Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.
A fisking of John Dvorak's latest PC Magazine column
Published on December 3, 2003 By Draginol In Blogging

I often enjoy John Dvorak's columns. He's probably my favorite technical columnist out there.  But at the same time, he is one of those people who makes rash predictions that are sometimes dead wrong.  In fact, he's made so many bad predictions that he gave me the idea for a website - www.badpredictions.com that I registered almost 4 years ago.  The idea was to let people submit entries that were either predictions already shown to be bad or ones likely to be bad: Who made a prediction and what the prediction was and when they made that prediction so that people who rashly make these predictions could be held accountable. We just haven't had a chance to put it together -- yet.

In that fine tradition of making bad predictions Dvorak talks about blogging and by doing so makes it clear that he just doesn't get it. More to the point, he has fallen into a logical fallacy that, frankly, surprised me. In this case, his argument is that while there are millions of bloggers out there, few are popular and of those that are popular, some of them are being co-opted by "big media". Therefore, he concludes, blogging is done. Dead. Finished.

But on closer inspection, his argument fails. Let's look at it:

Let's start with abandoned blogs. In a white paper released by Perseus Dev Corp., the company reveals details of the blogging phenomenon that indicate its foothold in popular culture may already be slipping (www.perseus.com/blogsurvey). According to the survey, more than half of them are not updating anymore. More than 25% of all new blogs are what researchers call "one-day wonders". Meanwhile the abandonment seems to be eating into well-established blogs: Over 132,000 blogs are abandoned after a year of constant updating."

This paragraph really sets things up for the rest. It actually says a lot more than I think John Dvorak intended.  For one thing, as it becomes clear later, he believes that it takes massive numbers of bloggers to have nay impact. Not true. I would argue that bloggers like Steven Den Beste, who is not a professional writer, carry as much clout as many full time journalists in terms of influencing people. 

But more to the point, the assumption Dvorak makes is a false one.  It doesn't take a million bloggers to have a significant impact.  The issue isn't the number of bloggers, it's the number of readers those blogs get. Period. The only relevant statistic, which is absent from Mr. Dvorak's analysis, is how many readers, on a daily basis, are dedicated bloggers getting.

Continuing (paraphrasing)

There are perhaps 5 million blogs. Most new blogs are abandoned. Luckily for the blogging community, the growth rate is larger than the abandonment rate. But growth eventually stops. The most obvious reason for abandonment is boredom. Writing is tiresome. This is compounded by the lack of feedback. Most blogs have an audience of 12 readers. Some people must feel the futility.

So what? Here's one key fact: Most bloggers do not see themselves as indie journalists. He's writing as if all bloggers are in it to be be pundits.  Most bloggers are simply people that want to record their thoughts and life. Like journals and diaries, most of these are given up at some point. But so what? Most would-be book authors also give up. Does that mean writing books is doomed? Look at the numbers he's throwing around -- 5 million blogs. I think most people would agree that if even 100 mega blog sites had a readership of say 20 million people monthly that that would be a significant force. 

The fact that there are apparently 5 million blogs should send shivers up the spine of old media -- 5 million people, presently, have figured out how to get their own thoughts and views onto the web where others can read them. That's 5 million potential competitors. And of those 5 million, it only takes a handful to make a huge difference. Arguing that most of them fail equals doom to all is akin to saying that because most businesses fail that capitalism is doomed.

So then he gets to taking a direct shot at Glenn Reynolds and Lileks and Andrew Sullivan.

The problem is further compounded by professional writers who promote blogging, with the thought that they are increasing their own readership. It's no coincidence that the most read blogs are created by professional writers. They have essentially suckered thousands of newbies, mavens, and just plain folk into blogging, solely to get return links in the form of blogrolls and citations. This is, in fact, a remarkably slick grassroots marketing scheme that is in many ways awesome, albeit insincere.

I don't even know where to start on this. How does he know they're "insincere".  I don't see how their popularity can be construed to "suck people in".  Suck people into what? To what end? I haven't seen Reynolds write about getting a gold plated rocket car recently. Dvorak's cynicism is amazing not to mention is utter disdain for us "newbies". We're all just sheep too dumb to figure out we're getting conned. I don't write for glory, I write because I enjoy it. I like communicating with other people and I happen to think that it's a good thing that people from all over the world can get together and talk about things that "big media" hasn't talked about. It makes us think.  Perhaps Dvorak would prefer we get back to watching football but I must say that I and other people I know who blog find it very stimulating. It makes you think. It lets you interact with lots of different people. And it lets our voices get heard. Even if it's only heard by a few people, so what? Instapundit and the others are incredibly popular because of quality.

With that said, it's time to destroy John's argument: According to Alexa, only 3,370 websites on the Internet link to Instapundit. So apparently the scam Dvorak imagines isn't working too well.  3,370 links to out of 5 million blogs.

Again - these sites are popular because they produce outstanding quality every day.

Unfortunately, at some point, people will realize they've been used.

Used for what? At best, 3,370 people will feel used. What about the other 4.9 million? And in what way will those 3,370 people feel used? I link to Instapundit in lots of places and I don't feel used.. I link to things that I think other people will find interesting or useful. I link to content not people.

This will happen sooner rather than later since many mainstream publishers now see the opportunity for exploitation. Thus you find professionally written and edited faux blogs appearing on MSNBC's site. This seems to be where blogging is headed -- Big Media. So much for the independent thinking and reporting that are supposed to earmark blog journalism.

Whoa. I've read Glenn's articles on MSNBC and they are the same kind of material he has on his blog. Who is being co-opted? Bloggers or big media? If blogging has become powerful enough that big media finds itself carrying the viewpoints of popular bloggers, then I think the question answers itself.  But let's make sure we understand what is being said here: "Big Media" instead of having a monolithic set of typically left wing columnists on their sites are now having columns written by popular bloggers who continue to write as they always have is now somehow a bad thing for blogging. Really?

Let's look at this from an analogy: Let's say I was an independent film maker making films about American success in Iraq. And I became very popular in the grass-roots sense. And then Warner Bros. paid me to take one of those independent films and distribute it to every movie theatre in the country.  Who exactly has gotten co-opted here? Who is influencing whom?

So now we have the emergence of the professional blogger working for large media conglomerates and spewing the same measured news and opinions we've always had -- except for fake edginess.

These aren't the droids you're looking for.  Good grief. Has he read any of these co-opted articles? Well, let's take a look at today's "fake edginess" on MSNBC from Glenn Reynolds. If that's "fake edginess" then serve this newbie up some more.

Another so-called revolution bites the dust. Big surprise.

...Right.... You know, I think I will work on getting BadPredictions.com up soon just so that I can get this particular prediction in there. The bottom line is that when millions of people can get their information from sources other than a tiny set of former Columbia graduates working and living in New York or Washington D.C. that's a good thing for everyone -- even John Dvorak.


Comments (Page 1)
on Dec 04, 2003
Joe User is however different than other blogs. It has become somewhere in between blogging and message boards. Sort of a natural evolution....to want to blog, but to have a definate audience of not just readers, but other bloggers, and get recognition if people like your writing.

To catagorize blogging as something that will live or die is just silly in the first place. BBS's, FIDOnet, forums, message boards, chat rooms, persistant-world games, blogging. These are all spokes of the same wheel. They're all ways that people have found to fullfil the desire to interact with strangers electronicly. There is no concrete reason for any one of these mediums it's just ways that people do what they want...whatever that want may be.

Kinda like saying "talking with your voice, in english, is old news, nobody will be doing it 3 years from now".
on Dec 04, 2003
Honestly, it is like the term 'blog' has replaced what would have been known as a 'webpage' in the early 90's; the single page, personal site. Since people have gotten more technically savvy with their HTML, everything has become topic-oriented webSITEs, and the personal page has kind of died. To me, the blog thing is a return to that idea.

That said, I don't think it will ever "die", but anything so broadly defined is gonna suffer a bit of drift. You don't know what you are gonna get when you visit a blog. I remember the first blogs I ever went to were long lists of interesting "FYI" links with short descriptions. Now they can be akin to a diary, a soapbox, a tutorial, pretty much anything.

I think 'blogging' will just subdivide and acquire more complex taxonomy as their content grows more varied and people want to frequent particular flavors.
on Dec 04, 2003
Right on Dragonol. Very interesting and provocative article. I did frown, however, with your reference to the left wing dominating the media, which I suppose means blogging is for the right[?]
on Dec 04, 2003
It's over?,Damn I just started my blog this week, and it's over? I always seem to get on the boat last.....
on Dec 04, 2003
Yeah...I have been (not lying or dropping names; just the truth) watching Dvorak's stuff for fifteen years and have spoken with him three times, twice for interviews on software products from companies I worked for. Like most early adopters, he's a zealot with lots of vision but patchy judgement. He's a Mac guy, for one thing. 'Nuff said. (Then again, so are most of the old/big/standard media types, including Mossberg of the WSJ...still, 'nuff said.)

I ran a successful, mostly Internet-based company for several years (again, no lie), and I encountered a lot of silly people along the way who, like Dvorak, didn't get the big picture, or who used the wrong metrics. You gotta start by telling people new to the medium: the numbers are different here. Ten million hits don't mean squat, and ten million dead blogs don't mean squat, as you say. But ten million readers, whether giving money to the Dean campaign or forming opinions based on what they see on Drudge, means a whole lotta squat.

Anyway, your column was insightful and valuable. Thanks.
on Dec 04, 2003
I do think most of the very popular blogs are right of center. I think that for a variety of reasons: 1) Demand. Mainstream media is decidedly left wing. People are interested in reading alternative points of view. 2) People who are technical tend to be less touchy feely and more about fixing things in a realistic way IMO. Those people have a tendancy to be right of center.
on Dec 05, 2003
So Mac users rate a "nuff said"?

Seems like you stubbed your little bare toe!
on Dec 08, 2003
I don't know if you've seen this one or not, but it was an entertaining read on the same sad, sad subject (that being Dvorak.)

http://seems2shel.typepad.com/itseemstome/2003/12/an_open_letter_.html
on Dec 10, 2003
Who is Dvorac anyway? you talk about him as though he were Moses coming down from the mountains, the guys a putz.
on Dec 11, 2003
Dvorak, Dvorak, Dvorak. The man who thinks he /is/ the Moses of the computer industry simply by the fact that he's been writing about them forever and a day.

We won't mention the fact that he manages to still remain utterly incompetent about the industry, or that he doesn't understand the mindset of the casual user, or the mindset of the power user.

Oh, wait, I guess I just did. He -does- understand sensationalist journalism though - he's proven that for around two decades now.
on Dec 13, 2003
I'm a highschooler, not even out of my parents home yet; but I'm also a writer, and as such i want to write and more importantly, I want my voice to be heard and to effect people. Blogs, I think, will continue to be popular until we find a substitute for the kind of interaction that blogging provides. Where else can you semi-anonymously bare the details of your private life to the public? Let's face it. Humans want intimacy and recognition, and blogging gives them that, especially if they have something to say.

I like JoeUser, and I put a lot of time into writing articles. Chances are, in a year or so, I'll be gone from this site unless by some fantastic stroke of fortune I become enormously popular. But you can bet that I'll be somewhere else writing, communication, and searching for anybody who wants to hear my voice. I'm a writer, and this is my world.

Dvorak is a cool name. That's about the only good thing I have to say about him.

~Dan
on Dec 19, 2003
I am a subscriber to PCmagazine and I can't stand John Dvorak. That idiot gets paid so much money for shooting his mouth off about his personal opinions and getting paid a ton of money for it. I have almost thought about quitting my subscription just because he is such a moron, but after looking at the other computer magazines on the shelf PCmagazine is still the best format and best info.
on Dec 19, 2003
The only reason Macintosh is still around is because Bill Gates owns a uber amount of stock in the company. Someday he'll own controlling stock and you can say bye bye mac's ~grins~ MAC users are zealots for one. They brag about not having or needing to update device drivers...well then you need to essentially buy a new mac every few years. I'll admit the G5 is one hell of a machine but the only people who use them are the same people who ever did and any growth in the company is because of that ruthless man Steve Jobs who is at the helm again.
on Dec 23, 2003
This is a perfect example of why blogging does work for me. Here I read a whole range of political, social, and age differences, all contributing - relatively instantly - to a well-written Blog. I agree strongly with Dan Kaschel as to its value to improve writing skills, exhibit yourself intellectually and emotionally, yet semi-anonymously. To have the opportunity to add to the world's research, opinion and thought, is a privilege that was but a dream for most of us just ten years ago. I thank you for standing up for us in such an intelligent manner and providing motivation to be good enough for myself, if no one else. Blog On.
on Jan 01, 2004
If anything good exists, corporations and others with resources will try to figure out how to make money from it. But that should not be a cause for worry. The multiplicity of individual voices that blogging offers should continue to drown out any "line" of political ideology or economic self interest.
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