This is something I do at the end of every year, at least for the last five years or so.
I try to pick one person who exemplifies the blogging spirit, which is a multi-faceted thing. So each year there’s been one face we take a look at. In the past we’ve looked at Joel Spolsky, NakedJen, Jay Rosen, Julian Assange and Seth Godin.
These days I start thinking about BOTY in the summer. I know no one is waiting to hear who won, but it’s an important process for me, because it helps me understand what blogging is and isn’t. And this year’s decision came down to two people, and in the decision is some truth about what blogging is, I hope.
First, I thought it should be Nate Silver, who is most certainly a blogger, even though his writing now appears on nytimes.com. I thought it would be a good idea to say that blogging can take place even at a famous newspaper, even by someone who is paid to blog. Blogging isn’t always an amateur thing, even though I strongly associate the word with the deed. Amateur means it’s done for love, not money. Good blogging is amateur. But then so is good everything, pretty much. I don’t really care how much money you made writing that book or movie script. I care about what it evoked for me, what you said, what it proved. On those grounds Nate Silver certainly belongs in the BOTY seat for this year. He proved that an individual with his brain and beliefs can conquer all the paid pundits the pros can muster. Politically and spiritually Nate is a carrier of The Cause. Believe your eyes and ears, and your mind, not conventional wisdom. But in the end, I believe his accomplishments in 2012 were not about his blogging. The blogging was a means to a different end. If there’s an award for statistical modeler of the year, that award should go to Nate, without contest.
My choice for BOTY is someone you might not have heard of, unless you were a techie in the early days of the web. If so, then you defintely know Philip Greenspun. He was a blogger before there were blogs, writing his own web CMS so he could tell the stories of his photography, flying, his beautiful dog, teaching at MIT, and his startup. It was when he wrote about the startup that he caught my attention. I remember reading the story of the people, his mistakes with investors, what he learned. Oh man, this guy is a blogger, for sure! But he wasn’t writing on an official blog. Yet.
- At the time I said: “I think we’re really onto something here. The people are doing their own press, and doing it damned well. Thanks to Philip Greenspun for showing us how it’s done, and thanks for the courage to state your case so clearly. Amateur journalism at its best.”
That came later when we started a blogging server at Berkman Center in 2003. It was probably at one of his Sunday afternoon parties in his Cambridge apartment when I said he should get a blog on our server. He did, and it’s still there, and he’s still writing. And it’s great stuff. When a Greenspun post appears in my river, I post it to my linkblog to be sure I read it. His politics and mine are almost 180 degrees opposed, but he’s still a read, because you can see how a brilliant mind can take the same facts, and get to a totally different destination. And when it comes to aviation, or any of the practical subjects he writes about, there’s always a lot of wisdom, and entertainment, in a Greenspun post.
This is what I meant by the unedited voice of a person. That’s what a blog is. That’s all you have to do to be a blogger. But to be a great blogger, you must have something to say. That’s Greenspun, for sure.