Jean Dublog

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Paper Or Plastic?

After trying the plastic experience for a while, I decided it really is a cool community blog. I like the way stuff is organized with featured main page stories and other stories on the left organized under categories. Other miscellaneous blogs are listed on the right.

It really was easy to cruise around, find something appealing to read and get involved in a full-blown discussion. Man, does this site attract comments, hundreds...and pretty constructive ones, too, among the ubiquitous clunkers. The site also is fairly attractive, which helps make it my favorite of the community sites so far to brouse. I found much more interesting stuff here than on Metafilter, for example.

I know I praised Metafilter earlier, but Plastic really does a better job in most respects. But, I still maintain that Metafilter is by far the most Democratic in its approach. Virtually anyone with $5 can post there. On Plastic, by contrast, they have a complex system of rating and moderating -- "sift out junk and pan for genius." There is a ton of editing going on here, though it seems to be done principally by contributing members rating each other rather than "management" making the tough calls. In this case, everyone really is a critic.

As a consequence, Metafilter looks sloppier and it has a sharply divergent list of reading materials. But isn't that how many town squares and town meetings work? They're simple, often unorganized forums for interaction and debate. So, I like Metafilter's mission and am glad someone is doing it. But when looking for convenience in online reading, I'm more likely to reach for plastic than good old simple paper.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

PR Mort Meme

I'm not 100 percent sure I've got my arms entirely around the meme theme yet, but it's got to help when lots of other people are calling it a meme, right? Is that cheating? Regardless, I found a meme that I find extemely interesting, personally, and which may interest other communicators in our midst. The meme: PR is dead.


Turns out this idea got jump-started at some PR trade conferences, but it has moved past the elite public relations circles to capture the attention of academics, consultants and communicators in the PR trenches. I found 9,610 posts for "PR is dead" in Google's blog search. The articles I read basically don't argue that PR is dead at all. Public relations is simply adapting to new forms of communications, something the industry has always done. Instead, it's the old style press release-based form of PR that may be truly dead, they argue. The industry had better learn to adapt and find ways of refining their messages and communicating them at a more fundamental grassroots level, say even the mildest critics.

However, PR is dead means different things to different people, and many people seem to hope it has much broader implications. I mean, don't a lot of people think PR is basically a slimy profession? Don't think too many tears would be shed if the business imploded. PR professionals, however, seem to think this is an idea being pushed by blog consultants to puff up their roles. Regardless, it seems the debate is being waged across blogs throughout the industry. In my opinion, too early for a funeral. Reconstructive surgery, perhaps?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Blogging Commune

Now here's a community blog I really like -- Metafilter. Yeah, it's not very attractively done and they throw an amazingly eclectic party (some might say chaotic), but it sure does live up to what impresses me as the heart and soul of blogging -- virtually anyone can have their turn and try to attract the attention of the blogosphere.

Of course, there are some ground rules. Bloggers are asked to treat each other respectfully and in a civilized way. Bloggers are asked to refrain from blatant self-interest and to seek new and interesting things to post. But to give members almost unrestricted access to the homepage (supposedly there is little editing or deleting, hence the "meta" in Metafilter) for $5 strikes me as fairly democratic way to run a community blog.

The individual posts are sometimes interesting, but seldom related to one another. Daily Kos, in the political nature of its citizenry, looks amazingly well organized compared to this one. But Metafilter's frenetic quality has appeal. While the posts seem to come from anywhere and everywhere, I know I'm going to find something interesting by scrolling down the page, something that might actually encourage my participation in a discussion. Virtually every post on this page (Sunday) drew a number of responses. One post, a press release from the NRA's website, seemed to violate the standard of something different, but it sure did get a conversation started. 79 people chimed on with comments both pro and con about a court decision supporting the NRA's opposition to the New Orleans Police Department's conviscation of guns from local citizens.

A very interesting vlog from a former Apple employee who claims he was fired for his "creative writing" also attracted the attention of 51 bloggers who wrote on the subject. Virtually everything in this off mixture of blogs and links was worthy of commentary by someone -- a link to Joan Didion's touching account of the death of her husband was occasion for many bloggers to recall similar events in their own pasts.

In short, I like the "self-policing" concept, though it's hard to know exactly how much editing and deleting does go on behind the scenes. But I think the idea of having a place to share knowledge and incite community discussion is healthy and nurturing for blogging. And, it sure is tempting to send a "spam-a-gram to a lucky corporate whore," as one post suggests.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Star-Powered Blog

After being unable to open up Metafilter this afternoon (server issue?), I settled on Huffington Post for a couple of hours. While there's a lot of enjoyable and interesting content here, HufPost didn't feel like the typical blog experience. Yes, of course, it's a community of blogs, rather than a single blog. But there was something I couldn't put my finger on at first. As I scrolled down the Bloggers' Index, it hit me. These people all have great credentials.

The enormous list of blogs includes countless authors and journalists, lawyers, politicians, TV producers, playwrights, professors, psychologists, etc. In short, it seemed to me that I was looking at a gathering of elite bloggers, opining on everything from politics to social trends for the humble masses. Most of the pieces I read were at least somewhat polished and easy to read. More like reading brief newspaper columns. While I enjoyed the reading, I couldn't help but feel that HufPost was somehow violating the true spirit of blogging.

For example, blogs typically are fresh and regular, making interactions with readers -- when they occur -- more spontaneous and conversational than a letter to the editor could ever be. But HufPost's desire to celebrate elite (and celebrity) thoughts comes at a price -- most of these smart, busy people can do little better than a monthly or bimonthly post. They might as well be in, yikes, print. The most regular blogger I found was Cindy Sheehan, whose newfound celebrity status has given her a pass on the resume requirements. It seems that the immediacy of the site is to come through the front page in the form of a different few elite bloggers each day.

I was curious about the actual requirements for getting posted to the site and could find nothing explicit about the price of admission. So, I googled HufPost and found an interesting NY Times story about the launch of the site. Sure enough, Arianna Huffington intended from the beginning that the site would house "the most creative minds" in the country in a virtual non-stop talk show. Of course, the blogosphere is about as grassroots as it gets, so Huffington seems to be going against the grain a bit. As I said earlier, I like many of the pieces and enjoy the break from some of the more inflamed blogs out there. But it makes me wonder if this is a step toward the corporatization of blogs. Are blogs by cultural and political elite really more worthy of readership?

What this site does that I found interesting was its mix of news and commentary on the homepage. There are many news stories featured from sources such as AP, Reuters, the Washingon Post, etc. down the middle and right side of the page while the most recent blog postings run down the left side. But all pieces, news stories as well as blogs, invite reader comments. The story about Bill Frist's stock scandal, for example, had 113 comments, just as impassioned as any typical blog responses. There are the usual rude rants and bland musings; only occasionally does someone provide a really insightful response. But I find it interesting that readers will get just as worked up about news stories by people who may never read their comments as they do by what true bloggers have to say.

Most of what I read, by the featured bloggers and the readers who wrote comments, were distinctly liberal in nature. According to the Times, Ms. Huffington intended the site to be neither right- nor left-minded, though the Times found most of the bloggers lean left. I personally could not find any right-leaning bloggers here, though admittedly I didn't even come close to examining them all. So, it seems that Ms. Huffington's approach appeals more to the left.

There are definitely pieces to enjoy here, but I wonder if this site will really hold the interest of other bloggers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Don't Take It Too Personally

Just finished going through, at length, two of the more personal blogs brought to our attention. While seemingly different motivations fuel these two bloggers, they both seem to share an important trait in common -- both seem to be looking for a voice in the world and a little interaction. Both seem to be experiencing different, personal types of isolation, but each has figured out a different way to connect.

Sally, of My Thoughts, a seemingly mild-mannered retiree by day, turns into a pistol-packing mama when seated before a blank computer screen. It was especially interesting to read her from the bottom up, as suggested, to witness the development of a real, heartfelt voice. At first, her postings seemed little more than bland observations on the weather. Like other older people I know, she appeared to be tragically addicted to weather.com and probably the Weather Channel.

But Hurricane Katrina sparked a change. First, she waxes nostalgic for the New Orleans she remembers. Next, the sad stories lead to some cliched, homespun philosophy -- "nothing lasts forever" and "life goes on." Then, empathy for the victims mixes with fear for her own precarious position on the Texas Gulf coast. But her true voice begins to emerge as she contemplates the grim reality of a battered News Orleans in its political context. She accuses Bush of a dereliction of duty, having gone off fund raising instead of directly overseeing the disaster relief.

Soon it becomes apparent that she's one pissed off lady. In fact, by this point she seems to be tapping into a long-covered up well of anger that gives her posts purpose and intensity. She confesses to suppressing her political opinions for years, surrounded as she was by right-wing extremists in the petro-chemical company where she worked before retiring. She rebels by thoroughly lambasting the likes of Cheney, Michael Brown, Halliburton and the "evil man" Tom Delay. Rather than the voice of a lonely old woman who doesn't know quite what to do with herself, she now seems part of a genuine blogging movement that has lots to say (and influence) about a moving and telling event in this country's history.

This week, facing the prospect of a monster named Rita, Sally turns her thoughts more inward and contemplates what it will be like to have to evacuate. As she prepares to leave, she pledges that she's had enough of the Gulf and evacuations, and vows to return to her native Midwest. At this point, however, she no longer deals in the cliches of her earliest posts. She has developed a more compelling voice. Is the emotion entirely genuine? I thought it was very interesting that a commenter from England was moved enough to respond with concern, and to pledge not to judge Americans, whom she doesn't know, after reading Sally's heartfelt posts.

The Mundane Musings of a lonesome Irishman also offer up a somewhat interesting personal voice, but in an entirely different way. He seems to be a lot more sensitive and communicative than the average male beast, so that when friends fail to respond to his e-mails with the frequency and detail he would like, he turns to blogging. And he loves it.

This is a guy with low self-esteem, who can't understand why beautiful and "godly" women would be interested in him. But he obviously pines to connect with someone, and the blogosphere will more than do for now. (Young women who say they want a sensitive guy who likes to communicate, what are you waiting for?)

His blog is somewhat interesting at first for its sheer honesty, but I lost interest before too long. I didn't find the snippets of conversation and questionnaires he quotes nearly as interesting as he did. I suspect his musings and desire to connect will find more resonance in young people in more similar circumstances. Still, his blog is a sometimes interesting look inside the soul of a lonely young man. What it shows, like Sally, is that he's itching for company.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Dooce Scoop

After discussing the Dooce in class, it's not easy to see it with fresh eyes. But I gave it a whirl, just now. Like many others, I enjoy her musings. They offer funny, irreverent views of the everyday experience of a young mom, who is, perhaps, just a bit more troubled and talented a writer than any mom in my neighborhood.

Has it occurred to anyone else that she sounds an awful lot like Erma Bombeck with a foul mouth, which works quite well, though lubed with a heavy-gauge pharmaceutical cocktail? The realities vs imaginings of yard prowess really drove it home for me. Not being critical. I think her point of view is ever so enjoyable. It seems that what she writes is designed both to help other young moms identify with the absurdity sometimes to be found in the everyday experience. It also has to reassure that another mom out there, saddled with emotional health problems no less, can find humor in it all. On top of that she has real writing talent.

It has to appeal to women, judging by the number of ads geared to women that line up and down the right side of the page. In fact, after a few links to information about herself, Armstrong pretty much lists nothing but ads on the rest of the page. There are no other links (perhaps I missed them?) to other sites of interest. This is all about celebrating her personal point of view, and making some money to get by in the world. In fact, she seems more like a newspaper (LifeStyle) columnist than a blogger. But, then again, everyone's a blogger now.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Of KOS

Just spent a good bit of time looking at Daily KOS, and I've got to say it's nothing if not consistent. And, there's a ton of stuff to wade through, so filtering for consistency must take a lot of time and effort over there.

The Daily KOS features, and there's quite a few to scroll through each day, are very detailed, reasoned pieces with a clear left-wing agenda. Some have the reasoned approach of a good, left-leaning newspaper editorial, but they can at times comes across with intensity. The way the stories stack up right down the left side of the page almost makes it feel like a newspaper (a little extra credibility?). Of course, most people don't like to do all that scrolling and reading ad nauseum on a computer screen, but they probably figure their audience will put up with it, so hungry are they for dirt on the administration. Newspapers, of course, can more easily subject their readers to tedious design and layouts, and they do.

All one has to do is read the accompanying posts on the right to see that any resemblance to newspapers ends there. There's a lot more naked venom flowing there in the Blogroll and Recent Diaries. The tongue-in-cheek "There was no fraud in November" look at the 2004 election was actually a clever and amusing way of lampooning this debacle of an election. But the "Percentage Shift, Hypocrite Killers" was just rage on a page, albeit brief. I wonder if Markos Moulitsas holds this one up as an example of how to get listed, you know, be clever, funny, original. By the way, the substance of this post is embodied in the following,"Fuck these hypocrites all to hell."

Still, Daily Koss is quite the rallying spot for good liberals. The ads down the center of the page feature more left-wing causes than I knew existed, such as Stop the Radical Right, gay slasher flicks and anti-GOP bumper stickers.

It might seem extreme to some, but there's a strong anti-administration message here that needs to be heard. And, there's a valuable public service being rendered in at least one attempt I spotted at stopping a poisonous MEME. One of the Recent Diaries shot holes in conservative bloggers' attempts to spread the spurious claim that the Sierra Club was responsible for the New Orleans' levee breaks. Cool.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Oh Boing

I've spent some more time with Boing Boing, and I have to confess I'm still not much closer to being able to categorize it. But that does not mean there are no patterns and intentions discernable in this strange e.soup of a blog, or blog-wanna-be.

If people don't read newspapers anymore -- certainly most young people -- and most are distrustful of news sources of any kind, this blog seems tailor made to grab the attention of the info-disenfranchised. Boing Boing features such an odd mix of information that it's almost startling, at first glance. But haven't weird publications like the Enquirer startled most of us into reading at least a little while standing in the supermarket checkout line?

Obviously, Boing Boing is not simply an electronic tabloid. It has a strong appeal to the techno-geeks with its listings about technological innovations, such as the "perfect power strip design" and the "better screw," though the latter item may have broader appeal because of its easily misconstrued headline. But there is a tabloid touch to the story selections, no doubt. Who can resist reading about tongue eating bugs, flying manta-rays, twitching Elvii and Nessie's flesh? By their very odd nature, these items grab the attention of those who in most circumstances would consider themselves too busy and too disinterested to stop and read a news site.

And, to make sure the male geeks (almost a redundant term) spend some time, there's a bit of titilation on the site in the form of the provocative Suicide Girls ad and the cleverly veiled link to an animal cruelty awareness site -- looks like a link to a Pamela Anderson site. The rest of the sponsors on the site include a mix of offbeat T-shirt suppliers, web outlets for art and publishing and even a connection to other exalted geeks -- the UCBerkeley College of Engineering.

This crazy mix may be a bit jolting to those of us who read traditional media to a great extent, but it strikes me that this blog's creators have figured out a way to get others (mostly young and technology oriented) to stop and browse a general interest information site. As for whether this site is actually a blog, I say, with a slight cringe, yes. It makes me think a bit (way back when) of Revolution #9. Most people hate it. Just a jumble of recorded sounds, snippets of conversation and random notes on a piano. By most measures, it can't be called a song -- it has no lyrics and no melody. But is it so totally different from things that would be recorded 20 and 30 years later? Doesn't the fact that it's on a record album with many other songs legitimize it? Could it just be a completely non-sensical, absurdist song?

Boing Boing isn't quite absurd but it is at the very least eclectic. The fact that it does not fit the traditional mode for blogs (is there such a thing?) should not rule it out. Blogs, at least at this point, cannot be firmly pinned down. It certainly meets the spontaneity requirement. The only thing that troubles me is whether there's any real self-expression or group expression going on here. But, the story selection itself and the brief comments that accompany them do say a lot, as strange as it may seem.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Blogging Wal-Mart

I've been reading Always Low Prices (suggested by Colin), which bills itself as featuring the "best and worst about Wal-Mart" and characterizes itself as "not affiliated with Wal-Mart in any way." While I'm naturally suspicious of such a claim, especially after reading much of the spirited defense of Wal-Mart to be found on the site, this blog should not be taken lightly. In fact, it comes close to achieving the kind of issue-oriented dialogue and exchange that could help make blogs more than a cyber-fad.

First, I have to say it's fun to dis Wal-Mart. Whomever said that journalism should "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted" had to have something like Wal-Mart in mind when conceiving of the former. The issues of Wal-Mart's wages, benefits that underinsure workers in an employer-based health care system, and predatory pricing, are all substantive and compelling issues that require analysis and debate if we as a culture are to decide the type of retailing we can support, as consumers and through our regulatory bodies. That's why I like this site. While I disagree with many of its conclusions, it takes the idea of dialogue and debate seriously.

First, the voice of Kevin, the site's administrator, is decidely pro-Wal-Mart. The numerous postings that celebrate Wal-Mart policies make this obvious. For example, postings that champion Wal-Mart for its quick response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster and its ability to simply get things done while federal and state relief were in short supply, drew a response from a Wal-Mart work in Pennsylvania that undercut the praise. The "associate " writer expressed sympathy for the victims of the disaster, but he claimed that WalMart's generosity came not entirely from the corporate coffers but from the pockets and diginity of other Wal-Mart associates who were forced to help the goliath retailer cut corners and pinch pennies by performing additional, menial work that should have been done by other additional workers. Kevin fired back with suspicion, asking what was actually said by Wal-Mart managers. He reassured that Wal-Mart executives would want to know -- referring to the PA Wal-Mart managers -- who was out there marring the good Wal-Mart name.

While Kevin often betrays an outright fondness for Wal-Mart, the site offers access to many different views on the matter. There are links in columns on both sides to various Wal-Mart related blogs, both pro Wal-Mart and con, and articles and analysis. Some are thoughtful and interesting, others biting and sardonic. Evil Smiley, for example, embodies the Wal-Mart plot "to destroy the world." Big Boxes Blow takes issue with all mega-stores.

While plenty of other sites offer more encouragement to Wal-Mart, there are no ads from obviously conservative backers that make the messages overtly right-wing. Instead, the message is conveyed mostly in a civil manner that gives the impression of polite, reasoned debate heavy on facts and figures as opposed to emotional protestations. Sometimes it comes in the form of supposed "myth" busting, sometimes it's barely concealed glee at, for example, Wal-Mart's circumventing of local size restrictions in one state by building two large stores (not mega) almost next to each other on adjacent pieces of land.

On the whole, though, this is an interesting site to read alongside some of the more adversarial blogs and websites. Together, they represent some form of dialogue that gives readers multiple points of view to consider before shopping for their next pair of jeans or household items.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Music To Blogears

OK, who doesn't live in NYC and has heard of Andrew Rasiej? If you have you're probably a blogger. I was astounded to see that the most searched term of the hour, just now, on Technorati is Rasiej. And, he's a guy running for NY Public Advocate, not the usual water cooler topic.

But the man has really tapped into something. I'm not sure if he's clever because he figured out a way to truly excite the blogosphere and capture the hearts of young voters, or whether he's truly visionary, recognizing that what passes for campaign issues these days can be mind-numbing. Essentially, his idea of creating a wireless network in NYC and facilitating low-cost, high-speed Internet has created a real blog-buzz. Using Hurricane Katrina to illustrate the failure of today's communications infrastructure gets right to the heart of it. He contends that bringing the indigent online will enfranchise and empower them in ways that handouts never have, which is a good reason why this will never happen soon.

That aside, it seems an astute political move that taps into the shifting requirements of our culture. I can't wait to see if all this blog attention translates into political success. But I also am intrigued by the idea supporting this proosal, that online information and e.currency can make a practical difference in the lives of the underprivileged. Would it mean cultural inclusion or an economic leg-up? Who knows, but bloggers clearly assume so. Can't hurt.

As an only marginally related observation, however, I have to say that I really cringe when I see how sloppily written some posts are. I was uncertain, to say the least, when one blogger I read described his hobby as "righting." I figured he either was semi-literate and should be dismissed, or he's a hard right-winger...and should be dismissed. Does this stuff really not bother most other people?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Blog Cabin

Having just engaged in my first real foray into the world of bloggers, I more or less feel like I've been amazingly out of touch for quite a while. The blogging world, though I've heard quite a bit about it, seems an infinitely more vast world of public discourse that I ever imagined.

Having gone through the first several of the Technorati Top 10, I was most profoundly struck by the sense of empowerment and purpose that drive many bloggers. While many blogs seem to fall into the category of self-expression or personal reflection, other bloggers seem bent on using this forum to air concerns or give voice to missing points of view. Perhaps even to give journalists a good kick in the ass. Says one blogger, "If mainstram media can't do good, unbiased journalism, then we'll have to do it for them."

Are we witnessing the birth of a fifth estate or simple e.hubris? Time will tell, I suppose. But bloggs already have had an unbelievable impact on the Communications industry and politics, so I lean toward the former.

Back with another post after I read more Technorati favorites.