Friday, February 11, 2011

I’m a Blogger, Trust Me

About a fortnight ago, an English market research company, Wine Intelligence, released a study on “who uses the Internet and social media to search for wine information and share recommendations online”. The accompanying media release was headlined, “Wine consumers wary of blogger recommendations, according to research”. The study unfavourably compares the trustworthiness of bloggers to the person at the liquor store, newspapers and magazines, wine producers, etc.

As you might imagine, this set the wine blogging world aflame, which might have been the point.

Although it’s difficult to glean much else in the way of specifics from the media release (and at over $5,000 for the entire report, I’m not likely to learn much more), I wonder what the fuss is about.

There’s such a difference between these different types of media – mass media, live interaction, social media – that to compare them to each other is like comparing Sauvignon Blanc to Zinfandel.

The point of blogging is to share an idiosyncratic point of view, free of editorial control. To me, that’s why most independent bloggers blog: to share personal experiences and opinions. In all likelihood, any blogger will appeal to a limited audience. For example, this blog has a regular feature called “My Picks”, where I list the wines that I intend to buy…and why. The point of this feature is to encourage readers, whether regular or first-time, to try something different, something that I consider out of the ordinary. I know that approach is not for everyone; in fact, it will probably only appeal to those who are as crazy as I am about wine. (Hi there, glad to meet you.) I’m always gratified when readers let me know that they tried a wine; I'm even happier when they like it. But I’ll never expect my readers to take me for the next Robert Parker. One of my goals is to encourage readers to move beyond reliance on any one wine taster.

In fact, I think that the days of a single critic like Parker having such an overwhelming influence on the wine industry are over. The Internet encourages 2 ways of getting information that are at opposite ends of the spectrum. At one end are sites like CellarTracker or WineAlign that collate many different ratings of the same wine. You gain confidence through the blending of what may be hundreds of individual ratings. But individual opinions are lost in the aggregation. At the other end are individual bloggers who offer a personal take on a wine. You go back to these bloggers because their tastes match yours, or you like what they have to say, or how they say it. (For example, I love reading Roger Ebert’s movie reviews, not because our tastes are the same – they’re not – but I do love the way he writes about movies.) But bloggers are, with rare exceptions, writing for a small audience. I’m not surprised that canvassing wine drinkers about wine bloggers in general would elicit lower levels of trust. How about asking them about the bloggers they like?

Trust me, don’t trust me, it’s your choice.

Alder Yarrow has an interesting view on all this, here.

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