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Bloggers are not journalists, and blogs are not newspapers

I've been meaning to blog about this but many things are happening...

Anyway, as readers of joshuaongys or *fourfeetnine* may have noticed, I appeared in an article by NST ten days ago.
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Being interviewed was new to me - I've been asked my opinion on blogs a few times (e.g. by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the NST (last year sometime) and malaysiakini.tv - but nothing ever seemed to come out of it. This time, the journalist turned up with a photographer and the interview lasted almost an hour - with the photographer hovering around and snapping away constantly. It was an interesting chat, but it made me realise one thing for future reference - the journalist knows less about the subject than me, and therefore may not always be able to ask the right questions. No disrespect to the journalist here, who did a good job condensing my ramblings into coherent and concise points: it's a journalist's job to get information obviously, and if they knew everything they wouldn't have to interview people. But it made me understand more how politicians and people in the public eye must approach journalists - wanting to make sure that their own message is heard, whatever the journalist actually asks.

Another thought is how, as a blogger, I have already got quite used to putting stuff out there for all to see - which was initially a little worrying sometimes. With the interview it was different, however, because I had no control over what was written - the journalist was kind enough to do 'quote check' and show me the draft article for feedback, but in the end she could write whatever she wanted. With a blog I can think about it beforehand, and even if I want take it down afterwards (though that's not usually a good thing for bloggers to do).

Anyway, you can read the article and tell me what you think (click to enlarge).

In terms of research ethics, I also found myself thinking about how much I can say - I have done a few interviews with bloggers already, and learnt some things during them. But part of the conditions of the interview are that I only use that information for academic purposes, and also that I keep the information anonymised. So, for example in relation to how much people are paid for advertorials, I actually have more specific information but I thought that I had better not use it.

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Another thing that was weird was being asked for my 'Personal Top 10' of various types of blogs. Suddenly I felt some pressure about who I should mention - what if someone felt snubbed that I didn't mention them!? There are really so many blogs out there that are interesting in their own way and I wasn't sure how to choose. Anyway, I decided that the easiest is just to be honest and mention the ones I'm most likely to read, and that are the most likely to appeal to the general reader out there. But in a way I suddenly found myself in a position of potential influence - maybe I would affect the readership of those blogs that I mentioned.

But in fact - not at all. It's been noted before (e.g. by ShaolinTiger) that appearing in the newspaper has little to no effect on incoming blog traffic; the same happened to me. See on the 18th (when the article came out) there is no change, but I got a huge boost of about 1800 hits on the 21st from Audrey whom I had mentioned in my Top 10 (check her out – refreshing attitude and daily whatevers are her thing). This really suggests one thing - people who read newspapers don't read blogs much, and vice-versa.


So, it's interesting to see how there are so many similarities between blogs and newspapers - they use words and images, they appear regularly and articles are written by individuals - but there are key differences. The blog is under the control of one person (with whom the readers can have some sort of direct relationship), but a newspaper is a large organisation; and although in theory they may share similar interests and concerns, their audiences are from different groups.

eLawyer Conference - Be informed!

Last Saturday I attended the ”eLawyer Law Conference 2009 - Blogging & Law”. It was interesting, I got to meet up with some bloggers and also (of course) tell people about the survey – myBlogS 2009 (there are 151 responses so far – have you had your say?).


When I arrived I first spotted Suanie, then also Foong Cheng Leong and Nizam Bashir. I always have difficulties remembering Cheng Leong’s name, because I really knew him first (before I met him) as ‘xes’ - which is his blog that has been around a long time. I had met them before at the Bar Council Blogging and Defamation Forum, so I was familiar with quite a lot of what they said, but it struck me again that spreading this information around is really important for bloggers. I find that there are still too many bloggers who seem to think that just because you’re online, suddenly there are no laws and you can start to act (figuratively) like Marv from Sin City.

I also met kruel74 for the first time, and DiEsE - I forgot to take photos with them though (tsk tsk – lose two points for not being a proper blogger :-P). kuE and CurryEgg were also there, and have done a pretty good job summarising what was said in the two talks; I have also talked about some of the issues before (link above), but here are the ones which stuck in my mind:

First of all, Eddie Law opened the conference and explained what eLayer.com is all about; mostly it’s for lawyers and law students (job announcements, online resources, etc.), but there are also some useful services for ordinary Joes and Janes like you and me.


Legal Q&A: you can submit legal questions and get a professional opinion.
Find a lawyer: you can search for a lawyer near you, and with a particular specialism
S & P Legal Fee Calculator: this will calculate legal fees for Stamp Duty and Sales & Purchase agreements.

Then we had the main talks.

Continue reading "eLawyer Conference - Be informed!"

Profit Blogging Bootcamp - Meeting for money?

Well, I signed up for a "Profit Blogging Bootcamp" workshop with Asia Online Mastery. It is free and I kept on seeing the ads in the newspaper, so I finally gave in to temptation :-)

Their headline on the ad is:
"Discover How I Made USD 36,322.57 On The Internet in ONE MONTH And How YOU Can Do It Too"

Well, I suppose he did do that at least once, but I'm sure it wasn't in his first month, anyway :-)

I was speaking to someone the other day who had started a blog because she had been reading another blog that was successfully making some money. Like many others, more than a year down the line she had yet to reach her USD100 Adsense payoff point. It reminded me that it's not unusual for people to start blogs to make money - I have no statistics, but I have been told that more than once, and seen it online.

However, the most popular blogs in Malaysia were not started to make money, maybe just because when they did start, that was not an option. I wonder how it will be in five years, when people starting blogging now have the examples of leading bloggers who get four-figure sums for blogging, invited to events, freebies, etc. It's definitely true that people are more likely to follow what others do (though of course they adapt, and some people are truly innovative): so when five years ago blogging was mostly defined by people talking about their life, often anonymously - or at least without having met each other - now, blogging is seen by many as a means to become something of a celebrity, and meeting up with other bloggers is more commonplace and, in many instances, facilitated by other interested parties.

Here's an interesting quote from a paper by Reed - it is a quote from a blogger who describes the first time they meet up:
"At ?rst we sat there on this table looking at each other in stupe?ed silence, slightly nervously, and then someone just went ‘you know what you wrote the other day about Princess Diana, that’s so completely true’, and then suddenly the conversation exploded. I think the weirdest thing about meeting people face to face is how normal it feels very swiftly."

Anyway, back to the workshop this evening. It is free, but I wonder what they get out of it? I suppose they will try to sell some extra training package, or something. Anyway, I'm sure it will be interesting, and I'll meet more bloggers :-)

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Reed, A., 2005. ‘My Blog Is Me’: Texts and Persons in UK Online Journal Culture (and Anthropology). Ethnos, 70(2), 220-242.

Language and logic

Another day is coming to a close, and I have been wrestling with an annoying problem with my blog for the last hour or so (it is somehow still linking to a pdf that I deleted). I also realise that I haven't posted since Sunday. The problem I had reminded me of something I wrote back in 2001 when setting up a website for my Masters - so, in 'filler post' manner, I am pasting here :-) I never used it in my Masters dissertation, but it always stuck in my head, so why not post it here now?

It's a bit unpolished, and I edited it slightly. But here it is:

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Western civilisation is closely linked with the totalising approach that is represented by the scientific discipline. The modern computers are based on transistors that are now so small that thousands of them are contained on one silicon chip. Transistors operate on a binary system whereby the transistor can be either in an 'On' or 'Off' position; computing logic is based on a series of questions relating to statements to which the answer can be either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. These are run at an unimaginable speed through the arrays of transistors and come out with the type of program that I am using to type these words. It is tempting to draw a direct line back to the Aristotelian syllogism, where A cannot be also B. Within the binary system there is no room for uncertainty or grey areas, all probabilities and possibilities will be expressed in terms of quantitative statistical mathematical probabilities. It is this unforgiving logic that is at the root of the information technologies – the technology that is a product of the social system from which it is drawn, a product of it and thus it also will contribute to the reproduction of the type of system that produced it.

An anecdote from my preparation of the website illustrates the way in which the engagement in particular practices may teach particular types of logic. For a few days I have been coming back to a problem I had with my online questionnaire whereby for a reason I could not fathom, some of the answers were being correctly reported in the summary sheet, while others weren’t. Finally, through a process of trial and error, I discovered that it was the label I was giving some of the questions, e.g. : "Q3.1", or "Q4.2_other", that was the problem. Specifically, it was the dot between the numbers that made the difference, this was not mentioned in the instruction manual which says, in relation to this point:
"List/Menu Assigns a name to the list or menu. This field is required, and the name must be unique!"

The name must be unique, but it does not say that if it has a dot in it then it may/will not work. This is the kind of technical shortcoming that is often described as a ‘bug’, errors that are seen as integral to a computer program but would never be acceptable in most other consumer goods that are put on the market. It may also be that it is way in which Dreamweaver has encoded the actual instructions in HTML for this particular element of the graphical interface does not correspond with how the other program – a ‘CGI script’ – operates. The latter is what is run when the questionnaire is filled out and then the ‘Submit’ button is pushed. In fact I have no idea what the real cause is, the only apparent cause that I see is the errant dot, but the reasons why that dot is causing a problem are probably multiple and even if someone were to explain them to me, it is likely that I would not understand it.

The reason why I tell this rather anodyne anecdote, the type of experience many people have had, is that it seems to me that in grappling with the software, I am obliged to start to think in a specific, probably Cartesian, manner. I am learning a language, and a particular type of logic. – if, in my 'travels' in cyberspace I was to meet up with someone who had used the same software then we would have a common understanding that may enhance or otherwise influence our interaction.

I’m moving towards a techno-determinist argument here: i.e. the programme has a ‘language’ that will influence my interaction with another person. However it is in the strength and inevitability of the potential causal link that I would like to place my argument. I have learnt a different logic, let’s assume, but I will use it according to my own interpretation of what is necessary and important for myself. This will be based on previously learnt behaviours and ingrained habits/practices. I may have learnt a new logic or language, but whether it actually affects my practices will depend on how much it clashes with previously learnt thought processes and the extent to which I perceive that taking on this logic will enable me to further my interests as defined by my social upbringing.
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Blogging and constitutive practices

I use the term 'constitutive practice' quite often, but I'm not sure where I got it from - it sounds very Bourdieu-like though.

Basically, what I mean by it is that some things we do have a tendency to promote regular practices that in turn shape the 'habitus' (i.e. the dynamic collection of habitual practices that become normalised and taken-for-granted): it is very relevant to the study of the interaction of technology and culture.

A classic example could be the handphone and the appointment. Think of meeting up with someone twenty years ago: you arrange a time a couple of days before, and then you turn up. If you're late, you can't call them or anything and so you make a real effort no to be late. Fast forward to 2009 - you make an appointment, and if you're late what do you do? Text the person and tell them you'll be late. So, one can argue, the availability of the handphone means that people are more likely to be late to meet up, or cancel rendez-vous more easily.

Well, I don' t know if that's precisely the case, but it's possible. It's not the phone itself that is encouraging anyone to be late, but the practice of using it in a particular way.

The reason I mention this is because there's one particular practice relating to blogging that I think may have particular effects. One of the key requirements for a successful blogger is to do regular postings, I discussed once before how part-time bloggers have to find ways of managing their time, but ever since I have tried to make a point of blogging every day, there's something else I've noticed.

Blogging every day is not easy! :-O In fact I missed out on Saturday and Sunday because I had things to do, although I started this one yesterday. When you have to blog every day, finding something to blog about can be difficult, as well as finding the time to do it. So, one solution is to do shorter posts, and to blog on relatively simple matters.

One solution is using photos: put up three photos that tell a short story (meal at a restaurant, meeting with friends, attend an event) and link them together with short captions and narrative.

Another solution is something like what I'm doing here: writing quickly on a random topic, not worrying too much about the details or quality of the post. I'll be thinking something like: "As long it's not completely crap, it'll do. In any case, I'll have another chance to write a better post another day - some will be good, some not so good."

Another solution is to use content from another source - a newspaper article or another blog, for example. If it's done well, this can work, but too often some blogs just become a series of reproduced material. In fact there are some services that will send you stuff to blog on every day, something I'll talk about another time.

So, I can conclude something like this: as a technology, blogging lends itself to being done by an individual (as opposed to a newspaper, for example); the content also tends to be more time-sensitive - i.e. whatever you post goes online quickly, and after a day or two it's already old. So, regular short posts make practical sense. These regular short posts are the constitutive practice - the habits they induce are: a more informal tone, a less rigid quality control, the use of photos, and subject matters that are not too complicated or, at least, fit the readers expectations.

The last point may need a little more explanation: what I mean is that if the blog post has a relatively simple content, the reader can grasp it quickly and enjoy it. Rather like an advertisement, the message of which needs to be grasped in a few seconds. But this is not to say that all blogs just have brainless content - the specialist blogs cater to a niche audience that knows the subject well (e.g. photography) and can go straight into the topic; the SoPo blog addresses known issues and gives one slant to it; the emo blog moans about life; the personal blog discusses friends and parties; and so on.

The 10 types of commenters


By now, anyone who reads this blog should know that I find the comments of blogs to be one of the most interesting things about blogs. So, I thought of doing a rough categorisation of different types of commenters (by the way, I know it’s meant to be ‘commentators’, but I just don’t like the sound of it…).

They are categorised in relation to position they take to the post and/or the blogger, and also their ‘Identifiability’ - i.e. how much information they leave about themselves.

The Firster
(aka Kiasu Commenter) Loves to be the first to comment. This phenomenon is restricted to a few high readership blogs. (Interestingly, according to one of my respondents this practice originated from Slashdot.org; does anyone have any thoughts on that?)
Examples:
‘Yay, first!! Na na nananana :p’
‘FIIRRRRSSSTTT!!!!!!!!!!!!!’
‘NoOOooo – I tot I was 1st but den by the time I post some1 beat me oledi :(‘

Identifiability: High – probably not anonymous and probably leaves a link.

The Follower
May overlap with the Firster; will leave comments that say little more than ‘I was here and I think you’re cool/cleve/correct’.
Examples:
‘Haha lol this one so funny lah’
‘ROFLMAO you brighten up my day haha’
‘Once again you have nailed the issue. My hat off to you!’
'Interesting - never thought of this

Identifiability: Has name and probably links to blog.

The Hater
A version of the classic Troll, but distinguishes him/herself by never missing the chance to insult the blogger, whatever the post is about. It’s impossible to know if it’s the same person coming back, or not, because s/he always posts anonymously, or uses a pseudonym such as ‘Blogger_is_a_fugly_bitch’.
Examples:
‘You’re a fat idiot’
‘F**k you pathetic fool’
‘I hope you choke on your cigarettes, you poor excuse for a human’
‘Your thighs are fat and you have to photoshop out your ugly zits, I know because a friend saw you at the mall’
‘You’re a disgrace to Malaysians/Chinese/Malays/Indians/men/women/penguins…’

Identifiability: Lowest – typically anonymous and has no link. Continue reading "The 10 types of commenters"