What blogging means to me

I blog to make the world a better place, most of the time. I am pretty idealistic and, some might say, a bit naive and I am ok with that. My hero is Superman and I believe in the ideals he represents (I even have a Superman t-shirt for every day of the week). I remember when I applied for entrance into Wits’ LLB program I said something about the legal system being a tool to improve society and wanting to be part of that process. The point is I have this notion that I can do my small bit to make this world a little better and the public tools I use are my blogs and my podcasts.

Blogs used to be almost exclusively online diaries and were still described as online diaries in the South African press until some time in 2006 when the media embraced the idea that blogs could be more than a diary. To me, blogs are the children of the principles of The Cluetrain Manifesto. They facilitate the expression of an authentic voice that the authors of Cluetrain spoke about, as well as the direct feedback from readers of the blog.

Blogs make it really easy for anyone to publish their thoughts on the Web and to have those thoughts received and transmitted to a potential audience of millions, perhaps even billions. It is probably pretty rare that billions, or even millions, of people will actually read a blog post but that is ok too. If a thousand people read something I write and some of those people do something meaningful then I have done what I set out to do. Sometimes just talking about an issue is important. The main thing for me is to make a difference of some kind, however small. Sometimes I slip up and I write in a destructive way but I’d like to think those times are few and far between.

Bloggers have received some pretty negative publicity in the last few months in response to the way certain hot topics have been dealt with by local bloggers. Responses have varied from rational analyses of the issues to wild and outrageous personal attacks on the personalities involved and more. This hasn’t helped the nascent blogosphere’s credibility with mainstream media as the gateway to the general public. Ideally I would like to see blogs embraced as legitimate sources of commentary, entertainment, news and information about what is going on in our world.

Through blogs we can publish information far quicker than the press and to a potentially broader audience because we are not constrained by geography and production schedules. A blog post can be on the Web in a matter of minutes and there could be feedback within minutes after that. I have published posts in the past, stepped away from my laptop for half an hour and have returned to find a dozen comments already and I don’t have tremendously popular blogs.

Good feedback for me on my most popular blog, Wired Gecko, is half a dozen posts (Update (2016-03-30): Wired Gecko was rolled into this blog a few years ago). A dozen posts is great and more is a runaway success for me. Regardless of the small number of readers who frequent my blogs, I see those people as my partners in helping to make the world that little bit better because the people who frequent my blogs tend to share some of my ideas and passion.

The ability to share my thoughts and passion with the people in the cloud and to do that authentically are two powerful advantages of blogging and two of the big reasons why I blog in the first place. I am becoming less and less dependent on the quantity of readers of my blogs and more focussed on the quality of those readers and to attract those readers I aim to write better quality posts rather than posts aboout topics I know will attract a bigger audience and yet fail to contribute to my overall goal of making a real difference. That being said, I still post about the popular, pointless stuff from time to time so my blogs are by no means paragons of social awareness blogging.

Members of the press have commented on the fact that they are paid to write good quality content for their papers and bloggers are not paid. Furthermore, you pretty much get what you pay for and since bloggers are generally not paid, the implication is that the posts those bloggers publish are poorly written and of little value. I have to wonder whether not being paid for my blogging means that I am free to publish posts that are aligned with what I believe and not with what sells better. How can you expect to publish something truly meaningful when your primary motivation is to publish something that will make more money? Sometimes the important issues are not the popular ones and yet they still need to be talked about.

Joi Ito published a post a couple weeks ago titled “Mindful Writing” where he took a look at the Buddhist principle of Right Speech and applied it to his blog posts and in a way it was both ironic and a synchronicity that I first saw his post on a day when the blogosphere was going ballistic about the latest attack on it. He quoted a passage from a book titled “The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching” by Thich Nhat Hanh on the topic of Right Speech which I’ll quote a little from:

“I am determined to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope. I will not spread news that I do not know to be certain and will not criticize or condemn things of which I am not sure. I will refrain from uttering words that can cause division or discord, or that can cause the family or the community to break.”

This quote expresses ideals I aspire to. They are worthy ideals for bloggers to aspire to. There has been so much talk about codes of conduct for bloggers and the fatal flaw with all these codes is that they are external and intended to be imposed on the bloggers in some way. The only code that will have any real effect is the code we internalise, believe in and express through our actions. Perhaps when enough bloggers practice some variation of Right Speech and Right Action our blogs will have greater credibility in the eyes of our intended audience.

Blogs are vanilla these days. They can be used as personal diaries and corporate communication tools. They are really just web publishing platforms and are defined by what they are used for. They are used maliciously and they are used to promote positive ideals. I blog to make the world a better place and sometimes I have a very small impact on an issue I am passionate about and that makes all the time I spend on my blogs worthwhile.

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