on the rise of trollblogs
I don't know Robert Scoble at all, other than meeting him and drooling over his tablet PC at Gnomedex a couple of years ago, but I read his blog pretty faithfully, even though he works for the Borg. He's a smart, insightful guy, and I read him for the same reason I read Seth Godin and Bruce Schneier: when I'm done with their blogs, I always feel smarter and more enlightened. These guys make me want to have a deeper understanding of the issues that affect all of us who make our livings on the Internets.
Over the weekend, Robert wrote a post about unsubscribing from memeorandum that really resonated with me. In his words:
Reading Dave Winer this morning made me realize I’m just falling down a dark hole. It’s the same hole I was in in the 1990s when I posted about 100,000 items on various newsgroups: in a group the writer is in control, not the reader.
I miss my RSS reading. Reading RSS makes me smarter, not snarkier. Why? Cause I choose who I’m going to read. Pick smart people to read and you’ll get smarter.
Hint, the smartest people in my RSS are usually the least snarky. Why? Cause they could give a f**k about all the traffic.
Why is all the snark going on? Cause everyone wants traffic. Why did I call this the John Dvorakification? Cause he figured out in the 1980s (yes, he’s been at this so long) that if you attack a community (particularly the Apple one) that everyone will get all up in arms and will start talking about the attack. That translates into traffic. Traffic = advertising dollars.
Trolling online is nothing new, but trolling to drive traffic to your blog and make money is definitely on the rise. I first noticed this new trend a few months ago when this guy obsessively attacked blogging.la for weeks, with copious links back to his own blog, where he did little more than bitch about what other people were doing. I'm sure it was a coincidence that the people he was complaining about all happened to be high-traffic blogs, right? I've also noticed a disturbing increase in blogs which try very hard to be sarcastic and acerbic, but just end up being cruel and mean . . . and of course draw a lot of links from the widely-read bloggers they target.
So why do these people do this? In a comment on Scoble's blog, reader billg said:
Ah, Grasshopper, you have learned the secret of Talk Radio. If you make half your audience Mad As Hell while the other half wear a self-congratulatory Ego-Boosting Smirk, then they’ll all tune in tomorrow.
An awful lot of blogs — especially political blogs — draw traffic this way. Their comment sections have all the attributes of a bar fight. Maybe we ought to christen them “Talks Blogs”.
Bloggers should never censor their opinions because they may be controversial; the whole point of this medium is that we all have the ability to express ourselves on a relatively equal footing, and we can learn a lot from each other when we disagree about things. But bloggers who stir up controversy where there is none, or intentionally attack other bloggers for the sake of generating traffic to their blog are just like UseNet trolls and should be plonked accordingly.
Scoble includes a few examples of people who make him feel smarter when he's done with thier blogs. I just cleaned out my bloglines subs, and I'd like to add a few new blogs. If you'd like to share a blogger who makes you feel smarter (not just someone you always agree with, or who you find entertaining, or who you want everyone to read just because. Try to be honest, please - they challenge you and make you feel smarter) when you're done reading, please leave it in the comments.