Dispatches From Blogistan

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the book
Dispatches From Blogistan
by suzanne stefanac
from the book
> table of contents
> chapter 2 history of open discourse
> chapter 6 history of journalism
> 10 blog design tips
> what is this long tail?
> trackback demystified
> blog ethics primer
> glossary
> resource hotlinks


> cory doctorow

> farai chideya

> bruce sterling

> denise caruso

> craig newmark

> jamais cascio

> laura lemay

> christian crumlish

> jon lebkowsky

greetings from the future

12.27.11 @ 01:18:56 pacific

scapurprisingly, the book is still on a few shelves! Which is lovely, of course, but I don’t update this site much these days. I’ve put links to two of the most evergreen chapters in the right-hand column here: Chapter 2, History of Open Discourse and Chapter 6, History of Journalism. Feel free to comment.

Don’t stop!

bloggers protected by shield laws?

05.8.07 @ 09:08:16 pacific

Scap.gifo-called “shield laws” have provided protection for at least some journalists who refuse to divulge their sources, something that history teaches us is an imperative if the public is to be exposed to wrongdoing in government and other seats of power.

In the United States, 32 states have passed such laws. The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 presented before the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Rick Boucher (R-Va.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) would extend these protections at the federal level. The bill defines journalism as “the gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.” An identical bill has been introduced in the Senate by Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).

If passed, this bill would not only provide protection for journalists at a national level, the wording makes no distinction between professional journalists and bloggers. There is precedent for extending protection to bloggers. Last year, California courts ruled that rumor sites like AppleInsider and Powerpage did not have to divulge the source of their stories about unreleased Apple products.

All shield laws exclude certain types of reporting: stories that endanger national security, expose trade secrets, disclose health information, or, murkily, those in which “nondisclosure of the information would be contrary to the public interest.” In contested cases, judges overseeing cases covered by shield law must balance these exceptions against “the public interest in compelling disclosure and the public interest in gathering news and maintaining the free flow of information.”

The bill is supported by Newspaper Association of America, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, among others.

laws for bloggers

05.2.07 @ 10:46:52 pacific

Ocap.gifver on the Aviva Directory site, you’ll find a well-researched compendium, "12 Important U.S. Laws Every Blogger Needs to Know." Beneath topics like “Whether to Disclose Paid Posts,” “The Legal Use of Images and Thumbnails,” and “Laws that Protect You from Stolen Content,” the article offers tips and pointers to deeper information. Before you even setup a blog through a guide like www.theblogstarter.com it would be a good idea to give this info a look.

freebase sets us free, maybe…

03.11.07 @ 01:10:21 pacific

Dcap.gifanny Hillis never thinks small. One of his recent projects is a clock for the Long Now Foundation that is intended to last ten thousand years. Yesterday Hillis launched freebase, a wiki-like database that he and his crew hope will become a true “data commons,” collecting and somehow making sense of vast stores of information on every topic. Seeded with large chunks of Wikipedia and other resources like musicbrainz, freebase invites the public to not only add to the knowledge base, but to port what they like to their own pages, thanks to open APIs (Application Program Interfaces) and Creative Commons Attribution licenses.

At first blush, freebase sounds a bit like Google Base, a repository for user-uploaded information that launched a little over a year ago. What distinguishes freebase, however, is its combination of community-generated information with a cunning overlay of descriptive metadata. Web 2.0 meets the Semantic Web.

If enough people upload content to freebase and tag it intelligently, freebase could signal the next step beyond Google and other search engines that return long pages of possible matches based on algorithmic computations. Theoretically, freebase could return an actual answer to your query, one constructed from hints hidden in those interlinked metadata tags. It’s a noble goal and one that Hillis might just be up to.

keeping up with web 2.0

03.1.07 @ 04:20:24 pacific

Jcap.gifust when you think you might have a handle the plethora of websites taking advantage of user-generated content and many-to-many communications, a list like this compendium of Web 2.0 services reminds us that the world is evolving at a remarkable pace. Arranged by category (Audio, Bookmarking, Calendar, Design, Games, Images, Mapping, News, Projects, Search, Tagging, Video, Wikis, and a dozen or so more), the page lists each entry with a short description and a link. Right now it’s a snapshot in time. It will be interesting to see if the authors manage to keep up the list.

mining historical news

10.2.06 @ 05:58:56 pacific

Tcap.gifoday, Google launched a news search service that lets us sift through 200 years of news reports from publications both grand in scale and local. Called News Archive Search, the service mines more than just the usual web search fare. Drawing on content contributed from venerable publishers like Time, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian, as well as aggregators like Factiva, LexisNexis, Thomson Gale and HighBeam Research, the service provides a kind of historical record for specific search topics, replete with a “timeline” link that sorts entries chronologically. Not all the referenced documents are free, but in the least, researchers will be be aware of the breadth of content available to them.

the book is in stores!

09.26.06 @ 02:42:52 pacific

Wcap1.gifell, okay, it’s in SOME stores and my publishers tell me it should be more widely available within the next week or two. Plus, of course, it’s for sale on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Ignore the promotional text on Amazon (somehow unvetted text was uploaded at some point and we’ve had trouble getting it updated). I couldn’t be more pleased to finally be touching a hard copy. This probably sounds crazy, but I never printed out any of the text while writing the book and so only now have something tangible in hand.

warner music embraces the future

09.18.06 @ 04:10:11 pacific

Tcap.gifhe folks over at ars technica report that Warner Music Group has forged an agreement with video newcomer/behemoth YouTube to host its entire music video catalog. That in itself would be ground-breaking these days, but in addition Warner invites fans to create their own videos using Warner songs as soundtracks. In return, Warner will get a cut of the advertising revenues. This all bodes well for the video hosting upstart, enhancing their revenue possibilities and suggesting a path for financial sustainability. Alex Zubillaga, EVP for digital strategy and business development sums up Warner’s stand,

“This agreement establishes a model by which content companies can transform consumers’ creativity into a legitimate commercial enterprise that will benefit fans, artists and copyright holders.”

Good luck to Warner and YouTube in this joint venture. It’s a brave move, but one that seems very forward thinking.

anonymous blogging explored

09.9.06 @ 01:27:28 pacific

Bcap.gifloggers who choose to mask their offline identities behind a pseudonym or no name at all are increasingly common, raising questions about the integrity and verifiability of the content posted by these individuals, while at the same time allowing certain bloggers the freedom to post truths and opinions that would otherwise go unpublished. The ensuing debate is unlikely to be resolved in any near term. In the meantime, high-profile instances provide unique opportunities for exploring the positive and negative aspects of anonymous posting.

Josh Marshall over at the popular Talking Points Memo has been showcasing a guest blogger known only as TPM Reader DK and today Marshall addresses some of the questions raised by the anonymity of the individual. He details his relationship with DK over time, assuring his readers that he believes DKs posts to be truthful and well-founded, and to some extent he explains the reasoning behind the anonymity (as a lawyer with a midwest firm, DK chooses to publish anonymously for professional reasons.)

Marshall writes:

All things being equal, I’d prefer DK write under his/her own name. But I understand their need to remain anonymous, at least for now. And I think, on balance, the voice and point of view DK brings to our virtual pages outweighs the downside of anonymity.

Aside from the tortuous singular/plural gambit, Marshall’s willingness to tackle the issue head on seems like the right way to address reader concerns. The transparency that comes with blog publishing introduces new ethical dilemmas and we’re watching as solutions evolve in real time. It is instances like this one that will help each of us to define our own criteria for gauging trust within blogs.

desktop vs. browser apps

09.8.06 @ 02:31:28 pacific

Acap.gifrguments about the advantages and disadvantages of web-based applications are raging across the net. If the topic interests you, the discussion going on over at Read/Write Web is well worth a read. On that site yesterday, Ebrahim Ezzy posted an article titled Webified Desktop Apps vs Browser-based Apps. In it Ezzy cites downsides to the new web-based apps, including being at the mercy of the network and server load, issues with authentication, security, privacy, and reliability, as well as questions about backward compatibility as these new apps evolve. In a post titled Discussion: Webified Desktop Apps, Richard MacManus highlights the main points being raised by other bloggers. Those favoring web-based solutions counter Ezzy by noting that apps and databases accessed via browsers have the advantage of being available from any connected computer, are platform agnostic, and are well suited to collaborative projects. Richard MacManus, the man behind the Read/Write blog, wisely cautions that we don’t need to think in either/or terms. Still, it pays to understand the rationale behind both sides of this important question as we negotiate increasingly complex content waters.

citizen journalist cook book

08.23.06 @ 12:48:50 pacific

Tcap.gifhere is much being written about the pluses and minuses of citizen journalism and its influence on professional news gathering, but there’s nothing like a report from the trenches. An excellent example is Hartsville Today, a joint effort by the Hartsville Messenger and the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications, in collaboration with a grant from the Knight Foundation. Over the past year, the website has begun featuring articles posted by the staff of the Messenger, as well as stories and commentary posted by members of the community. The staff learned a lot about recruiting and encouraging citizen journalists; they also learned a lot about adapting to the new dynamics inherent in bottom-up reporting. They’ve taken all that new knowledge and published a “cook book” specifically aimed at small daily and non-daily newspapers. The resulting report, Hartsville Today - The first year of a small-town citizen-journalism site, can be downloaded as a .pdf file. Tips range from soliciting stories to budgeting, ad sales, and technology choices and will be of interest to anyone interested in real-life applications of collaborative reporting.

writely definitely worth checking out

08.20.06 @ 11:25:51 pacific

ver the past few months, I’ve off and on been using Writely, a web-based word processor that is elegant, fast, and free. Google acquired the app and it just relaunched. I’ve been playing with it a bit and here’s what I like best about the newest version:

* full-featured word processor (styles, colors, tables, images, comments),
* files can be accessed from any browser window,
* offsite backup every 10 seconds,
* can save and download docs in a variety of formats (html, pdf, rtf, odt or Word),
* can compare and revert to previous versions,
* collaborative editing in real-time with whomever you choose,
* folksonomic tagging support!

I’m sure there’s more and yet the app doesn’t feel like it’s succumbing to a deadening “feature creep.” The only piece missing (and perhaps I just haven’t discovered it yet) is outlining. I think and write in outline format and have had to tease some of my work on Writely into a fake outline format, but that is fairly simple. You can even post directly to your blog, which is what I’m going to do with this post. If you use Writely, let me know what you think.

keeping searches private

08.18.06 @ 01:10:51 pacific

Wcap.gifeb search engines open up our horizons, but at the same time, they gnaw away at our privacy. To some extent, we’ve learned to live with the fact that any Joe can do a search on our names and turn up facts we never meant to disclose. When search engines willingly turn over search records to government agencies, however, concerns for personal privacy escalate. For those wishing to preserve what little privacy we still have, the Electronic Frontier Foundation just published How To Keep Your Search History Private. Examples of tips include: “Don’t put personally-identifying information in your searches, at least not in a way that can be associated with your other searches.” “Don’t use a search engine operated by your ISP.” “Use a separate browser or browser profile for search and for other activities.”

worrying the problem of discovery

08.17.06 @ 01:04:33 pacific

Acap.gifmong the points I find myself mulling regularly is the problem of discovery. How do we find blog posts, news items, web pages, and philosophical soulmates amidst all this glut?

One of the best thinkers worrying this problem is Nicolas Carr, who yesterday wrote a post called The Great Unread on his Rough Type blog. In it he laments the concentration of links accruing to a few already well-known blogs and the difficulty the rest of us face in finding readers for our own blogs, as well as finding other bloggers who suit our fancies along that ever lengthening Long Tail. I strongly encourage you to read Carr on the topic, but I’m among those who’d like to believe there may be some relief as better recommendation engines and collaborative filtering solutions come down the pike. A post today by an old workmate, Matt McAlister (who’s now at Yahoo), titled My personal blogger hierarchy echoes some of my own thoughts on the topic. Matt writes:

I suspect that the idea of the blogosphere and the blog elite is a temporary one. The blogger hierarchy does not make the substance of a post any more or less valuable. Ultimately, that value is completely up to me, not some shallow power structure.

I’d love to hear from any readers how they think this may all play out and what any of us might do to help with the problem.

book headed for printers

08.17.06 @ 12:57:37 pacific

Tcap.gifhe book is all laid out now and just about to head out to the printers. I’m told I’ll have a hard copy in hand by mid-September. It’s great that book publishing is finally allowing authors to contribute to conversations in close to real time, but now that the pages are out of my hands, I’m already feeling that angst that comes with not being able to change or add to what I’ve already submitted. I’ll use the pages of this blog to record ongoing points that seem most pertinent. As always, I welcome comments and encourage any readers to add thoughts to any blog posts new or old. I’ll be adding a feature to these pages that allows me to point to these ongoing dialogues.

keeping track of video

08.3.06 @ 12:28:45 pacific

Dcap.gifabble launched a couple of days ago. Tim Perkis had alerted me to the service some months ago and I’ve been curious to see how CEO Mary Hodder and her crew would tackle the problem of tracking and organizing the vast number of videos being uploaded each day. YouTube is reporting 65,000 new videos coming online daily, with more than 100 million videos viewed a day on that service alone. Finding videos of personal interest amidst all that glut is a challenge but one made much easier now that Dabble is on the streets.

Just as delicious eases the task of keeping track of bookmarks through the use of user-generated tags, Dabble allows visitors to assign freeform descriptive tags to videos that reside anywhere online. Besides aggregating these tags, the site encourages communities of interest to grow up around comments, playlists, and a new Dabble Blog.

Dabble started out with a bang, tracking 100,000 videos from Brewster Kahle’s Moving Image Archive. To assign tags to videos you come across, you can install a handy bookmarklet tool. In addition to collating tags, Dabble allows user to contribute information about who created the video, who’s in it and the like in an editable wiki environment. This looks like a service well worth supporting. I know I will be.

final chapter submitted!

08.3.06 @ 11:53:21 pacific

Tcap.gifhere were days when I doubted that the book would ever be completed, but my publisher not only now has all chapters in hand, most of them are already laid out. Working with Peachpit/New Riders has been a pure pleasure and I’m happy to report that books will be on shelves in early September. I’ll have a link to Amazon here on the blog shortly. Also, I’ll be posting a few more chapters and some select content to the blog over the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned.

interview with christian crumlish online

08.3.06 @ 11:46:48 pacific

Mcap.gifany thanks to Christian Crumlish for his informed thoughts about blogging and the world fast growing up around the phenomenon. Christian has been blogging since before there were true tools for the task and manages enough blogs that he finds it useful to aggregate the content on his x-pollen site. Happy reading and many thanks to Christian.

berners-lee on net neutrality

06.23.06 @ 01:30:44 pacific

Tcap.gifim Berners-Lee knows a thing or three about the World Wide Web. He invented it, after all. On his blog, he talks about a lot of issues. Web censorship. Microformats. Protocols. And, with increasing frequency, Net Neutrality. Yesterday’s post is titled, “Net Neutrality: This Is Serious.” In the succinct post, Berners-Lee defines Net Neutrality:

If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level.

He makes strong arguments for why we need legislation in the United States that guarantees this access and that doesn’t succomb to the short-sighted quarterly thinking being promoted by corporations and media giants.

On his own blog, Lawrence Lessig weighs in pointing out that one clue to the debate involves watching “what kind of souls are on each side of the debate.” On the one side, we have those who invented the Web along with those who’ve managed to profit from it — Berners-Lee and Microsoft. On the other, we have those who find themselves eating dust — the telcos and cable companies. The United States is in danger of hobbling itself in a global information market. May the smart guys win out.

ebay launches product wiki

06.22.06 @ 10:24:42 pacific

Tcap.gifhose wishing to track how well wikis perform in very public settings now have an ideal petri dish. Yesterday, eBay Wiki launched. The online auction giant is inviting community members to contribute to “fact-based articles” that relate to trading on the website. Built in conjunction with Jotspot, the wiki is quickly attracting both authors and editors. The eBay environment already provides admirable mechanisms for feedback and gauging reputations. It will be interesting to watch how well a wiki withstands inevitable attempts to game the system. Unlike many of the peer-production experiments currently underway, eBay is a testing ground on which players literally have a great deal to gain. The wiki is, of course, in beta. The first articles, seeded by eBay regulars, deal with issues as varied as restoring feedback percentages, a list of handy auction tools, and a set of tips for selling art. It was a brave move by eBay and one that will certainly have its messy moments, but it has the potential to be a true proving ground for public wikis.

interview with laura lemay online

06.21.06 @ 11:45:21 pacific

Lcap.gifaura Lemay’s wonderful books — from Teach Yourself Web Publishing With HTML in a Week to Teach Yourself Perl and Java — have served as primers for many of today’s web denizens. She has forsaken book writing for the present, but her blog offers a fix for those wishing to keep up with her many interests. Laura’s interview with Dispatches from Blogistan offers a window onto the dilemmas facing anyone involved in book publishing today, as well as astute observations about the world of blogging. In addition, she generously provides an excellent list of pointers to websites and blogs she finds of interest. As with all the interviews listed on this blog’s right-hand column, readers may comment.

privacy issues heat up

06.8.06 @ 11:46:35 pacific

Acap.gifnush Yegyazarian over at PC World magazine just published an article titled, “Your Privacy Under Siege. If you’re looking for a well-reasoned argument for the institution of strong privacy guidelines, this is a good place to start. Yegyazarian begins by cataloging recent U.S. government actions that privacy advocates find troublesome—the NSA’s culling of data from phone companies; the Justice Department demanding search records from Google, MSN, and Yahoo; and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ plan to require Internet service companies keep user activity records. She acknowledges that these measures might occasionally result in the exposure of a terrorist or child pornographer, but raises the question: How can we devise safeguards that protect the rights and privacy of innocent citizens?

Her proposal is straightforward. Encrypt all data. Make fine print explicit. Allow opt out (except in criminal. Define government agency parameters. Monitor agencies. Impose penalties when agencies overstep.

Comments about the article on the digg.com page linking to the story probably suggest the spectrum of our response as a society. Some agree with Yegyazarian’s pragmatic approach. Some are resigned, convinced that both parties are in cahoots with the communications giants—consumer be damned. Some champion greater security measures, pointing to increasing unrest on almost every front. Some wonder at the trivial number of criminals and terrorists apprehended as a consequence of this mass collation of personal data.

The question will not be answered this round. Nor any round, really, I suppose. A popular understanding and interpretation of privacy is an ongoing process, one that mirrors the savvy and social conscience of each era. We seem a little timid these days. We watch the corporate/governmental panoptikon scanning our horizons and try to find ways to call it beneficent. But history would suggest that societies that maintain a healthy vigilance are much better able to maintain their rights, to defend them against inevitable intrusions by whatever hegemonies are in place at the time.

Clashes are occurring in surprising quarters. Two hours ago, the New York Times posted and article about Vice President Dick Cheney defending domestic eavesdropping. “These communications are not unusual — they are the government at work,” says Cheney. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Republican Arlen Specter disagrees. He wants to subpoena telephone company executives to testify in hearings to determine whether the eavesdropping is unconstitutional.

Vigilance surrounding our rights. The new patriotism?

interview with jamais cascio online

06.8.06 @ 02:42:14 pacific

Jcap.gifamais Cascio is someone to pay attention to. Over the course of nearly twenty years, he has managed to stay at the forefront of both technological and social change. In fact, he was one of the founders of the truly excellent World Changing website. You can follow his exploits these days by visiting Open the Future. His fine interview for Dispatches is well worth the read.

interview with craig newmark online

06.8.06 @ 02:24:33 pacific

Ccap.gifraig Newmark of craigslist.com graciously granted an interview. You can read it now! Many thanks to Craig for taking the time and for his many efforts over the years.

interview with farai chideya now online

06.2.06 @ 01:18:59 pacific

Fcap.gifarai Chideya spends a great deal of time on the road, reporting real life stories from New Orleans to Skid Row, and New York to San Francisco. Her main venue these days is NPR’s News and Notes with Ed Gordon show, but she’s a veteran of television, print, and online journalism — with a couple of blogs to her name, as well. We thank her for taking the time to answer a few questions about the state of journalism and blogging’s place within it. Read the interview here.