Monday, January 14, 2008

Going Meta

I try not to write too much about the activity of blogging itself, but yesterday we passed a milestone here. The 100,000th person came to the playground. That really is a pretty amazing thing, something that probably merits some self-reflection...well, that and the fact that I'm a philosopher in the business of self-reflection.

Sure, many found it accidentally, others to defend Ayn Rand or laboratory classes, but regardless of how they may have stumbled their way here, they were hundred thousand of them. I have professional articles that probably have only been read by me and the journal's referees, but a few jokes and some off-beat questions and a tenth of a million hits. Pretty bizarre.

It seems to say something about the democratic nature of the blogosphere that some shmoe off the street can put up some ideas and have them so widely accessed without the explicit approval of some gatekeeper. Of course, that's an over simplification. The traffic has been affected by links from folks like Peter Daou, Helmut, Dr. Free Ride, and especially Aspazia, who are older, better established and wider read. But one could argue that this is more of a pecking order than a formal structure where well defined power relations determine one's status and thereby the size of one's e-megaphone.

Or, one could argue the other direction. Chris Bowers has an interesting piece arguing that among progressive political blogs, there is an emerging hierarchy with a short head of a few very powerful, very well read blogs and a long tail of small hobby blogs like this one. The few elite blogs are forming a sort of establishment unto themselves such that

"roughly 1% of progressive, political blogs that receive over 95% of all progressive blogosphere traffic, and the 99% of progressive political blogs that receive less than 5% of all progressive, political blogosphere traffic."
No doubt, this is also true in other segments of the blog world. This de-democratization seems akin to the new wave of large corporate organic farms in that the movement in that both cases what made them attractive was not only the product they offered, but the escape from traditional sources and means of production. You were not only getting interesting opinions or pesticide-free food, but you were supporting the little guy who had been shut out previously, folks that you want to support and keep on the scene.

But while the share of those of us in the long tail may be small, it is hardly insignificant. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the number 100,000. The question then can be reframed in terms of intellectual insularity. Are these the same people with the same ideas, beliefs, and preconceptions just lining to and reading others who agree with them? There is some evidence to suggest that this sort of thing is the norm.

But, for some reason, I have the sense that this is not the case here. I have a policy of reciprocal blogrolling -- if you blogroll me, I'll blogroll you. As a result, I have some sense (not the best sample, admittedly) of who is reading, at least among those who also have their own blogs. I like to browse the blogs on the blogroll and you learn a lot about folks from what they write, and many are unlike me in a number of ways. There are openly atheist, Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Jewish, and Buddhist bloggers on the list. Conservative, liberal, libertarian, and moderate blogs. White, Asian-American, African-American, and Caribbean bloggers there of a wide range of ages, occupations, and educational backgrounds. And this is just what I've been able to pick up from occasionally reading the folks who link here. I did not set out to achieve this, like I say, it came to me by finding out who enjoys playing on the playground enough to link here.

I've never hidden my own views, but the same time I've always tried to make this blog about the questions, rather than about my view, leaving space for conversation and welcome anyone of any viewpoint as long as you are willing to play nicely and have your own view subjected to the critical scrutiny of all the other play friends here. What I find the most rewarding is not the being read, but the resulting conversation -- something I often stay out of. I don't want it to be about me and I don't want to seem heavy handed, after all, I just had my say up top. I've truly loved the fact that friends, family, colleagues, and folks I've never met mingle, joke, engage in passionate discussions here. It really is like the best dinner I've ever thrown with no dishes to clean up.

So, let me end, as usual, with a question. When do the posts lead you to comment or not? For those who are regulars, is there one sort of post that makes you leap right to the keyboard? For those who are once in a while commenters, what is it for you? For the lurkers, and I lurk on many blogs that I read daily and never comment upon myself, is there something keeping you from feeling comfortable enough to type what you are thinking?

Thanks everyone for making this so much fun every day.