Monday, January 10, 2005

AOL Vs. the "Real" Blogosphere

I came across a few things online today that got me feeling all defensive.  Let me tell you about 'em.

A blog called Sigmund, Carl and Alfred (as in Freud, Jung and Adler, respectively) had a deliberately provocative posting about the different behavior and attitudes of female versus male bloggers.  I wrote a very mild comment refuting this, and mentioned AOL in passing.  Some other commenter then had the following knee jerk reaction:

"Uh oh, AOLer sighting... "

That's it. That's the whole comment.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I can only assume that this person subscribes to the old newsgroup attitude (and now bloggers' attitude) that AOL is not the "real" Internet, and that AOL members are technophobic dunderheads who need AOL to do all the work for them. This idea seems to have carried over from the Usernet era to the brave new world of blogging.  Somehow, an AOL Journal is not quite respectable, not quite a "real" blog. I'm guessing that people think AOL-J is something you have because you don't know how to write HTML or use (much less customize) a Blogger template.  From what I've seen, the same attitude exists toward LiveJournal, albeit not as fervently.

     Powered by Blogger

Part of this is a technical compatability problem.  AOL-J and LJ don't mesh well with some blogging features used elsewhere.  I mentioned before that BlogShares doesn't track AOL-J automatically, and since then I've noticed that BlogExplosion was initially unable to put this journal in a frame for verification purposes. LiveJournal doesn't have a good place to put all those little buttons and banners advertising all those blogging cross-promotion schemes.  AOL Journals don't do this well, either, simply because the About Me area, the only place for such things, has a painfully cramped character limit.

But this says nothing about the intelligence or technical competence of AOL Journalers, let alone how interesting or worthwhile the blog may be.  I've been on AOL since 1993, and Prodigy before that, and never, ever subscribed to a plain vanilla ISP such as Earthlink or NetZero.  Yet I know more about computers than the rest of my office put together (which, granted, says more about them than about me). And I can't hold a candle to the technical expertise of Becky and others. There's plenty of "real Internet" savvy in AOL-J Land. I've seen lots of AOL Journals that are highly customized, with graphics in the sidebars, colors and backgrounds and photos in the entries.  (Not that that's the only thing that matters in judging a good blog.  It isn't.)

By the same token, I've seen blogs that use the same ugly orange Blogger template that Father Smith originally chose for St. Michael's, or an all black template, or something equally unattractive and uninspired.  These blogs have been never customized with art or photos in the template or the entries, or even an alternative font.  So who are the "real" bloggers?  Answer: we all are.  In fact, within the technical limitations, there are proportionately as many good users of visual blog elements on AOL as off AOL, and as many good writers, and as many people who know that the word it's should only be employed to mean "it is," never "belonging to it."

Furthermore, technical limitations aside, AOL is an addition to the blogging experience, not a subtraction from it.  As we've all had occasion to find out, AOL-J Land is a community.  We link to each other, read each other's postings, and participate in the same Weekend Assignments, courtesy of John Scalzi and AOL.  We celebrate holidays and milestones together. We care when someone's computer is stolen, and someone else needs to rescue her brother's dogs from a shelter hundreds of miles away.  We are supportive to each other, especially to those who especially need that support.  In a way, AOL-J Land is a kinder, gentler blogosphere than the big  one out there.  We get a few trolls, but really, overall, our version seems especially friendly and polite.

So I say unto you, "brethren and sisteren" (that's a Sondheim quote): go out into the greater blogosphere, and carry the AOL-J torch with you.  Show the people that a $9.95 monthly connection does not confer greater computer literacy than  a more expensive connection to a content provider such as AOL. Use blog listings and intelligent comments to expose your journals to other bloggers.  Perhaps then they will see that AOL Journals - and journalers - can be worthwhile after all.

Or am I overreacting again?


P.S. I almost forgot to mention: the other thing I saw that made me feel defensive was an entry about how overused the word "Musings" is in blog titles.  He's got me there.  But by the time I discovered this unfortunate fact, I'd aready committed to the title of this journal.  Besides, there's really no better title to describe what I'm trying to convey: entries inspired by the private world inside my head.


sistercdr said...

I hate some of the blog snobbery I've seen in other sites.  I don't think you've overreacted.  I think you're dead on target.  Personally, I am technical dunderhead.  That doesn't matter to me.  I blog because I enjoy the writing, and it's motivating me to improve my technical skills.  If someone doesn't like that, too bad.

shellys555 said...

A lot of AOL's rep is of its own making. First, remember that AOL is johnny-come-lately to blogging after having gotten the rep as not being the "real" internet. AOL needed years to even make getting on the net easy. It had preferred you use its own content, not go elsewhere, and I think that still holds for a lot of things.

Frankly, I was surprised AOL journals have an automatic rss feed, which is one of the few features it managed to build in. But as you pointed out, there are a lot of features that can't be added because AOL leaves no place for them. LJ is similar but the new ownership there might help. There's the possibility LJ will add trackback as a result. But AOL, while improving some things, won't do others, such as allow tables in entries or increase the All About Me character limit. And of course, there's TOS, which means folks had to leave AOL and blog elsewhere when their content got too hot for AOL.

I've read the Sigmund, Carl and Alfred blog. It's okay, but not something I'd read if it didn't come up on BE. And just remember, to some folks in the greater blogosphere, unless you blog about politics and the human condition, you're not a real blogger, either. :)

justcherie said...

Overreacting?  I don't think so!  Like you, I am a long-time AOL member (Since '93, too, I believe) and I get insulted when people assume AOL is only for idiots who don't know anything about computers.  I do get frustrated with the limitations of AOL journals, but not enough to go elsewhere yet.  Can I write about what's on my mind?  Yep.  Then it works for me!  I like consistency, I like having the same email address since AOL first connected to the internet.  I like having the same webpage URLs since AOL first started giving us webspace!  There are lots of reasons why a technically savvy person would want to stay on AOL!

plittle said...

I think the perception is that the ratio of Stay-at-home-moms and young teen-aged journalers to the community as a whole is higher on AOL by several orders of magnitude than on any other service. This is a simple representation of AOL's client base. I have managed to get myself linked on several non-AOL blogs run by friends and internet accquaintances. Does that translate into me getting read by more non-AOL readers? There's just no way to know. They can't leave comments, and I can't track IP addresses.

memphislove said...

Wow, great journal...really made me think.  You are a great writer :)


ryanagi said...

Amen sisteren! ;-)  I must admit, in my tech support days I would often refer the techno-dunderheads to AOL as their ISP because it was so easy to set up and use. But here I am. A member since 1995 myself. I was a beta tester of AT&T's Worldnet service. Guess what...I still have AOL and not Worldnet. What does that mean? Damned if I know. But I am an uber geek and proud of it. ;-) I kind of like our little community. If the outsiders want in, long as they play nice.

sakishler said...

I like how that person's comment came even AFTER (perhaps BECAUSE) you explicity said this:

"Besides, gross generalizations and stereotyping give me a pain."

Real insightful response from - what? The Blog Ivy League (is AOL the junior college of blogging)?

Well, if they want to shoot themselves in the foot and deprive themselves of some of the most thoughtful and entertaining blogging around, be our guests.

Now I'm gonna look up what show that Sondheim quote is from!

deabvt said...

{{{ Karen }}}
I guess I`m just a simple man. The AOL community is just fine for me.

alphawoman1 said...

Holy mackerel, can you write!  With passion.  Stereotyping is a type of prejudice.  

xzasporated1 said...

I also find it egotistical and, well, ignorant, that those outside of AOL-J actually believe that AOL-J'ers are the outsiders in the "real" blogosphere.  Who's to say they're not, in actuality, the lesser of the two.  (Dang, I wish I could italicize in comments.)  They presume that we want to be included in the same blogranks, when, in fact, I'm quite happy exactly where I am.  And I would hazard a guess than I am not the only one who feels that way.

Excellent "musings."

~~ jennifer

viviansullinwank said...

{{{{{ Karen}}}}}.

No, I don't think you're overacting at all. I thank you for coming to our defense and for pointing out what makes AOL-Journals special....the people who reside here and make this a wonderful community.  I was happy to see that John Scalzi, who has dual citizenship in the blog galaxy, discussed your entry in his blog today.  I take great pride and enjoyment in having an AOL journal.  I've been to some of the other places that some people who have had to or wanted to leave J-Land have gone to.  Nothing about any of them has made me want to switch.

I'm not naive enough to think that we have a perfect blog application here, but I have great hopes that some of the things we've told AOL that we want, will be implemented in time.  We've already had success in finding out things we could do with our journals that the designers hadn't imagined we would or could do and so they incorporated them into AOL journals and then followed up with more things last year when the second/enhanced version of AOL journals was released! I wonder how many of the folks outside of J-Land can say they've influenced the design of their blogs!

When I am verbose aren't I?!  :)   Thanks again, Karen, for this wonderful entry!


andreakingme said...

Well said, Karen. Certainly better than I would have said.

Meanwhile, here I sat all warm and snug, posting comments in whatever blog or Journal that caught my eye (not all of them AOL Journals), never once suspecting that just because I sign on through AOL, I must be less worthy than someone coming in through another ISP. Shall I go crawl under a rock now? Hah! I think NOT.

That said, I'm happy with AOL for more than one reason. Nothing anyone else can say will change that. Just let 'em waste their time and words trying.

shellys555 said...

[I wonder how many of the folks outside of J-Land can say they've influenced the design of their blogs!]

Uh, that would be Blogger. They (Google's Blogger team) got a lot of feedback from users after Google bought Pyra and a lot of the changes were introduced in early summer last year.

And of course, people who use blogging software (online or on their PCs) that allow for full customization get a lot of say on the look of things and can add more outside services than AOL can, ie Haloscan comments and trackback and similar commenting services, as well as as many blog rings as they want.

I'm an AOL journaler and proud of my AOL journals, but I also blog on LJ and Blogger and I love them too, especially the flexibility and versatility Blogger offers me to put what I want onto my blogs. And I'm still waiting for AOL to increase the character limit in All About Me.

chittarabunny129 said...

What do you mean MUSINGS is overused?! *Shrugs* And here I thought i was being original! Check out my tagline:


nikki247 said...

Ugh.  I feel your pain.  I remember when I first got my AOL journal and I was showing everyone how easy it was to use - a lot of my computer geek friends frowned upon using AOL and said that using blogger and other journal "machines" were better.  Well, after going to blogger, then to AOL, then back to blogger - I am finally stuck with AOL.  I don't know - I just like IT and the community better ;)