Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

Archive forJanuary 7th, 2004 | back to home

7 January 2004

Whether the weblogging ‘community’ is ‘fair’ or not depends on whether you look at opportunity or outcome. Not everyone has the opportunity to blog (this takes time and an internet connection) but as “Danah Boyd”:http://www.danah.org/ points out in a pair of recent postings about blogging and fairness the weblogging community looks even more unfair when you look at outcome – who is actually doing it.

In her first post on the subject she suggests out that propensity to blog seems to be “concentrated among straight white men”:http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/001400.html#001400 – in the “second”:http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/001402.html#001402 she suggests that just because the world of blogging is in principle open to all (or at least all with time and money to spare) and therefore fair (according to “Clay Shirky”:http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/01/06/joi_are_blogs_just.php) it doesn’t mean that the situation is necessarily right.

Clay appears to agree but suggests, ‘I can’t imagine a system that would right the obvious but hard to quantify injustice of the weblog world that wouldn’t also destroy its dynamism.’

Both he and Joi Ito, whose “posting”:http://joi.ito.com/archives/2004/01/06/are_blogs_just.html sparked the discussion in the first place seem to suggest that if a solution were to be found it would be through changes to the software itself. I think the definition of the problem and its solution needs to be broader – a ‘technical solution’ to the problem of inequality of participation and outcome in weblogging is not likely because that problem is largely a reflection of inequalities in society itself.

[Update: Oops – it seems I missed a later “post by Clay”:http://www.corante.com/many/archives/2004/01/06/boyd_ahtisaari_and_butterfield_v_me_dont_bet_on_me.php in which he actually partly makes my point below himself, saying there is ‘equality of technological opportunity, but one heavily dependent on other, external factors.’]

My own evolving PhD project at the “LSE”:http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/pressAndInformationOffice/aboutLSE/information.htm
will be looking at what kind of people do Internet self-publishing, why those people do it and what social effects this new capability is having (currently using Bourdieu’s work as a theoretical basis).

The main point that has been largely missing so far in the discussion I think is that the barriers to blogging or other self-publishing (in the developed world at least) are not solely (or even mainly) money and time but attitude. It takes a certain attitude to want to share your thoughts and experience in this way and many people who one might argue should contribute (poor and/or minority people for example) don’t because (among other things) it isn’t the kind of thing they would think of doing and nobody they know does it.

If one believes that it would be of benefit both to society and to the individual participants that the practice of weblogging were more widely distributed, making the tools cheaper and easier to use is a necessary but not sufficient step. The benefits of such activity would need to be demonstrated and promoted by and among people of those other communities.

P.S. Has anyone done a recent study of webloggers or personal home page creators that looks not just at age and sex but at education level, occupation, ethnicity or better still class?

P.P.S. There’s lots more on the question of whether we should worry mainly about inequality of opportunity or of outcome (when looking in this case at the economy) over at “Crooked Timber”:http://www.crookedtimber.org/archives/001040.html

A fascinating news clip from October 1993 that gives what seems now a utopian view of the Internet.

The playwright cum Internet thinker John Allen who was interviewed (where is he now?) suggested that while you’d think people would be really badly behaved thanks to the Internet’s anonymity they are actually very polite because they feel they are part of a global community. Given the relatively small number of usenet users at the time and their high level of education (mostly scientists at that time I would imagine) it isn’t that surprising. Then they let AOLers in! And as for anonymity it was pretty illusory then and is even more so now…

And to think I had been “online for nine years”:http://www.davidbrake.org/nethist.htm when that programme was broadcast… Come to think of it I’m in my twentieth year online – that’s a pretty scary figure!

Thanks to “Boing Boing”:http://boingboing.net/2004_01_01_archive.html#107332806643610998 for the link.