aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Kos & Ford on Meet the Press.
Check out the word count:
That from Kos’s post-show observations.
I thought he was absolutely terrific on that show. The more I hear him speak the more I respect and admire him and what he has to say.
This exchange, for just one example:
MR. GREGORY: For, for both, for both of you, if you could advise the party’s nominee to say top three issues, and these are what your positions should be, what would they be?
MR. MOULITSAS: Well, you know, you’re starting talking about issues. What I want that candidate to do is to not be afraid to talk about who they are, to be authentic and to tell us who they are so that we can actually make a decision. And not me. I’m not going to make this decision. It’s not my job to decide who the nominee’s going to be. I want these candidates to speak to regular Americans. And for too long they’ve been speaking to the pundits, they’ve been speaking to shows like this one. They haven’t been really communicating to the base because they had to go through this media filter and this political filter, and now we’re destroying those filters. We’re saying go straight to the people, talk to them, make your case.
Oh, what the hell. Here’s another. I liked this too:
[After Ford objects to Kos’s expansive view of the consequences from Senator John Breaux’s role as “an architect of George Bush’s tax cuts."]
MR. MOULITSAS: Well, what do you think, you’re going to cut taxes and not pay for the priorities in our nation. I mean, obviously, there has to be a way to pay for these things. And to come out and say, “Well we’re going to cut taxes, and we’re going to let these deficits run up, and we’re going to let our infrastructure crumble,” clearly it’s the wrong way to go.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Kos@Yearly Kos last night
Think Progress calls DailyKos founder Markos Moulitsas Zuniga’s speech last night “a stirring defense of the progressive blogosphere.”
People like me could spend hours talking about politics,
but it mattered little in the greater scheme of things.
Then technology changed everything.
Whether it was blogs, or podcasting,
or social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook,
people quickly adopted myriad communication technologies emerging from the web and turned them to political purposes.
Millions did so.
And while individually we were still nobodies,
together, we became ... somebody.
A very important somebody.
And that makes some people very uncomfortable.
Like David Broder.
Echoing what so many of his colleagues think, Bill Kristol on Fox News was outraged that anyone would take us seriously. He called me a, “ left-wing blogger who was not respectable three or four years ago.”
And he was right. In their world, I wasn’t “respectable”.
None of us were.
As our good friend Atrios likes to say,
We weren’t “very serious people.”
You see, we weren’t stupid and gullible enough to fall for the administration’s lies on Iraq.
Those “respectable” people couldn’t stop praising Bush for being “bold,” and “resolute”.
They fueled what has now become the biggest foreign policy debacle in American history.
I hope maybe I can be there next year.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Read Georgia blogs this weekend
Georgia On My Mind’s got the 15th edition of the Georgia Carnival posted for your weekend blog reading pleasure:
Please support these fine Georgia bloggers by letting them know you have visited them with a comment. Your continued support with your links and shout-outs at your site helps to alert others to what we Georgia bloggers have to offer…
You can host the carnival at your site! Just let me know you are interested and I will set up a date for you. It’s a great way to put your own personal spin on the carnival.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
The Blogosphere: talk radio for liberals
In a podcast interview of Markos Moulitsas ZÃƒÂºniga by Dave Weinberger last May, Kos articulates why, like talk radio and conservatives, the blogosphere is an inherently liberal medium:
I often say that the blogosphere is really the first medium that plays to our strengths as liberals. [...]
[W]e’ve been at a disadvantage in the media world, because everybody jokes that liberals do not work from the same playbook. Will Rogers saying, “I’m not a member of an organized party, I’m a democrat.” This notion that were not going to follow: “Don’t tell me what to think, I’ll think for myself.” Obviously, that’s been a problem in a world that has been increasingly dominated by the talking points and by being able to properly message, and getting on that same messaging book.
So, we have a medium that doesn’t necessarily require that sort of singularity of message, that actually encourages what we love to do the most, which is just to sit there and argue, fight, and debate. And sure, when the elections come--when the time comes, we can actually get together and work for campaigns and work for elections. [...]
The conservatives can heat up--this is what they do: they say on message, they hammer that message, and it can be very, very effective and help them win for decades, that singularity of message. Everyone knows what the Republican Party stands for because we’ve heard it eight billion times: small government, lower taxes, national defense, and strong family values. Everybody can recite those. Ask somebody why they’re a democrat, and you’ll get 18 million different answers about why they’re a democrat. There’s no singularity in message. And again, in a traditional media world, that was a problem because everybody’s saying a different thing. There’s no common messaging, so the viewer is left wondering: “What are these people are about? I have no idea.”
Now we have a medium, the blogosphere, that allows us to embrace that diversity in voices, and that desire to debate, argue, and think for ourselves, and actually turn that, what used to be a negative and a weakness, turns it into a strength. [...]
The beauty was that we were so fragmented in the past that we would end up in our own silos. You had the environmentalists in one corner, and the women’s groups in another, and labor in yet another group. You had all these constituencies in the Democratic Party, and in a broader progressive movement, always sitting at a different table.
Now, what a place like Daily Kos allows us to do is that everybody will come to Daily Kos--the center of the party, the left of the party, the right of the party--and we’ll argue, argue, argue. We’ll hate on each other fierce. People talk about the echo chamber at Daily Kos, and it’s a joke because actually it’s quite a brutal place.
But, then what happens is we’re all at the same table, and we’re all arguing, but we’re at the same table. When an election rolls around, and it’s time to get together to work on behalf of our candidates, people will put aside those differences for those six months before the election, and will work their butts off. Then sure, once the election is over, they’ll go back to arguing, and a lot of that will be arguing and hating on the democrats that we just helped get elected. But, by putting everybody at the same table, we’re able to harness that collective energy and work for a commonality of purpose when that is needed--when the time for that is around, which is usually around elections. But sometimes, it could be around activism campaigns.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Publishing 2.0 to newspapers: Stop publishing in print
Scott Karp says “blogs are now the organizing principle for newspapers’ original online content” and wonders if to fulfill the Fourth Estate mission in our digital media era maybe newspapers should become nothing more than local blog networks:
Maybe there are three tiers of journalists at these blog network “newspapers”:
- Full-time reporters and editors, who ensure breadth of coverage, quality and standards, and public mission
- Paid freelancers who write on a regular basis, but not full-time — these can be stay-at-home parents looking for supplemental income, retirees looking for extra income or to keep busy, college students, etc.
- “Witness” reporters (avoiding “citizen journalist” on purpose), who contribute to the reporting effort when they witness news in some form
I like his formulation and have no doubt they should be; the question, rather, is how long until they will be?
Many newspapers are closer to this model than they may realize, but there a few radical steps required:
To really take advantage of the economies of this model, which could actually enable MORE local reporting, newspapers need to consider one final step — stop publishing in print.
- Use more freelancers who can post to blogs part-time
- Create a platform for anyone to report news — but on the established blogs, not in some big sloshing vat of random submissions — if someone wants to contribute regularly, given them their own blog, a focus, and (just enough) structure
Via Martin Stabe.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
WSJ: Happy Blogoversary
The WSJ invited twelve commentators—including Tom Wolfe, Newt Gingrich, the SEC’s Christopher Cox and actress-turned-blogger Mia Farrow—to write on what blogs mean to them. From the intro:
We are approaching a decade since the first blogger—regarded by many to be Jorn Barger—began his business of hunting and gathering links to items that tickled his fancy, to which he appended some of his own commentary. On Dec. 23, 1997, on his site, Robot Wisdom, Mr. Barger wrote: “I decided to start my own webpage logging the best stuff I find as I surf, on a daily basis,” and the Oxford English Dictionary regards this as the primordial root of the word “weblog.”
The dating of the 10th anniversary of blogs, and the ascription of primacy to the first blogger, are imperfect exercises. Others, such as David Winer, who blogged with Scripting News, and Cameron Barrett, who started CamWorld, were alongside the polemical Mr. Barger in the advance guard. And before them there were “proto-blogs,” embryonic indications of the online profusion that was to follow. But by widespread consensus, 1997 is a reasonable point at which to mark the emergence of the blog as a distinct life-form.
Some of what Newt had to say:
We’ve already seen the effects on the Democratic Party. Web sites such as Daily Kos and MoveOn.org—which I find fascinating as models of online activism—have made it quite clear that their aim goes beyond stopping President Bush; they’re also targeting leaders in their own party viewed as unresponsive to the grassroots. Sen. Joe Lieberman’s primary loss is the most visible example. If Republicans remain out of step with their base for too long, expect a similar insurgency on the right.
RELATED: In this interview of Daily Kos’s Markos Moulitsas ZÃƒÂºniga by Dave Weinberger, Kos explains why the web inherently favors Democrats. Just as talk radio is a Republican’s medium (liberals have consistently failed at it) liberals flower under the influence of the Internet. Republicans less so. Sorry Newt.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
The NCAA’s ransome
Whose first amendment is it anyway???
The NYTimes today reports on the newspaper blogger evicted from a baseball press box for blogging about a game while it was in progress. The paper is considering suing. The NCAA claims:
“Reporters covering our championships may blog about the atmosphere, crowd and other details during a game but may not mention anything about game action. Any reference to game action in a blog or other type of coverage could result in revocation of credentials.”
Rich Gordon, an associate professor of journalism at Northwestern University and a director of its new media journalism program, said that “this is just the latest skirmish in a longer-term war” that will get more contentious.
“The law, as happens in many cases, has not kept up with the technology,” Gordon said. “As a journalist, you’re inclined to wave the First Amendment flag. This is going to get messier before it gets figured out. The media trends are at odds with the leagues’ goal of controlling distribution and extracting a ransom.”
Big Media had bought and paid for those free speech rights, so competitors can’t have it! You and me? Free? Speech? Huh? We’re not even in the picture!
Monday, June 11, 2007
Ethics update: links are not endorsements
I link for many reasons. Sometimes endorsement, sometimes commentary, sometimes merely to document and record for my own future reference the source of the material I’m referencing. If I do not explicitly add clarifying text that indicates an endorsement, A LINK IS NOT AN ENDORSEMENT. I will sometimes choose not to link to a source. That choice may be commentary, but the choice to on occasion use the absence of a link for commentary does not infer that any other choice to link is an endorsement.
The addition may be word-smithed in the future, but you get the point. It captures the essence of what I intend.
LATER: I added the line, “The paragraph above also applies to quotes.”
Saturday, June 09, 2007
The phrase “Citizen Journalist” should go
Steve Boriss at The Future of News says it’s time we name ourselves:
“Citizen journalist” implies that the truly legitimate position is “journalist” with the adjective “citizen” used as a qualifier to diminish status, as in Vice President, Lieutenant Colonel, or Assistant Professor. Come to think of it, “Citizen journalist” sounds like a phrase invented by a mainstream journalist — one who clings to the belief that, in the future, journalists will still hold the same, lofty status they enjoy today, but just with the additional burden of using, taming, and managing a swarm of pesky news “wanna-bees.” Maybe it’s time for news bloggers to take responsibility for naming their own specialty — ideally one that would distinguish them from social bloggers on one hand and mainstream journalists on the other.
Boriss hit that nail right on the head! My suggestion, keep it simple: “News Bloggers” is a good start.
Via Martin Stabe.
TANGENTIALLY RELATED: A podcast by any other name would be much sweeter.
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Chait misses the point
To add my 2Ã‚Â¢ to all of the commentary out there on Jonathan Chait’s massive TNR missive, The Left’s New Machine: How the netroots became the most important mass movement in U.S. politics, I wholly agree we are that, but I say “we” even as, by Chait’s definition, I’m relegated to the wonkosphere:
Outsiders often use the terms “net-roots” and “liberal bloggers” interchangeably, but they aren’t exactly the same thing. The netroots are a subset of the liberal blogs, constituting those blogs that are directly involved in political activism, often urging their readers to volunteer for, or donate money to, Democratic candidates. Other liberal bloggers, sometimes called the “wonkosphere,” advocate liberal ideas but do not directly involve themselves in politics.
Chris Bowers, I think, gets it right when he disagrees:
Actually, the progressive blogosphere is a subset of the progressive netroots, as our polling has previously shown.
More generally, I don’t think the storied rise of the Conservative movement maps so neatly onto the current rise of either the netroots or the progressive blogosphere as Chait would have us believe. I certainly don’t think Democrats have found some new discipline. More I think the attributes of the different technologies - broadcasting and the Internet - inherently favor one side or the other.
Broadcasting, the technology and the medium, structurally favors Republicans. Broadcasting requires order and authority and uniformity and those qualities are a more comfortable fit, they come more naturally, to Republicans. Broadcasters fill schedules with programs done in formats and produced in studios to broadcast standards and are then distributed through channels on stations. All of that spells a uniformity that inherently favors Republicans.
Given that, it’s hardly a surprise that Talk Radio and Cable News is a medium they mastered. And a medium that, to this day as Kevin Drum points out, Democrats have not.
The Internet and blogging, by contrast, are a Democratic (Big “D” and little “d") dream. They structurally favor our side. There are no schedules or central authorities, money is less of an advantage or a barrier, issues bubble up out of individual interests and most anyone can do it. Its a process more than a product and emphatically does not require a broadcast-sized audience.
In his nearly 8,000 words Chait named less that a dozen blogs and quoted even fewer bloggers. In that (and the inflammatory propaganda language) he obviously misses the point of the blogosphere and undermines some otherwise interesting insights.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Blogging: self-exposure or self-expression?
‘Blogging’ is the ability to self-publish. As such it’s a technical term not an editorial one. What I mean by that is that it’s about how not what. Lumping all blogging together isn’t helpful. One blogger may be a diarist, another a commentator, another a journalist. Hence why a code for all bloggers is misguided. Hence why saying things like ‘Very few of them [bloggers] bother with such niceties as fact-checking’ - as it does in the introduction to tonight’s debate - is misleading.
Via Martin Stabe.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
A 2006 University of Maryland study on chat rooms found that female participants received 25 times as many sexually explicit and malicious messages as males. A 2005 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that the proportion of Internet users who took part in chats and discussion groups plunged from 28 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2005, entirely because of the exodus of women. The study attributed the trend to “sensitivity to worrisome behavior in chat rooms.”
Joan Walsh, editor in chief of the online magazine Salon, said that since the letters section of her site was automated a year and a half ago, “it’s been hard to ignore that the criticisms of women writers are much more brutal and vicious than those about men.”
The newspeg for the WaPo article is Kathy Sierra going public in March about being threatened by a cyber-stalker. I’ve not followed closely but from the start sided with Scoble and was appalled by Kos’s naivete.
More from Joan Walsh writing in Salon of her reaction to Sierra:
I truly believe misogynist trolls are only a tiny sliver of the Web population. But I can no longer say they don’t matter, or they do no real harm. We have them here at Salon in politics and relationship threads; Sierra has them in the world of tech marketing. They’re probably not the same guys. That’s disturbing. What’s unique to the Web is that they can easily collaborate: A vicious prankster who’d like to rattle Sierra can make threats or even find and publish her address, and he might only want to scare her, not do her real physical harm. But he can be joined by an unhinged person who takes the address and acts on it. And who’s to blame?
I don’t have an answer to that question, or a solution. All I can really do is promise to think and talk about it more, and not dismiss other women’s—and some men’s—complaints about what women suffer online as easily as I have in the past.
Post title lifted from Slate.
Monday, April 30, 2007
I’ve done a fair amount of blogging about the Democratic machine and what a problem these people really are. While Hillary Clinton is in bed with these people, she has also had a long career in Democratic politics. She faced the smear machine in the 1990s way before any of us were organizing on her behalf. For better or for worse, Mark Penn had her back at that time, and that matters to Senator Clinton.
I don’t agree with her policy choices and judgment, and I often question her character in this context. But she’s also a gutsy and extremely intelligent politician, and we ought not to forget that. You cannot discount what it means to have a woman running for President, and how she brings intelligence, resolve and poise to that role. It’s our role in politics to bring her to a different place, to show her that progressive politics can be done with progressive structures, and that the perceived double-talk on single issue micropolling is no longer necessary or productive. Ultimately, and this may not be possible though I think it will be, we will have to figure out how to work together as strong allies. Both Clinton and the blogs went through the crucible of the right-wing smear machine, and it’s hard to discount that.
I’m less ambivalent about her than either of them are. But their grudging respect bodes well for her. BTW, the name’s Hillary Clinton.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Those of you who read me regularly will know that I am a Google fan; I’ve even waxed on about the appeal of Google ruling the world. I hate to be fickle but yesterday I got this email from the AdSense Team and now I’m having second thoughts about a Google ruler:
While reviewing your account, we noticed that you are currently displaying Google ads in a manner that is not compliant with our policies. For instance, we found violations of AdSense policies on pages such as http://atypicaljoe.com/index.php? /site/comments/support_for_gays_in_the_nba/.
Publishers are not permitted to encourage users to click on Google ads or bring excessive attention to ad units. For example, your site cannot contain phrases such as “click the ads,” “support our sponsors,” “visit these recommended links,” or other similar language that could apply to the Google ads on your site. Publishers may not use arrows or other symbols to direct attention to the ads on their sites, and publishers may not label the Google ads with text other than “sponsored links” or “advertisements.”
Please make any necessary changes to your web pages in the next 3 business days. We also suggest that you take the time to review our program policies (https://www.google.com/adsense/policies) to ensure that all of your other pages are in compliance.
Once you update your site, we will automatically detect the changes and ad serving will not be affected. If you choose not to make the changes to your account within the next three days, your account will remain active but you will no longer be able to display ads on the site. Please note, however, that we may disable your account if further violations are found in the future.
Thank you for your cooperation.
The Google AdSense Team
I have to say I am taken aback. Click through to the offending post and you’ll find that it simply quotes another blog with very little commentary of my own. I have no idea what the Googlebot found but I have NOT edited the page and there’s certainly nothing that violates the Google policy.
I’m hardly going to bother urging my humble hundred-plus readers to click an ad. What am I stupid? Like I’d think that would make me some money?
Their ads run on this site but they sit there ignored by me. Google owes me one hundred thirty something dollars for a year’s worth of ads; I’ve never bothered doing the tax form necessary in order for them to send a check. I don’t care about their piddly few bucks (if I did I’d want to know something about their payout formula).
UPDATE: Two business days later, I heard back. Indeed I had violated the policy:
Thanks for following up with us. For clarification, the following language is found on your site in the “Joe’s AdBar” section of your pages that we feel may encourage users to click on the Google ads that you’re displaying on your site:
“Please support my sponsors”
We kindly ask that you remove either the ads from pages with the previously mentioned language or remove the language from your site.
The Google AdSense Team
I’ve removed the offending language. While I see now that it clearly was a violation, I thought of it as such benign boilerplate that I really didn’t remember it was there even after rereading their policies to see what I’d done wrong. The request couldn’t have been more polite. I am chastened and contrite.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
I know you are but what am I?
I’ve had a go at producing three different models or types of blogs that, I think, might be useful if one wanted to try to categorise all the blogs out there. Not that I’m sure doing that would actually be useful! But for the purpose of giving an idea of the different types of blogs out there, each of them perfectly valid in their own way, I propose the following, which you can view as a slide show here:
Closed Blogs are, as the image here shows, at the centre of an audience that resembles a closed network. Blogs of this type include baby blogs and wedding planning blogs. Characteristically they have a:
* small but extremely passionate and engaged audience
* audience unlikely to grow
* audience potentially super-served - they all have a very strong personal connection, usually running both ways.
See, for example, the Aitken’s wedding blog
Blogs as Conduit of Information are blogs that act as the conduit between individual audience members and information or ideas. That is, the blog is the centre of the relationship between the information consumers and information producers. The blog itself may not be the origin of this content, but may merely pull it together in a useful way. This sort of blog is characterised by:
* potentially larger audience than closed blog model
* audience highly engaged with personality and/or topic
* audience unlikely to grow rapidly because it serves same audience without reaching out
Blog as Participant in “The Conversation” are connectors of ideas and people, but also of conversations that flow between them. Blogs of this sort have an audience potentially as big as the numbers actively engaged in the conversation. New people who get involved in the conversation, or who discover a node of it, may very well follow contextualised links, visit other sites in the chain, and become regular audience members of those sites. Bloggers who create blogs like this tend to engage with the comments on their blogs and link out heavily, using tools like RSS readers and technorati to follow the "buzz". Some also use social bookmarking or social recommendation tools to save, order and share links.
This is highly evolved blogging as both use of technology and technique which, I think, an ideal that bloggers should strive for.
I strive to be a conduit and participant.
I may even be that in some small way. But I know my blog is a globally accessible database of information that I find personally or professionally interesting, and a platform for deliberation through which I shape my views on those interests; it allows me to engage with those I admire, respect or criticize and helps me keep my sanity when I feel intellectually isolated; and it lets me develop and use my technology skills.
Via Martin Stabe.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Washington establishment bemoans bloggers
Surprise, surpirse. Not:
In a press roundtable at the National Press Club tonight, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow led a discussion with White House correspondents about the impact of the internet on their respective jobs. Their conclusion? They don’t like being challenged by blogs.
NBC News’ David Gregory bemoaned how political coverage has “become so polarized in this countryÃ¢â‚¬Â¦because it’s the internet and the blogs that have really used this White House press conferences to somehow support positions out in America, political views.” Tony Snow admitted he sometimes reads blogs ("I’ll occasionally punch it up") only to find “wonderful, imaginative hateful stuff that comes flying out.”
Newsweek’s White House correspondent Richard Wolffe added, “[Bloggers] want us to play a role that isn’t really our role. Our role is to ask questions and get information. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ It’s not a chance for the opposition to take on the government and grill them to a point where they throw their hands up and surrender.”
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Top 5 hosted blogging platforms
I owe Basil a post on my experience with Movable Type. Meanwhile, after switching to Expression Engine, I have to wonder whether I should have switched to a hosted platform. Cnet points to PCWorld’s editor picks:
Not too surprisingly, the list was topped with a Blogger, WordPress and TypePad trifecta. Lesser-known Tripod and Squarespace rounded out the list.
All five of the hosted platforms are either free or cost less than $10 per month, and each has its own set of pros and cons. Each of those feature sets can make a platform sing for one user while making it too pedestrian for another (formatting features can be a godsend for people who don’t have strong HTML skills, for example).
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Er, “Where’s The Fire.” New from Technorati. “We’re putting our highest - value real estate - the topmost search result - in the hands of our community,” says Dave Sifry:
On January 31, 2007 Technorati released a new feature to help people to get explations on things they see popping up in the blogosphere. Sometimes, that’s a personality or topic, like Paris Hilton or Tammy Nyp, sometimes it is an explanation of an obscure topic, like Second Life or BuzzTV.
But it isn’t only about explaining the hot searches or buzziest topics going on in the blogosphere at any moment. You can also write a WTF on any topic that someone would search for, and provide information and resources to them about that topic or subject. So, you might want to write a WTF about yourself or your friends names, or your company (or maybe even your competition!)
If you think that you’ve got a better explanation than the one that shows up on top of Technorati search results for a term, no worries, just go and write your own, and get your friends to vote for it. WTF uses a special time weighted voting system that means that the most popular recent WTFs will show up on top of the page.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
The writer & the (great?) unwashed masses
Terrific thoughtful piece on the impact of massive online feedback on journalists and writers by Gary Kamiya, the executive editor of Salon.
Ideas and perspectives that never found an outlet before are now shouted from every corner that has a phone line and a computer. This has rocked the journalistic world. The violent uprising of the previously voiceless plebeians has disturbed the perfumed slumber of media gatekeepers, forcing journalists to immediately correct glaring mistakes or abandon insupportable positions....
And, of course, there has been an explosion of expertise. The information revolution has set off a million car bombs of random knowledge at once, spraying info fragments through the marketplace of ideas. Sometimes it feels as if the Internet has turned the whole country, indeed the whole world, into a virtual New York City, a dense, antimatter-like place where within any four-block grid there are hundreds of people who know more about Miles Davis or Linux or Giorgio de Chirico or the Ruy Lopez opening or Peyton Manning’s attack on the two-deep zone than you do. (As a starry-eyed provincial, I like to think of New York this way, even though it’s probably an illusion.) [...]
For a writer, this huge, suddenly vocal audience has some significant advantages. For one thing, it serves as an enormous fact-checker. If you make a mistake in a piece, some eagle-eyed reader will let you know, often within minutes. But a far more important effect of the reader revolution is that it has forced writers to immediately deal with substantive arguments and critique. Like most writers who publish a lot online, I’ve written pieces that a letter writer has sliced up so surgically, with such superior logic and style, that I began searching furtively for a “do over” button on my computer. And the sheer quantity of even less sophisticated arguments, like water poured onto a leaky roof, reveal a piece’s weak points. Many writers have told me about extraordinary e-mail exchanges with readers that sometimes develop into ongoing relationships.
First, and most obviously, is the reality that the newly vocal masses contain not only thoughtful and respectful readers but also large numbers of fools, knaves, blowhards and nuts. Moreover—and this is a crucial point—the percentage of letter writers who are fools, knaves, blowhards and nuts has exponentially increased. In the old stamped-letter days, the difficulty of writing in weeded out more of these types; letters tended to be somewhat more thoughtful, and letter writers usually adhered to certain conventions of etiquette and decorum governing communications between reader and writer. Not forelock-tugging subservience to their betters, but simple courtesy. There was a tacit acknowledgment of the implicit contract between writer and reader, one characterized by at least a modicum of idealization and respect on both sides. I don’t want to exaggerate this—certainly there were plenty of ad hominem and intemperate letters back then. But having edited several magazines in the print-only era, I can say that there were far, far fewer. Perhaps the unseen presence of an editor, the slightly formal nature of writing a “letter to the editor,” led readers to be on their better behavior. [...]
The problem is, it’s very hard for writers, who want to be read and want to know what readers are saying about them, to ignore letters or blogs about themselves. “Practically every writer I know has gone through the mill with this,” says Salon senior writer Laura Miller. “Blogs, often written by idiots, are bad-mouthing you. You go through this cycle where you get interested, then you get angry, then you just stop reading them.” But as Miller points out, even nasty comments are addictive. “There’s a great Trollope quote from ‘Phineas Finn’: ‘But who is there that abstains from reading that which is printed in abuse of himself?’”
Miller, who says the tendency of discussion threads to degenerate is an example of ”the tragedy of the commons,” believes that the worst online abuse is directed at writers who make themselves vulnerable by revealing intimate things about their lives. “I don’t think people who write stuff like that should read their letters,” Miller says. “If you write something revealing, people mob up and become predatory.” Miller attributes this to a rampant cultural self-righteousness: “It’s like a virus in society—the policing of norms.” As every online editor knows, pieces about child-rearing, sexual mores and the like provoke remarkably virulent outbursts of reader self-righteousness.
I see that behavior as a crowd dynamic. It’s the flip side of The Wisdom of Crowds; much of the chatter around which has tended to overlook that there are significant warnings about the deleterious impacts of crowd behavior - neatly summed up by Surowieki’s observation that human beings are not ants.
We tend to believe that our individual action is independent of the crowd; we’ll learn. And grow.
[Edited for clarity and spelling.]
Thursday, January 25, 2007
The story of the gay sheep became a textbook example of the distortion and vituperation that can result when science meets the global news cycle.
The news coverage, which has been heaviest in England and Australia, focused on smirk and titillation - and, of course, puns. Headlines included “Ewe Turn for Gay Rams on Hormones” and “He’s Just Not That Into Ewe.Ã¢â‚¬Â�
In recent weeks, the tide has begun to turn, with Dr. Roselli and Jim Newman, an Oregon Health and Science publicist, saying they have been working to correct the record in print and online. The university has sent responses to senders of each PETA-generated e-mail message.
Dr. Roselli, whose research is supported by the National Institutes of Health and is published in leading scientific journals, insists that he is as repulsed as his critics by the thought of sexual eugenics in humans. He said human sexuality was a complex phenomenon that could not be reduced to interactions of brain structure and hormones.
I first happened on the gay sheep story at Outside the Beltway and have been following it since. I was completely persuaded by Jim Newman’s emailed response to Andrew Sullivan and ignored the blogosphere hubub.
Their media strategy seems to be working out. On the merits, I’m all for legitimate research; and the prospects of picking your baby’s sexual orientation are far from an imminent threat. They don’t scare me. Instead, maybe one day gay people can parent gay children raised in gay families.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Andrew Sullivan moves. Again.
The prospect of being part of taking this deeply American institution into a new medium in a new century is, for me, an English immigrant, a real honor and privilege. The blog retains its complete editorial independence, of course. You have that guarantee. But it will, I hope, be part of something bigger as well: a voice in a new conversation, dedicated to the American idea, of no party or clique, in pursuit of freedom, national progress, and honor. Come along, will you?
He says Time was great but the opportunity was too good to miss. Maybe he can get James Fallows to take up blogging!
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
New Host, new software, new site.
Welcome to the new site at the new host running the new software. The transition has been a lot of work - and I’ve been avoiding it. When the old host gave me a two week reprieve I got lazy! I finally decided that I’d never finish this site unless I brought it live. So here I am, half undone.
Now the changes begin. My nephew, a comic artist, is working on a new banner. I’ll be moving the blog into the present by fully implementing tagging and social search features. And I’ll be switching to hosted photos. But first I’ve got to get the RSS feed working again and finish off the top nav bar links.
An irony is that I did the move because my traffic had grown beyond the bandwidth options at the old host. At the same time I decided to change blog software. With that change every url has changed, and so all that search engine directed traffic is gone. It’s like starting all over again.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
I stayed up late last night getting everything ready to go live, then submitted the domain name change and went to bed expecting that when I got up the new site would be live.
Eager to see, and anxious because it’s “boxy”, I got up and went straight for the computer, clicked on my site and saw...the same old site. What’s up?
Apparently it takes 7 days to put through a domain name transfer. Who knew??? I guess now I’ll have time to fix the new design before it goes live!
Monday, January 08, 2007
Move tonight, maybe tomorrow morning
Doug says the new site design is boxy - yes, yes, yes, it is. What can I say? I was in a hurry when I picked it and I didn’t think it would matter that much because I’d customize it. Well now I’ve got a lot of customizing to do!
Ugliness has never looked better. I have spent the last few days examining a surprising trend in web design that has made ugly websites look absolutely irresistible. No, its not the bolded, 18 point Times New Roman font shouting at me as I access the page that has me excited, nor is it the harsh colors that have actually managed to make my eyes hurt and distort my vision. In fact, its not even that logo which is so pixelated from being processed, resized, saved, and edited so many times that it appears to be blurred to protect the identity of the company who owns the website that has me singing the praises of ugly websites. What is it?
That’s right - ugly websites are surprisingly effective in making money. As a person who puts business before technology, a profitable website is a website is an unbelievably attractive website to me.
His reasoning gets to the root of something that both clients and web developers must learn: People don’t look at websites, they use them… And my new Expression Engine site will have lots of nifty new features to use:
Many of the websites that I referenced above have one underlying trait that can be attributed to their success: they are extremely easy to use.
Google is probably the best example of how functionality over form can lead to success. When Google initially launched, every other major search engine was in the process of transforming themselves into a portal that would offer users all the information they could possibly want, and probably more than they really would want. Google, on the other hand, made their website ridiculously simple. There is one purpose to Google Ã¢â‚¬” to search the web. Nothing else was there to distract you from this one goal. It certainly did not hurt that Google was able to serve up relevant results, but the simplicity of the system was key to winning over users. [...]
[F]unctionality is more important than the design of your website. This does not mean, however, that a beautiful website cannot be easy to use. What this does mean is that you should never sacrifice the usability of your website for a fancy design effect or a more visually appealing website.
I will say that in my web design days, years ago now, it was extremely difficult to get clients to accept that, since they do look at websites as part of their process of selecting a developer. I imagine it may be better now.
As to my own site, I do want to get rid of some boxes, move the columns over to the right, have my nephew draw me a nifty new banner (and maybe even a more age appropriate caricature). In the meantime, they’re coming to take out a wall in my kitchen in the morning and today was the first day of class at work. The fun has just begun.
LATER: The deed is done. Almost. The dns has been redirected, if you’re reading this you’re on my new host (Network Solutions) running my new blog software (Expression Engine).
BÃƒÂ©rubÃƒÂ© blog no more
Blog maintenance on this scale is a daily, sometimes hourly thing, regardless of whether there’s a new post up. And even if I didn’t try to maintain the blog on this scale (a good idea in itself), there’s still the problem of the invisible blogging. I don’t write these posts out in advance, you know. I sit down for an hour or two (more for the really long posts), write them in one take in WordPerfect, look ‘em over, transfer ‘em to the blog, preview, edit, submit, and then proofread one last time once they’re up. (Because sometimes you can’t catch a typo until it’s really up there on the blog, and even then, I’ve missed a bunch so far.) Which means, among other things, that I do a great deal of the planning-before-the-writing while I’m not blogging. And that’s what’s been so mentally exhausting. It’s like ABC from Glengarry Glen Ross: Always Be Composing. And while it’s been great mental exercise, and it’s compelled me to think out (and commit myself in public to) any number of things that otherwise would have laid around the mental toolshed for years, it’s not the kind of thing I can keep up forever, and it wouldn’t be seriously affected if I went to a lighter posting schedule. I’d still spend way too much time thinking about the Next Post and the Post After That.
Anyway, I won’t give up the mental exercise altogether. I have a new essay coming out one of these days in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and a 3000-word review essay of Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s What Should the Left Propose? appearing in the next issue of Dissent. Those of you who’ve been waiting for Installment VI of Theory Tuesday, the Introduction to Stuart Hall, can rest assured that it’ll appear as a chapter of The Left At War. And, of course, I’ll also be writing any number of things for any number of venues, except of course when I get rejections.
So, dear friends and assorted enemies in a healthy 9:1 ratio, thanks for helping to make these three years of blogging so edifying.
Thanks, Michael, for that terrific three year run. I’ll miss your blog. And set up a Google Alert so I can otherwise keep up with your thinking and writing. I hope maybe you’ll visit here from time to time, and please comment to your heart’s content.