The Present And Future Of The Blogosphere

A few days ago, I reposted The Future Of Liberty, in order to set the stage for a post on the American’s article on Milton Friedman & blogging. Yesterday, though, Doug jumped in between steps A and B with his own post… But I think there’s more that can be said.

A lot of people these days don’t understand blogging. Even several of the commentors on a recent post seem to view blogs as little more than an expansion of IRC, or in their parlance, little more than a bathroom stall wall, full of potty-mouthes and bravado, but lacking in any intellectual heft. In some ways, they’re quite right. But that’s the thing… If you try to compare blogging to mainstream newspapers, it’s apples and oranges. Trying to refer to “the blogs” as if they’re an organized or cohesive group completely misses the point. As The American’s article points out:

The “blogosphere” is like a little experimental universe validating consumer choice vs. regulation—and consumer choice has won a colossal victory. Trial and error may not help find the right surgeon, but it seems to be a great way to find your right media diet. By and large, blog consumers have shown an incredible sense for quality and reliability.

Blogging’s greatest “weakness” is thus its greatest strength: Web authors and their sites come with no expectations, claims, or certifications of quality or reliability. Precisely because there is no authority filtering our blogged content, because of this healthy lack of “if it is printed, it must be true”, the reader can and must judge for himself. Instead of floundering helplessly in a sea of (mis-) information (the self-serving admonition from media traditionalists), the internet news-and-entertainment hungry reader develops a knack for picking the cherries out of the innumerable offerings. The blogosphere has something for everyone. Viewpoints are chosen, not dictated, and niches of interest explored, not marginalized.

Bloggers and pundits refer to “the blogosphere” in the same erroneous way that economists and journalists refer to “the market”. The market is simply a collection of sellers and buyers, each doing what they want to do for a whole host of reasons. You don’t look at McDonald’s as an expression of what “the market” produces, you look at it as an actor within the market. Likewise, you can’t look at the blogosphere by what its individual blogs put out.

Some bloggers is the equivalent of McDonald’s and Britney Spears, other bloggers are the equivalent of Morton’s Steakhouse and the Boston Symphony. The blogosphere is a collection of individuals from all walks of life. While it doesn’t take a journalism degree to be a blogger, it doesn’t take a journalism degree to be a journalist either. The fact that the blogosphere has such a miniscule cost of entry ensures that you’ll have the lowest common denominator participating. But the fact that most bloggers aren’t professional journalists doesn’t mean that you won’t– at the same time– have some truly amazing and incredible output.

The blogosphere isn’t a clean process. It is dominated more by individual personalities than the stodgy atmosphere of corporate media. As such, the blogosphere can seem like a million shouting idiots at times, but if that’s all you see when you look at it, you need to look a little closer. The blogosphere’s weakness, the fact that there is no editorial process and often nothing to lose by being wrong, is also a strength. There is danger in being too afraid to be wrong, because often the mainstream “right answer” isn’t correct at all. In the mainstream media, you get the mainstream viewpoint, right or wrong. In the blogosphere, you get all viewpoints, and you need to decide for yourself which is right or wrong.

Of course, when I talk about the blogosphere, I talk about what the blogosphere is today. We’re still in the infancy of this whole movement. The world wide web only became popular in the last ten years, and the term “blog” has only been known outside of technology circles for 3-4 years. In The Future Of Liberty, I point to blogs as the response to a century of media consolidation. But we’re already starting to see blog consolidation. The Pajamas Media and the Liberal Blog Advertising Network experiments are some example, and I predict over time that we’ll see more of the same.

The future of the blogosphere is going to be fairly interesting. Can we start to see the consolidation of media but still retain the agility and free voice that currently defines blogging? I think bloggers will be walking a fine line. As the medium matures, it is only natural that there will be a further stratification between the “major bloggers” and “everyone else”. This will occur more quickly than in other media, because unlike the early days of newspapers and television, blogging is already a national (worldwide, to be fair) medium. But if blogs become too complacent, and too pleased with their success to remain a little bit outside the mainstream, they’ll be competing with the newspapers, who do this thing full-time, and have a lot more resources to throw at it.

Blogging, though, will always have some agility, because cost of entry on the internet will always remain low. If early trends hold, blog coalitions and groupings will have some level of fluidity in their membership. Right now, blogs have a great deal of agility and little consolidation or organization. I think as the medium matures, it will increase its organization and power, but still retain enough agility to differentiate themselves from the “mainstream” media.

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  • http://gottsegnet.blogspot.com Dana

    Hey, in Germany, being called the “bathroom walls of the internet” seemed high praise for bloggers poking fun at a government run advertising campaign to improve the moods of Germans. The head guy made the comment, and templates decorated like restroom walls instantly proliferated. There are still some around.

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  • http://www.mikespoints.com Mike Driehorst

    Great common sense post. Blogs and other social media are great — but they are just part of an ever-growing tree of media we can choose from.
    Mike