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…

Our story so far: If you’re studying Real Estate Weblogging 101 from home, be sure to peruse these mission-critical posts:

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