Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Do You Know Who's Googling You: Big Brother is Lurking, Too

Update 4/21/09 at ReadWriteWeb, Marshall Kirkpatrick reports on Google Profile
a service whereby people can go in and alter their google results. But, as Kirkpatrick points out, do we really want to give Google more information about us then they already have?? and it's not going to help us track who's searching our identities online anyway. So, we just have to get used to the fact that we're really not going to know exactly who's searching our names daily. And, even if we could find that info out, how much of our privacy might we be willing to give up for that info? IMO, I'm fine with paradoxes and mysteries in life.

Recently, a number of folks have come to this blog from this post in an attempt to get some info on whether or not one can find out who's googling you to find out stuff on your identity. This post is meant to be a better answer to the original post, taking apart first what people will find when they search you, and if there is any way you can find out who they are....

Did you know how much info about you is Public Info that *anybody* can find with search?

I'm totally serious here. Give yourself a minute and just google yourself. Chances are that you'll find a lot of things you may not want other people to see. Believe it or not, information on the Internet is Public information, and anything you put on the following types of sites will more than likely show up in search:

  • Any social network where you have a profile and the privacy settings aren't configured to hide you. That includes Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp, and any other place you can think of that's got some sort of "social" component to it. Keep track of them and take advantage of the privacy settings!

  • Any blogs where you have written something under your name as a contributor to the blog

  • Any online newsgroups, forums, or message boards where you have used your name. Yes, it can be from the Olden Days of the web (read: USENET) and it might still come up in search. And not the whole conversation either. Just enough to incriminate you. ;-)

  • Photos on Flickr that are tagged with your name or your Flickr account. The same probably goes for YouTube and other sites where you can tag your pics. Here's a slightly incriminating pic of me on Flickr:

  • Some sites where you have a screen name that is associated with your real name in its system. Not all sites hide or real name separate from your screen name

  • Any comments you've left on sites that use Disqus. (IMO, this is wicked annoying!)

  • Anything you put on Twitter. Yes, your "tweets" are part of your Permanent Record out here

  • If someone searches you on Amazon (that was kinda funny!)Although it won't tell you who was searching
  • ....

    And don't forget the variety of search engines that are out there, including BlogDigger and Icerocket and even Technorati that, esp. if you blog anywhere, you just might show up....

    So, then, is there *any* way to find out who's googling/searching your identity on the web? Honestly, right now, to get results on who's doing a general search on you on any search engine, the answer is No (not to my knowledge anyway.) But, if you own a blog, you should have a stats tracking package. You can find out lots from reviewing your stats. Here's some info on someone who visited this blog today

    From this, you can see it was someone in Holyoke, the ISP they used, part of this person's IP address, when the person came in and then left. Now, if this were someone who was stalking me or leaving nastygrams, I could contact the ISP and I may be able to get info on this this person's IP addy. From the IP addy I could then track who/where the person is. But if that person's nastygram was connected to an identity, and then to a site of some kind, then I could even find out who owns the site by going to and researching the domain....

    But if you don't have any of this info, there's really no way to know who's searching your name regularly.

    There's no way even to know if your employer is searching your name. Frankly, I'd be *more* concerned about an employer searching info on public search than I would the Government, who's got a whole bunch o'info on you anyway (although if your employer is the government, you should be *really* careful what you put online.)

    There's not even a way to know if potential employers, folks you've just filled out applications for or set resumes to, are searching you. There are currently no laws banning them-as there are laws to govern what can or can't be asked in an interview. Then again, whatever you put online is, basically, public information and if they can find it, there's nothing that says they can't look at it.

    And there's no law that says they can't discriminate against you for it either (there haven't been any test cases yet.) You can bet, though, that what you do and say that gets put online just might impact whether or not you get hired by certain employers. Even your credit report can be screened, and companies that offer credit report screening as a service....also see this article in IT Manger's Journal on a survey of H.R. professionals on what they search...

    So what if an employer can't ask you whether or not you have kids, or how old you are? They can find out lots of other information that we perceive as being private--yet isn't.

    So, I wonder about things like Spokeo and the latest darling FriendFeed that allow your "friends" to follow you much easier. Makes me think: if my friends are following me, who else could be following me?

    What about online reputation management stuff? I went in recently and looked at Rapleaf recently, and they appear to have upgraded a number of features. Rapleaf lets you know about social profiles that are out there --it reminded me of a Plaxo profile that doesn't come up in regular search. This was nice to know! So, it may be good for tracking your social networks.

    Another is Spock where you put in info about yourself and then ask for "trust" from others. I'm not too sure how useful Spock might be for me--so it's possible that it will become one more thing I've registered for that I don't use.

    Now, this still does not solve the problem of knowing who might be looking *you* up in Google or any other search tool out there.

    The only advice I can offer is: remember when you're teachers used to threaten you that what you were doing would go on your permanent record?

    Congratulations! With all that information you've voluntarily put on the Internet (sometimes in a quest to be social), you have created your own a permanent record!


    For more info: Who's Googling You? from PCMag
    and this interesting forum thread from the Chronicle of Higher Education
    and this transcript from channel 5 in Boston.

    Update After reading this from CBS46 Atlanta, I've decided to take a look at which boasts the ability to tell you that your information was searched--just not whom was searching you (for "privacy" of the searcher.) It seems, though, that to use Ziggs, you have to put in a profile *and* pay $4.95 per month. Ziggs also says that if you put up a profile on Ziggs, that profile will get fairly high in search.

    LinkedIn profiles also get up pretty high in search--and they're free.

    Another "reputation management" service is Naymz--which, I believe, you have to be invited to get into, and requires putting up another profile...

    These "reputation" services are proprietary and require that you put up another profile on their service. But these will not stop Google from shooting out all that other stuff that you put out there on *other* social networking sites. And none of them will tell you *who* it is who's looking at you--only the basic information comes to you from Zigg. So, it still boils down to watching where you go and being careful of what you put online. Whether or not you have a Zigg profile, or a LinkedIn profile won't make a difference if you have a MySpace page or a Facebook page that has information you don't want others to find (see this on Arlington, OR former mayor Carmen Kontor-Gronquist, who lost her position due to her MySpace photos.)

    Saturday, April 26, 2008

    When the Right Hand Doesn't Know: Tech Journos Fall Behind in Conversations About New Tools, Methods

    This past week I came across two conversations in the realm of tech that had me sort of wondering how some journalists miss out on conversations about what's going on within their own profession. The one that caught my attention today was Marshall Kirkpatrick's How We Use Twitter for Journalism"--which seems to focus just on what's being said among the tech folks about the uses of Twitter....who seem to be just a little removed from some of the conversations going on within their own profession on the use of Twitter....

    Conversations about Twitter's application in journalism happen often in Poynter's E-Media Tidbits column. At E-MT we've been discussing not just the use of Twitter--incl. its use by the U.K. govt--but also of other tools like Zemata and CoverItLive with regularity. We Tidbits folks enjoy finding new apps and "test driving" them on a regular basis.

    So, it's really a no-brainer (to those of us at E-MT anyway) that journalists might use Twitter. The questions for Twitter's use arise when it comes to local journalism, and whether or not Twitter's infrastructure can be updated fast enough so that it can keep up when there are big emergencies. Not to mention whether or not the adults in the local community have the "bandwidth" to be bothered with Twitter. (Note: yours truly often plays "devil's advocate" and is rarely one to be all rah-rah. Heck, *somebody's* got to be the slow-adopter's advocate ;-) )

    The other out-of-the-loop piece came from Jim Kersteller at CNet in his praise for "citizen journalism" outing suspected Mac cloner Psyster--which then degenerated into one of those "why don't newsrooms try open-sourcing?" conversations...

    Thing is, the Psyster story was broken by longtime journalist Charles Arthur in the Guardian.

    Yes, it was nice that a couple of Gizmodo readers who live in Miami went to check it out, and it was very nice that CNet got 117 comments to their story on it--but the story wasn't broken by "citizen journalists"....and I'd daresay that a bunch of comments with loads of kibitzing among the crowd on their own community issues doesn't necessarily qualify as "citizen journalism"...

    The thing that got me was that Kersteller seemed not to know that the journalism community's been experimenting with "open source" reporting for the past year, with Assignment Zero (which I worked on) and now with Off the Bus and among other projects that are taking place all across the country....

    So, it's not like we haven't heard of "open source journalism" and it's not like it hasn't been tried--it's just that the tech journo community seems to be a little out of touch with what's going on in other parts of the wider world of journalism...

    Honestly, from my vantage point--where I'm traversing journalism and tech and marketing regularly--I see where the conversations about tools are fractured and disjointed. It leaves me a sense of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing--when the right should be helping the left. How can we have any rate of adoption on tools (as well as ethics) if the disparate parts of the universe within the Internet aren't fully aware of what's going on outside of their own little bell jars? It seems, to me anyway, that we have to open the doors up on these conversations--stop just bringing in the pundits who theorize to conferences and bring in the people who are building and working with the tools. And, perhaps, we need to dampen down so much of the noise in this space and try to help folks turn up the signal. I have no idea how that could be accomplished. Noise is attractive. Noise gets pageviews. Noise gets attention. But noise doesn't always give any new information.

    Noise is sometimes just shameless self-promotion...

    When what's needed are better conversations outside of the bell jars...

    Note: Perhaps Kirkpatrick is aware of other conversations but has to couch them in the manner acceptable to his "crowd"--yet it makes me wonder if it may be necessary for journalists to think outside their community-box in order to highlight what's happening in the wider world. Esp. as worlds converge....

    Thursday, April 24, 2008

    We were all beautiful and tragic once...

    For some of us, creativity springs from a very dark place. People tend to think we're "weird" or that we're overly dramatic. Not so. The thing is, inside, there's this place where we know there is something special--and to get to it, we have to walk through terrible darkness. It is not a pose nor a gothic affectation. Ian Curtis was one of us. This a.m., while hanging out online, I found out about Control--the U.K. biopic on Curtis by Anton Corbjin.

    And I am reminded of my own dark places where my creativity dwells. They haven't gone away--those places--as I've gotten older. I've just chosen not to open those doors as often. And sometimes I misplace the directions for how to get to them. I hope that I haven't permanently misplaced those directions.

    Music, though, sometimes provides the sound-map to those destinations.

    Here's the trailer for Control:

    Tuesday, April 22, 2008

    New, Intersting Newsroom Convergence

    After watching this recent NewsHour report on the changes at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a friend and I got talking about "newsroom convergence"...which got me thinking that there's more going on when it comes to "newsroom convergence" than turning one's online newspaper into a multi-media news outlet. The convergence has to involve every aspect down to the way business is done in small papers as well as huge ones that beat the FCC's cross-ownership rules. Check these out:

    Lee Abrams: Tribune Will Be an 'Oasis of Creativity': So, it's not just Sam Zell offending the sensibilities of some employees that's going to change things--it's also the appointment of Lee Abrams to Chief Innovation Officer.(although I am sort of scared that one of Abrams' credentials is said to be giving Howard Stern his first major market job.) In this interview, Abrams has an idea about convergence of Tribune companies:

    This company owns TV stations, newspapers and Web sites -- and they're all operating separately. There should be some way in which the television station offers the real quick story, the newspaper gets in more detail, and then the Web site really gets into the story in tremendous depth. But now they're working independently with each other. These could be our super news brands, if we put them all together somehow.

    Gee, that *kinda* makes sense, doesn't it? Not to mention that it's something I see going on with local TV stations that offer text versions of news stories--although not adding anything new--and what goes on with many of the NYTimes little videos. I'm thinking specifically of the David Pogue stuff which seems to be mostly entertainment, while the articles are far more in-depth.

    Newspapers Confront the Enemy Within and would you believe that "enemy" is, yes, THE ADVERTISING DEPARTMENT!! The newsroom fears loss of objectivity and independence, the advertisers grumble that the newsroom doesn't get how to make money. They're both right--which means they need to bridge the cultural divide and start working together (as Louis Hau's piece points out):
    Many editors tend to believe that page views are the most important driver of revenue: more clicks, more bucks. But, Brownrout [former ad exec at the LATimes and others]argues, it's the utility of the content being offered that presents the greatest opportunities...

    Not to mention that today Senators debate the future of the web in hearings today....where folks like Justine Bateman and Patric Verrone (president of the Writer's Guild)testified....

    Want to know what Justine and some other indy filmmakers think of the Internet:

    Don't you just *love* (to death!) that guy who says everything on the Internet's like "writing on a bathroom wall"?

    (hat tip to Tech Daily Dose for that one)

    Disappointingly, though, is Steve Outing's How to Create Killer Niche Websites Without Hiring which, again, forwards an idea that the people have to get involved in the production of news--on the newspaper's site--in order for the newspaper (esp. local) to survive. While Outing showcases two unique examples, I'm really rather horrified by most of it. To me, it's the same old "how can we monitize UGC?" and "how can we make people into responsible journalists?" thing that, IMO, isn't necessarily what the people want nor expect from their newspaper. (actually, we'd just like reporters to get the story right--not have to write it ourselves.) Outing's article also brings up the potential of paying contributors on what they make from advertising. Um...see above...and talk to some of the Gawker folks on that one...

    Frankly, monetizing UGC probably won't make big bucks in the long run--for the folks contributing nor for the paper. Perhaps better solutions to the problems in and with newspapers have to come from converging the formerly separated parts of a corporation. Whether those parts are the editorial and ad departments or if it's the newspaper/tv/radio parts of a huge media corporation, the news industry as a profit-making business should look to how other businesses converge internally to make profits happen without trying to get freebies from the people (or is it "content" from the "user generators"?)

    Just my $.02

    Monday, April 21, 2008

    Crowdsourcing? Consumer Advocacy? But don't necessarily call it "Citizen Journalism"

    Apparenlty, over last week there was something of a tech watcher brouhaha over what CNet claimed to be a Mac clone maker, Psystar. Lots of people got on their keyboards and started looking up Pystar. CNet's article got 117 comments relating to the Psystar story. Others who weighed in were Charles Arthur at the Guardian and bunch of folks at Gizmodo

    This lead CNet's Jim Kersteller to declare all this hubbub a victory for citizen journalism:
    But there's one thing we know for sure: Citizen journalism has played a major role in ferreting out the Psystar story. And with that involvement, we're getting a better understanding of how mainstream newspapers can work with folks who aren't trying to make a living off gathering the news but are interested in telling the world what they know. to Jim....

    Let's take a closer look at what happened with the 117 comments on Tom Krazit's original story: it appears that a lot of people were really interested in hearing about this and did their own quick Google searches on the company name. Along with constructive comments are a number of the usual CNet kibitzing with wonderfully humorous headlines like "Is Pystar pronounced shyster?" and "Let's all stop hyperventilating, shall we?"

    These great little comments can be seen as a kind of crowdsourcing. But hardly "citizen journalism"--

    And then a couple of Gizmodo readers decided to check out a few things, just to see if Psystar had the Miami location claimed in the info the Guardian found...(btw, the Guardian article was written by a professional journalist-see the comments...)

    Well, I can definitely say "Cool!" Some Gizmodo readers were available and wanted to check out what was what. Maybe, as a stretch, this is a kind of "citizen journalism" but...

    Is it maybe even a form of consumer advocacy--where the potential consumers of the product went to ferret out a potential fraud?

    So, this whole thing could be a good case for the power of crowdsourcing--perhaps crowdsourced consumer advocacy. But is it "citizen journalism"??

    IMO, I'm getting very, very weary of folks like Kersteller, who obviously hasn't kept up with what's been going on regarding journalism and citizen involvement in journalistic projects like Assignment Zero or Off the Bus or kept up with Jeff Howe's Crowdsourcing blog before thinking that they're seeing the future and that only if newspapers would just take a look at what the Gizmodo folks did...

    Further, there are some paradigms going on right now for people adding to stuff through comments (like on CNet)--it goes on to some degree over at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, albeit behind a paid wall, so don't bother to look. And it goes on to some degree over at in their Forums...

    But is this "citizen journalism"--or is it folks conversing and sharing information, in a crowdsourcing model, to uncover more about something....

    And then is *any* online uncovering of some issue (consumer fraud, etc.) automatically qualify the kibbitzing and commenting and actions of a few a form of "citizen journalism"??

    I took a further bit of umbrage at Kersteller's suggestion that newspapers just ought to rely on the citizens to do their reporting for them. Argh! It's one thing when a bunch of computer geeks (who follow Gizmodo) have the time to get their knickers out of a bunch by investigating something like a potential Mac clone shop--or when local folks want to add what they're observing about, perhaps, an accident or fire. It is a completely different animal to advocate that all local reporting should take this model as Kersteller advocates.

    It's one thing to channel the enthusiasm of tech geeks--another to say to the citizenry "sorry, we can't do the local reporting, it's your job now." One is specific and directed--the other is expecting free labor to keep a failing business model afloat with potentially free or drastically underpaid labor.

    Then again, given recent articles in local papers about two friends' local businesses, which got everything wrong, one might be lead to believe the citizenry might do a better job...

    But maybe it's not that we want the citizenry to do the reporters' jobs. Maybe it's more that we want the reporters to get the story right.

    And if they're not--then fire the editors who are perhaps becoming those one too many cooks in the broth....

    Just my $.02

    Friday, April 18, 2008

    The Future Nature of the PR/Journalist Relationship

    Occasionally I get email on really worthwhile projects that strike at one of my own interests, and here's one: At Bournemouth University, Adam Abu-Nab, an undergrad who's doing work focused on P/R, has undertaken a very interesting research project. He'd like to find out what you think about the relationship between Journalism and P/R as it relates to Web 2.0. Adam describes what he's doing as follows:

    I am conducting fresh research into the PR/Journalist relationship and
    the changing effects Web 2.0 has had on relations. This ranges from
    the very current use of Twitter as a newswire to the advent of Social
    Media Newsrooms.

    I would be very grateful if you could spare a moment to air your
    opinions in this survey on the future nature of the Journalist/ PR
    relationship. The results of which I hope you find informative in
    developing more effective communication with your PR contacts:

    Click here for the survey:

    This is to be crossed with PR perceptions so I'm aiming for results
    which are advantageous for both parties for future communications. All
    interesting findings (including the best comments) will be released
    into the blogosphere for discussion (already have over 50 PR bloggers
    involved and a growing Journalist contingency!)

    Adam also has a blog, Fast-Forwarding PR/Journalist Relations
    and also has a mailing list, which can be subscribed at abunab at

    If you've got a minute or two, take Adam's survey--I'm actually quite curious as to what he's going to find!

    Friday, April 11, 2008

    Nine Hundred and Twenty Five Comments about Cannonballs on the Side of a Road

    Sometimes when I read the NYTimes I come across rather unique situations in online interaction that remind me of the richness of interaction within the walls of online NYT. Errol Morris' NYT blog post--Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg (Part 1)--the opening salvo of a complex discussion on Roger Fenton's "Valley of the Shadow of Death" photographs (yes, *that* "valley of the shadow of death"--Charge of the Light Brigade...)

    I had no idea there were 19th century photographs of this particular place, let alone that one of the photographs was more than likely staged for dramatic effect (see the second one with the clearly displayed cannonballs). Then again, I'm not an aficionado of photography....

    My preferred leisure-time intellectual pursuit (some may call it "leisure time mental masturbation) is usually on film, and it was Morris' post on continuity breaks in film, whether and why we notice them or not, and the phrase "Play it again, Sam" that got me actually looking at his blog (yes, it was Woody Allen, not the flashbacks in the film, that make us remember that phrase vs. the original....)but I digress...

    Thing is, there were 925 comments to Morris' post on the Fenton photographs. There's no interaction from Morris--as there really isn't any need for additional interaction on his part. The people leaving those 925 comments are genuinely interested not just in what Morris is saying about the Fenton photos, but are sharing expertise.

    It is not that they are necessarily formal "experts"--although some may be. But it's that they have something to share, something to say, some "expertise"....

    There is much criticism that blogging is bringing about a multitude of "experts" on this or that. Yet I think this is a false notion, as it isn't about the ego-driven ideal of being THE EXPERT. Even Morris isn't the sole "expert" on these photos. He never presents himself that way. What he does is share thoughts, discussions with others about photos, quotes from books. What he does in this essay--the kind of essay that blog format can easily carry--is share with others who aren't sitting in a classroom, and inviting them to share what they know as well.

    It is an invitation to conversation. Not an expert pontification.

    As I sat listening to E.L. Doctorow the other night at a lecture he gave at Western New England College, I got to longing for intellectual discussion and academia, and thinking how, unless you position yourself correctly in the right social circles, intellectual discussion can be hard to come by in the workaday world. Inside, I long for a place where I can indulge in the kinds of dialogue that many folks call "mental masturbation"--and that makes me very happy when that "mental masturbation" is about film.

    Maybe there are others who long to--or just like to--share their thoughts and knowledge, expert or not, on things like the Fenton photos....

    925 comments on some photographs that lots of people don't even know about.. That's a lot of people who want to share thoughts, opinions, expertise. Maybe it's not that sharing these thoughts will lead to being considered an expert. Perhaps there is something in sharing expertise for the pure joy of connecting to others and not to be the sole expert that is, in part, why a heady essay like Morris's could gather up 925 comments.

    And why there might be enough people interested in posting 925 comments in the first place.

    Andrew Keen likes to bemoan the loss of the expert due to fragmentation of culture on happening because of the Internet. And while in some ways there is a fracturing of common cultural experience, there are also pockets where folks who may have felt isolated can gather and share experience. They do not have to be experts--and maybe it's the idea of the expert that's a construct going by the wayside--but they can be a rarefied group of people who gather just for the sheer joy of discussion....discussion that doesn't prove a point or change the world. Discussion that is stimulating, beyond the mundane stuff of daily life makes daily life worth living (for some of us anyway). Discussion that engages the brain and stimulates the soul....

    Maybe it's just the open discussion among adults on heady topics--discussion that isn't presided over by an expert charged with the task of shaping minds--that freaks out people like Keen (and perhaps lots of the newspaper establishment as well.)

    Maybe it's not that discussions are "uncivil"--maybe it's just that there are so many people who want to have discussions about so many things that gets the experts and others all jumpy and nervous about what's happening in online conversation...

    I don't think it freaks out people like Errol Morris though. He seems to embrace the medium. His blogging, while long, is pretty good. I think he gets it. And, more than likely, in a variety of ways, so do the people who left the 925 comments...

    Wednesday, April 09, 2008

    Some Newspapers Can't Quite Get That Link Thing...

    According to Jack Shafer, some of our major newspapers are starting to get all link-happy, but the links aren't adding to reader experience:
    Almost any or news story demonstrates the sites' link-happy tendencies. A good example of the's overkill is this Page One story from Monday about the alleged budget crunch faced by some states. In the first 95 words, the story links Illinois, Cook County, Michigan, New Jersey, California, and San Fernando Valley to landing pages containing general news, video, and audio about those places. No thinking human would ever add these links—obviously, a human has programmed a computer to automatically insert them. (some links omitted)

    Jack notes that this strategy is meant "for the publisher to serve another page of ads and to optimize search engine results."

    Guess that's one answer to the conundrum of how to get web pages to generate more income for ya. But this strategy is not about readers, and giving any of us good information connected to the story.

    Which is why people hyperlink in the first place!

    Jack also points out the annoyance of mouse-over pop-up ads. I'd like to add annoying animated ads right next to text, that spring to life as soon as the page is fully loaded--which cannot be stopped and then, in some cases, continue the animation for the entire time on the page.

    It's worse than a little kid getting in your face while you're trying to read the paper. At least the kid is (a)cute in most cases and (b) not trying to sell you something.

    Still, another annoyance of Jack's is what he refers to as a "mixed-link strategy," where one never knows if one's going to a page inside the site or outside the site--unless you mouse over it and check the status bar first. I've gotten pretty used to this, so it's just part and parcel and why, with certain pubs like Valleywag, I rarely bother with the links.

    Yet what newspapers haven't figured out about the mixed-link strategy is that it will eventually damage them with Google--as was noted back in October when so many newspapers and blog networks were demoted by Google because the bots saw them as link farms.

    Yes, if you link too much to your own stuff, Google will think you're a link farm. So, link out and link often :-)

    And while many new and old print journalism folks just can't seem to get the old link thing, Jack notes that Frank Rich (of all people! go figure!) is doing pretty well by linking out to stuff all over the place.

    Thing is, I'm not sure that most reporters have the luxury of linking outside to competition. Rich is a well-respected veteran, and I'd bet that the NYT gives him a bit more latitude (or cuts him a bit more slack) because of it. Would they allow this for their other reporters and bloggers as well? (note to self: go check this on the NYT blogs, which seem to be getting all sorts of raves all over the place.)

    What Jack doesn't know about is the The Daily Hampshire Gazette, a small local paper that is not only behind a pay wall, but isn't particularly hyperlinking to anyone. Than again, if you're a walled garden, what difference does Google make to who and how many readers you get daily? It still seems like an eventually self-defeating web business strategy to me...

    However, in the case of big papers, they should always be working to raise their page rank as well as get eyeballs. And there are lots of ways of doing that...

    So, while big papers like WaPo and NYT might eventually get that their automated links will turn both readers and Google away from them, and allow their reporters (not just bigtime columnists) to link out to sources, I wonder what might happen on the hyperlocal level? I bet if I did the research, I might find a local paper or two that has a decent link strategy--but that doesn't say much for our papers of record, who should be linking out to information as much, or more, than linking in or linking to junk.

    Then again, it raises the question: what's the purpose of a newspaper anyway? To make sure democracy keeps going, or to serve up the coolest ads?

    Makes me wonder....

    Sunday, April 06, 2008

    If Blogging Doesn't Kill You, The Conversation About It Might...

    Okay, so I'm probably going to get called a tasteless cheeky monkey for that headline--but ever since the NYTimes article In Web World of 24/7,Writers Blog Till They Drop there's been such a hubub in the blogosphere that one can barely keep up with the commentary without totally blowing up one's browser...

    It's been fascinating watching all the hoo-had, and folks saying the article was link-baiting (it wouldn't be if people didn't get their knickers in a bunch and just let it slide) or that it was tasteless because it was perceived to make light of the deaths of Russell Shaw and Marc Orchant (not to mention Om Malik's heart attack), or that it was just too much hype by an outsider observer of a hype filled world...

    Seriously, though....was the article really any more hype-a-riffic than those "you can be a blog millionarie!" articles that were in BusinessWeek and New York Magazine over the past few years??? Those articles that made it look as if only the lazy and untalented were not making their millions at blogging.

    And that was never the case. It was just wicked seriously hard to get one's voice heard, let alone the requisite click-throughs and networking connections to begin to get the contracts that would translate into making respectable self-sustaining income from blogging. And most of the people who did make that money had backgrounds in something other than blogging...still, some of them struggled at first too...

    Blogging, early on, wasn't necessarily meant to be a self-sustaining, career or empire building thing. I don't think anyone thought it would become some sort of industry all on its own.

    Some people made it into that, while others (your Humble Narrator included) have managed to make something from it...

    That doesn't mean it's not stressful. In fact, I've found it, at times, to be stressful to the level that the Times article portrayed it (and my recent kidney stone operation may have been a result of that stress.) I've been up till the wee hours on projects; going sleepless because someone was demanding something that I knew, deep-down, was thoroughly unreasonable (but they wouldn't believe me); or was working way too many contracts in order to make that reasonable, self-sustaining income. I gained weight, too--only about 15 lbs though.

    But I found that other folks working on start-ups also gained weight. So the weight wasn't from blogging, inasmuch as it was from the fact that the blogging was related to start-ups and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

    So, in all the hoo-ha and, in some cases, denial that there could *possibly* be any stress related to blogging, there were a few posts that made great sense:

    Henry Blodget says that it's a lot like being part of start-ups...and he's right. I know this from comparing notes with start-up folks in other fields. Our stress--and weight gain--is similar....

    Doc makes an important comment that there's a difference "in kind between writing to produce understanding and writing to produce money, even when they overlap. There are matters of purpose to consider, and how one drives (or even corrupts) the other."

    There's also an excellent comment to Doc's post from Trudy Schuett who notes the wild disparity in pay rates for blogging...this is something I've experienced, and read about, and have even heard from experienced writers, some of whom are being low-balled for online work that's been more intensive than print work they've done for the exact same publications...

    Matt Ingram has a decent commentary on the matter, as does Renee Blodgett who obliquely notes that the insanity's gotten a bit worse since the whole social networking thing....

    And danah boyd has some very important thoughts on how workaholism is rewarded by corporate culture
    can't help but wonder if all of this is leading us down a dangerous path. The young and highly motivated turn into self-competing workaholics, often fueled by stimulants - legal (e.g., coffee), illegal (e.g., cocaine), and prescription (e.g., Provigil). Older folks and those who want to "have a life" look at this insanity with horror and back quietly away trying not to startled the hopped up beasts.

    This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't playing into professional culture more broadly. Increasingly, only those bent on workaholism are valued as employees. Those who don't push it to extremes are disregarded as lazy in many industries. There is pressure to work 24/7 and there are plenty of folks who take this seriously, even if it's not in their best interests let alone the rest of society's. I get so ravingly mad at my (primarily male) colleagues who work 14 hour days even though they have small children that they never see. It's one thing to be a workaholic as a single 20-something; it's another thing to be a workaholic as a parent. I get to see the flipside of that one - teens starved for attention, desperate to please in the hopes of being given attention and validation.

    Also see great "chill out" messages from Om Malik and Paul Glazowski at Mashable! who gives us a non-star's perspective, which I could so relate to...

    So, yes, blogging can be stressful, like starting lots of other kinds of business, esp. like tech start-up businesses--and there are lots of logical reasons for that. It's hard to have perspective on success, too, because we don't hear much from the grunts like Paul and myself and lots of others who are doing o.k. with this whole blogging thing, possibly in spite of the stress and in spite of what others thought we could do with this blogging thing (going into blogging as a career = going into acting as a career...) The industries that are looking to blogging to save their failing business models don't want to hear about the grunts--they want only the hype of the superstars.

    But are we even grunts? Or maybe it's that we've reached a certain level of success that's ok for us. I'm sure I'll never be Mike Arrington, or Xeni Jardin, or any number of superstars you can name on any day. But have I made something out of nothing? Have I turned a profit over the past two years of my consulting business? Have I contributed, in some small way to changing things, even though lots of local people have no idea what I do for a living?

    You betcha!

    And maybe that's not a bad place to be....