Diversity Weblogging

Steve Levy, Dave Sifry, and NZ Bear: You are Hurting Us

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I knew as soon as I saw the Steve Levy article that we would see a backlash about the domination of whites and males in the weblogging ranking systems. While my “Guys Don’t Link” post tried to make a point with humor, and invite the guys to be part of the joke, and the understanding that follows, Levy’s was guaranteed to first of all get notice (after all, he is a white male journalist); get credibility (after all, he is a white male journalist); and, lastly, generate a great deal of guilt.

Guilt is the killer of conversations and the destroyer of discussion because no one wants guilt dumped on them. Mr. Levy, you have hurt us, and you did so with no more than a passing glance and a feeling that “this is just another story”.

But it happened and here we are, and though I sympathize with Roxanne’s weariness of this discussion, I do want to speak to this backlash, and the causes for it. And then I too, will have exhausted all that I can say on the topic, and walk away from it.

First, to the white guys who have been proclaiming your race and sex with such pride: It would seem that not only are you not content with being king of the hill, you also want to be chief underdog, too. Not content to being the center of too many dialogs within weblogging, you also want to be the center of one discussion that, oddly enough, doesn’t center around you: being a weblogger who is not a male, or is not white, or both.

So you’ve perverted the discussion until it is all about you, effectively shutting it down, while making sure that the bits you so desperately need understand that their rightful place is forming a swarm about you.

You see, White Guys, it’s all about you. And you’ll do everything in your power to destroy even an effective conversation, unless it is all about you.

When Levy mentioned ‘lack of diversity’ and pointed a finger at the grouped white males, you cried out ‘foul’ and hastened to point out that Glenn Reynolds and Atrios may be white and male, but they have different opinions, and hence any group they’re in, is diverse. All I can say is that George Wallace would have been proud of your verbal footwork, and supported your distinction.

When a gentle and curious question about having a conference focused on women in weblogging is proposed, you come into comments and you harrangue and harrass and manipulate the discussion, until the concept is tainted almost beyond repair, and yes, the conversation does flow around ‘you’. I, being tired, fell for the trap. Again. I forgot that the greatest hurt I can do to you, the most effective weapon I have, is to ignore you; by not feeding this insatiable and sad need you have, to have all of this be about you.

You proudly claim that yes, you are white guys and discount all the concerns and questions that are being asked, and the challenges being made–not because you necessarily disagree, but because the conversation isn’t about you. It doesn’t matter if you’re seen as good or bad, right or wrong; all that matters is that the conversation be about you.

For once, we had the opportunity to actually explore issues of diversity in weblogging — international as compared to US-based webloggers; white as compared to not white; male and female. We could have grown and been enriched, and maybe we would all been the better for it. More importantly, we may have looked more closely at the technology that drives our perceptions, and had a chance to explore whether blogrolls and popularity lists are more harm then they are worth.

Instead, in a burst of emotional self-defense, it became Whitey versus the Gang. I am waiting for one or more of you to put “White Male and Damn Proud of It!” stickers in your sidebars, as you nod among yourselves about putting down this particular insurrection. After all, this is the ultimate egalitarian environment–anyone can have a weblog. Anyone can become famous. All you have to do, is write well.

Except that you forget that popularity in this environment can lead to opportunity, which, in turn, generates more popularity, and hence more opportunity and so on. Or maybe I have it wrong–you never forget this.

Let me ask you all something, though: if members of Congress or Parliment or whatever body rules you, did what you are all doing now, standing up in session and yelling out, “I am white and I am male!”, would you support this?

If President Bush or Tony Blair or Howard started their next speech with, “I am white, and I am male!”, would you support this?

If the next time most major corporate boards got together the members stood up and said, “I am white, and I am male!”, would you support this?

I would ask that the white guys attending the O’Reilly ETech conference stand up before each session and proudly proclaim, “I am white, and I am male!” If they do, would you support this? (ETech attendees do me a favor: do this, please. I think more could come of this one act than anything I’ve been saying for three years to Tim O’Reilly.)

Perhaps I’m an optimist, but I still think something constructive can be derived from all of this, and that is to look more closely at the technology that is generating the divide between us. I asked earlier whether blogrolls and popularity lists cause more harm than good. I think the answer is, a resounding, “Yes!”

I’m going to borrow some words from Jon Stewart, when he appeared on Cross-Fire (bless you, Norm, for making these videos available). He accused the Cross-Fire journalists, and, in fact, many journalist of harming America because of partisan reporting. He said a simple thing: You are hurting us.

At the time, I didn’t agree with Stewart, for about the same reasons I don’t agree with Levy now. I felt Stewart does more with his satire than he did with this direct confrontation. However, I’m beginning to appreciate the strength of his simple, and compelling approach.

So I’ll say this, directly and honestly, to Dave Sifry from Technorati: Dave, you are hurting us.

The Technorati Top 100 is too much like Google in that ‘noise’ becomes equated with ‘authority’. Rather than provide a method to expose new voices, your list becomes nothing more than a way for those on top to further cement their positions. More, it can be easily manipulated with just the release of a piece of software.

You have focused on comment spam and you see this as the most harm to this community, all the while providing the weapon that is truly tearing us apart. You are hurting us, Dave.

NZ Bear, you are hurting us. With your Ecosystem, you count links on the front page, which give precedence to blogroll links over links embedded within writings, and then classify people in a system equating mammals and amoeba. Your site serves as nothing more than a way for higher ranked people to feel good about themselves, and lower ranked to feel discouraged. There is no discovery inherent in your system — no way of encouraging new voices to be heard. So NZ, you are, also, hurting us.

In fact, to every weblogger who has a blogroll: you are hurting all of us.

Rarely do people discover new webloggers through blogrolls; most discovery comes when you reference another weblogger in your writings. But blogrolls are a way of persisting links to sites, forming a barrier to new voices who may write wonderful things — but how they possibly be heard through the static, which is the inflexible, immutable, blogroll?

So for all of you who have a blogroll, you are also hurting us.

If I had a wish right now, I would wish one thing: that we remove all of our blogrolls and take down the EcoSystem and the Technorati 100 and all of the other ‘popularity’ lists. That whatever links exist, are honest ones based on what has been written, posted, published, not some static membership in a list that is, all too often, stale and out of date, and used as a weapon or a plea.

I would suggest the same for your syndication lists, too–when did you last update it to reflect those sites you really read? I would be content,though, if centralized aggregators such as Bloglines stopped publishing the number of subscriptions for each feed. After all, what true value is this information?

Then we would all start fresh. It would be a new start, and the emphasis would be less on who we know and who we are, then what is being said.

And now, I return to topics of greater cheer: travel and photography and technology, and following my yearly ritual of tweaking the folks at ETech.


Jonathon Delacour heard the call for a sidebar sticker, and has come through in admirable fashion.

Gents, this is for you:

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