Who Am I?

I’ve just finished an e-mail to a kind gentleman who wanted to know more about the blogging thing. I suggested, for those starting out, to go here or go here. If you’re not afraid of putting software on your server and running your own blog, go here or go here. I also said that there’s nothing magical about blogging:

A blog is nothing more than the Internet made faster. The web pages I described above are static. You need to know HTML or have a web editor in order to change them. You need an FTP program to upload them. You need a guestbook in order to get others to comment on them. But a blog is a web page that uses software which automates that process. You type it in, press a button, and the program uploads the changes for you, and archives the old changes. This makes online journals possible, and that’s why as many as seven million blogs are being tracked by the blog search engine Technorati.

For this reason, I’ve refrained from hailing blogs as the next big thing in journalism. Blogs will topple the mainstream media the same way that public access television will topple the cable news networks. There is no doubt that blogs have had a significant democratizing effect on publishing, lowering the bar on who can get their voice online, and that is a Good Thing (tm). However, just like the emergence of self-publishing technology has meant that new authors unfairly overlooked by the publishing houses have gotten their books out (and succeeded in promoting them), the ratio between signal-to-noise is hard to overcome. It can be difficult to find all of the quality stuff that’s out there.

My solution for this problem? Ignore it. The Internet was thrown open to the world so that the world could use it as it saw fit. We have a virtually limitless playground on which to play. The best thing we can do is have fun. The reasons to blog are as numerous as the bloggers who blog them, and that is also a Good Thing (tm).

What I love about reading blogs is the interesting characters I encounter; people who aren’t afraid to speak their mind, who can speak their minds eloquently, and who are just plain fun to be around in the great worldwide cocktail party. Some people offer you their business cards. Some are flashy dressers. And some choose to wear masks and dance on stage.

The BlogsCanada eGroup has been the most vibrant, most balanced community blog within the Canadian blogosphere. Jim Elve has put together something wonderful, where speakers from the left, the centre and the right speak their minds with respect and intelligence. It’s no echo-chamber like the Western Standard; it is an accurate representation of what Canada is (or, at least, Canadians who are interested in politics). Maintaining the balance of this community, and keeping the comments from swinging from passionate debate to personal attacks, has proven to be a challenge, but Jim and the rest of the participants have risen to it. Still, some members have wondered if more could be done.

The blogosphere has accepted into its community a number of people with prominent jobs in politics or in the mainstream media, including Paul Wells and Warren Kinsella. People that prominent have a metaphorical target on their heads, from people eager to disagree with the policies they advocate. And with the blogosphere lowering the bar on who can get their words out in public, that target becomes that much easier to hit.

Norman Spector, a columnist and former advisor to Brian Mulroney who kindly posts on BlogsCanada, wondered if the community should require that participants relinquish the right to post anonymously. By requiring posters to have the courage to put their names to their posts, perhaps they’d be more careful about what they’d say:

I feel very strongly that people should be required to use their own names when posting to this blog. No one should be allowed to hide behind a cloak of anonymity while endorsing Cheryl Gallant’s idiotic comparison between abortion and the beheading of US soldiers in Iraq. If someone has a very good reason for anonymity, they should be required, at minimum, to identify themselves to you, with a promise of confidentiality. I’d be interested in the views of others but, quite frankly, I’m not sure I’ll continue to post to this blog in the current circumstances.

POGGE who, if you haven’t figured it out, doesn’t post under his real name, disagreed.

One of the wonderful things about this medium, and one of the main reasons it’s growing and evolving so quickly, is the astonishingly low barrier to entry… That’s why we call it citizen journalism. It provides a way for anyone to participate in the public debate in a way that didn’t exist just a few years ago. So I think any policy that creates a new barrier to entry should be viewed with scepticism and approached with caution.

Some have argued that’s it cowardly to present an opinion without attaching your real name to it… …That argument in itself acknowledges that there can be a risk attached to expressing some opinions. While full credit should go to those who knowingly face risk when they express themselves, why should risk be required? Isn’t the blogosphere big enough to allow for those who are concerned about losing a job, being shunned by the family or even being stalked and harassed by some looney tune with a poor grip on reality and no impulse control? What would it say about a medium that many of us regard as a positive development for democracy if we started to deny participants in the debate the ability to decide for themselves how much or how little they care to reveal about their personal lives?

Respectfully, I believe Norman Spector is coming at this from a professional publisher’s standpoint and POGGE an internet standpoint. The world of journalism and of book publishing is not about anonymity. It’s about research and editing and adherance to facts. While sources can remain anonymous, the writer hardly ever is. Anonymity is a blow to credibility. It is an open door to slandar and libel.

The blogosphere is not immune to libel and slandar laws, as Warren Kinsella has warned us. But the blogosphere is also not the same medium as journalism and book publishing. You don’t get serious discussions about the future of social security co-mingling with pictures of the news anchor’s cat in the mainstream media (at least, not outside Fox). The credibility of one blog depends entirely on the blogger. Each one will offer something different, and it’s up to you to decide what to take away.

You blog with your personality. The best blogs have personalities. You catch the flavour of their creativity, their political leanings, what they like to eat for lunch and what they like to watch on television, even if you don’t catch their name. The personality is what makes the blog interesting.

And a character is also a personality.

Consider JimBobby and how well he’s been able to establish himself in the Canadian blogosphere, winning admirers and even a foe or two, because of the character he displays on his blog. POGGE may be a pseudonym, but his personality, his character, is no less real. And I don’t believe Jim Elve is advocating putting that away.

These things are very different from the real anonymous bloggers Norman Spector and others are concerned about, who try to cloak themselves, their personality and their characters, in order to attack other people. Consider the attack site that materialized to nip at Warren Kinsella’s heels. But it’s fairly easy to see who has an axe to grind and who has gone through the trouble to say something constructive.

Some anonymous bloggers try to conceal themselves like snipers, but POGGE and JimBobby and the other pseudonyms out there are up front about who they are presenting themselves to be. They have built a name or a character, and their focus is not to attack, their focus is just to be. And ultimately, this is the best contribution to the blogosphere that anybody can ask for.

There is nothing magical about blogging, but there is something magical about bloggers. In the blogosphere, you begin to catch a sense of the diversity of thought that is out there. It has always been out there, beyond journalism, beyond professional writing, beyond politics. The blogosphere has opened a window on that world to the rest of the world, and it isn’t going to be closed.

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