Every “Vanity” Blog is Still an “Information” Blog

It seems my personal blog is the subject of some sort of school assignment:

“The first blog I went to was a vanity blog about a guy named Jason. He lives in Canada with his wife. He had recently gone to an amusement park and had pictures of him and his friends in go-carts. They were cute! Ironically he is a technology geek so that was funny in the fact that I am just the opposite and know very little. He talked about what he installed on his computer lately, about burning CD’s and his camera.”

The author, a woman named Terry who’s a mother and attending a school called COC (possibly College of the Canyons?), seemed to have an assignment about writing regarding two different types of blogs. “Vanity” blogs and “information” blogs. Her conclusion is that “information blogs” are better because they contain useful information, while vanity blogs are less useful because she has no desire to read about someone else’s life. While I can’t argue with the basic conclusion, the point that Terri is missing is that all blogs, even the so-called “vanity blogs”, contain information that’s useful to someone, somewhere.

[As a side note, I find this whole thing highly amusing because when I was teaching a class about online communications at Mount Royal College for two semesters, I had my students use Blogger to do little assignments like this…and here I am the subject of one!]

While I know there are blogs out there that are 100% pure vanity blogs (“This morning I had orange juice to drink. It was orange.”), most blogs contain more than that. It might be about an experience they had with a certain product that was awful, a band they went to see play that sucked, a CD they bought that they thought that was great, a store they went into that has a great sale…all of those things are information. Are they usable to the general public? No way – most people aren’t going to read a personal blog unless they know the person in some way, or unless they truly find that person fascinating. But that’s where the magic of search engines come in – they slurp up all the information they can, which is why no matter how obscure the information you’re looking for is, odds are good that someone, somewhere, has written something about it.

[Another aside: the advent of Facebook and MySpace means that most people are putting their “vanity content” onto their own personal pages in those communities, where, quite logically, their friends are the ones who read it. I think the pure vanity blog as a stand-alone entity is in rapid decline.]

Here’s an example of how information posted to my person blog was useful to others: one of the earliest blog entries I made was about the long passport lines in Calgary, and what a hassle it was to get a passport. One the surface, you could see that as some random guy posting about what he did that day. You might see that as a vanity post – which is pretty much the truth. When I posted it, it didn’t occur to me that anyone would find it particularly useful – I viewed it as a vanity entry, me making some noise about how ill-equipped I thought the government was to deal with the passport rush.

But look deeper…the post is the #9 search result in Google for the term “Calgary passport”. There are a few comments there from people who were asking me questions about it. The senior pastor at my church was using Google to look up passport information and found my blog and talked to me about it later. I had at least half a dozen people contact me privately to ask me for advice on how to best deal with the long lines. This one post I made became a micro-site about Calgary passports. Would anyone ever launch a blog dedicated to getting a passport in Calgary? No, of course not. Yet every blog entry about any topic contributes something to the body of knowledge that is the Web, and no knowledge added to it is truly random or useless.

One of the main reasons I started my blog was to have a place to blog about random bits of knowledge I discovered, or things I wanted to contribute to the body of knowledge that is the Internet. When I posted a scan of a blank airplane boarding pass, I never guessed that over 3000 people would visit that entry since I posted it. I made it simply because when I was searching for a blank boarding pass, it wasn’t out there, so I created it. I may have helped 3000 people who wanted the same thing. Someone, somewhere, might be looking for exactly what you’re posting about, even if it’s an opinion.

Someday search engines will be able to aggregate opinions about every topic imaginable and give summaries about that information. Imagine if 500 different blogs all posted on the same topic, say a new TV show that premiered the night before. Search engines today can already find those blog entries based on keyboards and content. Now imagine when they’ll be able to analyze the content of those blog posts, using keywords that are positive (great, awesome, amazing) or negative (sucked, bad acting, cheesy), and come up with a report saying that 86% of the 500 bloggers who posted about this TV show think it’s a great TV show. Maybe it’s worth your time to watch then? Even something as simple as a “vanity” post about what you thought about a TV show might be useful to someone else – all we need are the tools to tap into that knowledge (I have no doubt some PhD somewhere is working on exactly what I described).

So, to the student Terry who profiled my blog, I submit the following: all blogs are information blogs, because all communication is information in one way or another. Some blogs might be more useful than others, but even the smallest bit of information might be useful to someone else. I hope you do well in your classes Terry. 🙂