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Defining Authority in Blogging

Authority in BloggingLoquacious over at World of Wonder put up a recent article, [Blogging] Speaking Authoritatively. Dethtron commented asking where does authority in blogging come from and that someone should do an article on it. Well, here’s my attempt, and my opinion, on just that.

We’ve all used the term and know what someone means when it’s said that someone is an authority on something. What is it though that makes that person is authority, their blog an authoritative resource? What separates Blogger A from Blogger B when it comes to determining which is the bigger authority, if an authority at all? Let’s start with a definition of authority, well at least the aspects of the definition that apply:

the power to influence others, esp. because of one’s commanding manner or one’s recognized knowledge about something : he has the natural authority of one who is used to being obeyed | he spoke with authority on the subject.

• the confidence resulting from personal expertise : he hit the ball with authority.
• a person with extensive or specialized knowledge about a subject; an expert : she was an authority on the stockmarket.

There are two key elements here. The first element being the manner in which a person conducts him/herself. The second being the knowledge a person possesses.

Blogs are abound by people who speak with seeming authority. More often than not, in my experience, most of these authors command attention, demand you listen to them and accept their views. However, that does not make them an authority. Having firmly held beliefs and opinions that you preach does not make you an expert. Being able to produce articles with certitude may make you a convincing speaker but not necessarily an authority.

Part of being able to even speak authoritatively is the way you present yourself and your views. You need to be able to present yourself intelligently and with poise. Simply stating something works well only goes so far. Being able to back up your arguments is crucial, and again doing so intelligently. Being a walking dictionary or thesaurus is not required to appear intelligent. Being able to give information concisely is often the best approach. I don’t care how good of a player you are, if your articles simply consist of spouting how you win games without meaningful explanations and rationale then you miss the mark.

Knowledge of a subject I think is easy to qualify. Generally speaking, you can tell when someone knows what they’re writing about and when they’re just bullshitting you. There’s a confidence you can pick up on in an article written by someone who is well versed in the subject. The person may not share your view and write contrary to your opinion but that doesn’t mean they are not an authority on the topic. However, at the same time the person needs to fully understand every angle of a subject. Without full knowledge you can’t truly express authority. If there are two ways to go about something and you believe that one way is correct without understanding the other method then that’s not authority, that’s pure ignorance no matter how convincingly you speak on the matter.

In my opinion you need to speak authoritatively as well as be an authority on the subject matter. I read some blogs out there that have a lot of good information that I wouldn’t consider an authority. Usually that’s because their opinions are jaded and one-sided, too often favoring a single view over another out of ignorance and sheer lack of knowledge. They put their opinion out there in a well-constructed manner but it’s obvious they’re stuck in a mindset and fail to understand the entire subject. On the other hand, there are other blogs where the author seems like he/she knows what they’re talking about but their lack of confidence and conviction in their words leave me wondering otherwise. Both of these things need to coalesce in order to become an authority.

All of this holds true for other types of blogs. Above I’m discussing blogs that focus on army list building or competitive gaming but the same is true of a hobby blog or any blog.

So, what blogs/authors do I consider to be authorities?

Fluger – He’s got a series on Blood of Kittens, Ork Defense Force, that’s great. There’s a lot of articles there and each one explains his thoughts on various units, strategies and deployment. It’s easy to see he knows what he’s talking about and he explains his opinions thoroughly.

3++ is the new black – Probably no surprise here. Some of the authors can be a bit brusque but all in all the site delivers quality articles that are well thought out and well written. Views aren’t forced down your throat and time is taken to explain and justify their opinions.

From the Wrap – A great hobby blog. Ron and the other authors take the time to discuss the topics, give feedback and to show exactly what they’re talking about. This is crucial in a hobby blog, explanation and showcasing results.

I may not agree with everything these blogs have to say but I respect their views and opinions. That, to me, is the final component in being seen as an authority, respect. Being able to garner the respect of your peers is second to none in becoming an authoritative blog.

  • Counterfett

    An interesting idea. I know there are people out there (mostly younger) who think that because they saw it on the internet it must be so. It’s in the same vein as the older “I saw it on tv so it must be true” crowd. These are the same people who in generations past fell for the schtick of carnival barkers, I guess.

    In any case, I don’t think I am an authority on anything, and openly admit to such on my blog on a regular basis. I like to use it as a forum as such, I usually ask opinions. People have to bring their own decision making to it.

    • http://creativetwilight.com/ Thor

      Agreed. People are so quick to take advice and opinions on the internet without thinking twice. Some people just like to be told what to think and never consider the validity of the source. As you said, it’s nothing new, just the medium is different.

  • http://twitter.com/InDavesLife Dave G

    Excellent article that brings up some great points.
    The only thing I must disagree with (or at least think should be defined a little differently) is “a book or other source…” Gathering information in a book these days is little different to gathering it in a website. Being carried in Chapters or Amazon could be compared to your article getting linked from a reputable blog/web network. It still comes down to the authority of the person/people writing.

    To clean up that point of the definition, I would instead expand on your other point to say “Recorded source material created by a person or people with extensive or specialized knowledge.”

    • http://creativetwilight.com/ Thor

      Hah, I hadn’t even realized that part was in there. I took the definition given by a dictionary and pasted it verbatim. I just took out that part now as it wasn’t part of what I was driving at.

  • http://twitter.com/InDavesLife Dave G

    It’s definitely important to recognize whose information you can trust, though just because someone speaks confidently, doesn’t mean they should be listened to. It’s certainly a way to know if they’re BSing you, but people can tell their version of the truth and still be completely wrong.

    This is why single sources shouldn’t be used as the end-all, be-all of knowledge.

    I’ve heard schools are now allowing places like Wikipedia to be quoted as source material now on projects. A perfect example of why this is bad:
    http://spring.newsvine.com/_news/2006/08/01/307864-stephen-colbert-causes-chaos-on-wikipedia-gets-blocked-from-site
    Basically, Colbert gets his followers to change data on elephants and it becomes fact because enough people agree. This was only caught because it was televised and too many people made changes at once.

    I try to bring an objective look to the help I bring to the craft, but hey, I’m fallible and I’m just going to do my best. It’s possible there’s better/easier techniques out there. It also depends on what type of a learner you are and what techniques are easier for you.

    A great example in our hobby is what’s the best paint stripper? Most places suggest nail polish remover without any mention that it usually contains acetone, a severe cancer causing agent that many industrial companies aren’t allowed to have anywhere on site. (truth, but nail polish remover is too ingrained in our society now) Or brake fluid, a nerve damager.

    • http://creativetwilight.com/ Thor

      True enough. In today’s age where information is abundantly available there’s no reason to be uninformed or trusting a single source of information unless you can explicitly trust that source. Even if you have the utmost faith in a source it’s still to your benefit to seek out others. If not to validate then to at least round out views and opinions.I think it’s a generational thing really, trusting in a single source. The internet didn’t really show up until I was a junior in high school and even then it was a shell of what it is now. We had to use the library *gasp*, to find information and fact check. You always used multiple sources for information. Today though, well, people are lazy, having grown up with information just seconds away. Why would they go to five sites to gather information when one site has what they need? This in turn creates a very ignorant and prejudiced culture.

  • http://admiraldrax.blogspot.com Admiral Drax

    Very articulate, mate: nice one.

    Thanks!

    • http://creativetwilight.com/ Thor

      Thanks. I appreciate it.

  • http://www.aychplace.blogspot.com Loquacious

    Thor, thanks for taking the charge on this. I knew that I was inadequate to the task, as I’m (honestly advertised as) not an expert in very much of anything.

    I think it’s important to note that with the internet or in person relationships, there has to be some sort of peer-to-peer accreditation (often referred to as crowd-sourcing now) in order to get a baseline of what is crap.

    For example: one of the guys I at my 40K group has been giving me BT advice. I disguise his advice in the many generic questions I post, and it gets shot down by no less than 3-4 responses. Each and every time. I no longer consider him a reliable source for any advice on my army. (Maybe that’s what Dave G meant by ‘reputable’.)

    • http://twitter.com/InDavesLife Dave G

      Yep, that’s basically what I was getting at.
      And not knowing this guy, I wouldn’t say that just because he seems to be wrong, that he’s a bad person or that he’s BSing or lying to you – he could be a really stand up guy for all I know. But he’s talking from his experiences and his own opinion. He can be confident and seem like he knows what he’s talking about, but not be correct.
      However you, being the smart person you are, fact check and research. You take his opinions as suggestions and look into it.

      Now, the original point still stands that confidence is a sign of how well the subject is known, but it’s not 100%. Consider there’s a lot of socially awkward people out there who know their trade backwards and forwards, just as there’s a lot of confident jerks who know how to BS you and sound like they know what they’re doing. (The used car salesman approach)

      • http://creativetwilight.com/ Thor

        All good stuff.

        Yeah, I didn’t get into source validating, how to know if Blog A is the better resource over Blog B. But, as you’re both saying, general fact checking is definitely crucial with anything as a reader, shit, as an author more-so. People do get stuck into a way of thinking and though it may work for them, it’s not for everyone and they just don’t get that at times.

      • http://www.aychplace.blogspot.com Loquacious

        DaveG- exactly; he’s a super nice guy,not trying to gyp or BS me- going off his experiences and opinion. It just happens that he’s not a reputable source for BT info as proven by my independent research.

  • ming

    Moreover, you have to really understand what your “provider” actually is. If the study of 40K, as an example, was a science there are:

    1. Practisioners – these are guys who play 40K, and have just enough knowledge or interest to do it. They may experiment in a fashion, but they do not use recognized means to record their experiments such that data can back up their claims. It is a hobby, not an avocation.

    2. Authorities – these are people who study all means of 40K, and they are a source of knowledge. They do not generate new ideas – they study and communicate and understand the ideas of others, and are great sources of reference and commentary on others. They know the material, and likely started as practisioners.

    3. Specialists – these are players who follow a narrow focus of 40K, such as being specialized in Tyranids, or being specilized in melta/flamer forces. There are a subset of authorities. There are also practisioners, with a very narrow focus.

    4. Developers (or think tanks, professors, researchers) – these are players who take the existing laws of 40K and study them and develop constraints to work within them, creating the new ideas, products, ideas, and theorems that the specialists and practisioners apply, and that authorities can study and recognize.

    The difficult thing is to really understand the difference, and to know whether a person has the credentials or proof to back up what category they are in. Those without the credentials, means, or methods, are posers….

    • http://twitter.com/InDavesLife Dave G

      Excellent categories, but it’s still not just about credentials to fit into one – Due to all the different local scenes, you can spend your whole life playing 40k, maybe even winning, and still not know a thing about aspects of the game.