Phil Gyford


Sunday 3 April 2005

PreviousIndexNext With great audiences...

Like everyone else I know (or everyone else I know who doesn’t get out enough) I enjoy reading Boing Boing, the group weblog that’s become phenomenally popular over the last few years. It hits the spot for thousands of novelty-hungry geeks and is popular enough that it often doesn’t seem worth linking to something if it’s already appeared on Boing Boing. However, I think this vastly increased popularity changes the nature of Boing Boing, and the responsibility of those who write for it.

Glassdog recently questioned Boing Boing’s apparent lack of transparency when it comes to the ads that have smothered the site in recent months, and I don’t plan to repeat any of those points here. I’m more concerned with the content of some posts, and while I hesitate to step close to those endlessly rehashed, and often futile, journalism vs blogging arguments Boing Boing and its success makes them hard to avoid entirely.

However, let’s try to side-step them a little by referring to a wider domain — “professional publishing” — rather “journalism”. (I feel the need to head off another confusion here. When I use the word “publishing”, feel free to replace it with “conversations”, “pamphleteering” or even “broadcasting” if you’re particularly old school.) And by “weblogging” I’m using a rough shorthand which, for the purposes of this argument, I take to mean all amateur online writing.

One of the characteristics shared by professional publishing and weblogging is that, obviously, someone is always responsible for the content of the words or pictures. In publishing (whether this is newspapers, books, TV, etc.) the authors and publishers share this responsibility and time and money is spent on checking what is produced. In weblogging the author is generally responsible, although your local laws may also hold the ISP to various levels of accountability. No doubt there are exceptions, but in general webloggers don’t spend a lot of time checking their facts because:

  • They’re writing in their spare time, and spare time is always scarce.
  • Their weblogs generally don’t bring in much, if any, money, so there are few resources to devote to such things.
  • Some of what they write doesn’t require a whole lot of fact checking — it may be entirely personal for example.
  • They have so few readers that it doesn’t seem worth spending time on something that, for most webloggers, wouldn’t change what they wrote.

Sometimes you may think a particular weblogger would have done better to check their facts, or at least counted to ten, before posting, but, you know, live with it. This is apparently the brave new, way new, world of publishing and this freedom and spontaneity is what makes it so much fun.

But. The line between professional publishing and what we’re calling weblogging is far from clearly defined. It’s a wide and ragged gradient and there are plenty of sites or publications that don’t sit on one side or the other but float somewhere in between. One day Jason Kottke is an amateur weblogger, the next he’s technically a professional.

What determines where a site appears on the amateur/professional axis? In Jason’s case it’s the commitment to work full-time on his site and raise the money to pay for this. So the amount of time spent on a site and the amount of money brought in can affect the level of professionalism. Another factor that could push a weblog towards the responsibilities of professional publishing is the number of people reading it. If you’re writing, even in your free time, for 100,000 people you may have a lot more in common with a newspaper columnist than a weblogger whose only audience is a few friends.

With this greater audience comes a greater responsibility. If 100,000 people are reading your words you need to be more certain about what you say than if it’s just for a bunch of mates. I can’t help feeling that Boing Boing has stepped past the hazy mark where it can get away with publishing off-the-cuff posts about events in the world without spending some of the time and money we assume those ads are generating on checking facts. Let’s look at a couple of examples that might have benefited from more research.

In January there was a post about a man who was arrested for attempting to hack a tsunami appeal website. For Boing Boing the juicy story wasn’t that the man was arrested (as reported by BBC News a week earlier) but that he was arrested for using an unusual browser, which the company managing the donations mistook for a hacking attempt. It’s a great story, but Boing Boing’s basis for this report comes from a source on an unnamed mailing list. Cory’s introduction to the mailing list quote reports the event as fact, not rumour, and this no doubt contributed to hundreds of other weblogs in turn reporting the event as fact.

Leaving aside the mindless gullibility of all these other webloggers, when readers start assuming what you post is fact this is probably a sign that you should be checking those facts a little more.

The second example is Boing Boing’s post about a high-school principal who “banned blogging” because it “isn’t educational”. Part of the blame lies with the source story at the Rutland Herald whose over-eager sub-editors misleadingly headlined the story “High school bans blogging”. In fact the school banned a single website and the principal simply issued a sensible warning about children weblogging — as with any activity online, kids should be careful with the information they make public.

But Boing Boing got carried away with the newspaper’s headline, repeating it in theirs even though a cursory read of the newspaper article reveals that no one “banned blogging”. The newspaper claims the principal doesn’t think blogging is educational, and Cory could certainly have criticised him for this alone, although it would make for a less dramatic post. The repetition of the lie about the principal banning blogging, rather than his apparent opinion, is possibly also what prompted a reader to suggest people should email the principal to complain.

A professional publication should have called the school to verify the story before simply republishing it. Otherwise the publication would, perhaps, end up criticised on Boing Boing like the Indian news agencies that blindly repeated a hoax in February.

There’s even more need for a publication to check its facts if it’s going to suggest its many readers email their knee-jerk opinions to the story’s misquoted protagonist. Without checking facts the site has encouraged thousands of people to needlessly hassle a man who is trying to do a difficult job. Judging from the principal’s form response to correspondents it sounds like he was also misquoted by the Rutland Herald and has even used blogging in the classroom himself. Fact checking could have revealed this before the Boing Boing entry was published. Cory appears unsatisfied with the principal’s response, although I only hope he can emulate the principal’s relative calm should he find himself at the wrong end of a rabble-rousing and inaccurate post on a popular weblog.

That the original Boing Boing post has been updated points to one of the benefits of weblogs over less flexible old media: the feedback loop that is the global weblog conversation can collaboratively ferret out the truth of a story over time. However, this is no reason to skimp on the initial work. It may be acceptable to post a vague but interesting rumour as a last resort, in the hope readers can nail down the story over time, as long as the nature of the original post is made clear. But relying on reader feedback to correct an inaccurate story reported as fact would be lazy and irresponsible. Some people will only read the first version of the post and the story will have spread by the time corrections are made. Would we find it acceptable for a rolling TV news channel to begin the day broadcasting a bunch of rumours in the hope the facts can be corralled by primetime?

These are, of course, only two examples from the huge volume of posts Boing Boing publishes, and most of those entries about freedom of speech, cool gadgets and DIY Lego Star Wars porn remix fabrication can probably get away without much extra scrutiny. I don’t want to join any Boing Boing backlash — I enjoy the site and if Cory (the only Boinger I know) is anything to go by the site’s authors are a splendid bunch of people. But I do feel that the site’s success is currently providing a valuable warning of the difficulties involved in moving from amateur weblogging to professional publishing, when it should be a model example.


Reading through this, I have to take a step back as a bOING bOING reader. I've fallen into that trap a few times of swallowing a post whole. This is entirely my own fault.

However, I can see where you would begin to attribute more responsibility and less sensationalism because of such reactions.

If you look at posts such as the one made about an artist in Finland "stealing" BME art, you'll find a perfect example. I can't pin down a percentage for how many posts are like that, but it was factually disingenuous.

A gallery broadsheet on the artist made the statement, but that just got bypassed for quite a few hours while other web logs regurgitated it. An update was made only after the original poster modified his post about it. This probably damaged no one's reputation, but it could have if one ascribes to the "power of the web log" theory.

Instances such as this have happened often enough that it really bothers me. I shouldn't just trust anything, but there was a na

Posted by Jeremy on 3 April 2005, 8:34 pm | Link

I enjoy the antics of the crazed BBer's. I view the content as a cross between the Tabloids, Comix and ______________(add your publication type here).

I take BB content with a grain of salt (I take ALL content with a grain of salt).

To the best of my knowledge, there hasn't ever been an error free publication. Let's hope everyone knows this and also hope that pre-pub inspection keeps future BB errors to a minimum.


Posted by Rene Lawrence on 3 April 2005, 8:36 pm | Link

I've been reading Boing Boing for a long time and still do but increasingly I find myself getting frustrated. The two examples you provided are exactly the reason. Too often the posts present an extreme view of reality that represent the author's bias. Sometimes those posts get updated by vigilant readers, sometimes not. I don't expect Boing Boing to have newspaper-like journalistic credentials but I do expect them to exercise at least some restraint. Perhaps the best example of Boing Boing run amuck was during the presidential election. I share the authors' dislike of Bush but the number of anti-Bush posts with no meat to them at all was significant and ridiculous. Xeni's seventh grade obsession with sex and naughty words is equally frustrating. It just isn't cool anymore.

I've now come to the point where I use Boing Boing the same way I use Slashdot: a good source for interesting links but ignore the writing because it's too frustrating to actually read it.

Finally, their decision not to allow comments to their posts is for me the last straw. Many other large sites manage with comments and effective solutions are available for managing comment spam. The only good reason that remains is that the authors' don't want the tons of negative email they get to be made public.

Posted by Asciiman2000 on 3 April 2005, 9:14 pm | Link

You need to chill out. Readers who look at BoingBoing as a source for news and commentary have bigger problems to deal with.

That post about a principle "banning blogging" is a perfect example. I remember that when I read it I automatically assumed that it was an overhyping of a misunderstanding. Why? Because the BoingBoingers don't have journalistic or editorial credibility. This isn't an extreme position. They don't fact-check or do research. Why should they have credibility?

When the posts aren't about pornography, casemods, lego or those wacky Japanese, they are half-readable screeds about Creative Communism and how taking incentives away from creativity will lead to a creative worker's revolution. In short, everyone knows that they don't bother to research and fact-check -- if they are trusted then it is the failure of the reader.

Posted by John on 3 April 2005, 9:26 pm | Link

It is no coincidence that the two posts you cited were both written by Cory. If you read BoingBoing for a while, you begin to realize that Cory Doctorow has some kind of anger management problem. Either that or he is very frustrated about politics. I wish there was a way to customize Boingboing so I wouldn't have to read his pamphleteering. Maybe he should take another vacation from BoingBoing and concentrate on his other projects for a while.

Posted by Alana on 3 April 2005, 9:37 pm | Link


I've come to realize that that's just how he presents things. I don't know if it's an anger problem necessarily, it's just what gets the most attention. If we start to consider bOING bOING as part of the journalism sphere, then they're in it for the sell, not the facts. I can pretty much live with that as I fact-check the posts of Cory's which interest me.

There's probably a Firefox extension, if you use Firefox, which will edit out Cory's posts. There's already one for Xeni. Play your cards right and you could eliminate three posters and end up with the Pesco Boing.

Posted by Jeremy on 3 April 2005, 10:19 pm | Link

The two clever Boing Boing parodies that appeared April 1 (gakker, that you link to, and, reportedly already a dead link?) were the only bright spots in an annoying (but formerly fun) lame Photoshop-meets-HTML-lame-o-prank day.

I really enjoyed 'em both; but they also both gave me pause about my Boing Boing habit. The narrow focus of the content and the predictable tone of voice were wearing thin. This isn't necessarily a fault of the authors; they have created a fairly consistent (and slowly evolving) voice. I watched The Practice and NYPD Blue to the very end. I'll watch ER til it goes off the air. I find at times that it's WORK to do that, and it's WORK to keep browsing Boing Boing - content that is consistent and doesn't completely evolve over time is just hard to stick with. It's easy to roll your eyes and say "yeah, yeah, all right" - that predictability offers comfort, but it also can get annoying.

Posted by Steve Portigal on 3 April 2005, 10:38 pm | Link

The actual problem with BoingBoing is that it claims to be something that it is not: "A Directory of Wonderful Things".

Endless complaints about DRM and copyrights and blah blah blah are not "wonderful things".

Occasional interspersions of all things Disney, down to the level of "Guess what's new at Disneyworld? They've got a new sanitation contractor to empty the garbage!" are not "wonderful things".

Cory Doctorow's "notes" on random conferences and talks that he attends are not "wonderful things".

There are still just enough "wonderful things" buried in the flood of anti-DRM diatribes that, so far, I've been coming back. But I'm getting sicker and sicker of it.

Posted by zonkmotz on 4 April 2005, 12:29 am | Link

The debate over journalistic standards for blogging reminds me a bit of some of the controversy around the accuracy of Wikipedia. I feel essentially the same way about both.

Both Boing Boing and Wikipedia reach large audiences and can often be said to be ideologically slanted. However, this is also true of ALL media. What makes online media such as Boing Boing and Wikipedia different is a combination of their interactivity and their ability to correct or redact nearly instantly. Do they make more mistakes than conventional media? Maybe, but I doubt it. I think their mistakes are simply more noticable for the reason that _they are corrected_. After all, I found this post via Boing Boing itself. I have yet to see a newspaper that would be willing to be so self-critical. Do corrections usually run on the front page?

Now, all that said, I would love to see a higher standard of fact-checking done at Boing Boing, just as I'd like to see the editorial quality of my local newspaper improve. But I think it's a little unfair to pick on Boing Boing. In a blogosphere filled with unsubstantiated rumors, I think they are one of the most reliable sources of information I've come across.

Posted by Morgan May on 4 April 2005, 12:37 am | Link

I agree completely with the criticisms, but I can't take nearly as charitable a view of the Boing Boing writers as you do. I pretty much only read the site for the more entertaining links. He may be a great guy, but I'm not impressed with Cory Doctorow as a journalist, either on Boing Boing or in Wired.

I've read too many posts by him (and others on the site) that were verifiably wrong about days-old stories - and so verifiably wrong that "researching" the story beyond reading a single link someone's emailed to him (or them) would have required changing the story. The Python/Parrot pie-throwing challenge comes to mind.

Posted by Eric the .5b on 4 April 2005, 12:49 am | Link

I think it's also worth mentioning the somewhat blind crusade for copyleft that Cory is on, where anything that remotely smacks of Big Corporate Copyright is slapped down. I'm an avid BoingBoing reader, and also the owner of a label that makes commercial CDs under the Creative Commons Sampling+ license. I've also been a member of ASCAP for 15 years, and the vast majority of my income comes from my monthly checks from them.

There was a recent spate of ASCAP bashing on BoingBoing, where it became immediately obvious to me that Mr. Doctorow doesn't actually have the faintest idea about what ASCAP does. Discovering this made me wonder whether the posts made by Mr. Doctorow on subjects of which I'm less knowledgable are equally barren of fact. I realize caveat emptor is the name of the game when using a blog as a news source, but, as you've said, there's certainly a point where one has to consider one's obligation to his readers.

Posted by Chris Randall on 4 April 2005, 1:37 am | Link

Cory's books aren't "wonderful things" either but that doesn't stop him from promoting himself to death whenever he's published a new one. Remember when they were having trouble paying for all their bandwidth? Someone did an analysis of their site and found that the biggest file was a large, un-optimized picture of "Eastern Standard Tribe." It stayed up there for months!

[note: "Eastern Standard Tribe" wound up being one of the most heavily discounted works of modern hardcover fiction on Not long after its release, they were selling it for 42% off because no one was buying it.]

BoingBoing would be much better without Cory Doctorow. That guy manfactures conflict and puts a sensationalist spin on everything he does. In short, he is like a yellow journalist of the big media he was supposedly criticizing. Why can't they replace him with someone cool like Charlie Stross or China Mieville?

Posted by A disappopinted reader on 4 April 2005, 1:56 am | Link

I enjoy BoingBoing, even the views I do not agree with. If you don't like it don't read it! I discovered the publication OReilly Make through Cory's weblog postings. My kids loves it thanks Mr. Doctorow.

Posted by Valdx on 4 April 2005, 2:26 am | Link

I love how Cory Doctorow and the BoingBoing folks think they're advocates for the democratization of media by the Internet and yet they don't allow comments on BoingBoing. What hypocrites.

Why don't they take advantage of the internet to start a dialogue and form a community? I guess they must get a lot more criticism than I originally assumed.

PS, when are you going to tell us what you are doing with all those ads? You claimed they were to "cover costs" but no one believes that anymore.

Posted by Publican on 4 April 2005, 2:35 am | Link

I've been reading BoingBoing since the day Cory started posting, back in 2000. I'm amused by the criticisms above, but quite frankly, I've never heard of these critics. Meanwhile, Cory has grabbed life by the balls, had a point of view, and made an international name for himself. Cory is a force of nature...if you don't like it change the channel. But save your criticisms until your accomplishments match Cory's...

Posted by Suzy Conn on 4 April 2005, 2:41 am | Link

I disagree Suzy. I was a journalist for years and I welcomed criticism from non-journalists. The best critics are your readers.

I had problems with the way Cory presented the Chicago public art story (da bean), but I don't consider him a journalist. He's more of an editorialist. At least his prejudices are easy to identify.

I enjoyed boingboing more when comments were allowed. It gave the readers a chance to correct mistakes and add information. Now we can only email the authors. And that's a crapshoot if they respond.

I wish they would present updates as new entries. If you've already read the article I doubt you scrool down to see if there is an update. And, if you read the feed you don't get the updates at all.

Finally, if you don't want to read Cory's posts, then the Xeni Firefox script can be easily adapted.

Posted by Domoni on 4 April 2005, 3:34 am | Link

OK, the inability to Comment is a fair criticism, but you have to remember the reason that BB turned off Comments. They certainly had Comments in the beginning, and for quite a long time. But they had some truly obnoxious Trolls that negatively affected the "wonderfulness" of BoingBoing. Instead of making Firefox extensions to edit out Xeni's posts (who, by the way, is a sexy, strong, intelligent woman, so I'm not surprised to see a bunch of men gang up on her posts, which are the most fun on BoingBoing, IMHO), why doesn't someone work out a way to keep the Trolls at bay so that BoingBoing can bring Comments back? I'm sure they'd love to turn on Comments if it didn't become filled with hate rhetoric...

Posted by Suzy Conn on 4 April 2005, 4:11 am | Link

"Why don

Posted by zonkmotz on 4 April 2005, 4:42 am | Link

Zonkmotz above has the right idea... as long as Boingboing is a "directory of wonderful things," I'm totally with it. It's like a one-stop clearinghouse of geek stuff. But it seems like more and more I have to fish through tons of crap about creative commons or DRM or whatnot, or just effusive praise for a piece of music just because it's a mashup. Half awesome, half wankery. Even if I sort of agree with Cory about DRM and such, he's such a zealot about it that I don't care to read about it any more.

Posted by Adam Villani on 4 April 2005, 4:49 am | Link

While I'm at it, can I complain about a few other specific things?

1. "Web Zen." It's not Zen. It's not Judaism. It's not Zoroastriansim. It's just a collection of interesting things about a particular subject. Stop calling it Web Zen.

2. HOWTO: Every post explaining how to do something does not need to begin with HOWTO. Back in the dark ages, "How" and "to" were separate words.

Posted by Adam Villani on 4 April 2005, 4:56 am | Link

Cory Doctorow, the Creative Commissar

Guys, read this exchange Cory Doctorow had with Domoni about his editorializing of the Chicao Millenium Park "Bean" story. Domoni calls Doctorow out on his sensationalist exagerations when it is revealed that the official quoted in the article said that "The policy allows students, journalists, and amateur photographers to shoot in the park with no restrictions." Confronted with the truth, Doctorow's final response is silence.

There wasn't any threat to the public or to free speech, rights weren't trampled on, as Cory's blog entry said. Cory Doctorow lied about this story to cause a stir. At best he is a zealot and a propagandist. At worst he is angry and misinformed. In either case Cory Doctorow has a problem representing the truth as it is. He always bends the truth to cast himself as a Revolutionary.

Posted by Andrew on 4 April 2005, 5:08 am | Link

Yeah, the "mashup" thing is another good example, along with copyright issues, Cory's notes from random conferences, and All Things Disney.

"Oh my god this mashup of the Beatles and Mozart is soooooo much better than either the Beatles or Mozart! MC Douchewad is the greatest musician ever!"

Posted by zonkmotz on 4 April 2005, 6:00 am | Link

A friend of mine hits on a low percentage of his jokes but is undoubtedly the funniest person I have ever known. BB is enjoying recognition and the resulting scrutiny - normal growing pains. The big guys who hold themselves up to unrealistic standards of accuracy compromise themselves with a reliance on news wires, the story du jour and a lack of original and creative reporting. Unless you want to own the world, the standards of vanilla excellence are not for you or your audience. Before you chart a new course take a moment to review original mission.

Posted by Bernie on 4 April 2005, 6:31 am | Link

I read a lot of weblogs, and BoingBoing is as good as any of them. It's not perfect and neither are the rest of them.

There is something about Xeni and Cory that makes some people furious, which I think is stupid. They're both bright and inventive writers. They also both act a little bit like rockstars, but guess what, in the cyber world they ARE a little bit like rockstars. I think that's the key to it.

In a way I wish BB still had comments, if only so we could add info when they discover something (for example, you can use zip codes with Google Weather: weather 87010). But if people want it that bad, someone should just start a "MetaBoing" companion site that RSS's and tracks back with comments for each posting. I'm sure people would use it, and the BB team would probably read it.

I loved those 4/1 parodies! but they're the kind that only works because the target brand is so strong.

I'm not saying BB shouldn't get better, but again, every weblog should probably get better, there's no reason to pick on BB in particular.

Posted by niceproblem on 4 April 2005, 6:34 am | Link

BB itself is pretty amusing, and unbeatable when it really does focus on incredible things and amazing hacks, but it does tend to be childishly simplistic and unenlightening when it comes to electronic media copyright issues.

I wish Doctorow would fuck off, too. What a loser. His high-school narcissism is too unimaginative to even be amusing. He's this crazed libertarian when it comes to his own freedoms and rights ("What's mine is mine! Freedom! Down with Authority!") and then a complete socialist when it comes to those of others ("We should all share! Justice for all! Where's Dad when you need him?"). Um, yeah. Good thing your logic fuse has a high rating, Cory.

Posted by Arwen on 4 April 2005, 7:31 am | Link

I have been reading BB for a very long time, and I took the time to read a lot of the comments here. I see the point of many, and won't reiterate or argue with them.

Particularly in the months before the move to London, it felt like BB had become Cory's self-promotion machine, which I found offputting. The job with EFF meant slightly less self-promotion, and a seeming increase in the number of OMG DRM IS SO SO BAD OMG OMG posts.

Additionally, whenever Cory posts a link to some fiction piece or other, it is usually by a writer whose style is pretty similar to his: hectic. Something that makes William Gibson's early work seem measured and elegaic by comparison. I have learned not to click on Cory's fiction recommendations, because they tend to be kind of soulless conceptual explorations. (As a writer of fantasy and historical fiction, I recognize that ideas are important; however, it's almost never possible to care much about the people in these stories, because all they're usually there to do is present the whiz-bang idea.) He's linked numerous different authors, but few to none have a distinctive voice; they all imitate the same type of voice, a sort of hyper-caffeinated PK Dick. It's hard to describe what I'm talking about, but it should be apparent to people who have read a few of the typical stories Cory links, whether you actually like the style or not. I would like to see Cory, or others, recommending fiction with a broader stylistic range.

Then there are the frequent plugs for his ex-neighbor's latest art clocks, which are too frequent and clearly a little nepotistic. It'd be one thing if there were a constant obsession with mixed-media/assemblage functional art, but there isn't, and it's a type of post repeated more often than warranted.

Nonetheless, Cory is a prolific poster who seems like he's probably a cool guy, and many of his other posts are of value, so it wouldn't make sense to filter him. I just wish he'd be slightly more conservative with posts about CORY and CORY'S OPINIONS, and that, as one of the earlier posters mentioned, BB would lean closer to its mission of being "a directory of wonderful things" on the web. (It doesn't seem unreasonable to me to suggest that Cory start his own blog for his more personal concerns, like the near-daily DRM rant and the self-promotion.) Especially now that you can pretty much see anything good that pops up on BB on either MetaFilter or Monkeyfilter within a day or two before or after the BB post... if you *want* to sidestep BB, it's become pretty easy to do. While all readers can't be pleased all the time, I would hope that the BB writers would all be interested in taking reasonable measures to keep that sidestepping from happening.

(Mostly I'm just venting the frustrations I've had with the site in the last couple of years. I still like BB and I don't want to sidestep it. But I also don't care about people camping out for the Grokster case, even if I do care about the outcome of the case itself. Getting back to the original topic, I definitely agree that BB's posters should be more careful and selective about the posts they choose to write.)

Posted by micearenice on 4 April 2005, 7:57 am | Link

clarification: what i think i was saying about cory, in an extraordinarily long-winded way, is that while he is responsible for a lot of the posts on BB that i find the most irritating or useless, he's also responsible for the majority of the posts that i find delightful and interesting. (and to his credit, i found this page because he posted a link to it.)

it feels like the rants and editorializing and personal stuff don't necessarily belong on a topical group blog and would be better on a personal site. it is something that he could do very successfully if he wanted to; every blogged thought need not go to BB. however, mark is also prone to personal posts. all of it interferes with the wunderkammer aspect of BB at its best.

(wasn't the print zine carla's? IE, not mark's? i don't have back issues anymore, but i used to buy it. i miss carla's voice. i always enjoyed her zines and books, back in the day.)

Posted by micearenice on 4 April 2005, 8:15 am | Link is a Firefox Greasemonkey extension that filters the banner and sidebar ads from

I read the site daily, and am intriuged by all of the opinions above. It seems a lot of people get angry by the site but continue to read it. Clearly Cory+team are doing something right...


Posted by billy pooper on 4 April 2005, 8:39 am | Link

I've got an idea. Go fuck yourselves. BoingBoing has an agenda, deal with it... you self-righteous bitches just don't get it, do you? Boingboing has never claimed to be a "news" source. The Boingboing agenda has been pretty consistent for years now... yet, more and more people are being drawn into its chunk of the blogosphere; that's pretty impressive. To those of you who can't deal with a strong woman like Xeni, I've got some penis pumps to sell you that

Posted by Cowicide on 4 April 2005, 9:14 am | Link

I can also see why they switched comments off when there are people like you who merely want to shout abuse at others, rather than have a conversation.

As to the previous (and future) posts -- can we restrict comments to the topic at hand. It would be remarkable if you liked all the Boing Boing posts by all the contributors -- we all have different tastes. So don't bother commenting if you just want to say you don't like Xeni's posts or Cory's posts, etc.

But if you have something to say about the standards and responsibilities (if any) of a hugely popular and "professional" weblog, then I'd love to hear them.

Posted by Phil Gyford on 4 April 2005, 9:24 am | Link

I'm sorry, Phil. That wasn't directed towards you; just the misogynistic puritans and/or hyper-critics posting here & elsewhere who somehow think they could do better job, maybe? Yet... they don't... and don't seem to keep Boingboing in perspective while they are at it. I'm still trying to find anywhere on the Boingboing site where the group claims to be a source for hard news?

Do they really need to dumb boingboing down just so mainstreamers can understand it's really just a fun, quirky successful blog with some twist and turns here and there varying in degrees of seriousness and silliness that keeps readers on their toes? If they dumb it down, the blog will lose viewer interest and fail. The Cow has spoken (I'm rarely wrong about anything).

To those complaining about BB self-promotin':

Does boingboing self-promote? Yeah, kill em' for it... it's just awful. Oh, God... the humanity... how can they live with themselves..? self-promotin' and all that...? Shit, own YOUR own business and you'll learn that self-promotion is a pretty damn good idea unless you want to fail (and fail miserably). The funny thing is, every time you lift a finger in your corporate world you unknowingly make money that's used to promote your corporation that feeds you (a.k.a. YOURSELF). Truly work for yourself and the curtain is pulled away... there you are doing the same shit as before that you did with the corporation you worked for (handled by the marketing department).. except now you are promoting yourself directly and, hopefully, more honestly than before. Sorry, that's life... go complain to God.

I like boingboing's agenda even if I don't always like the agenda. It's honest and out there instead of hidden away for fear of scaring the money away, etc. I think a lot more people would sleep better at night if they acted more like this group at Boingboing.

As someone who has personally "threatened" them through email after not posting some of my fanfrickentastic links, I can tell you... all this bitching will be fruitless for the most part until you pull back for a minute and realize Boingboing is a rock n' roll show with the Butthole Surfers mixed with CSPAN booknotes on acid. Until you realize that, you are useless.

You want to see errors and omissions in the media? Check out and listen to Counterspin weekly. Get involved in changing the problems they tirelessly bring before you. That's energy well spent. Beating up on Boingboing because they aren't what you want them to be is wasted energy. The only reason you and I have both read them is because they aren't what either of us want them to be. Now go watch 'The Breakfast Club' and chill out.

Posted by Cowicide on 4 April 2005, 10:49 am | Link

I didn't think that was directed at me Cowicide.

It doesn't matter whether the site claims to be a purveyor of "hard news" or not. The point of my post is that a hugely popular and professional site should either stick to facts in its serious posts, or make it obvious when they're merely hearsay. You may not agree with that point, but I haven't heard your argument as to why yet.

And when I ask people to stick to the topic at hand that means what it says: something the second part of your comment ignores entirely.

Posted by Phil Gyford on 4 April 2005, 11:00 am | Link

Is it bOING bOING's fault that so many people read it (even when they apparently hate it)? Well, yes, it is, but there is no concomitant responsibility to the audience when something gets popular. I'm still unsure why you think there is, Phil.

If one has a personal, topical web log that hits the jackpot of internet traffic after a while posting, why is it now that it has a bunch of traffic that it's shackled with responsibility? I've never gotten that. You get more eyeballs so now you have to change your behaviour? The behaviour is what got the eyeballs in the first place.

However, the bOING bOING folks seem to be people who do think the way Phil is thinking. Seeing as Cory posted this web log up on the site, it's obvious
that apart from Phil and Cory's relationship, he thought there might be something to this.

Posted by Jeremy on 4 April 2005, 12:19 pm | Link

So if commenters on this thread criticize Doctorow's postings, they're staying on topic, but if they criticize Jardin's, they're being sexist?


Posted by Joe Clark on 4 April 2005, 12:31 pm | Link

Jeremy: While it may not initially seem logical that the nature of a website changes when it's viewed by more people, I think that ultimately it does. If a site is referenced in more places and becomes a common source for news/gossip/fun it has a greater influence. I feel there's a greater responsibility that goes with that, but you may disagree.

Joe: Oh please. It's barely worth replying to you but... If people criticise any BBer's posts in relation to the topic at hand that's fine. If they criticise any BBer's posts for more personal reasons, or simply because they don't like the themes a BBer posts on, that's off topic.

And people wonder why BB doesn't have comments...

Posted by Phil Gyford on 4 April 2005, 12:41 pm | Link

Cow response to Phil:

YOU: "...It doesn

Posted by Cowicide on 4 April 2005, 1:47 pm | Link

If Boing Boing only dealt in "sassy quips" then that would be fair enough. But it also tries to make serious points about issues that matter. You may not want to call those posts "hard news" but if they're trying to make a serious factual point they should make sure those facts are correct.

You obviously have a different definition of "dumbing down" to everyone else I've ever heard.

I have no idea why you think that checking facts equates with being "obvious", "safe" and "sterile", as opposed to "accurate".

Having an exciting personality to a site is great. But if they're trying to make serious points, which they often do, then they need to couple that personality with some more authority.

Posted by Phil Gyford on 4 April 2005, 1:58 pm | Link

"Jeremy: While it may not initially seem logical that the nature of a website changes when it

Posted by Jeremy on 4 April 2005, 2:32 pm | Link

It's an interesting comparison. The crucial difference though, for me, is that BB is run by the small number of people who post to it - it's theirs. But MetaFilter is much more of a distributed, collaborative effort, more like a forum. With BB there's a definite "us" (posters) and "them" (readers) divide. In this respect it's much more broadcast or publication than MeFi.

Posted by Phil Gyford on 4 April 2005, 2:39 pm | Link

Cory's biggest problem is that, for various entirely valid reasons that I completely understand, he can't support user comments on his site. But user comments, with some sort of quality-sorting moderation system, tend to bring contradictory information to the table quickly for highly read posts. The end result -- though Boingboing remains the only blog I read daily -- is that the information from each link is rendered less credible by default, as it can't openly stand up to public criticism.

Posted by Dan Kaminsky on 4 April 2005, 3:23 pm | Link

I take umbrage at Suzy's comment.

"Instead of making Firefox extensions to edit out Xeni

Posted by Nathan on 4 April 2005, 7:03 pm | Link

Phil: "...You obviously have a different definition of

Posted by Cowicide on 4 April 2005, 11:37 pm | Link

I think the problem with BB is that it really does link to some interesting stuff, at least half the time. But the editorial end of it, regardless whether you agree with it or not (most of the time I do) is just pure drivel. When the linkage is lame, it's usually because it was editorially driven. It's Cory's right to post about Apple BIT-RAPING his fair usage rights, and it's Xeni's right to post about cosplay bukkake or whatever. But I think they need to realize that the vast majority (Cowicide et al seem to be exceptions) of their readership reads BB *despite* shit like that. Alas, they removed the means for the readership to tell them that, which imo, says a lot in itself.

So, to stick to Phil's topic, the problem with a blog that gets big is that while the readership changes and broadens, the posters usually do not.

Posted by Azohos on 5 April 2005, 4:34 am | Link

Azohos said: "...I think they need to realize that the vast majority (Cowicide et al seem to be exceptions) of their readership reads BB *despite* shit like that..."

Cowicide's Reply: Wow, a vast majority, huh? Where did you take this poll? Or do you just "simply feel" that a vast majority agrees with you for some reason?

While I am not so cocky as to say that I think the vast majority likes the posts I prefer... I'd say that the combination of posts works in general or Boingboing wouldn't drive the traffic that it currently does. Azohos, you may be surprised to find that my most favorite posts are usually when they direct me to new artists/art. But, I'm not going to sit and whine because Boingboing doesn't cater directly to my interests... I browse through it, pick up cool stuff that interests me and I move on.

I don't know what your life is like, but no one at Boingboing has ever forced bukkake on me.

Posted by Cowicide on 5 April 2005, 5:02 am | Link

Actually, no, the quote to which I responded was: "[Xeni] is a sexy, strong, intelligent woman, so I

Posted by Joe Clark on 5 April 2005, 6:09 am | Link

All right, Gyford, here is a serious comment then. Your question has already been answered, long ago. Because all you need to do is realize information is a market, like any other, and BB is a business in that market, like any other. (Yeah I know it's a nonprofit business, or even maybe a negative-profit business. Big deal. That's a distinction without importance, as the SEC or IRS can tell you.)

When the market is new and the businesses are bitty mom-and-pop neighborhood operations where everyone knows everyone, and the generic customer is pretty hip to whether mom 'n' pop stretch the truth a bit about the sell-by date of the pickles in the barrel. . . like, say, the Internet circa 1994. . .sure, caveat emptor and let freedom ring. It's up to you the customer to verify the product and shop elsewhere if you don't like it. Any reasonable man will be an anarchist or at least libertarian under these cirx.

But, you know, markets mature, and companies get big and the money gets big, and customers start relying on reputation and custom rather than being able and willing to check every little thing out for themselves. And then you buy a Pinto 'cause surely a big company like Ford wouldn't sell a dangerous product, and you don't have the time or expertise to check out those rumors of a dangerous gas tank yourself. . .or you just trust that the guys who built and run Three Mile Island know what they're doing. . .

After tragedy strikes once or twice, leftish folks like those at BB start demanding government oversight, and truth in advertising and consumer protection laws, strict accounting standards, et cetera, and The Wild Wild West is over.

Has BB (and the blogosphere generally) crossed over from a friendly frontier town full of small proprietorships to nascent big-city biggish business? Will it soon? Dunno.

But it *is* overwhelmingly clear that as a society we generally believe that whenever *any* market matures and the businesses in it become more anonymous and there's less personal accountability, more money and more influence over a wide variety of consumers, who may or may not be fully informed enough to check everything out, then, nope, it's no longer caveat emptor and every man for himself, and we do expect and enforce higher standards of due diligence and accountability.

Anyone who expects a random private but influential organization such as, say, General Motors or the Republican Party to have its feet held to the fire if they fuck up the facts or knowingly bullshit the public can't expect any less from any other private organization that acquires influence, including BB.

Posted by Arwen on 5 April 2005, 8:09 am | Link

Cowicide - I'm not even going to bother to respond to you. It only encourages you. I know, not fair. Tough, my site.

Joe - I've no idea where you're getting this sexist stuff from.

Some people are still complaining that Boing Boing doesn't have comments enabled. I know what you mean, and the site does feel much too one-way and broadcast-like. However, just look at this thread, on a post *linked*to* from BB. Imagine how unwieldy, un-useful and filled with trolls and flames all the threads on BB would be.

Hopefully they'll find a way of producing a compromise, although it's never going to please everyone.

Posted by Phil Gyford on 5 April 2005, 8:22 am | Link

> Cowicide - I

Posted by Cowicide on 5 April 2005, 11:13 am | Link

The problem isn't that bOING bOING isn't a serious journalism project. The problem is that they seem to want to be but don't know how to do it. They want to have one foot in serious journalism but they don't want to have to take the other foot out of the iPod hacks and bukkake to do it.

Every week they post to one or two news or blog links obviously meant to demonstrate blogging's potential as a professional journalists' medium, but when somebody points out - 'hey, aren't you guys the last people who should be talking about blogging as journalism?' - their defenders fall back on 'well, it's just four geeks posting neat stuff that they find interesting'. I like to call this the Jon Stewart Defense - when you have a point to make, you're a Serious Journalist but if anybody calls you on your point you suddenly become just a "comedian" (or, in bOING bOING's case, a group geek blog).

Posted by Nathan on 5 April 2005, 7:02 pm | Link

Cow reply to Nathan...

Nathan: "...The problem isn

Posted by Cowicide on 6 April 2005, 12:35 am | Link

"They do serious journalism all the time and have nothing to prove to you."

Well, if bOING bOING wishes to exist without readers, then no, they don't. However, as a bOING bOING reader, I have the ability to provide them suggestions and feedback. In 2003 and 2004 I checked their blog multiple times per day until I got an RSS reader. Recently, I've taken them off my RSS reader and I check them manually every two or three days. Why? Well, greatly because of the issues I and others in this thread have brought up, I find their blog significantly less enjoyable. (As a perfect example of the overstretched agenda-beating, I submit Cory's recent post about the book Shadow Cities - great post, wonderful stuff, until Cory tried to twist it into a tortured analogy for IP politics, at which point I groaned and left the page.)

No, they have nothing to prove to me, nor do they have any obligation to listen to me or anybody else. But if I'm free to make suggestions, they're free to acknowledge or ignore them as they see fit. Ad hominem attacks and reductions to "you're not the boss of me! (or them!)" arguments don't really get us anywhere.

Furthermore, this is a problem with blogging-as-journalism as a whole. No, bOING bOING has never explicitly claimed to be a hard news source. But, then again, no blogs do. Most blogs are some combination of personal-plus-news, editorializing-plus-news, etc. If the editors of bOING bOING wish to continue maintaining a not-so-serious blog that happens to post serious things (that may or may not be accurate), that's their prerogative. But if they wish to simultaneously try to argue that blogging can be journalism... how can it be if every single blog hides behind a shield of informality?

Cowicide, you act as though even a modicum of accuracy is going to ruin bOING bOING forever (it's not) and that those of us who criticize bOING bOING do so because we hate it (we don't) or that we're asking for the editors of bOING bOING to fact-check every article with fresh-from-journalism-school devotion including reference desk research and phone calls to sources and good old sneakerwork (we aren't). I just want them to read the entirety of an article before they post a misleading headline and to refrain from making comments on things they know little or nothing about. The question isn't, then, whether or not such changes would ruin bOING bOING - it's whether or not even a moderate improvement in accuracy and a slight increase of self-restraint is worth their time and energy.

That's up to the editors to decide. All us readers can do is suggest changes and vote with our browsers.

Posted by Nathan on 6 April 2005, 1:44 am | Link

Cow reply to Nathan...

Nathan: "They do serious journalism all the time and have nothing to prove to you.

Posted by Cowicide on 6 April 2005, 12:09 pm | Link

This is hyper-criticism, Cowicide? It's about the gentlest stuff I've ever seen as far as criticism on the interconnected network. Most of it is as close to honest critique (minus a couple of posts) as one could get.

Posted by Jeremy on 6 April 2005, 2:09 pm | Link

> This is hyper-criticism, Cowicide?

There are examples of overly critical assholes up there, yes.

Posted by Cowicide on 7 April 2005, 2:26 am | Link

To Doctorow's credit I did find this page from a link at BB.

Reading these comments (and the Gakker parody) has felt like a weight was lifted from my chest. I now realize I'm a recovering BoingBoinger. I've been reading it more and enjoying it less and now the scales have fallen from eyes. This emperor has no clothes but a pair of mouse ears. Some random thoughts:

Suzy Conn: "Xeni is ...a sexy, strong, intelligent woman, so I

Posted by Tom Wrona on 8 April 2005, 3:22 pm | Link

Thanks Tom.

In BB's defence, I can see why they don't allow comments. Sure, it'd be easy to switch Movable Type's commenting on and let people run with that, but I'm not sure there'd be a lot of value. Any worthwhile and valuable comments would be swamped by a huge number of comments any reader would find a waste of time. To the extent the time spent on keeping up with comments may be more trouble than it's worth.

Which isn't to say BB's readers are any more fond of their own voices than everyone else on the net, just that this is what happens if you have a flat comment system on a site of BB's popularity. This is why Slashdot have their karma and voting and suchlike, in an effort to filter out the good stuff. Sometimes it seems to work, but personally I always feel swamped when I try and read comments there.

I'm sure BB would like to implement something that works well for everyone, but it's a very difficult nut to crack and not something to rush into.

Posted by Phil Gyford on 8 April 2005, 4:09 pm | Link

This is well worth a read for anyone interested in this topic: Jon Garfunkel on the contradiction between weblogs being easy and carefree, or being important and profound.

"Whether blogs are the best technology for this remains to be seen. In picking a technology to represent our online selves, more people will soon realize that the lightness of blogging is unbearable, and unfit, for something so important."

Posted by Phil Gyford on 8 April 2005, 11:53 pm | Link

I've read BB for over a year now. I've begun referring to the posts as 'web crack'. Within the past 6 months I've come away from reading it feeling like I've just been on a saccharine binge.

The thing about novelty is it's great when it's novel. but how much of it stands the test of time - in this case, how much of it would I actually re-visit even a week(!) later. not much.

I've managed to find a site that filters out boingboing's ads and also allows filtering of specific authors:
This takes some of the edge off, but my disdain for the career-ing and shallowness are beginning to outweight the effort I spend to even scan the links.

web crack.

Posted by stevo on 11 April 2005, 1:40 pm | Link

Dennis Miller?

> Cowicide: Accuracy is such a bourgeois conceit,
> comrade. Jacques Derrida called. Had to cancel
> the lunch date. He

Posted by Cowicide on 11 April 2005, 10:25 pm | Link

"It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

-Theodore Roosevelt

Posted by Cowicide on 20 April 2005, 3:32 am | Link

Commenting is disabled on posts once they’re 30 days old.

Some sites linking to this entry (Trackbacks)

The nature of blogging was irrepressible...
Phil Gyford has a really interesting post on his blog about the nature of blogging and how some blogs may need to accept more responsibility for the accuracy of their postings. He picks out BoingBoing for special criticism, mainly because...
At 'Defenestrated' on Friday 8 April 2005, 12:10 PM

in defense of BoingBoing (or why i'm not a journalist)
Last week, i posted a link to a news article about a high school banning blogging which Cory reposted on BoingBoing. In turn, Phil Gyford critiqued BoingBoing's journalism and Clay worried about about the way memes spread. The commentary on Gyford's po...
At 'apophenia' on Wednesday 6 April 2005, 9:39 PM

Banning blogging, 'Toothing, and Yoz
Phil Gyford, in With great audiences…, wonders what it takes to get a story propagated in the weblog world, and is afraid that the answer is merely ‘attention grabbing headline + a patina of Old Media validity.’ He writes about...
At 'Many-to-Many' on Tuesday 5 April 2005, 3:49 PM

bOING bOING and Internet Editorialists
Phil Gyford and Glassdog have recently leveled a few criticisms at bOING bOING. It's a measure of bOINg bOING's popularity that anyone even bothers to criticize. I've had problems with some of Cory's posts. Most notably his coverage of photographing...
At 'Temple of Me' on Monday 4 April 2005, 4:16 AM

BoingBoing under scrutiny
Phil Gifford offers this criticism of BoingBoing. Without slamming them he points out a few examples that I think he accurately portrays as representing a need for increasingly professional publications to have at least some sense of caution in their p...
At 'Embrash' on Monday 4 April 2005, 12:47 AM

Gyford: How BB should change
My friend Phil Gyford has written an essay for his blog on what he sees as the style changes necessary for Boing Boing's future as a commercial venture. I don't agree with everything he's written, but I don't disagree with it all either, and I'll certa...
At 'Boing Boing' on Sunday 3 April 2005, 7:19 PM