2. Declan McCullagh, Blog Skeptic

PREFACE: This is the second segment of the edited transcript from an April 6, 2004 panel moderated by CONTENTIOUS editor Amy Gahran: “Alternative Media: Attack of the Blogs.” See the index to this four-part series for links to other segments and panelist bios.

OPENING STATEMENT BY NEWS.COM’S DECLAN MCCULLAGH:

Declan McCullagh is the lead political correspondent for News.com. For nearly a decade he’s run the Politech e-mail discussion list on politics and technology.

I’ll have to disagree with Andy Ihnatko – even though he has the same Mac that I do, except he has the cool keyboard that lights up.

We’ve heard an impassioned defense of blogging, but I’m more skeptical.

I’ve been doing the equivalent of blogging since 1994, through my e-mail list Politech. I’m not really impressed by a lot of blogs out there. That’s common sense, it needs to be said. It all comes down to putting words on a Web page, and we could do this 10 years ago. Blogging is not a revolutionary technological advance.

EXPERT-WRITTEN BLOGS ARE WORTHWHILE

Granted, some blogs are interesting – if they are written by people who have a certain amount of expertise. Example: Instanpundit.com is written by Glenn Reynolds, a law professor. I know him professionally and often use him as a source. Sent me a copy of a book he wrote on space law. He’s a legal expert on nanotechnology. This guy knows a lot of things, in depth.

Nanodot.org is the same sort of thing. This blog includes links to reports, commentary, etc. It’s run by people at the Foresight Institute, a leading nonprofit active in nanotechnology issues. They know what they’re talking about.

BLOGS BY NONEXPERTS ARE IRRELEVANT

Should I really care – or should you really care – about what millions of bloggers think about every topic under the sun? No, I don’t think so.

Let’s look at it this way: In addition to being a writer, I do some PERL programming. I’m not an expert, but I might be qualified to make some comments on PERL. I’d like to think my PERL observations are useful – but why would anyone be interested in what a non-expert has to say about PERL?

Why would the blogosphere say anything much of interest more than the New York Times? They probably wouldn’t.

GOOD THINGS THAT BLOGS CAN DO

Blogs can act as a reporter by publishing breaking news: factual, verifiable stories. However, doing this right requires resources. Some of my articles have taken me months to write. Few people sitting at their kitchen tables blogging will be able to do that.

Of course, there are exceptional blogs that publish breaking news and important commentary, like Healing Iraq. This is written by an Iraqi dentist who is on the ground in that country. That’s a great info source – but it is the exception, not the rule.

Bloggers can also act as columnists: pointing out interesting things in insightful and thoughtful ways. But here again, the likelihood that blogs would do this well is very small.

I must admit that I only read a small fraction of the columns and editorial published every day in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post – and those are some of the best-edited columns around! They occupy some of the most valuable editorial real-estate on the planet. If only half of those columns are worth reading, what does that say about blogs?


DISCOURAGING BLOG STATS

Statistics show that there’s a wholesale abandonment of blog sites. According to a 2003 Perseus white paper, “The Blogging Iceberg: Of 4.12 Million Hosted Weblogs, Most Little Seen, Quickly Abandoned:”

  • 1.1 million blogs were abandoned on creation (no postings after day 1).
  • 1.63 million were abandoned after 126 days.
  • Fewer than 50,000 blogs are updated daily.

Then, once you abandon your blog, you have a 1-in-200 chance of resuming it.

These numbers don’t show a sunny future for blogging


According to a July 2003 study by Jupiter Research, “Weblog Best Practices Seizing Business Benefits” (available only to Jupiter subscribers) only 2% of the online community has created a blog. Also, only 4% of the online community reads blogs. This tells me that blogging is not a phenomenon that has had much impact.

Sure, journalists are reading blogs – I’ll read some blogs, but it’s more likely I’ll call up experts and chat with them on the phone

Long-term, things might change. But as someone who’s been blogging for 10 years this November, I want to say while the future of blogging might be very sunny, so far the impact is vastly overstated.

NEXT: Kim Spencer’s opening remarks
PREVIOUS: Andy Ihnatko’s opening remarks
INDEX to this series

2 thoughts on 2. Declan McCullagh, Blog Skeptic

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  1. A blog sceptic view
    Amidst all the hype behind blogs it’s refreshing when you read comments from someone who’s a bit blase about it all. Amy at the Contentious Weblog is posting her transcript from a recent conference that she attended. And Declan McCullagh…

  2. Yesterday’s Experts – woefully out of touch
    What are they? “Yesterday’s experts” are those who have risen to the top of their profession by hard work and then, satisfied by the approval of their peers, stopped learning about new things. Yet they continued making judgements about things