A Quick Survey of the Blog Manifestos
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
This is part of an ongoing series on blog methodology.
First, a little more on what I'm up to. I've had a really amazing past four of five months, during which my blogging has undergone some transformations, and I'm preparing to try to bring together what I think I've learned. But first I'm casting around for what other people have articulated along these lines.
On Day One, I searched around for what people had to say about blog methodology. (Wrong question.) On Day Two, I looked at what people said a blog is for. (What en extraordinarily fine navel I have here! Um. Another wrong question.)
In the comments of the second post, though, a reader gave me a list of links to blog manifestos. (And, yes, I should have thought to google blog manifestos myself.) I'm going to go through the list he provided in the order of appearance, and may tack on a few more at the end.
First on his list was Andrew Sullivan's 2002 piece, Why online weblogs are one future for journalism. I had read it before, quite a while back. I don't really think of what I do in this space as journalism, though it is some related creature, and I have received occasional mentoring from real journalists when they thought I was onto something really good. I had filtered out the whole blogging-is-the-future-of-journalism trajectory. But the reader comment caused me to revisit the Sullivan essay, where I do indeed find a highly relevant passage:
I remember trying to fathom some of the complexities of the Florida election nightmare when I got an email from a Florida politics professor explaining every detail imaginable. If I'd been simply reporting the story in the traditional way, I'd have never found this font of information. As it was, I found myself scooping major news outlets on arcane electoral details about chads and voting machines. Peer-to-peer journalism, I realized, had a huge advantage over old-style journalism. It could marshal the knowledge and resources of thousands, rather than the certitudes of the few.
My personal shorthand for this phenomenon is build it and they will come. If I find some really good questions to ask, high class help tends to show up to help find the answers. This is a key piece of my personal blog methodology.
Scoble's Corporate Weblog Manifesto (2003): Heaps of good advice that generalizes nicely from the corporate blog to many other kinds of blogging; but also not exactly what I'm after. (But read it anyway.)
A Norwegian blog manifesto (2004): This seems to have been written as a launching point for a group effort, trying to generalize from what could be learned from American blogs to the Norweigian context. It is interesting for the articulated vision:
What is our goal? A broad, open public sphere that includes amateur online media. A place where all issues are discussed freely, where all views are represented, where for every large media there are ten smaller ones scrutinizing it and keeping it in check. A place where the border between professional punditry and amateur punditry, professional reporting and amateur reporting, is blurred, where it matters more whether you are right than whether you're being paid and have a diploma on your wall.
. . .
This is not a media revolution. There will be no eternal land of milk and honey on the other side, just a more open media community. It will be way short of perfection, but better able to investigate and discuss political issues. These are realistic and moderate goals.
This generated a discussion of whether the involvement of amateurs improves the media.
The Libertarian Blog Manifesto by Russ Stein (2002), for the most part, isn't a manifesto. It is more an expression of enthusiasm for the medium of the blog. But it does have a passage worth quoting:
And blogs are where the power is. Seriously! The future belongs to those who prevail in the political debates on the web. Right now the political ideas that will govern the future are being sharpened & polished on the world's computer networks. And the right basically owns the web. Where in the world wide web is the left? Where are the people who staff the government agencies, the diversity and affirmative action theorists, the Marxists, teachers, socialists, commies, mural painters, greens, tax grabbers, democracy and human rights activists, and the defenders of the ruling establishment? They are no-where! They are fat, happy, stupid, complacent, computer illiterates with nothing but clichés and conventional wisdom to add to the debate, if they could even log on. They do nothing as we busily mock and de-legitimize them on the web.
This passage is an interesting mixed bag: an idealistic statement about the web as a venue for ideas combined with the rhetoric of a mean-spirited intellectual land-grab. The political landscape of the web has changed a bit since then.
Chris Pirillo's 2002 The Blogger's Manifesto is not so much a manifesto as a set of instructions to readers on how he wants them to regard his blogging; it is a literary descendant of the FAQ.
The Blogging Manifesto (2003) from the Aardvark Speaks mostly avoids the real issue of the purpose of blogging and the political implications of the act.
The Poor Man provides his own summary of his sort-of-manifesto, Blog Dogme 2003:
I am laying out the following blogging manifesto/art statement, a list of "do nots" - a Blogma, if you will - which will hopefully improve the quality, enjoyability, and purity of the reading and writing experience.
I'm going to skip the Audioblogging Manifesto, though you might want to listen to it.
And finally, there is Rebecca Blood's 2002 essay Weblog Ethics. Its key passage is:
Let me propose a radical notion: The weblog's greatest strength — its uncensored, unmediated, uncontrolled voice — is also its greatest weakness. News outlets may be ultimately beholden to advertising interests, and reporters may have a strong incentive for remaining on good terms with their sources in order to remain in the loop; but because they are businesses with salaries to pay, advertisers to please, and audiences to attract and hold, professional news organizations have a vested interest in upholding certain standards so that readers keep subscribing and advertisers keep buying. Weblogs, with only minor costs and little hope of significant financial gain, have no such incentives.
It is a widely influential essay. I agree with most of what she has to say but completely disagree with her fourth point: "Write each entry as if it could not be changed; add to, but do not rewrite or delete, any entry." The commercial publishing industry has a whole infrastructure devoted to making this possible with print publishing. To pretend that a person with a blog can perform up to this standard without recourse to rewriting, correction, and deletion if foolish, seems to me. But, other than that, a good piece. But it is more a guide to what she feels are best practices, rather then an examination of what this is all for.
I'm sure there have been more manifestos since, but the general impression I'm getting is that while exploring manifestos comes a bit closer to what I'm seeking regarding an explication of blogging methodology, the form of the manifesto also falls short and does not give me what I am looking for.
What shall I try tomorrow?