My reflection on the possible affinities between the brave new world of
blogging, and the old and forgotten one of CB radio brought forth – as
I guess one would expect it to do – a torrent of commentary in the
blogosphere. Two things puzzled me about it. The first was that so many
respondents replied to what was, as all such articles must be, a piece
of reasonably tentative hypothesising, with a tone that can only be
describe as “hurt”.
The second was that many seemed to have misunderstood my argument, and
to believe that I was arguing the old – and to my mind completely
discredited – idea that online publishing wasn’t “real”, compared to
the (increasingly difficult) world of print.
Mark Bahnisch of LP – or Larvatus Prodeo – suggested I take another
look at the blogosphere, as something which can build an audience and
provide alternative running commentary and opinion. John Quiggin
suggested that a better analogy – other than the evolution of 17th
century pamphlets into newspapers – was with the rise and fall of
little magazines, as audiences, readers and preoccupations change, and
that the blog was putting the gatekeeper function of the editor into a
pretty substantial crisis.
Neither of these comments was unfair but they were perplexing, firstly
because LP was the sort of multi-user blog that I suggested was
increasingly replacing the myriad of individual
“Chad-from-Idaho-State-University-Dubya-sucks-Pearl-Jam-rules” type of
blog, but secondly because in order to follow up a few of these
comments I had to dive back into the blogosphere, which re-affirmed
many of my suspicions of their limited effectiveness.
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I rarely read the brace of key Australian blogs (LP, Quiggin, Catallaxy
etc) not because their contributors are not interesting but because
their sprawling form makes them a poor investment of scarce time. Some
of them are simply groups of friends thinking out loud, which is fine.
But those seeking to use the more open form as a new type of media, as
Quiggin seems to suggest, seem likely to fail simply because they take
the more-is-less principle to its asymptote. The voluminous chains of
partial ideas, comments on comments, previous references, etc seems open
– but they’re actually insular, since there are few entry points
that can be grasped whole.
In that respect, I think many collective bloggers are conning
themselves a bit, and avoiding the harder task of writing more
sustained pieces, for the sake of the easy buzz of a quick upload —
and thus wasting a great deal of their creators’ productive time.
Of course online publishing is the future, though print – like theatre
and oil painting – will survive in a changed form. But it would be
naive to think that it cannot be evolved through conscious reflection.
I remember the nightmare that occurred in graphic design when Quark
came in in the 80s – before people realised that you didn’t need to use
15 fonts just because you could. I think we’re still on the way there
as far as blogging-to-a-purpose goes.