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Deconstructing
November 14, 2000 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Deconstructing
Joe Clark (a fellow Torontonian, no less) has provided food for thought in his "Deconstructing 'You've Got Blog'" screed. While Joe scores some valid points, I think he misses the mark in a few major ways. In the process, he comes across as cynical, and a bit wounded, too. [more inside]
posted by jmcnally (44 comments total)

 
Kind of a long comment, especially seeing as it is replicated aproximately 4x on your weblog. A good technique might be to do a teaser on the front page, and then add more as a comment inside the thread. Or just summarize your thoughts, and tell us that there's more on your weblog.
posted by s10pen at 5:12 PM on November 14, 2000


"Any way you cut it, there is no rational or even pseudo-rational explanation for the distribution of fame in the blog biz."

Um, Joe forgets one thing that's pretty important = personality.

Most everyone on this supposed a-list is a nice person if you ever met them. They hang out together because they get along, and they genuinely like each other.

They don't start unprovoked flame wars on mailing lists and discussion boards, or engage in prolonged email arguments that go nowhere.
posted by mathowie at 5:41 PM on November 14, 2000


What Joe seems to miss is that, although an "A-List" does exist, these people have formed meaningful relationships completely away from their blogs. Several (ie. the Pyra gang) work together in close quarters. Others live in the same neighbourhoods, and still others have met in person on more than one occasion. You'll notice that there are lots of references to doing actual physical activities with these people (white water rafting, lunches, conferences), and these are what these relationships so seemingly insular. These people are friends, Joe, and you and I aren't a part of that. Why should we sulk?

Solutions exist in many forms. Most easily, physically meet as many bloggers as you can possibly meet. One forum is South by Southwest, held yearly in Austin, Texas. If you've been reading my blog at all lately, you'll know I'm pretty hyped about this myself. It's not only a technology showcase; in fact, I'm going solely to meet people. Local forums are easier. Form a group of "Toronto bloggers" for instance (I'm in, for one!), or "journalist bloggers," or whatever. Since the blogging community has grown so quickly, it has become harder to connect, but also easier, in a way, since there are so many more areas of interest. I've always felt that online relationships are no substitute for the real thing, but blogging has helped me meet people I would otherwise never have known. I may not have met all of them in person, yet, but I hope to.

In that sense, Joe, you're also right in asserting that everyone writes for an audience. Everyone in this big, lonely world wants to connect. And blogs can only help. Of course, like all social interactions, some are shy, some feel left out, there are cool kids and uncool kids, but it sure makes the big world a lot smaller. If we're not going to crack the A-List, then let's start a B-List! In fact, the name of my site is an allusion to that very idea. We may not be champions, but we can be consolation champs! And we still get a trophy!
posted by jmcnally at 5:02 PM on November 14, 2000 [1 favorite]


Um, that big honking post above just proved Joe's final point. I'd love to go to SXSW, considering that I have a very good friend in Austin who I've never met in person and who had asked me to come visit, but the sheer expense of getting all the way to Texas from my home up here in the frozen Midwest is a very big hindrance. Also, I have to ask for vacation time at least 3 months in advance, and the price of the conference itself could buy me almost 2 of those HEPA air cleaners my allergist has been nagging me to get, not to mention that my car is also broken.

In short, although I do work in the telecom industry, I'm not rolling in money. Most bloggers aren't.

BTW, poster #1 is lucky, living in Toronto and having a high concentration of bloggers that seem to all work in the same industry and know each other. Most of us aren't that lucky.

I won't comment on any of the rest of either of these articles, mainly because the only one of these weblogs I'm familiar with is kottke.org, and I only started reading his blog because of the local content. I'm not close to this issue at all.
posted by Electric Elf at 5:49 PM on November 14, 2000


With any luck, poor Joe will become famous for coining the term "bloggeuse" and all his problems will be solved.
posted by scottandrew at 6:20 PM on November 14, 2000


i'm a 47 year old tax assessor. i blog for an audience of even more unhip internet newbie acquaintances. i set my blog as thier homepage, i control thier view of the web, i am thier source of internet data. soon, i will control thier very lives. joe clark knows shit about blogging.
posted by quonsar at 6:38 PM on November 14, 2000


Why is the principle from Lean on Me all bent outta shape over blogs? Did I actually read the word "Aristocracy" in conjunction with Web Log? Am I correct in saying the man so poignantly portayed by Morgan Freeman is jealous cause Kottke isn't ugly? I dunno. Too much time on his hands, I think.
posted by Doug at 7:02 PM on November 14, 2000


I just want to know how he has enough time what with the election and all. Ahem... Sorry.... couldn't resist.
posted by heather at 8:15 PM on November 14, 2000


Thank you, s10pen, for pointing out that the same comment is posted 4x on my weblog. My original motivation for posting here was that Blogger was crapping out. I didn't realize it until after I'd posted here, and I'm still unable to delete posts. Sorry for repeating myself all over the place, though. And I'm not trying to start a flame war, if that's what anyone was thinking. I just thought this was the best audience for my comments.
posted by jmcnally at 8:22 PM on November 14, 2000


Quonsar is my new hero.
posted by CrazyUncleJoe at 8:42 PM on November 14, 2000


Blogs are interesting things, but I for one am not going to get my panties in a knot over whether or not I'm in or out or doing it. I tried to blog for a few months, but it wasn't my medium, not after X number of years of activism and international development and academia. The little snippets of info I was laying down always grew into actual essays, or they died; in other words, they needed to be something useful, not just here for a bit, but here for good, something to reflect on even if they were flawed.

The other issue for me was how much I couldn't spray my emotional life all over the Web. I have read some tortured twenty-something blogs, and they are tortured and I feel like I'm peeking into a life or two that have so much in them that it has to be let out. I respect that, but I have to put up a good front for potential clients, rather than share the unipolar depression, which I have found out doesn't do shit for me.

Okay, yes, I am very much looking for a job outside of international development.

I end up reading Metafilter for the zeitgeist, Camworld for the tidbits that lead to other things about IA and content management, Zeldman to make myself feel bad about the fact that I don't have the energy to promote myself these days.

Actually, I post occasionally to Metafilter, and this is my blog, really. Like my old days on the MAGIC bbs in Toronto, something like a virtual community, and with all those heads some sort of knowledge, something that works.
posted by tranquileye at 9:16 PM on November 14, 2000


Damnit, Joe, I thought I was your hero. Fuck, I better come up with something devestatingly blogtastic quickly.
posted by Neale at 9:25 PM on November 14, 2000


I'm just pissed that my weblog has only managed to get me 1/8 of the way to Complete World Domination. I expected I'd be at least 3/16 of the way there by now.

Seriously though. Like anything else in life, if it doesn't give you shelter, or food, you'd better be doing it because you like it for its own merits, absent any external considerations.

I get a kick out of knowing that someone is reading my stuff, and I've been lucky in that regard. But I'm more lucky that my mother, my brother, my long-lost university girlfriend and people like that are reading it.

But whatever pulls your chain I guess.
posted by mikel at 9:28 PM on November 14, 2000


With all due respect, it's *not* about personality; I know some incredibly nice, giving, passionate - and talented - webloggers, none of whom ever had the same level of attention as the "A-list", though IMHO they're at least as deserving of it if that's the criteria. However famous someone is doesn't mean anything to me if they don't move, entertain or inspire me with what they say and do.

There is no real "weblog community", though - even everyone that posts here, taken together, is a tiny fraction of the weblog world-at-large. There are circles of friends, acquaintances and admirers, some larger and louder than others. But weblogging itself is an artistic/creative medium that we all have an equal right to make our own.
posted by Noah at 9:28 PM on November 14, 2000


Does anyone ever read Randomly Ever After by The Gus? His journal [not 'blog'] has been making waves for like ***4 years*** and is better written than anything i've ever seen endorsed by Blogger or published on fray, yet Gus remains an outsider, not a San Francisco insider. Guess it's easier to shovel praise on those already up to their neck than recognize those who wallow in obscurity.
posted by chartres at 9:39 PM on November 14, 2000


is it that time of year already? i thought i had to wait until at least 2001 to see yet another discussion of personal internet html home site 'popularity' ...

posted by maura at 9:40 PM on November 14, 2000


for fantastic prose check out vignettes. this journal (not weblog) is what it is all about. content, content, content.
posted by brittney at 9:45 PM on November 14, 2000


As the Captain of the A-list (elected so at the last secret A-list meeting held in our private jet high above the rabble), I feel obligated to inform the unwashed masses that, as Mr. Clark stated, we are no longer accepting applications for membership.

Furthermore, the A-list declares that the "weblog community", which we govern and command, is to be reorganized. All the content on EditThisPage & Pitas and in the Blogger database will be consolidated into only a few weblogs. From this point forward, there will be only Robotwisdom, Metascene, Evhead, Harrumph, Prolific.org, and Misterpants. Learn it. Live it. Love it.

The A-list has spoken.

(On a more personal note, I'd like to tell you all about my new DVD player, which should be arriving sometime later this week. It's about the size of a walnut and is the most amazing piece of machinery ever built...and you can't afford it.)

(On a second more official note, I've been informed that my personal note above has been condemned by the A-list as being "frivolous" and "untrue". I have been stripped of my rank of Captain and excommunicated by the A-list. The shuttering of my Web site shall being immediately. Oh well, that whole weblog thing is so over anyway. I mean, it was in the New Yorker. I mean, come on!)
posted by jkottke at 10:13 PM on November 14, 2000


Joe Clark comes off a bit needy in his write-up here. By "a bit needy" I of course mean on the Joe Clark scale: he'd seem more pathetic if he hadn't already written a few hundred things on the same subject ("why am I not popular? let's talk about blog popularity!") over the last year that were even stupider.

The fact is, the New Yorker article does not prove any of Joe's pet theories, other than the one he doesn't mention so often, which is "every 2000 words I write about blogs is 2000 words I don't have to write about anything that people might find interesting, plus it will get the people who I secretly am in love with to read me".

I ran into someone I went to high school with recently. I never knew him that well, but we said hello to each other and chatted for a few minutes. He only wanted to talk about who was popular in high school, and what they were up to now. It was really sad, honestly sad. I think Joe Clark has taken this sadness to a new level by applying it to weblogs.

Now, apart from Joe and his (many, boring) issues, I have to say one thing about the article: What a poorly written piece of crap. They took an interesting story but wrote it so poorly and cloyingly it's incredible. Read the end of the first paragraph.. was that written by someone in grade nine? How can we really be sure? This is maybe the thing that gets me most riled about the Joe Clark writeup: he says it was a great article. No it wasn't! It was terrible! It seems that the biggest danger of living your life online isn't anything Rebecca Mead might think it is, it's the fact that if you read enough half-assed blogs, you start thinking articles like this are well-written.
posted by rogrob at 10:58 PM on November 14, 2000


*Yawn*

Are people so obsessed with celebrity that you have started categorizing people on the web this way? The only thing more boring than a namedropper, is a web-namedropper. This is the web. It is huge, so huge that it is practically impossible to be on it for any length of time and not make online friends. When you identify people you haven't made contact with as somehow being 'A-list', aren't you really just saying that you believe that the people that you haven't met are somehow cooler than the ones that you have met? Is this more of the old, "I wouldn't want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member" schtick?

How was this any different from the National Enquirer writing about Miss Paltrow secretly dating Mr. Affleck? I try to avoid websites that imitate the National Enquirer, personally. To each their own.
posted by kristin at 11:02 PM on November 14, 2000


I must say, that it's no great surprise that the so-called "A-list" has such a high profile.

After all, most of them help create, contribute to, or are affiliated in some small way with the tool that has made the format as popular as it is: Blogger.

I don't see this as being any great shock. After all, would it surprise you if your mechanic's car ran poorly? Maintaining a high-profile weblog has the added side effect of promoting an aspect of business that most people participate in. Whether it's design, self-publishing or the creation and testing of a content management application, they all have something to gain from making their sites into paragons.

Now, I don't mean to infer that the format is only indebted to the crew at Pyra. I also don't wish to suggest that promotion is the reason most of these people do what they do.

Because it's not. Anyone who can read can figure that out.

The other important thing to note is what Matt himself said a while back. These are all very nice people. I'm not what I would consider A-list. Hell, I don't even have a real blog. But I am connected in small ways to each of these people.

I couldn't really tell you when or why I started looking at weblogs at all. I went to school with Derek's sister. But I didn't start visiting his sites until we had parted company. I lived in the same area as Matt until he moved to go work for Pyra. I stumbled across people's sites just by sheer circumstance of connection. I've exchanged email with most of these so-called A-listers at one time or another. They're great people.

Hell, if I thought it would be worth it, I'd be begging for a spot at Pyra just to be around the people. It wouldn't change the fact that I don't have a weblog.

I honestly don't know what people's gripes are about. If you want notoriety, then create it for yourself. It is not forged any other way.
posted by dgallo at 1:23 AM on November 15, 2000


Ceci n'est pas un cabal.
posted by holgate at 2:13 AM on November 15, 2000


A summary of what I said on this topic before.

The "popular kids" are popular not because of anything so superficial as how good they look, or how much money they have. They're popular because they've created things that affect us all. We read about them because we admire, use, and appreciate the things they've created for us and we want to know more about them.

The weblog community is above all else a meritocracy. It's roots are still largely geek-based, and geek culture is also a meritocracy. Whether or not you're rich, or beautiful or famous has no meaning online. "In cyberspace no one knows you're a dog." What matters here is what you do. THEN we become interested in who you are.
posted by cCranium at 7:02 AM on November 15, 2000


On the one hand I can agree with Joe Clark about the idea of an A-List. It's just the root of his definition that I have a problem with. "There goes the neighbouhood.", indeed. It is a mistake to think that in some way the blogs other people link to combine to form some sort of Web Illuminati. It's a fairly decent assumption that good writing coupled with interesting links -should- make for a good 'blog.

That's not all it takes. You know this. There are now tens of thousands of 'blogs out there. The thing that differentiates them from one another is the personality of the writing, the individual voice of the proprietor. Those on this supposed "A-List" have established themselves as trendsetters and luminaries of the Web community.

Almost every 'blog out there has a list of other 'blogs that the owner reads, and it's an easy task to figure out that this "A-List" is simply a small set of folks that get linked to by a large set of others.

It doesn't take much to set up a 'blog, use the default template, and go. If that's all you do, why -should- you achieve wide-scale recognition? Anybody can do that.

The people who are widley linked to, meta-blogged all over the place, and generally commanding of larger audiences have added a design aesthetic to their weblogs that is lacking in quite a few more. A good command of Web technologies can not hurt a 'blog's chances of becoming noticed, and perhaps linked to from others.

To quote: "It’s just that everyone but me gets to make a living. It bugs me that the A-list kids are not really any smarter, or any better at Web design, or have anything particularly better to say than so many of the plebes. "

A lot of these so-called "A-list kids" ARE better at Web design than their peers. Most of them make their living as Developers and graphic designers in the medium. This is what they DO. Considering that I've worked at firms where people whose only experience has been using FrontPage get hired as Directors, the "everyone but me gets to make a living" bit of whingeing doesn't float with me.

If you want to make a living doing Web Design, then go do it. It's not as though the market is saturated. Sure, it's on a downturn, but talented people will always be hired.

In the same vein, talented 'bloggers will always be read and linked to.
posted by liquidgnome at 7:37 AM on November 15, 2000


i sort of fail to see the whole point here. james, i can see why you have commented on the whole issue, and not to put too fine a point on the whole thing, but so what if kottke, meg, or anyone else is a celebrity?

i will admit at times i wonder about this media choked world we occupy, and if we truly can take anymore celebrities, but is there a point to discussing it in such detail? so kottke is a web celeb now, so what? i will still do what i do, and chances are so will you. Regardless of whether we are noticed or not for whatever talent we have, delivery should remain the same. I dont even link to kottke. Is it because I feel jealousy toward him? No, it is because I don't find his blog entirely that interesting, and here's the key point; to ME. Is kottke's blog unsatisfactory in quality? No, not at all. It's just not what I find interesting. There is no link from kottke to me, either. Is my journal bad? I don't think so, but you may, and that is great! Diversity is the key to fresh ideas.

We all should know by now that our popular media systems pick up on whom and what they feel, for some reason or another, needs picking up on. Is is fair that talented individuals go by the wayside in any form of media, while fluff makes it to the mainstream? No. Are the "a-list" bloggers talented? By all means yes, but still, some go unnoticed who are just as gifted. Are the "'a-list" bloggers fluff? Apparently, to some, yes, but again, this is individual choice. This is our society, fair, or unfair, and getting upset will not change that. You have two options, really. One: Continue to deliver your talent to the web, and let kottke and the rest deliver theirs. Two: Allow undue stress to overtake you and finally get burnt out. All manner of discussion is not going to change our media's choices for "best of the best".


posted by sixandone at 7:53 AM on November 15, 2000


I view the notion of the "A-List" as being no different than the "Sexiest [whatever] of the Year" award handed out by such supermarket rags as People. I agree that who is on the alleged "A-List" is highly subjective, and some random sampling at Blogger might make you second-guess your opinion of what the A-List is.

I don't know that Jill Matrix is on the "A-List", but she's on somebody's, which is how I found her site.

Joe Clark complains that webloggers "make a living off of it". HOW? Explain to me Kottke's profit model, besides his obnoxious use of banner and pop-up ads on his site. :-)

Whatever.

posted by ethmar at 8:05 AM on November 15, 2000


At risk of being flamed (or, more likely, ignored), does everyone here realize that 90% of the rest of the country has no idea who or what we're talking about? Now, I speak as someone who has no blog (or, for that matter, no website at all--I'm just a large hunk of web-challenged cheese), but I do have a lot of friends who are quite net-savvy, on the bleeding edge, surfing the next wave, and are you nauseous yet?

At any rate, I asked them about this a bit ago when the New Yorker article came out; I was curious, as I became sort of fascinated with blogs a couple of years ago, and still read a number of them regularly. Yes, kottke, yes, sometimes evhead, but more regularly I enjoy the singularly outre ones like wetlog or twernt.

But getting back to the point, when I asked my friends what they thought, the answers were unanimous and clear: What the fuck are you talking about? They really had no idea. NONE OF THEM. Now, this is not to just consign the whole blogging "community" to the dustbin (I already mentioned that I myself maintain a healthy interest), but really: take a look at the Metafilter stats. 2007 members. This is not quite a plurality of, well, anything. Am I the only one who thinks that this is a fairly provincial (if often charmingly so) scene?


posted by Skot at 8:48 AM on November 15, 2000


I hope it's not all about design. I mean, I'm happy with Lake Effect's, but design is definitely an afterthought. If I'm being linked to it's because of what and how I write. That, and the fact that I pass out Benjamin Franklins in return...

Charmingly provincial, yes. The world of webloggery.

I'm sure there are more budgie fans on the web, and they're probably better organized.
posted by dhartung at 8:55 AM on November 15, 2000


Skot: that's also an excellent point.

My dad's mildly well-known because he's published several scientific papers and because of his position at the University he works for, but ask anyone who doesn't know anything about Earth Scientists, and he's just some guy named Bob.

I know who Cliff Blezinski (apologies for misspelling) is because I'm also a member of the gaming community, and he's a well-known member of it.

I know who Michel Peletier is, because I follow the Zope community to some degree. And yes, I did my damndest to find a name that's well-known to a very few people, because it proves my point. I doubt there are many people here who know of Michel or care what he has to say, but there are also many people in the Zope community who have no idea who Lance Arthur is and don't give a damn about what he has to say, either.

(Then of course, there's the people in this community who know who Lance Arthur is and don't give a damn about what he has to say, but they're probably just tired of flooded inboxes. :-)
posted by cCranium at 9:13 AM on November 15, 2000


Damn, I think I went to college with The Gus. Cool.
posted by eckeric at 9:33 AM on November 15, 2000


You can just forget about breaking into the budgie A-List.
posted by sudama at 9:41 AM on November 15, 2000


Chartres, Amen to that! I'm constantly amazed that any one one person can up with so much good content and not starve to death.What makes me laugh my ass off about all this is that the 'online journal' community went through all of this crap two or three years ago. It's nothing but a bunch of shameless 'journalistic' hype.Popularity usually equals mediocrity. I'm sorry, but you know it's true. Most of my favorite weblogs aren't popular and never will be!One final note:Say it once.Say it twice.Third time's the charm.Content is more important than style (or HTML skills or whatever the hell you want to call it)
posted by Mr. skullhead at 11:02 AM on November 15, 2000


note to self -
1: redesign website so it's as clean, nice and functional as kottke.org. change design 2 or 3 times a year.
2: find interesting links to blog. annotate with trenchant comments. do this nearly every day.
3: take a writing class. practice persuasive essays and personal memoirs until writing skills improve beyond pedestrian, or are at least grammatically correct.
4: create useful and easy to use software that is adopted by the community at large.
5: bitch about not being on the a-list.
posted by lescour at 11:07 AM on November 15, 2000


If video killed the radio star, what will web kill?


posted by john at 11:49 AM on November 15, 2000


>If video killed the radio star, what will web kill?

If we're lucky - or perhaps even diligent - it will kill media controlled by clueless corporations and lowest common denominator broadcasting.


posted by webchick at 2:15 PM on November 15, 2000


this thread has diluted.
posted by sixandone at 2:46 PM on November 15, 2000


But that's the best kind!
posted by dhartung at 2:47 PM on November 15, 2000


This whole argument fails to take into account one reason why most bloggers blog in the first place: namely, to please themsleves.

You can hawk your superstar status as much as you want, whether deliberately or jokingly. But maintaining a personal site is really all about the person who does it in the first place. Those that come along for the ride, interested in your words, do so of their own volition. If someone is inspired or moved by my words, then it pleases me to some end. But in the greater scheme of things, it's largely irrelevant. Because I write primarily to please myself -- not to cater to a mainsteam audience. And isn't what we do about presenting content or material that someone isn't going to find anywhere else?

Personally, I could care less about how many hits I get or whether I'm invited into some kind of private club. And I have no qualms in pissing people off. I'm always skeptical about anyone who becomes part of an A list, whether willingly or unwillingly. It is, at best, an encouraging nod that you may be doing something that people appreciate. At worst, it's an ephemeral descent into a miasmic and ultimately minor fame that feeds ego instead of fueling an inevitable development of the idea.

If the New Yorker article creates more blogs, then I look forward to sampling potentially fierce and independent personal visions.

But the downfall of popularity is that you're doing something that's no different from what anyone else is doing. There's a reason why gadflies like H.L. Mencken are remembered and revered. They sure as hell weren't writing because they wanted to join a private club.


posted by ed at 1:43 AM on November 16, 2000


ed, while I agree with a lot of what you're saying, I do want to pick a nit and point something out.

One of the primary things about this community is that, for the most part, the "A-list", the popular crowd, the famous ones, however you want to refer to them, are strikingly open, helpful, friendly and, ultimately, just people.

I have yet to have a conversation with one of them where I feel inferior in any way, where I feel that just because I'm just some guy in his basement my opinion doesn't matter.

If a group of peoples seems cliquish for whatever reason, it's just because they're a circle of friends that hasn't been introduced to you yet. There's a history in that group of friends, and some of it is very in-jokish, which can make newcomers feel isolated. But those newcomers become part of the group's history, and suddenly *BOOMPF* they're members of the clique to someone else, because that someone else is a newercomer who's just as nervous as the newcomer was a couple of weeks ago.

posted by cCranium at 5:58 AM on November 16, 2000


"BOOMPF"?

I've about had enough of your cliquish, in-joke acronyms that defy logical explanation!

Go to your "A-List" buddies! Feh!

:-)
posted by ethmar at 10:45 AM on November 16, 2000


the asterisks denote sound effect. Really. RFC452 - How to Denote Sound Effects In Textual Communication. Honest.

:-)
posted by cCranium at 11:18 AM on November 16, 2000


RFC452

Is this like TK421? Or THX1186? Bah! More cliquery and obscure references! The web is dead! The A-List has poisoned our very souls!

:-)
posted by ethmar at 12:44 PM on November 16, 2000


It's more along the lines of cCTOOHAA, but you're welcome to feel excluded. <grin>

(cCranium's Talking Out Of His Ass Again)
posted by cCranium at 1:05 PM on November 16, 2000


I wouldn't have even known what the A list was if I hadn't seen it here first. On the other hand, although I do read some "A list" weblogs, to me, the ones that are A list are the ones I visit.
posted by norm at 1:05 PM on November 16, 2000


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