The secret of blogging? Deception and pretence

I can’t remember the route but I ended up at the blog of the head of PR company Edelman and started listening to the YouTube-posted coverage (in ten-minute chunks of course) about their recent conference in London all about blogs.

I was half listening to this, and some bloke from Technorati, while doing other work, when it suddenly occured to me – why do only 50-odd other blogs link to mine? That has always seemed like a healthy number but when I compared to others, even the most mindless, waffling, regurgitators of nonsense get more links.

So I took a fresh look at my blog and realised – it’s me! It’s my stupid mug staring down at people that has done it. I’ve crossed some invisible blog cultural boundary by having my pic up in the header of my blog and I’m suffering because of it. Don’t believe me? I have the evidence and have already embarked on an experiment…

It occurred to me as soon as I saw my looming head that I don’t really see many blogs with the author’s face on it.

My old header

Which is odd considering the appalling tendency to stick picture bylines all over the printed media. And then, I started thinking about the blogs I know, and something else hit me – no one actually runs a blog under their own name. Which is incredibly odd if you think about it.

Blogs really are the epitome of personal publishing – one individual decides not only what will appear but how it will appear, and every single word that appears is also the product of just one person. This never happens in traditional media – it always runs through at least two other people who freely make changes. And yet in this incredibly personal publishing media, people not only create and maintain a pretence that it is somehow an independent third-party, but readers themselves feel uncomfortable with the declaration that this is the product of just a single person’s blog – even though that is *precisely* what blogs are.

Don’t believe me?

Check out the top 100 blogs according to Technorati. How many of them use their full name in the name of their blog? Five!

But much more than that, the trend is definitely toward not including your name. Andrew Sullivan always used to be at, but now has transferred (and literally redirects his dotcom namesake) to a Time blog site at

Michelle Malkin – the highest ranking full-name blogger is even moving across to a new blog that doesn’t include her name – And she’s a self-loathing ego-maniac Republican nut-job. How come I never noticed this strange pretence that blogs aren’t personal before?

There are of course those blogs that just use either your first name or surname. I wonder how many people know that The Huffington Post was started by Arianna Huffington. Not that many, I suspect, because it has a very impersonal sound about it – presumably why it was chosen.

There is Robert Scoble who can’t bring himself to use his own name and so has There is Ze Frank – which I don’t know what to make of, so I’ll ignore it. There is by Xiaxue. And Trent Vanegas at – but he chooses to call his blog “Pink Is The New Blog”. And that’s it.

Of the top 100 blogs, only 10 choose to even include their name in the blog domain or title. There’s something remarkable about that considering what blogs are.

A picture paints 1,000 words, and no blogs

But getting back to my ugly mug. How many of these blogs actually include the author’s face? Here you hit another very interesting bit of psychology. Ze Frank has just his mouth and nose showing – he could be anyone. Seth Godin has just his eyes and his bald head. Robert Scoble is tiny in his header. Andrew Sullivan relies on a cartoon likeness. Michelle Malkin and Guy Kawaski have tiny pictures of themselves almost apologetically running in small boxes at the side.

Only Beppe Grillo, the crazy Italian, has actually stuck his picture on his own blog. And he has pushed it to the extreme of having his own tiny 16×16-pixel website icon of his face made.

Blogs examples

I don’t understand this strange requirement for people to sub-consciously believe that a personal web-log is, in fact, no such thing, that it is somehow outside of them. But there is no doubt that it is an American thing – because all the biggest blogs in the world are American and, as ever, it is setting the tone and culture of blogging.

I can only assume there is something in the American mentality that flinches at a picture of the author on a blog, and a personal page being named after the person that writes it. After all, it was the US that created the enormously complex ability to pose as anyone on the Net – something that I have never fully understood (I *always* register as “Kieren” even in chatrooms). Maybe an American could be kind enough to explain? Is it a sense of crass self-promotion? What is it?

Anyway, it’s clear that the recipe for success is to have your blog under some random catchy name, and then to make sure that your picture doesn’t appear on it. I can’t be bothered to shift from, but I have decided to kill my pic (what’s especially ironic is that I hate having my picture taken or displayed anywhere).

So on my search for a new pic to fill the space I typed “internet” into Google Images and found these two beauties from the same website on the Net’s history. There was something wonderfully ludicrous about the bloke under the satellite engine that pleased me, so that’s it.

Satellite manInternet man

I wait expectedly for my links to rocket 🙂

  1. Perhaps people don’t use their name or picture in blogs because they are scared of being dooced. Those ‘top bloggers’ seem to either be professional writers, earn a living through their blog or don’t need to worry about money.

  2. You mean fired? Nah, I doubt it. It seems far too widespread for that. It’s all part of this having other names for yourself online – which I have never understood.

    I know the top 100 isn’t the best indication of blogging but it is the best one I could think off which producing some kind of bias – there are hundreds of thousands of blogs and I needed to do a quick study of percentages.

    Do you not think it strange that such a personal medium is *purposefully* being made impersonal by its creators though?


  3. Perhaps the issue is what you write about? You tend to focus on two areas: Oxford and the domain name system. Neither are particularly compatible with each other, and you don’t write enough ‘general’ content to make that outweigh the two areas you focus on. Not many people are hugely interested in how the domain name system is run (at least in my experience anyway) and not many people not in Oxford are going to care much about Oxford (although I enjoy your articles!) Personally I like the fact your head looms over the blog – its clearly very personal.

  4. Ah there’s no way I want to actually be one of these bloggers. To do so I’d have to write one-sided commentaries about subjects I know nothing about, and start following whatever mindless hype there is that day, whether celebs or some YouTube trend, or whatever. If I’d wanted to sell my soul, I’d have done it years ago.

    But my point was this strange impersonal nature to a medium that is by its very definition highly personal. I only choose the Technorati top 100 as that seemed like a useful test group.

    But if I have a look at the more specialist blogs in my field, it’s the same story:

    Brett Fausett calls his Lextext and doesn’t have a pic (
    Bobbie Johnson does have – but no pic.
    Veni Markovski has and a tiny, tiny pic (actually, he also has
    Charles Arthur has but no pic
    Declan McCullagh has and a half-shadow pic

    Hmmm. Well, I’ll experiment with the scientist fella above and see what people make of it.

    Cheers Ed,


  5. I have a pic of me on my site, though like many journo byline photos it’s not a very up to date one. I can’t believe the picture (or absence of) has a big influence on link popularity. It’s much more about how much promotion people do, how well they write and so on. But if you want more links I’m happy to do a swap!

  6. I particularly like the satelite image lol love your humour!!

  7. blinded by the science of your study i now feel compelled to link to your blog. 51. Make sure you let us know the outcome of this research…

  8. […] …that is the question posed by Kieren McCarthy today. Using the Technorati/Edelman top 100 bloggers list as a basis of his study, Kieren is of the belief that using ones name in the title of your blog or your own picture directly impacts readership (i.e. people don’t want to link if your name or ugly/not so ugly mug is on your blog). Now that he has removed his picture from his blog, if the science of his study is to be believed, links to his blog should increase. Let’s wait and see… […]

  9. I take your point, but there are occasionally very good reasons why folk don’t want to use their real name and photo. I purposely started blogging anonymously because I was living in a communist state in a city where foreign journalists were banned from living and working. I loosened up towards the end of my tenure, but I received many emails from Vietnamese folk who – while fascianted and very keen on starting a blog – were scared of where it might land them. “In Vietnam it is very easy to find out who you are and where you are even if you do write anonymously” was one repsonse. One widely reported case put one guy in proson for 14 years, although he did get out early, he is (I think) still under house arrest and not allowed access to the internet. All that for writing the sort of stuff you might rattle off before breakfast without a second thought.

  10. Yes, indeed. My confident, even blase, assertions are built on the bodies and careers of thousands of people in British society that have come before me. Such is the arrogance of easy priviledge.

    I often wonder how long this confidence of free expression would stand in the face of a severely authoritarian government though. I think if history tells us anything, it’s that if the first big battle in an internal war on freedom of speech is lost, the rest soon crumbles.

    The US press was effectively nobbled from 2002 to 2005 through aggressive government tactics. If it wasn’t for the Constitution, it could have been far worse. I’m one of the daft sods that would end up in jail for conspiracy because of inflammatory and treacherous reporting.

    My blog post was more about Western blogs, but I’m glad you’ve brought in the wider world. Incidentally, there’ll be some interesting discussions on this very topic at the IGF next week.

    See here for example:


  11. The use of aliases surprises me too. I think most people choose cryptic email address when they first venture online either out of fear of being hacked / stalked or simply because any good email they can think of based on their name has already been taken. From there they continue on their double life.

    I don’t see the point in hiding my name. I write mostly about my running & anyone with half a brain only has to check my times against race results to find out who I am.

    I found your blog while being a bit narcissistic & Googling myself – don’t get many Kierens of this spelling.

  12. Having found your blog recently (today), I have to add that I think that your comment on the lack of pics phenomenon (re: blog banners) and American-centric tendencies generally, point to the contradiction in American society. Free to express yourself but not THAT free. Someone might be watching and keeping tabs on your statements. Maybe a touch of anonymity helps in being expressive in American society after all?

  13. It seems just people are afraid to use their pictures. They may have not so great opinions on themselves, or they are too humble.
    In Bulgaria, most of the wellknown blogs include at least the name of the person who is writing, and some of them have the pictures.

Comments are closed.