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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

People are missing out on blogging goodness

Richard MacManus's review of Alltop on ReadWriteWeb this week caught my eye for two reasons - the site seems worthy of exploration and he took a swipe at mainstream media's portrayal of blogs.

Alltop is a simple-to-use site designed to make reading stories and blogs from across the web easier for people who've yet to get to grips with RSS feeds.

I've been wondering for a while how people who don't spend much time online can get a taste of all the good stuff out there.

I spent months meandering along link trails trying things out until I found a few sites I liked enough to stick with. It took a while to set up the paraphernalia too - RSS feeds, readers, bookmarks etc.

Not everyone has time to meander and Alltop looks like a good middle ground - somewhere web part-timers can dip their toe in and find new voices to read.

Alltop "imports the stories of the top news websites and blogs for any given topic and displays the headlines of the five most recent stories". There are roughly 40 topics including News, Culture, Living, and Geekery.

Richard gives the content a thumbs-up: "The... selection on Alltop is smart and savvy - these are quality blogs." I haven't looked too closely yet but can't see any reason to disagree.

Richard goes on to wonder whether blogs mixed in with news stories will appeal to web part-timers and lays some blame for scepticism about blogs at mainstream media's door:

"While some people recognise that blogs are as much a part of the news ecosystem
as mainstream media these days, many others still see blogging as a way to let
the world know what you had for breakfast.

"So a service like Alltop is unlikely to change the latter attitude, which is
unfortunately the most common one (not helped by mainstream media, which often
portrays blogs as superficial social networking sites)."

His comment hurts a bit but it's not entirely short of the mark.

A lot of news websites are getting better at serving up their own blogs and figuring out where blogs fit into the news smorgasbord. But reporters and columnists are often miles behind.

Especially risible is the tendency to characterise all blogs as the preserve of talentless writers with dull lives. The blogosphere I live in is a vibrant place brimming with well-articulated insight - often superior to that carried by newspapers on their comment and features pages.

The problem, I think, is that many reporters don't spend enough time online, don't take it seriously, wouldn't know an RSS feed from a keyword and consequently make themselves and their news organisations look out of touch.

Three cheers, then, for Wintec, AUT, Whitireia and other journalism schools in New Zealand which recognise the need for digital training and are starting to do something about it. More about their various intiatives later. Here's hoping the recognition catches on in newsrooms too.