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A Negative Blogosphere?

Posted By Darren Rowse 18th of March 2006 Blog News 0 Comments

Fascinating post over at Scobleizer on The new A list – some reflections by Robert on how he sees the the new breed of bloggers coming through treating his mate Dave Winer who recently announced he’s looking at stepping away from blogging. He describes this new ‘A-list’ of bloggers as a lynch mob.

“No one kept their head – the knives and guns just came out in this street fight. No one called both sides and did some real reporting. No one added any value. Built anyone up. No, all I read was “Dave’s an a++hole” kind of comments…. Ever notice that the new A list only tears down people and ideas but never puts new ideas, new products, new tools, out there to attack?”

My reaction to Robert’s post is mixed:

On the one hand I disagree that the new A-list never puts new ideas, products, tools out there. I see a lot of new bloggers developing interesting ideas and products. This is one of the things that excites me about the space we’re in at present – a new wave of fresh and creative sorts pushing into new space (not just in blogging but in it’s surrounding space also).

On the other hand I connect with the main thrust of Robert’s post.

I’ve noticed a change in the ‘vibe’ of the blogosphere over the last 12 months.

While there has always been arguments, fights, flame wars and snarkyness in the wider blogging community I wonder if it’s gone to new levels in the last year. Perhaps it is just me or the types of bloggers that I’ve been reading lately (and it could well be) – but I’ve noticed a significant increase in the mob mentality among some bloggers of late. Link baiting with ‘attack’ and/or ‘shock’ tactics has been used quite successfully by some bloggers to build their own profile with little (if no) regard for the impact that these strategies have upon those around them.

Some of this happened in the blog network space late last year but by no means is it contained in those circles.

We could probably spend a lot of time asking why this is happening (I’m not going to – although here’s a few possibilities):

  • is it a generational thing?
  • has it always been this way?
  • is it just about a new group attempting to establish themselves and/or an older group attempting to hold onto a space they’ve been in for a while?
  • do ‘new’ bloggers tend to be a bit more aggressive than more experienced ones? (an untested theory that I have from my own experience)
  • is this a symptom of a more crowded and competitive blogosphere?

I’m not completely sure on the answer but think it’s something worth exploring because it has the potential to impact us all in a number of ways:

  • Blogging’s Reputation – one of the regular things I hear from non bloggers about blogging is that it’s just something for angry, egotistical and opinionated people. I personally don’t feel that this is the case as I know a lot of bloggers who are anything but this – however there is an element within blogging that do fit this description to some extent. While I’ve got nothing against different styles of blogging – I do worry that if viciousness and pointless personal attack does creep into the blogging styles of many high profiled bloggers that this just buys into the public perception. This does nothing to grow the numbers or quality of the blogosphere.
  • Damaged People – I just don’t see the point of bringing others down for no good reason. I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life caring for and helping damaged people and don’t have much patience for those that inflict pain on others. Of course I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to critique each other (this is important in life – its how we grow) but the way we critique each other impacts not only the other person but those who witness it and ourselves. I’m speaking out of the consequences of critique upon myself here. We need to take responsibility for this.
  • Culture of Attack – while I do not agree with Robert that the new bloggers coming through never put anything forward in the way of new ideas, products etc I do think that some bloggers get so sucked into the buzz of attacking others that they begin to lose perspective and buy into blogging that adds nothing of real worth. It’s all very well to critique someone or an idea – but it takes skill and insight to be able to give a positive alternative. I want to be a part of a blogosphere that moves beyond a culture of just tearing things down and that breaks new ground.
  • individual’s rep – bloggers wanting to build a reputation on the back of attack need to be ready for the consequences of their own actions. For starters – ‘what comes around goes around’ and an attacking blogger can expect those they target (and their friends) to fight back and for their own blogging to come under intense scrutiny. Secondly blogs tend to attract readers that are like their bloggers and an attack blog can become a pretty negative and cynical place. Lastly – the web has a very long memory. Your written word becomes a permanent part of the web and can (and will) be used against you at a later time if you are not careful.

I don’t believe that we’ll ever take cynicism, negativity or critique out of the blogosphere (and nor would we want to) but I do hope that we find a more healthy way forward.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Something I’ve struggled with online is that often the things that I write come across being more negative than I intended. On a number of occasions I’ve retracted statements because they were hurtful when read, when I was trying to be constructive with criticism when writing. Though it’s not spot on to the topic you’re discussing, I think that there’s a real disconnect between what we write and what we mean. When we communicate in person, we have a number of tools at our use to give fuller meaning to what we’re trying to say, beyond the words we use. Our tone of voice, body language, and and so on. Something I could say to someone in person would make them laugh, they’d understand the joke, could be taken as an insult if all they had was the written words. I tend to think that bloggers on the whole are a lot friendlier than they often come across when you have just the words.

  2. The real negativity is how much time people have wasted laying into each other, mobbing or de-mobbing, when all those hours could’ve been put into building something positive.

    Some of the stuff I’ve written about DW, I don’t have any sympathy for him, and most people know what I think of RS. I have no regard for any kind of “listing” of bloggers whether it’s old A list, new A list, any kind of list.

    I think it’s amusing that RS chooses to write quite a negative post about the supposed negativity of the web. Maybe if he read outside the box sometime he wouldn’t see his clan beating up someone else in the clan.

    That’s why I don’t read his stuff except when he gets linked to, or DW, or any others of these supposed elite.

  3. There’s been a note of gloom in the blogosphere for a while now, mainly coming from the old tech A-list, which sees itself being usurped by the younger crowd and the commercial set — this blog is a prime example of the latter.

    RS and DW have been blogging 24/7 since the blog stone age. They’re all blogged out. Neither does it for money, just reputation and “celebrity” buzz. How they’ve maintained the energy over all those years beats me. The psychological force behind the responses they get would be enough to blow over an adult male elephant.

    Jaded, faded stars are always bitter. Norma Desmond would have a lot to say to Messrs Scoble and Winer. :-)

  4. I think it really depends on the blog, or type of blog in question.

    Visit some craft blogs, illustration blogs, or DIY blogs. You’ll rarely find the same level of negativity as you will on blogs where people are debating things like politics, emerging technology, or “blogging” in general.

    I think it’s a fallacy that you need to attack other bloggers / create a lot of shock to build your blog. My technorati ranking improved 380,000 points in the past few months, not because of link baiting or attack posts, rather by creating some things people have found useful (CSS Tutorials, a plugin for Firefox, a PHP Gallery, a MovableType Plugin).

    I think if people didn’t pay any attention to the negativity, and focused on creating things (images, video, comics, code, stories, music) their blogs will keep doing better and they’ll feel better about what they’ve produced as well.

  5. I’ve done my share of negativity in the past but my attitude now is: if I look back at my collective of posts in a year’s time, will I feel good about what I published, or not?

    In other words, will I get a warm glow in a year’s time if I read a load of posts attacking people? I doubt it.

    What I’m more likely to get a buzz from is seeing posts still pulling in visitors, helping people get the information they want, hopefully earning some revenue from. They tend to be the useful, informational posts.

  6. A spirit of trust is required at my blog — a support/information sharing space for people struggling with health and food related issues (and who isn’t?). Talking down to posters, insulting or flaming commenters just can’t be tolerated at a site like mine. And I don’t like it much even at blogs relating to other issues or subjects. I just don’t see the value in negativity as a conversation advancer.

    And so far it hasn’t been an issue. We’ve had nothing but the most supportive and uplifting interactions. And some very good – helpful information has been shared as a result of that trust.

  7. From a neophite blogger’s perspective: It may be as simple as a click of the mouse, or bloging, or as complex as being able to vote, but in some form or another we all have the freedom to do these things. Even in captivity, I can choose to breathe or not.

    I think the beauty of this situation is not the difference between good and evil, old school bloggers and new school bloggers, but the fact that we are able to express our ideas in just about any way possible.

    If you do not like negative bloggers and feel they tare apart the fabric of the “blog-o-sphere”, as i like to call it, think what would happen if they were all gone. Better yet, think what would happen if one day people decided they did not like what you were saying, and yanked your plug out of the wall.

    I say my glass is half full not half empty. I choose to be happy I am able to express myself and my ideas, along with others, even though I may not agree with them and even when they are negative.

  8. […] A Negative Blogosphere?: ProBlogger Blog Tips […]

  9. Personal attacks and snark are for lazy bloggers.

    A writer that focuses on such tactics is only hurting themselves in the long-term.

    Remember Norton Downey Junior?

    You probably don’t… but back in the 80s he had a top-rated talk show that drew in ratings by offending people and creating controversy. Downey lived to regret his crass behavior and he died in obscurity.

    Do you know who Oprah is?

    Of course you do! She also started a talk show in the 80s, but she focused on positive values and today she is still going as strong as ever!

    Whose career would you rather have?

  10. I rarely read the so-called A-list bloggers for exactly this reason. It’s not worth my time, because they’re adding little value. (Set aside for the moment that Darren probably could be considered an A-list blogger now.)

    I’ve found the best blogs are nowhere near the “top 100.”

  11. Who are the A-List bloggers we’re talking about here? The people on this list: http://www.technorati.com/pop/blogs/ ? Or is it a “SOAP, XML-RPC, RSS, OPML” technologist specific A-List? I only run into references to Dave Winer when I’m looking at a certain group of blogs.

  12. Since anyone and everyone can access the Internet cheaply, we’re seeing people from all walks of life, rich or poor, hooking in. With this comes all of the trappings of ego, pride, hate, envy, racisim, and a billion other corrosive traits being easily translated from the real-world right into the cyber-world. I can only imagine that this will continue to get worse as we progress further along.

    But the beauty of the Internet is that 99.9% of all of these attacks, insults, and the like are all nothing but hot-air from angry people. Unless my reputation is on the line (which isn’t much to speak of), or i’m in physical harm, then I’ll just choose to let these people turn blue in the face with their tantrums, while I go enjoy an ice-cream cone or something equally as good….


  13. Aaron Brazell says: 03/18/2006 at 8:15 am

    I’ve gone negative on Dave Winer a few times as well as his boy pup Scoble. And to be honest, I don’t care to back down now. Was Dave Winer important to blogging. Undoubtedly. Was he the be all and end all of blogging. Heck no.

    My biggest complaint with Winer wasn’t what he contributes but how he contributed. My way or the highway. If he didn’t like something, he grouched and grumped about it like the whole blog world was supposed to stop and cater to his opinion. The iTunes RSS spec was one such example (though to his credit, he’s right about his complaints there).

    The fact is the blogosphere is bigger than any one man. It is a living, breathing, evolving place and Dave just didn’t seem to be able to cope with the shifting landscape.

  14. It really is weird to see somebody attacking bloggers’ attitudes towards Dave Winer who has a historical reputation for being a pain in the ass. He got what he gave, from what I can tell and it will always undermine his other historical contributions.

    In the hip hop blogging world we saw an early generation of magazine writers and other thoughtful folks with whom I was happy to be associated. Many of the next wave attacked the previous wave to build their reputations. Interestingly enough, this was also a strategy for starting one’s career that one of my grad advisers suggested, though without the venom of many bloggers.

    Because of rap’s history of disses and insults, it’s not surprising that we find a lot of negativity there. What’s sad is that one of the most well known bloggers in hip hop built his reputation off attacks, false documents posted online, racist/homophobic humor, etc. His readership is not what you’d expect, i.e. many of his fans are well educated, some even are activists. I find it puzzling but folks are seeing that attacks, Gawker-esque nonsense and so forth makes money.

    More generally, I believe we see so much negativity on the web because we’re hearing the voices of those who would not normally get much attention because they’re unwilling to soften their edges to fit in or, they have to submit so much in workplace settings that they have a lot of anger to get out.

    It also seems related somehow to the phenomenon that in teaching, one’s most negative attacks mostly come in the form of anonymous teacher evaluations. Somehow the web has created a platform that a lot of things that people have been scared to say publicly can now say. I could go on but I’ve written too much.

  15. The thing is, blogging is becoming common. Just about everyone with access to a computer and an opinion is blogging. This has its pros and cons.

    Pros: Blogging is becoming more mainstream, and discussions between bloggers are becoming wider, allowing for more opinions. Cons: It’s allowing unprofessional people into the blogosphere, people who have nothing worthwhile to contribute, people whose only purpose is to pull others down. Crappy blogs are also being created (you know the ones), making it harder to find the worthwhile ones.

    I fear for blogging. In the future I see it becoming so common that it collapses under its own weight, kinda like the dot com bubble burst. Many of you may not share my pessimistic view on the future of blogging, but isn’t that what makes blogging beautiful, TRUE freedom of expression?

  16. It seems that I have somewhat of a different problem. Instead of being “negative,” I come across as more “didactic.”

    I recently asked for opinions from an online forum, and one guy suggested I change the “soap-box” tone. Ouch! At least, I didn’t take that as being a positive thing.

    However, in the end, my goal for the blog is to help young entrepreneurs learn. I don’t know how else I can go about tone-wise.

  17. I haven’t noticed this negativity or attacks but maybe I am reading the right web sites. It sounds like the negativity that you are describing is coming from people with little to say and the tools that we use to publish web logs have taken away the barrier to entry that would have prevented them from otherwise publishing ‘it’.

    “Blogosphere” and “A-List Bloggers”, such meaningless jargon.

  18. Clark – agreed that I don’t like either term but around any group of people will be a series of words that people come to understand and use. I tend to use ‘blogging community’ and ‘prominent bloggers’ a fair bit too – but sometimes I give in and use the terms I don’t like – especially when the article you’re referring to uses those terms and you want to continue the conversation.

  19. With so much white noise out there is it any surprise some new bloggers turn up the volume. I personally hardly ready any blog although I am a huge fan of the movement itself. Most stuff simply is recycled personal blabla and opinions.

    Generally most A-, B-, C- and D-List Bloggers should take a break anyway. Substance need inspiration and self reflection – both traits are not well cultivated.

    On Dave Winner – just because he invented stuff doesn’t mean he is a protected species. He wrote a lot of crap too.

    Overall the blogosphere takes itself way to serious for my taste. It also is a bunch of networked nitwits and shoulder slapping pals. The posts surrounding the recent SXSW event on various blogs and those really stupid blogger awards demonstrate that quality is not really important around ‘here’ – being pals with the right people is.

    But that happens everywhere anyway …

  20. If a blogger supports, say, dumping dioxins into the Colorado River, and I leave a comment at his blog that discredits him, haven’t I performed a public service?

    In the world of knitting or knitting-sweaters-for-kittens blogs, snarkiness or negativity probably doesn’t have a place. When dealing with more controversial topics (politics or even tech), going on the offensive against someone who’s wrong or doing damage might indeed be necessary.

  21. Communities implode. I wanted to comment yesterday, but couldn’t find the words. Then I read an article about Craig’s List, Flikr, and MySpace by Danah Boyd, and found this great quote. (http://www.danah.org/papers/Etech2006.html)

    Even with the organic growth that made all three sites popular, there are now millions of users who are not invested in the culture that the creators nurtured. Site-wide cultural cohesion starts to disintegrate. Sub-cultures with conflicting values form within the site. Managing this is hard for both the users and the creators. Design decisions are made to stop certain behaviors, but they simultaneously limit the good things that others can do.

    Remember usenet, before the masses discovered it? Likewise slashdot and Ward’s wiki (http://c2.com/cgi/wiki/), and lots of other places that I haven’t been a part of. At some point, the effort required to explain, demonstrate, inundate, and yes, sometimes enforce, the culture and etiquette.

    Blogs are different, because they’re (mostly) separate sites with arbitrarily overlapping sets of readers. Blogs are the same, because of the volume problem. There’s at least two dimensions to the volume, one being the sheer number of blogs being created. The other is the obsession with posting. It takes effort to post quality material. That’s really difficult to do to a deadline, and even harder if the competition is fierce.

    Two types of really easy posts to write? 1) Here’s this really cool link, but I’m not going to say much about it other than that its cool, and I’ll quote swathes of it to make this entry look bulky. 2) Here’s this really lame link/person/site, so I’ll cut into it/them without saying anything helpful to anyone. Actually, it might not be all that lame, but they’re famous so I’ll get some links and maybe some readers, and besides, my posting rate is low for the day.

    As long as it’s easier to post trash than quality, and as long as the blogosphere rewards quantity with readership, I suspect that low quality is going to be the norm, and negativity will form a large part of that low quality. For the rest of us, that makes it easier to stand out from the crowd with a lower volume of consistent quality posts.

    I don’t know how it will pan out, but I think that the fact that blogs are usually loosely affiliated means that the quality non-negative blogs will form a separate part of the blogosphere, and will evolve separately from the mainstream. That’s how it started, after all.

  22. Tribute To Dave Winer and Robert Scoble:

    Memorable Quotes from Sunset Boulevard. (1950)

    Joe Gillis: You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.
    Norma Desmond: I *am* big. It’s the *pictures* that got small.

    Norma Desmond: They took the idols and smashed them, the Fairbankses, the Gilberts, the Valentinos! And who’ve we got now? Some nobodies!

    Norma Desmond: We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!

  23. “Two types of really easy posts to write? 1) Here’s this really cool link, but I’m not going to say much about it other than that its cool, and I’ll quote swathes of it to make this entry look bulky”

    That’s not necessarily true. This style of “posting” came from academia, I know for sure it did for me, where posting a title of an article with abstract is common practice (ie. searching for journal articles). When I started one of my earlier weblogs there were few people discussing and sharing the important literature of our field. Finding some cool research was invaluable and why I visited weblogs. It’s a bit different now but I still appreciate the format. I don’t always have time to do more than read and share the article.

  24. @Clark – Absolutely. I find most of my new reading material through blog posts that link to valuable articles. (The Boyd quote above I found through such a link.) Indexes, Filters, Lenses, and Abstracts are all valuable resources.

    I’ve also come across blogs that mostly post about posts, without the added value of serving as an index or filter. I think that they’re more typical of the blogging-for-volume mania that has affected the community. I’d bet that even when you only have time to “read and share the article”, that kind of post is interspersed with thoughtful and original posts.

  25. I like Scoble’s blog a lot. But his reaction to the treatment of Dave Winer is utterly ridiculous (if predictable). Dave Winer a victim? In August 2004, with no warning whatsoever, Winer arbitrarily pulled the plug on 3,000 blogs hosted on Weblogs.com, without giving bloggers any time to backup posts or make other arrangements. Who was one of the only bloggers who mysteriously remained online? Yep, it was Scoble. And we’re supposed to feel bad for bloggers being mean to Dave Winer? Maybe its blog karma, and what goes around comes around.

  26. Nice article! I agree there seems to be a lot of agression and competitive blogging going on lately in a quite non-constructive way.

    As an additional read you might like to check out what I wrote about the situation in the Dutch blogosphere.

  27. […] I’ve been reading some responses to Robert Scoble’s disgust at what appears, to him, to be an increase in aggressive, snarky writing on certain “A-list” tech blogs. Noteworthy are Darren Rowse’s post at ProBlogger and subsequent comments, particularly, comments by Stuart Robertson of Design Meme and by Paul -V- of Brainshrub. See also the summary at Bloggers Blog. […]

  28. How can you possibly read any more than a fraction of the blogs out there, in order to be able to say, with any certainty, that blogs are now more negative???

    Nice headline though, you certainly pulled me in. I didn’t click on any ads though :P Even though it was a nice headline, I am now less likely to fall for any other of your headlines in future, as my faith in the quality of your content has dropped.

  29. Rimu – Sorry if you felt falsely pulled in by the headline – that was not my intention. I think if you read the comments that you’ll find that many feel similarly to me about a change in vibe in the blogosphere. I never claimed every blog is more negative – I did say that it could be just the segment of the blogosphere I’m reading.

  30. You don’t have to read the entire blogosphere to know there’s a tendency towards more negative postings and comments.

  31. I am a small-time blogger with a very low-profile site, and I must admit that I use my blog to vent my spleen. I would say my writing is mostly negative, and often directed at specific individuals. I’m not looking for revenge, or publicity, I’m just looking to get things off my chest and move on.

    Still, it has occured to me that I should make more of an effort to be positive in my thoughts and words. And I do believe in blog karma…

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