The joys and pains of personal blogging

Internet technology has made it possible for thousands of people to have their personal spot in cyberspace, be it on Blogger, WordPress, Typepad, or any other blog platform. Thus, the proliferation of online journals, popularly known as blogs. Everybody, it would seem, wants to be Doogie Howser, M.D.

These past few years, we have seen the birth of all sorts of personal blogs created by people of diverse backgrounds — from the excited mom updating the world on the growth of her one-year-old son Tommy to the Australian backpacker blogging about his misadventures in Southeast Asia to the Chinese American expat writing about her struggles in living in Europe. One freely blogs just about anything and everything under the sun. To blog about, say, the tasty cheesecake at Starbucks you just ate this afternoon is not considered trivial anymore. After all, it is your blog, and you have the editorial control over its content. While this trend is quite common in the blogosphere, it is something that mainstream journalists scoff at, in general. But that is another story.

As much as we extol the fun element and the therapeutic powers of personal blogging, it does have its pros and cons.

One of the advantages of personal blogging is, it affords you to express yourself in a fun way; it lets you exchange ideas and insights with your avid readers (“fans” and critics alike) in some meaningful interaction. And yes, it even allows you to practice your writing skills! There must be something about blogging that nudges even celebrities and ‘traditional media’ people to give blogging a try. To date, notable media companies like CNN and BBC have already integrated a blog system in their news websites, seeing its vast potential.

Blogging can also prove to be a productive endeavor, as far as expanding your social circle goes. Some bloggers, who immensely enjoy meeting up with other bloggers for networking purposes, have blogged about the joy of having lots of online friends, who eventually become their offline pals as well. But this is not really the style of more wary bloggers, who opt to blog their thoughts and tales anonymously — for very good reasons.

Career-wise, a number of bloggers have already reaped the financial benefits of going into the next level: “problogging” (professional blogging), which basically means you get paid for blogging about your area of interest, be it technology, travel, fashion, music, and the like. While these blogs can be personal in nature, they are now considered more as niche blogs. A handful of these personal bloggers, who have gone pro, have eventually decided to separate the simply personal from the purely business.

The downside of blogging is — well, as far as personal blogs are concerned, that is — it exposes your inner self to strangers who can either be your friend or your enemy. Information is power, as the cliche goes, and if given to the wrong person (e.g. a malicious soul out to get you), the result can be quite harmful. Besides, everything is “Googable” in this day and age. And if, for instance, a surfing pervert stumbles upon your cute picture showing you in a skimpy bikini complemented with texts that give away so much info, well, online stalking is not far behind.

Don’t forget as well the wily ex-lover, ex-friend, ex-neighbor, or the ex-boss who is out to get you. Gossip is never a good thing. So think twice — nay, thrice — before you press the Publish button on your blog’s control panel. Do you really have to blog about your recent nervous breakdown at the mall? Do you really have to rant about the unfairness in your current workplace? Do you really have to blog about your lack of finances caused by the credit crunch? Sometimes, without even knowing it, we empower our enemies with classified information best kept as secrets. There is a very good reason why those good ol’ personal diaries come with a lock-and-key set.

And then, there are the destructive and annoying comments from Anonymous that creep into your blog’s comment boxes. Comments that don’t edify. Comments that give unsolicited advice that doesn’t really help. Comments obviously meant to pull you down in the online presence of the entire blog world. Comments that deliberately take your blog entries out of context. Comments that are simply soaked in arrogance, intended to say “I know things much better than you do.” Honestly now, who wants/needs such poisonous words when you are just enjoying your favorite pastime? Life is less complicated without negativity in all forms.

It is no wonder then why a number of bloggers have decided to moderate comments — a time-consuming task, but well worth the trouble, they say. Other bloggers, meanwhile, have gone for the more drastic solution: to shut down their personal blogs altogether in quest of online peace.

So the bottom line is, one blogs at his/her own risk. When you create and maintain a personal blog, you somehow agree to be vulnerable in a public place like the online community. People can and will find you. Having said that, one can still control the level of personal info-sharing in his/her blogging. This is, of course, recommended if you value your privacy. However, doing so can stifle your writing sometimes. Safe topics can be one-dimensional and, thus, boring. That said, it is still much better to be safe than sorry.

At the end of the day, you only have yourself to blame for giving too much unnecessary personal details on your blog for virtual voyeurs to feast on. But then again, maybe you have not yet realized in full how mean people can be on cyberspace — especially on cyberspace — until you yourself have reaped the negative consequences of your rather unwise “blog sowing.”

So the next time around, think before you post, as this YouTube video implores.

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The Swiss hold first blog awards in Biel-Bienne

BIEL-BIENNE (5 May 2006) — In this so-called “bilingual (German/French) capital of Switzerland,” the first ever Swiss Blog Awards (SBAW) was held in a dimly lit hall of Volkshaus where around 90 or so people (nominees included) attended the event to converge with co-bloggers, to take part in the open and panel discussions on blog-related issues, and finally, to root for their respective candidates.

There were only three categories — Best Swiss Blog, Rookie Award, and Multimedia Award — with five finalists in each category. The winners were: Don’t Mention the Skiing (Best Swiss Blog), Pendlerblog (Rookie Award), and Scanblog (Multimedia Award). The top prize went to a British lady who is a certified non-skier.

The Swiss Blog Awards went on smoothly — everyone in the hall seemed to have enjoyed meeting people they had first met online, and a handful of bloggers, armed with laptops, did some live blogging with a passion — despite it being fraught with linguistic controversies prior to the ceremony proper in Biel-Bienne.

Apparently, no Swiss French blog or Swiss Italian blog made it to the lists of finalists. Alas, “the law of big numbers,” according to award-winning journalist/writer Bruno Giussani, prevailed in the nomination process which he said was due to an “oversight” by the organizers (he was one of the speakers at the SBAW). He wrote in his blog entry that “the German population of Switzerland is five times bigger than the French population, and 15 times bigger than the Italian population (and countless times bigger than the tiny Rumantsch minority).”

So this oversight — a “birth defect” if you will, just to borrow the words of Giussani — seemed to have irked some bloggers from the French-speaking part of Switzerland who, after seeing the published short-list of finalists on the Net in the latter part of April, flooded the comments boxes of the official site of the Swiss Blog Awards and also the Lunch Over IP blog by Giussani, with critical statements both in English and in French. Some of these critics claimed that the first Swiss Blog Awards was purely a “Swiss German thing.”

But the organizers, who designed the Swiss Blog Awards as a “popular vote,” argued that in Switzerland, “the voters are the deciding force, the legislative power.” Therefore, “the voters (bloggers) are always right.” (There were two phases involved — first, an online nomination; second, a public vote held during the awarding ceremony itself.)

They pointed out that the bloggers from the French-speaking and/or Italian-speaking regions didn’t do their part to aggressively campaign for their blogs, that they were passive. Thus, no French-language or Italian-language blogs landed on the SBAW lists of finalists. This annoyed a particular Swiss French blogger who wrote a comprehensive blog piece on her take on the matter. She basically said that it was “unfair” to lay the blame on French-language bloggers who didn’t lobby for their blogs for a stake at the SBAW.

Exchange of words, some coated in diplomacy and others not, ensued thereafter, and it clearly became a battle between the linguistic groups in Switzerland which, from a foreigner’s point of view, was quite intriguing.

Part of the open letter — or should we say, an ‘open blog entry’ — the organizers wrote to address the controversy reads:

“We hear the criticism and we will adapt the award for next year’s edition. We have always defined this to be a work in progress. The interesting part will be to find an explanation; why did things happen the way they did. We, the organisers believe, that this should be up for discussion, and that everything should be carefully evaluated and thought through before jumping to conclusions. We think this would be the scientific approach. We are convinced, that there are several possible explanations for such an outcome. And most likely it is a combination of reasons that lead to this outcome.

“So these were our reasons for doing things the way we did. We are still convinced it could have worked. The fact that it did not work does not leave us indifferent. The evaluation will be fierce and self-critical. Everybody will be invited to help us evaluate things and improve this award for its next edition – in order for it to truly become the Swiss blog award for Swiss bloggers organised by Swiss bloggers. Bottom-up, democratic, representative.”

At the end of the day, the Swiss Blog Awards organizers, with their let’s-make-it-happen attitude, opted to be pro-active and moved on to make the first edition of the Swiss Blog Awards a memorable one for both bloggers and non-blogging attendees alike. They promised to learn from the plethora of feedback they received from others, both the positive and negative — all for making the SBAW 2007 a better one. A post-event evaluation is now open to the public.

Democracy reigns — even in the linguistically complicated world of Swiss blogging.