On the Special Nature of “Blogging”

I just came across the article Bribing Bloggers on Joel Spolsky's blog. Joel heads his own software company and has been blogging since 2000, and although I'd never heard of him, he's apparently an extremely popular blogger (having 4,500 times more subscribers on Bloglines than I!).

In the article, he writes about how Microsoft is offering bloggers free laptops and other gifts in the hopes of garnering positive exposure. (Unfortunately, Microsoft must have lost my email address, because I have a blog but was not offered a free laptop.) Joel discusses whether it's ethical to accept such gifts, even if disclosed, and in the end decides that it's probably not. He goes on to say...

These gifts reduce the public trust in blogs... This is the most frustrating thing about the practice of giving bloggers free stuff: it pisses in the well, reducing the credibility of all blogs. I'm upset that people trust me less because of the behavior of other bloggers.

His logic about “bloggers” and “public trust in blogs” seems outlandishly silly to me. A blog doesn't have credibility, a person does. A blog is merely a medium, and has nothing to do with one's credibility.

I don't understand this whole notion that “blogging” somehow transcends other forms of publication, such that the form is more important than the content. You see the same type of thing every time someone “gets fired for blogging,” such as the engineer fired for speculating about his companies financials on his blog, or the flight attendant fired for posting suggestive pictures of herself in her uniform.

The thing is, no one has ever been fired for “blogging” — they're fired for doing something their employer considered wrong (such as for revealing confidential information, or not meeting your company's standards of appropriate behavior). That this “something wrong” was done on a blog is simply not relevant, and they would certainly have met the same fate had they presented what they did in a different but equally visible way.

I've written books, but you don't hear me complaining that the farfetched plot lines in trashy romance novels “reduce the credibility of all books.” That would be a silly thing to claim. Considering newspapers, The Wall Street Journal enjoys a high level of credibility despite the existence of trash like The National Enquirer.

Perhaps Joel laments the low barrier to entry in choosing blogging as a form of communication. A low barrier to entry means that most anyone can have a blog, and as such, many will simply be rubbish, so how can a skilled and interesting writer with integrity possibly be recognized amid the overwhelming chaff of writers lacking one or more of those qualities?

Well, I'll answer that: by being a skilled and interesting writer with integrity.

(As for myself, hey, I've got “writer” covered, so one out of four isn't too bad, is it? 🙂 )

Joel has a level of credibility in his readers' eyes that is independent of the medium, and also independent of other blogs, books, TV shows, plays, radio programs, CDs, Movies, and other forms of communication. He is what he is.

I've only just become acquainted with Joel's writing, and so am in the process of forming my own opinion. He gets points for declining gifts clearly meant to curry positive exposure, but in my own eyes, he'd get the same points merely for disclosing it.

On the other hand, he loses points for the way he hawks his own books, with a page entitled “Buy the books!I think that kind of in-your-face approach is just not classy, and so he loses points in my eyes.

All 2 comments so far, oldest first...

Great post, good points throughout.

Congrats for discovering Joel, he’s a great blogger with many well-written ideas. I think you’ll find that the “blatant” promotion of his books is simply part of what he does. He regularly boosts his own company, and why not? He’s perfectly open about it.

— comment by Gustaf Erikson on January 20th, 2007 at 10:10pm JST (10 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink

Just to be clear, Gustaf, I think it’s totally expected that he promotes his books (heck, I have a whole web site on my own), but the way he does it… it just feels yucky to me. In my case, I’m happy to let satisfied readers say “buy this book!”, but I would never say that myself. When asked about it directly, I say “check it out in the library or from a friend” and let my writing sell the book.

I should also be clear that overall, this is a minor nit. His writing does certainly seem excellent.

— comment by Jeffrey Friedl on January 20th, 2007 at 10:57pm JST (10 years, 11 months ago) comment permalink
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