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Posts Tagged ‘Blogging’

“Getting the story out first” often means what you’re getting is improperly researched half-truths. Take the swine-flu for example: Every day the news stories I watched and read would contradict their own announcements the day before, the media built up its own hype until it got to the point that the only real news left was the fact that the media had over-hyped it all. Like no one saw that coming. In a culture where everyone seems to have a blog, “getting the news first” has become a near impossible goal for any internet outfit. And, dare I say, a less admired one: I’d rather hear the story an hour or so later than everyone else if it goes towards making sure that what I read is accurate (and well-written would be nice too!).

It seems to me that the long-term successful online blogs and publications are going to be the ones which have integrity and researchers – ones which employ people to do more than “type fast”. As Twitter and Plurk grow in popularity (though from what I’ve read recently the retainment rate is hardly stellar), news has become anyone’s game. People seem to spend more time reporting life than living it lately, so it’s not a pleasant trend to watch, and not one I’m keen on joining in: Blogging is as far as I go on the “wow I just blew my nose” minute by minute reporting of existence.

It all reminds me of this extract from an item I referenced a while back, called Why Facebook is Just Plain Wrong: “Devaluing friendship aside, Facebook also encourages an unhealthy culture of voyeurism and laziness. Sitting in a restaurant recently I overheard a table of Gen Y’s talking about what a great night they were having. Several chirped up to say “we should like totally Facebook this!”. Thankfully sanity prevailed as one sensible soul said “how about we experience it for real?”.”

Social critique aside, it is happening, and is effecting people who report news for a living. I can hear you complaining that surely it’s not effecting the professional news outfits, I must be extrapolating too much from comparing the quality and depth of research of your everyday blogger to professional news outfits… Hmm, how about you go read this first. It’s about how one guy used Wikipedia to fool some major news agencies, and he didn’t have to try particularly hard either. My husband has been telling his students off for using Wikipedia to do their university research for a good few years now, I’ve told him to use that story as a warning about the importance of proper sourcing. Maybe the journalists need to go back to journalism school for a refresher course too.

So this is where we end up: Magazines and newspapers have been struggling to compete with a world of news-now online media. But they shouldn’t be trying to; they should be finding their own niche in reporting with fully researched facts, with integrity, and with talented writers. In a way that sets them apart from us everyday bloggers. Similarly though, online news outfits who do it for a living are going to have to think beyond the “we got there first” mentality. Sure you need to be speedy with your news, but if it takes a little longer to get it out because you had to talk directly to the effected parties first hand, or had to confirm your sources, and (gasp) check your spelling, then isn’t it worth the delay? It’s also very important to know whether what you’re saying is fact, or opinion. Because claiming opinion to be fact not only makes you look unreliable, it also exposes you to defamation suits. And those aren’t fun, for anyone involved.

Like I said in a previous post, in a world where it is becoming easier to contact famous people who do famous stuff – especially in our own field of Second Life where we’re all just an IM or notecard away – there are fewer reasons for bad reporting, and resorting to the “he-said, she-said” that still seems so popular. If people won’t look into matters themselves though, or at least be willing to admit that they haven’t done their research, it leaves it up to us the readers to point out that we expect more. At the very least, it is up to us not to perpetuate the short-comings of others by piling on our own opinions of things that never actually happened (or happened in such a different way than reported, that it as good as never happened). There will always be a market for that tabloid style of reporting, but it’s not one I’m interested in. And I only hope those who insist on following it, know what they’re encouraging and how foolish and nasty it will make them look when they treat what those outfits say as if it was truth.

Life’s too short to read crap.

Hopefully, incidents like the Wikipedia one I linked to above, will sink into public knowledge. And we all get a little wiser for it.

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Do you feel the compulsive need to write down everything you think – to Twitter or Plurk or blog every damn thought and action? I know a fair few people who seem to think they’ll stop existing if they don’t. Maybe the fact that this is my third blog post today is telling me something 😀 (but I think Twitter and Plurk are ridiculous so I’m not too far gone). If you do have that urge, perhaps you have hypergraphia. Or perhaps you just need more hobbies 🙂

Want to know just how bad it can get? Ever heard of Robert Shields who “left behind a diary of 37.5 million words chronicling every 5 minutes of his life from 1972 until a stroke disabled him in 1997″? You can read more about this extraordinary case here.

Just makes you think what more we could be doing and living, if we weren’t all so damn busy trying to write it down, huh.

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When you leave Second Life should you be doing it quietly – without good-byes, without explanation, without reflecting on your experiences? Are you meant to quietly slip away as if those weeks, months, years, were nothing? If you speak out you risk having the post being called a “flounce” apparently.

A recent post by Prad bothered me because even though it revolved around an individual who he wasn’t impressed with, it also had generalised attacks on people who continue to share their opinions about Second Life after they’ve left it. The post’s title says it all – “STFU“. To use his own words: “So it appears that there is something worse than a critic who’s never bothered to try Second Life properly – An informed critic who’s got both venom and a personal agenda.” By that stage your opinion is only relevant or important if it is either (1) positive and up-beat or (2) if it’s not positive it has to be by someone still in-world. Whether someone has “venom and a  personal agenda” is very easy to accuse and assert – almost any conceivable negative opinion of Second Life could be designated as a result of venom and personal agenda.

I very rarely find myself disagreeing with Prad – not just because he was such a close friend but also because he’s simply often right. But his latest post was a contradiction of his one before it. In that previous post he spoke out against the blogs which attacked individuals, in his own words: “Maybe I skipped a step somewhere in the social revolution, but I figured if you’re going to offend people, you needed to do it with a little class and not start publicly victimising named people. I can’t see the point of it, other to make people avoid you like the plague for fear of being your next victim.” Secondly in that previous post he said that negative opinions are fine when accompanied by constructive advice (such as tutorials). The person he’s attacked in STFU did give constructive advice on how Second Life could improve its future.

Surely we should want to know what made people leave? And when those people are good enough to openly suggest a list of ways Second Life could have improved the experience, should we not praise them and reflect on their points rather than condemn them?

When you leave and are trying to decide whether to speak out about it or not, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t: If you leave without a word you’re rude and cruel, if you leave with words you’re called a drama queen and told to shut up. You’re effectively pressured into silence about the real reasons behind your actions, and only meant to share the nice bits. Where the problems should have been voiced and could have been solved, they are intimidated into saying nothing.

I expect I will regret doing this post because it may cause the exact sort of drama that us leavers are meant to not cause, and because I loath to cause Prad any bother or bad press. But this is what blogging is all about right? It’s the place to share your experiences and opinions – even if they are negative ones about why you left Second Life.

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It’s a timeless question: Would you rather be right or be popular? You find examples of the struggle in everyday life and in historical events (for example holding fast to the idea the world is round when everyone else held it was flat). You often get people conflating the two together: Being popular is being right: If a democracy of people vote for a certain political measure then that is the right thing to do. You’d have thought that thinking went out in hind-sight to Nazi Germany’s origins, but nope.

There is an extra question though which you hear bandied about on various talk shows, “would you rather be right or be happy”? This is usually said in the context of families having breakdowns and trying to move forward in the face of a “stubborn” individual. I see nothing wrong with being stubborn when you’re in the right. In fact, for me staying in the right is a vital component to my happiness: Integrity of self is vital for your psychological well-being. This is not to say that I don’t understand or appreciate the point such talk-show hosts are making – it’s along the lines of “let’s just move on and be harmonious in the face of what are trivial disagreements”. Suppose it turns on what you consider to be trivial. I’m a big-picture kind of girl though and I try to always act consistently on a set of principles knowing full well that long-term happiness and well-being results from doing the right thing in each action and decision you make.

The unfortunate potential contradiction with this in my personality, is that I am a “peace-maker” (it’s the term the tests give, not my own choosing): I find confrontation very stressful – my chest constricts, my breathing changes, my anxiety increases etc. I am extremely empathetic too and always have been – I feel other people’s pain in a very real sense and frequently end up in tears at the intensity of it or dedicating my all to help them solve their problems. You can imagine that this doesn’t sit well with having a very strong and established sense of right and wrong and being quite miserable if I’m forced to compromise my principles. I’ve found some ways to cope with this – such as techniques of dealing with conflicts that create the classic “win-win” combo – but this is not always possible or even the right thing to do. You know what they say (and if you don’t you should think about this): There is good and there is evil, and the grey in between is not some middle ground, it is still evil – compromising with evil means evil has won, “a little bit of murder, a little but of slavery” is still evil, just because it’s diluted or lessened doesn’t make it some happy grey middle-ground. That is to say, sometimes to compromise, is to completely concede and to lose what you had a right to demand.

I’m fortunate to have a husband who has an equally strong (and correct) sense of right and wrong, but who has the guts and fortitude to stand up for what is right even if it makes him immensely unpopular. In that way he is a better person than me. I have more empathy and social skills than he does so he has a lot to learn from me too but those sorts of things just balance us out and somewhere between the two of us is the perfect person :p

This choice between being right or being popular is an important one for most (maybe all?) Bloggers and people who comment on Blogs: Will you stand up for what’s right under a barrage of attacks or will you fold and make peace? My view is you should stand up for what’s right, but to be careful to always retain the open mind to new facts or knowledge that may alter what is actually right. What’s right must always be based on truth and logic – if someone points out one of your truths is factually incorrect or your logic is flawed, you shouldn’t be stubborn and hold your ground anyway. Because that’s beyond stubborn-ness, that’s denial and idiocy, and I’d rather be wrong than a liar or a moron. That is a strength I do possess and am proud of – I am always ready to concede when people find flaws in my reasoning. It’s part of that sense of integrity I spoke about earlier.

Right people often aren’t popular. Popular people often aren’t happy (despite what you may think) – and I believe a lot of that misery comes from sacrificing their sense of right and wrong to keep other people happy. I’ve had times when I chose being right instead of being popular, and times when I’ve chosen being popular instead of being right. And I know that I need to not act or speak contrary to my principles in order to be a truly happy person. I’m lucky enough to have a large group of friends who understand this about me and wouldn’t want me to change who I am, and who often agree to disagree with me on certain issues to keep the friendship intact. Nevertheless every single day I do confront the choice and it’s still one I need to work on – finding that strength to stand up for what’s right, even if it means I stand alone.

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Very late last night I set my blog to be empty – set all the posts to private. I did the same for my Flickr (I also took off the link to my blog on my Flickr profile, so that won’t explain what I’m about to tell you…). Very early this morning I went through and reinstated the posts and pictures I had decided to retain. I won’t go through all the whys for taking things down, or the whiches for what went back up. This post is just a big old “huh” at the fact that the few hours my blog was totally empty, it sky-rocketed to the most hits it’s had in one day, ever:

The hit numbers prior to setting things invisible was like any other day, nothing special (around 50 a day lately is the average), but by morning it was 133 views, quite a bit higher than my previous peak of 97 in one day. And only 37 of those views were people clicking through to actual post topics, whereas that usually makes up the clear majority of hits. To put it simply: People were actively viewing “the nothing”. The extra irony is all my previous peak / very high view days were whenever I’d posted three topics in one sitting – which understandably increases reading as people are more likely to find something that interests them or come back to read the other posts later in the day.

I monitor the hits on my blog because I do like it when people read and think about what I write, it does matter to me that people find my opinions interesting and worth their time. That’s a buzz. I am solidly amused though that the most interesting thing I’ve ever done on this blog turns out to be when I did nothing. Go figure!

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Most Second Life residents don’t know what’s going on at Linden Labs – the changing personalities, policies and major decisions – and most simply don’t care either. They live their daily Second lives the same way most people live their real lives – equally ambivalent and uncaring about the politics that run their world, and what happens to the money that gets taken from them to “provide necessary services”. The main exception to this truth is around election time in the real world, though I’m not sure Second Life has an equivalent regular time of increased awareness and concern across their wider resident population.

I stayed away from caring or being interested in such things relating to Second Life for a year or so. The few times I did click on a link from friends about Linden Labs issues, I was invariably directed to the main Second Life site, and so confronted with a lot of technical terms and a lot of spin.

To get people interested and knowledgeable about these things, the information needs to be presented from a Second Life user point of view, not from the point of view of the people trying to make you love their every decision. It needs to pull out the bits that actually matter and effect the Second Life experience, and it needs to do it in a clear and brief way – I don’t want to be strolling down four screen-pages to get a story that could have been conveyed in two (using links within the article often helps cut down repeating information that the more informed resident is already aware of, and the less informed one can go off and read if need be). It needs to go one step further though, I like to see an opinion: Hearing other people’s opinions gets me thinking about my own – do I agree with them, or not, and why. It also makes the reading so much more interesting. The opinion shouldn’t overwhelm the information provided though – no point rushing in to say “I hate decision x” before explaining what decision x is.

It is remarkably hard to find blogs that do this well. I’m not going to say I’ve read every major Second Life news blog, but I’ve read enough to know that most blogs do a very poor job of meeting the standard of being all of useful, informative and interesting. One stands out: Metaversally Speaking. Strictly speaking it’s not just a “news blog”, but it gets listed as such on some people’s blog rolls, and if I split my blog roll up into different categories I’d consider doing the same. So when I have no idea what everyone’s upset about that’s my first port of call, or if I want a good indicator of public sentiment I read all the comments attached to a post.

I understand why so few Second Life people actually take an interest in Second Life news, since I used to be one of them. But I also think that that would change more if people knew there were well written blogs out there which could bring all the relevant information together for them. I for one know my Second Life has been greatly enriched by the increased level of awareness. If you want to see what you’ve been missing out on I suggest you check out today’s post as just an example of the major rumblings that pass so many of us by, but effect our Second lives daily and in very real ways.

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I was talking with a friend the other day about my tendency to remove posts that I would consider too controversial or personal. I’ve found ways around this tendency lately and would say I’ve stopped it altogether, but it wasn’t until that particular conversation that I knew for sure why I should leave up my “bad” posts. He said that by keeping them we can look back and see how we’ve developed, and learn from our mistakes. I take the development on two levels: The development of the ability to blog well, and the development of myself as a person across that time.

Much in the same way that I shouldn’t delete previous pictures on my Flickr stream that I no longer like, or rip pages out of a diary because the content embaresses me, neither should I self-censor my posts with the “benefit of hind-sight”.

But (there’s always a but isn’t there)…

It’s one thing to say that I shouldn’t take down old posts. It’s a whole other question as to what sort of topics shouldn’t be posted in the first place, and thereby should be taken down because they cross the line in some bigger sense than just a personal feeling of awkwardness. Where do you draw that line though, what “type” of blog (online diary, news commentary..?) are you presenting, and what are the consequences you should be aware of if you cross those lines? And is it sad that I found some of the answers I was looking for in Wikipedia?

Wikipedia gave me five key categories of consequences bloggers should be aware of: The first four are defamation or liability; employment; political dangers; and personal safety. Have a look at the stories and explanation in the link I’ve provided if you get the chance, I found them fascinating and eye-opening. It’s sad that political dangers and personal safety are on the list of what bloggers have to watch out for, but they are nevertheless still aspects bloggers need to be aware of.

The fifth category of consequences was therapeutic benefits. The therapeutic benefits are going to be undercut though if you go about defaming people, losing your job, get imprisoned or endanger your well-being in some other way. So there’s a balancing act here, but I don’t think it’s an impossible one. Just might take a bit of fore-sight and practice.

A related useful item that I found on Wikipedia was a Blogger’s Code of Conduct by Tim O’Reilly. Again, it’s a list that I recommend you go have a look it, some of the points on the list are obvious but others are ones I hadn’t thought of before and will begin implementing on my own blog.

I’m attaching another poll to this blog about your own experienced consequences of blogging. It is a multiple choice poll with the option of providing other consequences you may have experienced too.

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