Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Keeping it All Hush Hush: The NYT has a feature on how bloggers are getting in trouble in some cases for posting about their personal lives and or careers under the assumption that other concerned parties won't read them. Case in point.

Heather Armstrong, a 27-year-old Web designer from Utah whose blog is at www.dooce.com, might be the ultimate example of blogging gone awry. Her parents are devout Mormons, she said, but because they are also technophobes, she felt perfectly comfortable publishing an entry on her site in which she harshly criticized her Mormon upbringing.

Unfortunately for Ms. Armstrong, her brother in Seattle stumbled across her Web site that very day and alerted her parents to the entry. After that, Ms. Armstrong said, "all hell broke loose." "Next to my parents getting divorced 20 years ago," Ms. Armstrong said, "it was the worst thing that ever happened to my family. It was shocking for everyone."

Ms. Armstrong's run-in with the perils of self-publishing did not end there. She also wrote about her job and her co-workers in her blog, often hyperbolically.

When her bosses were alerted that Ms. Armstrong was writing about her office life, they fired her, she said. She is now much more careful about what she publishes in her blog, and she had a word of caution for bloggers who write furtively about others. "If you're publishing under your own name, they'll find out," she said. "I was extremely naive."

This is like putting slanderous flyers up all over your street and feeling safe because the person you want to insult lives two streets over. It's not called the World Wide Web for nothing.

It highlights a fundamental problem with vanity blogging. If you are writing primarily about yourself, you are either going to have to cover the various personal relationships you have, or you are going to end up documenting what color socks you wore or what you had for lunch everyday. You may occasionally have a brilliant insight you can expound on, but life is mostly made up of the mundane.

Keeping a blog relevant is a surprisingly difficult task. That's why the most successful blogs are themed around a single topic, or at least they go light on personal details of the author's life and heavy on smart-arsed commentary (like the one you're reading now).

For the record: I NEVER write about work. I NEVER write about my personal relationships (not much of a problem for me). When I write about my friends I always use first name only or a pseudonym. And if I publish an email from you I will hide the full address - unless it's terribly insulting or threatening and I want to reveal you for the cretinous dolt that you are.