Ownership and the Importance of Open

So this weekend I was writing some blog posts, listening to new tunes, and in between catching up on my reading of the print magazines that tend to pile up on the corner of my desk. One of those print mags happened to be the November issue of Wired, including Paul Boutin’s piece on how blogging is passé.

As I tweeted at the time, the timing could not have been worse, as I was already feeling bad about not having been as productive a blogger as I’d like to be over the last month or two (I’ll spare you the obligatory “blogging is important to me but I’ve been really busy and I feel bad about it and I promise to be better” post), so hearing that blogging was at best futile (since spammers and professional authors have taken over the blogosphere) or, worse, was a marker of just how “out of it” I am.

Boutin writes:

The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

Or, in his later psuedo twitter speak:

@WiredReader: Kill yr blog. 2004 over. Google won’t find you. Too much cruft from HuffPo, NYT. Commenters are tards. C u on Facebook?

So I was overjoyed this morning to find Doc Searls coming to the defense of blogging, and not just to refute the argument that it is out of fashion but more importantly to reassert its centrality.

Doc’s argument has three key bits, all of which resonated with me, the last most of all:

First, Doc points out that the goal should not be to simply chase the latest buzz – the goal for most authentic bloggers is not just to turn up high in search results, but to say something meaningful. Doc writes:

First, why give a damn about buzz? Here are the main things it’s good for: 1) popularity, by itself; 2) driving eyeballs past advertising. Nothing wrong with either, as long as substance is involved. Even if all you want is ad bux, it helps to remember that there isn’t a 1:1 ratio between traffic and click-throughs. Quality still matters, and buzz isn’t its only driver.

Second, Doc points out that blogging provides a mechanism that is not equaled by twitter (or other microblog applications), Flickr, YouTube, or Facebook. All are wonderful services and well used by most bloggers, including Doc (and me):

As personal journals on the Web go, blogs have no substitute. Twitter is fine for 140-character micro-postings, and for the ecosystem surrounding it. But micro-posts are not journals. Flickr is great for posting, tagging, organizing and annotating photographs, and for allied services such as creating groups and the rest of it, but it ain’t blogging. Facebook has some blogging features, but at the cost of forcing the blogger to operate in a vast hive of non-journalistic activity — and flat-out noise.

Third, and most importantly, the blogosphere is a fundamentally open ecosystem, whereas many of the cloud based services are less so. While Flickr and Twitter are reasonably friendly to openness, and allow you to expose content via various APIs, blogs are at their heart about sharing discussion openly:

To the credit of Flickr and Twitter, they are mostly friendly to the open Web, and not roach motels tricked out as friendly walled gardens. No ‘fence, but that’s what Facebook looks like to me. (Argue that if you like, but you still have to admit that it’s a private space rather than a public one.)

Meanwhile, blogging is free-as-in-freedom at its core. It’s something you do as an independent human being.

Although most blogs run on hosted services, those blogs are still ours. Do it right, and the constraints are minimal. http://doc.searls.com is a WordPress blog on a Harvard server, but if I want to move it elsewhere, I can do that. I have data portability, and service substitutability.

Freedom matters. Independence matters. Not being utterly dependent on any single service provider not only matters, but is an essential virtue too rarely visited and too lightly respected. What Richard Stallman said about clouds (that they’re “a marketing hype campaign” and “You’re putty in the hands of whoever developed that software”) has more than the ring of truth to it. His is a warning as righteous as those made by responsible forecasters of the financial meltdown.

Blogging at its best is free speech working in open spaces. That virtue persists, no matter how many slums get built in blogging’s hosted services, and no matter how passé it seems at the moment.

Can I get an amen!? Data portability and service substitutability – that’s the core of what made the web and it will continue to be.