5 Things That Would Make the Blogosphere a Better Place

blogosphereI’ve been doing a lot of work around the house this holiday weekend. Changing light bulbs, cleaning out the garage, fixing the gate so Lucky Dog can’t poop on the soccer field. That sort of thing.

As I work, I have been thinking a little about the blogosphere. I still enjoy blogging, but I’ve been doing it long enough to see the little flaws and imperfections that I would fix if I could do the same sort of fix-it work in the blogosphere that I’m doing around the house.

Here, in no particular order, are 5 things that would make the blogosphere a better place.

1) If Steve Gillmor and his buddies would be happy just being a part of the crowd and stop trying to separate themselves from the rest of us.

I’ve said all I need to say about Steve‘s attempt to toss up walls around his so-called blog by declaring that he won’t link out to anyone. As I have said before, that merely turns back time by making what was an interactive blog into a 1996 era personal home page, neighborhood newspaper, mini-magazine sort of thing. There’s nothing wrong with that- we all had them back in the day. The problem is that, unfortunately, Steve is associated with blogging and all of these grand plans to recreate the blogosphere into a caste system where he writes and the rest of us read is wholly inconsistent with the conversational nature of the blogosphere- which is what brought most of us to blogging in the first place. It also ignores the indisputable fact that none of us were born with an innate knowledge of Steve’s URL and thus has to get it from, yes, a link (props to OmegaMom for pointing that out via a Comment).

My 8 year old daughter and her friends went through a phase this past school year where they began setting up little secret clubs and then inviting those of their friends who were currently in favor to join. It’s human nature to want to affiliate with others, but this behavior was detrimental to the classroom and so it was rightly discouraged. The same thing should apply in the blogosphere.

Looking down your nose at those who disagree with you and calling them “trolls” is a recipe for the summertime blues. The cure might be to take a long look in the mirror and then embrace the blogosphere that exists instead of trying to recreate it to your advantage.

We should resist any attempt to build walls and work to nurture the flattened earth policy that allows everyone to participate equally – without trying to promote new and unnecessary concepts in the name of personal gain.

2) If old media people and new media people would focus on the commonalities and stop fighting for perceived blog superiority.

This is a battle that can never be won or lost. It just goes on and on. Old media writers have years of training that cannot be cast aside just because they write a blog. New media bloggers have a lot to say and the fact that they don’t have journalism degrees doesn’t make their writing frivolous or pedestrian. If we focus on the common ground, there will be less of a need for Nick Carr et al. to make extreme statements and talk about how dumb the rest of us are merely to generate readers (which is an old media trick that many new media writers also use), and there will be less of a need for new media writers to defend themselves in the face of what they rightly or wrongly believe is a claim of journalistic superiority. We’re simply talking about topics that interest us. If I am a dummy or if you are Hemingway, people will figure that out on their own. We don’t have to keeping trying to convince them.

While I am by no means old media, I have co-written several books and a lot of newspaper articles over the years. I don’t mention it here every time one gets published for the same reason I don’t mention it at dinner- it’s not really relevant and to do so would seem immodest. But the fact that I have written for traditional media doesn’t make traditional media better or worse than blog writing- they are different animals.

Blogs are the offspring of the personal web page and the internet message board. They have little to do with traditional newspaper, other than the fact that some old media has smartly embraced blogging. The fact that the traditional newspaper is in trouble has more to do with Craigslist and eBay and CNN and Yahoo than it does with some blog. Stated another way, while blogs may not be old media-friendly, they are not the biggest enemy of old media.

If we put the differences aside and focus on what we have in common, we can get back to the conversation. It’s always better to learn from each other than to fight with each other. That sounds trite when I read it, but so do a lot of the blogospats that keep popping up in the blogosphere.

3) If Technorati would work the way it’s supposed to and Share Your OPML would be embraced by the masses.

I still use Technorati as my primary method to find new blog content and to listen for cross blog conversation. Sadly, it still seems to suffer from growing pains. At least once or twice a week, I come across links to Newsome.Org via my reading list that never show up in Technorati. Additionally, my link count seems to change only rarely and when it does, it goes up and down like the temperature. I still find Technorati to be incredibly useful, but it would be so much better if it were more reliable.

Dave Winer‘s Share Your OPML (a perfect example of an application that does what it is supposed to do without a bunch of needless fluff) has a ton of potential to supplant Technorati as far as blog rankings go, but in order to do that, it needs to be promoted to and embraced by more and more people. If you haven’t explored Share Your OPML, go take a look. You’ll like it.

We still need a way to track inbound links to specific posts and to search for content. A working Technorati and a widely used Share Your OPML would be a great combination.

4) If people would fight the urge to try to make a quick buck every chance they get.

I wrote about the sportsification of the internet last week, and my sermon about the dangers of greed and avarice on the internet can be found there.

Human nature applies to the blogosphere just like it does to the rest of life. And one thing you can be sure of is that someone will try to make money off of anything that happens. Care must be taken, however, in the context of collaborative creations like the blogosphere to make sure that the first person to break ranks and try to monetize the creation doesn’t succeed in co-opting the work of others for personal gain.

Because just like in the case of Stowe Boyd’s brilliant no-assholes rule, once the first person succeeds in doing so, there will be a mad rush to the bank and chaos will ensue.

Blogs started out as more interactive personal web pages. Soon someone tossed up some ads to help a little with the expenses. Before you know it, someone decided that blogs, in and of themselves, could be a business and the race for the almighty dollar was on.

Making money from blogs is not the problem. But treating the entire blogging experience as a way to make money is like the neighbor who treats every acquaintance as a prospective tupperware or Amway buyer. It’s OK to make money in the right context, but treating all of blogging as a money making endeavor is wrong and destined to failure.

Blogs can be a very effective part of your business (see Steve Rubel for a great example of this), but they cannot be your business. Otherwise, it’s only a matter of time before the forces that lead to the decline of the traditional newspaper (primarily the fact that people won’t pay to read online content and that there’s nothing other than ads to sell) will find their way to the blog as a business arena.

Now comes CMP Media trying to trademark the slogan “Web 2.0” for conferences purposes. Are you kidding me? First of all, there is evidence that the slogan was used prior to the O’Reilly conferences in question. Secondly, as Cory Doctorow points out, the slogan “Web 2.0” is used by so many people for so many different purposes that, from a trademark perspective, the cat has long since left the bag.

Again, every single thing in our lives does not have to be about money. We need to collectively draw the line around parts of the blogosphere and refuse anyone who tries to hijack our collective efforts for personal gain.

5) If bloggers learned how to listen as well as they talk.

As I have said many times, I am thrilled by the great content I find via my reading list, cross blog conversations and links people email me. The blogosphere allows me to converse with and become friends with people from all over the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and many other places. It’s like a virtual watercooler where we gather once or twice a day to share information and discuss topics of mutual interest.

Part of sharing, however, is listening to what others have to say. Bloggers talk with their posts and listen with their links. Talking comes natural, but it takes work to become a good listener. I have given lip service to being a good listener in the blogosphere, but the truth is that I could be a lot better at it.

Listening is something I am going to work on over the coming weeks and months. We should all work on it, because a watercooler without listeners can turn into a cacophony of noise that drives interesting voices, both old and new, away.

That’s my 5 step program to improve the blogosphere. I’d love to hear yours via Comment or Trackback.