Open Thread: We Have to Talk.

we have to talk

This week has been one stupid internet thing after another.

  • A friend told me about an offer to engage in sketchy blogging practices from a company I’d previously thought of as legit. It bummed me out.
  • I got spam asking me to run a “We’re traveling the world, you’re in the rat race” infographic and some of the people featured in it are people I previously thought of as stand up humans. It bummed me out.
  • I made the mistake of watching the American Blogger trailer, a clip that looks more like an ad for a eugenics project than a documentary about blogging. It REALLY bummed me out.

Blogger launched in 1999, I’ve been on the web since a year, maybe two before that. I’m not, nor have I ever been dependent on blogging for my living, but it has been a grand romance, truly a love affair with the media and the people it connected me with. I’ve been a fierce defender when critics have tried to paint “bloggers’ with the same broad brush of sloppy work, failure to fact check, and being motivated by greed and cynicism.

And now, I’m turning into that person who thinks that maybe, just maybe, they’re right and it’s time to see other mediums.

Several years ago, I sold my condo in a divided 1914 house on Capitol Hill, one of Seattle’s best neighborhoods. The house wasn’t an easy place to share, but my previous neighbors were kind and we managed to get along. I loved living there but when the owner downstairs sold his unit, it was purchased by a guy who was a real asshole.  His presence was actively degrading the quality of my home life, he was noisy, inconsiderate, rude, entitled, and when I tried to do nice things for him, he treated me like I was the help. After I moved, he used my name for mail fraud; I reported him to the police. The place I’d loved to live had been ruined for me. I’m not sorry I live where I do now, but it was not a joyful move. I was sad to leave the neighborhood that had been my home for so long.

Yes, there’s an analogy here.

Internet, we have to talk. Is this what we want from the web? Petty link schemes, pandering to our own vanity, and a singular, homogenous view of the world?

It’s not me, it’s very much you.

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25 thoughts on “Open Thread: We Have to Talk.

  1. I’ve been feeling this way about blogging and about social media since last summer. I’m looking for reinvention while writing in the quiet. I’m at a point where I just don’t care so much any more. And that’s fine by me.

  2. I wouldn’t stop writing books just because other books were crappy. I guess it sounds more about being disappointed with people you liked for participating in the kind of cross-pollinating, self-important, make-me-famous schemes than you don’t like blogging anymore, or don’t trust it.

    Though I haven’t seen the trailer for American Blogger. Maybe that’s why I’m blithely making the book-blog comparison.

    also, miss our chats. Should find the time to schedule one!

    • That movie trailer was the crap icing on the crap cake. In a depressing shift, this isn’t even about quality. It’s “If you’re not going to make something good, can you at least make something honest or useful?” And that’s REALLY depressing.

      We are LONG overdue for a virtual visit. Agreed.

  3. I gotta agree with Eileen here. The fact that there ARE so many terrible blogs, so many sketchy blogging practices, so much useless crap like the American Blahger doc out there pisses me off, but it also makes me want to work harder to be different and tell the stories *I* think are important (which was why I started a blog in the first place). If great bloggers like you– who are the exception that disproves the rule– give up, the terrorists win.

  4. I’m with Eileen’s books on this. There’s no shortage of stuff on the travel-web that annoys the hell out of me (for a vast range of reasons) but there is still the stuff I love – and I do love what I do.

    While the warm rage the crap gives me now and then is a means to touch the earth, I’m best to just ignore it and get on with what I do. This is a web for all and let them do what they do – there’s no need to read it.

    It’s easier to do than moving house.

  5. I would like to reach out to you and point out that this is why the ancients gods of Scotland invented whisky. Brace yourself with a sharp stiffener (make it a decent malt), release an almighty goodfellasy-Joe-Pesci-type oath OUT LOUD (fcuk you cakesuckas), then block and ignore.

    Then, like a good hobbit, you can set out on your own path yet again. Fully innoculated against the linkbaity, wankery shite. The path of wry amusement, intelligence and curiosity. More John Peelywallyness that corporate AOR blandness.

    You’ll get yer mojo back. Whisky ASAP. It’ll free your mind*


    *not guaranteed

  6. There is something going on out there. So very much noise, so very little worthwhile content.

    I long for the magical reads.. the stories… the humanity. I find the “five ways to… ” “22 signs you’re doing it wrong”…

    I want to find the quality again and somehow keep it separate from all the noise. But I have to trudge through so much noise to find it!

  7. I did sit down with a good snort of whiskey last night and it helped, but I’m an emotional drunk, just like I’m emotional sober.

    I think at times that the terrorists *have* won this battle. I thought it might be too soon to tell, but a friend who I trust — and whose job it is to track these things — said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but the indy web is dying.”

    I have turned off the blogging co-ops and automated sharing groups and conferences and I have blocked the hashtags. I’ve stopped reading those those who wait to disclose until the end of the post and changed my own disclosure tactics to almost comical over-sharing. I ignore the pyramid schemes and blogging schools and I delete 95% of what comes into my inbox. I won’t do a “blogtrip” (or answer an email that uses that word), and if I’m doing a press trip nowadays, it’s because I have an assignment from a publication.

    I’ve turned away from “blogging” as my compass and towards more traditional journalistic ethics — a move I just yesterday saw trashed on a Facebook thread, as though a request to raise the bar on blog content was some kind of outrageous, disgusting thing to ask for, as though somehow the blogging format is immediately absolved from accountability for what’s *in* that format.

    I don’t think content marketing is bad, and I don’t think making your own damn thing is bad, and I don’t think funny cat videos are bad, and I don’t think PR is evil by default. The FTC sword rattlers don’t want you to work on your punctuation and Google doesn’t want you to stop making posts about how awesome your product is, but both of them do want you to stop misleading to your readers, to stop passing off marketing as editorial, to stop gaming search.They’re toothless to enforce these things, really, and more’s the pity because if they had powerful regulation, we’d have to make things people want to talk about and we’d have to be honest.

    We’re choking a place that has been my home for 15 years with lazy intellectual garbage. That documentary maker couldn’t find a dad to talk to? Those 10 couples who quit their jobs couldn’t share something valuable that they’d learned? That company couldn’t find a way to do something people wanted to talk about, they had to use sleazy tactics? These are symptoms of the general degradation of the media that we’ve been given — what a tremendous thing to own the free press, each and every one of us.

    No one will really care if I take my toys and go home, and that’s not really my point here. I’m also not saying there’s no good work anywhere, turn off the lights. I’m saying look at what we’ve done with our free press. We have the tools in our hands to build digital worlds, but instead, we seem bent on building one venue after another for advertising.

    I started blogging to make sense of my world. This commentary is an extension of that, making sense of my virtual world, and right now, I don’t care much for the view.

  8. In response to your last response…

    I can understand the frustration. I do my best to ignore it. I also don’t have the same reasons for being online and am at a different point in my doing-what-I-do.

    That said, as long as you keep writing, it’s all good.

  9. I felt similarly disappointed last summer when I realized how many bloggers who’s work I had admired for years, had given into becoming platforms of dry unpersonal travel advice created by a guest poster who’s only interest was to have backlinks to, say, an insurance website, a cheap holiday page, etc.

    I was a second away from deleting my blog and giving up – but realized that I had to reassess who’s blog I still find inspiring.

  10. When I first read this post I felt (in your words) REALLY bummed out. You’ve articulated something that’s been lurking in the dark corners of my mind that I’ve been avoiding making eye contact with. However after indulging in some self pity and frustration at being too late to the party I began to see it is a challenge and an opportunity instead.

    I am very much a newbie to the blogging community and so I’m still learning the ropes and feeling my way around. I’m also still trying to nail down exactly what it is I want my site to “be” when it grows up. I am struggling here because I want it all. I want to be authentic, truthful and of value to my readers but I am also trying to create a new life for myself including building a business which allows me to work remotely.

    It seems that had I started down this path ten years ago the above scenario was very doable however now things are very different. Now the internet is flooded if not saturated with sites about travel and the travel lifestyle and although there is still plenty of good and valuable information out there you have to sift through a ton of crap to find it. I myself am becoming more and more cynical and skeptical about what I read and what the intentions are behind the content so I have to assume that my readers will be feeling the same.

    This of course is where the bummer factor comes in. Is there still hope for me to be able create a blog that can be heard above the ka-ching of the internet or is it too late? Is blogging both as an artistic outlet and also as a viable business platform doomed and damaged beyond repair or can it be salvaged?

    Personally I am choosing to see hope. Instead of seeing myself as getting in too late I am choosing to see it as getting in early to the new generation of blogging. This medium is not going away but it does seem to be coming to a necessary turning point. All things change and in order to succeed in life we need to accept that and find a way to be a positive part of that change. Hopefully in this case change will weed out some of the insincere and unscrupulous and will allow the authentic content to become more visible again.

    • It’s never too late to offer a great product or service from the boundless universe of the web.
      One Does Not Simply...

      But let’s be clear, one does not simply “make money blogging.” You can:

      – Sell advertising in one of it’s many flavors — disclosed or otherwise.
      – Sell products either made by you or through an affiliate program
      – Sell links in content or on their own to SEO gamers
      – Sell your audience by charging a pay for play rate to put content in front of them.
      – Sell lessons in how to do all of the above.

      These are the big ones for “making money blogging”. You can also be hired to blog for others, work for hire, but in travel, the money is pretty shabby. The best money is in throwing over any pretense of journalism and going for marketing dollars, that pay for play stuff. And lots of people are doing it, but smarter minds than mine say this is going to end soon as the focus turns toward content that’s owned by the company that wants to create it rather than paying a bunch of independent hacks to produce copy over which they ultimately have very little control — either of quality or content. Product sales — affiliates — isn’t a bad line, and that’s the one I like best out of the lot because it’s the least compromising, but you have to want to be focused on consumer goods/services.

      So, no, it’s not too late. Make something great that no one else is making, that people really want and are willing to pay for. Do that.

      • Thanks Pam, you are totally reinforcing my intentions which is great because I was beginning to feel like a bit of a sap. I know it sounds corny but I really do want to provide something useful, something that contributes positively to lives (mine and others) in a way that is unique and authentic. I also want to create something with a bit of a lifespan as I am not in my 20’s or even 30’s any more! Should be easy right? Hahaha.

        This is why my blog is somewhat generic at the moment, I’m still finding my way and I’m learning and growing as I go. Isn’t that really what blogging…and life…is all about? I realize that blogging in itseIf does not generate income and I’m not opposed to some of the avenues you’ve listed above but it’s important to me that I believe in what I’m selling, providing or affiliating with.

        I have some great ideas but they need fine tuning and I don’t want to jump too fast and too far in a wrong direction. Yes I need to eventually make money but since I don’t give much of a crap about material things, I have no debt and no kids and I’m happy making a temporary home wherever I happen to be I don’t need to make a whole lot of mulah. This means I am not as tempted by the slightly (or not so slightly) sketchy, fly by night options that make more money and I am willing to take the time to find what is right for me. Worst case scenario I have to stop traveling and go back to the 9-5 rat race for a while but at least I will be doing it with a clear conscience.

    • I read the Missus’ reply, and because I am a hard hearted wench, I think “the road to hell” and all that. Are we supposed to take it as a vanity project or are we supposed to take it seriously? If it’s just “Just a fun little movie for the people that follow my blog, follow these women’s blogs” then what’s with the grandiosity? Why not just throw something on YouTube, why do I even know about it? And if it’s “for anyone that has ever thought about creating a space on the internet that is all theirs,” well, it’s kind of failing to invite those people in by claiming to speak for them, yet focusing on one narrow demographic. It looks like classic “in the bubble” thinking to me — “We think we’re great, and we mean well, so everyone else will surely think we’re great too! What’s with the hating? It’s pretty!”


  11. I love this: “If great bloggers like you– who are the exception that disproves the rule– give up, the terrorists win.”

    And I REALY LOVE this (cuz how else can you convey you REALLY LIKE SOMETHING online w/o caps): “We’re choking a place that has been my home for 15 years with lazy intellectual garbage.”

    You may feel, Pam, like David vs Goliath when it comes to web flotsam, but your words ring true. I felt this way for a long time but I figured I was being a stereotypical English major snob who just hadn’t caught on. But it’s been a few years now and I still feel this way. So stay strong! It’s like parenting a kid through the teenage years. The Internet is having its growing pains, but hopefully you’ll stick around and continue to share your voice 5, 10, 20 years from now. The Internet NEEDS YOU. 🙂

  12. I hear you. There used to be a time when nearly 100% of my writing was online, back when I worked for other people. Once I started to freelance, my familiarity and comfort with how the Internet worked meant most of my freelance writing was there, too. But the change from the journalistic standards I was comfortable with to the hashtaggery and blog trips and such (not to mention that print pays far better for articles) pushed me to print. Nowadays, probably 95% of my work is print.

    So, while I could have chosen to stand and fight, or ignore the craptastic and continue to focus on quality, I kinda ran away. Which is a perfectly fine choice. But, like with the example Eileen gave, I think this kind of stuff happens with every medium. There can be quality TV programming, and there can be reality TV nonsense. But just because the nonsense exists doesn’t mean artists can’t still produce quality.

    I know, I’m disappointed, too. I’ve been working online since the early ’90s. And while I have run away to some degree, I also think that there’s a lot of promise if we can shove the noise to the side and make room for great writing.

  13. No matter what industry you are in there are good and bad people/companies etc. It’s even harder when you are in a fairly unregulated industry such as blogging. All you can keep doing is enjoy what you are doing and let the others do what ever they want. Being upset isn’t going to change the way they do things and only take away from your own happiness 🙂

    • The classic, “Don’t let it get to you, they’re not hurting anyone” argument. I’m not saying this is your intent, but it’s a little too similar to “Shut up.”

      Unregulated industries become regulated because people speak up about what’s wrong with them. And I do think it’s harmful, though not in a dumping chemicals in the water supply manner. Gamed SEO means search results are cluttered with useless junk. Poorly fact checked writing means readers are misinformed. Sleazy tactics pollute the web, and I don’t think that’s harmless.

  14. My partner and I had a similar experience with neighbours about 2 years ago. Loved the house, neighbour was fine, neighbour moved out, asshole moved in, made our lives hell. For no reason other than they were bogan thugs. Got to the point where they were throwing beer bottles at my partners new car at 4am and we were having regular sessions with the police to try sort it out (when that failed, we ended up moving out in a weekend; luckily we were renting and didn’t have to sell).
    Anyway, sob story aside, as a web developer (got into it for fun in ’99) I agree wholeheartedly with you. The amount of clients who ask if I can do SEO – and then REQUEST for me to undertake dodgy practises – because they’re struggling to be heard – is far too high.

    The real problem is that for so long, bodgy practises on the net have been rewarded by gaining higher visibility in Google’s results. Hell, the first “web” company I worked for (who sold themselves to me as an online magazine, but ended up being a bodgy internet affiliate marketing place) eventually stopped me & my colleagues coding and had us making fake social profiles and pretending we lived in other countries, all to gain link exchanges and a higher position in the SERPs. We were instructed to spend no less than 4 hours a day on commenting on blogs using our keywords.
    After a bout of “holy shit, what is going on” disbelief bordering on depression, I left swiftly.

    If these practises stop being rewarded – if they stop working – they will go away. Right? Right?
    *Breaks down and sobs into wine glass*

    • There’s always going to be gamers, always. I’m still surprised at how institutionalized it is, that there are companies like the one you worked for that engage in this stuff, but hell, big companies have hired bloggers and stated, explicitly, that it was an SEO play, it’s not just done by shady chop shops, Expedia did it. Four hours a day commenting would depress me something fierce, but I guess we get the web we deserve.

      Sorry, I’m not helping. Every time Google re-ranks, I giggle a little. There’s that.

  15. Hey Pam, I know this is old, but I just stumbled on it. I just wanted to point something out. Mike and I, (apparently, I had to click through to find out) are on that infographic. This is the first I’ve heard of it, if I had to guess, I would say they pulled the information from Linked In (since they have the name of a company I worked at in 2007 on there). The picture is probably from Instagram.
    It doesn’t really matter much, but I hope you wouldn’t be so quick to discredit us as not “stand-up humans” based on that silly thing. Assuming you thought we were stand-up humans in the first place that is…

    • Thanks for the backstory — I appreciate your taking the time to fill in the stuff I filled in on my own while thinking “WHAT KIND OF PLAY FOR ATTENTION IS THIS?” It’s both a surprise and, candidly, a relief, to know that you had nothing to with it because honestly, It Is Terrible. My opinion about anyone isn’t worth the sheet of paper I angrily scribble it down on, but it is good of you to bother to set me straight.

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