Why I Like Blogs

Back in February, someone posted a well-publicized rant on a pretty big geek web site designed to be a “collaborative site about technology and culture, both separately and in their interactions.” Think something along the lines of Slashdot (or, if I was true geek instead of a poser, /.), only not as good.

The subject of the rant was how Movable Type is ruining Google. I’m not linking the rant here, because the author later published a comment along the lines of how many hundreds of blogs were now linking his story, thus he had the victory. And in making that gloating little comment, he’s right. He got his message out by exploiting the very features of Movable Type that were at the center of his rant. So I’m not adding my blog to his list.

However, I did have a response that I’ve been rolling in my head for about a week now. I haven’t written it, because I kept telling myself that the debate is long over — February is ancient history in terms of the WWW. I also kept telling myself it wasn’t worth it to bother, since the ranter was clearly just trying to rankle some readers into linking him. I also kept telling myself it was a waste of time since the author plagiarized much of his rant from another rant, which is now four years old. A lot has changed on the web in four years.

But at the bottom of it all, the rant attacked one of the things I love about the web: blogging. Actually, to be more precise, the rant attacked Movable Type, but the implication was that blogging in general is a bad thing.

The first argument made by the author is that most bloggers are pretentious and have nothing to contribute. I have run across some blogs that I would say don’t contribute much, at least not to me, but who is to say it doesn’t contribute something to somebody? For crying out loud, I wrote a post in which I mentioned something as banal as cooking a pot roast, and several people wrote comments, emails, or even mentioned their own pot roast and gave me credit for the idea. The pot roast recipe, taken from the instructions that came with my West Bend crock pot, will appear at the end of this entry, in case you’re interested by the way.

Anyway, getting back to the subject at hand, even if it is only influencing other people to cook pot roast, we all have something to contribute to someone. As for bloggers being pretentious, I think that some are, and some aren’t, in direct correlation with the number of total people in the world who are pretentious and who are not. In fact, the story written by this person, in my opinion, smacks of the worst kind of pretention: those who feel that their opinion and what they have to say is so important and so true that we are extremely stupid if we disagree with them. He poked fun at Creative Commons licenses, insinuating that the majority of people who bother with them don’t have much to say worth protecting. Maybe. And Movable Type makes it very easy to get one as soon as you set up your weblog. Are they worth anything? I don’t know. No one’s ever asked permission to use my work, and I doubt anyone ever will. Still, I kind of like the idea that there is a license out that requests permission. Dumber folks than I have probably made book deals through their blogs.

Next, the author attacks the advent of “irritating” jargon. What make me laugh about that attack is that the author himself uses irritating jargon in comments he makes in response to other commentators. Actually, I found his use of language in total to be quite unimaginative, resorting as it frequently did to expletives and insults. It was not a thought-provoking criticism of blogging. To my way of thinking, and having taught Journalism, I passed this opinion on to my students: if you can’t back up what you say with solid facts, no one will be swayed by your opinion. Attacking blogging for having irritating jargon is a rather weak argument against blogging. Everything people do for work or fun (just about) has jargon. That’s just the way language works.

The author moves on to the lack of diversity of subject matter for most blogs, indicating without statistics to back up his claim that the vast majority of Movable Type blogs, which originate from America (he’s a Brit, and the fact that so many Americans blog really bothers him, so it seems) are limited to the following topics:

  • Presidential elections
  • The economy
  • Political parties
  • Blogging
  • Open source software

I haven’t found this to be so. Most of the blogs I read (though that is a limited number) are about the lives of the people who write them. I myself eschew topics like the election and politics, because those are personal topics to me. You want to rail against Bush in your blog? Fine with me. It’s your blog. I’m in my 30s and I have kids. I’m probably much more conservative than most people who stop by here. But it’s not an issue for me. It’s not something that I’m passionate about. I have been guilty of writing about blogging. Right now as a matter of fact. I have mentioned open source software, too. But I don’t recall talking about the economy at all. I doubt that his claim about the number of blogs with similar subject matter is true. I can’t say that’s been my experience.

The author targets Movable Type’s “poor design” and links to a script kiddie’s site (now defunct) offering a script designed to crapflood someone’s comments. I’ve not had comment spam, so I can’t say, but since the story was written, Movable Type has issued two updates — the one I use, Version 2.661 — patches up the vulnerability exposed by the script kiddie. Even if it didn’t, there are patches available, the MT Blacklist plugin, and Junkeater.com, which all deal with comment spam; Blacklist also deals with trackback spam. I think most of us know that no software program is perfect, and there will be bugs. In an ironic twist, it would appear the script kiddie’s server couldn’t take the number of hits from bloggers like this. I haven’t really even scratched the surface. There are many ways to protect yourself from comment and trackback spam. The rant’s author has a point when he mentioned the drain on your server that crapflooding can cause, but as I said, now there are ways to protect yourself. I don’t know whether it did anything or not, but I put a robots “noindex,nofollow” meta-tag in my comments template. It has been my experience that it works pretty well.

The next argument made by the writer is probably the worst for making his point. He picks on one individual blogger whom he apparently despises. I find it odd that he links her so many times and insults her so vociferously throughout his story. I think he’s in love. Don’t most little boys like to smack the girls they think are cute? Seems like most people grow out of that, though.

The writer next accuses bloggers of being “sheep” and insists that we all throw out “random and completely false opinions.” Opinions cannot be either true or false. They are beliefs. People base their opinions on facts, but they are opinions because there is room for dispute. He goes on to say that we whittle each other down until we all hold the same opinion. I wonder if he’s surfing the same web I am. If anything, I see a large variety of opinions. If he wanted to poke fun at bloggers for being sheep, I wonder that he didn’t mention memes.

Finally the writer makes what is probably his most legitimate point — that the results from Google are meaningless because of linking and trackbacks. A search engine is a powerful device created to help us find what we’re looking for on the web; however, it is not a substitute for one’s brain. Yes, we do get lots of results that we’re not interested in or are not worth looking at, but I think that is an issue the search engines themselves need to address. It’s hardly the blogger’s fault that Google thinks a link to a blog holds more authority than another link. For a long time, I kept search engines from indexing my site at all, because I was tired of getting hits in my stats that had nothing to do with what I had to say. I honestly didn’t want to know that human beings could be as disturbed as they appear to be. I think if Google was so great, it could figure out that I’m not the authority on deviant sexual practices and wouldn’t trick Google users into coming here looking for that sort of rot.

In conclusion, the author recommends limiting our drivel to LiveJournal, where, in his opinion, it would be easier to ignore. Why? Does Google ignore LiveJournal? I know it sure doesn’t ignore similar services like Diaryland. In fact, the Googlebot has crawled Diaryland so heavily that it has overloaded Diaryland’s server. Funny enough, I get relatively few hits from search engines now that I’m using Movable Type on my own domain compared to when I was writing on a hosted journaling site. Anyway, I find it funny that he talks about how trackbacks are ruining Google when he linked to a crapflooder’s script.

I have to say that I think blogging has been great for the world. Mainstream media is finally beginning to catch on that blogs are important tools for journalists. I quote from WikiPedia’s entry on weblog:

In early 2002, blogs began to spring up to support the invasion of Iraq, these “war bloggers” were primarily from the right end of the spectrum, and included Instapundit and Little Green Footballs. The first “blog” driven controversy is probably associated with the fall of Trent Lott, where bloggers found quotes from his previous speeches which were taken to be racist, and “kept the story alive” in the press.

Through 2003, weblogs gained increasing notice and coverage for their role in breaking, shaping or spinning news stories. The triggering event was the sudden emergence of an opposition to the Iraq war which was not rooted in the traditional anti-war left. The blogs which gathered news on Iraq, both left and right, exploded in popularity, and Forbes magazine covered the phenomenon. The use of blogs by political candidates, particularly Howard Dean and Wesley Clark cemented their role as a news source, while the increasing number of experts who blogged, including Daniel Drezner and J. Bradford Delong gave the blog world a cachet among regular journalists.

In 2004, the role of blogs became increasingly mainstream, as political consultants, news services and candidates began using theme as tools for outreach and opinion formation. Minnesota Public Radio broad cast a program by Christopher Lydon and Matt Stoller called “The Blogging of the President”, which covered the transformation in politics that blogging seemed to presage. The Columbia Journalism Review began regular coverage of blogs and blogging.

Blogging has enabled millions of people to have a voice and be published. I am willing to wade through the bloggers that don’t have much of anything interesting to say to find the gems. The friendships I’ve made through blogging have in some ways been more honest and true than friendships I’ve made in real life. Those people that read what I write here know me better than anyone who knows me in real life does. Maybe Jenni and Smackey can attest to that, since they know me in real life and read my blog.

If you want to find the article, I’m sure I’ve made it easy enough through my numerous references to do so. I didn’t leave a comment there, and I don’t plan to. I probably shouldn’t have responded in any way, even through an entry like this.

Now, here’s my contribution to the world. My recipe for pot roast, only slightly adapted from the instruction booklet that came with my crock pot:

Pot Roast

2 to 2 1/2 pound beef roast
1 small Vidalia onion, sliced
baby carrots
2 medium-large potatoes cut in one-inch pieces
1/2 cup water

Brown roast in skillet over medium-medium high heat on range. Season with fresh ground pepper and seasoned salt. Put sliced onion in crock pot. Place roast in crock pot on top of onion slices. Place vegetables around roast. The booklet recommended four pototatoes, but four would not have fit in my crock pot along with the roast. The booklet also recommended 4 carrots, cut into one-inch pieces, but why bother when baby carrots are already cut and peeled. Use the amount you desire. I put in two or three handfuls. I seasoned the vegetables with seaoned salt, too. Add 1/2 cup water. It seems like you should add more, but as the juices from the meat and vegetables start flowing, you’ll have enough liquid in there. You can cook on LO on LO for 9 to 10 hours or HI for 5 to 6 hours. I cooked on HI, and it was good. The booklet says a meat thermometer should read at least 170 degrees for well done. I didn’t bother. The timing they provided was accurate enough to ensure the roast was done.

My blog. It’s a good thing.