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June 22, 2010

More on internal posting

Seth Finkelstein has challenged yesterday’s post on Blogging and public thinking about whether being a blogger has caused us (some of us? most of us? a few of us?) to refashion our experiences in terms of posts we might make. He points to a post by Mark Dery that focuses on what I think is a misguided critique of Jeff Jarvis’ blogging of the “indecent” details of his medical treatment. [Disclosure: Jeff is a friend.] But, Seth’s point has less to do with the particularities of Mark’s critique than with some broader points Mark makes.

I suggest you read Seth’s comments (which are in the comments section of yesterday’s post), but I’m here going to post part of my reply, because it makes a follow-on point to what I was trying to say yesterday, so please pardon the self-quotage:

The idea that public media alter our inner narratives is hardly new. (Stephen Goldblatt’s book on Renaissance self-fashioning is a great work on this topic.) It seems to me to be a coherent history (resorting to coherence in the absence of evidence) to say we are moving from a time in which media structurally gave rise to celebrity (because the media were mass and one-way) to a new medium that gives rise to some Hegelian synthesis of celebrity and actual sociality. That is, in the age of broadcast, we fashioned experience so that we were stars of an imaginary broadcast; in the age of the Web, we fashion experience so that we are bloggers with a non-massive, semi-social, potentially interactive readership. Under this fact-free analysis, the Web’s fashioning of our experience should be understand in _contrast_ to the celebrity-based stories we made of our lives during the Age of Broadcast.

Note that since I don’t have access to the inner thoughts of all bloggers, I don’t have any actual evidence — thus the reference to coherence and fact-free analysis.

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June 21, 2010

Blogging and public thinking

Euan Semple takes a moment to reflect on how blogging has affected how he thinks:

Once you have a blog you notice more, you start to think “I might write about this on my blog” What do I want to say” “What will people’s reaction be”. Over time you get better at noticing and the better at noticing you get the more noticed you get!…

I do find the possibility that I might blog an experience transforms that experience. I begin to compose the post in my head, even if I know I’m not actually going to write about it. I did this to some extent before the seventh day of creation (G-d rested, looked at what He had created, and then we started blogging complaints about i), but I now find myself shaping experience according to how I might present that experience in public: finding the words, deciding what might be interesting in the experience to someone other than me. Blogging has given the public yet more of a grip on the shape of my private experience.

Blogging is not unique in this. I assume we all think about how we might tell others about something that just happened to us, imagining the anecdote told at dinner to one’s family, to one’s co-workers, or to other confidantes. If you kept a traditional diary, you might find that you are drafting your experiences with its blank pages in mind. But, for those of us who write personal blogs, the anticipated reading of your blog by people you don’t know creates drafts of experience — which ultimately become the experience — that are more written than told, more public than social, more composed than expressed.

Is that good? I dunno. I don’t even know if it’s generally true. I’ve worried before that the little homunculus in my brain that is always scribbling away is a personal mental disorder. (Shut up, homunculus! I don’t care what you say, I’m posting this anyway!)

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December 25, 2009

The fury of bloggers

Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to eleven years in prison today for speaking out against the Chinese government.

The Guardian article begins this way:

One of China‘s most prominent human rights activists was condemned today to 11 years in prison, prompting a furious backlash from domestic bloggers and international civil society groups.

Picture me on this quiet Christmas morning finishing a cup of coffee, listening to a set of tracks I just downloaded from Amazon, my family doing their early slow bustle, criticizing a country a full diameter away from me, and you’ve got the picture of a snug, smug American blogger. Fury? Not sure where to locate it in that picture.

It’s obviously not the same for the Chinese bloggers supporting Liu Xiaobo. This post costs me nothing, but their posts put them at risk. I cannot even imagine what it’s like to press the Publish button having to worry about anything more than losing some reputation points. “What will my pals think?” is a lot different than “Will this start the gears of imprisonment?” That unimaginable gap is our freedom of speech.

The flip side of my ability to blog free of risk is powerlessness. So, I condemn the Chinese government. Let’s say many bloggers do. And then what happens? The Chinese government quakes in its boots because the blogosphere has given it a good scolding?

On the other hand, powerless compared to what? Fifteen years ago, my condemnation would have gotten as far as the person sitting across from me. Or maybe I would have written an outraged letter to the Chinese government. (Actually, I’m sure I wouldn’t have since I never have.) Now at least there’s a chance — but just a chance — that the Chinese bloggers will know that many other bloggers are with them. And this is part of the difference: The mighty are deaf to our words, but our allies and friends may not be.

So, why am I posting about Liu Xiaobo? For a jumble of reasons, as is always the case for us humans. To make myself feel like I’m doing something even if I’m not. To align myself with someone I admire, in part so I’ll be perceived as someone who cares. To contribute a couple more hops to the networked spread of news about Liu Xiaobo. So those at risk can feel the slight weight of one more post comforting them — and to be comforted myself that perhaps our words can connect us for a moment before they evaporate as words almost always do.

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July 25, 2009

Dan Gillmor’s early blogs found

Scott Rosenberg posts the happy news that Rudolf Ammann has found Dan Gillmor’s missing early bloggage for the San Jose Mercury News.

Scott includes a link to Dan’s first post, in 1999. Here are some snippets:

I’ve been thinking about the new ways of journalism, namely the ways the Internet is imposing on all of us. Internet Time has compressed the lives of all kinds of people in all kinds of businesses, and journalism is no exception. In fact, it may be one of the businesses most affected in the long run, both in the opportunities the Net creates and the threat it represents.

So I’m trying one of those new forms. It’s called a “weblog” — and it’s a combination of styles that could exist only on the Web. Text, pictures, hyperlinks and, soon, audio and video are all part of this new form, and I can’t wait to start experimenting with it.

Why do I like weblogs? Because the best ones are windows into the Web, various topics and people’s minds. Rather than trying to describe the form, let me show you several of the weblogs I look at daily (or even more frequently):

There’s nobody I admire more than Dan, for his integrity and his prescience.

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May 16, 2009

Whitehouse.gov: Give your bloggers’ names!

The Whitehouse.gov blog continues to improve, by which I mean it’s getting less like the glass-topped version of White House press releases. But it’s missing a big opportunity by keeping the blog posts anonymous.

The White House bloggers seem quite aware that a press release isn’t a post and are trying to create a difference between the two. For instance, the blogger begins the post on President Obama’s speech on credit card reform with a friendly paragraph about the citizen who introduced him. It’s not much and it’s still directly tied to the President’s remarks, but that paragraph doesn’t read like a press release or like a speech. And, that post ends with the blogger’s evaluation of the President’s proposal: “Long overdue.” That last phrase, expressing some personal enthusiasm, is uncalled for, and thus is refreshing, for blogging is a medium for the uncalled and the uncalled-for. (Which is why I love it.)

Still, it’s hard to see how the posts can blow past this minimal level of bloggishness…unless and until the bloggers start signing them.

The problem, I believe, is that the bloggers feel (and are made to feel) the awful weight of speaking for the White House. Their posts come straight from the offices behind the long lawn and the pillared portico. In some weird, ineffable way, they represent the building, its inhabitants, and its policies, just as press releases do. Press releases have authority because they’re not an individual expression. They have authority because they are unsigned and thus speak for the institution itself. Blog posts come from the same building, and, if they’re unsigned, maybe they’re supposed to have similar authority, except written in a slangier style. So, we don’t yet know exactly what to make of these unsigned posts. And neither do the bloggers, I think. It’s too new and it’s too weird.

But, if the bloggers signed their posts, it would instantly become clear that bloggers are not speaking for the institution of the White House the way press releases do. We would have something — the bloggers — that stands between the posts and the awesomeness of the White House. That would create just enough room for the bloggers to express something other than the Official View. They would be freed to make the White House blog far more interesting, relevant, human, and central to the Administration’s mission than even the most neatly typed press releases ever could be.

Already most of the bloggiest posts at Whitehouse.gov come from guest bloggers who are named and identified by their position. They feel free-er to speak for themselves and as themselves, in their own voice. Now, I don’t expect the official White House bloggers to speak for themselves exactly. They are partisans and employees; they work for the White House because they love President Obama. But, if they signed their names, they could speak more as themselves.

This might let them do more of what the White House blog needs to do, in my opinion. For example, I’d like to read a White House blogger explaining the President’s decision to try some Guantanamo prisoners using the military tribunals President Bush created. White House communications officials probably consider it bad politics to acknowledge the controversy by issuing a defense. But bloggers write about what’s interesting, and hearing a spirited, partisan justification would be helpful, and encouraging. I personally think that Pres. Obama probably has good reasons for his decision in this matter, but the “good politics” of official communications are too timid. I want to hear a blogger on the topic. And I would love to learn to go to the White House blog first on questions such as this. And isn’t that where the White House would like me first to go?

Bloggers with names are the best way to interrupt the direct circuit from politics to official public expression. That would put people in the middle…which is exactly where we want them. [Tags: ]


Posted in slightly improved form at HuffingtonPost and TechPresident.

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May 7, 2009

Stars and Stripes: Blogs away! (OR: The great default switch)

According to Stars and Stripes, military service people are being enabled and encouraged to blog. That military blogging is going on is hardly news, but the degree to which it’s being embraced is remarkable.

It’s part of the Great Default Switch we’re living through in everything from privacy to “piracy.” Where the military default was security and secrecy, now the “Why not?” is becoming “Sure, go ahead — talk and be social.” Within limits, of course. But the news isn’t the blogging and isn’t the limits. It’s the change in defaults.

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May 3, 2009

Whitehouse.gov turns on the comments. Sort of.

To me, the coolest thing about WhiteHouse.gov going all social media on us is not that it shows that the White House knows about this stuff, or even that it understands that we now want the news to come to us. It’s that at the White House Facebook page, the comments are turned on.

I do understand why the WhiteHouse.gov site has been reluctant to allow us to leave comments on the official site. Oh, sure, you can fill out a form and submit it, but this knowingly commits the Fallacy of Scale, i.e., believing that anyone is going to read your message. We want at least to be able to read one another’s messages. But, I assume the staff is afraid that open commenting on White House blog posts will enable situations that are sticky beyond escape. What do you do when people get racist, anti-Muslim, and all around stupid? There are answers, but none are as good (from the White House media point of view) as not enabling the problem in the first place.

So, now WhiteHouse.gov is cross posting to its Facebook page. If you want to comment, go there. Because it’s not the White House’s site, trashy comments don’t littering the White House lawn. Facebook allows WhiteHouse.gov to distance itself sufficiently from the commenters to enable commenting. It’s a great step forward.

The next step: WhiteHouse.gov should respond to some of the comments, either in the comments area or in blog posts themselves.

Meanwhile: Well done, WhiteHouse.gov! Well done.

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April 22, 2009

Transparency of zombies

I really like the fact that when Left 4 Dead (the great cooperative zombie killing game) introduced a new type of gameplay, one of the developers explained the math behind the balancing of the waves of incoming undead.

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March 17, 2009

A coup without media

Ethan Zuckerman has pointed us at the coverage of the military coup in Madagascar, a country of 20+ million folks with almost not mainstream media on the ground. The news coming out is getting here via Twitter (#madagascar) and blogs. GlobalVoices is one good source.

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March 11, 2009

Berkman MediaCloud tracks feeds ‘n’ memes

The Berkman Center has launched one of its most exciting projects. MediaCloud is subscribing to hundreds of RSS feeds, including many from the mainstream media, is automagically performing topic analysis (actually, entity extraction using Reuter’s OpenCalais) on it, and is building a gigantic database so researchers can see how ideas and information move through and across the Net.

Here’s what the announcement says:

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society is pleased to announce the launch of Media Cloud, a new project that seeks to track news content comprehensively — providing free, open, and flexible research tools:

http://www.mediacloud.org

Researching the nature of news, and media information flows, has always faced a difficult challenge: there is so much produced by so many outlets that it is hard to monitor it all. Researchers have used painstaking manual content analysis to understand mass media. On the web, the explosion of citizen media makes such an approach far more difficult and less comprehensive. By automatically downloading, processing, and querying the full text of thousands of outlets, Media Cloud will allow unprecedented quantitative analysis of media trends.

Today’s launch allows a first view into some of what is possible on the Media Cloud platform. At http://www.mediacloud.org you can generate simple charts of media coverage across sources and countries. The actual capabilities of the system are much greater, and the Media Cloud team is actively looking for other researchers who will bring their own questions as the tools are further developed. Ultimately, Media Cloud will provide open APIs that can support a variety of lines of inquiry.

Visit the Media Cloud site, try the visualizations, share your research ideas with the team, and sign up for the Media Cloud mailing list to hear about functionality enhancements and other project developments.

The Berkman Center is proud to be incubating the project in its initial phases and is now seeking partners to help Media Cloud realize its full research potential….

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