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Blogging breakthrough in Boston?

Legendary software entrepreneur Dan Bricklin says criticism of Web loggers at the Democratic National Convention misses the bigger story.

In his column "Cybertourists in Boston," News.com's Charles Cooper expresses his disappointment with the bloggers credentialed for the Democratic National Convention. I think he missed the point about what was taking place in Boston.

This was not a contest between the best of 15,000 traditional journalists and the total output of a few dozen Web loggers. We were watching the start of an important learning process.

As a columnist who has advocated for and understood the genre, such as in his post-9/11 "When blogging came of age," Cooper's comments are ones to examine.

It was an experiment that would be expected to have normal ups and downs.
As a traditional professional journalist, after years of hearing bloggers deriding those in his profession, Cooper saw the convention as a chance to "show off blogging's potential" and, more angrily, to "put up or shut up."

My main issue with his assertion that "blogging blew its big chance" is with his apparent premise that this was a head-to-head evaluation of similar products with a similar feature checklist. This was not a prize fight, and they weren't even going after the same prize.

Many have written about the special nature of blogging with its intimate, first-person style aimed at ongoing readers. I think that the DNC bloggers did a wonderful job, and I personally found their work quite valuable.

Even Rick Heller's "Clinton looks really small" quote was part of a longer observation that, together with the work of other bloggers, helped many of us better understand how traditional media works. Despite all this, how good they were is not what I want to talk about. I want to look at this as an advancement of a technology.

From my years of experience as a blogger, I have learned that blogging at an event is quite different from normal, daily blogging. Long, multiday events are the hardest. You have to learn how to do it.

Bloggers are not used to covering an event that is also being covered by live television and thousands of paid journalists.
While many bloggers are used to "covering" simple events like a technology conference, they are not used to covering an event that is also being covered by live television and thousands of paid journalists.

The DNC was a chance to start learning how blogging can fit into such a situation. It was an experiment that would be expected to have normal ups and downs. The "Hello, World!"-like first posts were reminiscent of any "Testing 1-2-3." The "I'm trying A, I'm trying B" mirrors test pilots.

The DNC situation lacked some of the scale aspects that have helped blogging, such as having gatekeepers and many participants (a few dozen is not that many in a genre that is used to hundreds of thousands).

Unlike traditional media, which tries to use a few people to get the big picture, blogging as an Internet phenomenon uses a large distributed population for that purpose. Blogging is aided by invented tools and techniques developed over many years. Some are simple, such as the original Blogger, while others are more complex, such as blog popularity engines like Blogdex and RSS readers. The blogging world will use the DNC experiment to invent tools and techniques for doing event blogging better.

Unlike most of the media, most of the bloggers did little preplanning of such tools and techniques. The few tools that were developed, like Dave Winer's ConventionBloggers.com, helped and will be improved. Most bloggers were too busy with logistics, dealing with how they'd handle pictures or find a hotel. Many wanted to just go and see what happens, which in the long run is probably good for experimentation.

Blogging is a different form of communication--not one to replace others, just as instant messaging is different from e-mail which is different from a phone call. We need to know how best to use blogging when an unscheduled natural or man-made disaster hits. We need to experiment in order to learn.

There aren't that many events on such a large scale with which to experiment. Let us salute the DNC for letting it happen here. Let's measure this as an experiment and not compare it to existing techniques that have had years to experiment. Certainly in that regard, the DNC blogging was very successful.