What Caused the Blogosphere to Grow Up?

image March of 2007 was an eventful time for me, personally and professionally.  In August of 2007, I was still preparing for the birth of my new boy Jacob Li (born in May of that year), reveling in what was still a brand new marriage to my lovely bride Iris. Professionally, I was preparing for an ultimately successful run at being a full time New Media professional, and coming off a previous gig where I spent my days in futile attempts to explain to newspaper owners why they should be focusing on their websites and not their paper editions.

As I look back at my blogging records at the time, I can see that I was reading almost daily many of the same blogs I read today, and I wonder how it is that I completely missed the now infamous Kathy Sierra debacle.

If you’re interested in learning about this legendary event that (if you weren’t first-hand witness to) you’ve probably heard whispers about at conferences and industry get-togethers, it’s a very difficult task to figure out exactly what the straight story is on this.

I came across a reference to the whole Kathy Sierra thing on Robert Scoble’s blog while trying to research the etymology of a word Steven Hodson dropped in chat earlier last night (incidentally, the word was “douchecrumpet.” Thank you John C. Welch.). I’ve had the gist of what happened to Kathy Sierra in my head from what I’ve pieced together over the years (“woman threatened on Internet, woman quits Internet”), but I never took the time to delve into the political back and forth and drama surrounding it.

Finally curious enough to learn based on Robert’s response, I clicked on the link to the Kathy Sierra Techmeme thread, which lead to a post saying “this post has been removed,” or in other words, not particularly helpful.

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The first stop in my quest to learn more, of course, is Kathy’s Wikipedia entry. In a section marked “Controversy,” a very unsatisfying three paragraph section attempts to summarize this monumental moment in tech blogging history:

In March 2007, Sierra abruptly canceled her appearance at the O’Reilly ETech conference in San Diego due to threatening blog posts and emails, including death threats.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8]One blog post included an image of Sierra next to a noose. She wrote: "I have cancelled all speaking engagements. I am afraid to leave my yard, I will never feel the same. I will never be the same."[2]

imageThe harassment increased after the threats were reported in the news: a false account of her career was posted online, along with her address and Social Security number.[7]

The issue triggered public discussion on the concept of a bloggers’ code of conduct. Some bloggers, including Robert Scoble, author of the technology blog Scobleizer, temporarily suspended their blogs in a show of support for Sierra.[2] One of the larger issues Scoble felt was highlighted by the incident was online hostility to women: "It’s this culture of attacking women that has especially got to stop," Scoble said "[W]henever I post a video of a female technologist there invariably are snide remarks about body parts and other things that simply wouldn’t happen if the interviewee were a man."[2]

Still unsatisfied, I went to Archive.org to find a copy of the post, which finally provided the illumination I desired.

I then clicked around on a lot of blogs I recognize and still read today: Seth Godin, Valleywag, Duncan Riley, Matthew Ingram, and Josh Bancroft.

At one point, I ended up on several bloggers pages who had names I didn’t recognize, but had writing styles that brought back memories. One By One Media’s coverage reminded me a lot, in the style the post was written, of the style of political blogging I used to do in 2001-2004, very akin to a liveblog, a lot of news updates thrown to the bottom of the post as the information became available, and very link-rich.

Rageboy, aka Chris Locke, is one of the folks who contributed to the Cluetrain Manifesto, and was named in Kathy’s post as one of the people at least partially responsible for the threats against her (though this was later recanted).  His initial blog post made for an interesting read, and a peak into the dramatic dynamics of the in-crowd of March 2007.

Doc Searls is still a writer I read from time to time (though not nearly often enough, I’m ashamed to admit), and his post sort-of defending “The Head Lemur” Alan Herrell (who retired from blogging amidst this mess) made for ever more interesting reading.

A Few Salient Observations Following My Deep Dive

I’m one of those masochistic fools that will get sucked into Slashdot comment threads four levels deep and read the entire page from top to bottom, so absorbing all the nuance of what Seth Finkelstein termed a “Google Fragmentation Grenade” took up a lot of the time last night when I should have been working.

You Don’t See This Sort of Thing Anymore

Back when I started at Mashable, this sort of blogospheric back and forth was a dying art. It had a little life left in it – I mean, MySpace was still king of the heap, FriendFeed was still a gleam in Bret and Paul’s eye, and Twitter was the domain of the cat bloggers.

I remember when I was first given liberty to post deep opinion at Mashable – and I took that opportunity to link out to other bloggers I considered friendly and relatively unknown (at the time).  Folks like Steven Hodson (now at the Inquisitr), MG Seigler (now at Techcrunch), Frederic Lardinois (now at ReadWriteWeb) and Louis Gray (who is, well, Louis Gray).

Linking directly to editorials I disagreed with was a fun way to engage the group, and back and forth often occurred with me more than once scoring some Techmeme headlines for my friends.

I try to link out to others editorials, and I’m grateful for when it happens here at SiliconANGLE, but the fact of the matter is that we measure social media reactions in Tweets, Diggs and Facebook shares now, and not with blog reactions.

I find that a little sad, if only in a nostalgic sense.

The Blogosphere Was a Different Place Then

I’m not sure what it was back then, but it seems that the blogosphere would prefer to bottle it’s rage rather than express it in the form of hateful invective.  Honestly, I think it’s self-censorship in the effort to be marketable.  We’ve all toned down the language we use in our posts from what we all used to use (go ahead, check the archives at any major blog – they all used to cuss like sailors).

More than that, the idea of personal branding and associating your face inexorably with your name has forced people to behave a little closer to how they do in real life, because they have to live with their comments and reputations.

We’re not completely in an age where people refrain from saying stupid things, but if you compare 2007 to 2009, the tone of our conversation has changed dramatically.

Social Networks Have Caused Personal Blogging To Decrease

There are tons of studies on this, and many bitchmemes have raged over whether this has killed that, but looking at the comments and range of opinions on the Kathy Sierra debacle compared to the debacles of today, it’s clear that blogging is less of a personal forum than it used to be.

This touches on my first point pretty closely, but I know my first reaction to reading all this stuff was “How can I condense these thoughts down to 140 characters.” It was only a combination of my desire to be somewhat productive with my evening as well as my desire to treat this topic to a fuller exposition it deserved that begat this blog post.

We have so many more ways to express ourselves now – it’s not necessarily better or worse. My first impulse, if this happened today, would probably come to me either on Twitter or in Google Reader, where I’d see the topic and either be able to condense my first reactions down to 140 characters, or not and share it out in Google Reader with a few paragraph note attached.

Only if something came to me later, where I thought I had a unique angle that perhaps contradicted prevailing thought or shed light where none had been previously shed would I treat it to a full blog post.

I Could Never Have Participated In the Kathy Sierra Conversation

Obviously, I didn’t participate in the Kathy Sierra conversation.  You don’t see my name anywhere on that list of Techmeme headlines, though even if I had posted on it, you still wouldn’t.  My first Techmeme headline and bylines didn’t come until August of 2007 (when I had two headlines in one month at my personal blog), despite having maintained some degree of tech coverage on my personal blog since 1998.

The upside to all this shift in conversation is that we’re able to group topically in ad hoc situations more easily these days.  Twitter (specifically, Twitter searching) is a better groupifier of conversation than Technorati ever hoped to be. Facebook, with all it’s weird privacy guards, still has a way of promoting virally good content to like-minded individuals. Services like Friendfeed (when they work) are magnificent magnets for pulling together conversations and voices when they’re on the same topic.

It’s because of my old editor’s gig at Mashable that I have the audience I have today, I readily admit that.  Part of how I accrued my audience at Mashable was due to being an early adopter of these types of services (Twitter, Friendfeed, Google Reader’s early social features).

Anyone today can duplicate what I did then with what’s available now and cobble together a similar niche audience – and that’s something that would have been nigh-impossible to do without being geographically close to others in Silicon Valley in 2007.

These are just my thoughts, do you have any?

I’ve stayed up way too late, and wallowed in nostalgia and Internet “history” for far too long tonight. Does this stir up any memories for you?  What have you ‘old timers’ noticed as you’ve seen the blogosphere transition to what it is now?

About Mark 'Rizzn' Hopkins

Mark “Rizzn” Hopkins is the Founding Editor of SiliconANGLE, as well as the creator of and Executive Producer for theCUBE. He’s a Bitcoin early adopter, as well as a blogging, podcasting and social media pioneer. Prior the founding of SiliconANGLE, Hopkins worked as Associate Editor at Mashable during its formative years. Prior to his career in startups and media, he worked as a developer for large corporations like Nokia, IBM, Apple and Cox Communications. Hopkins lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife and two children.