Patanjali’s Yoga Tweets

You know already that I consider Patanjali the greatest thinker ever, and that I have amused myself by pondering the resemblance between his medium, sutras, and the one you’re reading right now, blogging.

Now I come across this witty refinement of the idea. Patanjali, it turns out, was … a Tweeter!

I may yet have to eat my words about Twitter.

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A peek under the New Yorker’s kimono


For many sophisticated people, heaven is “an uninterrupted day or five to go through my … pile of The New Yorker magazines.” The publication has a special cachet: very different from–though no greater or less than–The Economist‘s, and indeed highly complementary. (We know from research that many coffee tables in many homes have both the New Yorker and The Economist on it.)

So I found myself fascinated by a rare lifting of the New Yorker’s kimono, as Dan Baum, a writer who got fired from the magazine, told his tale. (Thanks to Jag for pointing me to it.)

The first thing of interest is that Baum did this on Twitter. Yes, he tweeted his story in 140-character increments. If I may say so (redoubling my skepticism about Twitter), that part did not work. Twitter may be a great medium for some things, but not for storytelling. But Baum then consolidated the tweets here.

And what a very different culture the New Yorker‘s is from the one I live in at The Economist. First of all, the writers do not make a good living:

you’re not an employee, but rather a contractor. So there’s no health insurance, no 401K, and most of all, no guarantee of a job beyond one year. My gig was a straight dollars-for-words arrangement: 30,000 words a year for $90,000. And the contract was year-to-Year. Every September, I was up for review. Turns out, all New Yorker writers work this way, even the bigfeet.

Why do they put up with it? Apparently, because they are all convinced that

writing for the New Yorker is the ne plus ultra of journalism gigs.

This it may be. Certainly, the New Yorker’s writers can expect to rise to fame with their bylines and become stars, selling books and going on lecture tours. We at The Economist, of course, have no bylines. As a result, we ‘don’t do’ the star thing.

Another contrast: The offices of the New Yorker, according to Baum, are an eerie place where

Everybody whispers. It’s not exactly like being in a library; it’s more like being in a hospital room where somebody is dying. Like someone’s dying, and everybody feels a little guilty about it. There’s a weird tension to the place. If you raise your voice to normal level, heads pop up from cubicles.

That is not how I would describe the merrily eccentric and light-flooded Tower that serves as our head office in London. Is it the time the science correspondent came into the editorial meeting in drag, with nobody even batting an eyelid, that springs to mind? Or the time I had to duck as I passed a senior editor’s office to evade a flying object, dispatched with a scream that made the windows vibrate, only to hear the same editor invite me in with a cheerful and jovial demeanor, since he had just loosened up a bit and now felt envigorated?

The whole way they pitch stories at the New Yorker is one I do not recognize. They apparently write elaborate treatises just for the pitch, then wait to have it rejected or accepted. Baum even puts his successful and failed pitches up on his site. We on the other hand might casually mention or email a half-formed and tongue-in-cheek phrase (something that I might shout through a closing Tube door), and off we go. The other day I was skyping with my editor and said two words (“whither [name]”) under my breath. I just saw it on the official planning list.

But the most subtle and interesting bit in Baum’s account was the psychological tension between him and his editor, which he blames for his firing. They were discussing story ideas, and the writer knew more about his subject than the editor (which is inevitable). Baum thinks he made a mistake, because

I made him feel uninformed.

Granted: Baum got fired and is looking for reasons to apportion blame. But he is not slinging mud. This is the closest he gets to it.

In my twelve years, I cannot remember a single conversation at The Economist where one party felt threatened if the other ‘knew more’ about something. We thrive on talking to people who know more. How boring the obverse tends to be.

I am a fan of The New Yorker. It is a special place. So are we.

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Those who don’t get Twitter

I wrote about Evan Williams and his innovations, including the then-young Twitter, way back in 2007. And it’s my job to be up to date. But I must say that I just don’t … get it this time. Not the technology part, but the sociology. Why?

My editor feels the same way, and we feel guilty about it. So it came as a great relief to see that Jon Stewart is on our side.

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The “death” of blogging

The title is not meant literally, guys. It comes wrapped up in British irony. But I did write this piece in the current issue of The Economist about the topic.

I don’t usually use this book blog to point to my (day-job) articles. But I did get a few responses after the deadline from interesting people I tried to interview for this story. So, why not include their views here?

The tongue-in-cheek thesis of my little article is that

Blogging has entered the mainstream, which—as with every new medium in history—looks to its pioneers suspiciously like death …

Blogging, in fact, may “die” as PDAs have died–by becoming invisible and ubiquitous, as a feature in almost every mobile phone today.

Evan Williams

Evan Williams

Here, now, is what Evan Williams, co-founder of Blogger and now boss of Twitter, emailed me on the subject (excerpts). There is confusion, he says, between two things:

1) There’s also now a commercial blogging world. Commercial blogs do not get most of the traffic (in aggregate), but they’re what a lot of people think of when you say “blog.” But the commercial blogosphere and personal blogosphere are really different worlds. Obviously they overlap, but the motivations and activity of one does not reflect that of the other. Gawker’s cost cutting has nothing to do with Cheri Block Sabraw‘s desire to write things for teachers.

2) There are now more casual ways to scratch the same itch that blogging has done for many people. I.e., Facebook, Twitter, and a slew of other social software alternatives. This is definitely effecting the personal blogging world. It has effected my personal blogging — and that of many people I know. Twitter is now my go-to place to share a thought or a link. I still blog on occasion when I have something I can’t squeeze into 140 characters, but that’s rare, and for many people Twitter (or something else) will suffice nicely on its own. However, does that mean they’re not blogging? We’ve never labeled Twitter a “micro-blogging” service, but that’s certainly one of the primary use cases.

This gets to your point of being nowhere and everywhere, I suppose. There are tons of active blogs on MySpace and on Facebook (even though they call them “Notes”). Maybe these are just the new blogging platforms (among other things). I suppose it is PDA-like that blogs are being subsumed into social networks, like PDAs got subsumed into smartphones.

But PDAs went away as stand-alone devices, because there came a point where they held zero advantage over a smartphone. With stand-alone blogs, that may be true for the most casual users, but not for millions of otheres. There are still many advantages to a stand-alone blog: Your own brand, domain, design, etc. Creating a meaningful, independent voice on web, on which can be launched a movement, a brand, a career, or simply a good story, is best done with a stand-alone blog.


Charlene Li

Charlene Li

I also pinged Charlene Li, who is perhaps the best social-media analyst out there, formerly at Forrester, now at Altimeter Group.

If you think about blogging as a specific content publishing tool and formatting of content, then yes, it is being usurped by businesses and traditional media companies. In fact, traditional online content management systems and collaboration suites like Sharepoint are integrating blogging into their platforms.

But if you think of blogging as a “mindset”, then it’s not only healthy, but growing by leaps and bounds. In this way, I distinguish between a corporate blog that does nothing more than publish their press releases (but has not comments) and a blog written from a personal perspective but clearly associated and benefiting a company. Likewise, there are Twitter feeds from companies that are just RSS feeds, while @comcastcares is a genuine person at Comcast who is establishing a relationship with other Twitterers.

In the end, blogging grew because people used it as a way to connect with people and develop relationships. If it *evolves* into new formats, then it’s staying healthy, rather than stagnating.

Chris Alden

And I pinged Chris Alden, the CEO of Six Apart (WordPress’s biggest rival). Excerpts from his reply:

While the hypothesis that blogging is past its prime may be provocative,
it’s not supported by the facts. Our products continue to grow across
the board — we’ve seen more demand for blogging than ever before — and
I believe our competitors are growing too.

It may be that blog “hype” has passed its prime, as blogging has
followed the typical hype cycle and is now in the enlightenment phase
according to Gartner, but that is usually when the real growth actually

We are seeing an explosion of ways in which people and corporations are
using blogs, both for internal and external purposes, and individual
blogging, alive and well, is also evolving. Publishers, businesses, and
individuals now look to blog software and service to run much more of
their web site, in some cases using MT for their entire web CMS
platform, and integrate blogging and social media in a more profound

It is of course true that newer services like Twitter have captured the
time and attention of many bloggers, and some have slowed their
traditional blogging in favor of communicating with friends through
tweets, not blog posts. But we view these as complimentary, not
competing, trends. More often than not, Twitter works in conjunction
with blogs, and many bloggers use Twitter as a new form of RSS — a way
to alert friends that there is a new blogs post. Very often Tweets refer
to blog posts, and vice versa.

We believe that blogging will have as disruptive an impact on the
mainstream social networks as it had on mainstream media. When it comes
to media, blogs were once seen as an adversary, but are now indelibly
part of the media landscape. The same type of adversarial thinking seems
to be in vogue where folks are assuming that we are seeing replacement
technologies battling it out. It sort of reminds us of the bricks/click
debates of the late 1990s. Of course we learned then that the answer
wasn’t either one or the other, but both.

In fact, blogging and social networking actually started together.
LiveJournal had both blogging and friending features, and was created in
1999. It so happens that blogging services, such as Blogger, TypePad,
and WordPress, then emerged focused on the publishing side. Then another
branch grew from that tree when Friendster, MySpace, and Facebook
focused on the social networking aspect…

The story isn’t about the passing of one trend to another, but the
evolution of blogging, and in some ways a return to its roots, and the
integration of blogging with many other forms of social media. …


Thanks to all three of you, and sorry I didn’t have time to get you into the article. (Two of you are mentioned, however.) I actually think that the four of us agree almost entirely, and that you’ve colored in the subtleties.

I mean, how could blogging be “dead” if even … Malaysia’s Mahathir now blogs!!!!

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