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Blogging: Firstborn or Second Coming?

This was originally going to be another comment on the previous post, which I’ve been thinking about a bunch. Partially because meg seems to have gotten the idea that I’ve got something more substantive to say. And partially because my responses to Jason’s and her comments on the previous post have been sounding increasingly dismissive, when I was the one who raised the issue in the first place. How annoying: raise a question and then say to all responders, “that’s not what I meant, and it’s not terribly important anyway.” What I meant to say, of course, was “thanks; good point!”

Though I’m being all functionalist about the question of blogging and its relationship to web-based publishing right now — just trying to figure out how to make a small point in an in-process argument — meg and Jason have nonetheless raised an interesting set of questions: what would it mean, really, if blogs were “first”? What are the stakes of such “firstness”? And what does it mean that, as meg indicates, the history of Usenet has been pretty much entirely erased by the web?

What does it mean, for instance, that I discovered yesterday here, in a post that purports to ask whether blogging is dead, that Marc Andreessen, who has ostensibly begotten this entire thing, just started blogging five weeks ago? Andreessen points out the relationship between blogging and Usenet in his post on the “eleven lessons” he’s learned thus far, but the comparison isn’t terrifically flattering:

Those of us who have been on the Internet for a long time recall the heydey of Usenet — a world in which hundreds or thousands of conversations, most of them unmoderated, flourished among the lucky few who had Internet access prior to 1994. One of the clear negative consequences to the “great opening” of the Internet from 1994 on was the influx of spam and abuse that substantially damaged those discussions, and shut down many of them.

Blogging is clearly the second coming of high-quality Internet conversations, but it is also clear that comments on blogs run the same risk of being damaged by spam and abuse, and that new approaches to maintaining a high quality of discourse are required.

I find it fascinating that while so many folks define blogging entirely by the possibility of commenting (search around; it’s not hard to find someone who’ll say “it’s not really a blog if comments aren’t enabled”), Andreessen has turned off commenting and is relying on trackbacks and tagging (via Digg, StumbleUpon,, etc) for feedback. This strikes me as odd primarily because I find trackbacks, as I’ve nattered on about before, to be much more spam-prone (because radically insecure) and much less effective (because of the failures of different blogging systems to ping one another automatically) than comments; and while tagging is interesting as a metric by which one can get a sense of the zeitgeist (and thus might be useful, as we’ve discussed over at MediaCommons, as one facet in the development of a complex web-native peer-to-peer-review system), tagging doesn’t really create conversation.

But then, nor does shouting down everyone who comments by saying “that’s not right at all!”

(This semi-rambly and quite inconclusive post brought to you by my need to get back to my article already. The post title, by the way, was meant to be a play on the “MySpace: Threat or Menace?” type stories that litter the mainstream media, but I don’t quite have the spare processor cycles available to figure out how to pull that off.)


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