On the regulation of blogs

Thursday, 14 August 2003 — 11:10am | Literature

This week’s edition of The Economist takes a stab at the new verbal dumping ground of the unpublished and unpublishable:

Golden blogs

Blogging, to the horror of some, is trying to go commercial

SOMETHING is afoot in the still rather geeky world of “blogging” that could make publishing web logs as mainstream as e-mailing or instant messaging. AOL, a big internet service provider, is getting ready to offer its members free blogging in a few weeks’ time. This follows Google, the world’s most popular search engine, which in February bought the company that makes Blogger, a free programme for publishing web logs.

Web logs, known to their users as blogs, are web pages for self-anointed pundits—personal online journals, often updated throughout the day, full of raw, unedited opinions and links to other sites. Most are what one would expect from a new internet medium: nerdy, inane and barely grammatical, and intelligible only to teenage subcultures. [emphasis added] But others are erudite and thoughtful—such as andrewsullivan.com, a political commentary. Some are used in business—team members can keep abreast of progress on a project with blogs instead of messy trails of group e-mails. There are blogs for numerous online “communities”, including fat people, vegetarians, and Democratic presidential candidates. By some estimates, 750,000 people now blog, and the number is growing daily.

Because blogging is becoming so popular, people are belatedly pondering its economics. Blogging certainly incurs costs, including the expense for web hosts of storing all those journal entries. On the other hand, it also creates small, tight groups of readers that could make ideal target audiences for advertisers. Like search engines, once considered loss leaders, there is therefore an opportunity for “monetising something cool,” reckons Hal Varian, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley.

Read the full article. It’s a good read, and The Economist never fails to impress me with how it can pull off things like a summary of the entire state of the Internet in a sentence, as in the boldface statement above.

Yes, the whole weblog revolution is precisely based on independence, amateurism, and content free of editing, as pointed out by David Winer. Nevertheless, I do believe in one barrier that should be imposed if commercial blogging services want to have a hope in hell of establishing themselves as legitimate and not exploitative services.

It’s simple: create a respectable brand name by hosting respectable blogs. It’s a two-way relationship – selling the brand name will sell the blogs, making the service worth the money. It would draw a line akin to that between real book publishers and online print-on-demand services that don’t give a damn about what’s between the covers, though I am not speaking of regulation of content, but something much simpler: literacy. Have all the clients send in a sample piece of work, or pass a language aptitude test. Put it in the Terms of Service: the content of the blog doesn’t matter – just make it readable.

Think of an online magazine – not a publication, but a network of articles, free of editorial intervention regarding content, but coming with the guarantee of being intelligible. Societally, the most damaging devil-spawn created by the Internet is neither piracy nor pornography: it’s illiteracy. Weblogs are terrific for their freedom of content and accessibility, but they are beating the English language further and further into the ground.

Would people pay for what is essentially a language certification? If they want to stand out from the trash-heap and build a viable readership, yes. It’s like paying for commercial web hosting and a domain name instead of floundering around on GeoCities. Obviously, the people running the big-name blogs that already have readerships in the thousands don’t need this – but the rest of the Internet does.

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