Sunday, May 29, 2005

Is the Blogosphere Turning Wimpy?

BlogPulse Trend Tracking of "harsh comments" Posted by Hello

[EDITED VERSION: I have modified this a bit to clarify some points. I find it difficult to properly convey these concepts and feelings, since they're based on a lot of experiences and observations that others, especially new bloggers, may not relate to. I've changed phrases like "this sickens me" to "this troubles me", for example.]

I've got a hunch that the blogosphere is getting soft, weak, passive, and timid.

I think bloggers are less willing to speak their minds bluntly. Less likely to be aggressively opinionated.

It often seems to me that the blogosphere is being dumbed down. It's less combative. Less argumentative. Contains fewer heated debates. Fewer opposing viewpoints to the consensus opinions on various issues.

This troubles me.

Blogs were originally pioneered by outspoken, brazen, hard-edged individuals who were also geeks, techies, what some referred to as "computer nurds". Guys who sported pocket protectors. (I used to use a plastic pocket protector myself, with a slide rule and 6 pens sticking out of it. My dad did, too. He was a laser expert engineer at Caterpillar.) I mean this with all respect and fondness.

The Early Bloggers were often outcasts to some degree.

They understood HTML. They could build their own web sites, home pages, and blogs. They communicated with each other. They had their own little world that was sort of esoteric and mysterious, with special words and practices.

"Normal" people made fun of the computer science students.

"Cool" and "hip" people shunned the internet, programming, and "geeks". Grunge and rap music was acceptable. Electronic music and data compilers were considered to be mainly for the fringe element.

Some of these tech devotees and Early Bloggers were persecuted and mocked.

So they had to become tough minded, stubborn, devoted, ready to defend themselves against antagonists.

It's not quite the same anymore.

BlogPulse Trend Tool graph on "flaming" Posted by Hello

Now conformists, conservative business people, and status quo-compliant individuals are getting into blogs.

Blogs are quickly becoming mainstream. This is not bad, but it does alter the overall tone and content of blogging in general.

Seth Godin got me going in this direction when he posted about how the general usefulness of the blogosphere declines as poorly written, irrelevant blogs accumulate within it. (I hope I'm doing justice in my paraphrase of his statement.)

And as the so-called "normal" people start reading and creating blogs, the blogosphere is starting to evolve into a more sedate, safe, easy-going realm.

Diplomacy, niceness, and politeness are beginning to replace strident expression of contrarian viewpoints.

I visit lots of business and marketing blogs and post comments at them. If someone says something that I disagree with, and I think a particular idea is detrimental or absurd, I sometimes challenge it.

I'm no perpetual lurker, slinking around silently in the blogospheric shadows. I post comments and email blog authors.

I may even point out contradictions, faulty logic, misrepresentations, or what I believe to be untruths.

Now the trend seems to be toward praising everybody, patting everybody on the back, kissing up to anyone who operates a blog or a business.

Some individuals within the new wave of bloggers seem to dread confrontation and conflict. I get the impression that they don't want to "offend" or "upset" or "criticize" anybody.

If I question why people are ecstatic about a certain book, or blog, or marketing strategy, it occasionally turns into a situation where I'm considered a trouble maker or an excessively critical person.

But I feel like I'm watching lemmings merrily follow each other into the ocean to drown in error or misplaced trust.

Luckily, I appreciate deconstructive, blunt criticism, as long as it's not vulgar or someone putting words in my mouth that I didn't say or imply.

Misinterpretation, jumping to conclusions, and inexact reading with distorted paraphrasing is very common.

Yet some of my greatest improvements in my blogs and my blogging practices are the result of someone being arrogantly abusive or unfairly judgmental toward me.

So...have you experienced a reluctance on the part of bloggers to closely examine certain aspects of a nearly universal meme...

...a viral concept that's spreading with little obstruction via blogs?

Have you ever encountered a blogger defending another blogger's ideas by saying "Mr. X is a friend of mine. I resent the fact that you are criticizing his ideas."

Have you ever detected a fundamental desire to pretend the blogosphere is a happy, peaceful utopia...where everyone loves and agrees with everyone else?

Am I correct in my assessment?

The graphs on "harsh comments" and "flaming", created with the Trend Tool over at Blog Pulse, seem to lend some support to my theory.

What do YOU think?

Express your honest reaction to what I'm trying awkwardly to describe here.

If you only visit and link to bloggers who are friends and allies, you may be sheltered from rebellion, iconoclasm, and controversies...

...thus, you may not really comprehend what it is I'm talking about.

But if you've "been around the block a few times", I'm fairly certain you can at least sympathize with some of my concerns, while maybe not agreeing with me completely.

My good friend Paul Woodhouse once stated that the reason some business bloggers want to make the blogosphere seem calm, united, and blissful is:

...they want to lure businesses and CEOs into starting blogs, so they can then charge these new bloggers fees for consulting work.

Believe it or not, I'm by no means the most cynical or skeptical business blogger in existence.



[signed] Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate


Andy said...

I don't think you can measure this kind of state on whether people are using certain words. Maybe 'flaming' as a word has gone out of fashion? And if I criticise someone, I don't use the words "harsh comment". Or is that a paraphrase for your search?

There's a place for praise and criticism here, as everywhere else. Being argumentative for the sake of it is not necessarily a good thing. Maybe people are just publishing agreement with things they actually agree with, and not even bothering with the stuff they don't - it's a valid strategy. It doesn't mean they're blindly praising everyone without good reason.

steven edward streight said...

Very good points Andy. These graphs may mean nothing at all. I don't mean to offer them as "proof" or anything. It was just kind of startling to see what was produced by tracking "harsh comments" and "flaming".

I thought that if harsh comments were being made, bloggers might mention it with this phrase.

And if flaming was rampant, perhaps bloggers would mention that also.

I'm more concerned with my theory based, not on BlogPulse graphs, but on my limited observations and my intuitive sense that something's not right, something seems to be changing for the worse.

A famous marketer recently told a blog commenter to not call names and to basically not criticize some other marketer's book.

This is what really freaked me out.

The marketer is someone I like and respect. I was so disappointed to read his admonition, which was dismissed with "I'll bloody say anything I bloody want to say" or similar wording.

I see so much cliquey butt kissing and so much reluctance to question other bloggers.

Not that we should fight and hate and argue all the time.

Natalie Glance said...

Try putting "harsh comments" inside double quotes when creating the trend graph. You will get a very different result. I was able to recreate the graph you posted by searching for "harsh comments" without the double quotes, which is equivalent to the query: harsh AND comments. By the way, the trend graphs are now clickable (click on a point to drill down on results for that day), which makes it easier to verify one's hypothesis about the shape of a trend or the cause of a peak.

steven edward streight said...

Thank you Natalie. I see that your URL is BlogPulse, so I'm quite honored that you took the time to visit my site.

Are you the Natalie that posts comments at Gaping Void and The Red Couch? If so, I find myself agreeing with you most of the time.

Paul Woodhouse said...

There isn't an election effect built into these results by any chance?

I possibly see more of a polarisation going on. More and more people seem to be drawn to blogs reflecting their own point of view. Does this mean the blogosphere is working? I dunno.

Personally, I just think there's either too much crap to wade through or people don't actually care.

Blogs don't half grind you down.

steven edward streight said...

Paul: I had not thought of the USA election frenzy having an impact here. Very interesting observation.

And I want to clarify: I trend tracked the phrase "harsh comments" and "flaming", not the actual occurence of what might be defined as a harsh comment or a flame.

Am I all alone in this desire for the blogosphere to be more cranky, exciting, debative, intellectually stimulating, ornery, thorny, prickly, combative with reasonable cause?

I've plodded along, say with the ugly Vaspers the Grate original design (no offense to the template designer, I modified his design and added stuff to it)...

...but none of my allies or friends or colleagues, or even people with whom I work...

...not one of them told me: "Hey Steve/Vaspers/Leper Guru, your VTG design looks hideous and stupid. Work on it dude. Set a good example for newbies. Get it together. Ugh."


Why are people so darned reluctant to offer constructive critique?

I HATE this smiley, utopian stench.

I say this all the time: I learn MORE from FLAMERS (excuse my "all caps shouting")...

...than from friends.

Thank God for crabby, hostile, mean-spirited comments.

Or should I say, altruistic misanthropes?

That's rich. That's a good oxymoronic term.

Altruistic Misanthropes who go around hating what really needs to be hated.