How is blogging different from writing a column?
During ICCAD Sean Murphy, a leading observer of the EDA industry, organized a "Birds of a Feather" discussion for bloggers. The ensuing two hours meeting has contributed to clarify my ideas about this Web 2.0 phenomenon, at least as far as the EDA industry is concerned.
I am told that blogging is a way to develop "social networks", something that the same people seem to think is a new thing that has been made possible by the new tools developed around the internet. It seems to me that such people must not have had a social life before the internet. Personally I do not find a string of comments appended to a blog entry to be particularly similar to a network or social in nature. The entries are most often unidirectional and do not result in new social interactions. Therefore, the major purpose of a blog is to inform readers, or to state an opinion, not to builod a circle of friends.
Three species of birds
In spite of some protestations on the part of the participants, I came to the conclusion that there are three different species of bloggers: the independent ones, the company sponsored ones, and the ones that are not bloggers at all, but write "blogs".
The first specie contains the pure bloggers. This type of bird maintains a web site and writes opinions about subjects pertaining to the EDA industry. This can be in the form of commentary on what is going on in the industry, advice on methods, or reviews of tools. The author must deal with starting a web site, finding authoring and maintenance tools, be his or her own public relations officer, and develop an independent following. It is hard work, built on good content and, at times, an existing reputation in the industry.
The second specie, the corporate blogger, shares much of the characteristics of the first, but lives in an inherently different environment. This author enjoys the support of corporate IT, has access to a legal department, and is the subject of various public relations initiatives on the part of the company. Therefore the major responsibility of a member of this specie is to produce content.
Regarding the content, there was a short discussion on the "freedom of speech" a company would give to such bloggers. Are they really free, or do they need to subject their writings to a review process before publishing? Without exception these individuals stated that no review is required by their company, and this seems obvious based on my own research. The reason is very simple: the individuals who are allowed to blog on a corporate site are implicitly trusted employees.
Karen Bartleson, who writes a blog on the Synopsys corporate site, is a perfect example of such "bird" (pun probably intended). Karen has represented the corporate interests of Synopsys for many years within various standards organizations, from OVI to VI, to Accellera, to the IEEE. And has done so with excellent results and a dedication and skill that have earned her respect throughout the industry. I do not believe that Karen is at this point capable of saying negative things about Synopsys unless Aart himself instructed her to do so. She needs no oversight, she needs no direction. Karen knows what is important and what needs to be covered, on behalf of Synopsys.
The third specie is not a bird at all. These individuals have been classified as bloggers by overzealous marketing people eager to adopt the Web 2.0 lingo. Members of this group are professional writers, editors, and journalists who write a "blog". In fact it is not a blog at all. It is a column, just like you can still find on or around the editorial page in newspapers and magazines. You are reading this in a section of EDA DesignLine titled "Blogs" because the contents must be clearly separated from News. The physical separation makes the reader aware that the contents are opinions, even if these are based on facts or observations about facts. You would read it if it was titled "Column" or "Gabe's opinions"
A startling response
During the meeting I asked what turned out to be a very controversial question. Suppose I am a high school senior and asked any of you what I needed to do to become a successful blogger, what advice would you give?
I was told that no high school senior could possibly ask such a question: they know. I think that just because someone has grown up with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and all other various tools that make up Web 2.0, one is not at all prepared to develop content worth reading. I expected that at least one person in the group would have said something like taking some classes in journalism, English composition, even social studies and a primer on business methods. Instead I was told: they already know.
Having access to a web development tool and a publishing tool does not make one a blogger. At least I hoped that the people in the room that consider themselves professional bloggers would be able to draw a difference between good, well structured content, that is free of libel and fabrication, from what anyone with a keyboard and a modem can deliver.
What surprises me is the lack of a professional identity among bloggers. It is obvious that ,in spite of social networks and virtual communities, the life of a blogger is still that of an individual contributor who receives its success above all from his or her individuality. Will the cry "Bloggers of the world, unite" ever be uttered?