The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Friday, June 11, 2004

In the wake of Steve Rubel's all-blog news diet adventure, it occurs to me that a week-long experiment using the opposite criteria--restricting one's online news consumption solely to mainstream media websites, while completely avoiding blogs--would offer an interesting contrast. Call it the "no-blog news diet".

A couple of things come to mind right away... Most people, by default, rely on a no-blog diet. Despite ever-increasing buzz over blogging, it's still very much a niche phenomenon. Forrester Research last year found that 79 percent of Americans had never even heard of a "blog", and less than five percent of U.S. households had ever read one, even during major news cycles like the Iraqi invasion. I doubt the numbers have changed appreciably since then. So conducting a straightforward current events awareness test based on non-blog input probably wouldn't yield much insight.

However, consider that, for a variety of reasons, certain news items generate different levels of enthusiasm within the blogosphere than they do in the mainstream media. A quick check at Popdex and Blogdex today illustrates this: Along with broadbased stories like the death of Ray Charles, relatively obscure items like "10 Super Foods You Should NEVER Eat!" and a list (from 2000!) showing how some globe-spanning corporations outrank small countries' GDPs top the most-popular rankings on these online news aggregators. This effect has been noted widely within the blogging world, often critically as creating an echo chamber environment.

I think examining the effects of a no-blog diet would inform blog followers on how much (and how little) of the blogosphere's daily memes seep into the wider media world and, by extension, the general population. It could put to the test notions like, for instance, how much of a role blog pundits had in the resignation of Howell Raines from the New York Times. We read about such events as examples of the influence of blogs; a no-blog news diet could provide some harder data to back that up.

Some of the ground rules would have to be worked out. Chief among them: What's the demarcation between a blog and a non-blog? Would news site blogs count? Should I adhere to Rubel's no-click-through rule, which I (and others) criticized? If this ball gets rolling, all that can be decided later.

I'm perfectly willing to be the guinea pig for this no-blog news diet. Truthfully, I've found myself getting a little bored with reading other people's blogs lately, and casually was wondering how I'd make out with not reading them at all for an extended period. Doing so for a purpose makes it more palpable to me.

However, much like Rubel's endeavour, I'd have to know that at least a few people are interested enough in the outcome of this in order for me to do it. Also like Rubel, I'd like to have my experience analyzed in the form of a quiz, administered by somebody with professional media chops. While someone like Steve Outing would do a fine job--and having already covered the ground with Rubel, he'd be a logical candidate--I think a recognized blogging expert would be a more appropriate fit. Someone along the lines of Lawrence Lessig, Dave Winer, Joi Ito... like that, I guess.

Is it overly-grandiose for someone on a BlogSpot blog to think any of these luminaries would consider taking part in this? What the hell, might as well shoot high. And as incentive, I've got something tangible to offer for participating in this experiment: A nice, shiny Gmail account invitation that Google just sent to me. Any blogging guru who decides to play along will get a beta Gmail account as compensation. A fair deal, I'd say.

So, I await feedback. Let me know your thoughts.