So recently I was reading Edenland – which I often do, she’s one of my favourite bloggers – and I noticed that she was hosting a giveaway in which various stuff would be given to six people who could come up with the best answer to the question: What is a blog?
There were loads of really great answers such as:
Kelly Exeter: “A blog is connection … because there are more people in the world like you than you think”
Hesperas Garden won with this entry: “A blog is that vice-clenching pain in your heart that explodes through your fingers while the words in your head run at a million miles an hour. It is the shadows and the sunlight in your every day life. A blog is life. Transcribed.”
And Mrs Woog er… didn’t win, with this one: “A blog is something I do about 4 hours after I eat a Vindaloo with a double beer chaser.”
I began blogging before I had any real idea of what a blog actually was. Luddite that I am, I had only just bought my first computer and been connected to the internet (a friend had finally dragged me down to PC World after hearing that I had asked my mother for a set of encyclopedias for Christmas) when I decided, impulsively, to buy a copy of Blogging For Dummies. I went painstakingly through the step by step instructions for how to set up on blogger with absolutely no idea what I was doing, and began writing.
Looking back, my lack of internet nous was hilarious, or possibly dangerous, depending on which way you look at it. I honestly believed I was just writing to and for myself. When I received my very first comments, I was… confused. Where were these people coming from? And why were they reading my stuff?
I learned fast though. And now, although this is something I generally avoid saying in public because it tends to make people look at you as though you’ve just sprouted an extra head, I am absolutely passionate about blogging. It’s something I believe in, something I can get behind, and the reason for that is because to me it creates a space in which ordinary peoples voices can be heard. The internet, in my opinion, represents free access to information for all and is therefore the greatest equalizer of our time. Blogging itself means that anyone with an interenet connection can, in theory, smash through the elitism of the journalism and mainstream publishing industries and broadcast their thoughts to a potentially huge audience. Blogging is exciting. Anarchic. Subversive. Its scope is massive.
Which is why I find being bombarded with sponsored posts and reviews and suchlike so utterly galling. There, I said it. Great swathes of our wonderful blogosphere are seemingly now being turned into one huge corporate marketplace and I hate it. I hate it because for me it is the absolute antithesis of what blogging is supposed to be about. I come here to share ideas, to learn, to be inspired, and to make connections. I do not come here to be advertised to.
But but but. I do understand that blogging means different things to different people, and that my views are not where everything begins and ends. Some people enjoy the odd freebie and would like to make a little bit of money from their efforts. Fine, ok, that is their business. But I don’t have to like it, and I certainly don’t want to read it.
There has been a lot of discussion of late concerning Google’s stance on search engine rank manipulation, and how this might affect bloggers who effectively sell links to companies and organisations via sponsored posts and reviews. I have to say that for me this is a complete no-brainer. Clearly it is unethical and unfair for a brand to be able to climb its way up the search engine rankings by means of dishing out money, bungs, and free products. Any ranking system is rendered meaningless if it becomes simply a case of who can afford to buy their way to the top, and I for one am glad that Google is beginning to police this rule a little more stringently.
But more interesting to me have been the discussions generated about how one might get around this new policing, and whether it is possible to carry on as before with sponsored posts, reviews and do follow links, yet somehow find a way of avoiding any page rank penalties.
Now as I have said before, I understand that some people would like to make a little money from their blogs, get sent a few freebies, maybe have some nice free days out with their kids, and they are entitled to do that if they wish.
But, again, I don’t want to read it.
And so I feel that perhaps we need to re-open a discussion about what it means to blog with integrity, as lately I have found it harder and harder to discern, on a minority of blogs, whether a post is sponsored or not, and my concern is that this may have something to do with an attempt by some to fox the google spiders (although the argument in terms of ethics remains the same either way so no matter really.)
An example of this would be coming across what appears to all intents and purposes to be a perfectly ordinary blog post with a perfectly ordinary title. I will have already read half way through it before perhaps noticing a slightly incongruous link. My suspicions then raised, I scroll down to the very bottom of the post only to find a tiny little notice, written in a tiny little font stating, ‘this is a sponsored post‘. I feel duped, tricked and – justifiably I think – pissed off.
No strictly technical wrong doing there perhaps. But ethical blogging in my opinion means giving your readers a choice. And giving them a choice means clearly labelling a post as either sponsored or a review, in the title right at the top of the post so that they can decide then and there whether or not they wish to continue reading. It means being absolutely clear on Twitter and Facebook if the post you are promoting has been paid for (and yes, receiving free products in return for a review does constitute a payment) so that readers can choose whether or not they wish to click through to it. It means being absolutely transparent.
I fear that increasing monetization of the blogosphere is sucking the heart out of it, and that makes me sad. However at least if we have proper transparency this will allow readers to sift easily through to want they want to read, and therefore find their way to the real heart of the blogs they love.
Because that’s always where the good stuff is.