Tag Archives: blogosphere

The Irony of Wente, Opinions, Blogs and Gender

Once again a Globe Columnist talks about technology in a manner that is not just factually completely incorrect but richly Ironic!

Earlier today Margaret Wente published a piece titled “Why are bloggers male?” (I suspect it is in print, but who knows…). The rich irony is that Wente says she doesn’t blog because she doesn’t have instant opinions. Readers of her column likely have their doubts. Indeed, I hate to inform Ms. Wente that she does have a blog. It’s called her column.

Reading her piece, one wonders if Wente has ever followed a blog. Her claim that women don’t like to emit opinions every 20 minutes struck me – as an incredibly active blogger – as odd. I post 4 times a week. Of course, as anyone who actually uses the internet knows, there is a blogging like medium where people are more predisposed to comment frequently (although not every 20 minutes). It’s called twitter. But if, as Wente claims, women are hardwired to not share opinions, why then – according to Harvard Business School – do women outnumber men on twitter 55% to 45%? Indeed, what is disturbing about the Harvard survey is that rather than some innate desire to have opinions, women suffer from the disadvantage of having their opinions marginalized for some other (social) reason. Both women and men tend to follow men on twitter rather than women.

But forget about the complete lack of thought in Wente’s analysis. Let’s just take a look at the facts.

Her piece starts off with the claim that men are more likely to blog than women. Of course Wente doesn’t cite (or hyperlink? the internet is 40 years old…) a source so it is hard to know if this is a fact or merely an opinion. Sadly, a quick google search shows Wente’s opinions don’t match up with the facts. According to a 2005 Pew Research Centre study (look! A hyperlink to a source!):

“Women and men have statistical parity in the blogosphere, with women representing 46% of bloggers and men 54%”


But it get’s worse. In The Blogging Iceberg by the now defunct Perseus’ Development Corporation claims that its research shows that that males were more likely than females to abandon blogs, with 46.4% of abandoned blogs created by males (versus 40.7% of active blogs created by males). That might even tilt the balance in favour of women… And of course, in France, that is what Médiamétrie has found, with over 50% French bloggers being female.

I do agree the men are potentially more likely to share their opinion than women. But there may be strong social reasons for this and it is clearly not that cut and dry. Many women have decided they want to share their opinions via twitter – indeed more women than men have. And of course, when it comes to being “quick to have opinions on subjects they know little or nothing about” men hardly have a monopoly. One need only look at Wente’s daily blog. Or, I meant to say, column.

Okay, that’s two blogs in one day. I’m taking tomorrow off.

Added March 19th: Nick C sent me a link to a fantastic post by Spydergrrl in which she points out that this was probably all a gimmick to get people to show up to an event Wente is putting on. It is a dark, unnerving perspective but one that sounds plausible. So, I say, boycott Wente’s event.

10,000 hours and The Coming Online Talent Explosion

About half way through Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success and, if he’s thesis and the research it is based on is valid, I think we are in for some exciting times in the online writing world.

Gladwell talks about how it takes about 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in area, subject or practice. Referencing a study of musicians that sought to determine how many “natural” talents their were, Gladwell notes that:

“The curious thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any “naturals” – musicians who could float effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time that their peers did. Nor could they find “grinds”, people who worked harder than everyone else and yet just didn’t have what it takes to break into the top ranks. Their research suggested that once you have enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. What’s more, the people at the very top don’t just work much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”(H/T Tim Finin)

How much harder?

“In those first few years everyone practiced roughly the same amount, about two or three hours a week. But around the age of 8 real difference started to emerge. the sudtents who would end up as the best in their class began to practice more than everyone else. 6 hours a week by age 9, 8 hours a week by age 12, 16 hours a week by age fourteen and up and up until by the age of 20, they were practicing – that is purposefully, and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better – well over 30 hours a week. In fact by the age of 20 the elite performers had totalled 10,000 hours  of practice over the course of their lives, by contrast the merely good students had totaled 8000 hours and the future music teachers had totaled just over 400 hours. “

He then cites example after example of this trend. 10,000 hours – usually attained only after about 10 years – is a magic number.

Well, two years ago my friend Taylor and I wrote this piece about the 10th anniversary of blogging. Since the blogosphere is only about 12 years old there are not that many people who’ve been blogging for 10 years – moreover, the scant few who have are most likely to be those who work, or and deeply interested, in Information Technology. If Gladwell is correct it means that virtually all bloggers  (self-included, only 3.5 years) and especially those without an IT background, are likely well short of the 10,000 hour mastery threshold.

This is exciting news. It means that despite the already huge number of great blogs and bloggers we are probably only experiencing a fraction of what is to come. Given bloggings exponential growth I’d wager that the world is about 2-5 years away from an explosion in writing talent. Today all sorts of people who would never have previously written are writing blogs. Many are terrible, some are good, and fewer still are excellent. But what is important is that they are gaining experience and learning. With more people reaching that 10,000 hour mark, more talented people will also reach it – consequently, we should see more gifted writers. Better still, it is possible their talent will be restricted to blogs – but perhaps not. As these writers get more recognized some they will shift to books, or magazines or whatever new medium exists by then.

All in all, the first half of the 21st century could be one of the greatest for writers – and as a result, for readers from thereafter too. The internet’s writing renaissance could be upon us soon.

Bureaucracies and New Media: How the Airforce deals with blogs

A friend forwarded me this interesting diagram that is allegedly used by the United States Air Force public affairs agency to assess how and if to respond to external blogs and comments that appear upon them.

Airforce Blog Reaction

It’s a fascinating document on many levels – mostly I find it interesting to watch how a command and control driven bureaucracy deals with a networked type environment like the blogosphere.

In the good old days you could funnel all your communications through the public affairs department – mostly because there were so few channels to manage – TV, radio and print media – and really not that many relevant actors in each one. The challenge with new media is that there are both so many new channels emerging (YouTube, twitter, blogs, etc…) that public affairs departments can’t keep up. More importantly, they can’t react in a timely fashion because they often don’t have the relevant knowledge or expertise.

Increasingly, everyone in your organization is going to have to be a public affairs person. Close off your organizations from the world, and you risk becoming irrelevant. Perhaps not a huge problem for the Air Force, but a giant problem for other government ministries (not to mention companies, or the news media – notice how journalists rarely ever respond to comments on their articles…?).

This effort by a bureaucracy to develop a methodology for responding to this new and diverse media environment is an interesting starting point. The effort to separate out legitimate complaints from trolls is probably wise – especially given the sensitive nature of many discussions the Air Force could get drawn into. Of course, it also insulates them from people who are voicing legitimate concerns but will simply be labeled as “a troll.”

Ultimately however, no amount of methodology is going to save an organization from its own people if the underlying values of the organization are problematic. Does your organization encourage people to treat one another with respect, does it empower its employees, does it value and even encourage the raising of differing perspectives, is it at all introspective? Social media is going to expose organizations underlying values to the public, the good, the bad and the ugly. In many instances the picture will not be pretty. Indeed, social media is exposing all of us – as individuals – and revealing just exactly how tolerant and engaging we each are individually. With TV a good methodology could cover that up – with social media, it is less clear that it can. This is one reason why I believe the soft skills are mediation, negotiation and conflict management are so important, and why I feel so lucky to be in that field. Its relevance and important is only just ascending.

Methodologies like that shown above represent interesting first starts. I encourage governments to take a look at it because it is at least saying: pay attention to this stuff, it matters! But figuring out how to engage with the world, and with people, is going to take more than just a decision tree. We are all about to see one another for what we really are – a little introspection, and value check, might be in order…

eaves.ca… the 5th most popular political blog in Canada?

According to a list compiled by A Dime a Dozen I’ve been ranked as one of Canada’s top political blogs. Last month I think I was something like 17th, but this month I’ve rocketed to 5th place.

The accuracy of any blog list can be contested (and with so many political bloggers not making the cut, this one certain is being contested). So readers should make up their own mind on whether a list is good, helpful or important. That said, it is in nice to make anyone’s list, be it one built around strict criteria, or just a list of someone’s favourite blogs.

As an aside, I am surprised to find my blog ahead of Warren Kinsella and Michael Geist and pleased to see it ahead of Ezra Levant and The Western Standard and SteynOnline (whose critique of the American legal system after Conrad Black’s guilty conviction still stands as one of the worst pieces of blog commentary ever written by a professional). To see them ranking lower than my site says more about their limited appeal than it does about my readership levels.

Of course, not everyone is happy with the list and so other, alternative lists have been proposed – and I appear on some (13th), but not on another.

In the end though, it is great that others enjoy stopping by to visit and linking to me from time to time. I owe readers a big thank you. Two years in I’m still trying to stay true to some sage advice from a good friend who told me to write for myself – as though no one is going to read what I post. In part that was because in the blogosphere there is a good chance few will read what you write, but it is wiser still because blogging should be about letting your audience find you, not about finding an audience (I could get larger audiences by writing outrageous things – that temptation is often there for bloggers). So in that spirit I continue to try to be guided by my tag line: this place is my gym, somewhere to exercise my writing muscle and my mind. If it spurs others to exercise their brain muscles – or even their own writing muscles – all the better!

Op-Ed in Yesterday's Toronto Star

Taylor Owen and I published this piece in the Toronto Star on the 10th anniversary of blogging and its impact on news media. (PDF version here)

Blogosphere at age 10 is improving journalism
Jul 30, 2007 04:30 AM
David Eaves & Taylor Owen

Although hard to believe, this month marks the 10th anniversary of blogging, a method for regularly publishing content online.

And what a milestone it is. A recent census of “the blogosphere” counted more than 70 million blogs covering an unimaginable array of topics.

Moreover, every day an astounding 120,000 new blogs are created and 1.5 million new posts are published (about 17 posts per second). Never before have so many contributed so much to our media landscape.

Despite this exponential growth, blogging continues to be misunderstood by both technophiles and technophobes. For the past decade the former have maintained that blogs will replace traditional journalism, ushering in an era of citizen-run media. Conversely, the latter have argued that a wave of amateurs threatens the quality and integrity of journalism – and possibly even democracy.

Both are wrong.

Blogging is not a substitute for journalism. If anything, this past decade shows that blogging and journalism are symbiotic – to the benefit of everyone.

To its many ardent advocates, blogging is displacing traditional journalism. But journalism – unlike blogging – is a practice with a particular set of norms and structures that guide the creation of content. Blogging, despite its unique properties (virtually anyone can reach a potentially enormous audience at little cost), has few, if any norms.

Consider another, more established medium. Books enable various practices, such as fiction, poetry, science and sometimes journalism, to be disseminated. Do books pose a threat to journalism? Of course not. They do the opposite. Journalistic books, like blogs, increase interest in the subjects they tackle and so promote further media consumption.

The same market forces that apply to books and newspapers apply to blogs.

Readers will judge and elect to read based on the same standard: Does it inform, is it well researched and does it add value?

Because blogs are cheaper to maintain they will always be numerous, but this makes them neither unique nor more likely to be read regularly.

Ultimately blogs, like books, don’t replace journalism; they simply provide another medium for its dissemination and consumption.

If technophiles mistakenly claim that blogging competes with – and will ultimately replace – traditional journalism, then technophobes’ fear of being swept away by a tsunami of irrelevant and amateurish blogs is equally misplaced.

Traditionalists’ concern with blogging is rooted in the fact that the average blog is of questionable quality. Ask anyone who has looked, and cringed, at a friend’s blog.

But this conclusion is based on a flawed understanding of how people use the Internet. The Internet’s most powerful property is its capacity to connect users quickly to exactly what they are looking for, including high-quality writing on any subject.

This accounts for the tremendous amount of traffic high-quality blogs receive and explains why these bloggers are print journalists’ true competition. As technology expert Paul Graham argues: “Those in the print media who dismiss online writing because of its low average quality miss the point. No one reads the average blog.”

Once this capability of the Internet is taken into account, the significance of blogging shifts. Imagine that only 5 per cent – or 75,000 – of daily posts are journalistic in content, and that only 1 per cent of these are of high quality. That still leaves 750 high-quality posts published every day.

Even by this conservative assessment, the blogo- sphere still yields a quantity of content that can challenge the world’s best newspapers.

In addition, as a wider range of writers and citizens try blogging, the diversity and quantity of high-quality blogs will continue to increase. Currently, the number of blogs doubles every 300 days. Consequently, the situation is going to get much worse, or depending on your perspective, much better.

As bloggers continue to gain tangible influence in public debates, our understanding of this phenomenon will mature.

And this past decade should serve as a good guide. Contrary to the predictions of both champions and skeptics, blogging has neither displaced nor debased the practice of journalism. If anything, it has made journalism more accurate, democratic and widely read.

Let’s hope blogging’s next decade will be as positive and transformative as the first.