The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Big Sandbox

David Weigel claims that the conservative blogosphere is too hierarchical to create a popular movement like that embodied by Daily Kos:

Now, here's the organizational structure of the newer, smaller, ambitious Victory Caucus. Board of Governors....
An established radio host (who was an early adopter of blogs)/former Reaganite and Nixonite, another former Reaganite, a military author-cum-blogger, and three established bloggers, one of whom is wondering why the right has no Kos. Well, there's your reason. The "netroots" grew because a bunch of people with day jobs built sites with extremely democratic bulletin boards (not that much different from what did half a decade earlier) and left-liberals found them to be fun places to hang out. The "rightroots" are, so far, a bunch of top-down blogs with moderators and old-fashioned, FreeRepublic-style "threads."
Is it really so hard to grok why one of these models is popular and one isn't?

By saying "a bunch", Mr. Weigel gives the impression that there is some readily enumerable group of opinion leaders, hopelessly outnumbered by the free thinkers at Daily Kos. In so doing, he elides the fact that the problem is one of structure, not of participation; and in fact the change required is not cultural but technical.

First, we need to understand why the conservative self-congratulation (exemplified in the update here) about superior trackbacks was misplaced. In an environment dominated by aggregation sites, which themselves capture hundreds of individual viewpoints, there is no need for trackbacks to link to a conversation: the conversation is already right there.

The conservative blogosphere has similar conversations, but they are very widely distributed. In the absence of trackbacks, they would be impossible to piece together; and the technical difficulty at present is that the conversation is diffuse enough that trackbacks, having lost their novelty, are no longer commonly used; while the technical tools which would obviate the need for manual pinging (e.g., that used at Washington Monthly) are unreliable.

Once trackbacks are visible, the conversation is there. Most tracked posts will be small and fast-loading, since most bloggers have no incentive to include pictures and advertisements. Following a debate should be little more time-consuming than gleaning the rational arguments from the noisy background of a single-blog comment thread, and with the additional advantage that the participants must identify themselves and build credibility sufficient for readers to choose to see what they are saying.

In place of the Daily Kos, we can have the entire Internet.

[Via Stephen Green.]