29 September 2002

As Security Cameras Sprout, Someone's Always Watching [New York Times: Technology]:

Mr. Staples, the Kansas professor, said public attitudes about the cameras had changed and tended to be generational. When he speaks about his research to older audiences, he said, he inevitably hears cries of outrage and complaints about the infringement of civil liberties. Younger audiences, like a high school philosophy class he addressed recently, are far more accepting, having grown up with images of Rodney King being beaten by Los Angeles officers and reality television shows, like "Big Brother," that extol camera-driven voyeurism.

10:39:09 PM  #   your two cents []

A little ole update to the longer ruminations below: I should clarify that I wrote this entry because I was intrigued by the notions of writing, broadcast, community and weblogs, not with any broad beef about blogs, the communities they create, or who reads whom. (Let the blogs begin! All of 'em! The more, the merrier!) And I rather like where I am fitting in within the huge Radiosphere. There's an endless feast of writing. I do think, though, that while many webloggers see their blogs as belonging a huge blogging community, that actually, they tend to offer a mix of broadcast to a broad community (see below) and intercast within communities that are more closed -- usually unintentionally -- than webloggers themselves perceive.

10:01:25 PM  #   your two cents []

A typically thought-provoking article from Clay Shirky on the ideas of broadcast and community. He concludes the piece with this commentary on weblogs and community and whether the twain shall meet:

If you want to host a community online, don't kid yourself into believing that giving reporters weblogs and calling the reader comments "community" is the same as the real thing. Weblogs operate on a spectrum from media outlet (e.g. InstaPundit) to communal conversation (e.g. LiveJournal), but most weblogs are much more broadcast than intercast. Likewise, most comments are write-only replies to the original post in the manner of Letters to the Editor, rather than real conversations among the users. This doesn't mean that broadcast weblogs or user comments are bad; they just don't add up to a community.

This is, I think, an unpleasant truth that many webloggers will deny, feeling that they have built a community of webloggers on their blog. But I think this community of webloggers is actually not (unless it a private-access blog) the same as the primary, broadcast audience of a weblog. That audience is much broader than the blogger community and definitely receives the blog more as a broadcast than the 'intercast' -- intercommunication among community members -- described as a feature of community. The community of webloggers sits in the middle ground between the broadcast medium of the blog per se, and the varied web communities defined by Clay in this article. For this community of webloggers, the weblogs themselves form a gigantic bulletin board of intercast, where, in their posted items and links, the community address and respond to each other. I'll come back to this point at the end.

First, I'd like to consider the notion of weblog as broadcast. I found Clay's piece very interesting because, like most Radio newbies, I'd been watching with some fascination the rise and fall of page read rankings and the page referer listings that Radio provides, and thinking during the week about the intention of my weblog -- why I do it, and what and who for. And I'd concluded (along with some other stuff not relevant to this discussion!) that my weblog isn't really a part of some of the weblog communities out there and probably never will be. (That's why I do believe there must be some third weblogian way, in between Clay's broadcast/intercast, weblog/community distinctions. Weblogs do at times partake of the nature of a community -- proven, perversely, because it is possible to sense that one is excluded from them. Exclusivity, notes Clay, is one of the frequent hallmarks of a community.

Clay's article has helped me see that I deliberately try more for a broadcast than a community blog. At first I'd thought the weblog might prove a good place for Irish Times or Guardian readers of my tech writings, particularly my opinion columns, to talk to each other, and disagree or agree or otherwise comment on points raised in my print writing. But that hasn't really happened. As Clay's piece notes, comments do tend to be directed to the writer, on a given blog item, and commenters rarely intercast (though this did happen here, mainly I think because the item started, then became an extension of, a lively discussion over on www.boards.ie).

I'd also been thinking that my site might not be of interest for much of the Radio community because I use a lot of the links from the RSS feeds. My site might therefore often appear more as a mini, limited, news aggregator of news aggregators, and Radio subscribers can get those links themselves if they want them through the feeds, so why read a weblog duplicating those links? That's when I realised I really did not care about the weblog community reading it, but wanted technoculture to offer something interesting (I hope!) for a wide range of readers -- most of whom don't know or care what a weblog is (realsitically, I think this is still the case with 99.9 per cent of the Web world, folks...).  This in turn made me start to think about creating two weblogs, one of links (broadcast) and one of commentary (more intercast, directed at the community of webloggers and the wider web-reading world). 

But now, to return to the idea of the community of webloggers. The community of webloggers can be quite exclusionary -- doing some of what Clay notes as features of community -- creating some barriers to entry for newcomers or latecomers, inventing language, terms, and points of reference for an inner circle. This can be deliberate but I think more often is not, in the case of weblogs.

This is not to deny how extraordinary the blogosphere can be, or informative, or engaging, or exciting. But the communities tend to be very self-referential. There's a high level of awareness among the core of the blogosphere about what has been posted where by whom, and, if this world is now to you, you can feel very out on the edge of things because you have not read Blog Y this week, or what Blog Q says about an item in Blog S. Much like being the new kid in a very clique-y class, where everyone already seems to have friends and belong to various clubs. It can make blogging quite discouraging -- eg, you'll NEVER have more than 30 page hits daily, waaaa! so why keep writing? It's not that the other kids are deliberately unfriendly. It's just that they are so self-focused that they don't notice the new people in the room. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing at all, nor does it always matter. But sometimes, when everyone in the blogosphere is getting quite self-congratulatory about the whole blogging thang (and this happens with somewhat perturbing regularity!), you kind of want someone to remind everybody that it's still a very, very small blogging world, and in most cases a very privileged blogging world of people with the time, knowledge, hardware and accommodating jobs that let them blog.

Which still leaves me in awe of the high-rolling, mega-hit blogs; and the interconnectedness you can feel when one person utterly unknown to you emails you a comment to your blog or links to you -- and the mind-boggling range of  talkers, listeners, writers, commentators, and other flora and fauna of blogdom! Blog on, brothers and sisters!

8:53:08 PM  #   your two cents []