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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Vanity Publishing

This from a report by the BBC's Torin Douglas:

To sceptics, the blog is simply vanity publishing on a vast scale, allowing the world and his wife to witter on about their mundane lives without the benefit of a good editor

Is this true?
The article goes into details about the BBC response to blogging and is generally positive about the concept, but when you get right down to it, the vast majority of blogs are little more than vanity publishing, it is true. Why do we blog? Well we want to share our thoughts, our opinions or some gossip or news that we have heard. There may be more to it than that but I think that for the majority of bloggers it is that simple. We think that someone out there will find what we write interesting; someone will want to know what we have to say and we might influence them to say something as well. We might even think that we can influence the way that some people think. It is quite clear from some blogs that the writers think that their opinions are massively more important than others - these tend to be political blogs. :-) Overall it is pure vanity on our part. It is a wish to spread the word to the masses, but it is our word that we want to spread, or at least the word that we think is worth spreading. Yet, here is the rub: is that such a bad thing? If a blog has an audience it means that our vain perception that someone is interested in what we say is correct. In that case the fact that it is a project in personal vanity becomes secondary to the fact that we can reach out and communicate with other people. We are at least entertaining some people on some level. Of course we then have to worry about the main issue for blog-sceptics:

More dangerously, with none of the traditional journalistic checks, it spawns errors, hoaxes and downright lies which can be right round the world before the truth has its boots on.

This is also true. Though of course, I suspect it speaks mostly to political blogging, which makes up a very small fraction of all of the blogs out there, but could be argued to have the largest impact on journalists. We must rely on the integrity of the bloggers and their fact checking abilities when reading what they say. Of course is this any different to relying on the integrity of journalists and editors? At least with them we have systems like the Press Complaints Commission and public opinion to keep them honest, with bloggers there is little or no official watchdog beyond the threat of legal action. Feedback can be given in comments or email and this can be an effective tool for arguing with a blogger if you don't like what they say. However, since the bloggers control comments it is a simple matter to delete or block complaints, or even not to have comments at all, so this may not be the most effective method with bloggers who are already displaying dishonest tendencies.

It all comes down to trust. Perhaps the same thing that makes us bloggers will keep us honest: few people like to be thought of as dishonest, it offends us by appealing to our vanity.

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