No, I’m not recanting my earlier lambasting of Meg for that article folks are talking so much about. Although in true wonderchickonian fashion, I tacked rather heavily into the tradewinds of hyperbole – hard ‘a port, Mr Qeeqeg! – and it’s entirely possible that my surprise and disappointment at reading a piece quite devoid of blood and juice, in tandem with what may fairly be described as my impatience for this efflorescence of creativity to mature…well it’s possible that my rain dance was a little, shall we say, intemperate.

Starting at the unforeseen concluding exclamation of the so suddenly scornful old man, Stubb was speechless a moment; then said excitedly, “I am not used to be spoken to that way, sir; I do but less than half like it, sir.”
“Avast!” gritted Ahab between his set teeth, and violently moving away, as if to avoid some passionate temptation.
“No, sir; not yet,” said Stubb, emboldened, “I will not tamely be called a dog, sir.”
“Then be called ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass, and begone, or I’ll clear the world of thee!”
As he said this, Ahab advanced upon him with such overbearing terrors in his aspect, that Stubb involuntarily retreated.
“I was never served so before without giving a hard blow for it,” muttered Stubb, as he found himself descending the cabin-scuttle.

Over at Jonathon’s, where Meg responded to his excellent translation and elaboration of my rant into calm and well-crafted English prose (thanks, mate!), one of Jonathon’s other guests has weighed in on my bare-breasted, blood-streaked ululation :

The arrogance and hyperbole astounds me. The weblogging “community” would do well to learn some humility as they go forward into this bright Utopian future he describes.

I responded :

f–k humility, let’s dance.

For a split second after I pressed the submit button, I regretted that a bit, but now, as I sit back with my cup of green tea, it’s growing on me. So much so, I think I’ll make it the new tagline of the week.
Why on earth should I be humble? How is that going to help anyone? It’s a dance, my friends, and if you don’t care to join in, you can help call the tune. If you don’t care to do that, well, pour the drinks or something, while the rest of us whoop and holler and kick up our heels for the sheer joy of it, for the pleasure of creation, of comradeship, of life. Humility just doesn’t enter into it.
Not for nothing do I have this quote on my little website :

“I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it: we must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and soul. It may be that we are doomed, that there is no hope for us, any of us, but if that is so then let us set up a last agonizing, bloodcurdling howl, a screech of defiance, a war whoop! Away with lamentation! Away with elegies and dirges! Away with biographies and histories, and libraries and museums! Let the dead eat the dead. Let us living ones dance about the rim of the crater, a last expiring dance. But a dance!”

Although that paragraph was written almost 70 years ago, if you replace the word ‘book’ with the noun of your choice [hint], you can perhaps see where I’m coming from, or where I’m going, or something.
But I’m getting off track again, as I so often do.
I do not begrudge Meg her mild fame or her position of influence, or any of the other people who make up the oft-derided, oft-denied, semi-imaginary ‘a-list’. And nor, when it comes down to it, do I disagree with much of what Meg had to say, because, at the end of the day, it was pretty mild stuff.
Where I do part ways is at pretty much the same spot as Shelley and Jonathon : the tools, the technology of it all, the minutiae of the format, these are not the common ground from which the communities and friendships and creative ferment that blogspace is fostering spring. This, to my mind, is a dangerous misconception that will ensure that what we are doing remains on the sidelines of the new mediaspace, a diversion of the geek and the technofetishist.
The fertile common ground is the common ground we share as humans : our creative urge, our need to find like-minded people, our need to challenge ourselves and others, our need for play and conversation, our fascination with the New.
Now I sound like a freakin’ hippy here, so I’ll add in to that list ‘our need to argue, to engage in combat, to breed divisiveness and segregate ourselves into tribes over infinitesimal differences of opinion or lifestyle’.
But the tools? The tools are just tools, for goodness sakes. Meg says, over at Jonathon’s :

… what I was trying to do in my article was simply point out that we can’t define this thing based on the content we’re outputting…

I understand that she was talking about the format, dumbing it down for non-bloggers and the non-technical (I mean come on : is there a single person who has ever had a blog who needs the concepts of permalinks and posts explained to them?) But my argument is that we can, we must define this thing based on the ‘content we’re outputting’ (and that phrase reminds me that she was the director of development for Blogger, because the mechanical sound of it reminds me of all the coders and business types that I used to work with in Sydney at HyperGlobalMegaNet, who were good and kind people, but not precisely, uhh, lyrical), not on the tools, or on how it’s temporally arranged or permalinked.
A couple of things seem pretty clear to me : one, that the article was written for non-bloggers. It talks (in simple terms, yes, but nonetheless) about technical things, that dollars-to-donuts, your average web-user already knows and understands about blogs, and your average non-web-user doesn’t give a rat’s ass about, or even understand. Or want to, for that matter. So what audience is it intended for? I’m uncertain.
Two : the article is written by a technologist (who is certainly more than that, and is not a one-dimensional cartoon, and is from all accounts a really nice person, but) : someone who seems to apprehend what’s happening out there through the lens of technology, of Product Development.
I’ve worked with folks who do this. Some of my best friends do this. But this is not the kind of article that’s going to excite anyone. And it’s not likely to even interest people who don’t already know what a blog is and what it looks like, anyone who’s not a technophile already. “Permalinks? Datestamps? What the hell is this geeky crap supposed to mean?” would be Joe Sixpack’s response, I’d say. It strikes me as odd that the outpouring of praise for Meg’s piece comes from the very webloggers who already understand intimately and work daily with the very concepts she painstaking explains. Have so many people lost sight of the fact that the vast majority of humanity just doesn’t give a sh-t about blogging, and probably never will? But at the same time, that same majority loves poetry and music, stories and songs, all manner of art and craft. But they don’t care about the technology, even if we do. And we already know a blog is bite-sized, permalinked and temporally arranged.
Jonathon said :

Which is not to say there’s no place for an explanation of the mechanics of weblogging: tools, posts, links, time-stamps, permalinks… But wouldn’t it be better to leave those prosaic details for later? And to start by mapping out an imaginative vision of the medium’s potential?
To focus attention on the magic and mystery of blogging. To acknowledge (paraphrasing Burningbird) that the key to weblogging is people, not a format. To admit that—five years on—we’re only just starting to realize what might be possible. To stress the communal nature of the activity. To celebrate the amplification of meaning that occurs when smart, creative people collaborate. To invite newcomers to join a grand adventure, a networked version of Hesse’s Journey to the East.

This is what I’m talking about. What I’m trying to figure out is who the piece was intended for, and why. It doesn’t really seem to serve anyone’s needs, and perhaps this is why I reacted so strongly. Meg says, again over at Jonathon’s, “I tried to look beneath the content to the tools and format that enable us to make connections.”
I understand where she’s coming from, and I respect that, but I think she has it ass-backwards. I’m a technologist too, or at least I used to be, and I am as certain as I’ve ever been about anything that you need to look beneath the tools and the format to what she calls the content, and what I think of as the people. A blog is not a container for content, or the product of some cleverly designed software tools : it’s a person. That’s the bedrock of this thing we’re building.
Meg also says “I wasn’t saying that’s all there is to blogging, I was just saying that’s one piece of it,” and of course she’s right, and it was my mistake to imply, if I did, that that’s what she was saying. It would seem that Meg and many others around the traps do feel that what she wrote about is the most important piece. I would call it the least.
I’ll also say, for what it’s worth, that my ranting of a couple of nights ago was meant to stir a little reflection, and not intended as an attack on anyone. I get carried away sometimes.
It was arrogant and hyperbolic indeed, in the same way it would have been if I hand-edited the HTML and uploaded it with a command-line FTP client.

Metablogging, Uncrappy

Join the conversation! 26 Comments

  1. It has got to be wonderchickensian, damn it.

  2. I’m doing it just to annoy you now. Heh.

  3. Wonderful! Absolutely wonderful and beautifully said.
    I’m going to try and continue this over at my blog, but I’m afraid my efforts will be a faint shadow compared to yours and Jonathon’s.
    (Where’s Thread the Needle when you need it?)

  4. I do think the tools are important — and perhaps I’m biased because I built one of them — because without the tools, we wouldn’t be experiencing the blogging explosion we see now. Just because you know how to open a file, make edits to HTML, and FTP that file to a remote location doesn’t mean that everyone else does. Nor should they have to write on the Web. Without the tools, there would be a lot less of the beautiful voices dancing to the muse, or however you put it.
    To say blogging is about people seems to me to be a useless definition. Everything is about people! How does that definition help anyone understand what we’re doing? Blogging is people +, and many things follow the + sign: passions, tools, links, connections, etc.
    If we define blogging based on content, as you claim we should, how do we avoid the stereotyping or generalizations we’ve seen in the press recently, e.g. all blogs are warblogs?
    As for your comment that I’m, “someone who seems to apprehend what’s happening out there through the lens of technology,” such a generalization based on one article is untrue. I’ve just finished co-authoring a book on blogging that explores a hell of a lot more than the technical aspects of the phenomena. I speak regularly at conferences about all aspects of blogging, mostly trying to explain how it’s *both* a technical and social revolution to the non-bloggers in attendance. And I was an English major in college, for heaven’s sake, so please don’t try and paint me as some techno-robot who only thinks in bits. When I said “content we’re outputting” I meant outputting via tools. I don’t think as humans we’re outputting content — we’re writing.
    FWIW, O’Reillynet is a technical site, most of the visitors are technologists, or interested in technology. I wasn’t setting out to write a history of blogging or examine its social constructs. I had an idea that there might be some common ground beneath our superficially different appearances, and that’s what I chose to explore.
    This whole histrionic freak-out seems so ridiculous to me. Why don’t you write the article *you* want to see, rather than bitching about mine?

  5. Meg, when Stavros, I, and Jonathon disagree with what you or anyone else writes is a part of weblogging. We’ve all been chastised and criticized for what we’ve said in our blogs, much more negatively than anything we three said about your article. As difficult as it is to accept at times (I personally don’t care for being called pro-terrorist0, that’s a part of the communication process. And that is weblogging, technology enabled or not.
    However, what concerns me more at this point is that so many of your ‘defenders’ seem to be upset not by what we’re saying, but because we’re saying it about you.
    Is there an inner circle of untouchables?

  6. However, what concerns me more at this point is that so many of your ‘defenders’ seem to be upset not by what we’re saying, but because we’re saying it about you.
    Is there an inner circle of untouchables?

    I don’t think who anyone is that is involved with this factors into this at all. No one here (maybe they are somewhere else, but I haven’t seen it) is saying “don’t you dare mutter an unkind word towards the beloved Megnut.” Meg is squarely debating what Starvos and Jonathon have said. She has a problem with what is being said. Starvos’ protest sounds empty to me, we’ve tried defining weblogs by their content for three years now, and we’re now finding that it is most often either a meaningless emtpy definition (weblogs are about connecting people, they’re communities of people online that create all sorts of wonderful things — what does that mean if your parents just read that?) or they’re flat out wrong when they are defined by specific content (all weblogs are a response to 9/11 and are about the current war on terror, and the US response — also bad).
    It seems to me that defining a weblog by its content is even more limiting and short-sighted than going with the format as a basic definition. What, pray tell, constitutes acceptable content on a weblog? Can anyone give a definition that encompasses all the content that weblogs can offer? If you look back to the proto-weblogs of 1997, or even back or the Mosaic What’s New page of 1993, and compare those things with the freshest post to a new site on blogspot, you’ll see that trying to gather the similarities of both isn’t an easy job. Looking at the format, they share some basic constructs. Looking at the content, you see a wide range that isn’t easy to give any bounds to.
    Meg’s article looked at one specific thing about weblogs and what makes them tick, and I think it did a good job at that, and was aimed at people new to weblogs. It seemed quite a bit less offensive than the two years of clueless journalists that tried to tackle the same subject (“all weblogs are diaries” “weblogs are journals” “weblogs will get you more hits and you’ll make money in donations”).
    There is never going to be the One True Article About Weblogs, there are so many wonderful things about weblogs and they can be used for so many things and in so many places that it would take a book to fill (actually, at my last count, five or six weblog books to fill :).
    I don’t see any mention of personalities involved in the dissent from Starvos’ argument, I see mentions of the content of his protest.
    So, who is going to try and write the definitive article about what makes weblogs great?

  7. Starvos wrote:
    It would seem that Meg and many others around the traps do feel that what she wrote about is the most important piece. I would call it the least.
    That is one bit I would agree with. The format is the very baseline thing all weblogs have in common, just as saying all movies start with moving images (with sound). It is the least important point, but it’s a good jumping off point to start expanding upon. Even though it’s the least important point, it’s also a point that has been lost on most every mainstream journalism article about weblogs, and is worth going back to.
    Once we can agree there is this baseline (mostly meaningless) commonality among all weblogs, we can gain at least some understanding from folks and expand out from there.

  8. I took a stab, late last night, at pulling together my own thoughts on this – because I’ll admit I found Meg’s piece well-written but also a little dry. I tried to go at it from my perspective as a writer (and another former English major!) and to think about the format as a genre. although this morning it seems to me more akin to a poetic form like the sonnet than a fiction genre like scifi.
    my tentative conclusion: what makes the form interesting is the confluence of some genre elements and the introduction of a new means of production, which creates the semi-formal networks that so many people seem too want to focus on.
    my first take (hopefully I’ll be revising this soon.)

  9. um, “seem to want to focus on.”

  10. If I understand correctly:
    Megnut, et al: A weblog is defined by { … }
    Stavros, et al: You can’t possibly define what we’re doing by { … }
    Both positions sound compatible to me. You can’t define a photographer’s career by the camera he used; nor can you define photography by her career (and no one here seems to dispute either point). Same goes for weblogs — they neither define nor are defined by any one site created using them.
    “Weblog” seems to be a more and more purely technical term; if we want better, more-revealing terms to describe websites like these (or others) by their type of content (and not just their form), we need to invent them. But Megnut didn’t take the word away from anyone, the thousands of webloggers who’ve stretched and adapted the format to new uses did.

  11. Wow, this was a pleasant surprise to wake up to. Seriously : it’s better than being ignored (which is I hope the spirit in which Meg is taking my criticism, too).
    Meg : I tried to take pains to make it clear that I wasn’t trying to paint you as a “techno-robot who only thinks in bits”. I’m sorry if I gave offense : it is true that I didn’t know your degree was in English, for example.
    Matt : Level-headed as always, you are : I think I agree with you on pretty much everything you said here. I do think, though, that a lot of the praise being offered for this piece comes as a result of Meg’s moderate fame, but, once again, I don’t begrudge her, or you, that. I have great respect for you both based on what you have done (not who your friends are), to the limited extent that I know you.
    mattpfeff : Agreed, although I wouldn’t say “you can’t possibly…” do anything. I’d be a better characterization to say ‘it’s simply not interesting or useful to do it that way’, I suppose.
    Meg again : “This whole histrionic freak-out seems so ridiculous to me.”
    I do regret that you see what I’ve been doing here as a histrionic hissy fit, but it’s cool. I wouldn’t see the humour either, if someone was poking me with a sharp stick. I tried to inject that humour a little more obviously into this second post….ah well. I’m not upset, or irate, or anything, much as my tone might have suggested that in this or earlier posts! This is all fun, or supposed to be, and even if I pump myself up large and start jumping around and declaiming, it’s still in fun.
    Regardless, I’m glad you took the time to respond.
    “Why don’t you write the article *you* want to see, rather than bitching about mine?”
    With regards to the first part, hang on for a bit, ‘kay? With regards to the second, with all due respect, no. When I see someone to whom many others listen with rapt attention (deserved, to a large degree, I’m not arguing that!) say things that I think need some pushback, I’m damn well going to push back!
    But I hope we can still be friends… 🙂

  12. I would be interested in an answer to Meg’s question: “If we define blogging based on content, as you claim we should, how do we avoid the stereotyping or generalizations we’ve seen in the press recently, e.g. all blogs are warblogs?”
    Furthermore, the tools are not the medium. I read Meg as talking about the fundamentals of the medium, regardless of the tools used to produce it: a weblog is not a novel; a weblog is not a stand-alone essay; a weblog is not a short story, and so on. It is its own, new, style and format for writing. That new style and format drives a lot of the richness that has come about in recent years. To say that ‘it’s all about the people’ is as vacuous as saying the Internet is ‘all about the bits.’

  13. epersonae : I agree with what you’re saying in your seems to me to be closer to a middle ground between the nuts-and-bolts approach and the (admittedly sky-pilotty) armwaving that I’ve been doing…
    Medley, I think we need to think about what we mean when we use the word ‘content’. I don’t actually suggest (at least I don’t think I did) that we define blogging (and in fact I think it’s dangerously limiting to even try to ‘define blogging’) by the ‘content’. The things I put on my blog tend to be radically different in tone and focus than those at, say, for example. The longform, intensely personal blogging of Mike Golby is utterly different than the bing-bang-boom, more traditional quick posts of Doc Searls, say.
    How do we avoid inaccuracies and generalizations in the mass media about blogging (if we care to)? I’d submit that it’s by trying to infect them with a sense of the excitement that so many of us feel about it. This was not Meg’s intention, it seems clear, and that’s cool. Perhaps her suggestion that I (or someone else) write an article that tries to do that is a good one. How much of the light of day it would see is another, only tangentially-related question.
    On an unrelated note, I’ve received my first-ever piece of spam from the email account at this blog. Obviously, as I’ve obscured it, someone harvested it by hand, presumably because they don’t like what I’m saying. How disappointing.

  14. Uh, or ‘what mattpfeff was saying’.
    Also : To say that ‘it’s all about the people’ is as vacuous as saying the Internet is ‘all about the bits.’
    No more vacuous than saying ‘it’s all about the permalinks’.
    Note that I didn’t say the first thing, and Meg didn’t say the second.

  15. Starvos wrote:
    I do think, though, that a lot of the praise being offered for this piece comes as a result of Meg’s moderate fame
    Where on earth do you get that idea? Is there any evidence online you can point to that supports this?
    When you say things like that, you’re discrediting her entire essay and indirectly, her writing as simply dependent on her fame.
    Am I a talentless hack that people fawn over too?

  16. No Matt, you’re far from a talentless hack, and so is Meg.
    As far as people fawning you, or over Meg, well, I’ve no idea, really. But I don’t think you can argue that your words, or hers, as a result of how well-known you both are, don’t carry more weight with people that those of an unknown. This is part of being a member of a community. People put more stock in what you say (or conversely are tempted to argue against it vehemently) if your name is known to them. It’s common sense.
    Amusingly, I just sent both of you an email about 5 minutes ago, all calm and nono-adversarial and let’s-be-pals. I was wondering as I sat here with my coffee whether I should write something similar publically..
    And about 90 minutes ago, I said this about you on the comments thread from my original post : “it’s not what he said on-air that’s important, it’s what he’s done, and that’s Metafilter, which to me is the single most important site on the net in recent times.
    When Matt says put up or shut up, he does have the cred to do so.”
    That would go for Meg, too, and Blogger.
    But Matt, I don’t need any evidence to say what I think. This is not Metafilter. If I’m wrong about the fame thing, fair enough. But I really don’t think that I am.
    It’s a good piece, yes, it is, damn it. But it’s also disappointing to me, because it misses, again for me, most of the point of why many of us (you included, I would assume) do this.
    And this side-argument you seem to want to have about fame unfortunately draws attention from what I was hoping to spark discussion about in the first place. Ah well.

  17. It’s a good piece, yes, it is, damn it. But it’s also disappointing to me, because it misses, again for me, most of the point of why many of us (you included, I would assume) do this.
    Ah, and here’s where the problem lies.
    The article does miss the point of why we blog, because I don’t think it tried to do that at all. Maybe Meg can clarify this, but the article doesn’t mention why anyone does anything.
    The article is about what people do when they blog, what makes a blog, and what blogs have in common.
    I don’t think the article ever tried to solve the question of why anyone does this, it simply shot for sizing up what we do.

  18. Has there ever, in the history of human communication, been a medium that was so self-regarding? Blogging–“the hymns that will bind the New Tribes together”–appears to be mainly about blogging. Having read many of the responses to the original article on several sites, I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t all just a diabolically brilliant parody.

  19. I guess, Matt, as far as that goes, then, the article does a fine job. It is called “What We’re Doing When We Blog,” after all. And that is, in fairness, what she talks about, in a utilitarian way.
    I think Meg’s first section must be the one that threw me off so badly…I think reading the first section, I expected something very different from what followed.
    Pete said : I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t all just a diabolically brilliant parody.
    Oh-oh, he’s on to us!

  20. Unlike stav’s “fuck humility,” comment, I’d like to take back my statement in the prequel to this thread about Meg’s article being the equivalent of an adult’s voice from the Peanuts. That was harsh, juvenille and thoughtless, basically all the things I am normally, but I should know better than to be in public. Rereading the article, I can see that it isn’t written for the intermediate blogger. However, I can also now understand why reading it originally, without the benefit of Meg and Matt’s comments on this site, why I understood it to be something different.
    There’s a long explanation about why Meg’s word would feel like law in this community, but I should know better. (When I read an article [by a name that carries the cache Meg Hourihan’s does in this community] that lays out the rules that I’ve been thinking about ways to forgo/move past/disregard, and I perceive said aritcle as being written for/by the “weblogging community,” the use of the collective “we,” I find myself feeling forced to agree. Meg says it, it must be so. I know that it wasn’t written that way, but again, there is the perception. Irrational? Yes. Definitely.)
    As for the why…. [Thinking aloud now] What is the soul of the weblog? Anybody feel like addressing that one?

  21. Matt, when I talk about ‘fame’ and stuff, the sort of thing I was talking about was the sort of thing that eyeballkid just mentioned. I suspect that perhaps the effects of you folks’ local-hero fame may be more widespread than you think. I base this guess also on a few comments you’ve made over the years at #006699 about it.
    eyeballkid : Although I understand your intention was not to ‘back me up’ or anything of the kind, thanks for trying to explain something that I couldn’t, at least as well as you have, without sounding petty.

  22. While I think the entire conversation is pointless because meg wrote the article she wanted to write and you read it the way you wanted to read it and nothing can change those two things no matter how many servers we cut down to.. er. how many comments are left.
    Meg needs to decide, as a writer, if she delivered what she wanted to deliver. If she did then she doesnt need to defend her position any further. I think she could be spending her energy on better things like planting more servers.
    As for Matt’s commentary on this, it still find it hard to believe (as Ive said many times before) that the supposed a-list is completely unwares of their position. It’s ridiculous to claim otherwise. Every group of humans on the planet has a pecking order of some type and blogging is no different from what i can tell.
    But, to reiterate what I said on burningbird, all this is so much idle chatter. It’s like the weblog version of days of our lives.
    And it seems even the a-listers cant pass on the obvious melodrama. Now, I’m doing it too. Sheesh.

  23. Ah, it’s all fun, as long as nobody gets their feelings hurt too badly, ruzz.

  24. That’s a fair little tempest you’ve brewed. Shall I pour?

  25. I think Matt gets to the heart of the matter: it was completely, and only, about the “what.” And if you wanted the “why” I can see how you’d be disappointed. As for it being rules, there were no rules in there. It was simply some observations I’ve had that I wanted to share with the community. That’s all my megnut columns are: observations that I want to share, sometimes with tips thrown in.

  26. Thanks for coming back to comment, Meg. I look forward to some fruitful discussion coming out of the ideas that Jeff at Visible Darkness and Steve at OnePotMeal are offering, more of which upstream from here…

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