Alright, I’ll admit up front, this article is deliberately going to take the opposite tack to the vast majority of bloggers who are, predictably, jumping to the defense of the blogosphere after Forbes Magazine published a feature by Daniel Lyons entitled Attack of the Blogs.
Lyons doesn’t hold any punches in his piece, with the opening passage setting the tone: “Web logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective. Their potent allies in this pursuit include Google and Yahoo.”
It’s no surprise that bloggers are reacting with passion. A quick Technorati search shows that there are already almost 800 blog articles about the story, including The Daily Pundit, Chris Locke, Steven Streight, Boing Boing, Nathan Weinberg, Instapundit, Neville Hobson, Shel Israel, Steve Rubel, and on and on and on…
But getting past the aggressive tone of the article, there’s a lot to think about in what Lyons has written, and a lot that’s neatly demonstrated by the reaction of the blogosphere to his piece.
Let’s try to do just that…
Before I do, I can’t resist highlighting some of the feedback I’ve seen on different blogs about Lyons’ piece in Forbes, in no particular order:
“As far as the silliness of calling us a lynch mob, Daniel. My free advice to you is to be very grateful on a personal level that your charge is without merit.”
“Read the whole article at Forbes. Laugh and howl at their idiotic whining and fear. Bloggers: they will respect us, or feel our WRATH.”
“Pssst… F*CK FORBES: pass it on”
“Daniel Lyons’s hysterical, badly researched, badly argued Forbes article in which he compared bloggers to a lynch mob.”
“Forbes: be afraid of blogging, be very afraid”
“The Forbes article sounds more like the words of a rich man crying in the corner about someone who took away his coke stash and his favourite hooker.”
“We are being played. What�s a better way to remind the online world you exist? Attack.”
“Forbes journalist predicts own lynching”
Enough of that. You can poke around for yourself and find this sort of reaction far and wide in the blogosphere. But finding anyone who tried to understand the foundation of the “Attack of the Blogs” and talk about the implications is quite a bit more difficult.
So let’s throw out the tiny sample size of Lyons research (I mean, really, the entire article is built upon two or three case studies, ostensibly representing a blogosphere of millions of bloggers) and instead try to pull out a few key points.
Before I do, though, let me quote one sentence from “Attack of the Blogs” that seems to have missed the notice of almost every blog commentator: “Attack blogs are but a sliver of the rapidly expanding blogosphere.”
Now, let’s look at some of Daniel’s points.
1. You Don’t Know Who Is Blogging and Why
This is a point that even bloggers admit is true when we talk about “fake blogs” or “character blogs” and criticize typically miserable attempts by corporations to plug into the blogosphere with the “Lincoln Fry Blog” (from McDonalds, since shut down) and Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit Gum Blog (a Flash-based site that has nothing to do with blogging other than the word appears on the site).
Sure, these are poorly executed and obviously fake, but there’s a somewhat naive assumption in the blogosphere that everyone is genuine, everything is built around “credibility” and that if anyone were to dare even fake their motivation for writing a weblog entry (get paid to blog), well, that’d be terrible.
Consider the fate of Marqui, who dared to offer cash to bloggers who would write about their clients. The bloggers could opt whether to admit they were sponsored or not, but Marqui was roundly vilified nonetheless.
I mean, for all you know, dear reader, Daniel Lyons is my pseudonym or my best pal from our business school days. He’s not, but do you trust me 100% given that you don’t know me?
2. Misinformation and Lies are Quickly Disseminated
You need merely to look at the breathless analysis of as-yet-unreleased services and products in the blogosphere to see just how much whispers and innuendo can affect business. Google’s right in the cross-hairs with that one, and people were busy disassembling their still unreleased Google Base product without any more information than a single screenshot that might have been faked.
Or ask Apple Computer, where they have had to change their method of disseminating information to the media due to incessant leaks and misinformation about new products. The Motorola ROKR phone suffered from this prejudged-by-bloggers fate, as did the Video iPod, which has had to “prove itself” in a way that previous products have never had to worry about.
3. Bloggers are not Subject to Libel Laws
While I really want to say that this is patently false, it is surprisingly difficult to find any legal cases that have been successfully prosecuted where the defendant was a blogger or was publishing their libelous material on a weblog. There are cases like Aaron Wall versus Traffic Power (see my writeup on the case for background), but the case isn’t about what Aaron wrote as much as what other people wrote as comments on his site.
The combination of being able to go back and edit weblog entries, the relative anonymity of most weblogs, and the lack of precedent suggests that Lyons does have a good point here, one that we should be thinking about quite seriously. It has profound implications for the legitimacy of blogging that every blogger seeks.
4. Bloggers are not Journalists
I’ve wrestled with this point myself, having been on panels about blogging sponsored by the Society for Professional Journalists and similar. It’s fashionable to be skeptical of journalists, especially after con men like Jayson Blair sully the reputation of even the most revered bastion of professional journalism, but it is nonetheless true that the vast majority of journalists check their facts and ensure they have at least two sources to corroborate information.
Bloggers, on the other hand, are happy to cite other bloggers as the source of information, a tortuous chain that often ends at a single person opining something controversial and interesting about a company or product. Bloggers also don’t respect moratoriums on publishing information from companies, arrogantly believing that the blogosphere is more important than any sort of announcement schedule by the organization. As a result, few companies pre-release information to even the most serious and professional of bloggers.
To be fair, there are bloggers who take the responsibilities of their bully pulpit more seriously and try to avoid gossip and innuendo in favor of facts and direct sources, but they really are in the minority.
And so, enough…
There are more points that I think can be culled from Daniel Lyons’ “Attack of the Blogs” article in Forbes, but let’s stop here as I think I’ve made my point.
Like any other medium, blogs are just tools that will be used thoughtfully and artfully for communication by some and viciously and vindictively to propagate lies and misinformation by others.
The important thing is to step back from the overt bias in the Forbes article and read through it a second time, asking yourself whether anything said is really false, or simply just a bit breathless and one-sided.
There are so, so many positive articles and books being published about blogging, some of which are just as one-sided in the other direction, entreating even the most illiterate of business owners to quickly jump into the blogging world lest their competitors get there first, that blogging itself “reinvents business” and so on, that perhaps articles like “Attack of the Blogs” are needed just to achieve some sort of balance.
And, if I may say so, one thing that separates someone who is a good commentator from a bully is the ability to differentiate between what someone says and who they are. Innuendo about “you’re lucky we’re not a literal lynch mob” just reinforces the very point Daniel is making in his piece, that bloggers can quickly and aggressively attack. They certainly don’t do much to bolster our credibility as legitimate media.
Finally, please don’t misunderstand this article either as being from an anti-blogger. I counsel companies to get involved with the blogosphere every day, and believe that the positive far outweighs the negative and that companies certainly need to be aware of the negative anyway. I’m not an apologist for Daniel Lyons and his piece in Forbes. I just think that we’d do well to look past the aggressive metaphors and really ask ourselves what the blogosphere looks like to the average corporate executive or business person, then consider it with all its scars and blemishes.
But that’s just me. What do you think?