Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You are not of the Body -- Afterwards

File under: It’s 8:30 and I’m just getting home from a j-o-b? WTF? Where are the hovercrafts we were promised? Where’s my fucking jet-pack and hot robot maid?


There was a lot of conversation below decks about the Rich Blog/Poor Blog thing, and it has been commendably thoughtful, considerate, and never degenerated (as commenter sharoney noted) “…into recrimination, namecalling, "poor-me"-ism, and accusations of selling out.”


The poo cannons have been largely silent, and some frank questions and critiques got raised which seem to pretty accurately represent the general sorts of objections one hears on the subject.

So let's take them on, one-by-one.

But first, an industrial-size “Thank you” for your comments, emails and kind words. They are Cap’n Crunch for my occasionally weary spirit and often ass-dragging corpus.

Second, let me reiterate that I have no money on this horse. I do more than fine:

“…I believe I am spectacularly fortunate. I am the sole proprietor of my own funky little café on the edge of the Sprawl. The rent is zero – my day gigs cover the expenses for my meager vices, and any “value” the place has comes from word/sweat equity and the cool people that hang out there.

I set my own hours and whip up any kinda pie (or pictures of pies) that suits me. And when I set them out, smart, accomplished, passionate humans come by to nosh, read, chat, rebut, add, call me a smartass commie, riff, whatever.”
But there is an earnest debate roiling right at the heart of the digital Left about who we are, and about how closely our gallant ““Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” words do and do not match our mundane, daily deeds.

And when that debate is roiling among writers?

Among the kind of people Voltaire must’ve meant when he said, “To hold a pen is to be at war?”

Well, it gets pretty interesting. Kinda draws my attention.

Third, commentor Swopa said...
If I may offer a rebuttal on behalf of a clique to which I don't belong...

1. It's kind of cheating to debate "the received wisdom of the Elders of the digital Left" rather than the specific words anyone has said. If I could paraphrase your argument to my tastes before starting, rest assured that as brilliant as you are, I could kick your ass on any topic -- and it would prove nothing.
I abbreviated, but fair enough.

To be clearer, I have heard this received wisdom echoing many times, but most recently at the YearlyKos Panel “Evolution & Integration of the Blogosphere” which Micah Sifry has done a fine job reporting on here (and which I have sullied by adding emphasis):

Some specifics:
Chris Bowers starts out by asking: In terms of traffic, the top 50 national blogs who focus on politics has remained almost identical for the last two years. Instead of starting their own blogs, new people blog at DailyKos or HuffingtonPost, two mega-blogs. The top 50 receive over 95% of all the traffic. Is it fair to say that a blogosphere establishment has formed, at least in terms of urls, if not in terms of people?

Tracy Russo answers that yes, at least in terms of people, a "tight-knit network" has formed. It's harder for new voices to draw readers away from their established reading habits.

Amanda Terkel says that because the top blogs produce so much content, it's very hard for anyone to match that. HuffPost has 40 employees. ThinkProgress has four. You also see the establishment trying to co-opt the blogosphere. Ultimately it still depends on good content, not whether you come from an established organization. But overtime she agrees its natural for an establishment to form.
Amanda Marcotte says a lot of the feeling that there is an establishment comes from the sense from people with teeny blogs who feel that they can't get more attention.

Matt Stoller notes that broadband adoption has slowed, except among black and latino communities. If you look around the room, this [the blogosphere] is a media model for liberal whites. That market, I think, there's no more there. At least not now.
Tracy Russo responds: It's really hard to be one of those top 50 people, producing all that content every day, and promoting it to their fellow bloggers. You can work at it, however, but it's really hard to be a good blogger.
Ali Savino: There really isn't a single blogger type. Even Duncan has his guest poster minions. Unless you have five friends who want to start a site with you, I don't know how you can do it.
Duncan Black: My blog is really my voice. I don't write a lot. I link to other people, link to new sources, link to people who make jokes I wish I had made or wrote things that I wish I had written. When we move out of my zone into communities of people who are talking about things I don't really know about, I may read them and find them fascinating, but there's a barrier to linking to them because they're not really in my voice.
There was some interplay, but c’mon: it’s hard to get wisdom more “received” than from this group.

And note what it is that Duncan identified as his specialty: “I don't write a lot. I link to other people, link to new sources…” (might actually be “news”)

Bob Geiger, on the other hand, was very supportive as he facilitated “How to Get Your Blog Noticed”. Sorta pooh-poohed a lot of the received wisdom and gave a very good presentation, peppered with funny anecdotes and practical advise.

He’d make a fine teacher.

Then again, Bob is going on indefinite blogging hiatus.

Commentor Swopa also notes:
2. As a specific example of the above, when I've read high-traffic bloggers opining about what creates high traffic, they've emphasized not brilliant writing so much as lots of output. In fact, thanks to a quick Google search, here's Atrios: "People click on a website regularly when they expect it to have new content. If you're a thoughtful writer who tends to write longer essays then you're at a disadvantage."
Actually, if you dig 1/4 inch below the surface you find that these two issues are related, and mutually annihilating.

One, that people come by often to see New!Content!

But, two, they don’t wanna read essays.

OK, but if your “new content” is mostly 10-syllable epigraham-crackers that advise “What Digby said…” or “Go read Ezra…” that hardly qualifies as either "content" or “new”.

And when you go over to Digby or Ezra, odds are 6-to-5 and pick ‘em that you will be staring at -- gasp! -- an essay!

Maybe even a thoughtful essay.

Commentor Swopa also notes:
3. You're right, though, he does tend to link to a rather limited universe of blogs. But then, so do you. And the dirty, nefarious truth in both cases is probably the same: You link to blogs that you read and like.

Folks seem to forget that Markos, Duncan, and the rest didn't run for office as Representatives of the Blogosphere on a platform of linking to a broad and demographically representative sample of all liberal blogs everywhere...
OK, first let's dispense with the "reductio ad absurdum" strawmen bullshit of "...all liberal blogs everywhere...".

Second, yeah, guilty!

However, speaking only out of my own experience, I am compelled to cite the 1977 Supreme Court case of Apples vs. Oranges to point out some important differences.

Although I do link to others, and try to scatter it around, that is not predominantly my thing.

I do mostly (semi)original compositions. I might cite “The Tempest” or Harlan Ellison. Or parody “The Raven” or do a slide show, or write a children's story, or riff on the MSM, or a Dreaded Essay.

Maybe pen a commercial. Or perhaps a lexicon of GOP-types.

Or a lot of stuff that's sort of sui generis.

Also, for my size, I do rather a lot of original artwork, most of which is fairly well-received, but which isn’t much to do with driving traffic here or there.

I do 8-12 posts a week, not 85 (although by being persistent, I am now up to post #1,180)

I don’t do this even close to full-time.

“Dependable Renegade” (to pull an example of a site I like a lot) does the best snark captioneering in the business. But again, that site’s raison d’etre isn’t acting as a router to other people’s work; it is (to coin a phrase) a Destination Blog, and not an Aggregation or Transit or Base-Camp Blog.

Eschaton, OTOH, is predominately an outlet mall of short links to the other sites.
“I don't write a lot. I link to other people, link to new(s?) sources…”
There is nothing at all wrong with that -- it’s a useful resource and I loiter there myself from time to time -- and I’m glad Duncan has prospered. And if I were King of the Better Universe I wouldn’t want the blogosphere configured in any other way than as a place where people are free to do with their own sites whatever they wish.

However when:
  • Your self-identified operational model is mostly driving your very large readership to other sites.
  • You do it professionally: full-time and with a revenue-stream that is in no small measure traffic-based.
  • You routinely and rightly deride the Old Media for the corrupting effect of its old boy, in-group clubbiness.
  • You are a leader in a movement that stresses the democratization of the soapbox. Whose unofficial hajj next year will be called “Netroots Nation”.
And yet you rather conspicuously drive traffic to the same tiny handful of friend’s sites, who drive their traffic over to you, well y’know the neighbors are gonna talk.

In the end, I kinda figure this first iterations of bloggers will end up like first generation stars.
Q: Do you mean big, gassy and unstable?

A: OK, that was just cheap. Cheap and unworthy.
But, well, sort of because natural selection never loafs on the beach doing nothing for a couple of weeks in August.

Hell, in 4.5 billion years, natural selection has never so much as taken a sick day or pee break.

And because of that, the Olympians will always displace the Titans, the reign of the Elves will always taper off and give rise to the Age of Men, and already you can see the curtain going up on the final act for the Solo Blogger like me.

Which, for the most primal of reasons, makes perfect sense. Because in the end we are mammals that survive best by huddling together for warmth, efficiency and mutual protection. (And, of course, naughtygoodfun.) Creatures made up, in turn, of cells that figured out more than a billion years ago that specialization within a single organism was their collective ticket to the Big Show.

Nature favors biological organization that behaves like, well, Genesis:

knock out one lead singer, the drummer steps up, takes the mic,

and the band goes on.

I miss Billmon. Also DC Media Girl. And, of course, Gilly. And both Max Sawicky and the aforementioned Bob Geiger are boxing up their adjectives and calling it a day (h/t Crooks and Liars, via Mike’s Blog Roundup, ably pinch-hit by Blue Gal. Whew; links got more lineage than Russian royalty.)

But they’re individuals and not organizations, so their sites do not survive the loss of their auteurs.

There is a definite beauty in that; a purity of the singular artistic voice. Where it alights, it fills up all the rooms and re-tints the walls and floorboards with the distinct hue of its talent.

But when it’s gone…its gone.

And in a world of

“Oh Lord,
Thy snark is so vast
And my blog is so small”.

the group site offers some shelter from the storm.

And a Dread Pirate Roberts

can theoretically go on forever.

And finally, Tanbark, you have indeed correctly identified the true identity of the Three Caveats: step up to ChiTown and collect a beer.


frank said...

Meh. You've said this a few times, I suppose its true in the sense that all mortal men must die, and since all solo bloggers are mortal, therefore all solo blogs must die. But I don't buy the idea that the group blog is workable in the long run. The more people who write at Digby's place or Unqualified Offerings, the less I want to go there. I've already given up on firedoglake. Communities are cool and all, but until I find one where the content is as consistantly brilliant as it is here I'll keep looking.

cieran said...

Drifty, you had me on board right up to this:

And because of that, the Olympians will always displace the Titans, the reign of the Elves will always taper off and give rise to the Age of Men, and already you can see the curtain going up on the final act for the Solo Blogger like me.

I most respectfully disagree...

If the measure of a work of art (and your blogging is definitely a work of art) is found in the impact it produces, then great solo bloggers like you will always have a disproportionately important role to play, no matter what the assembled wisdom of the YearlyKos panels might indicate to the contrary.

Chris Anderson called it "the long tail" (and then he wrote a good book about it), Nassim Taleb called it "the fat tail of a non-Gaussian distribution" (and then he wrote an even better book about it), but whatever one calls this phenomenon, it still produces the same effect: in an increasingly well-connected world, it is possible for small market players (i.e., niche suppliers) to exert a disproportionately large effect on the greater society.

Provided, of course, that those suppliers that occupy the niche actually provide a product of sufficiently high quality, but that is what you do, early and often (as they used to say in Chicago).

And anyone who asserts that the solo blogger cannot succeed needs to give some thought to your muse, a gentleman named Thomas Paine.

Sharoney said...

What cieran said.

Nice summation, drifty.

(Can I call you drifty?)

You didn't talk about the rise of local blogging and its place in this whole paradigm; but I suppose that is an essay for another day and time.

(Hey! I made a rhyme! Yay, me!)

Anonymous said...

I agree with what Sharoney said several blogs ago. I don't think this is about clique-ishness as it is about multiple hits of content throughout the day.

My job (and my own internet ADD) has me online all day, so I regularly surf around between things. I skim. Bless me father for I have sinned, but I have a hard time reading 10,000 word essays.

The stiff winds of Driftglass can wake one up, however.

- mac

whig said...

As a solo blogger myself, I surely hope we are not at the end of our era. Though my blog is hardly more than a year old, and perhaps I have not plumbed the depths of artistic exhaustion nearly yet.

I miss BillMon, too, and would miss Driftglass if you decided to call it a day.

Bustednuckles said...

All is not lost in the protoplasm of the internets.
So true it is that most of the traffic is a back and forth of the big blogs.
Yet every day it seems I stumble onto
a small sole proprieter blog that catches my attention.
Yes I read and participate daily at FireDogLake and will continue to do so as I have cultivated some friendships there over the years. That and they tolerate me, barely.
That is how I found Swopa.
I read but do not participate at the Great Orange Satan.
There is just too much and I have seen some ugly bannings for what I deemed to be minor offenses.
I can't remember when I first stumbled in here but it has been a while and most likely from a link at a big blog.
Once here however, I have always come back for the writing. I get lost in it and it is truly art to me.
I blog, I ain't worth a shit and I know it. But I don't give a fuck about traffic and who does or doesn't like it.
We have already lost too many shining lights, we need to take care of those who inspire us.
Driftglass is such a treasure in that regard.

Jill said...

Drifty, if you ever want to take up residence at B@B, the door's always open. Just say the word. You and Gilly were always the best. Now it's just you. But no pressure or nothin'....

Steve Muhlberger said...

When the dissatisfaction hits the next time, the size of dominant blogs will not insulate them from its effects.

Anonymous said...


I look forward to your blogging to the extent that I smile even as I click the bookmark on my page. Sometimes I laugh, or pump my fist, or talk back to the screen. But I always come away better informed and more clear-eyed than when I arrived. Thank you!

tanbark said...

Mr. Driftglass; if you see a 65 year old man, with a slight homeless appearance sitting on your doorstep, don't react TOO quickly. In fact, just walk out with a St. Pauli Girl in one hand, and a Dos Equis dark in the other, and he will identify himself.

And then, we will talk, until the wee small hours. :o)

Insane, 'int it? That a hard-core traditional 'grasshead is knocked out by THAT miz and those two Mr's. They were so far ahead of their time musically, I'm surprised no one was trying to burn them at the stake.

Thanks. You are probably THE one person who would find them and use them in, appropriately enough, a damn good riff...yourself. :o)

Blue Gal said...

I'm sorry to be late to the comment party on this one. I've been thinking about it and trying to figure out whether to write here or start a post at my place.

I've been blogging for almost three years. During that time I joined The Aristocrats, which yes, is a "group" blog, but it's more parallel play in the gifted classroom than interaction on the playground. I drop in and leave a note there when I have time and inspiration. Sandy, Mark, and Paul use that blog as their primary blogging place, and without them it would not exist.

I recently discovered that I had hung out at the record/comic store of Crooks and Liars long enough that they had to make me staff. Whether this means I've "arrived" or simply been absorbed into the Borg of the big blogosphere remains to be seen. I sense I'm not posting as many pairs of panties as I did before.

I don't read Eschaton or Digby or Americablog and while I used to think it was because I was a small blog snob I have visited these more recently and it's not that anymore. I'm like Duncan and everyone else in that I only have so much time to dig into the blogosphere. I prefer small galleries to huge MFA blockbusters. Everything is art, but your feet get tired after a while.

Just rambling but I'm sure glad you're with us, Drifty honey. You've given a lot of food for thought here. xo

Anonymous said...

A belated point sent into the ether:

The big orange is so NOT about it's namesake. It's the community. And I found this site because of the individual blogrolls that exist.

It was after Gilliard's death. I was reading someone's diary and driftglass was on the their blogroll. I came. I read. I howled at the great round moon in solidarity. And now you are on *my* blogroll at the Big Orange.

It flows. It spreads. The frequent unsung obscurity of the best may be no comfort, but when fame comes and corrupts, perhaps you'll regret the loss of these simple, halcyon days.

Or something like that.