I’m privileged to be part of the Business Blog Consulting team, sharing weblog space with fellow experts Rick Bruner, Jim Turner, Debbie Weil, Tris Hussey, Paul Chaney, Rich Brooks, BL Ochman, Des Walsh and more. It’s a darn smart group.
Our shared weblog – and individual efforts – comprise much of the best thinking on the state and future of business blogging, but behind the scenes it turns out that we also have a mailing list where we volley about questions, ideas and our thoughts on specific topics (yes, it’s true. Even the most hardcore business bloggers sometimes don’t blog every thought in their heads).
Recently on our list we had a long, thoughtful discussion about the “Free Movie Blog” for A History of Violence, a new movie directed by David Cronenberg and starring Viggo Mortensen. Cronenberg has directed over twenty films, including eXistenZ, Crash, Dead Ringers, Videodrome and Scanners. For his own part, Mortesen was splendid in Lord of the Rings and many other films.
But our discussion wasn’t about the actor and director, it was about their ostensible blog and whether what they had up at the A History of Violence site really qualified as a weblog or whether it was co-opting the name and surrounding buzz unfairly.
With permission, here are some of the most cogent excerpts of our discussion:
Toby Bloomberg: From where I sit, David Cronenberg’s site is not a blog. He has no RSS feed, no comments, no trackbacks. New Line Cinema is using the platform of a blog to tell the story/create buzz. Perfectly valid but not a blog in the “traditional” sense. We really need more words in this new industry of “blogs.”
Jim Turner: I have to agree with Toby, when I looked at it I wondered if it had actually been written by David Cronenberg or perhaps a copywriter on staff. I didn’t get the transparent feel.
Rich Brooks: Even though it purports to be from the mind of Cronenberg, the writing is in the third person. Only the video clips are “from his mind.” … Is it interesting? If you find David Cronenberg interesting, perhaps. … But I don’t think it’s a real blog: The communication here is all one-way; there’s no interactivity, no way for a community to grow around this “blog.” This is not a blog, but rather a photo of a blog. It also seems to me to be a missed opportunity. [as blogged]
Rick Bruner: It’s an interesting, if contentious discussion as to what exactly is a blog. Frankly, when I first discovered this movie “blog,” I only glanced at it, and at first glace it appeared to pass the test. Now that I look at it more closely, however, I’d agree it’s more of a general website feature cashing in on the buzz of blogs than a genuine blog.
The biggest problem with it … is that it’s not really written by Cronenberg, although the blurb at the top of the page says that “Cronenberg shares his thoughts” (albeit via video clips, it seems). Reading the posts, references to Cronenberg are in the third person, so it’s obvious he’s not writing the posts.
I would take exception, however, to Toby’s objections. RSS, comments and trackbacks are all optional features. True, anyone not using RSS on a blog is stupid (unless someone wants to suggest a good reason not to), but I would hardly say that RSS is a definitional feature of a blog. Ditto comments and trackbacks, both of which can be a liability more than a benefit, particularly until someone really fixes the comment/trackback spam issues.
I’ve turned off trackbacks on several of my blogs because the spam was so bad, and using TypeKey has all but killed legit comments on my blogs where I use it, because that’s such a kludgy fix. Also, for really popular blogs, moderating comments for flamewars and the like is all-but a full-time job. Instapundit doesn’t have comments, and Gawker sites only recently implemented them, but to a closed community of elite readers. Are those not blogs? Not to mention, are you liable if someone slanders a company on your blog’s comment thread? I don’t know the answer to that.
Another feature the Cronenberg “blog” lacks is permalinks. Again, whether that’s definitional or not I think is an open discussion, but I’d say permalinks are more essential than comments, trackbacks or RSS. If you can’t even point to an individual post, you’re not really part of the conversation.
Toby Bloomberg: Good comments Rick; this topic would make a very lively discussion. I still maintain the heart of a blog is its ability to create community which can only be established with the ability to have a dialogue. Turning comments/trackbacks off becomes a monologue that turns the blog into an online newsletter. We need more words for what we’re morphing into!
Tris Hussey: Although I am loathe to dive into the whole what is a blog and character blog debate, I’m with Toby …comments and trackbacks are absolutely essential to any site calls itself a blog. RSS, well it should have, but I wouldn’t actually non-blog it for a lack of those.
Rick Bruner: Blog is short for “weblog” as in journal. Not forum. We have had bulletin boards forever online. What makes blogs different from BBSs
and forums is that they have a central editorial voice. So long as you have permalinks, other bloggers can engage you in dialog on their own blogs.
Rick Bruner: One thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that “blog” does NOT mean blog post. It drives me crazy when people use “blog” this way, but novices do all the time. For example, in this Bloomberg News item on the Weblogs Inc. acquisition, the story says that Weblogs Inc has 85 “sites” and “publishes about 1,000 blogs a week.” Grrr.
Fabulous insight from a very smart group of people on the cutting edge. And now it’s time for me to come clean with my own opinion on Cronenberg’s weblog effort too.
To do that, I have to admit that my original working title for this discussion was going to be Behind the scenes with the blogging police because it had struck me quite forcefully how much of the early discussion seemed to be the purist “if it doesn’t have feature X it can’t be a blog”, but I was pleased by how it evolved into a much more interesting round-table about what really makes a weblog a compelling medium for communication.
Interestingly, none of us talked about the film community, talked about whether the History of Violence “blog” actually promoted the film or even enlightened any of us regarding the topic of the movie itself. If Mr. Cronenberg called me up and asked what I’d advise, I would have to say that blogging the production of a movie would be darn compelling, particularly interviews with gaffers, special effects people, set decorators, the script writer, and, of course, the lead actors and director, anything to let us get into the production of the film. Something deeper and more compelling than the banal “Making Of” advertisements that are the latest vogue in Hollywood.
The opportunity of blogging is to establish a dialog with your community, whether you’re a film director, an actor, or even a market communications strategist. And you cannot possibly have a dialog if you don’t allow some sort of comments. Does it mean that a site without comments is, perforce, not a blog? No, but it does mean that the opportunity is being missed.
Personally I don’t care about “permalinks” or “trackbacks” or any of those ephemera that are so near and dear to the blogger world. For techie geeks these kind of intertwined technologies are intellectually interesting, but to the average business person, to the typical blogger, they’re just more computer Greek and safely ignored.
An RSS feed, however, is something that, while not required, is just a smart addition to any site. Legitimate (see, there’s my bias coming through) blogging tools automatically produce an RSS feed making it a complete no-brainer for business bloggers. To not have one suggests that they’re not using a weblog system and aren’t interested in having people subscribe to their articles.
But the most important question is: do I want to go see the movie, having read the blog and seen the trailer?
Wait! Quick, go watch the trailer and come back.
Okay. What did you think? A pretty interesting plot line and a film that might be worth seeing in the theater. But does the blog convey the curious and thought-provoking story line? Does it make you want to go see the film or, at least, make you feel like you have some insight on what director David Cronenberg was thinking as he put the movie together?
Ultimately, I think that blogging is a toolkit for better and more engaging communications with your marketplace, your customers, your community. To use it as a broadcast-only “bully pulpit” might arguably be true to the original spirit of weblogs as diaries, but completely misses the potential for the blog to be something more, something much more, to the marketplace and to the world of ideas. And that, Mr. Cronenberg, is an unforgivable gaffe in your own marketing efforts for this movie.