1. Xenophon’s Socrates confronts one gentleman in the Memorabilia who claims he need not submit to any law. After all, he can live out in the wild between cities, and there is no law there.
Socrates yells at this guy. There’s an argument given – it is Socrates we’re dealing with – and because it’s Xenophon, there’s quite a lot packed into that argument.
But it’s still Socrates yelling.
2. The way we bloggers are supposed to transcend the problem of dealing with the gamut of insanity that populates the Internet is our niche. Having a niche means specialization and a particular audience. It is at once a filter, because knowledge is a prerequisite for even being interested in the blog, and also an opportunity. With a niche, you know to whom to advertise content and where to promote.
3. It’s obvious the niche concept has failed. Gracchi likes to point out how “gossip” trumps “analysis” consistently in terms of readership – not once or twice, not here and there, but nearly every single time. It’s also obvious why the concept failed: it was an attempt to say “it doesn’t matter what you say, as long as you say it a certain way [i.e. nicely to the people who might understand you].”
Well, guess what. If you rant about how 9/11 was an inside job, you can say it as politely as possible, and you’re still nuts. What niches as a principle allow for is anyone and everyone to be justified. Conspiracy theorists hang out together and keep their cult going. It’s a niche, so they know what they’re talking about, right? Trolls have a niche: Why else are politics blogs so centered on gossip? It’s a way to tear other people down without having to look at policy once.
4. If we want a prudential principle to make blogging better, we need to attach an incentive to such a principle. The “niche” concept allowed for the tagged web, allowed for blogs to be found via Technorati and delicious and all the rest. There’s an incentive to having a specialization, obviously: your tags can stand out as different, and as said above, you get a ready-made audience and places to advertise.
I actually think all the tools are in place if we want to recenter blogs on another principle besides specialization. Social bookmarking means that a blogger who has built up an enormous amount of goodwill can find himself very popular very quickly.
5. But there is a pesky little obstacle in the way. The legacy of specialization extends to social bookmarking. Hence, blogposts aren’t considered as reliable as, say, “alternet.” After all, social bookmarkers are experts too, experts who look suspiciously like trolls and conspiracy theorists, even.
6. I think the long-term solution for those of us who want to see thoughtful content prevail is to organize publicly on a social bookmarking site or two and contribute to the site and yes, promote our own work.
We have to work together and work almost like activists would. I don’t see a way around this anymore. The threat is the deluge of idiocy we face, and the fact that much of that idiocy is becoming credible in the actual political sphere.
I don’t have hard numbers about who espouses extreme positions on the Net and who doesn’t. I do know this: Every social bookmarking site I’ve been on hasn’t just tilted Left, it’s become the preserve of DailyKossites. That’s about 4 sites.
I have also not seen the blogs I respect – however much I might disagree with them – get anywhere near the audience blogs that shout get. The comment threads for Westminster Wisdom should be at least thrice as long as they are – I know the audience is out here on the Internet. The popularity of some blogs is staggering.
My conspiracy theory is that the web is being taken over by conspiracy theorists, and that this is drowning out a ton of quality content. I don’t have a hard and fast proof, just a gut feeling. I feel some things are obvious.
And that’s why I’m yelling.