This is truly strange. A pair of young American entrepreneurs is outsourcing work to China – blogging work. 25 Chinese bloggers are being hired to maintain, under anglo-american names and personae, a fleet of 500 “unrelated” blogs, whose sole purpose is to harvest advertising revenue and generate buzz for client sites (story). They call this technique “astroturfing.” For it to work, they will have to train their team of low-wage, foreign scribes to adopt a voice that is convincing to Western audiences – more than that familiar character from the world of outsourcing, the cheerful lady on the tech support line introducing herself, in a suspiciously Bengali accent, as Mary Beth.
To march these sweatshop bloggers across the cultural divide, the company is undertaking a bizarre experiment in remote socialization, inundating their staff with Western music and movies, honing their pop culture instincts, and assigning lists of topics for them to master. Such a weird, morally cockeyed scheme could only be devised up by someone in the grip of severe boredom (though there is a faint whiff of cultural revolution). Sure enough, “Blogoriented,” as the venture is punningly called, seems to have been conceived as a fanciful escape for two cogs (named Steve and Jeff) from the stultification of office existence. On their blog, Steve describes the genesis of the project, as well as his reservations:
My problem with this venture is that we are exploiting a once pure medium and diluting the blogosphere with what are basically lies. To Jeff this is a non-issue. He spent the last few years as a software engineer in China coordinating projects between american programmers and their outsourced counterparts. He trained the chinese programmers so well he was no longer needed and was offered a reduced salary or the door. To him this venture is his way to tap into a hot economic trend and avoid working for someone else his whole life. For me this is a way out of the cubicle. I’ve spent the last few years watching the clock as a financial analyst for a large credit card firm. Finding the best ways to maximize the number of clients that carry a balance was just too depressing for me. Blogs are intrinsically a blend of fact and artistry. Our product really won’t be that different.
Reading the intro, it’s clear that Steve has appointed himself as the troubled conscience of the team. He begins with a quote from Matthew – “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (16:26) – and goes on to describe their business strategy, intermittently bemoaning the hellfire he fears will greet their bastardization of the blog form. But dreams of big bucks brush aside concerns for the immortal soul. Whether or not this questionable caper succeeds, their personal blog of Steve and Jeff promises to be an entertaining read.