The Not-So-Rosy Future of Blogging?

February 10, 2009

Digital technology is good.

Of course, it is not always “for” good. As it is with all tools, the bad guys can use it just as effectively as we can, and a bottom-up approach to gaining access to information can be used for Al-Qaeda just as easily as it can be used for the U.S. military. But there is a general feeling that lowering the barriers to produce, spread, and access information is a great thing for free speech in the world. We expect censorship levels to fall, and we expect citizens’ ability to participate and make a difference in a democratic system to rise.

In particular, blogging is viewed in a positive and almost glowing light. Suddenly people all over the world can easily broadcast their unfiltered opinions, connect and interact with others, and actively participate in serious conversations that transcend geographical and cultural boundaries.

But where is this all going? A person only has so many hours in the day, so she must decide what information she wants to take in and whose opinions she wishes to hear. As we have already seen with blogs like the Huffington Post, people will naturally gravitate towards the most popular blogs and the blogs with the most name-recognition and credibility. Sure, we want to read interesting things, but we don’t want to waste our time and read something that is just not true.

And with the rising popularity of blogging comes the natural tendency for corporations to want to jump into the fray. It is hard for a huge corporation to pick certain people to talk about certain issues in a natural, heart-to-heart way that adds to a customer’s experience and feeling of allegiance to the brand, but in efforts like Coca-Cola’s “Conversations” (run by Coca-Cola’s historian/archivist Phil Mooney) corporations are trying to do just that.

But is it working? Do people go out and buy a coke instead of a pepsi because of a fun post about vintage Coca-Cola advertisements? Well, probably not- but it can’t hurt, can it? And this, “Everyone is doing it, and we don’t want to seem lame and outdated,” mentality is how many of the larger corporations are approaching blogging today.

But what happens when private, for-profit companies really catch on? And what happens when it is not only the White House that runs a blog, but the Chinese, Canadian, and Iranian governments as well? Sure, a blog about issues that President Obama cares about, with links to relevant articles, seems harmless enough on the surface. But will we trust a blog post and data posted by a government with an agenda that does not match up with our own? And will we trust the credibility of a potentially damaging blog post citing a recent study that Company X’s product is much safer than Company Y’s? We generally require third-party verification of such facts, but if the third party is citing the company’s website this does not do much in terms of fact-checking. This is less an issue of truthfulness, and more an issue of distrust for those with a “higher” agenda. As blogging permeates all spheres, with corporations seeking to connect more personally with their customers and governments seeking to connect more personally with their citizens, this could under-cut the good nature and freedom of blogging that we depend on, and we might very well see a backlash against this form of media.

So, yeah, digital technology is good. But we as the little guys still have to be informed of where our information is coming from and what biases may be influencing the presentation of the information. No matter how pretty and interactive it is.

-Matt Nix

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