February 11, 2006

New Gatekeepers Are Still GATEKEEPERS

A soft answer turneth away wrath. -- Proverbs

Doc Searls, one of the nicest A-listers, writes a reply to one of my comments, in part:

... it pains me to think I'm being cruel without knowing it to a blogger who's trying just as hard as I am - or maybe harder - to make sense of things. So, if that's what I did with that post, my apologies to Tristan, Scott, Seth and anybody else who took offense.

Thank you. That's very generous.

Here's the problem:

I have this idea that the blogosphere is the one place in the world - or perhaps an entirely new world, or a part of a new world, created on the Net - where there is no need for class, for caste, for gates or keepers of anything.

Regrets. It's not. Let's stop right there. This is an idea that goes way back in a certain type of mythologizing - whether it's called the Classless Society, The New Socialist Man, The Wild West, The Wide-Open Frontier, etc. - of a New Era where rank and privilege have been abolished, and all is based on individual merit. I wish it were true too. But sadly, wishing won't make it so (and mistakenly believing it can get people deeply hurt in various ways).

There's then some particularly pernicious implications which flow from the above myth. If there is in reality a vast inequality of status, yet the theory is that the new world is merit-based, that provides a lot of disturbing tension, cognitive dissonance. There's some obvious ways to resolve it. One immediate method is to say those lower down the hierarchy must be un-meritorious in some way - whiners, as a cognate A-lister has expounded elsewhere. Another method is simply to deny that inequality exists. And these are where the cruelty manifests.

This world is exactly the same as *every* *other* *media* *world*, in that there's a few participants who have enormous reach, while most have little to none ("Power Law"). That's just a mathematical fact. One obvious corollary is that if an A-lister (very high audience) writes a personal attack on a Z-lister (very low audience), the Z-lister has no *effective* means of responding, to any comparable extent. This is hardly life-threatening, but it's not pleasant. When, on top of this, there's some sort of concept that the Z-lister really does have a means of reply, because they can do the equivalent of standing on a streetcorner and the entire city *could*, *in theory*, be the audience - well, it's frustrating. It's a kind of insult to injury. If this implies the death of the dream of the New Home Of Mind, it's dead whether or not we acknowledge that.

The critique of gatekeepers often has an underlying message, that reformers need to face these problems of differences in power and grapple with them directly. Technology will not make it all go away. And that's a very hard message indeed.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on February 11, 2006 10:39 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

Subscribe with Bloglines      Subscribe in NewsGator Online  Google Reader or Homepage


well said. small fish in the ocean, big fish in the pond.

Posted by: bmo at February 12, 2006 08:29 AM

I'm afraid as a Z lister I would tend to disagree. We are all held back by our minds more than by the A listers. When I organised a conference on blogging (my first conference of any sort) I was truly stunned by how helpful guys like Doc, Scoble etc etc where. In fact the biggest disappointment was trying to get non-speakers to turn up! (At what point I had more speakers than delegates!

Posted by: Geoff at February 12, 2006 12:46 PM

The analogy of the A-Z gap to that of the gap between the rich and the poor has been noted by many who've studied both problems. The conclusion is that the observed power law distribution is due to the way the Web evolved--as a "scale-free" network of hubs and nodes--which actually mimic human social networks. The economics of links and web popularity are apparently the same as economics in the real world. Bemoaning the problem and solving it are the same in both cases: more freedom and democracy. One thing I've noticed about the A-Listers too, they generally have no time for anything else but keep the gate. They are generally "linkers" not "thinkers" though no blogger falls into a simple set of labels. Google itself is I suppose A#1 "blogger-linker."

An interesting way of "seeing" the topology of the network is with a tool called TouchGraph Googlebrowser, which you may know about.

(thanks first time here from far far away...)

Posted by: Rizalist at February 12, 2006 06:20 PM

At one point I had more speakers than delegates!

I think this sums up the problem of the sociopolitical blogosphere quite nicely.

more freedom and democracy

That doesn't solve the problem at all - you can't determine who the popular bloggers are by elections!?

Posted by: Peter Clay at February 12, 2006 08:42 PM

I think talking about the A-list in terms of gate-keepers is just whiny victim bullshit.

There will always be inequality, it's often a *positive* symptom. To claim otherwise you have to find a specific market failure/distortion.



Posted by: Bill Seitz at February 17, 2006 01:26 PM