Why i might be full of shit

or: Credibility and experience in blogging 

The Black Hole of White Canyon, January 1, 2007.

Blogging has irrevocably changed the face of writing about outdoor adventure, in almost all respects for the better.  The chief problem today, perhaps different from days previous in scale only, is how to allot proper credence amongst the sea of voices.

As a global society we’ve outgrown the cliche of being unable to trust anything on the internet, and if/when I return to teaching I’ll need to take a more nuanced approach to internet citation (though I will loath APA forever).  There’s no parallel to academic citation when discussion trips and gear, and with its grassroots mechanics blogging merely highlights the conventions by which credibility has been driven in outdoor writing for centuries: personal reputation.  Not entirely unlike academia, the authority of an individual casts a strong aura over their work; yet very unlike academia, in outdoor writing and now blogging, little other ground for authority exists.

Cleanup after the first Rim Ride Moab.

The problem here is that it is pretty easy to look a lot cooler and more experienced on the internet then you actually are, be it through intentional or unintentional filtering of content, or via the mundane bias of distance and unfamiliarity.  I know nothing about the places Joery hikes, skis and rafts, but he writes well, takes great photos, and his stuff generally seems pretty gnar to me so I listen when he speaks because I generally assume he has some pretty serious wilderness chops.  Guitar Ted, on the other hand, lives in Iowa (where I’ve also lived and ridden) and writes with wild hyperbole about the difficulties of trails in an obscure corner of Texas, so I don’t take what he has to say about equipment for technical mountain biking very seriously.  Andrew Badenoch is still putting his bike together weeks after his trip was supposed to start, one of several reason I give him a less than 20% of finishing said trip.  I could be quite mistaken about all of these things, and indeed about anything I write here.  Often I worry that the internet has me thinking I’m cooler than I in reality am.

On the face of it Hendrik’s formula of no trip reports equals no credibility seems both correct and straightforward.  There are ample reasons, both historic and recent, to take Roman’s word for just about anything packrafting.  On the other hand, geographic prejudice need not rule credibility completely, and there is a lot to be said for the union of passion in practice and keen powers of observation, though the utter absence of the former makes me suspicious.  You can’t understand it if you haven’t been there yourself, at least a little.

Craters 2012.

In total, I’d like to see more mindfulness abroad in the outdoor blogging world precisely because it holds so much potential of a sort particularly dear to my heart.  The potential to bypass lowest-common-denominator magazine editorship, promote as-it-happens adventure storytelling, and bring together international perspectives in a way never before possible.

As I pointed out a while back, if a blog seems more motivated in selling things and an image than inspiring action, view it with skepticism.

If a blogger seems to have little experience relevant to topics discussed, doubt is in order.

If a reviewer’s mastery of the gear discussed is in doubt, or their review output is especially high, view it with suspicion.

Most importantly, look for growth.  The great advantage of blogging as a medium is the journey which the reader is able to accompany.  Opinions unchanged over years of practice is a sure sign of someone not paying attention.



18 responses to “Why i might be full of shit”

  1. Clayton Mauritzen Avatar
    Clayton Mauritzen

    “I will loath APA forever”

    “The great advantage of blogging as a medium is the journey which the reader is able to accompany. Opinions unchanged over years of practice is a sure sign of someone not paying attention.”

    Gems like these are among the many reasons I enjoy reading your thoughts. Thanks. That is all.

  2. Having just written with a similar mindset, my only question is what sparked this post?

  3. Great post……Thanks for a little perspective.

  4. You’re not full of shit, you give too much of a shit, Dave.

    1. The more I think about this, the more I think I’ll make it my new motto. Cheers.

    2. I second Sam’s comment.

  5. The thing about the Internet and blogging is that it only shows one facet (maybe sliver is a better word) of a person’s life. For some, that sliver is commercial, for others it is personal. It is very easy for us to get judgmental of someones online presence when we don’t identify with what they are choosing to present. Perhaps you are not the entrepreneurial type and have a hard time coming to terms with the commercial/material side of the outdoors “industry”? Or you can’t relate to people who are choosing/attempting to earn their income through blogging?

  6. Again a bit more than controversial topic but I have to say that I agree with several points and this was especially good one: “Most importantly, look for growth. The great advantage of blogging as a medium is the journey which the reader is able to accompany. ”

    I see no reason why blogger trying to make living out of bloging couldn’t produce high quality content with real words of wisdom coming from experience and mastery on his field (and especially from the field!). And now that I think of it, that’s how it should be!

    Unfortunately this seems to be very rare, at least in my perspective. Often the best blogs are sort-of non-commercial ones usually written purely because of passion. And unfortunately the ones aimed to make money remind me of outdoor magazines with their short comings as they should be fine-tuned to make the money (i.e. get visitors, get money and gear from manufacturors, etc.)

    1. Excellent point, Korpi. Passion behind the writing creates the best blogs, without question… possibly even regardless of the content or experience, for if there is any lacking, they are probably looking for more or to learn.

  7. Fantastic comments everyone. There are lots of things I’ve been thinking about for a long time that led to this piece, not the least of which is how much I want to comment directly on a particular persons work online. In daily life I try to avoid criticising someone unless it is to their face. Online that’s not especially practical, for a variety of reasons.

  8. After almost 7 years of blogging, and watching pretty well everyone in the bike/outdoor world start and abandon a blog, the places I still read are (still updated, obviously) the blogs that offer original, honest content. In that sense, nothing has changed since 2005. The original intent/appeal of a blog was/is its character. The content, and the person behind it, was always front and center. Facebook destroyed the blog, and I think a lot of the thoughfulness that went into them as well, to say nothing of the countless, pointless “pro-blogger” sites that promise rivers of gold and millions of readers.

    On your larger topic of credibility… It’s pretty easy to sound big/tough/fast on the Internet. But eventually that catches up to people, and they either expose themselves as frauds, or get in too deep, and get hurt. I think that we (readers) have a pretty good radar for bullshit. We know it when we see it. And if we see too much of it from one source, we discard that source. It will be really interesting to see what bloggers do over the next 3-5 years. I think social media is a bubble that is going to burst soon. After that, I see a recalibration occurring, where our time spent online is spent seeking longer form, meaningful content instead of one-liners and chest thumping.

    Regardless, it’s a good topic. Thanks for bringing it up.

    1. Agreed on all counts, esp the social media bubble.

  9. Insightful article, well written. Par for the course :)

    I would only pick at one detail, “If a blogger seems to have little experience relevant to topics discussed, doubt is in order.”

    I would say that for me personally, I have so terrifyingly little experience when it comes to much of what I write about. Climbing was something I only started doing two years ago, so the progression I have made is pretty much reflected in the blog, whenever I write about climbing. In fact the blog has helped me make that progression, meeting up with Toby from Northern Lights happened because he read my blog, and from him I had an invaluable trad-training trip. Ski-touring is what I wrote about most recently, however this trip I just made was my first attempt at touring. My inexperience there is breath-taking, but I still think the views I have thrown up are in some way valuable. It’s a point of view that I don’t find well represented amongst the blogs written by very experienced climbers/skiers/hikers. The ‘dipshit trying his hand at something beyond him’ point of view. A beginners tale, with initial missteps and stumbles detailed.

    And I am totally sure that the most value is gained by me, writing it. Most of the time I spend at least a month tinkering away at a post, usually finding that I end up disagreeing and deleting whatever I had initially written. I wrote a post about ethics once, and in researching and writing it I had my views on the subject matter changed over and over. Even with trip reports, I find the lessons are often truly learned in the period of reflection that only takes place because I am writing it down, and want it to be reasonably well written.

    I thought it would be cool to have a blog to get free gear and to get to test stuff. However when, (finally!), I was offered free gear because of the blog, I ended up turning it down. I realised the real value was in having a mirror to reflect myself in, to detail my progression, to sound out my passions, interests and beliefs. And it makes a hell of a diary too.

    1. A month! That is a lot of tinkering and contemplation. A few things here get polished and gone over again and again, but over the years I’ve found a hot off the mind approach to be most valuable. I try to let go of writing the definitive account every time. I could also stand to edit more.

      I also do not think that “lacking experience” and “not being an expert” are at all the same thing. You can learn a lot in two years of doing something. Along with all the benefits, one of the downsides of decades of experience is getting stuck in certain ways of doing things. Beginners mind is not to be underestimated.

  10. I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head here. What I look for in an outdoor blog is a locals perspective. I want to read opinions of their geographical area that may inspire me to visit and at the same time arrive with a deeper understanding of the landscapes. This is primarily what I strive to portray in my blog.

    There are so many blogs that focus on where and how rather than why.

  11. Great article Dave. It is good that you’re here to write these critical posts and make us all think, even if some don’t like it. Keep doing what you’re doing, and keep on writing critical articles which make us ponder, they’re needed.

  12. […] I’ve mentioned before: thank goodness for blogging.  Once the novelty of facebook finally wears off and attention spans […]

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