10 years of blogging at jasonclarke.org

Today marks 10 years since the first blog post on this site. I’ve owned the domain name for about 2 years prior to that – Archive.org lists October 2001 as the first recorded date– but used it mostly as a testing ground until 2003.

When I started this site, it was built on my own homemade content management system, which ran until 2005, when I finally switched over to WordPress. Over 500+ posts, here are a few of my favorites:

In 2003, I recommended people check out ESPN’s up and coming sportswriter Bill Simmons. In 2004, I announced the launch of my book. In 2006, I covered a Maine-centric blogging/media scandal; in 2007, I declared Twitter to be a “fad”. Later in 2007, I got press credentials for a presidential debate.

I’ve covered my home state of Maine’s media and politics, followed the evolution of blogging, and made a lot of lists! Finally, here’s a category that collects my favorite writing over the last 10 years.

Thank you for visting my site these past ten years – I hope you’ll stay tuned for the next 10!

 

Trying out a public revision process

"revision/procrastination" by Flickr user wenday
“revision/procrastination” by Flickr user wenday

With the launch of this latest version of my site (roughly my fifth iteration since 2006), I’m experimenting with two new features I’d love to see on other blogs: a changelog and a roadmap.

Yes, it might seem strange to have these two software and/or enterprise-oriented features on a tiny personal site, but why not? If a changelog can show users the progress of software, why not a website? And the same with a roadmap: It might not matter what’s ahead for this particular blog, but what if bigger sites like ESPN or Zeldman.com published public roadmaps, giving visitors a peek into their plans and their processes?

As a developer, and as a reader, I’d love to see more of these types of transparent peeks into the past and future of websites – both large and small.

Update: Nice! The Verge publishes a Version History.

At the beginning of the summer, I unsubscribed from Andy Baio’s Waxy.org, one of my favorite all-time blogs, because he linked twice to a blog which continues to push at times lame, and other times outrageous, ageism (scroll down to May 16th) aimed at Senator McCain.

It’s been four months since Baio linked the site twice (the second time defending ageism as a tactic against McCain), and since Senator McCain nominated Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate last month, I thought I’d pop in on Baio’s site, Waxy.org, and see if the liberal (and thus supposedly tolerant) Baio had decided sexism might be an acceptable tact against Governor Palin.

Gratefully, my non-scientific search of Baio’s blog archives, as well as his Links Archive, turns up not a single mention of Palin, suggesting Baio feels ageism is acceptable but sexism is not.

To test my suspicions, I dug through Baio’s Link archives since the ageism began, looking at June, July, August and September (as of 9/15), for any mention of the word “McCain”. I found 9 links total, one of which took aim at McCain’s age, this time with an entirely unfunny and decidedly lame joke (perhaps worse, it was a link to Daily Kos).

I am disappointed that somebody as smart and as respected as Andy thinks its appropriate- not to mention funny- to attack a person based on their age. I hope Andy can recognize that thoughtful people can disagree on why the person they support is better suited to the job of President, without resorting to any -ism, no matter how fashionable it might be.

UPDATE: Please see the comments for two thoughtful responses to my post, including one from Waxy.org’s Andy Baio.

Exclusive: Bangor daily paper preps its entry into citizen’s journalism landscape

Following several recent efforts to create a more interactive website, the Bangor Daily News is on the verge of launching a new user-generated content section, jasonclarke.org has learned.

“We are launching a brand new community publishing platform”, Online Services Manager Tim Archambault said in an email interview. He gives the timetable for the launch as “the next couple of days.”

The new community section will replace the News’ soon-to-be-former community.bangornews.com, a collection of staff-written blogs presented as a separate website and promoted sparingly on the bangordailynews.com homepage. Archambault describes traffic for the outgoing community site as “not overly strong.”

emilyrockblogster1.gif

Rock Blogster, one of the current Bangor Daily News blogs

Though he won’t disclose specific plans for the new section, Archambault says that it will “hopefully [include] any and all content the public deems important.” Given this description, the News’ new “community” platform is likely to expand upon the current crop of staff-written blogs to invite contributions of text, photos, and potentially video from people in the News service area, which stretches from north of Bangor to the coastal regions and into central Maine towns like Newport.

The revamped section will be the third incarnation of blogs in some format for the paper since September 2005, when it launched blogs on Hurricane Katrina and energy issues. In its most recent incarnation, the community.bangornews.com domain features corporate-produced blogs on Maine politics, personal advice, area music, and the Red Sox spring training season, “all of [which]” will be carried over into the new community website, according to Archambault.

“This platform is all about
community involvement.”

-Tim Archambault, Bangor Daily News

If it opts to expand its interactive components beyonds blogs to accept user-generated content, the News will follow a trend many national newspapers are pursuing in the wake of falling advertising revenues and subscription counts. But it faces stiff competition from two other Maine papers that already have a head-start publishing a variety of content submitted by readers. Both the coastal region Village Soup website and Blethen Maine Newspapers’ My.MaineToday.com feature a variety of user-generated content ranging from comments on articles to local events listings to photographs of local happenings. Up-ending the traditional “top-down” model, content in the My.MaineToday.com site, for example, is not written by reporters or newspaper staff but rather uploaded and managed by website visitors.

Inviting local citizens to help create the content of a local or regional news site is a bold strategic move for media outlets struggling to grow readership, but it can also be a risky proposition. One of the emerging “citizen’s journalism” movement’s early leaders, Backfence.com, opened to great fanfare in 2006 only to struggle mightily throughout its early existence. Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported that one of the company’s founders had left amid struggles with investors over how best to expand the organization, which had struggled to attract contributions from people even in heavily-populated suburban areas such as Reston, Virginia.

That said, the Bangor Daily News is not dealing with the exact same challenges as Backfence.com. While the News readership is comprised of less population than the suburban areas targeted by Backfence.com, it covers a wider geographic footprint and competes amidst a less-crowded media marketplace. However, the News still faces other challenges inherent in launching any user-generated news venture, such as “will people care?” and perhaps more importantly, “will they even visit?”

To meet these challenges, Archambault says the BDN will “absolutely” give the new community section more visibility on the bangordailynews.com website. He also hints the News will “hopefully” cross-promote the people’s contributions by re-purposing online content for the printed paper. If that’s the case, Maine could be the home to a third major community-driven news venture as early as this summer.

Blogging doesn’t need- and shouldn’t have- a code of conduct

Tim O’Reilly, owner of O’Reilly Media, recently proposed a blogging code of conduct in light of recent threats against blogger Kathy Sierra and the ensuing controversy that arose around the discussion of those threats.

While this is obviously a move born of positive intentions, I think that a blogging code of conduct is a terribly misguided idea.

Clearly, a community such as the blogosphere does not condone terrifying threats: the outpouring of support for Kathy Sierra demonstrated that fact. In addition, the blogosphere is also regarded, I believe rightly so, as a community willing and often able to commit acts of self-reflection, analysis, and adjustment. In that context, it’s difficult to see how any kind of codification could serve to do anything beyond artificially limit and stifle speech and the interactions that arise from it.

In short, what we have is a community fully adept at policing itself, the positive and group-building effects of which are infinitely more powerful than any kind of codification could hope to be.

If you need a code to interact from, define one for yourself, and by all means live by it– heck, even publicize for your readers to consider. And if it’s in line with norms, or catches on (lord knows the blogosphere is nothing if not self-policing…and trend happy), who knows? Maybe your code will be adopted informally, organically, subconsciously, where it might, just might, have a positive impact. Anything less natural is destined to fail, and by its definition limit our collective speech in the process.

Twitter: a fad, not the future of all blogging

I am coming out, for the record, against the increasingly popular social networking tool Twitter.

If you’re not familiar with it, Twitter is a relatively new web-based service headed by Evan Williams, a founder of pioneering blog engine Blogger. The concept behind Twitter is that you keep in touch with friends– and fans– by posting short “micro-posts” (such as “early night now – paintballing tomorrow!”) via your browser or mobile phone. Anybody who subscribes to your updates then receives a constant stream of text messages alerting them to whatever you’re doing now or sometime in the near future.

Almost too bizarrely, much of the upper echelons of the blog world have been slowly but surely slathering Twitter with praise over the past few weeks. The din of endless and largely empty accolades reached a fever pitch this week, as thousands of geeks descended on my friend Ben’s adopted home of Austin, Texas for the popular South by Southwest (SXSW) film and technology festival.

I’ve been tangentially aware of Twitter for a few months, and after a couple of different casual passes at the service, I grudgingly signed up over this past weekend, only to awake from my group think-inspired stupor on Sunday to retract my short-lived attempt at using the service.

Lest you judge me for not having tried out Twitter before I come out against it, please understand that I’ve also never tried cocaine, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand it, and I am also opposed to its use as a recreational drug.

So, here is what really bothers me about the Twitter phenomenon:

1) This is not the future of blogging. Okay, fine, we’re in a post-blogging world. Agreed. But there are a number of different fascinating directions that blogging is going in, and in my opinion, Twitter is not one of them. In fact, I would argue that although Twitter appears to be similar to blogging– you use a web service to write short posts– the content and the purpose differ dramatically from the act of blogging. So while some aspect of blogging involves navel gazing, the ultimate benefits of the craft result in more shared knowledge, expertise, and opinions on a wide range of topics with either universal (your insight into Middle East politics) or extremely targeted, but nonetheless shared (your passion for a specific type of thermos) appeal. But in my observations, Twitter strips all of that communal knowledge sharing and keeps only the least interesting aspect of blogging: the aimless, devoid sharing of personal details.

If this is about mobile blogging, as some Twitter proponents have opined, then it is my contention that our mobile devices are now clearly failing us, and not our blogging tools. For example, I’d much rather see the proliferation of powerful mobile devices, such as Microsoft’s SmartPhones and Apple’s iPhone– which encourage full-sentence, full-thought blogging– than I would see blogging technology, and thus trends, develop downward in scope and breadth in order to accommodate our current swath of abysmally bad mobile phones. If you think the average mobile phone is engineered better than, say, the WordPress blogging tool, I’d like to debate you on that issue.

2) There is way too much empty praise going on. Dave Winer wrote of Twitter, “Whenever so many people are so excited about something there must be some substance.”

I strongly disagree with that sentiment. Whenever I sense a critical mass of praise over something in a short window of time, I am instantly suspicious of its substance by sheer instinct. Rather than seeing all of this sudden praise as indicative of Twitter’s inherent quality, I see it as a symptom of a fairly large problem within the blogging community. It’s fad-chasing, pure and simple, and its indicators are all present with Twitter-love: The Constantly Writing About It (check), the Rushing to Institutionalize It (check), the Endless Namedropping Of It (check, ad nauseum).

For material proof of my suspicions, consider well-respected blogger Steve Rubel’s recent hedge on the entirely crowd-driven Twitter-craze: “I want to see how Twitter shakes out. It could be a fad.”

You can’t get much more proof than that: a well-known, well-respected technology blogger publicly demonstrating this point for me. Hence, I argue that a bit more analysis, and a little bit less ‘follow-the-leader’, are in order with respect to Twitter’s emerging influence.

3) Twitter is too clever for its own good. The clever, self-absorbed overtones present on Twitter’s website– be it large fonts, error messages crafted in inane human-speak (“So sorry I lost yr filez,” etc.) and insular “community” mentalities– are, like most fads, constantly at the risk of looking and feeling extremely dated the very second that they’re passed over for whatever the next fad is. It gets to the very nature of the fad: The damningly short period of time from which something is converted from amazing to ridiculous.

So if you’ve been bitten by the Twitter bug recently, please think about these questions. Are you only using Twitter because technology influentials are takling about it? Is it adding any real value or meaning to your already crowded plate beyond that occasionally comforting feeling of not being left behind by the cool crowd?

You may love Twitter– you may even think it is the Future of All Blogging– but I truly don’t, and those are some of the reasons why.

Update, April 13 2007: It’s important to note for disclosure that I am now testing the Twitter service at the request of some friends who have urged me to try it in order to gain more perspective on it. I’ve agreed to do so; you can look in on me at http://twitter.com/jgclarke.

Copeland challenges Calacanis: $10k for blogosphere’s true money leader

Well-known and outspoken entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, founder of blog network Weblogs, Inc (now a part of AOL), has walked into a potential mea culpa by publicly challenging Blogads, one of the blog world’s earliest franchises.

On technology blog Valleywag, Mr. Calacanis was asked about rumors he was planning to compete against Blogads, arguably the largest blog advertising network. Here’s what he had to say:

Q. So, poor Henry Copeland [of Blogads]. You’re finally coming after him.

A. That’s like Michael Jordan going after a 12-year old in a game of 1-on-1.

Subtle, right? But instead of letting Mr. Calacanis’ snide (yet typically boastful) remark fade, as it initially appeared it would (“Jason…makes me smile”, went Mr. Copeland’s first post), today Mr. Copeland posed an interesting challenge on the Blogads weblog, proposing a $10,000 wager on which network– his Blogads, or Weblogs, Inc– earned more money for its bloggers last year:

“…Let’s talk about the key performance metric. Does Jason want to put his big money where his bigger mouth is? I’ll wager $10,000 that in 2006 Blogads earned more for bloggers than did WIN. After all, blogger earnings is the true measure of a blog business, right?

What kind of odds would Michael Jordan give a twelve-year-old in a game of 1-on-1? A million to 1? Maybe 10,000 to 1… with the MJ blindfolded and his shoes tied together?

Well, this twelve-year-old would be happy with 10 to 1 odds, Jason’s $100K to my $10K. If those odds make Jason queazy, I’d be happy to discuss something gentler.

Jason apparently got $25 million from AOL and is the Michael Jordan of blog businesses, so he’s got the cash to toss on the table. Does he have the guts?”

Blogads owns much well-deserved respect within the blogosphere, so I’m a bit surprised to see them coming out swinging like this, particularly considering Mr. Calancanis’ fairly well-known reputation as a person who enjoys self-promotion, stunts, and often uses braggadocio in his personal writings. Frankly, I don’t see what Blogads could gain from this wager– as Mr. Copeland writes in his post, his network is a clear winner in terms of customer feedback; and with AOL’s recent jettisoning of several of the lower-trafficked Weblogs, Inc titles, it seems a bit like a bit of an off comparison to pit Blogads distributed network of ad carriers against the now-streamlined Weblogs, Inc. network of blogs.

Considering all that– plus the fact that Blogads is likely to win the wager by a large margin– I expect Mr. Calacanis to either ingnore this come-on completely, or else shoot back with some variety of mis-direction, changing of the terms, or some other similar stunt.

As Paul Giamatti once said in an interview (and I’m paraphrasing), “It’s not the competition. It’s the challenge.”

UPDATE: In a comment on this post, Mr. Calacanis calls this a “silly bet”.

As blogging comes of age, growing pains persist

A few comments on the latest political/blog scandal. First, some background. This time around, liberal blogger Amanda Marcotte, recently hired to run presidential candidate John Edwards’ campaign blog, is being criticized for a variety of blog posts she’s written at her personal site, Pandagon.

As to be expected, liberal bloggers are rising to her defense, while conservatives are, without calling for her removal (and I count threeone who think she should stay), commenting on the issue and re-publishing her thoughts on issues from Hurricane Katrina to the Catholic church.

What was said?

So that we’re clear on some of those comments, and please note that the following contain graphic language that may not be suitable for all ages, here are some of Ms. Marcotte’s writings, as re-published at ABC News blog Pushback:

ON THE CATHOLIC TEACHINGS ON BIRTH CONTROL:

Last year, Marcotte blasted the Catholic Church’s position on birth control: “Q: What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit? A: You’d have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology.” (Side note: Would there be a different reaction if John Edwards “blogmaster” had insulted Islam to this degree? Is it “okay” to trash Catholicism–but not Islam?)

ON THE DUKE RAPE CASE:

“I had to listen to how the poor, dear lacrosse players at Duke are being persecuted just because they held someone down and f***** her against her will–not rape, of course, because the charges have been thrown out. Can’t a few white boys sexually assault a black woman anymore without people getting all wound up about it? So unfair.”

ON REPUBLICAN VOTERS:

“Voters who are motivated by misogyny, homophobia, and racism aren’t going to leave a racist, misogynist, homophobic party for one that is all those things but just less so.”

Clearly, these are not simply liberal opinions expressed with power or wit. Rather, they’re pretty disturbing, irrational comments that I would sincerely hope do not represent the general tone of the Edwards– or any other– campaign for president.

So…should she be fired?

But do these comments– as disturbing as they are– mean Ms. Marcotte should be fired?

With respect to the issue of a political campaign firing a blogger for controversial things he or she has written in the past, I don’t think a precedent should be set that any blogger should be fired for simply publishing any controversial thoughts- in fact, this should be obvious, that tends to be one of the reasons they’re hired in the first place.

However, to me that’s not the real issue here. The real issue is not that Ms. Marcotte published some controversial ideas, as some of the liberal bloggers on this case would have us believe. Rather, the issue to me is whether or not the particular things she’s said are in line with how the Edwards campaign wishes to portray itself.

If Ms. Marcotte’s published writings are not in line with the beliefs of the Edwards campaign, I think there can only be two reasonable courses of action going forward:

1) The Edwards campaign should immediately fire Ms. Marcotte and apologize for the decision to hire somebody whose writings are outside of the scope of rational political discourse.

2) OR, the Edwards campaign should immediately release a statement roughly along the lines of this:

It has recently come to our attention that Amanda Marcotte, a blogger we tapped to manage the John Edwards campaign blog, has published a number of comments on a personal blog that millions of Americans may find in poor taste.

While we do not agree with or condone Ms. Marcotte’s previous comments, we did not hire her based on them either. We will continue to welcome Ms. Marcotte as a member of the John Edwards campaign team, with the mutual understanding that she regrets offending people and plans to speak positively about political issues on the Edwards campaign website going forward.

Either way, this should happen soon, and decisively, and the campaign should then immediately announce some kind of “free beer for all Americans” program or something equally as earth-shattering.

That’s not the end of this issue though. Far from it.

The argument for failed hires- and for moving on.

A few bloggers have made the point that the Edwards team should have done a more thorough vetting of Ms. Marcotte’s blog and other public writings before bringing her on and placing themselves in the middle of such a difficult situation. Fair (and obvious) enough! But now at least one blogger is arguing that the campaign should live with their bad hire and carry on.

What?!!

Anybody who has even been remotely involved in the managing of a company or organization that aims to be successful has to understand that making the wrong hire does happen. You don’t want it to, but it will happen from time to time. And when you realize you’ve made a mistake, the best thing you can do is cut ties with the scandal as quickly and as completely as possible. Nothing short of that makes any sense for the ongoing success of your organization.

In fact, when the scandal becomes too big to manage, a decent person in Ms. Marcotte’s position, particularly if that person professes to support the organization in question (as Ms. Marcotte has expressed support for Edwards’ campaign), should take the responsibility and immediately recuse him or herself from that difficult position. That’s called honor, and it’s rare.

Mis-direction and revenge

Something else beyond Ms. Marcotte’s comments really bothers me here, and that is the way in which many liberal bloggers have chosen to defend Ms. Marcotte.

Without addressing her comments directly, Glenn Greenwald chose to talk about the rude comments of a conservative blogger.

Without addressing her comments directly, Daily Kos diarist Kagro X suggested that other Democratic candidates circle the wagons around Edwards.

Without addressing her comments directly, Shakespeare’s Sister blogger Waveflux commented on one of Ms. Marcotte’s critics.

And most disturbing of all in my opinion are the comments from Chris Bowers, writer at the popular liberal blog MyDD. Short of addressing the particulars of Ms. Marcotte’s comments– should we then assume he supports them?–Bowers instead launches a pretty bold threat directly at the Edwards campaign:

I have a pretty vicious rant and an important action alert lined up, but I am waiting to hear from the Edwards camp about the fate of Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan before doing anything…But like I said, I am waiting before letting loose.

Bowers goes on to reference a straw poll at liberal blog DailyKos, commenting that “Either way, [Edwards] won’t be tied with Barack Obama in Dailykos straw polls anymore. It will be hard in one direction or the other” (emphasis mine).

In a later post, Bowers continue to actively threaten the Edwards camp, writing that “If someone is willing to stand with us, that should mean something big, and should not go unrewarded.”

Bowers’ message here is loud and clear: We don’t care what she said, whether or not it’s offensive, or any effect it might have on “our” candidate– we only care that one of “our own” is being threatened.

Could Bowers be any more direct? Fire Ms. Marcotte, and he will “let loose” on the Edwards campaign with a “vicious rant” (the same kind that Marcotte writes, I wonder?). However, if Edwards does what Bowers wants, then that “should not go unrewarded”.

These are pretty direct, and audaciously arrogant, threats for a liberal blog to make at a presidential candidate. Particularly when they are accompanied by a deafening lack of comment about exactly what Ms. Marcotte has written and its potential effects on the electorate.

This is a soggy, pathetic affair, and it reflects poorly on the entire blogosphere. Sadly, it will also likely have a negative effect on the prospects of talented, intelligent, and reasonable bloggers being hired by not just political campaigns, but by organizations on the whole.

And like many things, the initial situation was unfortunate. But the cover-up is turning out to be much worse.

UPDATE: Welcome Michelle Malkin readers! Thanks to Michelle for the pointer.