July 30, 2005

The Koinonia of Blogdom

JEFF MEDCALF @ Caerdroia expands on my small essay earlier this week, Fear of Instalinking by taking a closer look at three factors that the blogs have that are critical: depth, breadth and reconsideration. Of particular interest is his citation of the tendency of blogs to form koinonia -- loose fellowships of sensibility --

which discuss certain topics and matters amongst themselves. When these reach a critical point, or become part of a larger context, the big blogs take note and incorporate those elements through the magic of hyperlinks. And this draws more people into those lower-traffic koinons, as they are discovered by new readers.
I agree about the tendency to pod up among blogs but am not entirely convinced of the "magic" of hyperlinks.

The most illuminating portion of Medcalf's remarks concern an issue I'd not thought of before and a phenomenon I've seen but not understood, "reconsideration"

This just means that issues can be - and are - revisited over time. Issues don't entirely die in the blogosphere until and unless there is consensus, which as far as I can tell will never happen. What this means in real terms is that reputations are sticky, and in part they are based on people's willingness to change their minds when they figure out they were wrong. People look at the partisan blogs, but generally only if they really agree or really disagree with them. I'd rather read Winds of Change or Balloon Juice, which which I sometimes agree and sometimes do not, than read the partisan blogs. Part of the reason is that the partisan blogs are stuck on their positions as premises, and rarely change them, except when it's politically expedient. The reason that reconsideration is critical, though, is that except for the partisan blogs, issues will eventually gravitate to one or two opinion sets (eg: CBS used obviously fake documents in Rathergate because they were out to get the President and couldn't be bothered to be responsible journalists; or CBS used obviously fake documents in Rathergate because they were duped by a source they trusted). In other words, as new evidence comes in and those who are not emotionally invested in a position change their minds, over time there is a coalescence around a generally-accepted set of facts.
I think he's right about this function and that it is, at this date, an emerging function of the manner in which blogs will have increasing power to shape the public debate, as well as numerous private ones. This power has something to do with the concept that "over time there is a coalescence around a generally-accepted set of facts."

Although seen faintly in blogs, this power and potential is much more visible at Wikipedia, which can be appreciated as either the largest group hack on knowledge in history, or the biggest pod blog in Creation. As the number of writers and editors working on Wikipedia continues to expand, and the subjects covered ("In this English version, started in 2001, we are currently working on 659,491 articles.") grows, it is not an overstatement to say that Wikipedia will, in all its manifestations and languages, become the planet's primary source of "generally-accepted sets of facts."

By the same token, I can see how Medcalf's model of koinonia (as ably illustrated at the link by ZenPundit) are, not something to come, but something that exists and is generally unperceived but growing; something visible on almost every blog but generally overlooked by both writer and reader, the blogroll.

I'm ambivalent about my blogroll and unclear as to its uses. I have one because, well, everyone else has one. Its a tool of convenience and politeness. I blogroll a site because it interests me for any one of a hundred reasons. A static link on my page is a handy thing to get back to it.

Over time, the blogroll grows but rarely shrinks. I know I should prune it, but it is one of those chores that is best left to tomorrow. I've a second blogroll that is part of my more formal affiliation with The Bear Flag League, which was the only club that would have me, so I joined. The sites on that blogroll are there by default and I don't choose to either add or delete sites. It just is.

Like other bloggers, I usually place a site on my main blogroll if it has something to it that either stimulates an item on this page, or one that is interesting enough that I've been to it several times. In short, one way that a site becomes part of my blogroll is because I've deemed it to be "of value." The other way that a site makes the list is through an impulse towards civility; i.e., the site has linked to my page so it is only polite to return the favor. In either case, both motives for linking are generally positive human impulses, interest and etiquette. Of course, over time I tend to forget the initial impulse for most of the sites, but that is of little importance. One way or another, I've made my "little list."

What is important is that I, like millions of other bloggers, have been constructing my own personal "koinonia" without being entirely aware of it. This means that while the current "magic" that powers the blogsphere is the hyperlink -- the one universal things that ties blogs and the Web together -- the blogroll may well be the other universal element of blogs that is still nascent, waiting to be exploited. And perhaps not waiting for long.

Already, as those who pay attention to Inside Blogball know, plans afoot to create Uberblogs such as Johnson and Simon's Pajamas Media. (PM) The overall shape of this venture is still unclear but it has been funded and will go forward. It also boasts Glenn Reynolds in some sort of "Executive Editor" roll but this is will probably be more of a titular appointment than a hands-on function, sort of like having Henry Kissinger on your Board of Directors.

The point here is that, whatever PM becomes its origins will be from koinonia that rise up out of the blogrolls and comments sections of rogerlsimon.com and little green footballs. There's a strange frisson that something so crucial could evolve from such an odd conjunction of names, but that's the way things grow in this medium.

From this we can see that it is a very solid possibility that the next surge of growth in the blogsphere, the next evolutionary step, will be the exploitation of the extant but largely unrecognized koinonia of blogrolls. When you have a host of tools for aggregation and a large supply of blogrolls to be aggregated, it is only a question of when not if.

Of course, once these pages of aggregation become numerous, we'll need to evolve gatekeepers for the aggregators, the Uber-uberbloggers.

And so it goes.
The Glittering Eye: Why Glenn doesn't blogroll Vanderleun
Caerdroia: Blogrolling
Blog-Pods discussed at AmbivaBlog

Visual aid from ZenPundit's Koinon Diagrams

Posted by Vanderleun at July 30, 2005 9:29 AM | TrackBack
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