Thursday, October 13, 2005

ConvergeSouth - Blogging from the outside

Continuing the ConvergeSouth coverage....

Friday late morning:

This was probably the most exciting session of all. Tiffany of Blackfeminist blog was going to discuss the problem of an emerging hierarchy within the blogosphere.

All the so-called "A-listers" are middle-class, middle-age, white, straight, and usually Christian, men. Every three months or so, one of them looks around and posts a question "Where are all the female political bloggers?". What inevitably ensues is a big fight in which hundreds of female political bloggers post comments saying, pertty much: "We are here, and if you looked around and linked to us every now and then, you would know there are hundreds of us".

Over the course of these discussions, an important point is always made and that is the fact that search engines (e.g., Technorati and Google) favor the early adopters, most of whom are computer geeks in engineering schools - the guys who developed the software we all now use. Kos, Atrios, Instapundit and others became big because they came to the game early.

Once a blog gets linked enough to become "A-listed" it is almost impossible to fall down in the hierarchy. Somebody later in the session pointed out an example of a blog that has not had a new post in over a year yet is still a "large mammal" in the TTLB Ecosystem.

It is very difficult to rise in such a hardened hierarchy. The only way, in reality, is by getting linked, and often, by the A-listers. Yet A-listers tend to only link to each other. For Kos, that is actually a spelled-out policy. The others just don't "get it" how their behavior affects the hierarchy and get defensive when attacked. They do not see themselves as doing anything wrong, yet they do not see how their linking habits keep many good bloggers down.

Much of the debate also revolves about the definition of "political blogging" and possible sex differences in styles of political blogging. The typical A-listers are policy wonks. They cover, day by day, details of what is happening in Washington, the legislations, nominations, policies, etc. Lots of Iraq coverage, too. War is sexy for men.

Many other bloggers do not want to blog that way, yet thoroughly consider themselves to be political. Mixing purely political posts with posts about one's kids is NOT disqualifying.

Focusing on issues of local politics and the way national policies affect the real life is just as political, and perhaps more important, as anything discussed regularly by Matt Yglesias, Kevin Drum, Josh Marshall or Ezra Klein.

Focusing on issues of sex, gender and marriage just shows that the blogger understands, perhaps just by gut-instinct, that all politics is sexual politics - something that is the main topic of my blog. All policies are based on one's basic worldview ("ideology"), which comes out of one's relationship with sexuality, which in turn results from one's upbringing (Dobsonian childrearing leading to wingnuttery via femiphobia). Usually the debate drifts from here into the "nice guys come last"-type discussion.

My name ending with "a" is not the only reason why so many of my readers assume, erroneously, that I am female. I blog like a woman and proudly so. My blog is deeply political, yet I have no intention to ever blog like Markos Moulitzas.

You can find some links to previous discussions here, an interview about this here and very long lists of female political blogs here and here. Somebody, if I remember correctly, put in one place the links to ALL posts in the history of this debate - if you know where it is, please let me know so I can add the link to it.

Well, Tiffany did a great job presenting the background story and identifying the core problems of this debate, including the search-engine question, TTLB ecosystem problem, frozen hierarchy, sex-differences in style, definition of "political blogging", and the oft-unspoken issue that it is not just women, but also minorities, gays and all others who are not WASPs that get the shaft due to the way the system (structurally, i.e., techonologically) is set up.

At the very end of her introduction, while Tiffany was finishing with her last couple of sentences, Dave Winer walked into the room. He had no way of knowing what the session was all about. All he heard were the last couple of sentences and he jumped to the conclusion that Tiffany was attacking middle-class, middle-age white men for being middle-class, middle-age white men. Ah, what a misundertanding!

He got very defensive about being a middle-class, middle-age white men and repeated, almost verbatim, almost all the lame excuses that Kevin Drum and Co. tried to use when they were centers of the storms of these debates in the past. I don't know how a veteran blogger like Dave could have missed several iterations of the debate in the blogosphere before and not armed himself with better defenses. It took some explaining until he understood what it was all about and chilled out and behaved well for the rest of the session.

One telling thing that Dave said, something which surprised me because I thought I knew him better (no, I don't think he is a big bad mysoginist pig, just a natural contrarian) - he said at one moment that he will take offense when a feminist blogger attacks a man for being a man. Well, I've been reading the top 'feminist' bloggers like Shake's Sister, Pam, Amanda, Lindsay, Echidne, Jane, AE, Liz, Patricia and Co., Rox, Jill and Lauren, Pen-Elayne, Trish and others for quite a long time now. After the early-morning dose of Pharyngula which I read for obvious reasons of shared interests, those are the blogs I read first. I have NEVER seen any one of them ever attack a man for being a man. If I did, I, as a man, would feel insulted and would lash out at them. They all like men. Most of them LOVE men. What they do is destroy sexist, mysoginist, homophobic, femiphobic pigs (who are sometimes female, too, see: Schlafly, Phyllis) whenever they say or write something that reveals their medieval Taliban-style view of women. As a man, I join in the slaughter because such men give all men a bad name.

After this little 'incident', I think nobody had the appetite to get back to the core of the problem. Discussion went into some other areas in which non-traditional voices have difficulty being heard. One is blogging in languages other than English (although I don't think that 10 million Chinese bloggers care one bit if the 'other' blogosphere cannot read them - learn Chinese if you want to join the online revolution!).

The other is blogging in non-traditional English. We rehashed the case (local, so the non-NC folks were not aware of it) of the Guilford Co. GOP Chairman who has a blog and was complaining that he, as important as he thinks he is, is not linked by (or anyone else for that matter). The response was that, due to illiteracy of his posts, nobody understands what he is trying to say, although some of Ken Mehlman's talking points appear strewn around the text. No paragraphs, no capitalization, no punctutation, no grammar, no sense.

Illiteracy is not the same as non-standard English, though. If your target audience is African-American, or young, or Australian, you should write in the way they like and understand. Nothing written by Fafblog or Rude Pundit is work-safe, yet their message is clear, their voice is strong, and they are immensely popular because of the message. The irreverent use of language makes their message more powerful.

Lack of capitalization is the brand of skippy the bush cangaroo, but everybody understands what the good folks there are trying to say. Still, at some venues, and in some instances, writing a post in standard English adds weight to one's thoughts. It tends to be taken more seriously. I have written a strong post about this very issue about a year ago or more here.

You can see additional (quite diplomatic, mostly) reviews of this session by Tiffany, jw, Cobb, Dave Winer, Bill O'Pad, Dave and Chewie.

Update: Big thanks to Pam for linking to and commenting on this post (go check out the links in her post for more info).

Update 2: David Boyd who I had the pleasure to meet for the first time last week, but on whose blog I could not post a comment, asks if it is possible for non-A-listers to design a system that does a better job than the TTLB in making the hierarchy less frozen.

I think that TTLB appears in these discussions mainly because the A-listers use it as a starting point to ask the silly question "Where are all the female political bloggers?". Many small bloggers, once attaining "large mammal" designation (which is unbelievably easy) realize that the game is rigged, opt out (and it is not as simple as deleeting from your template, though) of TTLB. There was a massive opt-out move a few months ago.

I am still on (although I debate this with myself every week or so) for two reasons: one, it provides some stats that Sitemeter and Technorati do not, and two, I am computer-semi-illiterate and, always working on unreliable machines, I am afraid to mess with my template without Anton sitting next to me, or Erin Monahan e-mailing back and forth. I know I will opt out one day soon.

The TTLB ecosystem has become, in part due to these debates, largely irrelevant over the past several months.

Many bloggers, including myself, do not WANT to ever become A-listers. There is too much pressure at the top, and we blog because it is fun (or therapy). I am perfectly happy with my 250-300 hits per day. David is so happy with his 90-ish hits per day that he even talks about "you outsiders". He's 'made it' according to his criteria and that is perfectly legitimate. People blog for different reasons and have different goals. Not everyone wants to have a direct line to the Party Chairman.

The real problem are search engines like Google (including, Technorati and Yahoo news. There is no opting out ot those. Much of the discussion is about the way to get the A-listers to understand how their linking habits need to change to accommodate the technology. Otherwise, the hierarchy will remain rigid and the diverse voices will not be heard. Many bloggers contribute important points and perspectives even if they do not discuss ppolicy details several times a day. Such points and perspectives need to be more readily available to the readers.

Update 3: Read this excellent article - not just the first paragraph, but the whole thing - as it is very pertinent for this discussion.

Update 4: Finally found the Link Portal to all of the previous discussions on this topic.

ConvergeSouth - First Impressions
ConvergeSouth - Some Pictures
ConvergeSouth - International Coverage
ConvergeSouth - Building Community
ConvergeSouth - Blog Carnivals
ConvergeSouth - Ethics
ConvergeSouth - Policing the Media

Check the Technorati Tag: ConvergeSouth

posted by Bora Zivkovic @ 11:32 PM | permalink | (11 comments) | Post a Comment | permalink