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A defense of LiveJournal, and of blogging in general. - cgranade::social — LiveJournal
social connections form the whole
cgranade
cgranade
A defense of LiveJournal, and of blogging in general.
Blogging in general, and LiveJournal in particular, are the target of much criticism. Among such are complaints that the blogosphere exhibits an elevated sense of self-importance, that blogging is largely topical, that blogging encourages gossip chains, and that blogging can't change anything. In order to address these issues, we must first explore the idea of blogging itself, and more properly define it.
To answer this problem, let us realize what blogging is: a combination of a social, technological, economic and cultural factors. That is to say that blogging is not a purely technological phenomenon; many of the underlying technologies are not new by the standards of the Internet. Nor is blogging purely social or cultural. To say so would be to ignore the economic contribution, whereby Internet access is now nearly as prevalent as telephone access. At this critical point, just as the telephone forever changed the face of communication, so does the Internet. In particular, the Internet allows for a very decentralized form of communication. Let me repeat this last point, as it is crucial to understanding what blogging is: the Internet allows for a very decentralized form of communication whereby no single party has exclusive control of content distributed via the Internet. This may not seem remarkable when compared to snail mail or to telephones, which exhibit similar properties, so why is this important? The answer comes in the recognition that the decentralization property behaves in a synergistic fashion with other properties of the Internet. Namely, the Internet can be used as if it were a broadcast medium, and that the Internet does not require that one communicate with one entity at a time. Finally, publishing content to the Internet does not cost more money with the amount of content, but rather with the amount of consumers. Thus, it becomes relatively inexpensive to publish content to huge audiences via a decentralized process. This leads to an information glut, which is precisely where blogging comes in.
In order to make sense of the ensuing chaos, a structure is required. This is problematic, however, in light of the decentralized nature of the Internet mentioned above. Thus, it falls to individual content publishers to begin adapting ad hoc standards and protocols. One of the earliest such developments was the realization that most updates come in the form of "posts," or small articles. Perhaps out of expedience or out of laziness, software to allow for the management of such update patterns started to emerge. Along with this realization came the understanding that posts often would propagate by referencing other posts; thus, trackbacks and pings. In order to manage the reading of many blogs, users began to seek automated aggregators, or feed readers. The convergence of these and other trends leads to the communication structure endearingly known as the blogosphere.
Having explored blogging thus, let us restate two primary criticisms of the blogosphere structure to be addressed on an individual basis. First, that the blogosphere encourages topicality and gossip chains. Second, that the participants within the blogopspheric structure exhibit an inflated sense of importance and impact.
With respect to the first such criticism, the same can be said for nearly every mode of communication- the post, telegraph, telephone and television are all extremely prone to topicality. Consider the bulk of telephone conversations. Do they not consist of "chatter," "banter," or "drivel?" Certainly, things are accomplished by means of the telephone- consider the number of business deals solidified by this medium. That is not to say, though, that the Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) is relatively low. That blogging follows this pattern of low SNR is not surprising, nor at all intrinsic to the structure of the medium. Rather, it is a reflection of human nature. Any means of human communication by definition has a low SNR. Unlike other such media, however, the blogosphere provides information consumers a process and toolset by which to manage this problem. Using feedreaders, trackbacks, folksonomies and the like, filtration of information becomes increasingly easy. Therefore, I prefer the problems of blogging to those of many other media due to the availability of ready solutions.
Insofar as the second criticism goes, there are certainly those bloggers with an inflated ego. What I intend to argue here, however, is that this is not intrinsic to the structure at all, but rather once again an artifact of human nature exhibiting itself through a new medium. Towards this end, consider the egotism of communicators via other media: people are by nature prone to egotism. Thus, should we be at all surprised by any trend toward egotism in a human communication network? I contest no. However, to answer the question in detail, what do we mean by a trend towards egotism? This in itself spawns another problem. Do we refer to the blogosphere as seen by a filtering consumer, or a casual browser? The latter observes many different trends, caused by the lack of a homeostatic motivator. This same lack leads to paranoia and sensationalism in the mass broadcast media (TV news and the like). By means of a positive feedback loop, small perturbations in the background noise are blown out of proportion. This is similar to setting a microphone on a speaker- neither creates noise itself, but the system acts to amplify preexisting noise. By a similar fashion, the raw blogosphere cannot by its decentralized structure exercise homeostasis except by the will of individual communicators. Any experience with humanity shows that people are very good at amplifying noise if left to their own devices. Thus, it is conceivable that a casual observer might observe an explosion of noise, leading him/her to record a greater effect than an observer practicing active filtration. This raw greater effect may have the tendency to act as a catalyst to already engorged egos. Within the bounds of a passive filtration system such as that offered by folksonomies, feedreaders with filtering systems, and by selective consumption, however, egotism tends to be weeded out more than it is amplified. Within the bounds of an active, decentralized filtration system such as the decentralized moderation layer of /., extremism and egotism tends to be damped out even to the eyes of casual observers. Returning to the criticism at hand, we are forced to say that the propagation of egotism across the blogosphere is an artifact observed without the use of filtration, and not a true inherent problem of the medium. Furthermore, the amplification effect is caused by human nature, and not by the structure of the medium. With the case of broadcast media, Stevhen Johnson in his book Emergence makes a convincing argument to suggest that the economic structure of broadcast media leads to a positive feedback system, on top of the preexisting human factors at play. Thus, by comparison to other media, not only does the blogosphere not exhibit a greater magnitude of positive feedback, the homeostatic motivations inherent in the medium are stronger in the presence of even passive filtration.
In conclusion, while blogging may exhibit its problems, they are not inherent to the medium, and are not as great in magnitude as those found in other media. Therefore, I put my stock into the potential offered by the new structure of the blogosphere rather than in archaic centralized broadcast-only media.

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