Monday, March 31, 2008

According to a New York Times article, popular bloggers are getting book deals with surprising frequency. The phenomenon lends some additional credence to Clay Shirky's claims about A-list bloggers in Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality (part of the reading for tomorrow's class). However, the Times article reports that books by bloggers do not necessarily sell many copies.

So to all the literary agents out there scanning blogs for talent, look no further! The meta-blog book would be a huge hit. Guaranteed!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Blogs and Politics

The major candidates in the upcoming election all have official blogs:
Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain.

Blogging seems like the norm for these candidates, but I wonder, are there any differences between the blogs? The layout of Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's blogs are surprisingly similar. The posts are listed on the left, with links on the upper right to general campaign things. John McCain tries to mix it up by having his general links on the light hand side.

But I was more interested in the moderation that goes on of the comments. A (quick) look at the candidates blogs, I could find no mention of whether any moderation goes on. I then quickly scanned through the comments of the top post of each candidate (located here, here, and here for Obama, Clinton, and McCain respectively). At the time that I looked, the closest to a negative comment for Obama was something about not always agreeing, but voting for him anyway. Clinton had no negative comments that I could find, and McCain... well, the blog post I looked at was about his bracket picks, however someone did post about the fact that they liked Obama, but McCain was better.

We talked in class about how people in the world often appreciate negative comments, as they convey a sense of neutrality. First though, would we ever expect a politician's blog to be neutral? Secondly, if we expect implicit bias, would it bother us if the candidate just came out and explicitly said that they were censoring comments?

I wouldn't expect that any candidate would leave negative comments up on her blog. But if she did, perhaps it would bring a bit of the Web "openness" to politics.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Is blogging about blogging cliche?

Apparently, we are not the first ones to come up with the idea of a blog about blogging. Far from it. I was able to find no less than six other blogs about blogging, but there may be more. Of the six, five were titled “Blog on Blogs” (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) and one was titled “Metablog.” One of them even appears to be written by a student as part of a class project. Incidentally, the student used the same background and text settings that we are using. Notably, not a single one of the six is still active. Apparently, the life span for blogs about blogging is not particularly long. If you want to see the other blogs on blogging, click on the links below:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Web (makes less of a) difference?

In an op-ed in the New York Times by Thomas Friedman from this past October: ,
he writes:
"But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good...America needs a jolt of the idealism, activism and outrage (it must be in there) of Generation Q. That’s what twentysomethings are for — to light a fire under the country. But they can’t e-mail it in, and an online petition or a mouse click for carbon neutrality won’t cut it. They have to get organized in a way that will force politicians to pay attention rather than just patronize them."
Though Friedman doesn't directly addressing blogging (he has his own blog by the way), is the principle the same? Are discussions "too online"? Or are blogs the future of getting "organized"? Do bloggers have a false sense of impact? Is blogging supplanting other forms of getting organized?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Fighting in the Blogosphere: A Major Web Difference

Flaming: The phenomenon of progressively crazier, angrier, and scarier statements in the comments section of websites. You can find it in blogs on sports, politics, law; and I’m pretty sure it exists on blogs about cute little kittens. Flaming is so pervasive—the phenomenon can be seen on just about every blog without the phrase “comments turned off”—that it is hard to believe it is subject specific. Rather, it is the very nature of commenting on blogs that enables the vitriol. There are a number of reasons that blog commenting helps people connect with their inner-name-caller. First and foremost, people can comment anonymously, which diminishes the fear of retribution. Questioning the virtue of someone’s mom to their face might lead to immense physical pain. The consequence of doing so in a blog comment is…an angry rebuttal that might be more harshly worded, but cannot break any bones.
The anonymity of the blogosphere, or at least the perception of anonymity, feeds flaiming in another way: it dehumanizes the other commenters. When you are engaged in a heated debate with some one in person, you can see them. You see their face, their body, their humanity. Thus, even if you might disagree with their ideas, your anger is tempered by your shared humanity. Blog debates lack this human touch. Anyone who posts something contrary to your position, is only vicious, only moronic, only wrong. They do not feel human. Consequently, many blog posters have less motivation to treat their opponents civilly.
So anonymity makes it easier to be vicious on the blogosphere. But there is another factor at play as well. Every negative comment is responded to with an angrier comment, and the viscous spiral continues downward until some truly repulsive comments are made. The blogosphere enables this degradation of rhetoric because commenters are often responding to each other in real time, with no time to calm down, no time to breath.
Now, often the angry words of flamers often have no immediate consequence. The combatants often don’t know anything about each other, a fact which makes it difficult for people to take their conflict from the web world to the real world. But they are still harmful. They allow people who harbor hateful thoughts to learn that they have allies; they encourage people to think vicious thoughts about opposing viewpoints, rather than learn from them; they essentially cheapen discourse.
Is there a solution? Many websites have taken to monitoring their comments sections and screening out the most heinous posts. As long as only the most despicable comments are censored, then monitoring by individual websites might be helpful. But I believe we should avoid governmental monitoring. For as detrimental as flaming maybe, a government driven overcorrection could impair our most vital freedom: speech.

Highlights from the NOI Blogger Summit

While poking around the Blue Mass Group blog (one of the nominees listed in the Boston's Best Blog post), I came across a series of notes from the New Organizing Institute's Blogger Summit in DC. Some highlights:

1. The discussion of ways to increase blog traffic produced some interesting suggestions, including shout-outs to reporters and journalists (shameless, but effective) as well as weekly and/or monthly e-mails that include (wait for it) shout-outs to reporters and journalists. Participants also suggested op-eds, radio appearances, and (my favorite) following people around in costumes.

2. One of the speakers identified Red Lasso as a revolutionary tool for bloggers. The service allows users to search recent media content from over 100 media outlets. The note-taker characterized it as a "ginormous Tivo" that was superior to YouTube in certain respects because all clips are synched to searchable transcripts and can be cut to a desired point or length.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Application of Traditional Legal Analysis to Blogs May Indicate No Web Difference

In 2005 the FEC considered whether a Blog qualified for the press exception to the U.S. Federal Campaign Contribution laws.  In its advisory opinion 2005-16, the FEC applied a two-step analysis (from 1981) to determine whether the press exception applies:

"First, the Commission asks whether the entity engaging in the activity is a press entity as described by the Act and Commission regulations. See, e.g., Advisory Opinions 2004-07, 2003-34, 2000-13, 1998-17, 1996-48, 1996-41, and 1996-16. Second, in determining the scope of the exception, the Commission considers: (1) whether the press entity is owned or controlled by a political party, political committee, or candidate; and (2) whether the press entity is acting as a press entity in conducting the activity at issue (i.e., whether the entity is acting in its “legitimate press function”). See Reader's Digest Association v. FEC, 509 F. Supp. 1210, 1215 (S.D.N.Y. 1981); FEC v. Phillips Publishing, 517 F. Supp. 1308, 1312-1313 (D.D.C. 1981); Advisory Opinions 2004-07, 2000-13, 1996-48, and 1982-44. Two considerations in applying this analysis include whether the entity’s materials are available to the general public and are comparable in form to those ordinarily issued by the entity. See Federal Election Commission v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, 479 U.S. 238, 251 (1986); Advisory Opinion 2000-13 (concluding that a website covered by the press exception was “viewable by the general public and akin to a periodical or news program distributed to the general public.”) "

Nothing about this analysis implies that the FEC considered applying a new legal analysis to the web.  Even if they did consider it, the fact remains they ended up using the same legal standard that was used in 1981.  This, in my opinion, was probably the right decision and was a triumph for consistency.  However, it may have broader implications.  It may indicate that (to the law) blogs are not drastically or fundamentally different than press outlets of the past but rather are merely the newest way we have found to share information with each other and thus, may be governed by the laws that regulated how we shared information with each other in the past.  Should the laws of the past govern the communications of tomorrow?  

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Boston's Best

The Boston Phoenix is hosting a vote to determine Boston's Best Blog. Check out the nominees:

Universal Hub

Blue Mass Group
Allston-Brighton Community Blog
Jon Keller
Dan Kennedy

There's also a space for write-in votes. Be sure to vote for the Blog on Blogs!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Are Blogs Political?

Yes, I know that blogs can be used for political purposes.  Some blogs even proclaim an allegiance to a particular political party.  (See, listing of political blogs).  But the questions I wish to pose are slightly different.  That is, 1) is there something about the nature of blogging that is inherently political?  And 2) If so, are they inherently Democratic?  Republican?  Etc....?

My first inclination is that the answer to this question is, "No."  I have always thought that the blog is exactly the type of communication that is free from the political, and commercial, pressures of mainstream media.  It is an outlet that allows anyone to create, read, and participate in, a conversation regardless of political affiliation.  My second inclination is, that if the answer to the first question is "yes," then the answer to the second question would be that they are inherently liberal (loosely, "Democratic").  

A Harris poll may indicate that both of my inclinations are incorrect.  It suggests that the respective answers may be, "yes," and, "Republican." 

The poll states that 25% of Democrats state that they are likely to find value in the information that they read in blogs, compared with 41% of Republicans.  Furthermore, only 21% of Democrats state that the information in blogs is likely to be accurate, compared to 37% of Republicans.

Figures such as these, I admit, do not necessarily prove the answers are, "yes" and, "Republican."  They do, however, give us a starting point from which we can begin to debate, ponder, probe, argue, and discuss.  Would statistics such as these hold true with regard to traditional media?  Are republicans generally more trusting of media or is there a (web) difference between blogging and traditional forms of media?

Monday, March 10, 2008

"Terrorists Evolve. Threats Evolve. Security Must Stay Ahead. You Play A Part."

I decided to type "Blog" into a Google News search to see what came up and the first thing that did was an article from the Mercury News on how the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is now accepting complaints via their blog. (See for the original article).

The blog, entitled Evolution of Security, lets the TSA share information on security and safety with the general public and lets the public respond to the articles or with any complaints they might have. What I found the most interesting was the Delete-O-Meter located prominently on the right hand side which tracked the number of user comments that had been deleted (125 when I was on the blog). In the explanation of this feature, the TSA notes that it wants to be transparent - and then goes on to explain what will get a comment deleted.

We talked in class about how transparency leads to greater acceptance on the Web. It seems that the TSA has embraced this philosophy (I can imagine a poster, being angry at finding his comment deleted for no stated reason, spamming the TSA wall and railing against them in other forums....). I posted a while back that the link to the YouTube video below my post seemed to be broken. A classmate of mine pointed out that the video is once again accessible. I thought about changing my post to reflect this.... I may go back and strike through it, but other than that, I don't feel a need to edit it out. All of this goes back to the issue of transparency on the Web. Because it is so easy to change things, people may feel a blog that is constantly edited loses some of the informality that makes a blog great.

It seems to me that the TSA has recognized the need to keep their blog informal if it wants it to be relevant. However, it also recognized the need for moderation of the content. The solution - a Delete-O-Meter!

Blogs Serve as News Source

While Armenia has refused to publish news from media outlets which do not emanate from the government, they have failed to block blogs. So many individuals both inside and outside of Armenia are using blogs to report the news and provide links to different articles and other perspectives on world events. Blogs really do provide an opportunity for more open information, particularly in countries where there is limited freedom of press.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Cartoon About Blogs

This was published in the New Yorker - I thought it was very appropriate....

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Blogs Help Depression

To me, it has always seemed intuitive that writing a blog can be therapeutic, and a diary of sorts. I guess now that science is starting to officially recognize the benefits of blogging, parents and teachers may begin to encourage these benefits, instead of insisting that blogging is a waste of time.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ethics on Blogs

With the MPRE looming, I can't help but pause a minute to think about the ethical implications of blogging. The question unavoidably overlaps with questions of identity and speech on the Web, but at its heart, it's a question of human interaction. There's a saying: if you don't have anything nice to say, say it on a blog. Ok, so maybe I just made that up, but it seems apropos. Blogs can serve as legitimate and beneficial forums for critical commentary - imagine what Sinclair Lewis could have done with a blog - but they can undoubtedly go too far as well. Take the story of advertising executive Paul Tilley, for example. Tilley committed suicide just days after coming under fire on an anonymous industry blog. The harshest criticism was apparently in the comments, which adds an extra layer of complexity. Even if we were to restrict the content on blogs, would we then also restrict the comments? It's a pretty dangerous path to go down. Friends and family claim Tilley's suicide and the blog coverage are unrelated, but many disagree. One commentator in the Times offered this chilling indictment: "Are there ethics in blogs? Should people have the right to publicly and anonymously criticize and attack the private lives of private people simply for entertainment?" It seems safe to say that the tone of the question assumes a certain answer. Nonetheless, it's important for those of us who believe blogs are beneficial to social welfare to remember that they can have harmful consequences.