Sunday, February 13, 2005

Sci-Fi And Building Blogging Communities

At the Triangle Blogger Conference yesterday, somebody mentioned Vernon Vinge's Fire Upon The Deep, as an example of a sci-fi novel describing future consequences of Usenet (at the time) or blog communities. Someone else suggested another book, Bloom. Another blogger (sorry, can't find it again right now, so many people blogged their impressions of the conference afterwards) thought of Terry Pratchett's The Truth as a parable of the way journalism works. I have not yet read "Fire Upon The Deep" (surprisingly, as I own a copy and generally like Vinge a lot), I have not heard of "Bloom" before (will check it out), and I have read and loved "The Truth". Perhaps Neal Stephenson or William Gibson have written something along those lines, too.

I am surprised that nobody thought of Cory Doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribe, the only book I know that is explicitely describing a possible future of blogging. Of course, Cory knows what he's talking about as he is a famous blogger, contributing to one of the most heavily trafficked blogs BoingBoing.

Cory decided not to envision blog communities as based on geography, nor on special interest, but on the time of day when people are online. Thus larks from Europe and owls from America would blog simultaneously. Thus, communities are based on Time Zones, with each individual choosing the time zone according to one's own sleeping patterns. There are wars between EST and GMT tribes and a variety of other intrigue, making for some exciting reading.

Of course, it is just fiction and Cory probably made a conscious decision to base his communities on unrealistic criteria and let the readers translate the message into the real world. When I first blogged about this Cory found out about it (he checks his Technorati, too, I guess) and posted a link on BoingBoing. As a result, I got almost 17000 hits over a period of one week - the very first week of the blog! It helped that Andrew Sullivan picked up the link, too. But it is interesting how many LiveJournal folks spread this link across the blogosphere, much more than Blogger or Typepad-style bloggers.

Is there a difference in temperament between LJ people and Blog people? Danah Boyd of Apophenia may understand this better. Anyway, my post dealt with the way society treats various sleep-patterns that appear in human populations, in favor of larks and against the owls. Most of the people who posted comments appeared to be owls or insomniacs. Most people who posted the link on their journals and blogs also seem to be owls or insomniacs. I am assuming that my post validated their feelings that they are normal and that the society treats them unfairly.

I guess I can go back and check the times when all those owls posted their comments and blogged my link, but first, I did a quick-and-dirty look at the sitemeter data for that week. I thought I would have to do heavy-duty statistics, using some of the specialized software I have for analysis of time-series data. But no, it was easy: most of the hits came from the EST time-zone and most of the hits happened around noon, when people are at work, or lunch-break, or between classes in school. I expected a late-night peak, but it did not materialize. So, most people blog during the day, but most people who wrote comments were night-owls.

The session at the Bloggercon was concentrating on building communities based on geography. It feels counterintuitive: isn't blogging all about transcending the constraints of geography? But I can certainly understand why people would want to do this. First, meeting fellow bloggers in person was really fun. Having a central place, or an aggregator, or another aggregator, made us look at each other's blogs and discover some good ones to bookmark/blogroll. Actually, I think I can detect MORE local blogs signing up for these just after the conference ended!

The main idea behind geographical blog communities is for political action. National is local, relative to global. In a sense, all Lefty (or all Righty) blogs that concentrated on US election 2004 were local blog communities - the remaining 200-something countries of the world were just frightened spectators of our gladiatorial battle. MeetUps are one way of transforming local blogging into local political action. Media-watch is another, both locally and nationally. I have written my own science-fiction-like look at the possible future of political blogging here.

On the other hand, I am also seeing the trend of communities coalescing around special interests, e.g., law, economics, philosophy, science, religion, education, medicine, cats, dogs, family life, etc. Those communities usually have, at their centers, a blog (or few) written from a position of real-life expertise. Blog Carnivals serve the function of "newspapers" or "newsletters" or "magazines" of such interest-based communities, drawing new members into the circle of the blog community, as well as making connections between such communities. I have already explored the way building such communities may alter the way science is done in the world.

There is no reason why there should not be such magazines based on geography, too. Actually, the first one, Carnival of the Balkans, has already started. Perhaps the all-mix carnivals, like the original Carnival of Vanities is the equivalent of New York Times - something for everyone, while the other carnivals are narrower in scope, and more like journal, magazines, or trade-papers.

I see my need to have two blogs as a need to belong to both geography-based and interest-based community. Science and Politics is a mumbo-jumbo of miscellaneous posts ranging from personal and local to political (although most of my regulars come for the George Lakoff series). It is designed to have a broad appeal, including to local bloggers. I also used this blog to do something that came the closest to journalism I ever did. When evolution was struck out of schools in Serbia, I felt that I had a unique position in the blogosphere: I know something about Creationism AND about Serbia. I thought that my perspective would be particularly valuable, and my daily series on the issue receievd quite a lot of hits and links at the time.

On the other hand, Circadiana is explicitely designed to become a hub of a narrow special-interest blog community. I will give it about two years: by that time I expect to have so much content there (hopefully well organized) and have so many people in the field guest-blogging and commenting on it, that the whole chronobiological community will HAVE to at least link to it, if not become its satellite.

If what I think is happening is true, the Long Tail is going to sprout a lot of little "Heads", each with its own Tail attached to it. In other words, what is now a more-or-less unified blogosphere is going to evolve into a community of blogospheres, each with some degree of independence, and each remaining in contact with the others. Some of the sub-blogospheres will be centered mainly on geography, others primarily on interest, but all will have to do a little bit of both in order to remain connected to the rest of the Blogorganism.

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 10:13 PM | permalink | (1 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink