There’s always something to howl about

Dancing on bridges: Apprehending great real estate webloggers…

[Okay, BloodhoundBlog will be two years old in less than an hour. Here’s one more little bit of our past in celebration. This is from May 31st, 2007. –GSS]

Question #1: Why did Microsoft call its new table-top touch-screen interface “Surface”?

Answer: “It” and “Thing” are trademarks of The Addams Family.

Question #2: What makes a great real estate weblog?

Answer: Whatever you do, don’t ask Inman Blog.

I don’t write about everything that tickles or rankles me. I couldn’t, even if I didn’t have other things to do. But I thought it was particularly ironical for Joel Burslem and Jessica Swesey to talk about weblogging in a video. Joel has proven blogger credibility. Jessica is a good reporter who has never impressed me as actually understanding weblogging as a distinct medium. I have told Brad Inman in private that he doesn’t “get” weblogging, to which criticism he issued testy but irrelevant rejoinders. If putting marks on phosphors in reverse-chronological order is weblogging, then there really are 70 million webloggers.

But take a look at this, as an example (and I’m picking on Inman because they’re professionals and, I hope, thick-skinned enough to bear up to the scrutiny):

In the middle of the 16th Century, the Great Chinese Wall was built to keep enemy armies out and to create a perception of invincibility. Gated communities were built in the US suburbs in the 1980s to keep urban criminals out and to create prestigious residential compounds. The building of walls and fences along the Mexican border are being built to keep workers and terrorists out and to appease a multitude of American nationalistic fears. The Great Chinese Wall did not work; gates in the burbs were irrelevant to safety and fences on the Mexican border will not stop people from risking their lives to find work. One of the ugliest walls in history was the Berlin Wall, which came down when freedom persevered over human repression.
Walls and fences are an admission of our failure to solve problems in a civil way. They divide people; they exclude; they fracture societies and communities.
In the 1950s in my small hometown of Carlinville, Illinois, there were no fences and no walls. As kids, we ran free from yard to yard, no boundaries, no divides and no fears — one community safe, not carved up and apart. Now there are fences through out Carlinville — no good reason, just people giving into their irrational fears.

What the hell is this doing? No, wait — why is it that no one can tell Brad Inman that, in weblogging, we slam the return key twice between paragraphs?

Yet again, what is this doing? In what way are you to have been moved or edified, after having read it? Why didn’t they have fences in Carlinville back then? Fashion and finances. Why do they have them now? Fashion and finances. It is not a deep or profound observation to note that most people have no idea why they do what they’re doing, they just do what they think everyone else expects them to do. This is banal and obvious and therefore not interesting, but it is nevertheless absent from this wildly errant thrust at profound depth.

But wait! “Good fences make good neighbors!” We have now sunk to the level of the hack newspaper columnist, cribbing from Bartlett’s to sweat out another inane screed. But what’s interesting is that Frost puts the lie to everything Inman didn’t quite say: Walls and fences need not exclude. Instead they can establish the political, moral and psychological boundaries that make true social concourse possible. In the context of weblogging, the only people who complain about “censorship” on private property are the ones who intend to abuse the hospitality of their host. I’d write about that — except I already have.

There’s more, another issue I have written about in the past: The idea that hoarding wealth behind locks and walls is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the Age of Abundance. This is truly ironical with respect to Inman News, which is hoarded behind a pay-wall in relentless pursuit of a looming, irrepressible irrelevance.

What am I really talking about? I’m talking about developing the damned idea! In Carlinville did they take all the corn out of the silos because they thought worrying about insect infestation was anti-social? Are the dikes in the Low Countries evidence of a failure of character — or a failure of nerve? In two words: Good grief!

In this particular case, developing the idea demonstrates rather plainly that there is no idea, just an inexplicably explicated brain fart. Okayfine. Welcome to the legions of the 70 million. But we are no closer to understanding what makes a great weblog — or a great weblogger.

Content is king, yes? Kindasorta. Context is king, and you had better be a very good writer to stray too far, too often from your context. But where a weblogger like Joel Burslem holds me with context, with the careful selection of his content, Kris Berg simply grabs onto and holds my attention from start to end, no matter what she writes.

Even so, I don’t think great writing is enough by itself — although I do think great writing is an essential ingredient in a great weblog. But it has to be great writing about great ideas, well-developed — and seen from around a corner no one else has turned. Each sentence leads to the next. Each word conjures up a daub of paint in a mural crafted inside the reader’s mind.

And even then, there’s more. When I was 17 years old, a kid on my own in New York, I had a job as a stringer for the old Soho News, an alternative weekly, long since defunct. Once the editor complained to me that my prose read as if I were writing a letter to my sister. But exactly! Teri Lussier talks about a kitchen-table confidentiality and I say, “But exactly!” Do I believe Brad Inman was trying to find a way to move or edify me — or even just connect with me? Not for a minute.

It’s common to say that we should “write with the reader in mind,” but I think that’s wrong by precisely one word. A great weblogger will write with a reader in mind, a particular real person with whom we seek that visceral connection best achieved in intimate prose. Making a video — or a podcast, which I’ve done — about weblogging is comically stupid, but writing is the perfectly ironical human behavior: It is a social solitude. If you are not writing to make a connection with particular, real people, visible to you in every detail in the mind’s eye, then I think you are just putting marks on phosphors in reverse-chronological order.

There’s more, more, more, and perhaps the most important ingredient in the making of a great weblogger is the confidence and chutzpah necessary to take up the topic in the first place. The rock stars scream, “Look at me! Look at me!” But the right kind of writer can quietly insist that, “If you will lend me your mind, I will leave you moved, edified, amazed, amused, surprised, delighted, possibly improved, forevermore changed on my very best days.” While everyone else is putting up walls or tearing them down, never stopping to wonder why, a great weblogger will be building bridges — and then dancing on them…
< ?php include ("REWL101.php"); ?>

Technorati Tags: , ,


23 Comments so far

  1. Tim May 31st, 2007 6:33 am

    I hope this meets at least some of the above mentioned criteria:

    First week in “circulation.” So much still to do…

  2. Kris Berg May 31st, 2007 6:58 am

    Beautiful – perhaps one of your best.

    (Off subject, it wasn’t enough to remove me from my top sidebar position. Now, you’ve put all of us at the bottom).

  3. Greg Swann May 31st, 2007 7:13 am

    > Now, you’ve put all of us at the bottom

    Ack! I’m assuming it was embedded Steve Jobs movie, so I’ve swapped it out to a link. I didn’t see the problem on any of my browsers, so you’ll have to tell me if it’s not corrected.

  4. Greg Swann May 31st, 2007 7:31 am

    > I hope this meets at least some of the above mentioned criteria

    The purpose, other than to pay homage to the greatest little city in America, is to create a virtual community wherein all who love Boston, live in Boston, or want to know more about Boston may merrily converge, interact and share their unique Boston experiences.

    I think so. I like the look, too.

  5. Teri Lussier May 31st, 2007 7:58 am

    If I don’t learn anything else from this entire experience, that last sentence will be enough.

  6. Kelly Kilpatrick May 31st, 2007 2:40 pm

    I’m with Teri. I’m taking the last sentence from this. The whole wall/gate issue hurts my brain.

  7. Jay Thompson May 31st, 2007 4:23 pm

    You know, every once in a great while I’ll write something, lean back and say, “Wow, that’s pretty damn good.”

    Then I’ll read something like this and say, “Wow, I can’t write worth a damn.”

    I like the last sentence too, but I *really* like this… “write with *a* reader in mind”

    Thanks Greg.

  8. Greg Swann May 31st, 2007 4:32 pm

    I’ll give you two more, if you want.

    June Moll was my ninth grade biology teacher. She used to say, “Be specific!” Everything’s a thing. What, precisely, are you talking about?

    And I studied under the poet Audre Lord in college. She would thunder, “Be particular!” What she meant was to train your mind to think in terms of particularity — how can this be distinguished from that?

    My takeaway: Discursive prose is epistemology in action.

  9. Brian Brady May 31st, 2007 4:45 pm

    I’ve read this three times today and each time has been a unique learning experience.

    I’ll echo Jay’s thoughts; writing with “a” reader in mind is the best of the three lessons I’ve learned today. It’s so damned hard to do consistently.

  10. […] Blood Hound Blog: Dancing on bridges: Apprehending great real estate webloggers – Ok… I don’t even know how to begin commenting on this post. For starters, I’m scared to death to say anything stupid for the fear that Greg will squash me like an ant. Those of you that read Greg regularly know that he is a fantastic writer, in fact he rarely doesn’t include a word in each post that I have never heard before. This is silly, but I often get intimidated when/if I comment on his posts because his writing is so far superior to mine. […]

  11. Trulia Blog » Carnival of Real Estate June 4th, 2007 2:55 pm

    […] ‘Dancing on bridges: Apprehending great real estate webloggers’ from BloodhoundBlog. […]

  12. ardell dellaloggia June 5th, 2007 10:37 am

    I find the dancing on the bridges to be a whole lot more fun than the building part. Only difference from one bridge to another is the dancing partner, depending on who the *a* is you have written it to/for.

    Writing to or for consumers generally makes for a shorter dance period. Consumers walk over the bridge and meet you at the other side, in person. Attorneys and other agents engage in the dance. Hopefully by the end of the dance, you both become better dancers.

  13. […] Dancing on bridges: Apprehending great real estate webloggers […]

  14. […] I mentioned Dancing on bridges earlier tonight. This is one of my favorite posts, and, I think, my best explication of how weblogging works as art. […]

  15. […] metaphors are not new to me, nor is the metaphor of dancing. I don’t actually care about dancing, but I care a lot about […]

  16. […] Dancing on bridges: Apprehending great real estate webloggers […]

  17. […] In the mean time, who are you going to turn to for news you can trust? The answer is obvious. We learned the hard way not to make these kinds of deals. The upshot is, we can shoot our mouths off however we choose. […]

  18. […] can you spend anytime reading in the real estate blogiverse and not be inspired? Jazzed? Excited? Twitterpated? Are you really that stubborn? I was going to say pig headed, but I […]

  19. Stephanie Edwards-Musa June 29th, 2008 8:10 am

    Hi Greg, I caught the-with ‘a’ reader in mind also. Think I’ll have to read this a couple more times to absorb it all, but it’s all great information. A lot of things to think about.

  20. Russell Shaw June 29th, 2008 10:48 am

    Most impressive work – no make that ART, Greg. The “a reader” was a great reminder for me too.

  21. Greg Swann June 29th, 2008 6:47 pm

    > Most impressive work – no make that ART, Greg. The “a reader” was a great reminder for me too.

    Bless you, sir. Thank you. That’s one of my favorites, of the things I’ve written here.

  22. Teri Lussier June 30th, 2008 9:15 pm

    What a treat to read this again, it was one of my favorites.

    It’s possible that I’ve learned more from it this time around, and I have to say it still is one of my favorites.

  23. […] Hound Blog: Dancing on bridges: Apprehending great real estate webloggers – Ok… I don’t even know how to begin commenting on this post. For starters, I’m […]