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Barbarian Bloggers at the Gate

From Language Log comes this measured synthesis of observations on blogging, prompted by this column on blogging by Steven “Hackers” Levy. The irony, it is said, that Levy himself has moved from empathy with early hackers to association with the high priests of the media, without recognizing that the Internet changes everything.

It’s not quite enough, I think, to conclude that bloggers threaten the high priests of the media because blogs use the Net to reach an audience without the blessing of NPR (or Newsweek, CBS, The Times, or what have you). That sounds like the “revolution by disintermediation” thesis, and we know that there’s more to the Internet story (or stories) than that.

Bloggers do a lot of the same things that journals and journalists do. Anyone who blogs with a sense of purpose (and that’s not all bloggers, to be sure) has to figure out who the audience is, and who the audience is going to be. We have to figure out whether and how to market to that audience. There is nothing of the sort of journalistic ethos that traditionally bound print writers and editors, but there is a blog ethic, or more precisely a number of blog ethics (depending on what kind of blog you publish) that very loosely constrain what we write. Blogging institutions are primitive, but they are growing and evolving, and my guess is that over a period of time, the norms of different blog communities will become clearer and more constraining. Traditional journalists will have to live in a world that is institutionally pluralistic, not in a world in which they are forced to take bloggers seriously just because bloggers can reach an audience directly.

The Hackers culture that Levy described so well is largely gone; from computer clubs we got Apple and Microsoft. In its place we have blogging culture. Who’s to say that 20 or 30 years from now (or less), we won’t have witnessed a comparable evolution?