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i-Technology Viewpoint: Attack of the Blogs

Jeremy Geelan Takes A Brief Sideways Look at Daniel Lyons' Much-Discussed Forbes Article About "Attack Blogs"

Attack of the Blogs: But “Blogs Don't Kill People, Idiots Do”

What’s the key issue underlying Daniel Lyons’s controversial “Attack of the Blogs” article in this month’s Forbes? In my view his piece, with its knowingly provocative title, has provoked much heat…but so far very little light.

So let’s try and redress that, however slightly! ;-)

Blogging is a hot topic in the professional news-gathering community right now and one of the simplest ways to understand all the fuss (on both sides) is to think for a moment of why Microsoft feels so threatened by Linux. The professional journalist community, if you accept this analogy, is like Microsoft, and the blogging community is like Linux, it holds out the promise of providing a product for free that is at least equal to and very possibly superior to the commercial version.

If you hold with this interpretation, then it becomes at once easier to understand why a professional writer (Dan Lyons) writing for a commercial publication (Forbes magazine) might have a vested interest in publishing an article turning the spotlight on what he terms “attack blogs” – that’s to say, blogs used by for example rival companies “as a weapon, unleashing swarms of critics on their rivals.”

But Lyons himself writes in Forbes that attack blogs “are but a sliver of the rapidly expanding blogosphere,” so let’s concentrate instead on the fact that 100,000 new blogs are said to be created every day – that’s more than one new blog per second. (These stats are derived from the San Francisco firm Technorati, which tracks the content of 20 million active blogs.) Does the blogosphere, viewed from this perspective, amount to a threat to paid-for journalism?

Personally, I think that’s the wrong question. To my mind, it’s a little like asking, does the availability of free drinking water threaten the existence of Perrier? The answer is no; they are two separate things. People will always want journalism as well as blogalism, for the simple reason that, while from a paid-for news product one has the right to demand standards of accuracy, decency and compliance with ethical standards; from a blog one can demand none of the above.

Which is not to claim that the vast majority of blogs aren’t both accurate and ethical; they are. Nor that there is no such thing as rogue journalism; there is. But blogalism isn’t predicated in any way on professional accreditation, so there really is no form of sanction for breaches of any sort, whether of accuracy, decency, or even privacy. The rule is simply, “If you don’t like what you’re reading here, just stop opening this site in your browser or receiving this RSS feed.” First Amendment rights are a wondrous thing; but they are no great guarantee of unblemished reporting.

As the world continues to spin ever-faster, with issues like globalization, outsourcing, and disintermediation all intertwining in a sometimes almost bewildering variety of ways, and with consequences both foreseen and unforeseen, I would go so far as to say not only that journalism will continue to be both valued and purchased by readers worldwide, but that the thirst for “mediated” reporting will increase as a function of the expansion of the blogosphere. When you can find ten thousand views on anything, it becomes more important and valuable, not less, to consult the view of a single trusted source. Or, more likely, a small group of different trusted sources, just to be on the safe side.

So it is not, in my opinion, a fear of pending redundancy that motivated Daniel Lyons and/or his publisher Steve Forbes to highlight the pernicious nature of “attack blogging,” so much as an inevitable curiosity about a phenomenon that technology has inadvertently enabled.

Call it the Law of Unintended Consequences in operation. Just as the inventor of the automobile doubtless had no intention of facilitating the one-night stand, neither did Dave Winer set out to foment Reckless, Stupid Syndication. It isn’t blogs that “attack,” it’s people. Or rather a sub-section of people: idiots.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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