July 28, 2005

Fear of Instalinking

TIME OUT FOR A LITTLE INSIDE BASEBALL on why this blogging medium is becoming inbred faster than the Snokes siblings up in Skunk Hollow.

While scanning, and I do mean "scanning," the comments to Jeff Goldstein's Why Rhetoric Matters @ protein wisdom, I happened on this very telling exchange:

I sent the link along with the story to Instapundit, but he evidently didn't think it was as important as you and I. Or maybe he did and just hasn't gotten to it....
Posted by Jeff Goldstein on 07/24 at 02:43 PM

I sent the link along with the story to Instapundit, but he evidently didn't think it was as important as you and I.

Uh, Jeff? I came here off an Instapundit link to the story....
Posted by Richard R on 07/24 at 03:25 PM

You've been Instalanched, so I guess Glenn agrees.
Posted by TallDave

This bit of blogger hope, despair and redemption illustrates the axiom, "If you're not the lead sled dog the view is always the same." It also illustrates the tendency of a new medium to become what it beholds -- the old media.

For quite some time now it has been glaringly obvious that, with few exceptions, blogs gargantuan and teeny-weeny are in fact a collection of footnotes and corrections tag-teamed onto print, radio, television and other blogs. The main roles that most blogs play are to act as pointers to the stories-du-jour thrown up by mass media, or a hacking or fine honed carping at the prime-time players.

In this posture blogging underscores daily that it is not yet ready for the prime-time itself. In the main, this has to do with 4 factors: 1) The extreme youth of the medium measured against the other three; 2) The extent of blogs penetration of the mass market which is, to say the least, scant at best; 3) The sheer weight of millions of

"blog-channels" from which to choose or even find; 4) The lack of resources, staff and talent (funds, foot-soldiers, finesse) that it takes to pursue and report stories on a wide range of issues on a daily basis.

There are, of course, exceptions to this situation [Pace Rathergate, Easongate, and others... Pace those blogs, few, doing original reporting.... Pace all the others you can think of and I can't.... ]. Give me millions of anything and I'll always find you a few exceptions. The tag-team nature of blogs is most evident at those sites that track this sort of thing,memeorandum: A newfangled news tangle being a sterling example. Still, the point of this particular comment is to note that blogging, for all its "independence" is growing increasingly more co-dependent on a few favored blogs as exemplified above. Not a new observation to be sure, but even I was unprepared for the present extent of this phenomenon. Whether or not it presages transmogrification or ossification is presently unknown.

For those tilting to the Right, Instapundit is the link-farm of choice and hope, and one with which to curry favor. Daily Kos or some such is the one for those tilting Left I imagine, I really couldn't say for sure. Of course, most bloggers seeking an Instalink would be the first to assert "I am not a link-whore, I am an independent voice." True, but equally true is the fact that a blogger who is indifferent to his traffic is either a dead blogger or writing for his mom. Most are highly fascinated by their internal visitor logs, and equally dubious about Site Meter's since it is invariably a smaller number. Bloggers are, after all, writers and a writer needs one distinct thing to make him a writer; a reader.

"The more readers one has, the better a writer one is." So says the voice of the little Satan that sits at the center of all our scribbling egos. We know, we really know that's not true. We see the proof of it daily in newspapers, in bookstores, and on that little Blogger page about some post-operative transsexual's shoe cravings that we never, ever read, except sometimes late at night when everybody else is sleeping and we clear the history right afterwards.

But most of the time, we don't care if anyone is reading us, right? Right. We are in it only for the keystrokes. Absolutamente! So what do we care if Insta or Kos links us? We don't. Don't care at all. Couldn't care less. Honest.

But of course, we care very, very much and that's why more and more this blogging thing is evolving towards the same gatekeeper model of the mainstream media. The MSM takes its news, by and large, from what the New York Times decides is news. A bad model to say the least. But as above, so below. Here we are again, becoming what we behold.

Note the wistful concern over the mood of, or the work load of, Instapundit in the excerpt above -- " ... didn't think it was as important as you and I. Or maybe he did and just hasn't gotten to it...."

I like and admire Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit. (Let me say that again: I like and admire Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.) (Just to be sure, let me reiterate: I like and admire Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit.) Swell guy. Incisive legal mind. Rapier wit. Staunch Libertarian and Great Humanitarian. Inspiring teacher. Amazing photographer (digital). Devoted husband. Hardest working man in the Blogsphere -- next to, of course, Mickey 25-Words-A-Day Kaus. Why if Montaigne had not lived, Reynolds would have invented the essay at the same time he invented the "UPDATE:"

(There, now that that's out of the way could somebody excerpt that paragraph and send it along to Glenn for a link, he doesn't answer my emails anymore, especially that one offering cash in large quantities to get on his blogroll. Thanks.)

I can't imagine the email stack of "really-important-must-tell-everyone" links that shows up in whatever bit-bucket pundit@instapundit auto-deletes into, but it has to be one that sucks up more bandwidth in a hour than I use in a month. Michael Totten took over a part of running Instapundit for a few days in the last year and reported that he was gobstopped by the email flow, so I'll take him at his word.

By and large, I find the items at the Instapundit linkfarm to be up to the minute on whatever Story-du-jour is driving the mainstream medium in any particular news cycle. At the same time, I don't find the links pointed to as eclectic as they once were. That's understandable. I too have my favored sources and blogs that I consider of value, but what I like doesn't matter. What Instapundit likes does. And this has large consequences for the present and the future of this medium. At least for the present.

What Instapundit fills for the moment is the problem of acquisition and distribution of information and opinion. It is not a bad thing that, over time, certain favorites get more pointers. Reynolds is not blind to this situation. He's addressed it on several occasions and I'm sure it is of some concern. Still, there's a limit.

There's a limit to what one mind can assimilate and it is an old truth that "an agreeable person is a person that agrees with me." I know, in general, what pointers and opinions I'm going to find at Instapundit, and it suits me. May not suit you, but there are other gatekeepers and I'm sure you've found yours. Still, I have to admit I liked Instapundit better when there was more serendipity and less uniformity. But that always happens as a writer and a medium matures.

It was once thought that one of the best things about this medium was that it routed around the gatekeepers in the mainstream media. And it did. It did it so well that it evolved gatekeepers of its own. Human, all too human. It would seem that we are not, in the final analysis, prisoners of our media, but prisoners of ourselves. And, as usual, we hand the keys over to someone else.

Is this a "bad thing?" Probably not. Somewhere somebody, some kid, is figuring out how to pick the locks that have been fastened far too soon on this medium. To paraphrase some SF writer, "There's a hell of a nice universe next door. Let's go."

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Posted by Vanderleun at July 28, 2005 9:58 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

"Of course, most bloggers seeking an Instalink would be the first to assert "I am not a link-whore, I am an independent voice.""

Then again, some of us revel in our link-whoredom:


Posted by: Harvey at July 27, 2005 11:42 AM

Harvey, you slut!

Posted by: Gerard Van Der Leun at July 27, 2005 11:44 AM

Your post does raise some interesting questions, the first being "why do you blog"? Is it to get people to read what you have to say? Is it to sound out ideas and thoughts? Or is it simply because you feel you have to get out your thoughts, irrespective if anyone reads them or not. It would be interesting to see a survey on this.

Posted by: Final Historian at July 27, 2005 12:49 PM

Heh. The answer to "Why do I blog?" is "To keep track of my reading."

I'm failing miserably, BTW. I'm so far behind that I've already forgotten a number of the books in my queue.

Posted by: B. Durbin at July 27, 2005 2:38 PM

Maybe I'm perverse, but I prefer to visit an 'odd' blog* over a 'biggie'. It's like stopping in a small town and getting the local paper, or going to the diner instead of the S.H.I. Tuesdays.

* Yours isn't an 'odd' blog, at least not in the shoe-fetish sense. (I'll shut up now...)

Posted by: P, A, Breault at July 27, 2005 4:42 PM

Wow. I'm a jumping off point for a meditation post -- like that one elephant was to Orwell! Cool!

For the record, though, I was responding (in the comment you cite) to the person who sent me the link initially. He'd requested that I help to get the word out, and I was simply telling him that I'd made the effort. I didn't intend to sound wistful or disappointed or despairing.

In fact, I think I was touching myself at the time and was quite contented.

Posted by: Jeff G at July 27, 2005 6:02 PM

I think it was inevitable that blog gatekeepers would evolve over time, in a sort of parallel or convergent evolution with the MSM. How else to order the blooming, buzzing confusion of the blogosphere?

Posted by: neo-neocon at July 27, 2005 9:01 PM

"...he doesn't answer my emails anymore, especially that one offering cash in large quantities to get on his blogroll."

Perhaps you didn't make it clear that the cash was in unmarked bills of various small denominations...

Posted by: Another Old Navy Chief at July 27, 2005 9:24 PM

Since many of us go unnoticed by the larger blogs, we must, of course, feel very insignificant. Or maybe, just maybe, we're happy to have a computer, a brain, and the occasional flurry of fingers attempting to say something to an audience that sometimes consists of only ourselves.

I'll never be on the Instapundit blogroll and it matters not to me. I've experienced an Instalanche or two in my day, but that brief spate of activity never lasts and I don't write with the goal of attracting more.

I may just be the worst ass kisser in the world, or perhaps I've learned that my self-worth isn't wrapped up in what someone else thinks of my writing. Either way, I blog or I don't. People link or they don't. Life goes on.

Posted by: Da Goddess at July 28, 2005 2:36 AM

Thoughtful, insightful post, Gerard. Why do we blog? I suppose some do it for a place to keep track of their random thoughts--like a personal journal. But for most, it is to be heard--and acknowledged. There is a name for those who carry on conversations when no one is around to listen: mentally ill (I'm not speaking of thinking out loud, of course--otherwise I'd have to include myself in that category--hmmm, may be on to something...). We write because we hope and pray others will understand us, and accept us--a window to our souls. Hence the obsession with who, when, how many, what links, etc.

As far as the gatekeeper idea, it is interesting that we naturally gravitate in this direction. Those who are following the virtual media project "PajamasMedia" by Roger L Simon et al will have noted who is the new editor of this endeavor: Glen Reynolds. This guarantees that PajamasMedia will be a clone of Instapundit, written large.

Posted by: Dr Bob at July 28, 2005 9:16 AM

"There's a hell of a nice universe next door. Let's go."

I believe it was E. E. Cummings that wrote that.

Posted by: Bill at July 28, 2005 9:30 AM

Writers write to be read. That one has no readers doesn't mean one is a bad or irrelevant writer, but that one has many readers means that one is entertaining, edifying, or perplexing many people, and that's a very nice feeling indeed. "Life of the party" has nothing on it.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at July 28, 2005 2:14 PM

All I can say is:

Filthy lies!

Posted by: Aakash at July 28, 2005 10:15 PM

Meh. Only those who live or die by the links worry about this sort of thing. Shortly after I began blogging I faced a decision: Do I blog to get noticed, or do I blog to voice my opinion and quit worrying about who might be reading it? Ultimately, I decided to just voice the opinion.

Of course, the moment I joined the Bear Flag League my status in the Ecosystem jumped from Amphibian to Marsupial.



Posted by: Woody at July 29, 2005 1:18 AM

He links nearly every carnival on a regular basis except for the Carnival of the Cats.

It's one thing to shun a man's emotional outbursts and wretched anger on politics, but I am fed up with the man's discrimination against the wide variety of cats people blog about.

I've seen hardcore righties and moonbat lefties both coo over the same cat stuff. It brings us together for a brief, shining moment. We have it in common even if we disagree on other things.

Can you say that about much else in the Blogopshere? Hell no.

And that's why I shun the man now. It's not much of a heap of withering scorn, but over time it will add up.

Posted by: Laurence Simon at July 29, 2005 6:46 AM

Saw glenn at a local eatery once and asked him how much email he gets a day, he said about 400 messages. That was a year or so ago I'm sure it's more now.

Posted by: SayUncle at July 29, 2005 8:13 AM

I haven't read all the Comments yet so I don't know if anyone already said this -- but I believe that "hell of a good universe next door, let's go" is from an e.e. cummings poem, possibly the one that begins "pity this busy monster, manunkind/not. progress is a comfortable disease . . . " Yep, here it is:

pity this busy monster, manunkind

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
--- electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange; lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.
A world of made
is not a world of born --- pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if --- listen: there's a hell
of a good universe next door; let's go

-- E. E. Cummings

Posted by: amba at July 30, 2005 5:51 PM

Yes, Bill beat me to it!

PJ says "Maybe I'm perverse, but I prefer to visit an 'odd' blog over a 'biggie'."

Yeah. It's like the people I'm the least interested in in the world are celebrities. My friends are my celebrities.

It's probably telling that once I decided Glenn would never, ever link to me (I don't really have any new information to offer, just opinions that aren't in sync with his, and show-offy writing that's not to his "cool" taste) I lost interest in reading him.

I find good links and new blogs in three ways: I check out the blogs that have visited mine; I follow links found by my regular/frequent reads (such as CommonSenseDesk, GlitteringEye, Mighty Middle, and others, and my inner circle of personal podmates); and I jump around at random in my blogroll, revisiting blogs I like a lot but haven't been to for a while. All these provide me with more interesting and varied links than Glenn could, for my taste, anyway.

Posted by: amba at July 30, 2005 6:03 PM

Gerard, aren't you really only talking about the inevitable consequences of the power law, something that was noted about ten minutes after Glenn became the post 9/11 big dog? It's got nothing to do with media, old or new, it's just the way this sort of phenomenon organizes itself.

Posted by: Bill Quick at July 30, 2005 7:06 PM

You've brought to light something I think about a lot. When Norm Geras sent his profiles question, one was "why do you blog?" That one was easy: because it's fun to write, you get to meet people you might not otherwise (I believe your essay on friends we make before we meet them covers that)and it provides a kind of discipline for writing that I wouldn't have otherwise. And for thinking. One has to pull thoughts into some kind of coherence in order to post. Well, mostly.

I have the advantage of sharing one of my blogs with my husband. We have always been intense intellectuals, neither of us like academia (shudder), and we live in the back of beyond...Blogging is just something we do instead of playing Scrabble or reading or...whatever.

Gate keepers like Glen Reynolds don't hold any allure for me. I tried to go there once, but his site took too long to load on my dial-up modem, though I believe my husband reads him at work during down times. I just googled his name now to find out what his blog is called. I thought he was Powerline. Shows what I know. Also shows I don't go there, either. Then I looked to see if he was on our blogroll (my husband and I each have our favorites)and he's not there. So there you go. Glen who? Sounds like a buncha alpha males to me, as Bill Quick noted in his remark about how power organizes itself. But, as Auden noted, while the pain goes on the torturer's horse scratches his butt on a tree and things are always happening somewhere else...

Someone on this thread said that celebrities don't interest them. That sums it up exactly. I mean, if Reynolds is the Big Cheese, oh well...I don't know who any of those celebrities are either since I don't own a TV. The magazine covers in grocery stores are a mystery to me. Who *are* those sleazily dressed people?

I think Joe Katzman is amazing. I come to American Digest to learn how to write. I go to Belmont because Wretchard is prescient and humble and his commenters are often a cut above many bloggers. I like Shrinkwrapped because he gives me a perspective no one else does. And a whole bunch of others..

I look for humor and intelligence and a way with words. Outrageous audacity is charming, too. And people who know about things I can barely think about, especially science. Contemplative writers are harder: they make me slow down and think. Shrinkwrapped is like that.

I am old enough to remember when phones had party lines and we kids figured out how to pick up the phone *very* carefully and listen in. Most of the time we got away with it and learned lots of grown-up stuff.

Blogs are party lines. Pods.

I can't wait to see how they evolve....

And I hope what's-his-name never blogrolls you. What a pyrrhic victory *that* would be!

Posted by: dymphna at July 30, 2005 8:25 PM

I think my point is not being understood. When I talk about the power law(s), I am not talking about the supposed "power" of any one blog, or any group of blogs. Here's Kottke's explanation of what I'm talking about. Basically, these laws dictate how networks organize themselves, or as somebody else put it, how they become "lumpy."

If Glenn weren't the biggest right-side blog, some other blog would be, but there would be a biggest right-side blog.

Part of what I think I am hearing in this discussion is a faint whiff of disapproval that visitors seem to visit Glenn-like, or portal-like (if you will) blogs more frequently than other kinds of blogs.

The other question you might ask yourselves is, if Glenn is a portal, how did he become one? By choice? By default? Or by being very, very good at what he does, and by the fact that what he does very, very well is something a hell of a lot of people want to partake of?

Posted by: Bill Quick at July 30, 2005 9:29 PM

Oh, I forgot...link-whoring is fun. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Just like real sex.

Posted by: dymphna at July 30, 2005 9:37 PM

Bill Quick said:
"The other question you might ask yourselves is, if Glenn is a portal, how did he become one? By choice? By default? Or by being very, very good at what he does, and by the fact that what he does very, very well is something a hell of a lot of people want to partake of?"

That's one way to look at it. I doubt he knew exactly what he was aiming for, but if he did, his target probably changed over time and will continue to do so. It took some foresight to call the shots as he did.

It's a matter of being in the right place at the right time with the right skill set. Absolutely, it would have been *someone* who served as gatekeeper for people who want to skim what's current and keep up that way...why would the blogosphere be any different than the rest of the world that way?

But there are lots of people who really aren't interested in that aspect of blogging, either. You know, the BMOC lives a very public life but meanwhile everyone else gets thru high school, too. And in the end, it's pretty much the same experience: diploma and out the door. Next class?

The skill set of the portal keeper may change and when it does, then whoever is on top will slide. And if he's wise, he's prepared for that. Those who aim for the top and don't make it will drop off and out. Meanwhile, those who are bobbing along on the current will keep doing so because that's what they came there to do in the first place.

It's like the difference between "The New York Times" and "First Things." Equally intelligent and well-informed people will read one and never bother with the other. They don't inhabit the same wordly universe.

So it is with blogs. Or Hollywood movies and independent low-budget films. Or best-selling books and cool stuff you find in the remainder racks.

I've no animus re Mr. Reynolds and I hope he continues to be as successful as he seems to be from the discussion I've read here. I just enjoy other styles better; the ones with depth rather than breadth. Like the post Glittering Eye did recently on savings...I'm still thinking about that one.

Posted by: dymphna at July 30, 2005 10:02 PM
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