Differences between Weblogs and Bulletin Boards

I had an interesting conversation with Dave Winer the other day, partly prompted by the drafting of my product comparison into the vendetta of his anonymous detractors against him. The ability of commenting visitors to attack, highjack, or derail a weblog have led Dave to conclude that the two media (weblogs and online discussions) are anathema to each other. In his view, this site is not a weblog in that sense, because it permits comments.
I’m still rolling this over in my mind, not fully convinced of that absolute definition, but it has prompted a chain of thoughts about what these differences are. To some extent I think some of it has to do with ownership of your own words. Not just in the Well sense that Ray Ozzie mentioned (referenced in an earlier post in this log), but in a literal sense.
An example. I was just reading Tom Friedman’s editorial about the fog of war and the lack of clear war aims on the part of Palestinians (and perhaps on the part of Bush’s hawks). At the bottom of the column is an invitation to join a moderated discussion of Tom’s views. I had no interest in signing in and joining that conversation. If I have an opinion about what Tom wrote, I’ll quote him and link to his editorial in my Mediajunkie blog. On some level it’s selfish: Why should I donate content to the New York Times? Especially when they reserve the right to moderate it?
If I wanted the audience, the tradeoff might be worth it. I made a similar decision when I decided to stop blogging in relative obscurity and sign up for this Salon blogs experiment (six days left on my free trial!). I calculated that there might be an audience of (a) Salon readers, (b) Radio webloggers, and (c) curiosity seekers whom I might reasonably have a chance of adding to my own readership. So far, so good.
So, I like discussion boards, but I decide whether to participate based on the audience. I do comment on blogs that permit it, when the mood strikes me. Usually it’s to add something reactive that does not inspire me to write up a full view of my own. To my mind hosting an opinion on my own site is a more permanent method, with a stronger aspect of ownership. I can’t track down all the various comments I may have posted all over the Net. In effect I’ve donated that content to whomever curates the specific sites.
Back to the problem of unwelcome or unkind commenters. There is an element of badmouthing someone in their own front parlor. My attitude is “there are streetcorners for that kind of trash talk.” Asking me (or Dave, or whoever) to host and pay for content that detracts from my work or my mission is a bit of a stretch.
Someone said that we have a free press in the U.S. for anyone who owns a press. In 1994 I realized that owning a press no longer required a huge industrial capital investment but rather an investment in a small server and an Internet line. We’re reaching a point where just about anyone can host their own words, regardless of content.
Just as anonymity (which I believe can be justified in many circumstances) has a tendency to discredit an author’s views in the eyes of some readers, so does taking the responsibility to manage and archive one one’s words and keep them in the full view of the public tend to reinforce one’s credibility.
Some semi-baked thoughts for a Sunday morning.
(A postscript. My browsing this morning led me—unsurprisingly—to Doc Searls’ weblog. In it, among other things, he distinguishes between diaries and journals. Both have roots in words meaning “day” (in the sense of daily), but the connotations are different, at least in English. Journal has the advantage of relating to both journalism and the computer-sense of journaling. I wanted to discuss this and add a pithy comment along the lines of “We lepers” vs. “You lepers” in light of the ongoing discussion of Lessig’s warning tone but got confused trying to work his “Discuss” link. How ironic, I thought as, I gave up on the interface. I’ll just write about it in my blog.)