Tyranny of the commons

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Steve Himmer asks some good questions about weblogging community and sticky strands. In particular he writes:


What do we [have to] do with the blogger uninterested in linking, or more specifically to this conversation, uninterested in joining a wider web of community?

The blogger who writes, even cites, but does not link (Andrew Sullivan, maybe) is doing something very different from the blogger who actively develops conversation and community. And yet, Sullivan at least may not be working to enter or forge community, but is very much involved in it nonetheless: whole communities/conversations cluster and orbit around what he says, whether he acknowledges/links those conversations or not.


The worst thing that can happen with sticky strand technologies, such as Trackback, comments, and Quotes (which is what I’m calling my blogroll replacement at this time, for want of a better name), is to allow it to become “group think”, forcing it’s use on everyone. I know I’ve been pushing it, but that’s because I want people to think about connectivity and what it means when they don’t connect with the community. If they still choose not to deliberately connect with the community, more power to them.

If a person makes a choice to not connect with the larger weblogging community, that’s their right, and our obligation is to respect that. It’s then up to us if we want to a) continue reading them, and b) link to them and/or individual posts. The former isn’t the issue as much as the latter is.

Steve uses an analogy based on his classroom experience, and equates the ‘lone blogger’ with students who don’t want to be part of the ‘classroom community’. While I agree with Steve that classes should allow for the non-community students, I don’t necessarily agree with his analogy. The reason is that it isn’t necessarily difficult to allow a student to withdraw from community, by not forcing group assignments or partnerships. There is never an issue, then, of the student not being part of the community.

The same space can also be given to webloggers. If there’s a person who wants to write in splendid isolation, no one is stopping them. To do so would be to create a tyranny of the commons, and that thought is repugnant to me, and most likely you, too.

But when we blogroll the person, or link to one of their postings and write our responses of the same, aren’t we bringing them into the community, whether they want it or not? The only difference is that the blogger at the heart of all this doesn’t acknowledge the community.

No, the Lone Blogger exists like the 2 ton elephant sitting in thecorner, except every one is talking about him or her and only the elephant hears the conversations.

“All your words are belong to me.”

However, the outstanding grace, the wondrously seredipitous beauty of sticky strand technology is that it’s counterpart — dumb-link technology if you will — is then the most effective tool to discover those conversations.

Steve uses Andrew Sullivan as an example (as do many) about the blogger who doesn’t choose to be part of the community. Andrew Sullivan has no comments, shows no referrers, barely has permalinks much less trackback, and doesn’t seem to ever attribute to anyone — heck, I’m not even sure if the man reads webogs. You can’t find a better poster child for Lone Blogging than Andrew Sullivan.

Perfect dumb-link fodder.

Want to find out who reads Andrew Sullivan? Search in Daypop under Sullivan’s name and you’ll usually get the blogrolls of all the people who link to him. You can also find this at Technorati or Blogging Eco System, or through Blogging Street.

How about finding if a person has quoted a specific Sullivan piece? You can use the “link:” option with both Google and Daypop, as well as Blogdex to find out who has linked to that specific post. (That’s how I found the quote “… have studied the likes of Reynolds, Denton, and that horrible Sullivan boy” from Mike Golby.) Or you can search on keywords, such as “Andrew Sullivan North Korea”.

Bloggers are a part of the community whether they will or not — the only difference is their acknowledgement of the community. The community will flow around them regardless of the dams they build.

Is this a condemnation of the Lone Blogger? Not at all. The whole reason behind sticky strand technology is to enable community for those interested, not disable community for those not. It’s not a replacement for dumb-link technologies, but is, instead, a refinement for those of us more interesting in mining knowledge, conversation, and community, than just following along with the crowd.

Truly, as much as I would like to shut Andrew Sullivan up at times (“How do you annoy me? Let me count the ways…”), to do so would be counter to everything I believe, utopian little dreamer with big techie stick that I am.

However, if I’m not trying to strip away Lone Blogger’s isolation, I’m also not promoting the status quo on weblogging popularity. I said in comments at Jonathon Delacour’s:


My only hope is to allow voices to be heard other than those at the top of the charts. We say ‘Wow, weblogs allow everyone to have their say!” and then we all read the same list of 100 people. Or only the few on our blogrolls.


In response, Mark Pilgrim wrote:


I think that any community, left to its own devices, naturally creates celebrities, because people want celebrities. Given unlimited choices, many people apparently just want to do what everyone else is doing, read who everyone else is reading. Why not let them do it?

If you let people define themselves, some (many) will define themselves as followers of the crowd. Some people *like* following the crowd. Some people like advertising their social circle. Why the big push to make them something they’re not?


First, a minor clarification — I’m not trying to stop anything. The sticky strand technology exists independent of dumb-link technology, and I’m not advocating anything other than to encourage people to draw outside the lines of the hypertext-linked box. To not follow the crowd.

Oh sure I’m advocating that we burn down the house that Google built, but that’s because our increasing dependence on this service puts us at some risk. And I’m tired of people finding my weblog because they search on “cat urine”, “cat clothes”, or “gemco li l scrubber” (new ones this week — Sorry, you want Jonathon for the scrubber).

(Ask yourselves something — what happens if Google decides to charge for sarching?)

I’m not advocating the ‘overthrow’ of the current Kings and Queens of weblogging — I’m just suggesting that there are others who have something to say about topics we’re interested in, and wouldn’t it be nice to find out who they are without them having to be in Daypop Top or linked to by Scripting News? I don’t want my connectivity filtered.

In today’s weblog post, Jonathon writes:


This is what I suspect Burningbird is getting at, that popularity only occasionally correlates with quality. She’s passionate about auto-discovering new, unheard voices. But then so is Mark Pilgrim. And although I could be completely mistaken, it seems to me that they’re employing different technical strategies to achieve a similar outcome: by analyzing inbound links and/or trackbacks, find other weblogs that represent a shared interest in the topic(s) under discussion. Kind of like establishing new friendships, or matchmaking, where the objective is to find someone who’s both comfortably familiar and intoxicatingly different. Except that you get to fish in a deeper pool.


While I agree with Jonathon’s assessment of my being …passionate about auto-discovering new, unheard voices, the reason isn’t because …popularity only occasionally correlates with quality. Hell, I’m one of the so-alled sifted few, among the top 100 bloggers in most rank system (not all). I hope I write quality material, and I hope that’s why people link to me. Same with most of the others on the top 100 — many are wonderful writers.

But, they’re not the only ones. If I limit myself to only the top 100 bloggers, or to my little blogroll, I will never discover the hidden beauty, blistering wit, or technical excellence, that exists outside of this small circle.

However, randomly going through links at just doesn’t work for me. What does work is meeting people in others comments, or because they chat in mine, or because they trackback link to me or others I read.

A case in point is wKen, whom I’ve been linking to this week because of his photo show. Do you know how I found his weblog? It was in a comment over at some warbloggger, whom I can’t even remember anymore. I liked what wKen had to say in the comment, and followed him back to his home, where I found that he talks about sex. A lot. And he also seems to share my interest in community and connectivity (ahem, pun not intended), and is an exceptionally good story teller.

The wKen Show weblog isn’t currently (yet) among the sifted few of the Technorati or Blogging EcoSystem rolls; and he isn’t in my blogroll (though he will be in my Quotes system). And I don’t know if he’s ever been in Daypop Top or Blogdex. I discovered wKen through sticky strands.

By allowing sticky strand technology — trackbacks or comments, or at least linking and attribution — you’re allowing people to continue along a path of discovery. You may only be a stepping stone in this path, and you may not like viewing yourself as such. But consider that others are acting as a stepping stone to you, and all things equal out in the end.






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