It ought also to be said that he was immensely painstaking. [When he made] Broad and powerful statements…they were no mere assertions, but the product of countless hours of research into the minutiae of the subject. Even by the usual scrupulous standards of comparative philology, Tolkien was extraordinary in this respect. His concern for accuracy cannot be overemphasized, and it was doubly valuable because it was coupled with a flair for detecting patterns and relations. ‘Detecting’ is a good word, for it is not too great a flight of fancy to picture him as a linguistic Sherlock Holmes, presenting himself with an apparently disconnected series of facts and deducing from them the truth about some major matter. He also demonstrated his ability to ‘detect’ on a simpler level, for when discussing a word or phrase with a pupil he would cite a wide range of comparable forms and expressions in other languages.*
I have been thinking lately about these words written by a biographer of J.R.R. Tolkien, the master-builder of the Lord of the Rings universe and great scholar of language. For the past several months, I have been traveling, giving speeches about blogging and other online social-interactive media (OSIM) and Campaign 2008. Either in person or in tele-video or Webchat connections, I have spoken to groups in Germany, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and Afghanistan. In the United States, my audiences have varied widely, from high school teachers to the New England Journal of Medicine.
All ask the question: Where can we go to get trustworthy information?
In some ways, the great communications conceptual issue of the 20th century was that of access: Up through the early 1990s, to speak to large audiences, to have any real voice in public life, you either made do with an audience of your peers in a Norman Rockwell-like town hall meeting or you had to be a discourse elite. These latter were journalists, politicians, government staffers, celebrities and influential rich folk who made up the Golden Rolodex of who appeared and spoke on the narrow range of news, information, and political outlets then available. Now, hundreds of millions of people have potential access to a global audience through OSIM from blogs to MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr and many, many other venues. Not only can we create content—that is, be both a sender and receiver of information (what I call an “interactor”)—but also we can affect the popularity of other content through interfaces ranging from blogrolls to our google search histories to thepreference engines of DIGG and others.
But the 21st century has a new crisis. The voices are many, loud and raucous. Of course, such adjectives describe democracy and are a fairly good parallel to the early press in America, which received those freedoms our founders enshrined in the Constitution. But what many people are asking is, How do I get good information? How do I hear from someone who really is an expert in a subject, whether that expertise has been achieved by diligent application or through long experience or education? Where can I discover people who are coherent and responsible, intelligent and precise? We don’t have the time to sift through all the voices in the crowd.
Perhaps there is an analogy to food here. The “slow food” movement comprises people who advocate rejection of our industrialized agriculture and our all-you-can-eat fast food socio-culture. They say, Eat slowly; eat for taste as well as for health; know what’s inside the food you are eating; trust the sources of the food; and most of all try to eat local. Could the same be applied to the world of OSIM? Call this a slow or “bright” blog manifesto. In my book Blogwars, many of the bloggers I interviewed talked about the need to feed the blog—that is, if you don’t put up 2 to 3 new posts a day you lose your audience. But fast anything, unless you’re competing in the Olympics, is not necessarily the road either to author or audience fulfillment.
Slow food is safe and sensible food: smart eating. Slow or bright blogging means the following:
LIMIT YOUR AUDIENCE. Limit your target audience to people who are willing to participate in your blog in a cogent, intelligent fashion. The model is the listserv groups of professionals and academics. Lurkers are welcome, but spammers, ranters and liars are not. Invite controversy and debate; cherish argument. Reject hate, vitriol and the politics of personal destruction.
THINK, STUDY, THEN POST. Post when you have something to say, when you have thought and mulled over an issue, when you have taken the time to examine it, to check your facts, to confirm them with sources you trust, to consider the opposing points of view, to anticipate the counterarguments. Post on topics that are worthy of discussion. If you have a blog that celebrates the antics of your cats, by all means recount to us their funny interaction with a toy mouse and show us the pictures. No deep thoughts required there. But if you are blogging about cancer treatment, the Constitution, the Philippines, or good books, what’s the rush? Certainly, you might have a section on your blog or other OSIM platform where you provide breaking news, but the problem with breaking news is that everyone on the Internet is breaking it at about the same time. Why not have your loyal readers come to you for thinking about the news rather than off-the-top-of-the-head reaction?
SPECIALIZE. When I spoke at the “Citizen Journalism” Workshop at the BlogWorld & New Media Expo 2008, Sept. 19, Las Vegas Convention Center, bloggers asked about how they can penetrate an already crowded marketplace. well, I feel that blogging success should not be judged by quantitative metrics alone. Many blogs are performing important (and influential) functions while happily remaining numerical smallfry. In fact, if you are starting a new blog, whatever its subject, thinking small, tight, and high quality is a good business plan. Milblogger John Donovan (Castle Argghhh!)explained to me, “I follow the Small Business Administration’s advice for small-town businesses that find themselves suddenly confronting Wal-Mart: ‘Don’t fight Wal-Mart at what they do best.Figure out what they don’t do, and provide that service or commodity.'” Become the best “boutique” source of information on growing fruit trees in Northern latitudes, or party politics in Estonia, or Maine Coon cats. Don’t claim to know all and tell all: narrow your expertise and enhance your credentials.
SEND FRUGALLY. Send, forward, reply and above all “reply all” wisely. Reduce the number of messages in any form, from IM to email to Twitter tweets you send. Think: do I need to send this? Does anybody need to know it?
RECLAIM PRIVACY. I am old enough to remember when a “diary” was something you kept hidden from everybody, not just your parents. Perhaps we need to put our “id” back in the closet. Consider the joys of nonrevelation, not letting it all hang out, or keeping private thoughts and feelings restricted to a few trusted souls.
POST BY THEME, NOT BY JOURNAL. Slow blogging also means coming back to the same issue with new information, months or even perhaps years later. It thus calls for a nonlinear interface, less like a journal page or a Facebook wall that flits by and then deposits week-old items into archives. Think about accretive knowledge, where the accretion is slow, sure and steady, not slapdash.
These are some preliminary thoughts about what slow blogging would mean, and judging from my contacts in the last few months many communities are seeking out some form of it.There are and always will be many kinds of blogs: the rise of one form does not cancel out another. Here, the food analogy is, well, a bit strained, since “fast” blogging is fine and necessary in many cases. But we can also all hope that “bright”, slow blogs will become a trend, too.
See some other writings on this subject:
*Carpenter, Humphrey. 2000. “J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography.”Boston: Houghton Mifflin, pp. 139-140.
Erick Erickson, the founder of the huge conservative community blogredstate.com, made an interesting decision recently that he announced on the site:
A number of users have started posting throw away diaries that could best be comments. The result is that the good stuff scrolls off the front page too fast. I am going to begin deleting the garbage so the quality stuff survives and thrives.
I see this as evidence of “Slow Blog” (or Bright Blog) ideals starting to be adopted among online social-interactive media. Quality, not quantity: give it a try! It will indeed “survive and thrive.”
Other examples of Slow Blogging catching on?
Originally posted November 3, 2008 at PolicyByBlog