Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 8 May 03 18:43
> Weblogs were different in several ways from those publications: they > were published continually, not periodically; they were made up of a > series of short entries, rather than article-length pieces; and their > content consisted of or was formed around pointers to full-length > pieces or other sites. Rebecca, don't you think these differences were format-related? When we were making zines, we did so because that was the best medium available to fit our intentions - but the web gave us more freedom, so we published closer to the form we really wanted - continual, brief (because we could always publish more tomorrow), and hyperlinked, because we could.
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Thu 8 May 03 19:13
Well, you tell me: I never made a zine. I found weblogs, fell in love with them, and never looked back. :) Truth is, I think blogging appeals to different people for different reasons. Some people want to be part of a community, some want an audience for their writing, some want to share information, some want to influence public policy, and some want to organize their lives. Why were you attracted to e-zines, and why are you attracted to blogging? I think of them as two very different forms. Does blogging accomplish what you were trying to do with your zine? I think there is value in longer pieces. I love weblogs, but I am don't think that one size fits all. Longer pieces--and collections of longer pieces--are valuable, and can, for example, carry a theme or subject through to completion in a way that weblogs rarely manage to do. Writing short is hard--but so is writing a real, structured article, with a beginning, middle, and end. I think there's a place for both longer and shorter form writing on the Web. I hope to see some of the bloggers move to longer forms and more complex projects. In fact, I've seen this happen already. People start blogging, and suddenly they realize that a) they *can* write, and b) they have the persistence to stick with an ongoing project. For some people, that's what it takes to start a novel or a collaborative project or to start writing longer pieces on their own sites.
The Fucked-Up Piano Chicks (magdalen) Thu 8 May 03 20:16
the universal adoration of conciseness online is one of the things that actually bugs me about web writing in general and blog writing in particular. maybe that's why i always end up wasting away my hours on the Well: here, i still get pointed to all kinds of new links and info, but with a sense of personal context and using serious *voice.* to me, the zine revolution was as much about the writer's voice as anything else. when blogging becomes a contest in who can write the cleverest 7-word link to outside content -- i just find it dull. and i haven't found many blogs that i like enough to read all the time, probably because of these tastes. i want less rambling than a journal, but more interesting personality than what i think of as a "typical blog."
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 9 May 03 10:55
(quick aside: readers who aren't on The WELL can send comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and they'll be posted here)
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 9 May 03 19:30
I'm trying to think why I see continuity from zines to blogs. I think it's a desire to express your vision more expansively by showing affinities and synergies with others. In the zine world, we did that by anthologizing, so we were creating not just from our words, but from a collage of our affinities. To me that seems similar to the thing I do as a blogger (and which I started doing almost ten years ago in TAZMedia): creating a collage of affinity links, with personal annotations.
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Sat 10 May 03 11:25
This desire to make connections--I think that definitely applies to lots of people to who maintain weblogs, and I think it's one of the form's greatest strengths. But it doesn't have to do with the form, per se. It has to do with hypertext, specifically, working in hypertext within the biggest encyclopedia ever amassed: the Web. In print, you have to collect and then print all of those things side by side. Online, you just have to find them and link to them. It's an amazing medium. Because you can link to material that already exists online, you can get around gathering permissions, and paying authors, and questions of fair use. It's there for the linking. Is this activity of publishing from a point of view really any different from what newspapers and magazines have been doing right along? It seems to me that the common thread from Xeroxed paper zines to ezines to weblogs is the homemade quality--suddenly all of us had a printing press at our disposal. Suddenly we describe the world in our own terms, on our own terms, and get the word out to others. I was just reading a book review that reminded me that back in the day, the printer *was* the publisher. That used to be the point of power (before a publishing industry was developed and the printer became just a craftsman). The Web is our printing press. We don't command the large audiences of a mass media enterprise, but now we command a corner of the Web. In my essay "weblogs" a history and perspective" http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html, I adopt Greg Ruggerio's term "participatory media" to describe the activity of highlighting and commenting on news stories--editing a traditional, link-driven weblog. Leaving aside the ability to comment directly on the news of the day, this impulse to personalize and contextualize what is already out in the media ecosystem--to reorganize the pieces according to our own understanding--I think this is an important thing. I guess the question I keep asking is, how much influence do we really have? The question that goes along with that is, does it really matter?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 10 May 03 12:27
Have you seen the conversations around 'emergent democracy'? These are conversations around some thinking that Joi Ito captured in a paper he's been creating in collaboration with quite a few other folks - the latest version of the paper is at http://joi.ito.com/static/emergentdemocracy.html, and if you google the term you can find quite a bit more on the subject. Your comment about influence reminded me of the emergent democracy discussions, and the question of how we get from some aggregate sense of opinion within the blogosphere to impact on the broader sociopolitical sphere. Do you see blogs as tools for democracy?
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Sat 10 May 03 17:37
I'm going to have to spend some time with that paper to fully comment on it, but my quick answer is that anything that gets people talking to one another is a tool for democracy--provided that people don't just shut themselves off in a gated community and talk amongst themselves, but thoughtfully consider varying points of view. All too often weblogs cluster so tightly that they don't admit opposing ideas, except to dismiss them. So many weblogs link--naturally--to the other weblogs that reflect their own point of view. Discussions between these weblogs, when they occur, tend to be about points of policy, not points of view. People engage in long, complex discussions--or even arguments--but when you look closely, it's often clear that all participants share a fundamental, underlying set of beliefs. To some extent that's a prerequisite for discussion of any kind, but I rarely see much thoughtful discussion--or even linking--on weblogs between people who fundamentally disagree. I first noticed this echo-chamber effect with the left-leaning weblogs in the summer of 2001, but then the warblogs emerged after the September 11 attacks and quickly embodied the same phenomenon. Confront a cluster of this type with their uniformity of opinion, and they will quickly point out their diversity, maybe even with examples. But click through the blogrolls of one of these clusters, and you will be left with the impression that a majority of interested people think the same way about the issues. Opposing viewpoints are admitted only for the purposes of derision, and articles of faith are rarely, if ever, questioned. That's my first thought with regard to this subject. Technologies that encourage involvement and real discussion will foster participatory governments; those that allow us to shut ourselves off from opposing points of view will just widen existing rifts. I will also say that I'm a big fan of representative government, especially in a country as large as the one I live in, the United States. I don't have the time or the information to vote responsibly on every issue that comes to a vote in my city and state, let alone the bills that come before Congress every day. I *want* to elect officials to (hopefully) make thoughtful decisions for me. Now I'm going to read that paper more carefully. At first glance it looks like it's asking the right questions, and I'm eager to see what conclusions Joi Ito has drawn--and what others here think.
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Sun 11 May 03 16:44
I'm back. In short, it's a smart paper that asks lots of the right questions, but I think it has an idealistic view of weblogs and the ways in which they interconnect and interact. My observation is that the linkages between weblogs are far less orderly and evenly distributed than this paper premises (everyone reading 12 weblogs of their closest friends, and tracking 150 in their social network, with the most compelling information bubbling to the top in every cluster). It wasn't until the warblogs started getting significant media attention that many bloggers in other clusters even *knew* of their existence, for example. I think there is a great deal less interlinking between the clusters than Joi Ito predicates. There is also a good bit more noise on weblogs than he acknowledges--at least, there is a good deal more specialized information of one sort or another (weblog as social conduit, weblog as partisan rag, weblog as hobbyist central). One man's noise is another man's signal. People are maintaining weblogs about so many kinds of things, and for so many purposes, that it's hard to get even a sizable percentage to agree on what is "important" news. Others--a sizable number--just don't post about current events or politics, on principle. I would also point out that, while weblogs often contain thoughtful, complex discussions of issues, more often they consist of either knee-jerk responses or an amplification of a party line. Some people just enjoy bashing President Bush or anti-war protesters, and there isn't any getting them to thoughtfully discuss either subject. So I think the paper posits a great deal more uniformity in the weblog universe than really exists.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 11 May 03 19:50
I figured he had to idealize the blogosphere to some extent just to get his head around the 'emergent democracy' concept. One thing that bothered me, though, was the emphasis on a technology that's associated with a limited demographic. How many voices are totally without representation in the blogosphere? Should we expect them to adapt to this form in order to participate in democratic discussion and debate?
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Mon 12 May 03 11:30
> jon: I figured he had to idealize the blogosphere to some extent just to get his head around the 'emergent democracy' concept. < Sure, I think you have to do that when you're constructing any model. But in this case, I think some of his assumptions are flawed enough that his basic model doesn't hold up. What I'd like to see is some research on emergent behavior in the democracies we *have*. Only a small percentage of people in the us vote, but are there other behaviors that affect public policy, whether or not people actually vote? (Like widespread refusal to abide by speed limits or jay-walking. Does that impel governments to pass laws that are more lenient? Does it eventually lead to a crackdown by law enforcement?) do consumer boycotts really affect the market? Do they ever affect public policy? And what *makes* people voters? If we could get a handle on how emergent behavior works in the existing system (and maybe someone has done this research, I don't know), then we might better be able to predict just how online emergent behavior is likely to affect those same things. > jon: One thing that bothered me, though, was the emphasis on a technology that's associated with a limited demographic. How many voices are totally without representation in the blogosphere? Should we expect them to adapt to this form in order to participate in democratic discussion and debate? < That's a very important point. Millions more than excluded than are included. And I'm not sure the best thing we can do is to get them online, either. There are more basic needs that must be addressed (health, hunger, shelter, education) before Internet access becomes an advantage. Taking your point a little further, even among those who have the computer equipment and internet connection, most people still haven't heard of weblogs, and among those who have, most don't have the time/interest to read them. This is an enormous piece that is frequently left out of conversations like this one. Many people simply don't use the Internet the way everyone reading this does. Lots of people have their limited set of tasks and interests they pursue online, and that's it. They have no desire to add things to their list of online activities. For example, my Internet usage has changed tremendously since I quit designing websites. At the time, I was online all the time, and it was easy to pop over to see what this weblog or that weblog had to say. Now, I often turn the computer all the way off during portions of the day, especially if I'm focused on offline tasks. I find that I'm often happier and more productive when I just check onto the Internet twice or three times a day. When I wrote my book, I took myself offline altogether--otherwise I just spent all my time surfing the Web and reading email. The internet is simply too attractive and too available. I've been spending the last two years trying to balance my life. For me, that means a certain amount of time spent on my home responsibilities, a certain amount of time spent on my work responsibilities, a certain amount of time spent on family responsibilities, a certain amount of time spent for myself, and hopefully a certain amount of time spent on social activities. It's terribly difficult for me to work this out--it would help if I had an 8-5 job that I went to every day, with a boss that was expecting a certain output from me every day. As it is, I have mostly self-imposed deadlines, and often the Internet serves as a giant distraction machine that I need to escape from if I want to get anything done. Technology is a great enhancer, but I think one of the greatest challenges facing us, starting now, is going to be managing all of this information and all of the social contacts that the Internet makes possible. I just can't keep up with all the email I get. I can't read all of my friends weblogs. I can't read all of the news that is now available to me, and I can't read all the weblogs that are filtering and writing about all the issues I think are most important. I'm being drowned in information and social connections. Weblogs can theoretically help people to do all the things they need to do--keep informed, keep in touch, keep involved--but I'm not sure practical usage is quite so useful. I'd be interested in hearing how others here are managing their time and information, and whether they think the Internet is making them more informed and more productive, or if it is often confounding those goals.
Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Mon 12 May 03 12:46
My vote is for more informed, less productive, at least in my case. On the other hand, as a programmer, being able to leverage work other people have already done has made me infinitely more productive, and the Internet has been the key to enablign that.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 12 May 03 20:41
Whenever I hear somebody say that computers make things easier, I laugh, and tell them that computers just facilitate complexity. In my case, my life is infinitely more complex than it might be if I didn't have applications to extend my capabilities (and allow me to vastly overestimate what I can do, at times)...
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Tue 13 May 03 10:51
Another thing about the Web is that it never ends. There's always another article or website about the subject. Another opinion on another weblog. I do think the popularity of filter-style weblogs is due in part to this mass of information. Going to one site for all the information on a subject every day is an incredible efficiency. Going to five sites for links to interesting news you would never have found in your usual rounds is an incredible boon. For me, one of the big time sinks is the communication the Internet enables. I get just too much email to really answer in a timely fashion. Often the notes that require the most thoughtful or lengthy response go unanswered, just because of the time factor--but they are the ones that I probably should answer instead of the one-liners. Commenting on sites takes a lot of time, too. I stopped reading metafilter altogether for a variety of reasons, one of them being that I was spending so much time writing--typically 20-40 minutes a post--that I wasn't getting other things done. So for me, it has partially become a choice between where I want to spend my writing time. In email and on other people's weblogs, or on my own projects?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 13 May 03 19:59
What other kinds of projects are you into? Do you still do design work?
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Tue 13 May 03 20:56
No. I re-design the Pocket from time to time, but that's the extent of it these days. This week I'm consumed with working on my speech for Blogtalk. http://www.blogtalk.net/ I recently helped my sister prepare the manuscript for her children's book for submission. Sometimes I help my husband with an essay or to prepare a presentation. I've been sporadically making notes on an idea I have for another book and just trying to keep up with the day-to-day stuff. I feel like I spend a lot of time talking to and emailing journalists. Everyone, it seems, wanted to do a story on weblogs and the war in Iraq. It's a weird position that I find myself in--because I've written a book (and been quoted in lots of articles) the press frequently comes to me when they want to do a story on weblogs. I think that's neat, but sometimes I spend hours researching or talking to them, and some weeks it makes a real impact on my time. I've thinking about this strange phenomenon of micro-celebrity. Lots of webloggers find themselves as important figures in their little clusters, and the result is that they receive a lot more email and requests for advice, etc, than they did when they started out. At some point, many bloggers post a note saying that they can no longer keep up with their email, though they love receiving it, and most of them seem to feel a bit guilty for not being able to keep up. It's a funny little world we've created. In the entertainment industry, more attention equals more money. On the Web, more attention might *cost* you money in bandwidth charges if your site becomes suddenly popular. It certainly costs you more time. I think that's one of the reasons so many people are eager to figure out a way to make money from their sites. That, and often they enjoy updating so much that they'd love for that to be their full-time job. I know I used to feel that way.
andyp (aapark) Tue 13 May 03 21:22
Because of the prevalence of blogs, filters, RSS feeds etc. have you ever come across a popular site that has manipulated an original piece of news from, say the BBC, with the intent to be deliberately misleading? As a news and information junkie, I find my self continually trying to verify the authenticity of articles, especially if they are not linked to the original author/site.
Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Wed 14 May 03 08:43
Google News has really become the greatest tool ever for this. If I read something provocative that's either not attributed directly to a verifiable source, or only seems to be covered in one publication, I always put it to the Google News test, just to see if it's from out in left field.
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Wed 14 May 03 10:05
> andyp: have you ever come across a popular site that has manipulated an original piece of news from, say the BBC, with the intent to be deliberately misleading? < The only example of deliberate manipulation that I can think of is the recent scandal with the Agonist, which was posting items from Stratfor (a subscription service) without attribution. Apparently, he was hoping to cultivate original sources by giving the impression that he already had some inside leads. What he did is outright plagiarism (never mind directly violating his user agreement), and I'm surprised that the Agonist was as forgiving as they were. I was also very surprised to see a majority of reader comments who seemed fully to support his actions. But that's not exactly the kind of case you were asking about. I can't think of any instances in which a blogger has re-written a piece in order to manipulate perception, but weblogs are notoriously biased. Bloggers tend to link most heavily--or exclusively--to those news stories that support their own view of the world. Part of that is simple confirmation bias--it's easier to believe what you already believe. A news source that consistently publishes articles that reflect reality as you already see it will seem to have a sensible world view. One that does not will always be suspect. That's basic human nature. I remember reading one warblogger's comment that NPR was pretty good on all subjects, except for its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now, I suppose that *could* be true, but it seems more likely to me that a standard of accuracy would extend through coverage of all areas. But it didn't occur to this man to question his own set of beliefs about the Mideast--he knew what he knew, and judged all news sources accordingly. With the Web, we have access to thousands of news sources, and a motivated searcher can probably find "credible" evidence to support any belief they might espouse. So bloggers are very selective in the sources they cite, and this leads to manipulation of a more subtle kind. Now, this is, I think, as it should be. Bloggers' biases are pretty easy to spot, and why are we maintaining personal sites if not to express our opinions? Besides, we have news agencies that are striving for "fair and accurate" coverage of current events. I believe that bloggers should strive for a different standard, that of transparency, and in fact in my book I proposed set of ethics for weblogs, excerpted here: http://www.rebeccablood.net/handbook/excerpts/weblog_ethics.html. In the case of citing any online source, I believe weblogs should always link to the material, so that they readers can fairly judge the blogger's comments. This is one of the great advantages hypertext has over old media--we no longer have to rely on a commenter's account of original source material, we can read the source ourselves. I regard it as intellectually dishonest to routinely comment on items without linking them, or to link selectively. And it's cowardly. This is just one of the reasons I'm skeptical when people talk about weblogs replacing traditional news sources, or about weblogs as a new form of journalism.
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Wed 14 May 03 10:14
> rafe: Google News has really become the greatest tool ever for this. < I agree. But most people just don't have the time or take the time to do that much research. Some weblogs have sprung up to "fact-check" various warblogs, but I think the people who read the "fact-checking" weblogs tend to already disagree with what is written on the weblogs they are designed to check. And even if weblog #2 disproves what weblog #1 has said, there's no guarantee that weblog #1 will link to weblog #2, or that any of weblog #1's readers will ever come across weblog #2. This is one way that trackback could be very useful if it were widely implemented, but it's doubtful that someone who was prevaricating on a regular basis would be likely to add it to their site. Maybe what we need is a browser plug-in that would do a daypop or google search for the page you were reading, and automatically present you with a list of articles that linked back to that article.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Wed 14 May 03 16:22
"Some weblogs have sprung up to "fact-check" various warblogs, but I think the people who read the "fact-checking" weblogs tend to already disagree with what is written on the weblogs they are designed to check." There was a great Tom Tomorrow cartoon a while back about people putting up websites to dispute newspapers, and cascading down from there. Re: "micro-celebrity." A few months ago I coined what I believe is a new term for extreme-nichely famous people: nanocelebrities.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 14 May 03 16:44
Nice. Enjoying this discussion, by the way. I wanted to toss this reference into the mix, as an aside: Journalist Dan Gillmor is doing a book which seems to be largely on blogs and journalism, and is taking input on it on his log, as many folks know. http://weblog.siliconvalley.com/column/dangillmor/archives/000924.shtml#000924 The interest in the relationships between corporate and individual commentary and professional versus avocational reporting and all just doesn't seem to abate!
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Wed 14 May 03 19:10
> xian: There was a great Tom Tomorrow cartoon a while back about people putting up websites to dispute newspapers, and cascading down from there. < :) There is a diminishing value, at some point. but I think this is one of the things weblogs can do well. Unfortunately, this information rarely gains traction in the non-weblog world. A letter to the editor is much more effective in garnering a response from an established media outlet than a weblog entry. >A few months ago I coined what I believe is a new term for extreme-nichely famous people: nanocelebrities. < That's a great term. There certainly is a slew of nanocelebrity bloggers, but I guess they exist in many fora. Public-access television, certainly. Local entertainers (? even if they have their own TV show?), hobbyists of all kinds, town characters.... There is a pair of twins in San Francisco who appear in local advertisements, and I've seen them downtown. They are older ladies, always dressed to the nines. Everyone seems to know them, and they seem to just bask in being known. As far as I can tell, all they are famous for is being local twins who are always dressed to the nines. (Someone here probably knows more about them than I do.) Then there is that man who does (or used to do) a skiing movie every year. I learned about him when an acquaintance was all excited about it once. Would you qualify someone like that as a nanocelebrity, or do you think that anyone who has gained their own mass media vehicle is automatically disqualified? What about indie rock? Only unsigned bands, or signed bands that remain totally unknown? Do we need numerous categories to classify the many levels of niche fame? :) > gail: The interest in the relationships between corporate and individual commentary and professional versus avocational reporting and all just doesn't seem to abate. < Honestly, it's been interesting to watch. Articles about weblogs started coming out in 1999, and then it was Blogger, Blogger, Blogger through 2000. I think all of us in the community thought it would die out at a certain point, but it has just continued to grow. People just love a Horatio Alger story, to start with, and this is a form that does allow unknowns to become nanocelebrities. In a culture of celebrity-worship, that's no small thing. And some people instinctively understand the potential of these easy-to-use applications to turn ordinary people into publishers, and that is appealing. Another reason for the continued swell is that more people *haven't* heard of them, than have, so anytime an editor runs across the idea for the first time, she instantly wants a story on it. And have talked to reporters and producers in just the past few months who literally were starting on square one with the whole thing. Not the first idea, nor had one even seen a weblog, he'd just heard of them, and wondered if I'd ever come across one that was focused mostly on the war. :)
Christian Crumlish (xian) Wed 14 May 03 19:19
exactly, nanocelebrity is not aimed at bloggers per se, although people like cory or kottke are perfect examples. there are nanocelebrities in every walk of life. most people don't know them but the people who care are very excited to catch a glimpse. i'd put people like successful novelists into the microcelebrity category. they may be famous among the new yorker-reading set but they don't get mobbed on the street.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 14 May 03 19:24
That brings me to a rather perverse question: who (besides Rebecca) is the biggest celebrity of the blogosphere?
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