Risk-taking blogs: Living on the edge
- 22 October, 2007 10:26
Standing on the edge of the blogosphere, you can see some pretty strange sights (and sites). Pillows that look like they are stained with blood, a debate about national borders and journalism ethics, and even one site commenting on the staff salary levels of another (now that is odd).
For blogs like Valleywag and Gawker, risk-taking is routine -- even part of their reason to exist. It's obvious when they post about George Clooney's medical record that they are stirring up controversy. Other sites -- such as the less commonly known Daily Awesome or the video blog Rocketboom -- take risks by posting pictures and video clips that traditional media would never touch. A few tech blogs are risky in that they are not afraid to call something ugly, confusing or useless (see Daring Fireball).
Here are some of the riskier blogs on the Web, along with a few examples of what makes them that way.
A classic blog in the sense that it really is a daily journal of the owner's life (including kids, illness, finances and husband), Dooce.com is controversial only because it's honest about the mundane. Posts about mental illness, skin cancer, sex, Mormonism and other subjects are sometimes over-the-top -- in some cases, causing virulent reactions from readers. Interestingly, in the comments for the more unconventional posts, such as this one, where the blogger is wearing a shirt about meat, the comments are generally supportive and sympathetic.
This Manhattan gossip blog (and publishing home of blogs such as Gizmodo and Kotaku) doesn't necessarily view itself as controversial or vengeful, but posts tend to be filled with gossip. "We're not trying to be inflammatory," says managing editor Choire Sicha. "We definitely get a lot of mail, some of it a little frightening, when we discuss race, ethnicity and religion."
One of the most unusual sites on the Web, Boing Boing just recently updated its design (it's now much easier to read) and has recently started posting video blogs. They cover a wild variety of topics, from giant squids to privacy rights to Christian comic books, usually with a keen eye for exposing anything misleading or naive.
Posters such as Cory Doctorow (a science fiction writer and former Electronic Frontier Foundation director) and founder Mark Frauenfelder cover the dark side of the media, covering unusual gadgets and toys such as a Tonka truck cutlery set.
"Once I blogged photos of pillows that looked like pools of blood,"says Frauenfelder. "My timing was bad, because it was the day after the Virginia Tech shootings, and some readers thought the photos were of dead students. I posted it before I realized people might connect the two. I got a bunch of angry e-mails. I took the images down right away, but a few people remained apoplectic."
Valleywag is essentially an investigative reporting blog that "outs" companies that do dumb things, or at least the shenanigans of people at really popular corporations (such as Google Inc.). One recent post about a Google employee who claimed to invent AdWords led to a series of scathing comments from readers and a rebuttal from Google employees. ("The reviewer on Valleywag needs to go back to school to learn to read," said one commenter.)
Part of the risk-taking nature of Valleywag is that the site reports on well-known company officials and other bloggers, not just untouchable Hollywood celebrities. A post about Robert Scoble, in which he was Photoshopped to look like a troll, makes a jab at his claims about not seeking high traffic.
Your Daily Awesome
Another unusual site, Your Daily Awesome is risk-taking in that the images are sometimes mesmerizing and jarring. On more conventional sites you probably won't see photos of Buster Keaton riding a donkey, big whites sheets used as a backdrop for real trees or "brain maps". Scans of old books like the environmental classic What On Earth Are We Doing? and dreamy landscape photographs (shot in a large aquarium tank) are also common. In fact, the images are often inspiring because they are so rarely featured on any other sites.
Focused mostly on gaming, G4 -- TheFeed is prone to post techie gossip and game rumors, gadget news and unusual tech toys. It's usually a good source for information about game cancellations and news. The site posted about the Bungie North America split from Microsoft, for example, before some of the other game news outlets.
"Because G4TV.com's TheFeed blog has a heavy gaming focus, anything we post about the 'console wars' between the Xbox 360, the PS3 and the Nintendo Wii elicits an immediate, contentious and emotional response from our readers," says Robert Juster, G4TV vice president of new media and interactive. "We've been angrily accused of being on the payroll of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, often by different readers reacting to the exact same post."
Other risk-taking blogs:
Gary Weiss isn't really a blogger -- he's a print journalist and book author -- but his blog is incisive and often cutting-edge when it comes to Wall Street and tech companies. Posts about Overstock.com Inc. caused a stir not only with company officials, but also with readers and other reporters.
The only video blog in our list, Rocketboom tends to report on the "other side" of the news, the unconventional stories that mainstream newspaper and television avoid, such as a report in July on the fence/wall constructed around Israel.
Another investigative blog, Share Sleuth focuses on stock fraud and the illegal practices of companies, partly as a way to guide investors. Recent reports on Xenthanol even led to a Wired Magazine feature story.
For an Apple-centric site that reports on new products and software to the Macintosh faithful, Daring Fireball is also not afraid to take the company to task on software foibles.
John Brandon is a freelance writer and book author who worked as an IT manager for 10 years.