Get Out of Your Blog Cocoon

Michele mentioned a new term this morning–“blog cocooning”. I followed the link she provided to Smart Genes, who’s author had just returned from a blog conference (getting a little deep there, boys and girls) where one of the featured speakers, Mickey Kaus, of kausfiles, discussed six questions about the future of blogs and blogging.

Well, ahm jest an’ ol’ country boy *spit* but I do believe that about every one of the responses Mr. Kaus made to his own questions is full of bovine fecal matter.

The following questions and responses are from LawMeme. My comments follow Mr. Kaus’ italicized responses.

1. Will blogs displace conventional media?

No. *laughter* There’s this tendency of “blogger triumphalism.” But bloggers aren’t as powerful as we think we are. And there are too many for each one to have effective access and range.

Just from reading the hundred or so blogs in my blogroll this morning, I can’t see how anyone can gather enough critical mass to become the be-all and end-all blog for any particular segment of the population. So far, anyone with any real power behind them has come up with such lame approaches that they are scoffed at and dismissed immediately.

Will that stop someone “cool” from coming up with THE blog to read by the unwashed masses? I wouldn’t count on it. All it’s gonna take is for Britney and Oprah to start blogging and for the masses to switch on their PC’s before they turn on the TV or read the paper.

Just because mass media hasn’t figured us out, yet, doesn’t mean they never will.

2. Will blogs make money?

Kaus says he gets paid money because he’s part of Slate, which is part of Microsoft, which has a business plan and a whole lot of money, and can afford to spend some on Slate. Not every blogger is so fortunate.

But it doesn’t matter if bloggers get paid money.

I disagree on both points. I believe that a select few will get paid a lot of money, as soon as they figure out how to deliver content as easily as TV does and to advertise without annoying the hell out of the reader.

And it does matter if bloggers get paid money for the same reason it matters if programmers get paid money. When you’re blogging for The Man, you do what The Man says, man. At a minimum, you clean up your language and blog about things other than your kids’ birthdays.

3. Why are bloggers so right-wing?

First, reaction against left-leaning media bias. Second, perhaps something about the technology that makes people more libertarian and “rational.” Third, right-wing people may just be angrier: about media bias, about the world. It’s hard to believe that they’ll be so angry for much longer, now that the goverment is dominated by conservatives. (As an aside: Kaus uses the 2000 recount fiasco as an example of how right-wingers are so much more angry than liberals.)

But now Kaus thinks that perhaps anger is going to start building up on the left too, as the government turns away from them.

Kaus favors the media bias: Why should left-wingers become bloggers when they have the New York Times? So right-wing blogs are a reaction to the liberal big media.

What a load.

For every blog I find that’s the home of right-wing diatribes, three (or more) contain personal diaries, community centers, movie and music reviewers and geeky tech discussions–and a lot of people fall into the all-of-the-above category. And there are a ton of lefty blogs out there.

Here’s a new insane project: categorize all the blogs in the world as to their political leaning versus their content. Yeah, just what I needed. Thanks.

4. Will blogging require changing First Amendment doctrine?

There are lots of hidden assumptions under First Amendment law: big assumptions that the speech is printed, that it’s out there, that it’s hard to correct. These assumptions are built into the balancing tests that are part of First Amendment doctrine, and when these assumptions change the tests will change.

Four important phenomena:

First, there’s now a different definition of the press. The old views were the corporate view (press is at the top with the elites, and they have free speech rights) and the universal view (everybody has free speech rights). The corporate view was always wrong; but now it’s also wrong and untenable, now that everybody has a computer and access to the Internet, and everybody can claim to be a reporter. (Making the Congressional Press Gallery pretty crowded.) If blogging is not professional, in the same way as the old media, do you really want to apply the same libel laws (for instance) to the more casual blogs? Kaus points out that a lot of speech–like casual conversation–is already mostly free from libel laws. The question is whether blogs are closer to casual conversation, or to professional media.

Second, the technology of corrections has changed. It used to be said a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on. But that’s no longer true: corrections no longer require finding every physical copy and wiping out the error; now we can immediately fix errors for the whole world to say. (But Kaus is carefully agnostic about the Matt Druge libel suit.)

Of course blogging is publishing, and libel laws should absolutely apply! Just because it’s instantaneous publishing, it’s not any less so. And just because I don’t have professional credentials and can change the appearance of this sentence two seconds after I hit “publish” does not mean I abdicate my responsibilities. I can’t rip off your text without violating copyright law. Why should I be able to make untrue and defamatory remarks about your character just because I’m a poor wittle blogger who don’t know no better?

This whole “fate of online reporting” crap that’s getting spewed about the Drudge case makes me ill. It’s like saying the fate of Western journalism hangs on the National Enquirer winning a lawsuit by some celebrity they’ve falsely accused of having sex with goats. Drudge is a hack gossip columnist. Blumenthal should not have caved in. There! How’s that for defamation? …or is it just opinion? Po’ ign’ant me…

Third, there’s a different “ecology” of how the truth comes out. You no longer just print something and send it off, then stop for a week. Instead, the process is much more of a dialogue that asymptotically approaches the truth. And the truth comes back from reader feedback via email. Kaus reports how skeptical he was of Democratic complaints during the 2000 recount–until he received personal emails from actual voters in Florida about their problems with voting. On the other hand, bloggers don’t care about one kind of feedback that the conventional media care deeply about: checking with sources. Whereas conventional media often require reporters to check with sources about specific facts, most bloggers just put things out there and wait for feedback.

I’m not so sure that most reporters don’t do the same thing anymore…

Fourth, things are a whole lot faster in the world of blogs.

(An aside on Microsoft, and whether corporations can do blogs: Suddenly, the corporation is also on the hooks for everything Kaus writes. And Kaus doesn’t think they would have left him keep writing if they actually seriously thought hard about this. But part of the reason there’s trust is that Kaus has a very good relationship with Microsoft. If the company were more suspicious, and there had to be lawyers and editors overlooking blog entries, Kaus doesn’t think a blog would be possible: it’d simply be too slow.)

In the first place, I have to believe that this gives Mr. Kaus pause before he publishes anything involving Microsoft…which kinda defeats the it doesn’t matter if bloggers get paid money point. No, it doesn’t matter if I make a million bucks selling t-shirts, but if I wanted to rant about Microsoft security holes–and get them out in public as a scoop before everyone else–do you think I’d be able to get a paycheck from them the next week?

Maybe. And maybe the Eye of Sauron just hasn’t turned your way yet…

5. Will blogging lead to more tribal cocooning, where people only go to sites they believe and that encourage their world views?

Kaus does think that blogs are in part the antidote to cocooning, as opposed to a contributing factor. But he thinks the web–along with talk radio–helps exacerbate the cocooning problem, without promoting dialogue.

But blogs are different: To fisk somebody, you have to know about them. To attack somebody’s points, you have to know their arguments. And it’s also a Darwinian thing: its not in any blogger’s interest to anger any other blogger, since blogs send readers to each other all the time. So there’s a bit of self-interest in being nice to one another, and maintaining a civil dialogue (and linking, presumably). And the very phenomenon of bloggers arguing against one another–in this self-interest-motivated civil dialogue–keeps cocooning to a minimum.

Just ask a certain set of “bloody thirsty” bloggers how many people dropped them from their blogrolls due to their views on Iraq. There are a few whackos like me out there that try a little from the left side of the menu and a little from the right, but for the most part, if you’re into Nazis, you read Nazis…if you’re into Commies, you read Commies. Or, if you’re into cats, you read about cats. If you’re into Linux, you read about Linux. If you’re into Britney Spears, you read about Britney Spears. People gravitate to where it’s comfortable.

As for the self-interest bit, that only comes about when you feel like you actually have readers to send to other blogs. Once you have a large following, there’s no self-interest in sending them anywhere…or from modifying your position or admitting (just this once) you were wrong, lest the mobs storm the stage and rip you to shreds.

I’m not saying that there aren’t a TON of nice bloggers out there who generate traffic for others out of the goodness of their hearts. But it has nothing to do with self-preservation or making sure we all keep out of our little cocoons. It has to do with them being nice.

Oh, and if you think I need to know a damn thing about you before I “fisk” you, um, yeah…we all do tons of research before we spout off our opinions. Suuuurrre we do…

6. Is blogging better than what came before?

The virtue of blogging: anonymous people in large organizations can tell you what’s going on. You can imagine this sort of thing happening to spread information about faulty products, or bad business practices.

The truth comes out faster with blogging. Blogging connects the dots: you throw ideas out, people throw ideas back, and out of this brainstorming good and complex ideas come out from the collective insights of lots of people.

Yes, and the Easter Bunny told me to tell you that you missed one of the eggs he left…

Bullshit comes out faster with blogging.

Who the hell solicits the opinions of other bloggers before spewing his own garbage? This is my crap heap, and I’ll darn well say what I want. If you feel like commenting on it, I have the power to leave the comment, delete the comment, or make it look like you said you prefer to eat baby seals raw.

I know I’m not painting the prettiest picture of blogs. They’re not all the object of their creator’s megalomaniacal lust for power, but that’s the basic principle upon which blogging is founded: “Hi, I’m Lester, and here’s the stuff I care about. Why don’t you?”

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One Response to Get Out of Your Blog Cocoon

  1. Ric The Schmuck says:

    My, oh my, you bloggers are a self-important lot, aren’t you? 🙂

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