Category Archives: blogging

commentpress update

The release of CommentPress has made for exciting times here at the institute (the feedback has also been very encouraging). But as with any piece of software, CommentPress will need constant tending, and with quick succession upgrades, we hope to address the most crucial issues – starting with the first major update, CommentPress version 1.1.
This is a very important update, so everyone is encouraged to upgrade as soon as possible.
For a complete list of the changes, check out the CommentPress download page.

CommentPress 1.0

At long last, we are pleased to release CommentPress, a free, open source theme for the WordPress blog engine designed to allow paragraph-by-paragraph commenting in the margins of a text. To download it and get it running in your WordPress installation, go to our dedicated CommentPress site. There you’ll find everything you need to get started. This 1.0 release represents the most basic out-of-the-box version of the theme. Expect many improvements and new features in the days and weeks ahead (some as soon as tomorrow). We could have kept refining it for another week but we felt that the time was well past due to get it out in the world and to let the community development cycles begin. So here it is:
/commentpress/ »
This little tool is the happy byproduct of a year and a half spent hacking WordPress to see whether a popular net-native publishing form, the blog, which, most would agree, is very good at covering the present moment in pithy, conversational bursts but lousy at handling larger, slow-developing works requiring more than chronological organization – ?whether this form might be refashioned to enable social interaction around long-form texts. Out of this emerged a series of publishing experiments loosely grouped under the heading “networked books.” The first of these, McKenzie Wark’s GAM3R 7H30RY 1.1, was a wildly inventive text whose aphoristic style and modular structure lent it readily to “chunking” into digestible units for online discussion. This is how it ended up looking:
In the course of our tinkering, we achieved one small but important innovation. Placing the comments next to rather than below the text turned out to be a powerful subversion of the discussion hierarchy of blogs, transforming the page into a visual representation of dialog, and re-imagining the book itself as a conversation. Several readers remarked that it was no longer solely the author speaking, but the book as a whole (author and reader, in concert).
Toying with the placement of comments was relatively easy to do with Gamer Theory because of its unusual mathematical structure (25 paragraphs per chapter, 250 words or lessper paragraph), but the question remained of how this format could be applied to expository texts of more variable shapes and sizes. The breakthrough came with Mitchell Stephens’ paper, The Holy of Holies: On the Constituents of Emptiness. The solution we found was to have the comment area move with you in the right hand column as you scrolled down the page, changing its contents depending on which paragraph in the left hand column you selected. This format was inspired in part by a WordPress commenting system developed by Jack Slocum and by the Free Software Foundation’s site for community review of drafts of the GNU General Public License. Drawing on these terrific examples, we at last managed to construct a template that might eventually be exported as a simple toolset applicable to any text.
Ever since “Holy of Holies,” people have been clamoring for us to release CommentPress as a plugin so they could start playing with it, improving it and customizing it for more specialized purposes. Now it’s finally here, with a cleaned-up codebase and a simpler interface, and we can’t wait to see how people start putting it to use. We can imagine a number of possibilities:
-? scholarly contexts: working papers, conferences, annotation projects, journals, collaborative glosses
-? educational: virtual classroom discussion around readings, study groups
-? journalism/public advocacy/networked democracy: social assessment and public dissection of government or corporate documents, cutting through opaque language and spin (like our version of the Iraq Study Group Report, or a copy of the federal budget, or a Walmart press release)
-? creative writing: workshopping story drafts, collaborative storytelling
-? recreational: social reading, book clubs
Once again, there are dozens of little details we want to improve, and no end of features we would love to see developed. Our greatest hope for CommentPress is that it take on a life of its own in the larger community. Who knows, it could provide a base for something far more ambitious.
An important last thought, however. While CommentPress presents exciting possibilities for social reading and writing on the Web, it is still very much bound by its technical origins, the blog. This presents significant limitations both in the flexibility of document structures and in the range of media that can be employed in writing and response. Sure, even in the current, ultra-basic version, there’s no reason a CommentPress document can’t incorporate image, video and sound embeds, but they must be fit into the narrow and brittle textual template dictated by the blog.
All of which is to say that we do not view CommentPress or whatever might grow out of it as an end goal but rather as a step along the way. In fact, this and all of the experiments mentioned above were undertaken in large part as field research for Sophie, and they have had a tremendous impact on its development. While there is still much work to be done, the ultimate goal of the Sophie project is to make a tool that handles all the social network interactions (and more) that CommentPress does but within a far more fluid and easy-to-use composition/reading space where media can mix freely. That’s the larger prize. For the moment though, let’s keep hacking the blog to within an inch of its life and seeing what we can discover.
A million thanks go out to our phenomenal corps of first-run testers, particularly Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Karen Schneider, Manan Ahmed, Tom Keays, Luke Rodgers, Peter Brantley and Shana Kimball, for all the thoughtful and technically detailed feedback they’ve showered upon us over the past few days. Thanks to you guys, we’re getting this out of the gate on solid legs and our minds are now churning with ideas for future development.
Here is a chronology of CommentPress projects leading up to the open source release (July 25, 2007):
GAM3R 7H30RY 1.1 by McKenzie Wark (launched May 22, 2006)
The Holy of Holies: On the Constituents of Emptiness by Mitchell Stephens (December 6, 2006)
The Iraq Study Group Report with Lapham’s Quarterly (December 21, 2006)
The President’s Address to the Nation, January 10th, 2007 with Lapham’s Quarterly (together, the Address and the ISG Report comprised Operation Iraqi Quagmire) (January 10, 2007)
The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age with HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) (January 17, 2007)
Scholarly Publishing in the Age of the Internet by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, published at MediaCommons (March 30, 2007)
(All the above are best viewed in Firefox. The new release works in all major browsers and we’re continuing to work on compatibility.)

blogging restructures consciousness?

The following story suggests that it does. Last month, Chris Bowers of the progressive political blog MyDD, underwent a small existential crisis brought on by a ham-fisted report on public television about political blogging that bungled a number of basic facts, including Bowers’ very existence on the MyDD masthead. The result was a rare moment of introspection in an otherwise hyper-extroverted medium:

…I admit that the past three years of blogging have altered me in some rather dramatic ways that do, in fact, begin to call very existence into question. I am not referring to the ways that blogging has caused a career change, granted me political and media access that I still find shocking, almost entirely ended my participation in old social circles and presented me with new ones, allowed me to work from home, or otherwise had an impact on the day to day activities of my life. Instead, I am actually referring to an important way in which blogging has altered my very consciousness. After two and a half years of virtually non-stop blogging, my perception of myself as a distinct individual has dramatically waned. My interior monologue has virtually disappeared. I no longer have aesthetic-based epiphanies, and I almost never concern myself with examining internal passions or emotions anymore. Blogging has not just changed the activities in which I engage–the activities in which I engage in order to be a successful blogger have profoundly altered the way my mind operates and the way I conceptualize my agency in relation to others. In effect, I do not exist in the same way I once existed.

First off, I’m reminded of something Sebastian Mary was saying last month about moving beyond the idea of “authorship” and the economic and political models that undergird it (the print publishing industry, academia etc.) toward genuinely new forms of writing for the electronic landscape. “My hunch,” she says, “is that things are going two ways: writers as orchestrators of mass creativity, or writers as wielders of a new rhetoric.” Little is understood about what the collapse of today’s publishing systems would actually mean or look like, and even less about the actual experience of the new writing — that is, the new states of mind and modes of vision that are only beginning to be cracked open through the exploration of new forms. Bowers, as a spokesman for the new rhetoric (or at least one fledgeling branch of it) shines a small light on this murky area.
OngReading.jpg This also brings me back to Bob’s recent excursion into Walter Ong territory, talking about the possibility of a shift, through new networked forms of creativity, back toward something resembling the collectivity of oral cultures. Bowers and his blog might suggest the beginnings of a case study. Is this muting of the interior monologue, this waning sense of self as a “distinct individual,” the product of a kind of communication that is at once written and oral — both individualistic and collective?
Ong called the invention of writing the “technologizing of the word,” a process that fundamentally restructures human consciousness. In this history of literacy, the spoken word is something that wells up directly from the human unconscious, whereas written language is expressed through artificial (i.e. human-made) frameworks, systems of “consciously contrived, articulable rules.” These rules (and their runes) create a scaffold for the brain, which, now able to engage with complex ideas in contemplative solitude as opposed to interlocution, begins to conceive of itself as an individual entity rather than as part of a collective. Literate cultures are thus cognitively different than oral ones.
Bowers’ confession suggests that this progression is being, if not reversed, then at least confused.
The kind of communication that he and his fellow rhetoriticians have been orchestrating in recent years in the blogosphere — not to mention parallel developments elsewhere with wikis, message boards, social media, games and other inchoate forms that feel as much like public spaces as documents — has a speed and plasticity that approaches oral communication. A blog post isn’t so much a finished opus as a lump of clay that readers and other bloggers collectively shape through comments and discussion. Are these new technologies of the word (and beyond the word) restructuring consciousness?
Bowers concludes:

We political bloggers have spilled a great deal of ink on analytical, meta-blogosphere commentaries, and on how we would like to se the political process be reformed. I think we can do an equally great service–both to politics and to blogging–by spilling a little more ink on ourselves.

blogs and time (links for 11.1.06)

Interesting links that crossed my path over the past few days that I haven’t time to post on (and likely never will):

  • “French publishers join fight against Google Book Search”: Le Syndicat National de l’édition (SNE), a trade association of French publishers, has joined a suit brought against Google by the Le Martiniè re conglomerate in August for “counterfeiting and breach of intellectual property rights” in its book digitization program.
  • is a new web service co-created by Steven Johnson and John Geraci that aggregates blog content according to zip code, giving you a regularly updated guide to where you live. It uses a little Google map as a navigation tool — a dynamic table of contents.
  • US intelligence agencies use wikis: The CIA and other agencies have begun using an internal wiki site called the “Intellipedia” where staff post current events updates and colloborate on intelligence assessments, supposedly to avoid repeating mistakes like Iraq WMD. “‘I think in the future you’ll press a button and this will be the NIE,’ said Michael Wertheimer, assistant deputy director of national intelligence for analysis.”
  • Clay Shirky on “meganiches”
  • Wikipedia and the academy: To contribute or not to contribute? Article in Chronicle of Higher Ed. on the fraught relationship between academics and the online encyclopedia. Among other things discusses troubling disparity in quality between science articles and humanities articles. Is there a “two cultures” problem in online scholarly collaboration?
  • Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan: Glorious exhibit at the New York Public Library. A totally different way of thinking about books.

Should if:book serve as a filter and recommender, providing nutritious lists of links like the one above, or purely as a source of original ideas and commentary? If the answer is both, then what should be the ratio of shorter, “pointier” posts to longer, “thinkier” ones? Blogs are agnostic as to the varying size and speed of thoughts — everything goes into the same sinking scroll, soon vanishing into the catacombs of the monthly archives and category pages.
This works fine for news cycle or daily diary-type blogs, but it’s a handicap for a site like ours where longer meditations — the kind that would benefit from longer exposure — are the more common fare, and where extended, multi-post arcs on a relatively small cluster of central ideas are more what constitute the “story” of this blog than any given week’s smattering of entries. As I write, there are several extended conversations taking place within posts that, though only a few days old, are being pushed further and further down the scroll as newer content accumulates. The only hint of their still being active is the “recent comments” link to the right, which is at best an overheard whisper.
Given these constraints, and figuring that it’s the slower moving ideas that matter most, we generally try to avoid posting quick linkdumps like the one above — useful as they might be for annotating our wider web readings and pointing readers to interesting sites — simply because they have the unfortunate effect of pushing the other stuff down. But this only slightly mitigates the still unsolved problem of portraying complex movements of ideas over time on a dinky little blog.
As a side project, we’re thinking about how we could redesign if:book to keep the thinky stuff visible for longer and tied to past related discussions, while also keeping a swift current of useful annotated links and shorter observational posts. This might mean dividing our content into two separate feeds, as on this site.
We’ve also thought about ways to organize content thematically rather than temporally, so what you see at the top isn’t just the newest content, but a cluster of our most important and long-abiding conversations arranged by subject. We’re also considering changes to the individual permalinked pages of posts, perhaps adding dynamically generated links to related posts.
We’ve played around a bit with thematic arrangements on Mitch Stephens’ blog Without Gods. First, just below his banner there’s this tag cloud, which serves as a mental map of Mitch’s writing and interests:
Then there are four side menus with recent posts divided up by general area. “Bonner’s Field” is current events, “Tales of Disbelief” deals with characters in his book, “Thinking Out Loud” is sort of free-form jamming on ideas, and “Book Writer’s Journal” is meta-commentary on the writing process:
I’m also very taken with what this site, an NYU webzine on media and religion called The Revealer. They have a lovely section on the front page that divides articles and blog postings into three distinct tempos, or traffic lanes (which brings us back to the multiple streams/feeds idea):
“Time signature” is something we need to add to our design vocabulary for dealing with evolutionary, never-finished documents. Having multiple rates of movement in a single space can create interesting tensions and provide more points of entry to for the reader. I’m hoping we can put some of this into practice with if:book, and soon.
What are other sites that do a good job of handling time? Any other ideas as to how we might do better here?

understanding bloggers

Last week, the Pew Internet & American Life Project released a study on blogging. The findings describe the characteristics of the blogging community. The ways blogging as a communication tool supports public speech are gaining clarity and support through this study. It estimates that 12 million people in the US are blogging. Bloggers, as compared to internet users, are more ethnically diverse, younger and highly wired. Further, an important aspect is that the majority of bloggers (54%) has never published media before they started blogging. 37% of bloggers report that they post about personal experiences, the largest response for that question. Not surprisingly, bloggers read blogs, and there is a direct correlation between the frequency of a blogger’s posting and how often she read blogs. The growth of blogging will become more important as it is encouraging the roles of reader and writer to merge. We’ve discussed this merger before, but it is great to have numbers to support the discussion.
As internet users are becoming authors and publishers, I am curious to watch the future development of bloggers as a community and the possible impact they can have on policy issues. Is there the opportunity for bloggers to become a vehicle for social change, especially on Internet issues? 12 million bloggers could demand the attention of legislators and courts on the issues of net neutrality, copyright, privacy and open access. Although, as we have discussed in the past, the blogosphere is often a partisan space. The Pew study also confirms its diversity. Therefore, mobilizing this community is a challenging task. However, the sheer number of bloggers foretells that some of them are bound to find themselves dealing with these issues, especially with copyright and intellectual property. My hope then would be that these inevitable frictions would bring further into the mainstream these issues and broaden the discussion by the often one-sided debates of the telecommunications industry and media conglomerates.

toward the establishment of an electronic press

A few months ago, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, a tenured professor of English and Media Studies at Pomona College, published an important statement at The Valve: On the Future of Academic Publishing, Peer Review, and Tenure Requirements. Not just another lament about the sorry state of scholarly publishing, Fitzpatrick’s piece is a manifesto calling for the creation of an electronic press whose goal is nothing less than establishing born-digital electronic scholarship as an equal to print.
A meeting we held in november with a group of leading academic bloggers raised many of the problems that people face trying to gain respect for online scholarship. Since that meeting we’ve been trying to understand what role the institute might play in changing the landscape. Reading and discussing Fitzpatrick’s manifesto catalyzed our thoughts.
We invited Kathleen to visit us in NY and proposed working with her to establish an electronic press that would be hosted by the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC (which is also the home of the Institute for the Future of the Book). Based on our preliminary discussions we think that the press should concentrate at first on work in the area of media studies. The projects themselves will take many different electronic forms – long, short; media-rich, text-only; linear, non-linear; etc. These projects will be subjected to strong peer-review, but we hope to develop a process that is tailored to the rhythms and structures of online publishing.
How might our conception of a press be updated for the networked age? How do we create a publishing ecology that supports discourse at all levels — from blog to working paper to monograph — focusing less on the products of scholarship and more on the process? In practical terms, how might this process make use of the linking, commenting, and versioning technologies developed by blogs and wikis in order to enrich the discrete and fixed scholarly text with an evolving, interactive network of discourse that encourages conversation, debate, reflection, and revision? How might peer review be reinvented as peer-to-peer review?
We’ve assembled a fantastic roster of over a dozen professors in english, media studies, film and the information sciences to gather for an ambitious one-day meeting in Los Angeles in late April at USC’s Annenberg Center for Communication to begin answering these questions. The goal is to survey the current landscape of scholarly publishing, to evaluate and learn from existing innovative efforts, and to begin talking seriously about the establishment in the very near future of a groundbreaking electronic press. Since this is quite a lot to cover in a single day, we’ve set up a blog to get the conversation going in advance. Kathleen currently has a terrific post laying out some of the first-order questions, which we expect to evolve through feedback into a concrete meeting agenda. Her original Valve essay is also there.
There’s still more than a month till folks gather in L.A., so in the meantime we’d like to invite anyone who’s interested to take part in the discussion on the blog and to help lay the groundwork for what we hope will be a very important meeting.

google buys writely, or, the book is reading you, part 2

Last week Google bought Upstartle, a small company that created an online word processing program called Writely. writelylogo.gif Writely is like a stripped-down Microsoft Word, with the crucial difference that it exists entirely online, allowing you to write, edit, publish and store documents (individually or in collaboration with others) on the network without being tied to any particular machine or copy of a program. This evidently confirms the much speculated-about Google office suite with Writely and Gmail as cornerstone, and presumably has Bill Gates shitting bricks .
Back in January, I noted that Google requires you to be logged in with a Google ID to access full page views of copyrighted works in its Book Search service. Which gave me the eerie feeling that the books are reading us: capturing our clickstreams, keywords, zip codes even — and, of course, all the pages we’ve traversed. This isn’t necessarily a new thing. Amazon has been doing it for a while and has built a sophisticated personalized recommendation system out of it — a serendipity engine that makes up for some of the lost pleasures of browsing a physical store. There it seems fairly harmless, useful actually, though it depends on who you ask (my mother says it gives her the willies). Gmail is what has me spooked. The constant sprinkle of contextual ads in the margin attaching like barnacles to my bot-scoured correspondences. Google’s acquisition of Writely suggests that things will only get spookier.
I’ve been a webmail user for the past several years, and more recently a blogger (which is a sort of online word processing) but I’m uneasy about what the Writely-Google union portends — about moving the bulk of my creative output into a surveilled space where the actual content of what I’m working on becomes an asset of the private company that supplies the tools.
Imagine you’re writing your opus and ads, drawn from words and themes in your work, are popping up in the periphery. Or the program senses line breaks resembling verse, and you get solicited for publication — before you’ve even finished writing — in one of those suckers’ poetry anthologies. logo20.jpg Leave the cursor blinking too long on a blank page and it starts advertising cures for writers’ block. Copy from a copyrighted source and Writely orders you to cease and desist after matching your text in a unique character string database. Write an essay about terrorists and child pornographers and you find yourself flagged.
Reading and writing migrated to the computer, and now the computer — all except the basic hardware — is migrating to the network. We here at the institute talk about this as the dawn of the networked book, and we have open source software in development that will enable the writing of this new sort of born-digital book (online word processing being just part of it). But in many cases, the networked book will live in an increasingly commercial context, tattooed and watermarked (like our clothing) with a dozen bubbly logos and scoured by a million mechanical eyes.
Suddenly, that smarmy little paper clip character always popping up in Microsoft Word doesn’t seem quite so bad. Annoying as he is, at least he has an off switch. And at least he’s not taking your words and throwing them back at you as advertisements — re-writing you, as it were. Forgive me if I sound a bit paranoid — I’m just trying to underscore the privacy issues. Like a frog in a pot of slowly heating water, we don’t really notice until it’s too late that things are rising to a boil. Then again, being highly adaptive creatures, we’ll more likely get accustomed to this softer standard of privacy and learn to withstand the heat — or simply not be bothered at all.

thinking about blogging 2: democracy

Banning books may be easy, but banning blogs is an exhausting game of Whack-a-Mole for politically repressive regimes like China and Iran.

andishe no1.jpg

Farid Pouya, recapping recent noteworthy posts from the Iranian blogosphere last week on Global Voices, refers to one blogger’s observations on the chilled information climate under president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

Andishe No (means New Thought) fears that country was pushed back to pre Khatami’s period concerning censorship. He believes that even if many books get banned in twenty first century, government can not stop people getting information. Government wants to control weblogs in Iran and put them in a guideline.

Unlike the fleas that swarm American media and politics, Iran’s cyber-dissidents frequently are the sole conduit for uncensored information — an underground army of chiseler’s, typing away at the barricades. Here we see the blog as a building block for civil society. Electronic samizdat. Basic life forms in a free media ecology, instilling new habits in both writers and readers: habits of questioning, of digging deeper. Individual sites may get shut down, individual bloggers may be jailed but the information finds a way.
Though the situation in Iran is far from enviable, there is something attractive about the moral clarity of its dissident blogging. If one wants the truth, one must find alternatives — it’s that simple. But with alternative media in the United States — where the media ecology is highly developed and corruption more subtle — it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Political blogs in America may resound with outrage and indignation, but it’s the kind that comes from a life of abundance. All too often, political discourse is not something that points toward action, but an idle picking at the carcass of liberty.
Sure, we’ve seen blogs make a difference in politics (Swift Boats, Rathergate, Trent Lott — 2004 was the “year of the blog”), but generally as a furtherance of partisan aims — a way of mobilizing the groundtroops within a core constituency that has already decided what it believes.

a map of the political blogosphere

When one looks at this map (admittedly a year old) of the American political blogosphere, one notes with dismay that there are in fact two spheres, mapping out all too cleanly to the polarized reality on the ground. One begins to suspect that America’s political blogs are merely a pressure valve for a population that, though ill at ease, is still ultimately paralyzed.

thinking about blogging 1: process versus product

Thinking about blogging: where’s it’s been and where it’s going. Recently I found food for thought in a smart but ultimately misguided essay by Trevor Butterworth in the Financial Times. In it, he decries blogging as a parasitic binge:

…blogging in the US is not reflective of the kind of deep social and political change that lay behind the alternative press in the 1960s. Instead, its dependency on old media for its material brings to mind Swift’s fleas sucking upon other fleas “ad infinitum”: somewhere there has to be a host for feeding to begin. That blogs will one day rule the media world is a triumph of optimism over parasitism.

While his critique is not without merit, Butterworth ultimately misses the forest for the fleas, fixating on the extremes of the phenomenon — the tiny tier of popular “establishment” bloggers and the millions of obscure hacks endlessly recycling news and gossip — while overlooking the thousands of mid-level blogs devoted to specialized or esoteric subjects not adequately covered — or not covered at all — by the press. Technorati founder David Sifry recently dubbed this the “magic middle” of the blogosphere — that group of roughly 150,000 sites falling somewhere between the short head and the long tail of the popularity graph. Notable as the establishment bloggers are, I would argue that it’s the middle stratum that has done the most in advancing serious discourse online. Here we are not talking about antagonism between big and small media, but rather a filling out of the media ecosystem — where a proliferation of niches, like pixels on a screen, improves the resolution of our image of the world.

from On Poetry: A Rhapsody (1733)

So, naturalists observe, a flea
Hath smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite ’em;
And so proceed
ad infinitum.
Thus every poet, in his kind,
Is bit by him that comes behind.

—Jonathan Swift

At their worst, bloggers — like Swift’s reiterative fleas — bounce ineffectually off the press’s opacities. But sometimes the collective feeding frenzy can expose flaws in the system. Moreover, there are some out there that have the knowledge and insight to decode what the press reports yet fails to adequately analyze. And there others still who are not tied so inexorably to the news cycle but follow their own daemon.
To me, Swift’s satire, while humorously portraying the endless cycle of literary derivation, also suggests a healthier notion of process — less parasitic and more cumulative. At best transformative. The natural accretion over time of ideas and tradition. It’s only natural that poets build — or feed — on the past. They feel the nip at their behinds. They channel and reinvent. As do scholars and philosophers.
But having some expertise and knowing how to craft a sentence does not necessarily mean one is meant to blog. In an amusing passage, Butterfield speculates on how things might how gone horribly awry had George Orwell (oft hailed as a proto-blogger) been given the opportunity to maintain a daily journal online (think tedious rambling on the virtues of English cuisine). Good blogging requires not only a voice, but a special commitment — a compulsion even — to air one’s thinking in real time. A relish for working through ideas in the open, often before they’re fully baked.
But evidently Butterfield hasn’t considered the merits of blogging as a process. He remains terminally hung up on the product, concluding that blogging “renders the word even more evanescent than journalism” and is “the closest literary culture has come to instant obsolescence.” Fine. Blogging is in many ways a vaporous pursuit, but then so is conversation — so is theatre. Blogging, in its essence, is about discussion and about working through ideas. And, I would argue, it is as much about reading as it is about writing.
Back in August, I wrote about this notion of the blog as a record of reading — an idea to which I still hold fast. The blog is a tool (for writers and readers alike) for dealing with information overload — for processing an unmanageable abundance of reading material. Most bloggers, the good ones anyway, not only point to links (though the good pointer sites like Arts & Letters Daily are invaluable), they comment upon them (as I am doing here), glossing them for their readers, often quoting at length. The blog captures that wave of energy emitted by the reader’s mind upon contact with an idea or story.
I do think blogging goes a significant ways toward the Enlightenment ideal of a reading public, even if only one percent of that public is worth reading. Hemingway famously said that he wrote 99 pages of crap for every one page of masterpiece. We should apply a similar math to blogs, and hope the tools for filtering out that 99 percent improve over time. After all, one percent of 28 million is no small number (about the population of Buffalo, NY). I’m confident that, in aggregate, this small democratic layer illumines more than it obscures, blazing trails of readings and fostering conversation. And this, I would venture — when combined and balanced with more traditional media sources — offers a more balanced reading diet.