Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[culture] Some thoughts on blogging

The discussion over dinner last night was pretty wide-ranging, with the apparently mandatory detour into the midget nun joke -- something about me and davidlevine in a room together seems to require that, at least of late -- but one of the topics covered was blogging. Mr. maryrobinette (we shall call him R—) was trying to pin down some of the core concepts behind blogging, pumping scalzi and me as well as the rest of the table.

I think one of the things R— was nibbling on was disintermediation and editorial trust. Essentially, there's no editing in the blog world, so how do you know where to spend your time? The answer was self evident to the rest of us, but self-evident is not necessarily correct or logical, so we spent some time picking at this.

To belabor the obvious, editorial trust is earned, both directly and through social recommendation. If you're reading this now, its because you have some editorial trust in me -- that I'll be interesting or relevant to you, at least enough of the time that you'll come back and read me again. Either you found me on your own, perhaps because we've met in real life, or you followed someone else's link to this blog and friended/bookmarked me. If I fail to be interesting or relevant, or otherwise disserve your interests, you'll stop coming around here.

In most forms of publishing, the editor intermediates between the content producer and the content consumer. That's my hoary "reading proxy" theory that I like to cast around. Analog has an editorial voice, which is managed by Dr. Schmidt. If you like Dr. Schmidt's taste in stories, and you like the editorial voice of Analog, you pay a few dollars per month by way of a reading proxy fee for his editorial services, and in return you don't have to read the thousands of stories in his slush pile to find the handful he liked enough to publish for you.

No one directly and explicitly intermediates blogs, which bothered R—. He asked, "How do you keep from wasting your time?"

Well, to a degree, it is inefficient. The world of blogs is like a giant slush pile. The linkbacks, the blogroll lists, the recommendations are pointers to blogs that are possibly of value. But that's the magic of this. Peer-to-peer publishing, with direct feedback and informal scoring. Consider this: on LiveJournal, the comment density on a given post is a pretty good indicator of the popularity and significance of the post.

scalzi made an excellent point that this chorus of disparate voices and response has been the normal model of publishing for hundreds of years. From the eighteenth century through World War II or so, most American cities had multiple competing newspapers, often serving very different constituencies and with passionate competition in play. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the pamphleteers were (in modern terms) analog blogs. (R— suggested a modern equivalent, photocopying journal pages and pasting them on bus stop rain shelter walls.) Still loosely quoting scalzi, the consensus voice of authority model of media many of us grew up with in the 1950s through the 1990s -- three television networks, one or two major newspapers in your home city, etc. -- is a historical aberration, not a historical norm.

So where are we today? In the Long Tail once more. The blogosphere is very flat, with a hockey stick at the left in where the big blogs sit, like scalzi's Whatever. We succeed by competence, for some value of the word "competence." Strangely, creating and cultivating a successful blog is a process strongly parallel to creating and cultivating a successful publishing career, save without the often-helpful intervention of editors. At least editors help keep our stupid stuff from seeing print and being archived forever, whereas on a blog, every damned fool thing that we ever say is preserved for all time, like a retarded fly in amber.
Tags: culture, personal, process, publishing, tech, writing

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