Dispatches From Blogistan

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the book
Dispatches From Blogistan
by suzanne stefanac
peachpit/new riders
voices that matter series
shipping now
> amazon
> barnes & noble
from the book
> table of contents
 
> chapter 2 history of open discourse
 
> chapter 6 history of journalism
 
> 10 blog design tips
 
> what is this long tail?
 
> trackback demystified
 
> blog ethics primer
 
> glossary
 
> resource hotlinks

interviews

> cory doctorow

> farai chideya

> bruce sterling

> denise caruso

> craig newmark

> jamais cascio

> laura lemay

> christian crumlish

> jon lebkowsky

interview with bruce sterling

/feed/Bcap.gifruce Sterling is a man of many hats. A science fiction author with dozens of stories and books and critical articles to his credit. An editor responsible for launching the cyberpunk movement. An ecological activist. A design theorist. A futurist extraordinaire. He may or may not be working on his next novel. He’s always thinking about the shape and vectors in our world. You can attempt to keep up with his many obsessions by reading Beyond the Beyond, Viridian Design, and the Dead Media Project.

on blogs as mini-internets
Blogs aren’t really literary endeavors. They’re about an architecture of participation, about commons-based peer production, about long tails. Blogs are, by their semantic nature, mini-Internets. Aggregators. We throw things against the wall and see what sticks. We’re basically watching as a new intellectual landscape takes shape.

on enthusiasm
One of the potential problems with blogging is that it’s populated by eager individuals, many of whom have really cool ideas, but what they don’t always have is the willingness to do the grunt work necessary to pick through their ideas to find the really good ones. Writing is hard work. Back when copier machines were new and everyone decided to publish a zine, lots of people managed to put out one really good issue. Hardly anyone managed to put out three or four. If they did print more than one, the enthusiasm almost always waned. The Internet is littered with abandoned blogs.

on blogging as egotism
I don’t think most bloggers are going out there to headbang and party in front of millions of people. It’s not even so much to be noticed. It’s not really egotism or voyeurism. After all, most web pages are way more egotistical than most blog pages. In theory, when you blog, you’re logging the Web rather than saying, “Hey, this is about me and my wonderfulness.”

on attention economics
I sometimes use the phrase “attention economics” when talking about how we are constantly bombarded with text, images, sounds and video. This interferes with our ability to pay attention or to even know what to pay attention to. We end up feeling like we’re wasting time. What we end up wanting are more efficient avenues for gathering and exchanging information. If bloggers want people to pay attention to what they’re doing, they ought to think like standup comics. You always want to leave the audience wanting more.

This isn’t just a problem with blogging, of course. For instance, the problem with movies is that nobody wants to sit and do just one thing anymore. It’s like watching TV at home, everyone is multitasking. We used to treat movies like wallpaper. We’d just stare, but people don’t enjoy that any more. When I go to films now, or even when I watch network TV, it’s like watching ice melt. Plus, there’s just not that much good cinema coming out.

on reputation economics
Another phrase I find myself using is “reputation economics.” The thing about the Internet is that everyone is now a critic. Anyone can review a book on Amazon. They may never have reviewed anything before. They may be terrible at reviewing, but some of these newly-minted critics are very, very good at playing the ratings game. They intuitively know how to boost or deflate the reputation of an author. Add to this the fact that bloggers continually hype one another other and link to one another. They are essentially inventing each others’ reputations. In the end, what you find is that these reputation economies reward those who understand the rules of engagement, but they don’t necessarily advance the goals of the group as a whole.

on copyright
I used to be a pessimist on this topic, but I’m not entirely sure that people want to rip off music and books and games. I think if you’re in a position to pirate something, it’s a temptation and maybe it’s exciting for about six months. But the people you have to deal with can be pretty tough and in the end, it’s just easier to pay a little money and get the thing legally.

on democratization
I think it’s naive to say that blogs and wikis represent an increased democratization of culture. The blog system we have now is largely populated with ferociously eager, self-appointed blowhards. This is not to say that I don’t find this stuff entertaining, but in point of fact, blog content is not the product of voting. Like the fourth estate itself, it isn’t democratic.

on citizen journalism
The thing about citizen journalism is that it depends on where you live and how much trouble you want to make for yourself. If nobody thinks you’re dangerous, you probably aren’t doing anything that has any chance of changing the world. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but if you actually ended up going mano-a-mano with some guy wielding a sword and all you had was a fountain pen, you might find yourself out of luck.

on the long tail
I’m buying the long tail thing, but I’m not sure the term long tail is exactly right. I think it might just continue to make the head larger. You know, it’s like, “Big bloggers get rich! Little bloggers do it for the Revolution!”

What’s great about the new, so-called long tail distribution, though, is that really obscure, even obsolete products can now find a market. Not only that, in bulk, they are starting to make up a bigger market than all of what existed before. Even garbage becomes valuable if it’s tagged. Either somebody has a use for it or somebody else pays to make sure it’s actually destroyed.

on privacy
I have real problems with the word privacy. It meant something at one point. For one thing, it meant being left alone. But now, there are so many types of intrusions, the whole term will have to be renegotiated. There are just too many ways in which we violate one another. So it’s less about intrusions by the NSA or other official surveillance groups and more about the many ways in which we violate one another. Anyone who even reads an unflattering Wikipedia article about someone else could be said to be violating the other person’s privacy. It’s so easy to throw things like sex scandals out via the Net. The barrier to entry is so low.

I worry about this participatory panoptikon more than I do private detectives or government spooks following you around. We just don’t have the terminology in place to describe that. To what port do you go to get your reputation back if someone has messed with it? What’s happening is that everybody is now a tiny piece of one colossal Big Brother.

on emergent semantics
I’ve primarily been a novelist. I’m generally more interested in things that don’t exist yet, rather than those that do. Things that are still taking shape. The problem with this is that there isn’t always a proper terminology for talking about emergent reality. We say things like “Web 2.0_ or “folksonomy,” and all those supposedly in the know nod knowingly, but the truth is that we don’t know quite what these things are yet.

This fuzziness is okay because we really don’t want to freeze the language too early. If you do, you’re in danger of freezing an emergent technology into the shape of today’s understanding of that language. Our nostalgia for the words themselves interferes with our ability to understand the new technology and whatever advantages it may hold for us.

on folksonomies
A folksonomy is nearly useless for searching out specific, accurate information, but that’s beside the point. Folksonomy is working because people are finding their own value in it. They don’t tag a photo or a blog post because they think it will benefit society. They tag because it makes it simpler for them to find it again in the future. And really, they tag because it’s so damn easy. They don’t need to memorize an entire Lain taxonomy or search through some hierarchical listing for an exact term. It’s spontaneous. They type in the first word or words that come to mind. What’s great about this is that it works. Mobs are mapping the online universe of information one tag at a time. The map isn’t perfect. But it’s dirt cheap and there’s plenty of room for scholarly finessing as we go along. Who knows, maybe the whole thing will implode as the number of tags explodes, but it’s a great experiment and one that’s working better than anyone expected.

on the worth of metadata
Our data, archives and networked connections end up being worth more than any of our more tangible possessions. The metadata attached to an object becomes worth more than the actual object. When you tag, you give a little but you get a lot back in return.

on wikipedia
Lots of people object to Wikipedia as a resource. They have lots of valid questions about the authority of its entries and I’m sympathetic, but in the end, I’m willing to bet that every damn one of these critics secretly turns to Wikipedia when doing research. The entries aren’t always that well written, but the data is constantly improving, which is not something you can say about traditional encyclopedias. I go in and fix little Wikipedia stuff all the time. It never takes more than five or ten minutes. If you know there’s something wrong with an entry, it’s useless to go on about how wrong it is. Fix it.

There are probably a zillion alternatives to Wikipedia, but they just haven’t been invented yet. Meanwhile, we have the ‘pedia. It’s without historical precedent. It’s theoretically impossible and yet, there it is.

on ubiquitous computing
Our computing environments are becoming ubiquitous. What this means isn’t some monolithic control. It’s more that our desktop computers and even our mainframe computers are quietly and calmly disappearing into the general environment. What we end up with is invisible computers that sense and control our physical world. With the introduction of things like electronic barcoding and RFIDs (radio frequency identification chips) that label each object with a unique identity and geoposition systems, we’re on the verge of being able to google the kitchen for that missing butcher knife.

on corporate and government blogging
In general, I’d expect governments and corporations to embrace and expand access rather than try to limit online communications. I’d expect them to hire some professional writer to publish an official government blog, something that would make the others look amateurish and stupid and poorly informed. Because, in fact, most blogs are amateurish and stupid and poorly informed. I can definitely see governments and corporations setting up blogging units and hiring talented propagandists. Then people will be saying, “What ever happened to the glory days of the early pamphleteers?”

But that won’t happen for awhile. They all have feel of clay.

on the global nature of blogging
It’s working out a lot like the railroad did. We all know what a railroad does, but the French version is very different from railways in India. In the end, every regional culture has its own message.

The one area where this regional differentiation doesn’t work is programming. You just can’t program without some grasp of the English language. You just aren’t going to understand the underpinnings behind AJAX without a solid understanding of the Internet’s dominant language.

on blogjects
I’ve been thinking a lot about semi-autonomous objects that have a presence on the Web and that generate records of their interactions with people and with other objects. You can search on them. You can track them. We’re working toward a future in which you can design them virtually and then have them made by fabricators. What would be great would be if products were tagged before they were even made. That way, you could not only track the manufacture, distribution, and use, but when it’s junk, you’d know to have it recycled and you’d know whether or not it actually was recycled. The whole system could be much more sustainable than today’s model.

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  1. 09.3.07 @ 01:56:35 pacific

    Regards, I found your site at the well a few days ago almost accidentaly. I was finishing the hacker crackdown and wanted to check if the well still existed. So I was checking on the users pages and tryed on the z. There I found this catchy dude zorca (ooooopppsss sorry you are a gal my bias), but didnt stayed much longer because I followed the link to pochanostra.
    WONDERFULL WORK THERE, THANKS

    Today I was reading some blogs and wondering about doing one…

    Well that will be soon but not that soon, the thing is that I came back to your zorca site an then entered in here, and wow you are being so helpfull, thanks again.

    Im here on chile, with a law background and those shield laws for bloggers are very interesting.

    Farewell

    PS: Im browsing on Opera 9.23 and got an error message on the deadmedia.org link. And also got one on “voices that matter series” link.

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  1. derek says:
    06.5.06 @ 03:56:37 pacific

    Regards, I found your site at the well a few days ago almost accidentaly. I was finishing the hacker crackdown and wanted to check if the well still existed. So I was checking on the users pages and tryed on the z. There I found this catchy dude zorca (ooooopppsss sorry you are a gal my bias), but didnt stayed much longer because I followed the link to pochanostra.
    WONDERFULL WORK THERE, THANKS

    Today I was reading some blogs and wondering about doing one…

    Well that will be soon but not that soon, the thing is that I came back to your zorca site an then entered in here, and wow you are being so helpfull, thanks again.

    Im here on chile, with a law background and those shield laws for bloggers are very interesting.

    Farewell

    PS: Im browsing on Opera 9.23 and got an error message on the deadmedia.org link. And also got one on “voices that matter series” link.

  2. } ?>
// End Comments ?>

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