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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The long tail is a slippery slope

Something terrible is happening. Something huge. Well, actually it's lots of really tiny happenings that are adding up to a huge happening. Whatever's happening, its tiny-huge. And terrible.

Blogging is happening, but I'm not talking about that. It may be changing the media landscape forever, forcing crucial decision-forming comment out of the grip of the established, impartial press into the sweaty paws of crazed geeks, but I don't think blogging itself is terrible. It's tiny-huge, yes. And dangerous. But I don't think it's terrible.

I'm not really talking about corporate blogging either. On the face of it, the odd corporate blog is a fine idea. Why not find a cuddly employee, preferably near the top of the food chain, and stick his or her opinions up on the web for us mere consumers to read? After all, it fosters a spirit of openness, trust and transparency in a world were corporate social responsibility and governance are key themes in good business practice. The readers might even get the odd laugh out of it or learn something new. No, corporate blogging may be tiny-huge, but it's not terrible at all.

The point that things turn terrible, is where the two worlds collide

The risks associated with blogging and the removal of mass media opinion - in favour of just 'opinion' - are magnified with those responsible for creating that opinion have a corporate agenda. Take Robert Scoble, for example, Microsoft's celebrity blogger and, quite probably, King Blogger. Whatever he may say, and whatever you may think, he follows Microsoft's agenda. That agenda might be to make Microsoft look more cuddly through not sacking him for some of the stuff he says, or it might be that he's paid to sound like he's in danger of being sacked when actually he's being fed directly from the spooks in Microsoft's global marketing bunker. But whatever it is, it's there.

It can't be ignored, however, that Scoble himself is now a key figure in changing public opinion. Which means a proponent of Microsoft's agenda is now a key figure in changing public opinion. Scoble is not a trained journalist. He does not subscribe to the NUJ Code of Practice. He is not beholden to the public to seek out the truth and defend his sources when faced with criminal charges. He will not die for you. His opinion is just his opinion, and is based on the agenda of his employer.

If the trend continues, and all the other corporate bloggers (sorry for singling you out again, Robert) start gaining audience mindshare, climb the long tail and become part of the great global decision-making process, opinion will start to be swayed more and more towards those with corporate agendas and away from those with public interest at heart.

The mass media is in trouble already. The free press is what holds civilised society together. We're witnessing the end of it.

Now THAT is terrible.


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