PICNIC07 – Cory Doctorow Q&A at the European Bloggers (Un)Conference

Thursday and Friday the European Bloggers (Un)Conference was held at the PICNIC conference and festival. Cory Doctorow attended for an hour to answer questions from the audience about Boing Boing. A lot of these questions concerned the business model and commercial side of the famous blog. Boing Boing is often mistaken for a magazine but it is a blog that is not concerned with making the most money possible. The question of what the revenue of Boing Boing is is not answered with numbers but with the statement that it makes a pretty good living for the four of them. They have a marketing company that handles the commercial side for them.

PICNIC07 - Cory Doctorow

Boing Boing’s editorial strategy
Concerning the editorial side of Boing Boing they don’t have an official position on topics. There is not one way to write pieces and everyone is entitled to write in their own voice. This is illustrated in several pieces on the iPhone where one editor wrote a piece on the iPhone as a design object. Cory disagreed with the iPhone being a design object and also thought that Apple is disrespectful to its users for locking the iPhone. This made him decide that he didn’t want to promote the iPhone.

Boing Boing as an ideal employer
Because there is no editorial overhead different pieces with different voices appear on Boing Boing. The editors just write about what they want and because there is very little inter-editorial conversation it might happen that someone else has already written about the same topic. Cory doesn’t mind if this happens as they all have their own voices and opinions. In the first six years of Boing Boing’s existence the editors did not meet up once. Since then they have only been in the same room together five times and have had approximately 20-25 phone calls. Cory likes this way of working and calls Boing Boing his ideal employer.

Why Boing Boing is the number one blog

PICNIC07 - Cory Doctorow Cory gives us an insight to why he thinks Boing Boing is the number one blog. First of all he hopes they have great taste and write well.

Second point is that they use headlines in a way that is descriptive instead of clever. Cory thinks of headlines as Google search queries and results. It is also important to think of how headlines will look in RSS feedreaders. He illustrates his point with a piece on 9/11. While a newspaper or a magazine would use a headline such as “Bastards!” Boing Boing rather uses a headline that is descriptive. A headline must be able to stand on its one, it must immediately be clear what the post is about. He suggests reading the microcontent guidelines and how to write for search engines.

The third issue is that Boing Boing has been around for a long time which means they have a lot of inlinks. This makes it easier to be found and because the rich get richer they receive a lot of new inlinks. It is not fair but Boing Boing considers itself lucky.

Creative Commons in RSS feeds
Cory has a nice point about the nonsense of including a Creative Commons license in your RSS feed. He says that RSS feeds have an implied license in them that allows others to aggregate it because you decide for yourself that you want to send it out. It is a public URL that can be accessed and aggregated by anyone. This is an interesting standpoint in the debate about splogs and content aggregation.

Comments and nofollow on Boing Boing
Boing Boing recently brought back the ability to comment and I noticed Boing Boing removed the nofollow attribute.

nofollow is a non-standard HTML attribute value used to instruct search engines that a hyperlink should not influence the link target’s ranking in the search engine’s index. It is intended to reduce the effectiveness of certain types of spamdexing, thereby improving the quality of search engine results and preventing spamdexing from occurring in the first place. (Wikipedia)

The nofollow attribute is a default for blog software such as WordPress and Movable Type (that runs Boing Boing.) I asked Cory if Boing Boing removed the nofollow on purpose. He didn’t hear any of the people at Boing Boing say anything about the removal of nofollow but he thinks their technical people are sensible enough to remove it. The nofollow attribute was implemented in 2005 by Google (and other major companies including Yahoo, WordPress and Movable Type) to fight comment spam but two years later it is definitely not the solution. It does however tell your commenter that his or her link is not worth anything. It also has major consequences for the indexing and construction of the blogosphere. I suggested that as the number one blog that Boing Boing could maybe stand up to Google for a reconsideration of the nofollow politics. Unfortunately Cory has enough issues with Google so he doesn’t need a tenth issue. He did however offer to sign a petition though so I will keep you updated on that! I am currently doing research with Michael Stevenson on the nofollow politics and I hope we will be able to present you some interesting findings this winter.

Michael Stevenson also recently wrote a nice piece on the history of Boing Boing titled 93 Wonderful Things: an illustrated review of BoingBoing.

8 thoughts on “PICNIC07 – Cory Doctorow Q&A at the European Bloggers (Un)Conference

  1. At YouTube an interview with Doctorow, at about:blank we already mentioned it:


    He´s saying the same, it seems, but a little bit more compact.
    I should have known that you would attend the Unconference too, I would have loved you liveblogging on a:b on what was happening there. Of course if you´d liked doing so. :-)

  2. Hilarious video with all those people blocking the view. The “Bastards!” example is obviously his favorite one :)

    I only attended the Cory Doctorow session at (Un)Conference because I was too busy with our RFID Photo Booth. I’ll keep you informed on my conference hopping!

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