« Horror "Comfort Food" | Main | Terror: 336,000 Deaths in Indonesia »

October 21, 2002

Why Blogs Matter

Avedon Carol argues that you get better news and opinion on the web, including from yours truly, than in mainstream newspapers. A very nice comment and we all hope we're contributing something by all this, but it's good to see some serious attempts to think about what their role is. There's been a healthy explosion of progressive blogging in the last half-year, so it's about time to worry about how to make it matter more in the greater good.

Now, weblogs have brought more excitement to grassroots web writing than anytime I remember since 1994 when I was an early pioneer with progressive web linking. (For those interested, you can see the ghost of progressive webbing past at http://www.nathannewman.org/EDIN/, mostly dead links connecting to Gopher sites, for those who even remember that pre-web linking system, but at the time it was dubbed by PC Computing as a key progressive site on the web.)

But I wouldn't diss the mainstream papers too much, except for a few of the lazier columnists. It's a question of the collective brainpower of the web community. Much like open source software generating good code by the sheer volume of bug hunting, with the sheer number of people scrambling on the web, good scoops are bound to be all over the weblogs everyday. The collective blogosphere should put any particular paper to shame on that basis-- and the fact is that I still can't live without the New York Times and The Economist to feel like I know what's going on, so there's still a strong role for newspapers. And as they themselves take blog knowledge seriously, they'll actually be strengthened by the existence of weblogs.

But you could see the power of the web when the Torricelli resignation came down. Within hours, you had bloggers at the Daily Kos, HauserReport, and other sites parsing the law and political maneuvering possible far better and faster than the mainstream media got to for days or really ever. I remember talking to a bunch of law profs over at NYU a day or so later and I could confidently predict the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision and the unlikelihood of SCOTUS taking the case based on what the web world had quickly uncovered and analyzed.

The interesting challenge for us in the progressive blogosphere is whether we can figure out a format to combine the best of our posts into a single structure that casual web browsers could access like a magazine. What would be needed is some kind of peer review to move the best posts from individual sites into a collective web effort, categorized by issue area, and posted in a user-friendly form. There are some collective blogs out there, but what is needed is a more serious editing function and user-friendly formatting to make it easy to access. If we could even do with progressive blog posting what Google News has done with mainstream papers, it would make web writing far more accessible.

And however much we might trash mainstream media, they spend a lot of time figuring out how to get the product into the hands of consumers. That is not a skill to be looked down upon.

Posted by Nathan at October 21, 2002 12:45 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Are you volunteering?

Posted by: kevin at October 21, 2002 02:09 PM

Hello Nathan,

I was referred to your post by Zizka - I actually had a related (but not identical idea) that there needs to be a way to be able to index weblogs. I wrote to Google about it, see this entry:


I had proposed to Atrios, Demosthenes, and Hesiod that we shoudl set up a Movable Type Archive of all their weblog entries, since MT has a serachable index and category browsing, but no response from them yet.

I think it woudl be a good start if someone could set up a MT weblog, call it the Progressive Archive, and have it run by a core group of three to five people. Those people's tasks woudl be to simply collect links (subjectively determined to be important by each participant) to important essays and enter them into the blog. MT offers numerous advantages of organization over blogger and radio userland that I think would make it quite handy as a reference site.

I'm updating my post with a link to your proposal, and I invite any correspondence to flesh this idea out further...

Posted by: Aziz Poonawalla at October 22, 2002 07:39 AM

Interesting idea.

What do you think of American Samizdat, which already does this, sort of? Setup by Dr Menlo, with a lot of the more progressive and outright socialist bloggers (including y.t.) taking part?
It's original content instead of "best of" though.

Brian Linse's Lefty Directory is also doing something somewhat similar, by at least providing a central link archive to "lefty" sites, even if the setup is not nearly as good as it could be.

You'd need to be able to automate it or it's going to be a hell of a lot of work.

Maybe an "editorial" team of three to five people willing to dedicate their time and energy to it, dividing areas of interest amongst them?

I might have some webspace I wouldn't mind donating...

Posted by: Martin Wisse at October 22, 2002 12:01 PM

The problem with American Samizdat (which I need to add a link on my site to) is that it is still in blog format, albeit with group participation. What I imagine is more of a "best of" format setup more like a news portal, with headlines and links to the appropriate blog.

What it needs is automation, but as a stopgap, if it worked well with good participation, individual bloggers would have to post their headlines and links themselves, with categories for "politics", "international", "labor & economy", "culture", "tech" and so on putting it into appropriate categories on the front page.

I'm running out of town at the end of the week, but when I get back, I might quickly code a prototype in Moveable Type, and set it up.

I see this as an interim step. I've been looking for good content management software that allows submissions of articles and editorial review, but really haven't found it. A slashdot approach might work, but it still looks like crap to read.

That's one reason I cited GoogleNews-- it's not perfect but it's actually readable. Those folks continue to blow me away as one of the few companies innovating on web technology is ways that are truly cutting edge in both tech and humanistic usefulness.

Posted by: Nathan Newman at October 22, 2002 12:11 PM

You want something like Blogcritics then?

Posted by: Martin Wisse at October 23, 2002 07:03 AM

In visual format, blogcritics is probably closer, although I still expect less of a group blog than a system of links to "best of articles" on various folks existing blogs.

Posted by: Nathan Newman at October 23, 2002 07:55 AM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)