blogenlust
1.26.2005

Should We Believe the Blogging Hype?


Even though I could use the money (every dollar counts!), I'm not going to work over Jack Shafer for this piece he wrote for Slate on the hype surrounding blogging. Overall, I think it's pretty solid because it recognizes both blogging's potential and limitations. As I've written previously, I don't think it is correct to assume (or wish) that blogs are going to take over the major media anytime soon. At best, blogs are complementary to, and a watchdog on, the traditional media. Hoping for anything more is wishful thinking. I do think, though, that Shafer gives too much credence to those that believe blogs will revolutionize media. He starts off comparing the hype around blogs to that of Guerrilla Television from the 1970s. On the surface the comparison seems relevant, since the premise of guerrilla television was that anybody with a small video camera could produce their own news and (cross your fingers!) one day take over NBC. The comparison fails, however, when you realize that blogging utilizes a prefabricated infrastructure--the Internet--that is cheap, extremely popular, and easy to utilize. This luxury wasn't available for guerrilla producers or pamphleteers, which ultimately stunted its potential growth. For instance, I could post this, and theoretically, it wouldn't be hard for millions of people to read it within 24 hours. But if I wrote this on a piece of paper or videotaped myself reading it, it would take weeks (at best) for the same number of people to consume it. The bottom line is that there is power in speed, and that is what is so significant about blogging, and it is why blogging has already had more influence than previously thought revolutionary media. If I were at the same conference, I might have had a similar reaction, since it sounds like there was a lot of over-hyped optimism about the revolutionary power of blogging. I think this is inescapable whenever you get a bunch of people together that are on the cutting edge of a developing technology. It's that type of optimism that puts these people on the cutting edge in the first place. But when you put them all in the same room, you run the risk of creating an optimistic echo chamber. Blogging is very cool and very promising, to be sure, but it isn't going to replace the mainstream media, at least in the foreseeable future. I've totally digressed from my original point: I think Shafer's account is a good summary of the current blogging landscape. And even though he might have been affected by the triumphant group-think, I think his skepticism about how far blogging will go is warranted. So read it for yourself and tell me what you think. UPDATE (1/30): According to others that were there, it sounds like Shafer created the impression of the over-hyped optimism just to be able to knock it down. Of course, if this is true, bad for Shafer, and bad for my critique of the over-hypers, but in the end, I think his main point still stands.