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David Weinberger

Bloggers on Blogging, January 2006

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David Weinberger began maintaining Joho the Blog on November 2001. He is best-known as a co-author of the immensely popular Cluetrain Manifesto and author of Small Pieces Loosely Joined.

David, 55, has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the U of Toronto. He is currently working on an upcoming book, Everything Is Miscellaneous, "about how the digitizing of information requires us to create new principles for organizing knowledge, and why that's changing the nature and authority of knowledge so profoundly." A Fellow at Harvard Law's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, David is a popular speaker, writer, and strategic marketing consultant. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with his wife. They have three children.

What is the first weblog you read?

No idea.

Why did you start your weblog?

Doc Searls my friend and co-author, was writing one. Chris "RageBoy" Locke, also my friend and co-author, was telling me I was being a schmuck for not writing one, that blogs were important, etc. So, it was in part peer pressure and in part a desire to try out the new gadget.

I started a blog in the fall of 1999. I posted a few times and got bored. It seemed pretty pointless because the community wasn't as strong, or at least I didn't see much community there. I stopped on Nov. 20, 1999 and resumed on Nov. 15, 2001. I gave myself an award for the longest time between posts, although I'm sure that that's no longer true. Nevertheless, I'm keeping the award at the bottom of my page.

That's interesting because from my perspective the community was much stronger in 1999, being so much smaller. You could actually know of most of the existing blogs, and realistically hope to follow a large percentage of them. So what is the quality that defines community for you? What was lacking then that exists now?

“ There are people I’ve come to know over the years either through their blog or through their comments on my blog. Some of them mean a lot to me. ”

Good point. The community wasn't there for me. I felt I was blogging in the dark. No readers. No reaction. No sense of community.

For me, a community is a group of people who care about one another more than they have to. I do feel part of an ever-changing community of bloggers and readers. That's not to say that everyone who ever glanced at my blog is part of that community. But there are people I've come to know over the years either through their blog or through their comments on my blog. Some of them mean a lot to me. And this is not a binary club that you're either in or out of. It's far smudgier than that, as it should be. There are blogs I read that I feel emotionally attached to written by bloggers I don't know personally but about whom I've come to care. I'm more than a reader of them but less than a community member. It's an extension of the attachment we feel to favorite printosphere writers, but the blogging world is more intimate and less guarded.

This summer you posted a funny entry lamenting the impossibility of keeping up with the blogs of all the people you like. Has the explosion of blogs — really good blogs by really interesting people — to some extent destroyed the community that attracted you in the first place? Are you able to interact with other bloggers to the extent that you once did?

You know that withering stare you get if you say something to a friend that indicates you haven't been keeping up with her blog? I think we need a new social norm whereby it's rude to assume that someone has kept up with your blog.

Yes, as my list of feeds gets longer, I'm not spending as much time with any one person's blog. But there isn't a strict relationship between the amount of time one spends and how much one cares about another. Otherwise, nobody would have more than one kid. So, while I'm not checking in as often or perhaps reading as thoroughly, I still feel as attached to my bloggy friends. Love just doesn't get spread thin that way.

“ I think we need a new social norm whereby it’s rude to assume that someone has kept up with your blog. ”

What is your site about?

Things I'm interested in. Some tech stuff, some politics, some business, some humor.

How do you choose what to write about?

Hmm. Generally I don't. I write about what has attracted my attention. Interest is passive.

I like getting pinged via email by people — readers — who actually know what I care about; spam isn't nearly as nice.

I don't feel any need to "cover" events; I may not say a word about hugely important happenings that I care about passionately if I have nothing new to add. On the other hand, sometimes I just go ahead and state the obvious.

Interest is passive, but posting is active. And you say that you may not write about hugely important things you're passionate about. So what is it — the test, or the impetus, or the condition — that gets something from your brain onto your blog?

As with anything else we do in public, there's a whole variety of factors. Sometimes it's because I'm saying something I think will amuse or bring new light on a topic. Sometimes it's to help spread word about a site, an idea, an outrage. Sometimes it's because I want to remember something. Sometimes it's because it's 4pm and I haven't posted anything yet. Sometimes it's because I think it will make me look smart or clever. Always, it's some murky combination.

How has your site changed over the years?

I'd have to re-read what I've written to answer that. And that'd be just too painful.

Do you have a background in writing?

Yes. If you ask me what I do for a living, I'll say "Write." (FWIW, I only started saying that about 5 yrs ago. Before that, I would have said "I'm a marketing guy.")

How often do you update?

3-5 times a day.

Do you make money on your site?


How much traffic do you get?

I genuinely do not track it. I don't have the slightest idea. I don't have any meters in place and I never ever check my Technorati ranking [ed. note: 671] or any of the others. I couldn't give you a guess reliable within several orders of magnitude.

Why don't you track it?

In small part on principle. In main part for pragmatic reasons. I would be affected by the numbers either way, and neither effect would be helpful. If I were a bigger person, I wouldn't care. But I do. So I don't check.

What principle?

“ We shouldn’t be writing blogs in order to gain a mass market. And we shouldn’t be evaluating blogs and bloggers by how many people read them. ”

That we shouldn't be writing blogs in order to gain a mass market. And we shouldn't be evaluating blogs and bloggers by how many people read them.

Why shouldn't we?

Because I'd like to see the broadcast strategy get a real alternative not just in who the stars are but in the star system entirely.

What alternative do you envision?

What we have: a gazillion bloggers, almost all of whom are writing for a small group of readers.

Which tool do you use?

Movable Type. I used Blogger at first, back before it was bought by Google, but it was pretty rough back then. It crashed a lot of Sundays, which meant mail reporting it wouldn't get opened until later in the morning. Besides, I like the idea of having my blogging contents on my own server.

MT was the best choice then and it is still a very good choice, IMO. It helps that I feel emotionally attached to the company.

What would your ideal blogging tool do, that is not offered by available tools?

I use one I wrote (in Visual Basic - don't hate me). Because I'm a hobbyist programmer, over the years I've added more and more. I've actually written up documentation for it, although the editor is never done enough to make available. Anyway, it has what I want, except I'm not good enough to know how to get it to post to Movable Type. Anyway, the important things for me are that it remembers every link and tag I've ever made, has a variety of auto-link features, has a primitive abbreviation-expansion capability, has a crude table editor, and FTPs photos. Most important, I can change it if I want to.

How long does it take you to write an entry?

Sometimes as long as it takes to type and press the publish button. Some I let sit overnight. If it takes me longer than that, or if the piece is sufficiently long or broad, I may publish it as an article in my (free) newsletter.

How do you handle corrections?

“ I always write to provoke reactions. Why else write? ”

The usual. Transparency counts, in some cases I put the mistake in strikethrough font and insert the correct information. Sometimes it requires an addendum or even an editor's note at the top. I do sometimes correct typos without noting the change, and even sometimes more substantial mistakes like getting someone's name or gender wrong. I use my judgment, which means sometimes I make mistakes correcting mistakes.

Do you ever write to deliberately provoke a reaction?

I always write to provoke reactions. Why else write? But I don't like provoking angry reactions and I don't like attacking people personally.

I make an exception for public figures, whom I feel free to ridicule because:

  1. As public figures, there's probably so much artifice in their persona that I am not attacking anything real.
  2. They don't read my blog.
  3. It's too much fun.
  4. They deserve it.
  5. One of them is a leader with totalitarian leanings, so we have an obligation to ridicule him.

How does the possibility that you may be flamed affect your writing?

Healthily. I don't like being flamed. I have a neurotic need to be liked. So, I usually try to think through how what I'm writing will be taken by people of good will who disagree with it. This sometimes makes me mealy-mouthed, but is that a bad thing?

On outright political issues, I'm not as nice. I have a political stance. I don't keep it secret. I usually assume that the person reading a political posting shares my stance, at least roughly, because there's also a need to talk amongst ourselves.

How has your writing changed since you started blogging?

It's gotten older, fatter and balder.

How many hours a day do you spend online?

All day, with time out for my family.

How much time each day do you spend on your site?

I spend a couple of hours blogging — sometimes more, occasionally less. I do email intermittently all day. I don't surf my site except sometimes to read comments.

I find that some days updating my site is more satisfying than others. Is there a certain type of entry, or a certain kind of day that is most satisfying for you?

I like it when I think I've written something funny. I feel dirty after spouting my political beliefs — but I still do it. And if I try to write something broader or deeper than usual, I just feel frightened.

In general, I suffer badly from writer's remorse.

“ I like writing the way carpenters like fitting wood together. But I really love the social aspect of blogging. ”

What is your favorite aspect of blogging?

I like writing the way carpenters like fitting wood together. But I really love the social aspect of blogging. You know, people who need people, etc.

What do you see as the role of your weblog in your life?

Same as everyone else. I try out ideas. I make friends. I say things I regret.

There's also this weird blog ecology. When I blog, I'm aware I'm writing in a public space and there are social consequences. That's no different from raising your hand in class and being aware that everyone is listening, except that you're not in class and you don't know if anyone is listening. But it's the same sort of public act with social consequences.

What about books and other offline reading — do you have time for it now?

Yes, more than ever because I'm researching a book. In fact, my book has actually forced me back into physical libraries for the first time in years.

How many hours do you spend on offline media?

Hard to say. I'm in front of my computer almost all day, but sometimes I'm reading a book in front of it. I subscribe to magazines (mainly not ennobling ones), read The Boston Globe every day, and always have one fiction and at least two non-fiction pleasure books going. Plus research.

How does offline input contribute to your blogging? To your other writing?

A lot of our culture is in books that are either not online or too hard to read online. I find it near impossible to read long works online — it's an impatient medium — but enjoy the longness of some paper-based works.

Offline works often provide the impetus for a post — for example, it's hard for me to get through an issue of The Boston Globe without a mental list of things I really ought to blog about. But, by the time I get to my computer — a 15 second walk — I've usually forgotten all of them, which is a good thing.

We get to take long walks through offline books. I find that that's good for maintaining and expanding the ol' context.

Whose writing do you particularly admire?

Questions that ask me to name favorites put me into a neurotic tailspin because of what I'll forget to mention. I will say that that Shakespeare guy has a way with a phrase.

What is your advice for a new blogger?

Links lots. Have fun. When in doubt, press the "publish" button.

In your reading, do you actively seek out differing points of view? How?

“ I am not sold on the idea that reading people you fundamentally disagree with is the only way to maintain an open mind. ”

Within my limits. I read Republicans, but I don't read fascists, racists, etc. At least, I don't seek them out. I subscribe to feeds from contrary points of view, I read Global Voices regularly, and I pay attention when someone sends me a link I disagree with.

I don't do it adequately, but I am not sold on the idea that reading people you fundamentally disagree with is the only way to maintain an open mind.

Why do you blog?

I blog because I tried it out and liked it.

I like it because it gets me into conversations and it builds friendships. I like it because I like writing. I like it because it stimulates me so much that I jump out of bed in the morning to get started.

Also, I have some obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

How has your weblog changed your life?

Blogging has made me fat. I used to exercise in the morning. Now I blog. It's connected me to people I care about. I'm over-stimulated intellectually. There's too much to read, think about, and write about.

What are your hobbies?

I like PC games, especially first person shooters. I like watching TV, especially with my family. I was an ok guitarist like every other male of my generation, and play piano horribly. I am an amateur programmer. I read.

What is the most telling thing about you?

That if you know any one thing about me, you can probably guess the rest?

Mac or PC?

PC and Linux. I just a couple of weeks ago gave my Powerbook to our daughter in college because she needs a Mac more than I do.

Would you read your site?

That's like asking me if I'd marry myself. I don't know and I'm real glad I don't have to find out.

Previously: Adam Greenfield | Next: Megan Reardon

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bloggers on blogging

2005: matt haughey | jessamyn west | heather armstrong | rashmi sinha | glenn reynolds | adam greenfield
2006: david weinberger | megan reardon | fred first | jason kottke | tiffany b. brown | scott rosenberg
2007: bruce schneier | trine-maria kristensen

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