Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Integrity of the Blogger's Voice

My friend and former colleague, Brian Fuller, has a wonderful blog on the future of media and marketing, Greeley's Ghost (link at right). At the beginning of the year, he posted his frustrations at employing Seach Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques to help drive blog traffic, and that it hadn't helped. Friends weighed in with advice on crafting the voice to meet the audience. The tiny little voice whispering "No!" in my ear became louder and louder, until I read the New York Times' interview with Jaron Lanier regarding his new book, You Are Not A Gadget, and realized why I was so upset.

Lanier, like Chris Weingarten, thinks crowdsourcing is crap, but not because he prefers elitism. Rather, Lanier said that the means of presenting the self in blogs and social networks should be strictly segmented from the marketing methods to tout products or services. The main point in presenting the digital self should be the preservation of integrity, and in many cases, eclecticism. What would happen if Thomas Pynchon or Charles Bukowski had been told to craft their voices to meet the expectations of the audience? Why, we'd have the literary equivalent of American Idol, that's what.

Yes, millions of people may want to be contestants on American Idol (which follows the law of supply and idiots), but the winners on this show are not musicians. They are crafted creatures of public demand. A musician or writer or artist should make clear to a potential audience that this is the vision or trajectory they happen to be on, "and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful." But if the potential consumer of culture doesn't get it, too bad. The artist need not change a thing. I told Brian this is a variant of what I call my "Train leaves at 12:10. Be there or be square" theory of reviewing books, music or movies: Don't rant and rave. Don't repeat yourself. Drop a pearl of wisdom once, then be a silent sage. People can listen to you or not, but it's better to be inscrutable than popular.

This can work. My good friend Ruth Mowry has hundreds of followers and has had her blog "Synch-ro-ni-zing" recognized globally, while staunchly refusing advertising and keeping self-promotion of the blog to a minimum. And no, she's not a starving artist, thank you very much.

The problem, of course, is that the quest for art with integrity flies in the face of everything we are taught about living with the new rules of social media. Lanier calls it a form of Maoism, I call it lowest common denominator thinking. If we want to preserve art with integrity, we must toss the concept of SEO on personal blogs and marketing of the self, and strive for a unique trajectory that an audience can either adjust to, or ignore. If we fail to set these kind of standards, the hive mind will not be a sum greater than its parts, it will be moronic by nature.


Ruth said...

Thanks for the shout-out.

This self thing is a slippery devil. And it seems like we're evolving backwards into the primordial sledge sometimes. So, really slippery. I mean the social networking sledge where it’s hard to find anything interesting (and sometimes you’re too interesting, you know).

My Blog-My Self is, after all, where I make a spectacle of me. We keep wondering, us bloggers, why anyone is interested. Then we get hooked a bit when someone is. So nice to have commenters agree, or praise, or just affirm. Then comes a goofball thing like my current post where I've offended total strangers. So I stop and ask, Who am I? Ok, then I get to behave like myself when I respond to those guys' anger. It's a terrific opportunity, actually. This being challenged by someone not liking what I wrote.

I've felt iron sharpening iron in the blogworld, with a very few, like you. I value that more than any mere praise. That's why I hate just coming here and saying "that was great!" even though that's all I can say sometimes.

I am rambling, just to say that finding authentic self, while maintaining stimulating conversation that bears up under the measure of civility, is what it's all about for me. But there has to be some point of universality that the reader can connect with, but it's essential to keep aligning that with my own purpose and voice. To have a public blog where we want feedback, we have to find points of connection. But we have to maintain our distinct voice to be interesting. I keep trying to nudge some of my blog friends more in that direction. I mean, I don’t just want to hear what you did today! I want to know how what you did reflected something interesting that I can connect with.

But to shape what I blog about to get a bigger audience? Yuck yuck double yuck. I’d rather have three readers who like my funky self.

Loring Wirbel said...

Ruth, I know some poets (and a few stream-of-consciousness prose writers) whose referents are so arcane, and who are so transcendent, that reading them becomes a process of deciphering. Many folks lose patience with that, and say "Where's the universality?" I tell them I'd rather read a puzzle-box than Ernest Hemingway - but I guess that's just a personal choice.

And never be distracted by the trolls. As you said, sometimes the angry commenters can be of greater value than the fans.

Greeley's Ghost said...

Great post, Loring. I wrestle with way too many Puritanical writing voices that emerged in 25 years in journalism; to wit: If I'm going blog about something, it should be worth not only my time but the reader's time. Part of the time I think it needs to have a voice that reflects the blog's tagline (social media, journalism), the other part of the time I think it needs to morph into what yours is and Ruth's too: "My Blog-My Self."
In a world in which everyone is a social media expert, why not?
Thoughts from the self are probably just as valuable (or I should say the odds of them being just as valuable) as a post that focuses on the blog's "hook."
And at the end of the day, I'm not in it for the money.
Good stuff... thanks for sparking the conversation (again).

Loring Wirbel said...

And like I told Ruth, if you gain a certain reputation of being inscrutable, like certain high-falutin' poets I know, you get marketing points for being totally incomprehensible! What a bargain!

Lou Covey said...

I understand the value of SEO for a company trying to sell something. And it has a value to bloggers trying to make a mark in a certain area. But for the latter, it should never be done just to get more readers.
Right now, adding up all my different avenues of expression, I have about 6,000 readers worldwide, but I only use keywords and links related to what I'm talking about. My intention was never to reach as many people as possible, but those I thought I might have something to say to.

Loring Wirbel said...

Yep, Lou, I richly tag, but wouldn't optimize. Wouldn't be prudent.