Where are they now?
Thursday, June 3rd, 2004
What news from Hiawatha Bray, who wrote in a March 2002 article for the Boston Globe that “blogging is an ephemeral fad, destined to burn itself out in a year or two.” The original article has disappeared into the Globe’s archives, but its trace is here. Isn’t it time to revisit that prediction Hiawatha?
And from April 2002, there’s this subtler but no less erroneous prediction by a Smith college economics professor,
People work for companies when it’s too difficult to provide goods and services directly to the marketplace. For example, print newspaper columnists could theoretically sell their works directly to consumers. They could go door to door selling their opinions for, say, two cents a copy. Obviously, it would be too difficult for a print columnist to physically distribute his writings directly to households. It’s far easier for him to join a newspaper and rely upon the entire paper being sold to his readers.
Blogging has succeeded because it has made it possible for a solo web journalist to create and distribute his research, reporting, and written opinions. A few years ago a good writer who lacked programming skills would not have been able to create a decent news web site. The efficient way to publish news on the web was for journalists to band together in some media company and have this company provide the necessary computer expertise. Because of Blogger, it’s now feasible for someone who is only mildly computer literate to create his own professional-looking regularly updated web site. Blogger has reduced the need for media companies because individual journalists can now physically produce and distribute their own content. Alas, Blogger has not eliminated the benefit to journalists of working for firms.
The weakness of solo blogging can be illuminated by considering why professors work for colleges. Imagine a world where there are no colleges, only professors. Professors would advertise their classes and students would pick which classes to take and directly pay their teachers. Professors could still issue grades and some organization could determine when a student has taken enough classes to qualify as a “college” graduate.
Information costs are the primary reason this solo operator model of higher education is impractical. It would be too difficult for a student to determine which professors are competent to teach. It’s far more efficient for the student to pick a college and for the college to incur the information costs of assessing professors’ abilities.
To deconstruct the argument: the reason we can’t eliminate colleges/newspapers is NOT that professors/journalists would lose their tenure, it is that students/readers couldn’t be sure they were getting a good eduction. In hindsight, it seems Smith isn’t living up to its duties of “assessing professors’ [predictive] abilities.”
And finally, last week was the second anniversary of my manifesto “Blogonomics : making a living from blogging.” Seems like decades ago. Now that battle-cry seems mildy credible, but as the two blurbs above indicate, sounded idiotic at the time.