|The great outdoors – don’t you just love it!|
While away on my trips filming in the hills, I often log onto the internet (signal permitting) and read through the many outdoor blogs to be found – and I’ve noticed in some quarters there’s been some debate of late concerning the integrity of some authors and the creeping commercialisation of such sites.
This debate has likely kicked off on many levels due to the number of outdoors blogs out there now and the invites many have been sent concerning Gore Tex’s Active Shell Bloggers Summit over in Bavaria. And I’d like to throw my tuppence into this conversation (now I’m home) and perhaps explain a few things concerning me and my blog, too.
First off, I have to admit I too got an invite to Gore but have decided not to take up the offer of an all expenses paid trip in Germany to meet their team and fellow outdoors enthusiasts. Not because I don’t particularly want to per se – but mostly because I’m unable to due to work.
Initially, there was some scepticism on my part with Gores motives behind the event but I can very well see why they’ve done this. The outdoors blogosphere is growing and becoming ever more influential as far as marketeers are concerned and this is quite understandable.
It’s an extensive community of like-minded souls who potentially have a reach and influence over many prospective customers for some gear companies. And it’s no surprise therefore that some of this beginning to be tapped.
The way the internet has shaped all our lives in the past 10 years is really quite remarkable – it’s enriched the world we live in and has shaped the way many think and wish to lead their lives. Naturally there has been some negative side effects to this empowerment and influence too. Be it extremism or such stories as Wikileaks. And for those who love the great outdoors they have been affected just as much as in any sector. Be it learning of new places, re-visiting old ones, sharing tips and stories, kit reviews, opinions and of course socialising.
Social networking is here to stay, that’s for sure and many businesses have failed miserably to take advantage of this ever growing market. As such we’ve seen the traditional media lose more and more of it’s influence and in turn they’ve lost huge amounts of revenue. And us users, in effect the customer have gained massively from all of this. We’ve become more empowered.
Against this back drop, it should come as no surprise that outdoor blogging has taken off into the stratosphere. Be it sites such as Blogger and others, Twitter et al or online forums (which in themselves are now dying a slow death but they still have their place).
Outdoor blogging has always been about the author, their travels and experiences and much more. Usually it’s a mark of their character and in turn sharing the joy of the great outdoors wherever you are in the world is enlightening and entertaining. Granted, there are some which are very bog standard but they’re no less interesting than those that are extremely popular. Human beings are social creatures and instinctively fall into groups. Blogging, forums and the internet have brought many of us together to form a ever closer knit community worldwide, breaking down barriers and prejudice.
|Picture courtesy of Dean Read – me wandering around with my video camera on Kinder Scout|
All said and done, where blogging is concerned, essentially it’s always about the content – whatever it’s quality – and it’s up to those who blog what they choose to write about or develop. After all, we’re all individuals and so blogs should reflect that. And just as you may prefer one person to another in real every day life – so it will be the case when it’s comes to following blogs online. Hike your own hike so they say – well, blog your own blog, no?
The same goes for our interests, passions and more. Blogs are a reflection of not only ourselves but our tastes and interests, too.
So, why then noting all the above is there some consternation in some quarters within the outdoors blogosphere?
Inevitably, authors will talk about gear concerning our pursuits and what’s relevant to them. It’s natural. We’re social, the medium we’re talking about is about sharing. How one chooses to present it to the world is up to them. But there are questions being raised (along with eyebrows) about those who do ‘gear reviews’. Their motives and integrity is being questioned namely due to a large number of gear companies and outdoors retailers sending in some wares in the hope of some market awareness.
Consequently, some reviews be it favourable or not can be open to debate and for some ridicule, too. Fairly and unfairly.
The fact of the matter is this.
As I’ve already mentioned above, it’s this untapped market influence gear companies and retailers are reaching out for. And you can’t blame them. That’s business. And those who are good at it have been promoting such practices for quite some time and not just in the outdoors blogosphere. If for one minute you believe that any gear company does not wish to promote their wares in any shape or form via any blogger they could choose – then you’re a very naive person. If such a business thought that way – they’d be out of business very soon in this day and age.
Bloggers have helped small companies thrive for crying out loud. Unheard of to most, now sought after by most! There’s loads of examples. It’s that empowerment the internet has brought us and naturally some companies can thrive or die from its effects.
Big companies who screw up on kit or a practice – gets blogged about and their reputation is potentially ruined! Twitter and all it’s foibles has proven the power of mass social networking media in the past couple of years (of which I’m sure you don’t need me to list examples of). If some deserve praise the word spreads and so on.
So some bloggers are becoming another tool in the arsenal of marketing which is understandable. And why not? It’s everywhere on the internet. Travel blogs, automobiles, music, fashion and more. It’s in our everyday lives too, be it adverts on the radio, TV or billboards.
But just because someone has paid for some gear or been given it for free (or test and return) doesn’t or at least shouldn’t mean the authors review is compromised in any shape or form. I certainly don’t take it that way.
It’s pretty obvious if it has anyway. If you’re familiar with the author of a particular blog, you tend to gauge what they’re like in character and personality and shape your own opinion (rightly or wrongly but such are words on a screen!).
I wouldn’t say I’m a liberal, but I’m a firm believer in ‘each to their own’ and diversity. So, blogs will reflect that and in my opinion should.
As far as I’m concerned with my own blog – well, I’ve only been doing it for little over a year and I’m well aware of how popular it’s become. It bedazzles me (some cynical and harsh critics will more than likely agree with me on that!) but it’s also very heartening that there are those who enjoy sharing my joy from the outdoors. I’ve always been into my outdoor pursuits from a very young age and it irks me somewhat that due to some off the cuff remarks or questions somewhere I’ve made in the online world that some folk are naive enough to think that such words are a definitive reflection of my experiences or character.
And those who’ve met me and know me can testify to that.
I was encouraged to create a blog by a fellow blogger and I was unsure of the idea at first because in reality I’m a very modest and down to earth person. I’m not one to be a showboat or wash my dirty linen in public. And I’ve no doubt many other bloggers are the same. Consequently, I use my pseudonym of ‘terrybnd’. Not because I’m hiding anything – far from it. I’m just naturally a cautious and careful thinker. I’m really very much a private and modest man.
But here we are today and I’ve been blogging, tweeting and all sorts – sharing my thoughts and joys of the great outdoors. And for those who’ve followed my blog over the past year they’ve seen how I’ve developed my career in filmmaking on the hills. Self-taught and self-made. Remember, it was a redundancy near Christmas last year that gave me that final push over the edge?
I’ve been fortunate enough to combine a passion for backpacking with a love for sharing the sights I see via video.
If you came up to me a year ago and told me I’d be where I am now in the future – I’d have laughed in your face! And despite my bad days out on the tops I do from time to time pinch myself and cannot believe I now spend more of my nights out under nylon outside than I do in my own bed at home.
The boundary between hobby and job has not only become blurred but disappeared all together.
And so as time has passed I’ve been contacted by more and more companies wishing to feature in some capacity in my outdoors career. I’m not stupid. I know full well the reasons why. Free marketing and access to an audience.
But this much has been obvious over the past few months – I’ve been selective in whom I deal with. Not out of snobbery or anything like that. But out of integrity.
If a company is not prepared to accept a negative remark or review of their product, then I quite simply do not wish to deal with them. They can totter off to some magazine they sponsor in some shape or form if they want that.
And believe me – there’s been several. Some are surprising and others not so. But I’m polite and fair and do not wish to embarrass them but if I feel they’ve really crossed a line, then I’ll not give a second thought to spread the word on here.
I don’t always state what kit I have in for testing either. I don’t wish for my blog to be some gear review mecca – that’s all. My blog was always about me – my online outdoors diary. My videos and more. If I’m honest, with my current workload I just don’t have the time to try out more kit or review it. I take it very seriously. I may well be given kit nowadays that’s saved me a tonne of money – but I haven’t got my head up in the clouds and forgotten what it’s like to part with hard earned cash. And as it happens I still purchase gear anyway out of personal preference.
Talk I’ve read of gear being tested over 30 days (involving separate trips) makes me chuckle. I test the kit I am given or buy over several days at a time, in all conditions (and sometimes choose to really push them to my own ill effect) over a period of several weeks.
In effect, I’m giving the gear a use that equates to most folks trips in one year! And I can tell you, you soon find out if kit is worth it’s salt or not after a few days hiking over several weeks.
For example, Exped Synmats. I bloody love em. Fab products. But I’ve gone through two Exped Synmat UL in less than 3 months. The first had approx 28 nights use and had a failure. The other is still going strong but did have a minor fault of which I repaired – nothing major but some of it’s insulation has now delaminated. The mat is covered in crap, has been soaked through, torn at – the lot. Would you as a user discover these faults in 30 nights? On separate trips?
Even so, it’s still going well and performing after 40 nights now. Count em. 40. Longest period of use in one go? 7 nights. That shows you how often I’m out in a tent on the hills. That won’t come as any surprise to some of you, I know. But some will through a blinkered view of me think it’s all a lie.
And if it helps – I bought the mats. They’re not test kit per se. That much will be obvious in any review I submit that I think will be helpful to my readers in the next couple of weeks or so – and it’s pretty plain to see for any other kit I’ve submitted a review for in the past.
Don’t get me wrong, with experience and personal preferences you can judge how a product will perform just from looking or one trip – but also you can get it very wrong, too. Kit I thought that be ace? After 30 nights, fell apart. Was not happy.
So, you can see from a gear companies perspective, I may well be just the sort of person they’re looking for to try out sample kit or brand new off the shelves equipment. It’s a clear two way working relationship for a mutual benefit in principle.
The likes of Rab and Terra Nova full well know my experiences in the past and present. I give them constant feedback on their products and they are always all ears and respond in a way we all hope and wish gear companies would. If they didn’t think I was much cop – well, I wouldn’t be testing their gear would I.
I’m a backpacker first and foremost. I’m a filmmaker second and a blogger third. And so it won’t come as a shock to learn that perhaps I’m a creative individual with a passion for sharing the outdoors (eg, the Monsal Head meet being one of many and even that was purely a social event I organised, nothing more, nothing less) that may well be deemed to have gone a little commercial.
Well, it makes sense does it not?
My blog is still my blog – it’s not owned or managed by anyone.
I have placed an advert for a particular pub in the top right corner of this page. Aye, I got paid for it – they aint having the profile and exposure for free. But it’s a bloody good pub I like and know not many people are aware of. What’s wrong with me being a little commercial here? And that’s just one example. For the keen eyed, you’ll see how I’ve considered how some may find this kind of thing intrusive so I’ve kept it to the far right of my blog page. It’s there for all to see but not too intrusive as to be off putting.
Besides, it’s an extra bit of revenue for me being self-employed. The kit I test supplements the vast amount of money I could’ve spent on kit just performing my job. I’ve gone through 3 pairs of shoes this year already, for example and when I’m done with the Merrell Intercepts, I’ll move onto a new pair of Karrimors sat in a box. I’ve got some Vango, Vaude gear to try out (some of which many many will find very interesting) but haven’t made the time to try em out proper yet.
So, if you were in my shoes wouldn’t all of the above be obvious?
Having read my posts, viewed my pictures, met me in a pub or on a meet, watched my videos and more – would all this not make some sense? Do you feel you know me well enough to trust my opinion and use it for your own decision making on a gear purchase? How about other bloggers?
Do you think I should just strip away everything on this wee space of mine in the online world and keep it to just text?
This whole blog is a reflection of the work I do, all it entails and much much more. But some people don’t see that. They see someone who’s carving a career for themselves in the outdoors and find it distasteful. They perceive it all as self-promoting.
To be frank, my answer is “rubbish”. Carving a career? It IS my bloody career. I’m a fake? Pah! That one and all those sort of insinuations make me, the gear companies and all who I know and work with laugh for minutes on end. The sort of remarks classic to ‘know it all’ keyboard warriors often found in chatrooms and online forums. As is often the case in life it’s always the minority which are rightly or wrongly heard the loudest.
So, take this post as what I believe is a majority of folks views. I could be wrong of course but I’d like to bring a public balance to this debate. Another vocal perspective, if you like.
Some will argue I shouldn’t even rise to all this – I’m not really. Just making a point and an observation albeit if it makes me as guilty of them of prejudice and ignorance, too – so be it. But this whole post is borne out of a provocative debate by some who think what they publicly state is gospel and should be adhered to.
All said and done – and this has been a long post – my blog is my blog. If you like it, great. If not? Well, I won’t be seeing you around on here again. Simple. Who says we should like every blog going? I wouldn’t think anything less of you if you dislike my blog.
And if you’re off to the Gore event in Germany? Good on ya and have a good time! It will make for a great experience to meet the team, see how they work, ask questions and bring all that info back to us readers.
If I were going, I’d be taking the video camera along!
For the bloggers I know who are going? I for one won’t judge you on your decision or even question your integrity as an individual. I trust you are all intelligent enough to know the crack and will consequently report back in the fair and objective manner you usually do.
I wouldn’t want you to insult my intelligence in any other way.
But all this talk about how blogs should and shouldn’t be, the whole negative tone and aloofness some take on this whole argument – well, it’s time to chill out. Move with the times, or better still live and let live.
Do your own thing, choose how you wish things to be but don’t expect everyone else to do the same. We’re all different and we should all respect one and others points of views as with all in life.
Some people take things too seriously and when they do? It’s usually a sign of some other underlying gripe or concern whether that may be disguised as something else – personal or not.
You want to blog about the outdoors? Do it! If not, that’s fine too. Want advertising? Sponsorship? Anything like that? Who cares? Each to their own and live your own life. Be creative, be sociable! If you don’t want to, well you’re in the wrong place.
So, to end on a happy note…..here’s a short clip of one of four videos I was filming on my last trip. My next escapade will be in just 5 days time, so I’ve not much time to get work finished!
I’m here just to share my passion for the great outdoors – and I hope you all feel the same too on that note.