Blog Pile

Expertise, Idiocy, Monkeys: Write Blog Postings and Articles

Jakob Nielsen tosses gasoline on the flames of the blogosphere by claiming blog posting dilutes an arbitrary measure of “expertise”. A thousand blog monkeys were deeply hurt.

Oh Jacob Nielsen, you had to know upon writing “Write Articles, Not Blog Postings” the ire and furor it would stir up…. well, since he likely only reads articles by experts, perhaps not.

I first came across reference of the articles form some of the smackbacks in my RSS feeds, and in a reading of hiss article, he actually articulates and demonstrates his point rather clearly.

His argument- if you are that “expert” in your field of 1000 peers, in the 99% percentile, because blog posts can vary in quality, even among such shining, pristine experts, that sometimes a 14 year old kid in Korea will out write you sometime in the blogosphere. Horrors! So what one ought to do, according to the Book of Jakob, is to carefully horde, hone your expertise (so you can sell services to the 99% beneath your feet) and release it in slowly crafted perfect packages of articles.

This struck a chord in my, something I intended to get at somewhat in my Being There presentation, of questioning this old skool notion of expertise, as being quantifiable, and something embodied in a few high priests. Or, it is a myth of perfection, of purity, of a notion that is is Bad to Be Wrong (well, bad for the wallet). Is this the future or the past? Is that what the world needs, are experts of purity?

In great attempts, it is glorious event to fail.
Cassius Longinus

Or, put it another way, would Einsten have ever blogged?

So what is expertise according to Jakob?

We can measure expertise as some combination of intelligence, education, experience, correct methodology, professionalism (say, avoiding profanities and politics), and willingness to be frank. The exact metric doesn’t matter here; let’s just assume there’s a way to quantify how good people are within their field.

Oh, that is definitely quantifiable, yep.

Going past that rather large assumption, there is another one unsaid in his article (which reads like a blog post, IMHO) – that the sole reason for an expert’s activities are to further and advance his/her standing for financial gains. That is, the effort is meant to propel one’s business stature ahead, a game we are not all involved in by a large shot.

So in a way, it comes off as dismissive of the entire aspect of the blogosphere as endless “monkey” chattering, and I seriously, seriously doubt you will find It runs 100% counter to mine own experiences in my field, that by engaging in a stew where there is a wide mixture of “quality” and value among blog posts, wiki sites, social software exchanges, that I learn more about my field in a timely fashion, from me network of RSS feeds, twitterphiles, than any set of “expert articles”. Through my own monkey channels, I have greatly expanded my network of colleagues farther and wider than I would have through other channels.

I don’t really question the soundness of Jakob’s arguments, which if one could generalize, might be a call for more thorough and well thought our blog postings (and I could easily roll off a list of them that are more expert, more quality than even his).

But what I really find itching my hindside is this expectation of pure and perfect experts, the high priests who are never wrong. It sets some unrealistic goals and speaks to a world of cloistered, pure information, rather than a rich sea of simmering stew.

For me, I’ll take the monkeys, Any day. Write blog postings and articles (well I often decide what articles are worth reading from other people’s blog postings).

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Whoa, hold up. Even Neilsen admits that blogs have a place. His judgment is that scientific inquiry, writings that are intended for purposes that are more “erudite” than mass consumption should be more formalized. As much as I love blogs, their scientific and credibility standings still have not been elevated past Wikipedia. There are numerous blogs (i.e.: blogs only in the software sense) that are excellent academic resources…but I still use blogs and my feeds as a starting point for research, evaluating the Zeitgeist, and quick satiation of my information addiction. Neilsen contends that his peer, colleague, whatever should write articles if he wants to be taken seriously, I agree. If I were to write something on my blog that I thought was genius and should be published, then I would cut and paste it into a Word doc and submit it to a journal…I wouldn’t stick google ads on it and hope my traffic increases…in fact I would probably do both.

  2. Whew, you proved my point! I have zero expertise, and someone chips in to fill my blind spots.


    It makes sense, though at a casual glance, the article still has an odor of dismissiveness towards blogs

  3. You did hit on an interesting point though. He IS dismissive in his tone, but if you’ve read his books or listen to his keynotes…that’s just the way he is. He is very sure of his own assertions, but if he’s taken with a grain of salt…he’s got a unique and important perspective on usability. But look at his site! He is proud of not using any graphics except that little arrow. There is something to be said for fluff. It frames the content after all…everybody likes something that’s approachable. That is why we wrap presents, and that is also why blogs have arisen as a grassroots soapbox, they are more friendly and personal that leather-bound volume, and infinitely more accessible…but there is always a choice to click elsewhere.

  4. Nieson’s implicit assumption seems to be that the flow of information only flows one way from the expert to the rest of us. I’ve heard similar comments from “colleagues” who question whether students can learn anything useful from other students. The answer, provided by the smartest student in that class, was that no one has all the insights, that even the number one expert can learn from others. Isn’t that the way it is in the real world?

  5. I had a slightly different reaction to Nielsen’s recent article (not blog post) in Alertbox. I think he’s writing about how to get more than casual attention on the web. He suggests that there is a difference between writers who just need people to come to their site to buy something or just to “check in” and writers who want visitors to regularly return to their web pages because they actually value the content. I see parallels here with comparisons students make between their MySpace pages and blogs they develop on school social networking sites like Like Nielsen, I think those of us who are working with students to develop personally meaningful, researched blog posts are moving students from using the web to sell something (even if the commodity is friendship) to having something to say to their friends and the world. Nielsen writes:

    If you’re an expert who wants to live from adding to the world’s knowledge, you must go beyond the mainstream Web model of single page visits driven by search traffic. It’s easy enough to build a website that freeloaders will use, but that shouldn’t be your approach. You must change the game and create content that’s so valuable that business users are willing to pay for it.

    Write Articles, Not Blog Postings (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

    Maybe students aren’t looking for business users to pay for their content, but I feel like we have been successful with students when they build a cadre of readers who return because of the quality of the content of their blogs. Students become “experts” among their peers who do indeed begin to “live from adding to the world’s knowledge.” The distinction that Nielsen draws between quickly-written blog posts and in-depth content is instructive for teachers who are guiding their students toward becoming knowledge-producing bloggers.

    It might take you only an hour to write a blog posting on some current controversy, but a thousand other people can do that as well (in fact, they’ll sometimes do it better…) In contrast, in-depth content that takes much longer to create is beyond the abilities of the lesser experts. A thousand monkeys writing for 1,000 hours doesn’t add up to Shakespeare. They’ll actually create a thousand low-to-medium-quality postings that aren’t integrated and that don’t give readers a comprehensive understanding of the topic — even if those readers suffer through all 1,000 blogs. Thorough content’s added value can rise above the threshold where customers become willing to be separated from their money. This is the true measure of a sustainable business.

    Write Articles, Not Blog Postings (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

    Again, the goal is different, but the point is still clear. I agree that we want students to produce “thorough content” because the “added value” of their writing can “rise above the threshold” of merely connecting on the web. Students who learn to produce blogs with “in-depth content” maintain a “sustainable” group of followers. In the end it all gets back to one of my key philosophies of high school education. Online or in the classroom, most young people come to school and to the web to socialize. Our job is to give them something to socialize about.

  6. Thanks for the thoughtful comments Paul, especially your very last sentence which is at the heart of our roles as educators- to inspire, to motivate, to cultivate human potential and growth. Right on.

    In fact Write On.

    In fact, I could give a monkey’s toenail about whether we can encourage “good writing” in blogs, articles, journals, wiki pages– does the place where writing happen really matter? to misquote the lyrics of The Who in “Water”

    We need writing
    Good, good writing
    We need writing
    And maybe somebody’s lightning

    C’mon, gimme good writing
    C’mon, gimme good writing
    C’mon, gimme good writing

    So yes, I can see concern over quickly dashed blog posts, IM chatter, or 140 character cryptic twittering being seen as less than “good writing” (open to debate).

    I fell in love with writing due to an influential 10th grade English teacher who really got us to see the power and influence of written ideas. I had outstanding mentors in college who inspired, cajoled, motivated sounds written work. I spent a year in graduate school writing a 4 page published paper, as it was harder to write coherent science research in fewer words.

    I am full under the banner of Good Writing.

    But I fail to see why the form or place of the writing matters. Writing only articles does not make you a better writer nor does anything about the form of a blog post cause bad writers. Look at the incredible quality and quantity of writing like Henry Jenkins who use his blog as a forum for… Good Writing.

    So yes, I agree with Nielsen. Good writing is a Good Thing. I remain to be convinced that the container matters.

  7. There is a phenomenon about (this being midsummer) called a ‘tidy fairy’, which although she (must it always be a she?) is often good company, can also be pain in the neck. Tidy fairies suffer from OTD (obsessive tidiness disorder), and I think Nielsen is an example of the male of the species.

    Point is …
    Why is it either or? I write blogs (and wiki postings) to capture throughts as they emerge over the event horizon of my richly and chaotically interconnected brain. Sometimes I get responses, sometimes I go in and edit them myself. But its a process. Sometime later, I return to a posting, pick it up, dust it off, and start writing an article for publication based on a posting or two.

    Call it a safe deposit box if you like, for untidy minds. But does Nielsen understand the concept of fun? Having fun with ideas is part of how I develop ideas, or is this too frivolous an approach to the serious pursuit of money and fame? [I tend to write respectably ‘serious’ stuff about epistemology and the theory of knowledge].

  8. Thanks Chris- that’s some good stuff. And I take back a tiny little bit of the badness I lobbed at the Chronicle,

    Just keep on reading and let me know of the rare gems ;-)

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