Friday, January 20, 2012

Who Are You?

If you're a Syrian dissident in Homs writing a blog about the uprising there, I can see why you might want to be anonymous. But if you're a guy in Indiana writing about what whiskeys you like, why all the secrecy?

When I check out a new whiskey blog, I invariably want to know something about the person or persons writing it. I look for an 'about' tab, or something similar. Sometimes they are obvious, sometimes the information is there but you have to dig for it. Often there is nothing, no biography, no statement of purpose beyond "I started this blog to write about things I like to write about."

So many people are writing whiskey blogs these days, I need some criteria for deciding which ones to follow. Sure, one can judge the writing quality, and I will discard something if it's poorly written. (Life's too short.) But in a crowded field, shouldn't you do something to try to stand out? What's your point of view? Your raison d'ĂȘtre?

If you've decided to write anonymously, tell me why.

Does all this casual anonymity bother anyone else? Assuming you like this blog, would you like it just as well if you had no idea who writes it? Would you like it better? Especially if the blogger offers opinions, and reviews are the mainstay of most other whiskey blogs, I want to know the writer's qualifications. Is that weird? Or are qualifications also passe?

From the earliest days of the internet, people have used handles. When bandwidth was dear, a unique handle was better than a full name as a way to distinguish people with similar names from each other. It wasn't necessarily about anonymity. In many cases, the community was small and the participants all knew each other through other channels.

On bulletin boards, you see the same names often enough that you get to know them as individuals even if you don't know anything tangible about them. You learn who usually has something worthwhile to say and who doesn't. You can do the same thing with blogs, I suppose.

Writing anonymously is almost unheard of in old media, except in the case of news reporting. The Economist, which I love, is rare in that no writer is ever credited. Even commentators use aliases, house names whose bearers can change without notice. You're supposed to accept the credibility of the institution itself. Okay, fine, but The Economist is 169 years old. "Sippy Likes Whiskey" is not.

Isn't there something to be said for signing your name to your ideas? Claiming them? Being willing to defend them? Don't you tend to take yourself more seriously when you have some exposure? Does anonymity make people more likely to behave irresponsibly?

Anonymity on the web seems so much the rule that people don't even think about it. I wish they would. That's all I'm saying.


Tim Davis said...

Anonymity is the hallmark of the misbehaved.

Just like road-rage - where you are attacking nameless, virtually faceless foes, people who want go "public" on the 'net are typically not worth listening to... (there are exceptions, of course, but generally this is true).

My company's blog has a policy of pulling anonymous comments - we don't care how volatile or critical you are IF you stand by your comments. But if you won't then we will remove your posts.

I think too many folks look at blog & forum comments as "throw away" statements - they aren't said with any real malice or to change the world, and I get that - why put your "name" out there for a 3-4 line comment that requires a sign-up, etc.

But at the same time, if you are disputing somebody who has identified themselves and stands by their words, you should be required to do the same.

AaronWF said...

Back in the old media days it was the writer's job to write; they left the printing to printers. A writer in the new media must also be somewhat tech savvy if they care to 'publish' their writing, and although I'm a fairly tech savvy guy, WordPress bugs the hell out of me. I could spend hours, days, weeks researching and learning how to use and personalize my blog, but it drives me crazy. I could have sworn that I wrote 'About' info a few weeks ago, but lo and behold I can't find it anywhere. Even just now, I've wasted 40 minutes trying to figure out how to put an 'About' link on my site and I can't figure it out!

There comes a point where I have to just abandon figuring out the tech tweaking and focus on my reason for writing a blog in the first place: to practice writing.

I can sympathize with your desire to know more about people whose work you read, and certainly anyone who wants to be taken seriously should provide context for their content, but I also think that there are people who write only for themselves or for their friends, and I would say most people who care about writing have ambiguous feelings about sharing their work in general.

Also, I don't trust the internet. Some bloggers put their home address and phone number on their site for all to see. Maybe I'm a paranoid cynic, but I'm not about to share that information with the millions of anonymous eyes that have access to it. Perhaps the fact that I've always lived in densely-packed urban areas has shaped me this way. The nature of identity has changed with the internet, and social media continues to evolve the definition and consequences of identity. It's a lot to keep track of.

Tim Dellinger said...

While I enjoy reading (and in some ways agree with) your sentiments here, I'm a bit disappointed that Chuck Cowdery the Historian has overlooked the rich and fascinating history of anonymous and psuedonymous publishing in Old Media. From Poor Richard to Richard Bauchman, wherever the printed word has been found, so too has been found those who for some reason or another conceal their authorship!

Chuck Cowdery said...

Which I think I acknowledged in the first line of my post.

Also, I've never claimed to be a historian. At best I am a history writer.

Jordan said...

I use my real name, but don't provide a lot of information on my profile page. I don't have anything that could be considered a proper qualification, just an interest in talking about drinks with other people. Unless you're a company rep, I'm not sure what reasons a blogger is going to have beyond enjoying the process.

Terry Lozoff said...

I've been thinking a lot about this post over the past week, Chuck. And I think you make some absolutely valid points. Especially since a blogger is really more than the words they write on their blog these days. They are a personality around the web - on facebook, twitter, comment threads...

I've kept relative anonymity on my blog drinkinsider over the past year. It had nothing to do with not wanting to share my identity. But, having clients in the alcohol space, i felt it best to keep a line between.

But, the more i thought about it the more i agreed with you. time to put the money where the mouth is. needless to say, i re-wrote my about section.

Jason Debly said...

I write a whisky blog ("Jason's Scotch Whisky Reviews") and I decided from the beginning to disclose my identity. Why? Not really sure. Just thought that was part of the appeal of the blog, an ordinary person posting reviews of whisky along with musings.

It has a downside though. I was threatened with a lawsuit at one point by a multinational drinks company. They didn't take offense with what I wrote, but rather a comment from a reader.

Anyway, I think people should explain who they are.



PS. Had some Sazerac Rye for the first time, and it was very, very nice.