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Wednesday, August 13, 2003  

Blogospherics: Whither the weblog?

Hypertext advocate and software designer Mark Bernstein has some interesting thoughts on weblogs and the blogosphere. He expressed them in a review of Rebecca Blood's book, The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice for Creating and Maintaining Your Blog. According to him, Blood's perspective on blogging is a romantic one. He believes his own views on the topic to be more practical, but foresees a convergence down the road.

First, Bernstein considers the different ways one could think about blogging.

Tragedy tells us that our weblogs are the playthings of the Gods, subject to the whims of fate and fortune. Comedy promises that our weblogs can succeed through hard work, struggle, and good fortune. Melodrama warns us that there are bad people and evil forces in the world, and that only through courage and determination can our weblogs overcome their malignity. And Romance assures us that, though weblogs fail everywhere, our weblog will prosper because we, ourselves, are wonderful.

Then, he analyzes the approach of Blood, whose blog is Rebecca's Pocket.

For Blood, as for many diarists, the exercise of writing is its own reward. "If you allow yourself to begin posting entries based on what you think someone else wants you to write," she warns, "you are missing the point of having a weblog."

. . .Blood's core belief that a weblog's virtues stem from the writer's wonderful uniqueness place her in an awkward position, for to what else can we attribute the success of her own widely-read weblog, Rebecca's Pocket? More seriously, Blood's romantic conviction deters any extensive discussion of craft. If simple authenticity is the goal of weblog writing, and if you -- the Audience Of One -- are the only reader that really matters, then what craft is needed? Just as the romantics eschewed High Fashion for the shepherdess's natural beauties, Blood can offer little guidance beyond clarity, brevity, and sincerity.

As a former (and possibly future) reporter, and writer, I guess I bring a kind of blended sensibility to blogging. My blog is a 'diary' only because I have never been one to keep a journal. So, some of the material I post to Mac-a-ro-nies is what I might say to myself in a personal journal. However, my blogging encompasses the kind of material Bernstein notes Blood does not bless more often than not.

Central to Bernstein's cynicism about Blood's perspective is the fact she focuses on individualistic reasons for maintaining a blog.

Only reputation-building is truly outward-directed, and most of Blood's reasons for writing a weblog can be fulfilled even if the weblog goes unread. Social change, justice, and reform are all absent from Blood's motivations; you might start a political weblog because you enjoy politics, but there's nothing here to suggest you'd start one to launch a crusade or expose an injustice.

Though I am too skeptical of pure advocacy to pursue it breathlessly, I do have interests I try to focus attention on. Those of you who have read this blog since its infancy know I care a lot about civil rights and some legal issues. My legal education and experience may explain my interest in some aspects of the law. However, I can become just as fascinated by a medical or technological topic. Comes from the training as a generalist I received in journalism, I guess.

Bernstein believes the future of the blogosphere is in more interactivity among bloggers, what he calls weblog clusters. He says that interactivity will carry bloggers beyond some of their navel gazing. He cites Blood's take on the supposed coming trend with approval.

"If you asked me what the weblog community needs," she concludes, "I would answer, Stronger ties among webloggers from various clusters, more independent thinkers, and more irreverence...Let us use our weblogs to define ourselves individually as we move forward together."

However, he is not blind to the trouble with interactivity, saying "Petty politics infect all communities, not least the world of weblogs which can, at some times and in some cyberspace neighborhoods, seem painfully cliquish and self-conscious." Tell me about it.

I don't know idea whether the prediction of increased interactivity in the Bloggerdom will prove accurate. My preference is for a balance between individuality and interactivity. Too much of the latter results in a blogosphere that too often resembles high school cliques, with their tendency toward both shallowness and lording it over the masses, who, unfortunately, are often stupid enough to follow them. On the other hand, too much individuality results in the worst tendencies of personal blogging, such as boring material and melodrama. Here's hoping neither extreme prevails.

6:30 PM