If No One Reads Your Blog, Does Disclosure Matter?
When you’ve accomplished some of your blogging goals and have the luxury of regular traffic and / or regular commenters on your blog, its easy to pontificate about certain things. Paid postings. Disclosure. The necessity of ‘hard work’ in blogging success.
But what happens when you don’t? What happens when you have a blog which is just struggling to get off the ground and separate itself from the noise of the blogosphere — a blog whose traffic is measured in mere dribbles?
Does it really matter what you do if no one notices or even cares?
Maybe I’ll put it differently.
Are you the kind of person who picks their nose when no one’s looking?
Fine, that’s a bit crass. But here’s the point. Its a personal issue that hinges on your personal sense of ethics, values, and character. Are you the kind of person who does things only when people are watching? Or, are you the kind of person who does things regardless of whether anyone knows?
Right now there’s a meme floating around that involves a writer on staff at Marketwatch who has recently quit her job over conflicts of interest. As a recap, Bambi Francisco was involved (some say she *was*) in a startup called Vator.tv, which covered other online startups in video format. The problem, however, is that one of her investors, Paul Thiel, were involved with some of these other startups — and it may have compromised her own coverage of online business and startups at Marketwatch.
What does this have to do with blogging? Well, part of her own explanation of things as to why she never disclosed things publicly is that a) she had an understanding with her editor at Marketwatch, but more importantly b) she felt that Vator.tv and her own blog were so small that it didn’t warrant it.
In an interview with Matt Marshall at VentureBeat, she has apparently said:
We’ve talked with Bambi this morning, and she agrees now that she should have been clearer, but that the site was so small and had so little traffic she just didn’t think of it.
If you’ve guessed, I’m also one of the few people who are calling “BS” on the issue of “just not thinking of it”. Rather, I’m of the belief that she *was* aware of it, but didn’t disclose her relationship because she didn’t think it was a big enough issue. Or rather, that because no one was watching. Or perhaps, no one previously cared.
Which gets back to the question at hand: does disclosure matter if no one is there to read about it?
I think it does.
Unlike the “picking your nose” issue, the problem (or the blessing) of the internet and blogging is that what you write almost lasts forever. What you do in your own time (and done discretely, I hope) remains discrete. But everything written on a blog may resurface at a later date. While it may not hold true if you never write down your real name, there are ways around this as well.
But I think the issue is a solid one for bloggers who dream of having larger and more purposeful blogs, much like Ms. Francisco, who dreams have having Vator.tv turn into a “real” company.
If there’s any hint that what you’re doing is ever going to be a serious venture, its probably very wise to treat it as such — from every possible angle — right from the beginning. And this includes attempts at being up up front about relationships and potential conflicts of interest.
Ms. Francisco has finallly done the right thing by disclosing her relationships in public, and leaving Marketwatch to pursue Vator.tv (alternatively, she could have quite Vator and held on to her job). On the other hand, it required the public “outing” of this issue to drive her actions. That is to say, she only did it because her site, her blog, and her actions were no longer “trivial”.
Its easy to pontificate when you’ve achieved some of your personal, or blogging, goals. But I think its not arrogance speaking when I say that it may be smarter to disclose things publicly from the start — particularly, if you even have a hint of any ambition towards making it big … blogging or otherwise.
Tony Hung is the editor of the BlogHerald. He is also a physician finishing his last year of residency in General Internal Medicine, and blogs at Deep Jive Interests , where he rants, occasionally, on new media topics.
Agreed. Any blog that supposedly has “no readers” might be surprised how quickly attention can come from nowhere. I’m thinking Google searches and social sites like Digg. So while one may think they hide under obscurity I think one should work on the assumption that: if it’s on the web, someone will find it and anybody can read it.
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. You’ve got to start off treating any venture as serious, public, and important. If you’re transparent, honest, and truthful from the beginning, people will respect you much more.
This reminds me of mud-slinging in politics. When you really put yourself in the public view, any indiscretion you may have committed (even years ago) becomes ammunition for your enemies. The best solution is to always be on your best behavior.
Thanks for the thoughtful post,
I guess that sorta depends on where you flick your boogers, eh?
Seriously though, Tony, our own morality and ethics really only come to light in what we do when we are reasonably certain we won’t get caught.
I agree with the above commenters. When you put something on line, it is best to assume someone somewhere will find out about it. It’s a case where the high ground is always safest.
A lot of bloggers, (as well as Paul Wolfowitz *sigh*) ought to read this and take it too heart. There is always a hue and cry over relatively benign and transparent issues … such as pay for post schemes, with disclosure … yet truly underhanded “pay for posts” (or pay for girlfriend) schemes so often try to slide by unnoticed.
One good definition of inegrity is: When you do the right thing even when no one is looking.
Blogs is about the person blogging, and subscriptions, trackbacks and link exchanges are relationships developed. The blogger, therefore, should conform to ethical standards the moment s/he set his blog and go online.