With so many writers and bloggers working online today, how do we identify the talent in the blogosphere? Bonnie Stewart wrote an article in Salon yesterday, discussing the wrongness of using algorithms to identify social media Klout.
But because Klout rewards use-value networking over other forms of engagement, it fosters an increasingly use-value environment. The peer-to-peer relationality of social media is undermined by the kind of behavior that cultivates status over relationships. Status is part of the game. But when it becomes the whole game, the broad, rhizomatic networks get boxed in and wither, and then we’re back to something a lot less interesting than social media.
Even though the idea of quantifying influence in social media is rather ridiculous, I will admit that I have a soft spot for using numbers as standards. There is a reason that SAT tests were created as a barometer for getting into college. They helped undercut the human-based old-boy network of the past. Standard enabled those outside the inner circle, such as women and minorities, to attend Harvard. Standards help create diversity.
Bonnie seems to prefer a human-based system of our peers to identify influence, but who do we trust as an authority? Should we even attempt to create a hierarchy in such a democratic medium such as blogging?
The editors of Babble, the online parenting magazine, are well-known in their community for making frequent lists promoting the Top Moms on Twitter, the Top Mom Bloggers, and now the Top Dad Blogs. While these announcements create some buzz for those on the list, they also create controversy and hurt feelings in the parenting community. I’ve seen this year in and year out. So, last week, after a new controversy involving the Dad community, I commented on their site.
“If these lists always generate such animosity, why do you continue to have them? It certainly doesn’t seem to enhance the well-being of the community. What is the point? How does it help improve things? That seems to be the question no one answers.”
My blogging friend, Catherine Connors, who works with Babble, answered —
“Neil, relatively speaking, the amount of animosity generated is a fraction of the amount of excitement generated – but animosity tends to generate the more heated discussions, so that’s where a lot of the discussion goes.”
The lists matter because they make a statement about the degree to which parent blogs matter – these are content spaces and conversation drivers that matter just as much as, if not more than, the names that you see on the lists published by Time or Vanity Fair or the New Yorker or People. We’re asserting that this is a cultural domain, and an industry, and that its leaders and innovators deserve to be recognized.”
I appreciate her answer. And I understand that we all want to be taken seriously, and to see the best of the best get the recognition they deserve. And clearly there are important writers online who speak for many in their community as conversation drivers. But surely we can’t we find a better way to promote the cultural domain of blogging than hierarchical LISTS that imitate mainstream old media?
I was a little afraid of writing that comment on Babble, since I am not a parent, and it would appear as if I was jealous of these lists. There might be some truth to that. We all want to be included and recognized, but there is something more personal at work here that strikes a nerve. The compiling of lists, and the acceptance of them as authority, has been a thorn in my side from my first year of blogging.
In 2005, a few months after I started blogging, I was asked to write for this new site titled Blogebrity. Blogebrity was a site where hip writers riffed on the new trend of blogger as celebrity. The site was notorious for the snark and particularly, their blogger lists. The editors ranked bloggers according to their status, placing them on A,B,C, and D-lists.
BlogHer had yet to come onto the scene in a big way, and the elite blogosphere was entirely male, guys who wrote about tech, gadgets, and sports. You only had street cred if you were part of a advertising network. There was a Wild West atmosphere to professional blogging. Mommyblogging was hardly on the radar. Even Dooce was on the C-list.
The writing style on Blogebrity was snarky; the writers used Gawker-type mockery to discuss the excesses and deals of the internet bigwigs. Everyone had the feeling that there was a lot of money to be made in blogging. It was the new Silicon Valley.
The editors of Blogebrity were under the assumption that I was a snarky writer. My gig was to focus on the D-list bloggers, poking fun at them, as if they were a sideshow to the real industry. What the editors didn’t realize was that I found the D-listers the most interesting of all the writers online; I was a D-lister myself who liked reading stories. I loved that ordinary people AND weirdos had a voice online and were using blogging to express themselves. To me, blogging was the greatest change in publishing since the printing press, and the “D” list bloggers were leading the revolution in the democratization of writing. To paraphrase an early cry of the mommybloggers — blogging was a radical act.
While at Blogebrity, I wrote enthusiastic posts about personal bloggers. I wrote about librarian bloggers, and how they were blowing away the myth away of the shy, reserved librarian. I wrote about how sex bloggers were pushing the envelope of online-writing. I was one of the first bloggers to introduce the newly-coined “daddy bloggers” to this audience. Within a few weeks, I had given up on watching TV because reading personal blogs were more fulfilling.
Because of Blogebrity’s snarky tone, the site created enemies with some of the bigger industry bloggers. One tough-talking business writer by the name of the Cowboy, decided to poke fun at the writers of Blogebrity. Because I was the low man on the totem pole, he mocked my writing, calling my personal blog as irrelevant, and noting that I wasn’t even with an advertising network. What irked me the most was when he called me a nobody.
I remember this online moment as rather traumatic, something that has colored my experience as a blogger ever since. Another writer was trying to embarass me for doing something positive for the blogging community — which was introducing new bloggers to the community.
As a response, I wrote a long, crazy diatribe on the site that was 1/4 narcissim, 1/4 Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream speech, 1/4 Jimmy Stewart’s final speech in Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” and 1/4 a re-telling of my overblown elementary school valevictorian speech.
The post has since been deleted, but it was titled “Who Cares about Neil Kramer?” and went something like this, reconstructing it from memory —
“Who Cares About Neil Kramer? Hell, why should anyone care about any of those on the D-list? Or care about any blogger not listed at all? Well, I tell you one thing. You should be careful what you say. Because we are the ones who are YOUR readers! And now we have a voice too. Whether we have five million readers or five, we are just as important… I have a dream… blah blah blah….”
You get the point. It was a bit melodramatic. After I published it on Blogebrity, I was attacked in the comments by the Cowboy. He called me a pussy for reacting so emotionally. He then invited his friends to come by and bully me further — my first true encounter with how the world works — the higher your perceived power, the more your friends will take your side online, even if they are wrong.
I soon stopped writing for the site.
This bullying in 2005 molded my online persona for the next six years. I never monetized my blog. I remained stubborn in viewing blogging as something uniquely different than traditional publishing, and saw any attempt to build a hierarchy within the blogosphere as a spit in the face of the essence of blogging.
Blogging was not created to be a farm league for writers to get gigs with the New Yorker Magazine. Blogging was a living and breathing entity, a fluid community of professionals and amateurs connected through comments and links, ideas and humanity.
I complained when Guy Kawasaki creating AllTop. Even though I was on one of his lists as a “Top Blog,” I was worried that he was creating a “velvet rope” of haves and have nots by the very act of making his lists. Authority is powerful, especially when it becomes recognized as THE authority.
I remember how excited I was when advertised the Great Interview Experiment on my blog. What could be more radical and truer to the essence of blogging than announcing that everyone had an important story to tell, and not just the same ten bloggers who are trotted out for every interview and conference talk? Rather than wait for some authority figure to interview us as worthy to speak to, why not interview each other based on a random encounter on a blog comment page? Almost 1000 interviews were conducted during the experiment, random blogger meeting random blogger, and proving that blogging is unique, unlike any other medium.
It is almost 2012. The landscape online has changed since 2005. But I still feel the urge to codify any part of the blogosphere into a hierarchy is bad for the community at large, and goes against the essence of blogging. We should be protecting the blogosphere as a democratic force, not creating another 1% vs. 99% that we are protesting on Wall Street. Who needs a bland corporate retread of the world we already have on TV and magazines?
Why not have revolving lists, constantly introducing new bloggers to the community, including those outside of the same group of friends? I like the open model of Schmutzie’s Five Star Friday, with the weekly mix of new names and old favorites.
Catherine’s response makes me flash back to 2005 and my Blogebrity days. Using her criteria about the importance of leadership and innovation in a cultural domain, were the editors of Blogebrity correct for focusing on the conversation drivers of the time — the old-boy school of A-listers? And was I wasting my time back then introducing those less innovative and important bloggers who comprised the “D” list — like the parenting bloggers?
Klout? Lists? Why is there such a strong human need to organize the human spirit with numbers and rank?
Side note: Total coincidence. This afternoon. The Disney Corporation bought Babble for 40 million dollars.