Instablogs to Keyser Söze: These Are Times of Great Change

Posted on July 2, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |

I often receive emails that look to promote a startup or a product launch. Most are rarely worth writing about, let alone reading in the first place.

But congratulations are in order for “citizen journalism” blog network Instablogs for sending me what could be the most humorous promotional email of the year:

Dear Keyser Söze,

As you know, these are times of great change.

There is a powershift going on throughout the world.

Individual citizens are garnering more and more control over all aspects of their lives.

We at Instablogs noticed the trend years ago and put together Instablogs. The goal of which is to provide a voice for citizens throughout the world who usually are not heard by traditional media.

We have Citizen Journalists literally throughout the world, which provide news, pictures and videos. The network has over 25,000 registered members and gets more 3 million pageviews per month.

We post it on our site and create a forum where the news and opinions can be discussed. From our inception, growth has been steady. But we are always looking for ways to improve and expand the reach of the voices we serve.

On July 1st 2008 we officially launched Global Report - the first daily online video show with news done by our citizen journalist all over the world.

This show is available on various formats and also for mobile devices, including the iPhone.

The show is a work in progress but we invite you to check it out and let us know what you think.

Putting a daily show together of such magnitude has been an adventure in itself. We have writers sending us information putting their own lives at risk to get the truth out. We have literally put together a global news organization using tools which have to be available in even some of the world’s poorest countries.

All members of the Instablogs team which helped put this show together are available for interviews in case you would like to know more details.

We have also created a Press Section which is open to all journalists (including bloggers) where you can find more company info, pictures, and other notes of interest. We encourage you to use it for your research.

Thank you for your time.

Your valuable feedback and suggestions are welcome.

I’ve never been addressed as “Keyser Söze” before so that alone set off my “stupidity detector” and encouraged me to read the entire email.

As I read it, I felt honored to be invited by Instablogs to participate in the “powershift” that is currently taking place. Eager to get in on the action, I quickly browsed over to Instablogs to gain the control I’ve been searching for.

What was I greeted with?

First, headlines and links to stories from the mainstream media - including content from AP (I hope Instablogs has a license).

I became a little disappointed because I was expecting to be bombarded by breaking news sourced from citizen journalists all around the world. For a moment, I thought that it was all a cold-hearted scam.

But then I dug deeper and found those “Citizen Voices” I had been listening for:

After being educated by Instablogs’ citizen journalists on a wide range of topics, I was also pleased to find thought-provoking polls that forced me to answer tough questions “Is today’s youth too weak to handle glamordom?” The question was posted by Shimla, who I believe a distant relative of George W. Bush.

Finally, in need of some multimedia, I decided to make some popcorn and watch the of the Instablogs Global Report. Although it reminded me of my past interactions with Dell customer service, I found the content fascinating. From learning that sex workers in New Zealand have great working conditions to learning that Brazil has luxurious prisons equipped with plasma televisions, I couldn’t help but think that the Global Report might one day replace my daily viewing of CNN.

Finding myself exhausted by the intellectual stimulation that the traditional news media had never provided me with, I left Instablogs suddenly understanding the power of citizen journalism that had previously eluded me.

Okay, maybe not.

I had never heard of Instablogs but was not surprised to read that Duncan Riley called Instablogs a “fairly well-rounded portal covering a wide variety of topic areas” and found their “numbers” to be “fairly impressive.”

Others seem to be equally impressed. One person was so attracted to Instablogs that he bought into Instablogs CEO Ankit Maheshwari’s vision to “build an international news organization to rival CNN.” He claims that Instablogs is learning to “shoot bullet[s] around CNN.”

Frankly, if Instablogs is considered by anybody to be a legitimate effort at “citizen journalism” and was successful in raising a multi-million dollar funding round, “citizen journalism” might as well give up.

I’m not unrealistic and don’t expect that citizen journalists will initially produce polished products that rival those of the mainstream news media. But the quality of every single piece of citizen journalist content I found on Instablogs was sub-par.

One could, of course, claim that I’m being elitist. One might argue that it’s wrong to discourage individuals from attempting to report information they think is important, regardless of whether or not they have the skills reasonably required to do so.

But let’s be realistic: getting an “A for effort” doesn’t count for much in the real world. I want quality information from individuals who are skilled and knowledgeable and I want it presented in a format that is clear and professional.

Instablogs lacks quality information and quality presentation and while some might praise it for its efforts, perhaps it’s time that the citizen journalism “community” ask itself the following question: are we trying to stand out in the “special education” class or are we aiming to get into the “honors” class?

Right now, it appears that citizen journalists are happy riding the short yellow bus. Keyser Söze is not impressed.

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17 Responses to “Instablogs to Keyser Söze: These Are Times of Great Change”

  1. Mike Rundle on July 2nd, 2008 10:35 am

    I got the same email, but I’ve gotten a number of weird emails from Instablogs and Instablogs users for the years so I didn’t pay much attention to it. Fortunately, you did, so I got to read your analysis which was much more exciting.

  2. Ankit Maheshwari on July 2nd, 2008 11:39 am

    Hi [Drama 2.0 Show Author],

    I tried searching your name but couldn’t find it on your blog.

    My name is Ankit, and I am CEO of

    Thanks for in depth review of Instablogs.

    Let me answer some of the questions.

    Q1. including content from AP (I hope Instablogs has a license).

    Yes we have a license. We have a monthly paid subscription from AP.

    Q2. For a moment, I thought that it was all a cold-hearted scam.

    I am not able to understand the scam part. Maybe your readers or yourself can put some light into it.

    Q3. The question was posted by Shimla, who I believe may be a distant relative of George W. Bush.

    I assume that was an attempt at humor. FAIL

    Q4. Sending me what could be the most humorous promotional email of the year.

    I am happy you enjoyed that.

    Q.5. But the quality of every single piece of citizen journalist content I found on Instablogs was sub-par.

    Maybe you are right. But if we are able to generate interest in millions of readers, I am happy in the end. Saying the work of the citizen journalists is “sub-par” is not an insult to me but to the regular people around the world who actually do the work. These people are average joes, soccer moms, students, etc. This is not there profession. To insult their work says alot more about you and your character than ours.

    One thing you haven`t noticed, everyone who has praised Instablogs has a first and last name like “Duncan Riley”, “Prince Campbell”, “Fred Wilson”, Howard Lindzon” etc.. These folks see the potential of what we are trying to do. Isn`t it strange the only criticism we get is either from anonymous commenters or media shy bloggers.

    Thanks for the time to write about us, though. We appreciate it.

  3. Ankit Maheshwari on July 2nd, 2008 11:42 am

    I have exchanged few emails with you. Though we have never met face to face, but still I think we know each other more than you bad mouthing us.
    And if my memory doesn`t fail me, you were the one of the first guys who reviewed us, even before our official launch. Did I or anyone from Instablogs team mailed you that time?

    Anyways don`t you think its high time you should check before you speak so that you don`t have to apologize every time.

  4. Ankit Maheshwari on July 2nd, 2008 11:43 am

    @Mike Rundle (9rules)

    I have exchanged few emails with you. Though we have never met face to face, but still I think we know each other more than you bad mouthing us.
    And if my memory doesn`t fail me, you were the one of the first guys who reviewed us, even before our official launch. Did I or anyone from Instablogs team mailed you that time?

    Anyways don`t you think its high time you should check before you speak so that you don`t have to apologize every time.

  5. Drama 2.0 on July 2nd, 2008 12:27 pm


    “Saying the work of the citizen journalists is ’sub-par’ is not an insult to me but to the regular people around the world who actually do the work. These people are average joes, soccer moms, students, etc. This is not there profession. To insult their work says alot more about you and your character than ours.”

    You sent me an announcement making bold statements about a “powershift” and claiming that some of your citizen journalists are “putting their own lives at risk to get the truth out.”

    According to one person who is apparently working with Instablogs, your personal goal is to build a news organization “to rival CNN.”

    If you think that it’s unfair for me to point out that the quality of what you offer doesn’t match your claims and stated goals, I’m afraid that you’re not living in the real world.

    As it relates to all of the “average joes, soccer moms, students, etc.” you speak of, let me ask you this: do they each want a cookie for their less-than-satisfactory attempts at journalism?

    By your own admission, journalism isn’t “there” profession. In the world I live in, I don’t praise somebody for simply attempting to perform a task that he knows he has no skills or qualifications to perform.

    Would you encourage your auto-loving friend to rebuild the engine in your car when you know that he has no training and experience as a mechanic? Of course not. So why would you encourage a person who has no writing skills and no training as a journalist to become a “reporter”?

    As it relates to my identity: as I’ve stated many times in the past, an argument can be proven to be valid or flawed without knowing the identity of the person making it. If you can’t debunk my argument about the quality of your offering without knowing who I am, it tells me that you’re incapable of defending your argument on merit.

    Finally, I would point out that you sent your announcement (unsolicited) to “Keyser Söze.” I don’t know how your “corporate communications” person came across my blog or why I was added to your list (I certainly didn’t opt in). Whatever the case, you sent your announcement to me and based on the mention of your “press section” can only assume that I received it as part of your press/blogger outreach. In it, you ask for feedback and thus, it’s a bit disingenuous to complain that I apparently haven’t given you the feedback you were looking for.

  6. Ankit Maheshwari on July 2nd, 2008 1:50 pm

    We stand by all the claims we made.

    Some of our CJs even take big risks in uncovering critical issues. For e.g. One of our CJ who is a monk from Burma living in exile in Colombo gave us exclusive pictures of a food starved village from Burma after cyclone Nargis devastated that place.

    He was doing a story on callous nature of the Burmese government who is doing nothing for the dying people and even refused to take aid from the outside initially.

    In another episode; few days ago there was bomb explosion in a local cinema in Pakistan. And our CJ Adil was there. He wasted no time in contacting us and sent us the eye witness account of the whole episode. We were one of the first media outlets to break the news.

    I can go on with examples like these if you want.

    Sometimes our average joes are people who are top level police offices, correspondents in Economist, monks, professional journalists, screen writers, UN food program officers, soldiers serving for their countries etc.
    Journalism isn`t there profession and most of the people who run Instablogs are not there for monetary benefits. We have an amazing community, from all parts of the world.

    Can you be honest for a second, and can point me to any other daily news show like Global Report which has citizen journalists from different time zones, nationalities, cultures coming together every day to produce it.

    We have produce 8 shows so far and have already features 30 different countries, and 24 countries including Iran, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Brazil etc.

  7. Drama 2.0 on July 2nd, 2008 2:32 pm

    Ankit: with all due respect, have you taken a look at the majority of the content on your service?

    First, you promote AP content above that of your own writers. I can get this content anywhere.

    When I do browse your content, here is what I currently see:

    - Rudolf, an MFA student from New York, provides his opinion about the Supreme Court’s recent 2nd Amendment decision.

    - Tamara Pearson, an “activist and writer” who is “living in and loving Venezuela,” argues that Venezuela is doing a great job providing for the disabled.

    - Kim, a political blogger from New York, contributes one more blog post that criticizes one of the US presidential candidates - this one explaining why she thinks Barack Obama is corrupt.

    - Sumita, who is “deeply in love” with her nation of India, provides her opinion on the death of a nuclear bill, which she calls the “death of our National interest.”

    - Santosi Panda, a sociology student in India, tells us that old people are in trouble and keenly observes that “the old age people face many health problems.”

    - Hollan, a “writer, photographer and world traveler with a B.A. in Linguistics” who lives in Las Vegas, details in four paragraphs why the Republican Party is hypocritical but does note that “their [sic] are hypocrisies in both parties.”

    - Madhuri Katti, a “freelancer and a keen observer of the world” from India, calls hatred the “modern world’s WMD” and asks “Who will curb this WMD used by one and all in present society and politics?”

    - Kim from New York discusses the situation in Chechnya with an anti-Kremlin slant and calls the people of Russia “blithely ignorant and apathetic.”

    Eight “citizen voices” on your homepage. Not one that I found worthwhile to “listen” to. For the most part, the writers had few obvious qualifications to address the topics they wrote about and worse, there was little more than opinion without any coherent analysis that would establish some sort of credibility.

    Throw in all of the typos and poor grammar and I can’t point to a single “story” currently on your homepage that I would call quality journalism.

    As it relates to your “broadcast”: I again found the quality to be lacking. It’s hard to understand what is being said half the time and none of the stories were particularly compelling in my opinion.

    Once again, I didn’t see any evidence that the individuals producing these reports have any qualifications and given the poor presentation, there was really no way for any of them to establish some credibility.

    At the end of the day, why would I care if you’re the only producer of a “daily news show” that is based on content from citizen journalists? If the quality of what you offer isn’t compelling, what reason do I have to watch? I’m certainly not going to watch something that I don’t think adds value to my life.

  8. antijihad on July 3rd, 2008 12:30 am

    @Drama 2.0

    i am frequent visitor of and i have seen many changes on the site in the last six months…it has evolved from an ordinary site to one of the leading in citizen voices however i do agree that Cjs has become a fad in today’s competing media houses but when we talk of Cjs we don’t talk of professionals or quality for that matter.

    I really don’t agree with your point that cj stories (of course not written with the much-needed journalistic approach) don’t add value to your life.

    May be you are right to some extent because you are really not concerned what an Indian thinks about US foreign policy or what an American think about Kremlin…i mean the ordinary ones…but according to you its the professionals that have that thinking power to make a story so that it adds value to your life.

    i think its not about adding value to your life…its more about adding value to those unheard voices that have gone missing in this highly quality obsessed readership.

    i think you should reconsider what you think about the Instablogs effort or many such sites in the making…

  9. Sanwali Sharma on July 3rd, 2008 1:22 am

    The only thing that I want to say right now is that Instablogs is not non-professional but is giving a platform to all those common citizens to express their views. Most of them are not professional writers or the journalists but have a keen interest in sharing their knowledge and viewpoint.
    And I think this concept is unique in its nature and is highly appreciable in my opinion.

  10. Drama 2.0 on July 3rd, 2008 1:41 am

    antijihad: most companies involved in the news media have a simple business model - aggregate an audience that can be sold to advertisers. The “product” isn’t news - it’s readers/viewers.

    Considering that, your position that Instablogs’ purpose is “more about adding value to those unheard voices” is flawed. Unless those “unheard voices” are producing content that attracts an audience that can generate revenue for Instablogs, your statement is akin to taking the position that CNN’s purpose is to add value to its reporters’ lives.

    The bottom line is that if Istablogs fails to deliver content that is compelling enough to drive the creation of a viable business, Ankit Maheshwari’s vision of building a news organization to rival CNN is little more than a pipe dream.

    Finally, it is not that I am incapable of appreciating what an Indian thinks about US foreign policy or what an American thinks about the Kremlin. But you fail to recognize that opinions are like assholes - everybody has one.

    If that Indian or American has some sort of background or experience that serves as the basis for an educated, credible and well-reasoned “story,” I am interested.

    Unfortunately, I was unable to locate anything on Instablogs (within a reasonable amount of time) that struck me as being worthy of an investment of my time outside of my post here.

    This is the challenge citizen journalism ventures face - providing quality, professional information on a consistent basis.

    Anybody who believes that citizen journalism’s idealism will trump the demand for quality information and content is fooling himself.

  11. Vikas Shekhawat on July 3rd, 2008 4:54 am

    You’re right to say that citizen journalism cannot shadow the demand for quality information. However, you cannot ignore citizen voices. The writer of this blog fails to understand that the pro Vs amateur journalism debate faded away long back.

    Look how beautifully the whole Instablogs Community has come together and put up a great show.

    And look how deftly you’ve given your opinion here - ‘No Beta Bitch’.

    Can a pro do this?
    Can you expect CNN guys to do this?

    The writer of this post missed the point. It’s not about throwing bullets around CNN OR standing in front of a pole dancer holding an empty gun (check the logo above). It’s about having a heart big enough to talk to a monk in exile, embrace ‘him’ and make him run the show.

  12. Drama 2.0 on July 3rd, 2008 8:17 am

    Vikas: I can’t find a point in your post but I’m glad the Instablogs “community” has come together so beautifully. Seeing that you work for Instablogs, it would be quite a shame if you didn’t believe in what your employer is doing.

    By the way, I will be ignoring your citizen voices. And given that you appear to draw well under 100,000 visitors a month in the US and less than 150,000 visitors a month globally, it appears that the rest of the world is doing the same.

  13. Mike Rundle on July 3rd, 2008 10:32 am

    Ankit, bad-mouthing you? I did no such thing. I received the exact same spammy email as Drama 2.0 and it’s 100% completely true that I’ve received spam email messages from Instablogs users in the past. I’m guessing that because I was one of the earliest users to create an account within your service, I’m more of a target for spammers than other accounts. There is nothing vindictive whatsoever about my comments, I’m pointing out facts.

    I said that reading this satirized version of the spam email was more exciting than the email itself, I don’t see anything incorrect about that assumption.

  14. Vince on July 4th, 2008 7:50 am

    Ahem! I cannot understand why there is argument about CNN versus Citizen Journalism, especially as CNN themselves have been promoting it for some time!!
    These quotes are especially relevant:

    “Perhaps no mainstream media outlet has done more to push citizen journalism into the spotlight over the past year than CNN. In August 2006, they launched the user generated content-focused i-Report feature on their web site”

    “… the site’s editors have only displayed about 10 percent of those submissions, which are vetted for content and accuracy.”

    “The new site, will be completely open in terms of what users can upload. Users will be in charge of deciding what constitutes news, and which submissions should be removed from the site. “The community will decide what the news is,” CNN News EVP Susan Grant told Mediaweek. “We are not going to discourage or encourage anything — iReport will be completely unvetted.” (Though CNN will monitor the site for inappropriate content.)

    So it seems that the ‘Professional journalists’ agree that non professional user generated news has indeed got plenty of apeal and value. ;-)

    - Vince

  15. Vince on July 4th, 2008 8:03 am

    Forgot to mention for those unaware,
    Newsvine Acquired By MSNBC - Leading Citizen Journalism Site

  16. Drama 2.0 on July 4th, 2008 10:17 am

    Vince: first, I think we should distinguish between “citizen journalism” in the abstract and the “citizen journalism” that Instablogs has produced specifically.

    You might want to read my original post about citizen journalism, in which I stated:

    That said, the mainstream press has problems, and I think citizen journalism may be able to help. The mainstream press should look to leverage the most talented citizen journalists. In theory, if done right, this may provide the mainstream press with some cost benefits, while giving the citizen journalists more resources, access and exposure than they have on their own.

    Just as I think that Silicon Valley and Hollywood will end up looking more like partners as opposed to foes, I think the world of the mainstream press will eventually come into contact with the world of citizen journalism. And of course, when this happens, a funny thing will take place: the best citizen journalists will become the professional journalists that so many of us take pleasure in marginalizing today.

    Is this not what CNN’s iReport is doing?

    iReport has a sensible format: provide a place where individuals can share “stories” that they think are important and if CNN’s editors and producers find something of value, those “stories” may be used in a real CNN report. This format makes sense because:

    1. It doesn’t look to replace CNN’s existing journalistic apparatus with a patchwork network of volunteer “citizen journalists.

    2. There are editorial controls. If I’m not interested in sorting through all of the material on iReport, I can still benefit from iReport content because the best of it may find its way into CNN’s regular reporting.

    This is much different than what Instablogs is doing and frankly, as it relates to Instablogs or “citizen journalism” versus CNN, the only reason this crept into the discussion was because the Instablogs CEO has apparently stated that he wants to build a network to rival CNN. Thus there’s nothing wrong pointing out that this isn’t anywhere near to being accomplished.

    At the end of the day, I suppose the lesson to be learned is that not all citizen journalism initiatives are created equal.

  17. Raj on July 16th, 2008 8:14 am

    Well all this debate about the citizen journalists to be more talented as referred to by keyser , let me add here that citizen journalists are doing great on instablogs.It appears the concept of the citizens reporting from the various parts of the world , is not clear to soze . Let me mention it here anything new always creates criticism till it turns into success. It will be better as to provide some constructive suggestions for the improvement in this endeavour. People like keyser either are well followed or are ignored outright. Instablogs it will be better if you take the latter view and continue with improved presentation. This thing is goin` to click.

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Drama 2.0 spikes the Web 2.0 kool aid by providing critical analyses of Web 2.0, its people, its startups and its impact on the world of media. Other topics are explored when Drama 2.0 has been drinking too much 1975 Dom Perignon. Read more about the Internet's version of Keyser Söze here.