Blogging, Spam and Discovery.
Blogging is being "discovered" by the mainstream press and they view it in their image. But it is a lot more interesting when viewed as a way to exchange information and compared with others approaches such as advertising and its feral cousin, spam.
10-Aug-2002Version 2: 2023-01-31 17:29:21

So the mainstream press has a new phenomenon -- Blogging. There is indeed something there and one reason SATN exists is that Dan has been a very early advocate and supporter.

Of course, now that we have the word "Blogging" we know what it means. Or, more to the point, we can use the word in lieu of knowing what it means and act as if we do. While some of the early origins of blogging are indeed associated with the idea of publishing ones diary to the world so everyone can know what you ate for breakfast that's only part of the story.

One key element is having tools suitable for personal publishing. It should be easy to write something and throw it out to the world. Of course that presumes writing is easy and my challenge has been to try to improve my writing to the point that the typos don't distract too much from the content. Writing informal snippets does make it easier to throw out thoughts, though writing for those with short attention span makes it a challenge to express complete concepts.

Getting a chance to publish our literary gems and profound thoughts is only part of the story. Whether others view the writing with the same degree of appreciation isn't very important. At least the reader gets a chance to judge. That is if you're found at all and then deemed worth more than a click past. August refereed journals offer no such options as they prejudge the value of the content. The prejudgment of publishers, whether in journals or newspapers, is now just an option.

I find the more interesting change is in the process of discovery. Being heard against the din of all the voices is hard and we have a large industry dedicated to just that. Marketing and advertising are important and often necessary. But they easily become pathological and there is no sharp distinction between spin and fraud. In fact they often overlap. Of more concern is the sheer volume of noise as the "in your face" motif becomes increasing necessary. At least in the view of those vying for attention.

To be fair (not that an opinion piece has to be), those of use who seek sponsorship are co-conspirators since third party arms-length advertising is actually one of the most benign sources of support. And it works both ways -- the separation of editorial and sales doesn't need to be cast as a moral issue. If one is compromised for the other both suffer. OK, it's a lot more complex than that but, in blogging tradition, I want to move on ...

... to spam. With all this fuss about email spam I find that it is the least troublesome. Yeah, hitting delete a couple of times is a pain and sometimes I feel slimed when I treat a message as legitimate only to discover that I've been had.

Email spam is obviously amateur twaddle but if you start looking at late night TV ads and, alas, now daytime, they will start to seem familiar. After all, what is the difference between a TV ad for "male enhancement" and email about a 12 inch penis (sorry, but the US hasn't gone for that new fangled metric stuff and spammers seem to know it)? At least I can use some technology to deal with email and can write more about that separately.

But paper mail is harder since it arrives in piles and you need to physically open each one and can't just flag it or quickly sort it. So it piles up and once in a while I look through it. My attitude is that if you send it on paper with open loop messaging then you aren't serious about reaching me.

Telemarketers who use the phone are more than annoying. As I pointed out in the piece on caller-ID a large part of the problem is that we have a legacy phone system that just isn't equipped to provide even a modicum of respect for our time and attention. I reserve my real antipathy towards systems that automatically place calls. These system are marketed on the basis of saving money for the marketers and towards this end they have a "feature" wherein they do predictive dialing. The idea is to place the call so as to having a caller become available just as the person answers the phone. The designers of those systems are clever and understand that they can do very tight scheduling since the cost of failure is low. In fact, if no one is available and caller-ID is suppressed then who's to know. At least that's my theory for the large number of dead calls I get. (Anyone in the mood for a class action suit?).

I did call back one of the travel offer calls and they even told me about their website. Clearly they don't think of themselves in the business of harassing people. And I'm sure that many of the spammers are making honest (in their minds) (though clueless) attempts to realize their entrepreneurial dreams even as they are being exploited by others who sell such franchises.

And it will get worse with cell phones, SMS and other ways to reach us. WAP, location-based marketing. While we might see it is a nightmare, others see it is a wonderful opportunity to sell. And to be supported -- imagine if you could get your surgery for free if you got a logo tattooed on your body at the same time. How many would take the offer. What about 10% off? It's not prostitution, it is negotiation. But this is getting off topic, for now, let's assume you just want to get away from all of that.

The solution is not to create arcane rules about marketing which just rewards the sleaziest. We need to take control over our own personal space. The phone companies charge money for not listing you in their directories (OK maybe not all but let's not quibble). And we have the legacy of treating email addresses as if they identified physical resources.

Instead of being trivially discoverable, we should be able to use unguessable identifiers which we give out as we choose and each identifier is unique and not reused. It is basically a capability or key that can be used to identify the relationship and manage it.

So, back to blogging. W'e in a period of discovery and there are many discoveries to be made. One of them is the shift from a broadcast/advertising model one to one of mutual shared information and referrals. That doesn't mean we should only find what we want. There is still a need for serendipity and even for others imposing upon us since we can't always predetermine what will be valuable. But the shift towards peer communications is very interesting and the implications are far wider than shared diaries.