February 13, 2006

Gatekeeper argument, part N+1

Having had the gatekeeper argument many times, I know it follows certain patterns. Sometimes evangelist types make a kind of "best of all possible worlds" assertion. Regrettably, I've yet to be able to figure out what evidence they'd accept to the contrary - it's on par with: If There Is A God, Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People? To me, the "power law" structure objectively refutes any such Panglossian view.

Once more, the flip side of that, is the argument "I Am Not Worthy". To be immodest for a moment, I am worthy. Note I'm not out to become an A-lister myself. Rather, I'd like to be able to get heard, which is different (though related) and I want a means of *effective* defense against attacks. Both of which are a struggle with gatekeepers and hierarchy, and do not afford me the luxury of confusing pleasant sentiments with unpleasant realities.

Of course, raw audience numbers aren't everything, nor does any one A-lister rule the world (even the tech world). But, per-topic, often a small group of people does have a very large influence over the topic's discussion. Extensive examination of gatekeeping would be complex and nuanced. There's all sorts of involved effects. However, the orders of magnitude disparity in readership is the simplest, clearest way to illustrate that there are gatekeepers, and it matters (it's not the only factor - but it is a factor). It's hard to discuss advanced aspects when the most elementary observation is so problematic.

What is to be done? I don't have a solution. There's a long history of ways these issues have been addressed, from the social compact of Noblesse Oblige to the old legal system of the TV/radio "Fairness Doctrine" (and, in a sad commentary on the state of debate, I'll have to pause for a windy disclaimer because even the mere historical mention of that government regulation tends to cause a certain mindset to jump up and down in hyperventilation that it means a proposal to impose it on blog writing). But I certainly don't have the answer. The only part I believe I do know, is that any solution must come out of engagement with reality as opposed to mythology (and we see how influential I am in achieving that ...).

Let's just consider Shelley Powers' request, for a small example:

If I want anything from the A Listers, it's honesty. It's following through on their glowing beliefs in this environment. It's a cessation of the games, and a reduction of the small minded petty meanness that characterizes too many of the A listers (and which makes one realize that perhaps this environment is not so utopian after all).

But the problem is, what mechanism is there to reduce that "small minded petty meanness"? All the incentives which make kiss-up-kick-down a viable strategy, apply as well in blogging as elsewhere. I suspect any real progress will not be easy.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on February 13, 2006 03:13 AM (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