Friday, July 08, 2005

You Must Be This Tall To Write This Blog

Yesterday I followed a link that I found on Etch-a-sketch attention span . It was an ‘article’ by Maddox where he ripped the blogging phenomenon to shreds. I mean he tore it up.

I have to admit, he made a lot of good points, delivered in a very caustic, humorous way.

I think his main problem was just the sheer number of terrible blogs out there. I’ve said before that there are only about 7 or 8 blogs that I find actually entertaining, Etch-a-sketch being one of them.

So why are there so many pointless blogs?

Before I begin, I want to explain what I mean by pointless blogs. For example, many people would consider my blog pointless. I’m just a nobody telling everyone what I think.

However, I don't think my blog is pointless, because I actually try to write things that people will enjoy reading. I don't know how successful I am at being interesting, but entertaining and trying to make a blog people will want to read is my first thought.

To me, a ‘pointless’ blog is one that fits into one of the following categories:

1) The ‘why bother’ Blog.

This is a blog that is impossible to relate to. They tell stories without any context, making them impeneterable. “I saw ‘C’ and we talked about ‘A’, it turns out that ‘B’ had been seeing ‘F’ behind ‘A’s back.”

This is the kind of thing that works fine for a private journal, but holds very little interest to anyone else. The good version of this blog (one worth actually reading) is one like Serendipity’s, Vicarious Living and Sunnysez . These blogs talk about their lives, their thoughts, and actually make it entertaining. Their blogs are like reality TV…but good.

However, when we don’t know who ‘C’ is, what the back story is or why ‘B’ seeing ‘F’ is a big deal, what’s the point?

2) The Contextless Photoblog.

Many people run photoblogs, and they can be interesting. However, again, they’re only interesting if the pictures are put into context. The blogger shows the photos, says what they are about, and tells the story behind them.

These can be good, even without context, as long as the blogger has a particular theme, and the pictures are interesting.

However, there are literally millions of blogs that are just filled with random pictures. Usually with a one line description like “Bob and Jeff”, “Sam and Max at a party’, 'Ken holding a broom'.

That’s all well and good, but who are these people? Why should I be interested in them? A blog is meant to be entertaining, not just an online photo album. If you just want to share pictures with your friends, who actually know the people in the pictures, there are many online image hosting services. Why put them in a blog? If you explain who ‘Sam and Max’ are, what they’re doing at the party, and accompany the pictures with an interesting anecdote…people might be interested.

2000 pages of random snaps aren't that interesting.

3) The revenge blog.

We’ve all encountered these, and yes, some can be downright entertaining…as long as we get an actual story to follow, and it’s delivered in a fun way.

However, there a millions of blogs that follow this format, usually written by a 12 year old boy or girl:

“I saw SHIT today. He was in town with ‘M’, I hate that SHIT!”

“It turns out SHIT is dating BITCH now. I hate that SHIT!”

“SHIT turned up and ‘L’s party with Bitch. I hate that SHIT”

You feel like screaming! Get over it! We get it! he dumped you and you aren’t happy. Running a blog, just to call a nameless, faceless guy a shit over and over is just a little bit of overkill.

Make it interesting. Tell us why he's a shit. Tell us what he did, the crap he gets up to. Reading 10,000 words of just plain abuse about a guy who all we know about is that he dumped you, doesn't make for a riveting read.

4) The ‘Random Assembly of Random Crap’ blog.

We all know these ones. Someone has started a blog, then just filled it with random images, midi files and videos from the web. They take a week and a half to load up, because every single page is filled with flash animations and sound files. Kinda like Homer Simpsons first attempt. Dancing Jesus, Flying toasters, the works.

yes, some of that stuff can be interesting and funny, but all together, in one page? If you absolutely have to 'farm' the web for every flash animation out there, at least organise them into categories. Look at to see how it should be done

5) The ‘All the other kids are doing it’ Blog.

Basically, someone has heard about blogs. Their friends have one, so they have to have one to. These people have nothing to say whatsoever, but they just have to run a blog. Everyone else has one! I want to be cool like to!!

These always follow the exact same pattern.

“First Post! Woo hoo! I have a blog!”

“This is my second post! Look, I can do italics, bold and underlined!”

“I worked out how to do pictures! Here’s a 5000 by 10,000 picture of the back of my dogs head! Woo hoo!”

Practice formatting and putting pictures and sounds in your blog, but only put them up when there’s an actual reason for doing so. Don’t expect a pat on the head and a cookie because you worked out how to make your text yellow.

This is the first rule of Blogging. 'Only Start A Blog If You Actually Have Something To Say!'

It may be new to you. To you, getting your text to scroll might be the greatest thing ever. The rest of us have seen it before. Your progression with HTML is not something that's very interesting. Imagine watching a TV show, where all they talked about was getting the microphone to work, getting the camera to zoom, and getting the studio lights to turn on.

6) The ‘I’m Getting A Migraine’ Blog.

Why, oh, why, oh why!

These are the blogs that have something like very pale yellow text on a scarlet background, in a tiny 2 point, very frilly font. Every colour clashes so much it hurts. There are also about a million little GIF’s, and lots of tiny scrolling text.

These blogs give you instant eye strain, followed by the worlds biggest headache. Yes, we’re all very impressed you know how to make text scroll, but is all this necessary? It’s like decorating your house, and deciding to use every single paint colour in the store. Just because you can use a million and a half colours, doesn’t mean you should.

Forget the fancy crap. You can't disguise your lack of content with frilly crap. Pale bright colours on top of other bright colours are very hard to read. You may succeed in making your blog stand out, but it only stands out and says "Hey Everyone, I'm different! I'm unreadable and cause multiple astigmatisms in your eyes!"

So why is this? Why are there so many pointless and stupid blogs? Why are people more concerned with having as much flashy and crazy crap on the screen as possible, and not being more concerned with having something to say?

Why do 12 year olds consider the girl they kissed once before she found another 12 year old to ‘go out with’, to be riveting reading. Why do people think their large collection of drinks coasters warrants an appearance on the web?

Well, I’ll tell you.

We have to travel back to the late 80’s to uncover the beginnings of this phenomenon.

Back then, the Internet didn’t even exist. The closest thing available was the BBS’s (Bulletin Board Services).

Now BBS’s were hard to get involved in. You didn’t just click an icon on the desktop (In fact, very few computers even had Graphical User Interfaces).

In order to get online, you actually had to understand computers. You had to know things like what ‘baud rate’ was, what a ‘modem init string’ did as well as what a ‘node’ was. If you wanted to leave an opinion on a bulletin board, you had to actually know what you were talking about, just to get to the bulleting board in the first place.

My point is the entry requirements were quite high. It was just too complicated for the casual user, so they didn't bother.

Ask yourself, would as many people be driving, if they had to design and build the car themselves?

Obviously not. So people didn’t bother, because what they wanted to share wasn’t worth the effort involved.

Plus, you actually had to dial into BBS’s that dealt with a particular topic. So if you wanted to talk about computer programming, you had to find a phone number for a Programming BBS, find out how to configure your own computer to ‘talk’ to theirs, and then dial in. Everything was also text commands, so even if you managed to dial in, unless you knew what you were doing, you couldn’t actually see anything.

In other words, imagine having to dial a phone number and configure your modem (again, through text commands) for every website you wanted to visit.

This meant you had to actually know what you where talking about to leave your opinion on a BBS. You couldn’t just drop in. You had to know what you were doing. It’s like having to have published a book in order to discuss writing.

Then came the birth of TCP/IP. The Internet protocol. The second age of computer based communications.

The easiest way I can explain this to the layman is that everyone decided on a standard platform to communicate through. It’s like every country in the world, suddenly deciding to speak the same language.

At this point, computer communications became more attractive to the average user as the ‘entry requirements’ lowered. You put a disk in your machine that configured your modem and put the phone number in for you. Then you just clicked an icon, and off you went You didn’t need to hand-configure your modem, and you needed very little technical knowledge to send an email or browse sites. In fact, even today, over 80% of Internet users can’t tell you how the Internet, or even their own computer, actually works.

Text commands, init strings and baud rate went out the window. GUI's became common. Now the internet was just a mouse click away. Where computer communications used to require study and effort, you could now teach someone how to browse the internet in half an hour.

However, at this point, personal web pages were a lot less common than they are today, for the simple reason they were complicated to write. You actually had to know HTML to write one.

A good metaphor is to compare the Internet to a car. Most people know how to drive, but not very many people know what’s going on under the hood. You don’t have to know how to build an engine to drive.

This meant that although the audience had widened by millions, the people actually putting content onto the Internet were still in the minority. You can view stuff on the Internet with a few mouse clicks. However, putting stuff on the internet was still too complicated and took too much effort for the average person.

So what has all this got to do with crappy blogs?

Well, we’ve entered what I like to call the ‘third age’ of the internet. The ‘entry requirements’ to put content onto the web have been all but removed.

To write a blog or run a website, you no longer need to know very much HTML.

Rather than send hours in front of the screen writing HTML, then finding somewhere to host your site and upload it using FTP (File Transfer Protocol), all you have to do is find a site like ‘blogspot’ or ‘geocities’. You just write your content, and all that nasty difficult HTML is taken care of behind the scenes. You pick a design off the rack, click ‘new post’ and type away.

Even pictures and links have been made easier. Now you can just click an MS-Word-esque ‘insert picture’ button, click the picture you want to upload, and everything is done for you.

In fact, Microsoft publisher now allows you to create a webpage in the same way you would create a regular document. You clicked and dragged your pictures, you set up textboxes and just typed, you simply highlighted text and clicked 'create hyperlink'.

You can now create a fairly professional looking webpage, without writing one word of HTML. If you can use a word processor, you can create a website.

The internet’s biggest strength and its greatest weakness that it is so easy to put content up.

I’m not being a snob here. My own HTML skills are basic at best, but when anyone, anywhere can run their own site, we get a lot of crap.

Just look at the difference in quality between professional television and public access cable TV shows. Now imagine that the public access shows where a huge majority.

The other thing is, as well as it becoming so easy to run your own website, it’s also become very fashionable. It’s what all the cool kids do. Where kids used to make fun of each other because their clothes were out of date, now they make fun of each other because their site doesn’t have any flash animations, and Jenkins in 3B doesn’t even have one!

In other words, having something good isn’t as important as just having it.

In short, to put content on the Internet used to be difficult. It required a lot of effort. If you wanted to create even a very simple site, you were talking hours of work and, chances are, if you were willing to put in all that work, what you wanted to say would be worth hearing.

Now the effort has been taken away, and you can knock up a decent looking site in 30 minutes…we get the 14 year old girls who spend 10,000 words ranting about how much of a shit their boyfriend was. We get the Sk8er Boi who TypEs LiKE ThiS and thinks everyone is interested in the cherry bomb he hid in his sister’s hood. We get the people whose blog site is all about how they have their own blog.

An uncontrolled, uncensored internet is a good thing. However, nothing is free. The price we have to pay for the free exchange of ideas is the blog from the 60 year old woman who posts nothing but pictures of her 86 cats.

Everyone has a voice. Not everyone, however, has something to say.


Miz S said...

LOL- I agree......and I highly suspect that you love that I have a blog. I talk too much as it is- and having a blog to work on keeps me from yakking to you 24/7.

I admit- I do love to talk and i love to blog too. Not that I have anything really interesting to say-. I just love interacting with other people. Their blogs make me think about things I might not have thought of otherwise. the blogs that are crap- I just dont read.

And now that I have you all thoroughly confused..I'll go.

Vicarious Living said...

But... I was going to start posting pictures this weekend! Now I have to come up with captions? Aren't pictures worth a thousand words?
just kidding

I agree, too many pointless blogs out there. More power to them, I just don't want to have to sift through it all. I have a coworker who, when I mentioned blogs, asked why would he want to read a bunch of whining people bitching about stuff he has no interest in. I wanted to protest, but realized he did indeed have a point.

Paulius said...

Pictures in blogs are fine, as long as they're not the only thing in it.

Serendipity usually has the odd picture, but it's not ALL she posts, and they usually reflect her mood or something she's thinking about.

As for people whining about stuff no-one cares about...I think of blogs like TV channels. Some are funny, some are interesting, some are thought provoking...while others are complete crap that I don't want to offend my eyeballs with.

That's why I find new blogs by following comments. If someone commoents on my blog, or a blog I like, chances are their own blog isn't just pictures of national telegraph poles.

Kato said...

Oh, man, that shot of Ken holding a broom is CLASSIC!

As a snobby PC guy with an actual degree in Computer Science, I've always held the view that people shouldn't be allowed to own a computer unless they had a license to use it. You would also have to pass a certification test in order to use the Internet. We don't let people out on the road (usually) without a driver's license, yet we let all these people on the Net who don't know a bit from a byte and whose PC's seethe with every known computer virus and worm. Of course that is a bit off topic, but you get my drift :)

One key player in this whole revolution to make the Internet accessible to everyone was AOL. I have always hated AOL, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because of the way it encapsulated all of your online stuff (e-mail, browsing, chatting, etc.) into an AOL framework. This made it nice for the computer illiterate, but hell for us folks who actually knew a thing or two. Plus, I used to encounter people all the time that didn't understand that AOL was NOT the Internet. They would be completely baffled when I told them I didn't have AOL but could access the Internet. I think some of their heads exploded.

Also, do you remember the "blink" tag? There used to be an HTML code that would cause text on a page to blink. Noobs and other style-deficient webmasters used it so much, and it was so annoying, that I believe no browsers now currently support it. Maybe we could do something like this with blogs: if your blog contains words in mixed uPpEr aND lOWerCase, if you write only in l33tspeak, or if OMG appears more than once per blog entry, Internet Explore will just show a blank page with the words "Content not found".

Paulius said...

I don't have a degree in computers...just an A-level, but I understand exactly what you mean.

But do you want to know the absolute worst thing about computer-illiterates on the internet?

Email forwards. The ones they fall for like "Forward this to everyone, and Bill Gates will send you a check."

Or the absolute worst:

"There is a new virus called the retard worm. Click start, then search and look for 'Win.sys' 'system.ini' and 'User.sys'. These are viruses, delete them at once!"

In fact, a friend once followed some 'virus removal instructions', that deleted his entire registry! Of course, then I got a frantic phonecall 15 minutes after I got the email...asking why his computer wouldn't start up.

Because you're a dumbass! That's why!

As for the blink tag...that along with over use of scrolling text, embedded, non-stoppable midi files and point 2 or point 60 size fonts should be punishable by death.

That the internet is easy to use would be a great thing...if only new computer users wouldn't automatically consider themselves experts.

I've lost count of the sheer number of hours I've spent sitting in front of friends' computers, because some noob decided that they were experst, just because they can start AOL all on their own.

One such 'expert', thought he had a virus (he didn't), and 'cured it' by dragging EVERYTHING on his desktop into the recycle bin.

Or, "I need disk space! Hey! I never use all these files in my windows folder! I'll get rid of them!"

The saddest thing is that even so called 'professionals' can be dumb as shit when it comes to computers. I walked into a local computer store, where a woman had brought her computer for repair.

"You have a virus, we'll have to completely format your machine. Look, all your graphics are corrupted!"

I looked at it. You know what was wrong? Somehow, her desktop colour depth had been changed to 16 colours.

In my lifetime, I've heard computer salesmen say the following things:

"USB 2.0? It makes your graphics sharper."

"That's a 60 gig hard drive, this is a 120gig. That means it's twice as fast."

"A CD holds 640 gigs, whereas a floppy only holds about one and a half gigabytes."

"Well a gigbyte is twice as big as a megabyte."

My personal favourite:

"This laptop has wireless internet, which means you don't need a modem, you just turn it on and get internet anywhere at any time!"

Anyway, this comment is turning into a blog. So I'll shut up.

Anonymous said...

I have only ever read one blog site - obviously yours - but I didn't know Sunny had a site & will have a look at hers as well.

I am good with computers, but had never heard of blog sites till I was introduced to yours.

In my opinion it's a very good way of knowing what your doing / or how your doing and now I will be able to read your wife's blog and hopefully get to know her and how she thinks / acts. It's a nice to know how my cousin's life is going on - over there in america.

Now I have you wondering which cousin....I've left anonymous comments before....I think I might keep you guessing a little while longer.