Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Blog Establishment

I don't normally write about who thinks what of what blogs, nor do I usually much engage in the kind of blog wars that the "mainstream" blogs manage to launch -- quite frequently -- with their ideological opponents (I am refering here to political blogs, of course, which are actually a fairly small segment of the overall blog world). Mostly this is due to the large fact that no one much pays attention to things here. But I also don't plow around righty blogs looking to pick a fight. And frankly, I don't know why many of these mainline blogs do do this because the outcome, or lack thereof, is inevitable: there will be no outcome other than fumes and maybe a few broken "F" keys.

Actually, that's not really true. Despite the near futility and uselessness of poli-blog flaming, we all know why inter-blog fighting goes on. It is a natural, almost organic process, that arises within any social group because within any social group, there will inevitably arise a political or ideological spectrum about whatever subject creates that given group. It doesn't matter whether it's the office football pool or the tatting club, there will arise disagreements about those approaches that work best and those that do not. Which is politics in a nutshell. As the addage goes, politics is everywhere. So there should be no surprise that this kind of internecine conflict arises, especially in a social group that defines its existence through commenting on politics and policy.

But there is another social group effect that the recent New York Magazine article, Blogs to Riches, pointed out: after a fairly short lifetime, blogs have now reached a state of homeostasis. I have believed that this is true and have noticed it for sometime. My own failed attempts to get AmericaBlog and ThinkProgress to offer some coverage of the horrors that were taking place in Haiti last year, which were well-covered at The UnCapitalist Journal, proved, beyond my doubt, that getting "big blogs" to pay attention to stories being tracked by blogs outside their comfortable circle of well established friends had become too tough a nut to crack. The New York Magazine story simply backed up this sense with some nice charts and graphs. I have no reason to doubt their analysis and that is especially true now that I've seen the post at the National Journal/The Hotline, The Blogometer, called TWIB Notes (This Week in Blogs). Despite the fact that this little-noticed site has been reference by Hotline's Blogometer, and for which I sent a message of thanks, I fear that they too have now engaged in reinforcing the homeostatic blog establishment. As natural a process as it is, I guess that was bound to happen.

But let's just have a look at what is being described here. In the TWIB post, The Hotline posits,
This week we wanted to come up with a list of bloggers' bloggers, i.e. who the best bloggers are reading. First we needed a blogger panel, so we combed through the Feedster 500 and sent a personal invite to every blog on the list with a political bent. Fiftyseven bloggers ended up responding to our invitation and thei names are below.
A look at the list of what the "best bloggers are reading" is, unsurpisingly, many of the same blogs that were contacted by Hotline:
1. Instapundit (150)
2. Talking Points Memo (111)
3. Michelle Malkin (101)
4. Eschaton (88)
5. The Corner (79)
6. The Political Animal (69)
7. Crooks and Liars (56)
8t. Hullabaloo (54)
8t. firedoglake (54)
8t. The Huffington Post (54)
11t. Hugh Hewitt (50)
11t. Powerline (50)
13. DailyKos (46)
14. Ace of Spades (40)
15. Hit and Run (39)
16. Volokh (37)
17t. Informed Comment (36)
17t. Outside the Beltway (36)
19. Politicalwire (35)
20. littlegreenfootballs (30)
21. AMERICAblog (29)
22. The Moderate Voice (29)
23. Kausfiles (25)
24t. RedState (24)
24t. ThinkProgress (24)
A mix of left and right blogs, just like the list of those invited to vote and, like I said, unsurprising. In fact, I have to wonder what this effort by Hotline was meant to accomplish. These are all the top blogs already. Do we really need another list that simply tells us that the top blogs are ... the top blogs? There is something else revealed by this, which is instructive to the argument of homeostatic blog hierarchy.

If we look at who the group comprised to create the results above, you'll begin to understand the postive feedback loop that social homeostasis establishes in order to maintain equilibrium, or in this case, what we might otherwise call the status quo. Though I won't list them here, the voting population, or "panel" as Hotline calls it, comprises many of the same bloggers who also appear in the list of who's reading whom. This isn't really surprising either but further affirms that the big blogs all read each other ... and little else. While I might expect there to be more than 57 political blogs in the top 500, it is interesting to note that the respondents tended to be those who run the highest profile blogs, as though they feel some need to reinforce theirs and their friends' importance in the blog rankings. No doubt this is true, though I expect this is more unconscious than not, a hidden hand of reinforcing self-importance. But then again, considering that many of these people now blog professionally, or at least semi-professionally, perhaps this effect is not quite as unconscious as I would probably prefer to believe.

All of this points to a grim reality for the rest of us; those who might cover subjects in different and, I would argue, probably better ways. Of course, when things get this bad, I think we might all recognise that these folks are fully vested in themselves and in it for the long haul. I certainly don't do this for fame and fortune, if such words befit blogging, for chrissakes. I find it hard to believe that some do, though I guess every group has to have its gaggle of Heathers.
(Imagine a conversation, if you will ... )

child: Hi, Mr. Atrios! Wow, you're famous. But I don't know why. What do you do, exactly?

Mr. Atrios: I post links to News, Sports and Weather on my website in highly amusing ways.

child: What does that do? Don't people just go read the news, sports and weather or watch it on tv?

Mr. Atrios: Piss off, kid.
But I do think the big blogs are missing out on a incredible resource by engaging in this limited, almost incestuous, sphere of referentiality (I've certainly seen cases where fellows like Cernig or even myself, had posted something only to see it show up on Americablog days later). And though I have argued that the establishment of, well, an establishment was not only likely but inevitable, it is still unfortunate. Because the whole endevour was never meant to be about that at all. Of course, resisting such a tendency would have required of those engaged to resist the very essence of human nature. And how likely does that seem from a group of people who happily call themselves "bloggers"?


Blogger gary said...

Thoughtful post. I think you have a very good blog but I had never heard of it until Cannonfire linked to something of yours. I see from Sitemeter that you are currently averaging 56 visitors a day. Joseph Cannon and Xymphora link to my blog and I still only get about 75 visitors a day. Atrios probably gets 75 visitors a second. But then he's a full time blogger and I post on my lunch break.

12:20 PM  
Blogger theBhc said...

Thanks! We're all muddling around down in the bowels of the web, but I think we all can admit that it would nice to have a few more readers. Though, as that New York mag. article discusses, this is a situation that is now hard to change. You should click through and read it if you haven't already. Most blogheads dismissed it as print journals dissing bloggers, but if that was all they got out of it, they missed the real point and argument of the story, which was the blog world now has a firmly entrenched hierarchy that will be reinforced by those who dominate the top rungs. And there won't be much that anyone can do about it.

2:49 PM  
Blogger theBhc said...

And one more thing, just to show you that I will resist the establishment, I'm going to pop over and check out your site.

I think commenting is one of the best ways blogs can interact but that necessarily implies that the comments actually say something worthwhile. I won't likely visit a commenter's site if the comment is simply, "yeah, right on!" I don't honestly know why anyone bothers to write worthless crap like that. But you see it all the time on the big blog like dKos and Atrios. In fact, the vast majority of comments at those sites are useless one liners of that nature. I mean, why bother?


2:55 PM  
Blogger theBhc said...


Well, now that i went over to Covert History, I realise that I have been here. And, yeah, I like your work there, too.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Phillybits said...

Good post and very insightful. Hopefully some of the larger blogs will get wind of this post and realize the point your making.

For what it's worth, when I received the first notification from Elendil about the Awareness Project, I thought of my most commonly read blogs, those who comment on my blog regularly, and those who I know personally and sent an email to them letting them know what was going on.

I figured let those who I know let those who they know about x, y, and z and that that would be the best way to spread word of this.

I need to start reading your blog more often again as well. I don't have internet at home right now and I have so much other crap going on.


8:45 PM  

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