Friday, May 31, 2002

Blogging About Blogging XXIII
I try not to dip into the blog memes that everyone trumpets about to avoid overlapping with other blogs and commentaries, but occasionally, Blogdex gives me a mindful that I need to share and expand on. Take Henry Copeland's recent essay, "Blogonomics: Making a Living from Blogging."

My first instinct is to reactively debunk the essay, contending that an essay entitled "Zineconomics: Making a Living from Zine Publishing" or "Tapeconomics: Making a Living from Running a Cassette Label" circa 1991 would've been the epitome of naivete, but perhaps this whole "blogonomics" thing has some weight to it. Sure, his coining of blogs as un-media rather than "nu-media" reeks of hyberbole, but Henry offers some ideas worth considering and building on. As well as questioning.

Blogs will never upend traditional, mainstream media. They will feed it. They will complement it. They will challenge it. But we will probably never have what the mainstream mass media has -- and what we so desperately need: distribution and promotion. So I question Henry's position that this is a battle between amateurs and professionals, between entrepreneurs and established media organizations. The idealist in me would like to think that this could happen, but what we have seen in zines, in comics, and in music to date -- not that the DIY media history will continue to repeat itself -- is that people in independent media circles tend to step up into the mainstream, mass media -- perhaps stepping back down at some point -- or at least straddle the two worlds persistently. This is what I think is more likely to happen. Especially because folks in the mainstream are already dipping their toes in the DIY waters.

I'm particularly intrigued and enthused by Henry's concept of "capillarity." And I'd like to up the ante on Henry's portrayal of blogs as social networks -- and people reading blogs to eventually read other blogs mentioned in the original blogs (which is just like tracing the tracks of zine reviews, not to mention book-jacket blurbs). What I think will emerge are hives of bloggers... tribes of bloggers... either collaborating to co-create collective blogs such as the recently launched Listen Up! -- or even BoingBoing, which I read every day -- or nesting in loose confederacies like the blogrolls and link lists we can already find on so many sites. This could develop into networks of like-minded, -styled, and -experienced bloggers... either under a collective name brand that folks can remember, recognize, and find easily or in the loose-knit affiliation webs that currently exist. This isn't much different than a collaborative zine or collective record label... and takes steps toward building our own parallel news and media organizations. Move over, Fox. Or whatever.

What concerns me most about Henry's statements about the potential of blogonomics, however, are the parallels I see between the current state of blog services and the Webfarms of yore -- Tripod, Geocities, etc. Even during the heyday of the Webfarms, advertising wasn't a sustainable enough model to support the organizations' business needs and operations. And the Webfarms weren't identifiable enough as consistent brand names to warrant affiliation with the network as a whole. Sure, folks know Tripod. Folks love Tripod. But not every Tripod site falls under an umbrella that's consistent in terms of content, context, etc. Perhaps this isn't necessary. But if blogs are going to compete with mainstream media, we need to begin creating sustainable networks that involve the like-styled, -minded, and -experienced creators I mention above -- as well as a reading audience that's also like-styled, -minded, and -experienced. Otherwise, our demographics are going to be a mile wide and an inch deep. And that's not going to attract advertisers.

Of course, I don't even think blogs need to attract advertisers, but that's another story altogether.

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