When a pebble is a jewel

Both the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books have recently featured highly related articles about blogging (thanks to Dave Lull for the link to the latter). The London Review of Books article, by Thomas Jones, is a review of a book edited by Sarah Boxer, a former New York Times reporter, called Ultimate Blogs: Masterworks from the Wild Web (Vintage, $14.95) "on the face of it, an early contender for most pointless book of the year." Jones describes Boxer’s assertion that to make a readable book, the entries in the collection had to be as "unbloglike" as possible —  "The best of the lot, though, is the diary of Samuel Pepys, which a web designer called Phil Gyford has been posting in daily instalments since 2003, using the text already online at Project Gutenberg." Jones also reviews Andrew Keen’s much-derided Cult of the Amateur, making the point that although Keen is right to say that much of what is written on blogs is rubbish, he shouldn’t worry that the internet heralds the end of the world as we in the West know it, as the commercial imperative will fill the gap, whatever that is.

Most of what is written on blogs may indeed be rubbish, without the tempering provided by independent editing, but just like any other endeavour in life, there are plenty of jewels if you know how to look.

The New York Review of Books article is highly related in the sense that it is by the aforementioned Sarah Boxer, and is a review of a half-dozen books about blogs, the "social web" and the media. By reading the article, I learnt a few things, for example "In Japan neglected or abandoned blogs are called ishikoro, pebbles." However, most of the (long) article is a history of so much that I’ve read before, in books about blogging and on the Internet itself, with examples that I’ve read so many times (Jessica Cutler, etc) that I imagine it is written for readers who don’t know the first thing about the topic. For those who blog and are comfortable with the medium, the article doesn’t say much. Yes, again, plenty of blogs (most, probably) are puerile, incoherent and read mainly by one person (the blogger), but enough of them are not. Those of us who are living the long tail have formed "niche" online communities and are very happy communicating with each other about our chosen topics of interest, whether we are in Australia, Alaska, Argentina or Aberystwyth.

Anyone interested in reading a blogging anthology could do a lot worse than to try Open Laboratory 2007, a selection of science blog posts for the year. Most of the "debate" about the value of blogs seems to revolve around pitching the medium against newspapers, as if the two activities are in competition (which they are not, they fulfil quite different functions). If instead, you take a particular topic, whether science-related (as in the Open Laboratory) or book-related or similar, I think a rather different picture emerges concerning the richness and depth of the "conversation" that can be had.

5 thoughts on “When a pebble is a jewel

  1. What a well reasoned argument! Yes, blogs and the media have different objectives. Indeed, blogs are set up with an array of objectives and some even change over time. Newspapers and other forms of media online are also emulating the blog now: “Have your say”; “Post your comment”.
    What has astonished me is the sense of community you get with a blog and the number of new friends I’ve made through being online.

  2. It’s astonishing to me how many people still don’t *get* blogs. Pathetic, especially for those who work in print media.

  3. “Most of what is written on blogs may indeed be rubbish … but … there are plenty of jewels if you know how to look.” Exactly right!
    Most of what is *written* — in journals, magazines, newspapers and books — is rubbish, but that simple fact doesn’t preclude there from being plenty of great magazines and books out there too …
    Some blogs are rubbish, most aren’t great, some are absolutely wonderful. Why is this so difficult to comprehend!?

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