Up until Steven Hodson joined up at Mashable, I think there was little contest with regard to who was the most controversial writer at the company (now, though he gives me a bit of a run for my money!). Although no one has explicitly asked the question, I’m pretty perceptive, and I’m sure a lot of the folks who know me and read the site often wonder why I take my articles the direction that I do (that direction being usually politically unpopular positions, and technically unorthodox statements).
There’s a complex consortium of motivations behind it. I’m conflicted whether or not I want to pull back the curtain on this. On the one hand, I only have about six or seven readers – but as we learned from Loren this week is that things you say can have a way of coming back to bite you much later. Fortunately for me, none of this could be construed as racism, so I should be fairly safe.
In no particular order, my motivating factors:
- By and large, and particularly from the blogger perspective, readers are unengaged and lazy. If I write straight news pieces, by the numbers, about 1:10,000 readers will comment on a piece. If I add two paragraphs of analysis (read: opinion), I can increase that ratio to 1:1,000. If I use a controversial position, I can increase it to 1:100. It’s so predictable, I can count on it.
Controversy is a cattle prod that’s useful for shocking the readers out of their reverie when they’ve had a long holiday weekend or a particularly boring news week.
- I’m a bit of a contrarian, with conservative and libertarian leanings. First and foremost, I’m a contrarian. As a youngster, I discovered I was different (read:nerdy), and would always be ostracized for it. Instead of being bothered by this, I embraced it. Nerdy became my hallmark, and when the crowd zigged, I zagged.
When it comes to politics, particularly in the Web 2.0 crowd, this manifests itself as me talking up my conservative leanings and supporting the underdogs (which are generally Republicans). Perhaps I’ll post some sort of political manifesto later, but germane to this topic, I think it takes a lot more intelligence and guts to act as an apologist for unpopular positions.
As the blogosphere is a meritocracy, despite how much folks hate you during the debate, the rewards always come back to me in terms of increased attention.
- I like to think of myself as an anti-evangelist. Don’t get me wrong, I love most of the theories and philosophies behind Web 2.0 and social media (which is why pundits like Drama 2.0 and Strumpette baffle me – they seem to hate all this stuff yet keep doing it). I couldn’t live in this world without that love. Taking a contrarian angle to it all, though, allows me to pick apart the sometimes over-exhuberent evangelists and the often very naiive startups they represent.
A nest built against the wind will always be stronger than one built during the calm. That’s one of the great strengths of blogging as a journalism platform, too, incidentally – those same principals apply to whatever statements I make. If they’re blatantly wrong are shakey, their mettle is tested by the commenters
- It gives me something else to write about. Sometimes when I write, I intentionally don’t make the strongest case possible, so as to invite criticism. Sure, brevity plays a part. I learned this from watching pundits like John C. Dvorak, Chris Brogan and Steven Hodson. It gives you an opportunity to come back and engage in comments and sometimes follow up with another post, rebuting with your deal-sealers.
- I’m the whetstone that sharpens others’ knives, including knives from All Knives. Sometimes I pick a position that I don’t necessarily agree with and defend it because I want the reverse position to come out on top. In almost all cases, I welcome disagreements, but in these cases I offer up a position that I know can be easily refuted, but I defend vigorously so that others won’t always go for the easy answer.
For example, when I did a lot of political blogging, I’d often speak out in defense of the folks who argued for gay marriage bans. Like racial issues, gay marriage is something that most enlightened folks think is an imperative right. The means they often use to argue for this are generally deeply flawed, logically. What’s worse, most of the proponents for gay marriage bans use horribly flawed arguments – leading to a cacophony of ridiculous yelling.
By inserting a bit of analysis and support for an unpopular opinion, I can cause folks to re-examine why they’re for a certain position, and when it comes to enacting their policy on the topic, it is more likely that it won’t enflame and enrage the other side yet still accomplish their goals.
I hope this is illuminating for those that happen across this – and to my naysayers shows that I’m a bit more than just a disagreeable jerk. Long ago I learned to love ideological conflict, but still don’t want to put out the image that I’m completely inhuman. On a personal level, I am targeting this post towards those I work with in the blogosphere who wonder why I’m such a muck-raker, but on a more wide-spread level, this is a bit of a peek into how to use controversy as a tool, rather than something to shy away from.