This page looks at some blogging issues: finding them,
questions of objectivity, editorial standards, accessibility
and long-term access, 'comment spam' and 'sock puppets'.
It covers -
One reason for the supposed decline of the genre is the
difficulty of identifying blogs and their content.
Most search engines do
not visit every site each day (the 'latency' for major
engines ranges from three weeks to nine months), do not
index each (or all of every) page and use different criteria
for ranking search results. That means that few blogs
are readily identifiable through traditional engines and
portals on a 'real time' basis.
Identification is accordingly often based on promotional
activity by authors and links from other blog sites -
the 'blogmedia community' is somewhat airless at times.
Blog-specific search engines and directories are also
appearing. The quality of citations on those engines is
uneven. They include -
- claiming to watch 15,101 blogs and biased towards
- a category-based directory and engine
- like the "Weblog Madness list of lists"
has not been updated since 2000 but of interest as a
- "The Busy Person's Guide to Blogs", complete
with a "Spellbinding Sites and Sources" page
Directory - a directory of member sites searchable
by date, name and keyword
- clusters similar blogs into a "neighbourhood"
- a portal of around 7,000 blogs accessible by
name, country, subject and keyword
- a "current events search engine" covering
around 7,500 news sites, with a 'Top 40' blog list
- features a 'Top 100' links list.
lists the most referred-to blogs, crawling the web to
identify pointers and thus determine the most popular.
(The project features an 'all-time' top links list', with
plans for a search facility for bloggers needing to know
"Am I hot, or am I not."
Blogdex boasts that it
on the referential information provided by weblogs,
or the links that people place on their sites. By amalgamating
these pointers, we can get an instantaneous look at
internet fashion from democratic means.
list of the "top weblogs" is the Technorati
100 ranking. Other pointers to blog statistics are
Notions of 'blog overload' have spawned blog digest services
such as Kinja,
which automatically provides subscribers with short excerpts
from the latest posts to nominated blogs. Other services,
such as Feedster,
mimic more traditional online news feeds.
Feedster claims to monitor around 0.5 million feeds and
blogs on a daily basis.
A note on arrangements in some nations for identifying
a blog through an International Standard Serial Number
(ISSN), the journal equivalent of an ISBN, is here.
The Australian National Library's ISSN page is here.
privacy and policing
The notion of blogs as samizdat or a photojournalism with
the zeal of the investigative reporter but without the
inhibitions of a 'big media' corporate lawyers means that
video blogging and photoblogs are likely to pose concerns
Business writer Bob Parks fretted
about moblogs as an online corporate lynching, offsetting
hype that camera-equipped mobile phones and wireless blogs
will only ever be used against the dark side (real-time
publishing photos of nasties in uniform beating up brave
anti-globalisation protestors or opponents of the PLA).
From a policing perspective blogs are not located in a
legal vacuum. In 2005 for example Blake Ranking, who had
caused a fatal car crash, pleaded guilty to manslaughter
after prosecutors in the US discovered a confession on
his blog (aptly located at blurty.com). He had previously
told investigators he remembered nothing of the crash
and little of its aftermath.
There have been no comprehensive studies regarding the
blogs, ie whether most blogs can be readily navigated
and parsed by readers with visual or other disabilities.
Small-scale testing of major blogs and blog tools suggests
that most blogs are in fact quite unfriendly, failing
to meet WAI standards.
That failure reflects the technology used in some blogging
services. More broadly it may reflect the market for those
services, essentially authors who want to publish online
with a minimum of effort and indeed may not be aware of
concerns about online accessibility or consider that it
The UK has seen some initiatives in the development of
blogging software that is specifically intended for the
blind: a laudable initiative, since the joys of writing/reading
a blog should not be restricted to the sighted. It is
unclear however whether there is significant uptake of
the software outside the UK.
archiving and the afterlife
In discussing archival
aspects of electronic publishing (and myths
that "everything is online" - and will be accessible
in the future) we have noted the ephemeral nature of much
online content. Ongoing access to many blogs is unlikely.
Some authors have already complained that they have lost
non-current entries - or whole blogs - through technical
failures or the collapse of the entity responsible for
hosting the blog. That is reminiscent of problems encountered
by many owners of personal sites that went offline towards
the end of the dot-com bubble
when an ISP or 'online community' host went out of business
or simply slashed free hosting as part of cost cutting.
Few bloggers appear to be consistently archiving their
content and institutional archiving has favoured celebrities
(particularly those with academic tenure) rather than
less prominent authors.
For some bloggers a concern is likely to be that their
words will indeed be too accessible. The caching of blogs
by search engines, cannibalisation of text by other bloggers
and copying by projects such as the Internet Archive
that aim to capture a slice of the web have the potential
to indefinitely preserve many blogs, with a red face or
two a decade hence. As with postings to newsgroups, old
words will haunt some writers - particularly given the
emphasis on spontaneity and intimacy noted on preceding
pages of this profile.
What happens when a blogger expires? Some people make
specific arrangements for their executors to delete or
preserve the blog, sometimes as a form of cyber-memorial.
Others leave handling of their blog and email to fate.
That has proved problematical, with some hosts proving
indifferent to claims by a blogger's estate. In practice
some blogs have gone offline only because the estate stopped
paying the bills.
Many blogs allow readers to publish comments on particular
entries, potentially offering the dialogue that is evident
in some wiki editorial entries.
There are no definitive statistics; the 2006 Pew Internet
& American Life Project estimate
that 87% of US bloggers allow comments on their blog is
That feature has however increasingly been abused by spammers,
with the emergence of 'comment spam'. Typically it includes
a hyperlink to the spammer's site - offering 'unbeatable
deals' on chemicals to enhance your anatomy, opportunities
to make money without effort or risk, or access to adult
Some comment spam is added manually. Publication of other
comment spam reflects weaknesses in blog software and
hosting services, which enable automated identification
and submission of comments. Services such as Movable Type
have sought to reduce comment spam by enhancing the software
and by establishing blacklists or whitelists to exclude
content from particular addresses.
As with bulk unsolicited commercial email (the spam with
which most people are regrettably familiar) there is no
simple solution and the battle between unscrupulous marketers
and blog owners is likely to be ongoing.
sock puppets and stalkers
The New York Times tartly compared much reader
feedback on blogs to drive-by shootings. It is thus unsurprising
that bloggers have used pseudonyms
or anonymity in providing supposedly independent comments
on their own blogs. The extent of that practice - dubbed
sock puppetry - is unclear, although 'hunt the sock puppet'
has become a minor blood sport in the blogosphere.
Ethics aside (proponents argue that being a sock puppet
is mere self-defence or savvy marketing, in the tradition
of figures such as Walter Scott, Gerhart Hauptmann and
Walt Whitman), puppetry can provoke a visceral response.
That is particularly the case if the puppet is vilifying
enemies or waxing lyrical about the author.
In 2006, for example cultural critic Lee Siegel of The
New Republic was humilatingly exposed as contributing
comments - under the pseudonym Sprezzatura - to his own
blog. Sprezzatura modestly characterised Siegel "brilliant"
and "brave", recurrently rubbishing detractors
(eg "an awful suck-up" whose writing "is
sweaty with panting obsequious ambition" or as a
"bunch of immature, abusive sheep" engaged in
'blogfascism') who had unaccountably failed to appreciate
the sock-master's wit and wisdom.
Siegel's blog was shuttered after exposure; he explained
wildly created an over-the-top persona and adopted the
tone of my attackers, when I should have just gone to
the gym instead
a polemicist like myself in the blogosphere is like
putting someone with an obesity problem in a chocolate
Sniping against the blogfascisti continued in his Against
the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic
Mob (New York: Random 2008).
Other self-boosters include Pulitzer Prize winner Michael
Hiltzik, John Rechy and neoconservative John Lott Jr.
(active as Mary Rosh for over three years).
Blogs are also a venue for stalking,
High profile blogger Cathy Sierra for example lamented
in April 2007 that
As I type this, I am supposed to be in San Diego, delivering
a workshop at the ETech conference. But I'm not. I'm
at home, with the doors locked, terrified. For the last
four weeks, I've been getting death threat comments
on this blog. But that's not what pushed me over the
edge. What finally did it was some disturbing threats
of violence and sex posted on two other blogs ... blogs
authored and/or owned by a group that includes prominent
bloggers. ... someone posted personal data mixed with
inaccurate information. It is the only comment I have
removed from this thread. I wish to thank everyone for
their support, but honestly--the high visibility and
coverage of this one post has led to more trouble for
me. Now, even people who had never heard of me are expressing
hatred and creating new problems (posting my social
security number and address, horrific lies about me,
It started with death threat blog comments left here.
We all have trolls - but until four weeks ago, none
of mine had threatened death. (The law is clear - to
encourage or suggest someone's death is just as illegal
as claiming you intend to do it yourself). At about
the same time, a group of bloggers ... began participating
on a (recently pulled) blog called meankids.org. At
first, it was the usual stuff -lots of slamming of people
like Tara Hunt, Hugh MacLeod, Maryam Scoble, and myself.
Nothing new. No big deal. Nothing they hadn't done on
their own blogs many times before. But when it was my
turn, somebody crossed a line. They posted a photo of
a noose next to my head, and one of their members (posting
as "Joey") commented "the only thing
Kathy has to offer me is that noose in her neck size."
an interview, she dismissed the argument that cyberbullying
is so common that she should overlook it:
can't believe how many people are saying to me, 'Get
a life, this is the Internet'. If that's the case, how
will we ever recognize a real threat?
of the alleged harassers later indicated
that he was a victim of identity theft.
special protection for bloggers?
Given hype about the blogosphere and the necessary death
of 'old media' it is unsurprising that 2005 saw claims
in the US that
deserved the same protection as journalists (a protection
misunderstood by many enthusiasts)
- apparently any and all - were indeed journalists.
blogger is someone who uses a certain kind of tool to
publish a certain kind of Web site. The label tells
us nothing about how the tool is used or what is published.
We went through this discussion a decade ago, when people
first started asking whether Web sites were journalism.
To understand this, just take the question, "Are
bloggers journalists?" and reframe it in terms
of previous generations of tools. "Are telephone
callers journalists?" "Are typewriter
users journalists?" "Are mimeograph operators
journalists?" Or, most simply, "Are writers
journalists?" Well, duh, sometimes! But sometimes
That is the only answer to the "Are bloggers journalists?"
question that makes any sense. ... This answer is inconvenient,
as we face the question of whether bloggers should receive
the same legal protection as more conventionally defined
journalists; it doesn't provide a clearcut legal rule.
But, let's face it, legal protections for journalists
have always involved a certain fuzziness. ...
You can try to define journalists by applying the filter
of professionalism, by seeing whether people are actually
earning a living through their journalistic work - but
then you rule out the vast population of low-paid or
non-paid freelance workers, and those who are not currently
making money in their writing but hope to someday. Apparently
most of the existing shield laws use some version of
the "you are where your paycheck comes from"
definition of journalist (see Declan McCullagh over
at CNET for more).
That's one good reason for thinking that they might
need some revision.
There's a good definition of "journalist"
sitting right at the top of Jim Romenesko's journalism
blog today (is pioneering blogger Romenesko a journalist?),
where CNN/US president Jonathan Klein says: "I
define a journalist as someone who asks questions, finds
out answers and communicates them to an audience."
By that standard, a hefty proportion of today's bloggers
question whether merely asking questions and communicating
answers = journalism. That definition is so broad as to
encompass your school teacher, many clerics and the bozo
in your local bar, along with Joseph Roth, Ed Murrow,
Paul Einzig and Martha Gellhorn.
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