketers it is a new way to promote products, do marketresearch and get feedback). I don’t think you can stop the marketers to enter the market, but I think that initiatives such as http://www.consumerist.com are essential, also blogpost where people describe issues with companies ( and I think they are being taken seriously, because otherwise people wouldn’t sit down and blog about it.
    http://www.consumerist.com seems mainly to be an american venture..should we have the same in Europe ? I for sure would like to see stories from Denmark and the companies there.

    so basically I am saying that it is a “no go” to “stop” companies for “exploiting” the blogosphere – but we can make initiatives to “control” them better from a consumer point of view.

    maybe the discussion needs to be turned to ethics in every person and how you change their morale?

  3. Sam Sam

    I think it would be very hard if not impossible to convey a real conversation in text, because all of the senses available to you when you have conversation with someone in the real world are not available to you when you post on a blog. Blogs are more suited to having discussions, and hte ocasional use of emoticons (as you do) are quite useful for conveying the tone.

    But yeah, blogs will never be able to compete with face to face conversations.

  4. hugh macleod hugh macleod

    “How do we enable ‘real conversations’ in the blogopshere” is a dumb question. It’s like saying “How do we enable ‘real conversations’ at cocktail parties”. It’s an art, Ben, and some people have got it down better than others.

  5. I agree with Hugh here to some extent. The blogosphere is just like the real world except in one respect: our thoughts in the blogosphere stay imprinted in Technorati’s mind for hours, days, months, years to come. I’ve come under some attack recently for things I (didn’t) say at Les Blogs only to have the same crit withdrawn in the comments section of the author’s same post. Is this ‘real conversation’? No. Because in the real world I would’ve had ’em before anyone else had had a chance to hear it!

  6. I find myself agreeing with Hugh. However, i’m not sure the ‘blogosphere’ has developed any particular rules of etiquette through which people know what is acceptable and what is not in the same way that there are ‘cues’ you can take at a cocktail party to judge how to behave – or misbehave. Bloggers and marketeers pushing the medium will hopefully define the parameters of acceptability and this will change as our relationahip with the medium and each other changes. So we should in a perverse way thank Cilit Bang! and their ilk for making such a hash of things.

    I suspect though that you still see the blogosphere as in some way ‘purer’ than other mediums, as the preserve of the ‘little man’. If so what i’d like to know is why you think it to be any ‘purer’ than say print or speech or TV?

  7. hugh macleod hugh macleod

    The deal is, people read your blog if there’s something in it for them. People link to your blog if there’s something in it for them. “Purity” is an irrelevance.

    Hmmm… let’s bulldoze the blogosphere and build condominiums over it. No, wait…

  8. Photar Photar

    Peer moderated forums like slashdot.org seem to do a pretty good job of filtering the signal from the noise. This way the people on the Internet who can behave themselves and have interesting things to say are highlighted.

  9. Photar Photar

    1. How do we enable “real conversations” in the blogosphere?

    Uhh, you mean like the video you posted before with you and Mena? Why not just ask her for an interview and slap that sucker on the ‘net? Take a tape recorder with you. Really, its not that hard.

    2. Persona representation

    I am guessing that by Persona representation you mean Integrity? There will always be people questioning your objectivity. That is a good thing. Just be honest, and blog about things that are interesting and your record should speak for itself.

    3. The Place of Marketing in the Blogosphere

    I don’t think you can expect to make standard rules for blogger integrity. All you can do is call bullshit on them and raise awareness about it.

    It seems to me that 99% of blogs are heavy on style and light on substance. That is an issue that needs to be addressed.

    I’m not trying to be the peanut gallery here. Please tell me what you think.

  10. hugh macleod hugh macleod

    “His view all the way seemed to be that he’d do whatever and if the blogosphere didn’t like it than they would let him know via the very same medium.”

    Duh… Yeah! That’s how the blogosphere works. People do what they want, and then we all see what happens.

    Oops! But I forgot, you don’t believe in Free Will. Mea Culpa 😉

  11. “How do we enable “real conversations” in the blogosphere?”
    I could tell you, but then I’d have to charge you 🙂 since this is closely related to what we do commercially for games companies – generate ‘real conversation’ amongst participants in a shared, online-only environment.

  12. [quote]But what can we do to improve the medium so that tone, emotions and other elements of ‘real conversation’ can occur?[/quote]

    Hasn’t poetry and prose literature been conveying subtle tones and emotion in plain (ASCII) text for the last 2300 years?

  13. Tony Tony

    No it’s not. Conversations at cocktail parties are not captured for posterity. Idiot.

    # hugh macleod Says:
    December 12th, 2005 at 2:44 pm

    ….. It’s like saying “How do we enable ‘real conversations’ at cocktail parties”. It’s an art, Ben, and some people have got it down better than others.

  14. hugh macleod hugh macleod

    “Captured for posterity”. Oooh, puh-leeeeze. Way too precious, Sunshine. Get over yourself.

  15. Actually, Hugh, I think Tony has a point — although “captured for posterity” does have a kind of nose-in-the-air, Masterpiece Theatre kind of feel to it. Blog postings and discussion online (not to mention email, as we all know) can lurk around in databases and come back to bite you in ways that “real” conversations can’t. That is worth considering. Whether it changes the way we communicate is up to us.

  16. hugh macleod hugh macleod

    Mathew,

    Even if Tony does have a point, my original point stands: enabling conversations is an art… and not everyone is good at it. The way to have a conversation, online or off, is to start one, and then keep it going. The idea that we need some pre-fab, concensus-tested posterity-proof ethical toolbox handed down to us from on high is ridiculous.

    This whole post has to do with control. Nothing to do with conversation. Rock on.

  17. Ben Ben

    This whole post has to do with control. Nothing to do with conversation. Rock on.

    ??? Do elaborate, Hugh, cos I fail to see how this post is about control. And I wrote it.

  18. Photar Photar

    Hmm. Kinda hard to “enable real conversations” when you don’t engage your audience.

  19. hugh macleod hugh macleod

    I’ll let you go away and think about it, Ben 😉

  20. […] Ben Metcalfe (the guy who got Mena to swear on stage) writes about some issues that he feels the blogosphere needs to address. A few things. 1) I find I can hold real conversations with a video camera and/or a Web forum and/or Skype and record it and put it up. Maybe someone should give Ben an invite to audioblog.com? […]

  21. Photar Photar

    I wish ben would reply to the comments here or make a new blog post about it.

  22. Ben Ben

    Photar wrote:

    1. How do we enable “real conversations” in the blogosphere?
    Uhh, you mean like the video you posted before with you and Mena? Why not just ask her for an interview and slap that sucker on the ‘net? Take a tape recorder with you. Really, its not that hard.

    Acutally, I’ve not linked to the Mena video at all. I don’t entirely understand what you’re referring too here, (“why did I say bullshit to Mena’s presentation rather than interview her at a different point?”??)

    All I mean by the question is thinking about the visual and social cues we get from real conversation and think about how we can implment them into the blogosphere — rather than create rules/suggest rules that explicity state what is and isn’t on.

    I am guessing that by Persona representation you mean Integrity?

    No, I mean what I more often refer to as ‘hats’. Eg, I might say “With my BBC hat on, I would say that your DRM system would be of interest to broadcasters looking to distribute their programming via IP. But with my personal hat on, I would say that it stifles people’s desire to be able to be able to watch what they want on whatever device they want”

    That’s two personas. Many, or maybe just ‘some’ have questioned whether it’s possible to have two different personas. “You always represent the BBC to me, Ben — until you leave”.

    I disagree with that statement – the above example is of two circumstance-appropriate, yet differing, views based on my professional and personal opinion. I’m more than capable of holding both, and working two both dynamics during my work and non-work life.

    I can also play chess against myself, etc.

    There will always be people questioning your objectivity. That is a good thing. Just be honest, and blog about things that are interesting and your record should speak for itself.

    Oh I agree people will always question my objectivity. Especially for me, because I’m more than happy to put my views about in public.

    I do mention stuff that’s going on at the BBC on my blog. I also criticise it a lot too. I will continue to do both even after I leave the BBC.

    3. The Place of Marketing in the Blogosphere

    I don’t think you can expect to make standard rules for blogger integrity. All you can do is call bullshit on them and raise awareness about it.

    No, I don’t want to make “standard rules for marketing” (just like I don’t think standard rules for civility hold much water either). But I do think people need to stand up and voice their opinion when they feel a boundary has been crossed.

    Again, I’m happy to put my thoughts and views about – but I’m not representative of the blogosphere. It’s our blogosphere and we need to be more vocal about we find appropriate and what we find objectionable.

    Marketing is about creating a positive vibe around the product – if enough people sound out bad practices than that marketing will end because it will no longer cast the product in a good light. People didn’t like 50 Cent advertising his (otherwise excellent) violent gang film near schools – people voiced their opinions and the posters soon came down.

    It seems to me that 99% of blogs are heavy on style and light on substance. That is an issue that needs to be addressed.

    I agree, but then I will also support people’s desire (and hopefully, but not everywhere) right to post to their blog whatever they want. Sure, a “here’s what I had to eat today” blog post doesn’t move the world forward, but that person has the right to contribute that to the blogosphere just as much as Robert Scoble has to contribute his latest views on Microsoft to his blog.

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