Monday, March 26, 2007

Blogging Culture and Commercialism....

Lately, there have been several posts floating around about blogs and the implications of making them commercial. I read Mad's series on this topic and found it very good and thorough. I agreed with some of her points and disagreed with others. Some strongly. Today, Julie has written about it. Please read hers as well as this one because my comments are a branch from that tree. This started as a comment on her blog and got too long.

The various points have been weighed by those far smarter and more savvy than me, but nevertheless I found that my reaction to them was visceral, almost to the point of wanting to shout "absolutely not!" Do not commercialize these forums! I don't care how you try to rationalize it. Do. Not. Do. It.!!

Technically, these blogs are simply a more individualized version of the old bulletin boards. We went from Delphi-style bulletin boards to Yahoo-style mailing lists to blogs.They use a more sophisticated tool but it is essentially the same objective that keeps them going. It's a way to be heard. It's a way to learn new ideas. It's a way to communicate.

It has only been very few times I took a look at some of the "popular" sites and was turned off by both the content and the NASCAR appearance of their sites. The pages took forever to load in because they were cluttered with ads and self-promotion of one type or another. I was turned off and did not return.

I can't tell you in mere words how utterly put off I am by the world of commerce and the mentality that comes along with it. The pandering, the promotion of products or individuals, the "popularity" aspect of it. Blecht. My life is too short and my time is too valuable to waste it on something like that. Just recently, I stopped reading someone's blog because it became too focused on the commercial potential of his writing. And make no mistake.. I thoroughly loved that blog! I was very disappointed when it went in that direction ~ but after three or four weeks of visiting, only to read about which cell phone to buy or whether or not that individual would be able to make money, ostensibly off of my visits, I had to bite the bullet and say "so long".

The best thing about blogs is the free-wheeling, outspoken nature of them. It's the Wild, Wild West of ideas. Everyone writes what he or she chooses to write about and invites others to comment or not comment, include themselves in the conversation or not. Very few are niche writers. Even the so-called "mommy bloggers" are quite diverse in all respects and while they write about raising their children, there are much broader issues being addressed at the same time. The "Social Justice Roundtable" posts are an example. While they may have been spawned out of concern for the future of children, they also provide an excellent resource for knowing what people are thinking about, what they perceive as being critical social problems to be solved and they give us a Cliff Notes view to follow up on or not follow up, again by choice.

Blogging is a roundtable, closest to the traditional concept as is humanly possible in the rather dry and mechanical universe of the Internet. We use our words to put color between the lines. These forums are accessible to nearly everyone. Internet access is not off the table for a good portion of the population in many parts of the world. Even the homeless can get access in the library. This requires no privilege. I live on a fixed income that is less than the "privileged" spend at Starbuck's in a two- or-three-month period. My computer is an older model that was given to me by the girlfriend of a friend when she upgraded. If it dies, I'll get up on Craigslist and buy another for a few hundred dollars. While I do have high-speed access, the cost is split between three people. Mine is far from a voice of "privilege".

Blogs can be a way to find likeminded others. Sure. If I wanted to go niche, I could probably draw other short, pudgy, middle-aged eccentrics who plan to move to Southeast Asia. All the short, pudgy, middle-aged eccentrics who plan to move to Southeast Asia would have a little community. We could share our plans and give each other ideas on how to make the move smoother. We could wax poetic about our chosen homelands and be as happy as the proverbial pigs in mud.

And it would become one-dimensional and boring as hell because there is only just so much that can be said around the central thought of "I'm a short, pudgy, middle-aged eccentric and I plan to move to Southeast Asia." The community would last six months or so. Like specialized, topical Yahoo lists, there would be a flurry of activity and would eventually end up with diminishing traffic because it would become just as interesting as watching paint dry. It's too insular.

Sticking a toe into the pool of commercialism might feel good initially but it's soon discovered that the pool is actually quicksand. The world of commercialism has no room for diversity ~ or freedom of speech ~ or any of those other things we consider to be the core and lifeblood of blogging.

Having worked for a newspaper, I know how writing can ultimately work its way back to "the bottom line". My words were to be strung together for a certain purpose. That purpose was to sell newspapers. I had to be sufficiently controversial and sufficiently tapped into whatever "everyone" was talking about or I'd get a verbal swat on the wrist from the editor. That meant week after week of writing about the same topics whether they interested me or not. I had to watch the daily news, keep track of the "big topics" on talk radio. I had to write cutesy pieces about Hallmark holidays. I had to write the occasional human interest column, designed to appeal to the emotions of the readers, usually to encourage monetary participation in someone's cause or influence their political thinking in the face of some upcoming election. I wrote so much pop-culture dreck that I should have been on a daily dose of insulin. I was a glorified propagandist.

Speaking only for me, I will never sell my soul like that again.

And I don't want to spend my on-line time with anyone who would choose to sell theirs. I'm too old and tired to be bothered with popularity contests (which commercial sites ultimately become) and I am not interested in feathering anyone else's nest with my time and energy unless it is by explicit agreement.

So ~ when it comes to the commercialization and commodification of blogs, I am firmly in the "absolutely not" camp.




Mad Hatter said...

Yup. My great fear is that we stand to lose the complex collective we've created.

caro said...

I abhor publicity. I've all but completely eliminated television and commercial radio because of it.I am sometimes offended by the commercial nature of some the blogs I read but I guess it's up to the individual. I could never be comfortable with having ads on my blog. My life is all about volountary simplicity so I am not going to start peddling MORE stuff...

caro said...

Thank you for placing me in your list of links. It's an honor to be in such esteemed company!

Laurie said...

I can't imagine going that direction either. I enjoy the freedom that blogging gives me and I don't think I have it in me to try to be one of the popular kids.

Great post, Chani.

Thailand Gal said...

Mad, in total agreement of course. These kind of "grass-roots" communities are probably the last vestige of free expression without commercial corruption we have left!


Caro, I'm with you. It's all about simplicity and mindfulness. Those are two principles that guide my life.

It is definitely up to the individual and if someone chooses to become commercial, I get to vote with my feet ~ or my mouse, as the case may be. :)


Caro, you are very welcome. Mai pen rai.


Laurie, you know.. I am really beginning to learn this! (It's about time since I'm 55-freaking years old!). For so long, I truly had this romanticized fantasy about what it would be like to be "popular". Probably because I didn't have it. It's easy to practically deify things we think we want.

Now I'm starting to realize I don't even want it! I don't have the energy to sustain it and I'm not willing to pay the price it would cost to have it.

Geez, some of us grow up so damn slow! LOL




ThomasLB said...

I've got mixed feelings.

The internet opens up whole new worlds of possibility. We don't need the major record labels anymore, we can distribute our own work; we don’t need network news anymore, we can do our own reporting; we don’t need publishing houses anymore, we can publish ourselves. It can be a great thing, a real opening of the marketplace of ideas.

But- the people who do those things still need money to live. I don’t begrudge them the tools they need to make a living.

I’m not trying to make money off my own blog. For me, it’s sort of the equivalent of hanging out in a coffee shop, sharing the neat stuff I came across. I’m kind of a freak- there are not a lot of artistic vegetarian long-haired Hare Krishna communists living in Texas- and the internet gives me a chance to meet people who won’t chase after me with torches and pitchforks.

liv said...

You know, each time I read your blog I think, "yeah! what she said!" And although I'm a sporadic commenter here or at Jen's or Mad's I think it's because I don't feel like I have the stuff to really make intelligent responses to such relevant statements on society and culture. I am chalking it up to exhaustion, but want you to know how much I value your insights.

Also, thanks for the add! That just gave me the warm fuzzies!

MsLittlePea said...

Me too. If I feel like shopping, I go to the mall. I can't imagine anyone would pay to read my babblings anyway.
I don't get offended by ads on any of the blogs I read, there's nothing wrong with trying to make some extra money. I just don't know why we need to put a price tag on EVERY SINGLE THING.

Thailand Gal said...

Thomas, I don't begrudge anyone that, either. As with everything, there are ways to do it that are non-offensive. Put an ad over to the side, people click as they choose ~ I'm not going to blow a gasket over that but when the "business mentality" takes over, I'm outta there!


Liv, you have what it takes. You have your unique perspective, just as all of us who do. I always hope you will speak your mind in this space whenever you have something to say. It's not a contest. :)


MsPea, I can't imagine anyone paying to read my drivel. Honestly. And if someone has an ad or two to the side, I'm not going to flip out. As I said above, it's the mentality that often goes along with it. It's the manipulative writing, the effort to push a product in the *content* that sends me running.

I'd rather watch commercials on TV. At least some of them are clever. Someone's self-interest shining forth in glaring neon is just crass.





Julie Pippert said...

Chani, thanks for taking this and expanding it. Taking a bit more from Mad's concern about losing the complex collective, my largest concern is the edging out of the fresh and individual voices due to commercialism that makes this a costly venture for people like me...who eventually say, was fun while it lasted, but...

I don't begrudge people earning from it, however, too often I see where that leads.

Mad puts the theory (which I share) into excellent words in her comments.

Thailand Gal said...

Julie, I can see both sides ~ to a very limited degree. Sometimes people put ads to the side that are non-intrusive and fairly benign in content. They're specific, aimed at a particular demographic, and that isn't enough to make me go away. If it helps a single mom or someone who needs it to buy a few more packages of diapers, I'm not going to begrudge that. I'm financially limited myself. I chose to sell on eBay. Everyone chooses something different in accordance with their personal circumstances.

When it becomes like the very thing you described in your "popularity" post and when the content of someone's blog are clearly and obviously motivated by self-interest and monetary gain, I am so out of there that I leave chemtrails.

Mad is exactly right about the "community" aspect and I support her position completely ~ and I won't bend on anything that compromises that in any respect. That would be the point where I would also have to graciously step out of the arena.

Does that make better sense?



jen said...

I didn't know you wrote pop culture copy in the wonder it's so frustrating for you.

Never having worked in sales, marketing, etc...all of it somewhat goes over my head sometimes..I don't know how to sell things, or what makes people buy things, and yet it's everywhere and no doubt manipulates me all the time.

meno said...

Although i feel like you about this, i don't mind a few ads on the side. I am conditioned to ignore them by the world we live in.

But i recently stopped reading a blog when the author started doing what are called "Pay for Posts" wherein she would link three times in a post ACME NOSE SPRAY. I don't come to blogs to read advertsing. And since i couldn't filter those out, i stopped reading.

Personally, i will never put advertising of any sort on my blog. That is a promise.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Chani, I'll be back later to read your post, but right now, I'm delivering mail.

You've been tagged. Drop by my place for the details.


Pam said...

Take a good thing and ruin it, yup, good old American commercialism. You've got my vote!

Thailand Gal said...

Jen, yes.. it was frustrating. Mostly it's the mentality that accompanies it. There is never a break in the constant "what's in it for me" mindset. Can't stand it.


Meno, oh, geez! Thankfully, I've never seen a blog *that* bad! Oh, lawdhammercy, as my friend Tish always says. What baffles me though is how many people go along with it.


Susan, replied on your site. :)


Pam, yeah.. it sure does get annoying after a while. There's no escaping it. But, heck, I guess we can't get too upset about it. It's socialized into people from the time their first brain cell fires up.




KC said...

Amen! I think when commercialism affects what people write, it ruins the authenticity that I so enjoy in reading blogs. But I suppose my image of commercialism is tied to popularity.

It's when you never see someone saying the unpopular thing or taking risks and everything becomes a muted murmur.

It's like being on an antidepressant. And that was not for me.

Cagey said...

I think what makes me most sad about a blog when they accept ads is when it becomes apparent they are posting just because they haven't posted in a week and they need the hits. It's almost pathetic in how obvious it is.

I am not really against ads, I don't really care one or the other, I guess. However, for me, I specifically chose not to do ads (I had received an invite to a network)because I wanted to keep my blog FOR ME and not worry about anything else. If I want to write, I do. I don't want to write, then I don't.

I was burned a few years back when I turned a hobby into a money making venture. The business was going fine, but the hobby became work and I simply didn't enjoy it anymore. I would hate that to happen to my blog, which I vehemently defend as a hobby. One of my favorite hobbies, to be exact. I'd like to keep it that way.

Nice post.

Thailand Gal said...

KC, it's interesting. I think I make that connection, too. If there is any lesson I've been learning the past few weeks, it is how pervasive that "popularity" thing is tied in with all kinds of strange behaviors, most of them considered by me to be rather odious.

So.. I give up that particular quest. I don't want to know what it's like after all.

(looking toward the sky) Okay. Alright! I get it!


As for the commercial blogs, oh, yes, they are definitely "no risk" zones. The posts are often peppered with a variety of obsequities. Sentences start with "this is just my opinion, but" (Obviously it is that writer's opinion! It's their freaking blog! LOL

Thanks for putting that connection into words for me. :)



Thailand Gal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thailand Gal said...

Cagey, so it comes back to the central issue of authenticity. There is no sense in writing when you don't have anything to say. Additionally, it's a damned shame when people are willing to compromise their voices like that.

I write for readers. I admit that. My private journal is another matter ~ but this is for an exchange of ideas with others.

I'm kind of protective of the people who comment and read here. I don't want to expose them to ads, commercialism, filthy language, filthy thoughts and angry diatribes ... Everyone gets bashed with enough of that ~ all day ~ out in their daily lives. They don't need to put up with it here.

It's just important to me. I can't create a nice, gentle place for people to come and have that commercial mentality as a part of it. I'll keep on selling on eBay. There will never be any ads here. I commit to that.



Suzy said...

Chani, I am loving your posts!
I'm new to blogging. I love the "wild west" aspect of it but I am disturbed by how it becomes a popularity contest oh so quickly. And I certainly don't want to be pigeon-holed. I honestly try to write what is in my heart or on my mind. Sometimes it's my family, other times it's current events, and if I can get the hang of a digital camera I might post more of my handwork. But ads, gimmicks, etc., writing as if I am being judged for something ... no thanks.

Do you ever read anything by Wendell Berry? He has one book that is an extended essay on the evils of marketing, which really rang true for me.

You can package anything and sell it; "simplicity" is a good example of that. Glad to know that there are others who choose a different path.

Suzy said...

Hey, I'm in your neighborhood! It's a beautiful day ...

Dave said...

I came to you by way of your comment on Thomaslb's blog. I enjoyed reading your post, especially as it made me think. I didn't read all of the comments so, I may be repeating what someone has said, but:

I get the sense that you don't read much in the mainstream media. If I'm right, don't you think you might be missing a significant voice? I long ago stopped "seeing" the ads in whatever medium I was looking at, listening to or reading.

I read newspapers and unconsciously focus on the article, flipping through the Macy ads to get to the opinion section.

I haven't "seen" a banner ad in years as my subconscious blocks them out.

TiVo is the greatest invention..., well not really; but, it allows me to watch what I want, when I want.

Having developed these, what?, defense mechanisms, I have read, listened to and watched some wonderful stuff. Same with blogs. Those that use adsense are discrete about it. Those that have more blatant advertising, they aren't as bad as the local paper's website or the NYTimes online. Ignore, ignore, ignore.

I blog and read blogs to escape from something similar to what you describe in your thoughts about your life as a journalist. I make a living thinking, talking and writing; but, I get paid to do those things within the confines of my clients' needs.

When I post, or read a post, I choose my confines. My apologies for taking up so much comment space.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I don't think that ads belong on blogs. The beauty of blogging is the freedom of expression since most of us are anonymous to one another. Once there is a "sponsor," he exerts control over content.

I do not intend to run anybody's ads on my blog, and I dislike the visual clutter of blogs that have them.

It's a personal preference. If somebody wants to make a buck and doesn't consider it selling out, fine. All I can say for sure is that it's not for me.

Suzy said...

If I may, I want to respond to Dave's comment w-a-y down this page. Yes, I believe it is possible to read and not "see" the advertisements, and as adults it is even possible to block out the subliminal messages. But I ABSOLUTELY RESENT that we are bombarded with advertising in almost every arena. (By advertising, I mean any kind of marketing, whether it is a product or an idea.) I resent that the onus is on ME to block it out, if I don't want to see it (or hear it, in the case of audio stuff.)More and more we expect people to opt out, instead of choosing to opt in. And I think that is wrong.

And don't even get me started about children and marketing, subliminal or not.