Nov 18

Marc Hedlund

Marc Hedlund

Bloggers and Association (An Argument for Cat Pictures)

One of the best tricks for memorization is association, linking something you want to remember with another idea. I was thinking tonight about a recommendation I'd read on a blog a while back, for what I remembered as an "Egg McMuffin Toaster" -- a toaster that also cooks eggs and sausage. The name I used to remember the toaster, "Egg McMuffin," is of course one form of association; but I was easily able to remember the recommendation because I have a clear picture of the recommender, Matt Haughey, in my mind. Remembering Matt's written voice, and his enthusiasm in the recommendation, it was easy enough to get to his site and find what he'd written about the toaster.

As it turns out I've met Matt and have a clear picture of him in my mind from, you know, reality. This works just as well, though, with plenty of bloggers I've never met. I remember that Jason Kottke, over a year ago, turned me onto The Killers, though I've never met him. His voice comes through clearly enough in his writing that I think of the set of sites, recommendations, articles, and ideas I've found through him as a distinct set -- not some random text found on the net, but the ideas of a particular person. I associate them with him.

Matt only had to tell me about the Egg McMuffin Toaster once for me to remember it, and to remember where to go (his site) in order to find it and find a way to buy one as a christmas present for a friend. If I'd read a random Epinions review, that probably wouldn't be true. It would just be text on a screen.

It turns out, then, for me at least, that reading about someone's cat and what they ate for breakfast and seeing their Flickr photos of the swirls in their coffee and all that (well -- Matt and Jason both write about far more interesting stuff -- but they also write about plenty of small pieces of their lives that aren't recommendations or essays or even interesting but as glimpses into who they are) adds up to a picture of a person in my mind; not a full likeness, but enough for an actual presence in memory; and with that picture, I associate the things they tell me with them, and remember what they say surprisingly well. Far better than my memory usually works, unattended.

Though I doubt anyone intended this and I certainly hope it's not the ultimate value of blogging, a quick, free reference from Matt is much more valuable than a $500,000 television ad in getting me to buy something. I skip the ads. A person, that's interesting. In this case it's a product recommendation; but I bet the same applies to political opinion, linguistic habits, and all other sorts of transferrable culture. (Maybe not dance moves, yet.)

I'd love to make this prescriptive, and call for revolution: "Marketers of the world, eat your hearts out (or, get blogging and get interesting)." But that's not real. I'm sure it has been tried and will be tried again -- synthetically building a blog audience and turning it towards a conversation that in the end is just marketing. But whatever. Those are fake dates. Instead I'll just notice that Matt's voice works, and others' voices work, and dread what will happen when still others, more rapacious, try to synthesize their intonations.

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Comments: 6

  Paul Montgomery [11.19.05 03:43 AM]

When robots start recommending good places to buy oil, I'll pass.

  Matt Haughey [11.19.05 06:42 AM]

I think marketers are getting wise to it -- I do get offers for books and sometimes small gadgets to review, and when I do mention them, I make sure to disclose that by the way I got it for free from the company (I bought that egg and muffin toaster, just to be clear).

Someone once said that in the late 80s/early 90s, the zine culture was huge and what brought it all down was record companies and other marketers sending so much free product that you stopped trusting anything you read and suddenly they went from hip indie zine to the same thing you read in the magazine aisle of any store -- reviews that are mostly rewritten press releases for new products.

There's definitely a danger going forward with any free stuff for bloggers program. Anytime you mix editorial with something that could be seen as advertising, you have problems.

I got pitched free movie tickets a couple times but that stopped when I honestly gave a lackluster review to a new film. I've had one record company guy demand a schedule for when and how I link to a new album they put out when I casually said it sounded cool and I might blog it. I still get books all the time though I rarely read them or mention them. Usually I just give them away to friends. I've also noticed that when I was aware of other bloggers, like say in a mass mailing, and people got something free for review, every blogger handled it differently. Most didn't post about it, some were upfront about disclosing, but a few wrote glowing reviews that never mentioned they got the item free.

So I think it's happening and I think it's definitely a double-edged sword.

  Brock [11.19.05 07:20 AM]

Congratulations. You just re-discovered why marketers have famous athletes and actors endorse products.

  Marc Hedlund [11.19.05 07:43 AM]

Thanks, Brock, I'm all about rediscovering things. And, hey, Matt, Brock just compared you to Michael Jordan!

  Jill [11.19.05 08:34 AM]

I'm with you, Marc. I love reading "whole person" blogs. People who write about their families, the places they go, the things they love as well as their area of expertise are much more interesting to me than single-subject bloggers. And their recommendations are much more valuable to me than paid advertisements.

  Brandon [11.20.05 06:19 AM]

See my earlier comments on and on advertising by referencing sections of a blog or a discussion.

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