BookBlog now on WordPress

After a moderate amount of wailing and gnashing of teeth, I’ve successfully migrated BookBlog over to WordPress.   And comments are working again!

The short version of the saga — my hosting provider had disabled comments on the old version of MT because of the server suck.  I needed to either upgrade or move.  The upgrade failed, so I moved.  The MovableType content export/import worked swimmingly, so the old posts are here, with pictures and comments.

The WordPress install was a pleasure, and I’m happy to be using a tool with a lively community. MovableType is making a reasonable decision focusing on its business customer base, while WordPress focuses on personal use, small business, and the technically savvy folk who help others.

Spiffing up the blog feels emotionally like a good-sized home improvement project. Like a house, it’s a space that I share with others and is a mode of self-expression. Having a creaky blog with broken comments and obsolete sidebars feels badly wrong and anti-social – it’s like having broken chairs and cracked windows. Fixing things up feels like a good spring cleaning and repair.

The long version saga, for the very few of you who’ve been wondering why comments have been out of commission for a while (the rest of you feel free to move on)…

In 2006, I disabled comments because of the epidemic of blog spam. In 2007 I was working too much to look into the problem. Last year, when I tried to re-enable comments, I found that my hosting provider had disabled MT comments for version 3 because of server load. In order to re-enable comments I needed to upgrade to MT4 (or move to WordPress). Before I did anything, the hosting provider needed to upgrade the MySQL servers. MT editing barely worked, 500 errors were chronic, and WordPress wouldn’t have worked at all (because views hit the database). Last weekend, the db server was upgraded. So this weekend was blog upgrade weekend. Thanks to those of you who’ve been patient enough to email comments in the meantime 🙂

Mirror, mirror – who’s the fairest reporter?

Glenn Greenwald’s incendiary analysis reveals that ABC News knew at the time who was spreading the word that Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks, one of the threads in the case for war. They still know and they’re not telling. Compare and contrast to Matthew Ingram’s reflections earlier this year about the internet blurring the lines between fact and rumor.
Traditional media can be influenced. PR and propaganda go back far into the history of mass media because they work. This is why companies have pr departments and famous people have media agents. Representatives of traditional media who believe they report fact without rumor or influence are Snow White’s haughty and deluded Evil Queen.

Scoble doesn’t get Vox

In his BlogHer writeup, Robert Scoble dings Vox for being targeted at novices.

“As to Vox, the idea is great (expand blogging to more “regular people”) but I’ve gotta wonder how successful it’ll be. Microsoft’s Bob taught the world that no one wants to be a beginner, or seen as one. I think it’s condescending, don’t you? If you’re going to get dragged to learn to ski, don’t you want to get off the beginning slopes and hang out with your friends on the intermediate and advanced slopes?”

Vox strikes me less as blogging for novices and more like LiveJournal or MySpace for grownups. Vox takes the build-in social networking and privacy design patterns and applies them in an application that’s more tastefully designed and easy to customize. The Vox target audience is grownups wanting to communicate privately to friends and family. The challenge for SixApart is the need for viral spread of a more introverted application.
The younger culture is more extroverted, not to say exhibitionist. The tools spread across social networks defined by groups of friends and subcultures that want to reach out and leave their mark. These networks can spread like wildfire. The growth of grownup networks of public blogging, using tools like WordPress and MovableType, connected by implicit links and overlay tools like Technorati rather than explicit networking features, are driven by a different exhibitionistic impulse. For reasons personal and professional, many bloggers strive for recognition and fame. This can be microfame (say, bay area food bloggers) or macrofame (DailyKos), but there’s a built-in drive for attention.
The grownup friends and family networks that Vox seems to want to support are more stable and more private. People might want to share pictures of kids in the pool that they wouldn’t share on a public blog. The question is whether this quieter desire to share and connect will cross the threshold needed for viral growth and baseline success.

Blogher: business, party, or movement?

I went to Blogher on Friday and Saturday, and had a blast. The Hyatt San Jose on First Street has a weird blowzy appearance, but the snacks’n’drinks area sorrounding the large pool, with shady side gazebos, was just perfect for extended hanging out. I saw friends from out of town and across town, met some new folk, got a good lead on a contractor for a work project, went to a good panel billed on political blogging, where the best discussion was about hyperlocal blogging.
Blogher has clearly grown up, gone mainstream, and reaped the benefits of good old-fashioned commercialism. I heard there were over 750 people. Last year, I was somewhat surprised by the outpouring of interest in making money from one’s blog. The blogging I’ve done has been affiliated and complementary with various professional and avocational activities. I’ve thought about blogging as a way of connecting with people and getting the word out, but never about making money directly. The Blogher crew have tapped a vein of demand to make blogging an economically sustaining activity for bloggers by creating an ad network. And they’ve clearly tapped an interest among mainstream marketers for the niche that used to be filled by women’s magazines. This resulted in jarring yet archetypal combinations of conference schwag — the weight watchers propaganda next to the mineral water next to the condoms . Meanwhile, one of the keynote speakers talked about her daughter’s struggle with an eating disorder.
I’m glad to see that people who were seeking economic support for blogging are getting it. The reinvention of the magazine industry around ad networks for independent writers with two-way comments and linking is not a bad thing and a step forward. The commercializing and mainstreaming of Blogher was disapointing to some of my friends who looked back nostalgically to the previous year when Blogher felt less like a commercial venture and more like a movement. There were definitely some real deficits – the crowd looked more prosperous and paler than average, and didn’t have lots of younger folk — there are probably pricing, scholarship, and outreach choices that would make the event accessible to a greater diversity of people. I’m not going to go down the liberal guilt path and say that an event with middle class people is not worth doing, just that more accessibility is better.
There were birds of a feather sessions and networking opportunities, so folk who want to gather around minority interests could. I didn’t find the commercialism to be censoring of things that I might say, including criticism of the product pitches at the closing session (I counted four) and the Cadilac Escalade promotion in the age of global warming and peak oil.
So, Blogher this year was an expression of our culture, with connection, culture and consumerism intertwingled. The universe of peer media is combining with commerce; the various permutations will have differing combinations of integrity. Overall, I came to Blogher expecting to have fun and connect, and did. Overall, I felt that the conference had some of the ambiguities of our culture, but the sum was a good thing and a good time.

How community is community news?

I went to a strange community meeting a few weeks ago BackFence is a site that publishes citizen-generated community news. This is the company that acquired Dan Gillmor’s Bayophere venture. They are new in Palo Alto and want to get the word out. The CEO, community manager, and development manager stood up at the front of the room wearing jackets. They gave a polished series of frontal presentations about the value and importance of bottom-up, community-generated news.
As it turns out, the folks included leaders from Palo Alto’s active community groups and moms’ groups. Interestingly, their main problem wasn’t that they didn’t get enough news — there are apparently very active listservs for the various neighborhood associations. THeir needs were getting word out to a wider audience. Also, getting locally powerful groups, like city council and real estate developers to pay attention to citizen concerns.
The questions for the audience tended toward condescention, “do any of you have any hobbies”? (I was waiting for someone to say, “I’m on a nobel slection committee”, or I’m on the boards of two schools and a church,” “I’m precinct captain of a political party”, that sort of thing. At times, speech used the language of advertising demographics, “a lot of our users in Virginia are “soccer moms.” Right, and the soccer moms also run the pta and the local fundraising, or take their kids to soccer in a break from software coding.
The audience sat silently. Slowly, people in the audience started to speak up. Many of the comments were feature requests — one person wanted different sorts of ratings, another person wanted to be able to control how the boxes on the portal appeared, another person wanted to tone down the blinking advertisements.
The feature requests struck me as thoroughly beside the point. The value of Backfence, if it takes off, is the telling of stories that are undercovered in existing media. The role of the instigators, then, would logically be to kick off a conversation about what people wanted to write and read about. By putting a screenshot up and describing features, the Backfence team positioned themselves as software providers rather than community enablers.
Attendees also commented that the focus on Palo Alto created an unnatural separation of Palo Alto and Menlo Park. At least three of the people in the room lived in Menlo; one of the mom’s groups was Palo Alto/Menlo Park, the sports leagues cross the town boundaries, social groups and cultural activities flow smoothly across the towns. The areas are politically separate but culturally linked. The CEO asked us to post that to Backfence, so they could consider making the change. It wouldn’t be hard to have a system that used tagging or geocoding to allow users to define the boundaries of their own community; it was irksome that the vendor was trying to define the boundaries of our community for us.
The Backfence presentation was totally different from my previous experience with a community portal. grew out of get-togethers of local bloggers. We wanted to have a shared space to post about austin. So we gathered around tables at Mozarts, Brick Oven pizza, Spider House and chatted about the functionality and the rules. With Chip Rosenthal as tech lead and site host, and others including Adam Rice, David Nunez and me, we got started simply. We added features when it seemed like they were needed.
Austinbloggers is noncommercial, community governed, and the tools are released open source. Having a commercial community portal doesn’t bother me that much. It takes some money to keep a server running and keep spammers away. As long as I own my copyright and am free from spam — and those are their non-evil policies — I’m ok with a money-making site. There’s more of a problem making money off of someone else’s words. The BlogHer ad network, by contrast, shares the wealth, giving a majority share to the bloggers.
The governance issues are more troubling. To play a role in Austinbloggers, I showed up and tried to be useful. Probably the best way to a role in Backfence governance is to apply for a job — there was no obvious way to have a say other than market research. Backfence (and BlogHer) would benefit from going more of the DailyKos route, with additional front page editors chosen from among the community, with the power to make or promote posts to the front age.
In general, peer content is getting mixed with commerce in a variety of ways. In order to be accepted, the vendor needs to have the right level of respect for the community and contribution to the community. The niche that Backfence is attempting to occupy is an important and powerful one. If they don’t succeed at it, someone will. I’ll check in at Backfence to see if something interesting is going on, but will be seeking models of community media that provide more room for the community.

The format for community blogging

Jay Rosen ponders the right format to integrate blogs into newspapers. What’s the right combination of “top-down” and “bottom-up” content?
Daily Kos and the scoop sites have a good model. Anyone can post a piece. The front page consists of a combination of stories written by core writers, and stories promoted from the ranks of highly-recommended reader contributions. Recommended stories are given a prominent sidebar position.
I would add aggregation to that model. Like the Austin Bloggers model, individual bloggers would be able to submit posts to the aggregator. There could be relevancy moderation, as there is with Austin Bloggers. Then, add on top of that the recommendation and promotion features from the DailyKos model. So independent community bloggers could have their content featured also.
So, in a model with money flowing through it, who would get paid? Maybe anyone who gets a front page story, whether they’re on the staff, or whether the story was promoted by editors or by reader recommendation.

The model for news and blogs

There was an unconference yesterday in Philadelphia where the traditional journalists and bloggers were on the same side, trying to figure out how to get journalism paid for. The journalists in the room were staring up at an elephant — the papers in Philly are up for sale, and they don’t know if they’ll be “allowed” to innovate. Liveblogged by Jeff Jarvis.
That smells like a business opportunity. Mike Phillips of Scripps describes it on commenting on Jay Rosen’s site

There are days when I

Squidoo: pulling Amazon lists out of Amazon

One of the cool Amazon feature is the list — users post their 10 favorite Taiwanese films, 17 favorite waffle-making gadgets, and so on.
It’s handy and fun. It draws on primal foraging instincts. And it’s closely tied to Amazon, and only losely tied to the listmaker. Amazon has user profiles, but they are tightly constrained.
Squidoo enables users to make lists, and offers to help its members increase their fame and fortune by linking their personal site to the Google-friendly link haven. It’s an odd combination of fun amateur topics such as the coolest laptop bags and sandwich recipes, and moderately creepy get-rich-quick ads for foreign exchange trading and mystery shopping.
The lists are much prettier than a bare delicious link collection, but they take a little more effort to create. Time will tell if it has the magical combination of benefit to the individual and increasing benefit to the group.

Media elitism in Berkeley

The most interesting question on last week’s panel at the Berkeley Hillside club on old and new media was raised by John Markoff of the New York Times. Why, he asked, at a time of great democratization of media, are we seeing increasing concentrations of wealth and power? Why isn’t media democratization translating into political and economic democratization?
A few thoughts toward answers:
* Knowledge doesn’t become power directly. People who are getting information from Glenn Greenwald’s blog about the slow parliamentary strangling of the NSA warrantless wiretapping investigation still needs coordinated action in order to persuade legislators.
* Blogs are widespread and cheap. But tools for more direct organizing — email tools, databases, volunteer management tools — are harder for volunteers to come by and harder to use.
* Online organizing needs to be coordinated with in-person organizing and persuasion in order to have enough effect.
Aside from that interesting question, I agree with Scott Rosenberg that the panel would have benefited from breaking out of the tired old “old media vs. new media” frame.