Â Steve OutingÂ &Â Scott Adams
Okay, they’re notÂ really twins.Â Outing isÂ a citizen media guru.Â Adams draws theÂ Dilbert cartoon. But theirÂ failures reveal a flawÂ in the DNA of theÂ Web –Â it sucksÂ as aÂ money-making medium forÂ content publishers. So what is it good for?
I woke this morningÂ with a song in my head. Do you remember “War,” the 1970 MotownÂ tune?Â With that in mind, I say:
Blogs! (pause) Huh?Â (pause) Yeah!
What are they good for?
As a reader and writer of blogs I oftenÂ feel that way, especially this morning as IÂ considerÂ two recentÂ declarations of failure by bloggers farÂ moreÂ accomplished thanÂ me. Steve Outing is a newspaper guy turned new media commentator. He recentlyÂ shut downÂ a network of citizen journalism sites, the EnthusiastÂ Group, devoted toÂ biking, hiking and otherÂ outdoor activities. Outing, who had tried to construct his startup around user-generated content, found he couldn’tÂ get enough good content to draw a large enough audience toÂ win the adÂ salesÂ he needed.Â His Editor & Publisher column, An Important Lesson About Grassroots Media, is aÂ thoughtful and instructiveÂ warning toÂ avoid the pitfallsÂ that he discovered.Â
Scott Adams. creator of the Dilbert strip, has blogged more or less daily for the lastÂ two years.Â ButÂ just before Thanksgiving he told readers he would be writing less frequently. Why? Because daily blogging hadÂ produced trivial ad income and, worse, he occasionally irritated blog readers who took their revenge by boycotting the Dilbert strip that pays his bills. Adams concluded his posting titled, “Going Forward,” with thisÂ quip:
“Itâ€™s hard to tell the family I canâ€™t spend time with them because I need to create free content on the Internet that will lower our income.”
I don’t dare show that remark to my family because they feel the same way. When my teenaged sons say, “Dad, are you blogging,” what they really mean is, “Dad, are you still stupidly wasting your time?”
I don’t have a great answer for them yet I continue to blog. Why?
Because I do not expect to make money. What I expect from my blogging is to “meet”Â like-minded people with whom I will later collaborate on projects that none of us canÂ yet imagine. It’s about organizing, stupid! It could be an information bank set up after the tsunami in Indonesia a few years ago, or the similar efforts that arose around Katrina. Or it could be the come-from-nowhere presidential campaign of Ron Paul (read about it).
These are ad hoc efforts and that is the only usefulÂ thing aboutÂ blogs — and hereÂ I useÂ blogs as a proxy for Web media in general. Web media and blogs are eclectic, edgy, entertaining, sometimes information and useful, sometimes evenÂ important — although the imporatance of any bit of commuication is measured byÂ its value to the recipient and Â not by some empirical measure such as weight or volume.
For the most part, however,Â blogs and the Web are distractions. They are a 24×7 pipeline to much of the accumulatedÂ wisdom, folly and drama of human kind. But how does the continual access to all of thatÂ . . . . content . . .Â help us get throughÂ our day? The fact is, it doesn’t. It is a distraction, not an assist. AndÂ though as a content creatorÂ it pains meÂ to say this, I thinkÂ Web content is properly valued at net to nothing because it isÂ not terribly helpful to me orÂ anyone else except on those rare instances whenÂ you or I really need Â to find something. That isÂ why a company like GargleÂ is worth a zillion dollars a share — andÂ few other publishers are making any money at all.Â Â Because investors haveÂ discerned that the Web –Â and its subset,Â the blogosphere — is simply oneÂ global shoe box filled with all sort of stuff that can so only found throughÂ a search. The rest of the time, we’d better stay away from this time-wasting sinkhole lest we fall into it and never be found again.
Errata: Thanks to my blog buddy Charlotte (ArtBlossom)Â Yee for pointing me toÂ the Scott Adams posting. And if I could entice you to waste a bit more time, the Wikipedia entry on the War songÂ is a cute, quick parable of one of the great protest songs of our time.