Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Blog Pub

Yet another high-minded attack on the condition of bloggery, this time from Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian. Freedland compares the level of debate on blogs to a public meeting which is constantly being interrupted by abusive crazies. The blogosphere, he says, 'represents an enormous democratic opportunity' which is now being wasted. I won't repeat my point from my last post on this. But it is worth pointing out that Freedland's argument is based on absurdly high expectations. Imagine, for example, that somebody had just invented pubs. Columnists observe that they are being used for intense debate on the issues of the day and they represent, therefore, an enormous democratic opportunity. Sadly, however, the level of the debate is not of a very high standard. What is needed, therefore, is some sort of endorsement of certain pubs - The Dog and Duck: High Level Political Discussion Guaranteed, The Red Lion: Geopolitical Specials. Freedland, in short, is making an uncharacteristic - he is a fine journalist - category error. Blogs are more like pubs than debating chambers. Wisdom and insight appear fleetingly and are often forgotten by the next morning. This works for humans, but perhaps not for high-minded policy wonks.


  1. Great point Bryan. It sounds to me like the Guarniad feels threatened for some reason.

  2. In short, there's lots of stupid people out there with stupid ideas.

  3. There is a couple of ideas out there about the world of bloggery which need lancing soonest. The idea that the original post is somehow a sacred bit of prose, deserving of the paeans reserved for such is just bull.... . While the notion that blogs are a debating chamber in any traditional meaning, is plainly impossible. The referee is the writer.
    The coffee shop 'movement' (C18th) and the blizzard of pamphlets, came about due to exclusion. And much the same reasons applied to the last congressional election, where the blog was used to effect. Exactly, how real or large that effect was does not matter, it was seen to affect. But it was also seen as ever so slightly seditious, and that just helps things along.

  4. Blogs are more like pubs than debating chambers. Wisdom and insight appear fleetingly and are often forgotten by the next morning. This works for humans, but perhaps not for high-minded policy wonks

    That's been precisely my view of blogs from the off, though I've never quite said it as well as that.

    Turbatur: Yes, the blog-owner is like the pub landlord - he makes the rules and decides how much freedom to allow the regulars.

    For a short while you have arguments. After that you have characters and the blog takes off. (This is why Anonymous comments irritate.)

  5. Just read his piece and again I was a bit harsh. Though I agree with Bryan and also the notion that there will, at least into the foreseeable future, be no shortage of stupid people with stupid ideas. I think I should run for election under that banner.

  6. Freedland's suggestion that we're heading toward "a stale, claustrophobic environment, appealing chiefly to a certain kind of aggressive, point-scoring male" is a typical remark you'd expect from someone still trying to come to terms with the blogosphere.

    Are there blogs/forums as he decribes? Absolutely; thousands upon thousands of them. But as a comprehensive overview of the space, it's equivalent to saying video gaming is the exclusive domain of the lone, onanistic teenage boy.

    A category error is precisely what he's made. Internet forums would fit his argument more comfortably than blogs. Speaking very generally, a blog in theory has some authorial consistency behind its output. It's then entirely up to the blog owner whether they choose to moderate comments or not, or even allow them in the first place. The shouting voices analogy just doesn't hold - the reader, who will usually have specifically sought out the blog for whatever reason, can digest as much or as little of the subsequent discussion, or indeed contribute to it, as they wish.

    "The blog-owner is like the pub landlord - he makes the rules and decides how much freedom to allow the regulars" - nicely put, Brit.

    Indidentally, Bryan, while I don't get the impression that it happens, have you censored many comments from this blog?

    On the other hand, of course, there are forums attached to mainstream publications - which often have no qualms in using this argumentative cacophany to their advantage. Perfect fodder for a sensationalist agenda: controversial article generates fevered forum discussion, resulting in greater traffic and, ultimately, increased ad revenue.

    It's no different from the guaranteed-to-enrage, laughably leading questions Richard Desmond's rags use to ensure their readers call his premium rate phonelines, or bombard his websites with words that'll fill up any blanks in the papers.

    The reason this place is part of my regular blogcrawl is because I find it an oasis of calm and thoughtfulness, free from the barrage of 'LOL', 'LMFAO', 'n00b', '1337' and 'FTW' remarks that litter the domain of my day job. Though I absolutely delight in wading through all of that nonsense at the right moment, too.

  7. I'm always amused by the notion, which pops up with surprising frequency, that great democratic opportunities are being ruined by people.

  8. The point of democracy isn't to ensure competent rule, it's to discourage tyranny.

    I think Bryan's bouncer has been on holiday.

  9. "This works for humans, but perhaps not for high-minded policy wonks."


  10. It's impossible to attack blogging with generalizations -- because there are millions of blogs. But I've noticed that certain clusters of blogs attract the same returning individuals. Small but loose groups are developing online, because many commenters can be traced back to their own blogs.

    The phenomenon is interesting and entirely new. I'd say the pub analogy breaks down fairly quickly, since the more successful blogs can attract far more people than will fit in a boozer; and there are plenty of glum blogs out there bearing post after post with the legend "0 comments".

  11. The pub analogy is the strongest - and like all opnions at the end of the day you can ignore people, like you can in the boozer!

  12. I've also noticed a tendency on the part of journalists, when writing about blogs, to assume that the median quality of print journalistic writing is quite high - as if a bunch of amateurs - the bloggers - shouldn't really be messing with what they don't know.

    This paradigm of course fits the corollary, that the blogs' readers are oiks who like to get agressive over their ill-thought-out opinions.

    The Guardian news blog the other day had a piece on blogs being ten years old now. In it, after profiling a number of blogs that have been newsworthy, they describe the Bloggies awards as "rewarding writers everyone has heard of for writing no one remembers." Seems a bit steep, doesn't it!

    Like as if I remember every newsprint leader I've ever read. (And as for the regular columnists..!)

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