Sunday, January 1, 2006

Hyped up panic on Jeremy Hermanns dot org about Alaska Flight #536 - Rapid De-Pressurization and Panic at 30K Feet

Boy what a mountain formed out of this mole-hill. Jeremy Hermans was on an Alaska Airlines flight that experienced sudden cabin depressurization shortly after takeoff and made an emergency landing safely without anybody being hurt. But what made this emergency different is that Jeremy took a few pictures and wrote about it on his blog. His blog posting is full of emotion we who weren't there can only guess at. If we haven't been through something similar, how can we gauge the validity of his emotions? In any case a stir of controversy is swirling around this blog posting, and a couple professional advisors of business blogging have weighed in.

From Dave Taylor we have: Alaska Airlines and the death of truth and from Teresa Valdez Klein we have: Alaska Airlines Attacked by Blog Mob with Pitchforks and Torches ... the two of them seem to be their own mini-echo-chamber.

What I see in the responses by Dave Taylor and Teresa Klein is a nutty attempt to corral bloggers into a journalistic mold. Say what? Blogging is an individual thing and is practiced by each blogger in their own way. Blogging does not have to be a journalistic endeavor, but someone can certainly approach blogging in that way.

For example they talk about fact checking. You expect professional journalists to do fact checking, but that's too much to expect of bloggers. If there's any commonality to the practice of blogging, it's that a blog posting is very much about what's known in the present moment. One of the commenters to Dave Taylors posting said it very well:

Debbie seems to be suggesting that bloggers have some sort of obligation to contact companies to get their side of the story, but I don't think that flys very far in the blogosphere. For most of us, Blogging is 110% about expressing our *own* opinions. If we *happen* to mention a few odd facts interspersed in our opinions, then of course we should do a diligent job of verifying facts, to the extent that it is easily within our means. But if time or other constraints preclude a thorough vetting on facts vs. suspicions, we do the best we can. That's a key difference between blogging and journalism, regardless of whether you consider either to be a professional or amaeur activity.

Another meme being tossed around is about "the credibility of the blogosphere is lowered a couple of notches". That's treating the "blogosphere" as one whole, and expecting all bloggers to be tarnished or polished the same way. But blogging is practiced (generally) by individuals acting on their own. Each individual blogger has their own reputation and approach to truth. How can there be a "credibility of the blogosphere" when it's a mass of individuals?

An example rumbling in my head is one which Dave is going to be very aware of. I know of Dave from his Usenet background (especially on soc.singles) and have met him once many years ago at a soc.singles event in the Bay Area. The point is I know that Dave is very intimately familiar with Usenet history, if only because he had a big role in making part of that history.

Jeremy's blog posting just reminds me of the same kind of rambling threads of discussion. One persons posting might somehow incite a long thread of followups, debating fine points of the truth of the original posting, devolving into name calling, or nitpicking over spelling, or accusing each other of being a shill, etc. It was typical of Usenet, and it is very interesting seeing it all distilled into one page like this. In a way Blogs are to this Internet era what Usenet was to the 80's version of the Internet.

Having lived through the 80's and some of the 90's on Usenet (I used to be in the Usenet backbone committee), I'm sure there's something about human psychological processes that make this kind of discussion thread. To wish that the public would act in a more truth-centered fact-checking mode is like pissing into the wind, or like that apocryphal story of the old King of Norway (Canute?) yelling at the ocean waves to be quiet.

Dave Taylor, with your Usenet history, you should know better. But maybe you were one of those who always took the fact-checking-demander-of-citations side of the argument?

One of the frequent debate techniques on Usenet was for someone to demand "what is the citation that justifies the assertion you made"? Usenet, like blogging, is more akin to people chatting in the hallway. Since when do people chatting in the hallway give citations?

On the other hand some bloggers clearly try to be journalists. Again, we all approach our blogging in different ways.