Andrew Orlowski has an article in The Register about how Jim Moore's paper about the Second Superpower spread so quickly it now ranks #1 on Google. Talks about how A-List blogs contribute to the ability for a single entry to quickly outrank versions of the word. (Cory talks about this phenomenon a lot.) Flattering mention of my blog... ;-p

Moore's subversion of the meaning of "Secondary Superpower" - his high PageRank™ from derives from followers of 'A-list' tech bloggers linking from an eerily similar "Emergent Democracy" discussion list, which in turn takes its name from a similarly essay posted by Joi Ito [Lunch - Lunch - Lunch - Segway - Lunch - Lunch - Fawning Parody] who is a colossus of authority in these circles, hence lots of PageRank™-boosting hyperlinks, and who like Moore, appeared from nowhere as a figure of authority.

Lunchin' Ito's essay is uncannily similar to Moore's - both are vague and elusive and fail to describe how the "emergent" democracy might form a legal framework, a currency, a definition of property or - most important this, when you're being hit with a stick by a bastard - an armed resistance (which in polite circles today, we call a "military").

The phenomenon Andrew writes about is quite interesting although the article is a bit nasty. Obviously Andrew doesn't think much about blogging.
Andrew Orlowski
Andrew Orlowski on blogging
Here's a mechanism which allows a billion people who can't sing, can't write a song or make an original beep, and have nothing to express, the means to deafen me with their tuneless, boring cacophony.
IMHO, I think Andrew should join the conversation instead of griping and acting like a magazine on the coffee table at a cocktail party...

Mitch has blogged about this article.

Thanks to Kevin, Anthony and George on the ED list for the links

20 Comments

Right on brother - you tell um.

An army of memes cannot be stopped.

It seems that Mr. Orlowski is a bit jealous of the fact that mainstream media has no control or ability to decide if what we're doing is viable, possible or important. This is typical knee jerk, maintream media attitude.

Heh, the blogs are taking over. Deal with it Andrew!

Now compare weblogs to what the New York Times did today. Took all their links and went home crying to mommy.

Seems the webloggers are exploiting Google's algorithm. Or, are we being exploited? That's the interesting question of the day!

I would much rather have an information medium made up of individuals than made up of corporate powerhouses.

I have a bit of Google juice myself. But, I didn't need any money to get that juice. Just a lot of time and some interesting things to say (and point to).

Yeah, we have a groupthink thing going on. Are we a cult? A cult needs a leader. Who's our leader? Oh, I didn't think you could find one.

what i'm finding ironic is that this so-called reporter failed to make a mention of all the prior examples of this. heck, the activity had a name and a history years ago.
google bombing makes it into a few dictionaries
there's even an organisation dedicated to the oversight of google
http://www.google-watch.org/

so much for research...

bad journalist, no donut.

What I want to know is, how can I deafen him with my meaningless boring cacaphony if he doesn't bother to read me? I really want to know, if it's not too much trouble I'll do it.

“This is typical knee jerk, mainstream media attitude?” Why the ‘Us vs. Them’ take? Blogs are a good meme, a good toolset, not some ushering in of total world salvation. Turning Blogs into a religion, boy, ouch. Stripped of all buzz words, Blogs are just ‘one to many’ discussion boards. Why paint traditional journalism as the Devil? Andrew’s points are fully valid. Changing the scope of the language or terminology, a language of the majority, changed by an Blogger minority...quite the irony per this whole utopiaistic ‘Democracy’ talk, eh? The flip-flop of the original lexicon, shows the inherent failure it all. Apply this logic elsewhere, change ‘love’ to ‘hate’, ‘good’ to ‘evil’ and so forth, would this be acceptable just on account of some so-called A-List Bloggers “quickly outrank[ing] versions of the word”? Quite nice too, if you can define the terms of what’s “viable, possible or important” and can then reward thyself just based on your and other Bloggers self-referencing to the terms as being “important”. And it sure helps when you can rig the rating system and fiddle with the terminology. See the danger? And clearly a warning sign per turning Blogs into a religion, complete with a God, Google/Blogs and a Devil, traditional journalism. It is one thing to rant, dream big dreams and talk about one’s center place in the universe and quite another thing altogether to ‘hit the beat’ and track down a full story from various (oft times unwilling) sources. Reporting is hard work, it has tremendous value, it sheds the true ‘light-of-day’ on things. Blogs and will never change that. No taking over, peaceful co-existence, if stripped of all the Valley-drunk Buzzwords, Cultic Groupthink and wacky utopian half-baked utter-nonsense mushed-oatmeal theories like ‘Emergent Democracy’. Also amazingly interesting, how diplomatic and ‘play nice’, the medium is, if you are ‘in the club’, and how ‘for the throat’ if not. Journalism is not the Devil, and Blogs are not God. And, as Andrew so vividly demonstrates, Google is not always the best source of information, as it can replace the terminology and the originators of ideas and thoughts. Hence, Google is not God either. Displacing terminology doesn’t prove Blogs power, it only proves their weakness.

I don't think Google is God. In fact, it is this power-law distribution discussion that we are hoping emergent democracy will help us manage.

Andrew talks about how I came "out of the blue"... I think the point is that if a meme resonates with the network or if a blogger (like many of the warblogs) are relevant, they can "come out of the blue" and become A-List while they are relevant. Reputations can be built quickly because of the speed of the feedback. You can also lose your reputation quickly, conversely. The combination of positive and negative feedback loops help manage the quick escalation and hopefully new tools will make it even easier. Also, as Ross Mayfield points out, there are many layers and the social networks among blogs are not reflected at all in the google rankings, but at least for me, represent the bulk of the sources of my regular reading.

Finally, I'm not bashing other forms of media. They are all important. Long papers like the emergent democracy paper move slower and don't reach people as quickly. Shorter papers or entries move more quickly. TV has more emotional impact. Academic papers can be more rigorous.

Although I bash the monolithic mass media of Japan, I definitely believe there is a place for professional journalism. I think professional journalism will have to adapt just as the Networks had to adapt to CNN. Blogs will influence the future of how people gather and distribute information, no question. The question is how can we make tools to make it better.

- The Valley-drunk Buzzwords, Cultic Groupthink spewing, wacky utopian half-baked utter-nonsense mushed-oatmeal theory brewing collosal Joi

Boy oh boy. Have you ever noticed how het up these folks seem to get when someone comes along to offer truly lateral solutions to our present fixes? It's almost as if they have some deep vested interest in the miserable status quo!

Folks with new ideas aren't just "pie-in-the-sky idealists" or "dreamers" anymore: now they're mush-headed, wacky, etc. etc. ad libitum.

Well, you ask me, I think it's interesting - to take just one sufficiently gimlet-eyed measure of things, which should please these hardnosed quants - to look at the track record we "cultic, mushed-oatmeal" sorts enjoy. What were we right about, and when? What were we wrong about, and how long did it take us to figure out we were wrong (and how publicly did we admit it)?

Oh, and Chris, I'd have to say your caricatures of positions regarding "old" media are self-serving misrepresentations. You're being kind of a drama queen, actually, and it's boring.

- Ever "Joi Ito's man," apparently, Adam Greenfield

Self-serving misrepresentations? Drama Queen? To say that traditional journalism has a place and that Blogs will not replace it? Then so be it. And Democracy is NOT a new idea. A good place to start are the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers and the writings of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. This oft referenced Democracy is just rebirthed in Silicon Valley Bubble-wrap Internet memes. Seems to me it is far more ‘drama queenish’ to think that one still-formulating Netish Cluetrainy theory, can somehow replace all government. When you dream, and have zero grounding in reality, and don’t suffer criticism or peer review gladly, and offer that as a replacement for whatever is, yes I would called that ‘wacky’. And anybody offering ‘peer review’ or such simply ‘doesn’t get it’, quite the level of cultic thinking. See? I defend journalism, and now I am part of the ‘self-serving’? And now seemingly anything outside your interest or anything in disagreement with somehow qualifies as ‘boring’? Truly lateral solutions? Oh gosh, the happy-see-no-evil short-sighted thinking that goes into Cluetrain and ‘Emergent Democracy’ is amazing. I don’t know how anyone takes it seriously. Even its rabid defenders believe it is only a ‘first draft’. When, you start to believe this tripe as being ‘truly lateral’ then that’s when people go ‘wacky’. You “cultic, mushed-oatmeal” types, granted the greatest loss of human wealth in history. The Bubble. You were wrong about that, and don’t try and blame the greedy only, as it was the half-baked theories FROM this medium that birthed it all. And everyone still hasn’t admitted it, as evidenced by all ‘the buzz is back’ talk, amid increasing layoffs and a general blowout of the tech sector, not to mention equity. And then things that do stick in a capitalistic sense, Microsoft and etc. are totally dismissed out-of-hand. Can’t be so ‘meme drunk’ as to never see Good in anything, nor to always see Bad in something else. Blogs have their place, and so does journalism. One narrowcasts, the other broadcasts. Broadcasters can narrowcast and narrowcasters can broadcast, without resorting to the dire, “old” vs. “new” pointless wars. It’s when this Blog medium throws out all prior memes and tries to establish its own governance that things go awry. You think Drudge and half the blogs would have CONTENT where it not for traditional journalism? Each has its place, each has its mode.

Christopher, it would be worthwhile if you read JOi's paper and some of the background material before you express your criticism.

Unfortunately "democracy" means too many things; in the context of "emergent democracy," we're referring to the emergence of ad hoc, decentralized political structures that have some force within political cultures partly because they represent idea formation, debate, channels for opinion, and possible platforms for creative synthesis. As for "see-no-evil," in fact we see plenty of evil, and an urgent need for "real" communication, i.e. communication that results in understanding. Your posts represent an antithesis of that effort, a pointed refusal to understand. Believe me, I know where you're coming from. I've been there. I wouldn't want to be there again.

Peer review is welcome. Tendentious misquotation and ad hominem abuse we can do without.
Orwell again:
'The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.'

I have read the paper. Just because I don’t agree with any of it, doesn’t mean I haven’t read it. So if “democracy” means too many things, who gets to define it? Democracy has meant many things throughout history, and from Joi’s paper a clear definition of “democracy” is hardly in play. And people even still call America a “democracy” when it is nothing of the sort.

So if I don't agree once again, it is merely because of a “pointed refusal to understand” so basically, I just don’t get it? I am simply not hip enough to grasp your meanings and your utopian dreams? That's your argument? Talk about cultic thinking. And furthermore who gets to DEFINE “communication that result(s) in understanding”. You? or the A-List Bloggers? And how do you deal with breakdowns in communication?

Very weak paper, with an ocean of errors and complete side-skirts of intrinsic variances that don’t fit the idealized picture. My “posts represent an antithesis of that effort”, yeah I guess they would. If you define “real communication” as only those meme’s to which you agree. Yeah. But then I don’t subscribe to the herd mentality. And I have read the volumes of history and governmental formulations in this space, from Calvin to Locke, to Adams, Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, Paine and so on. I hardly think one ‘dream world’ Internet paper will suffice as a replacement.

In other news...

ANALYSIS: Arab democracy no small task
By NICHOLAS BLANFORD, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
BEIRUT, Lebanon (CSM) - There's an old joke Arabs like to tell that illustrates the condition of democracy in the Arab world. A flunky to an Arab dictator breathlessly informs his leader that 99.9 percent of the population re-elected him in a nationwide poll in which he was the only candidate.
"That means only 0.1 percent of the people didn't vote for you, Mr. President," he says. "What more could you want?"
"Their names," comes the cold reply.

Very well, Christopher, I'll accept that you've read the paper and simply disagree with it. Let's hear some specifics about your disagreement.

For instance, you say " from Joi’s paper a clear definition of 'democracy' is hardly in play." Joi does reference historical definitions of democracy and relates the concept to emergence in the paper. How might he have been clearer? Is it possible to be completely clear about a term this broad? Does he need additional verbiage that says " in the context of this paper, democracy means... " Perhaps he omitted something that none of us caught, because we were too close to the discussion.

"I am simply not hip enough to grasp your meanings and your utopian dreams?"

What "utopian dreams" are you referring to? Is it utopian to support tools for discussion and debate? Seems pretty grounded from my perspective: we get more and more people talking, and we find ways to get clear about what they're saying. Daypop and Blogdex are hardly utopian fantasies.

"who gets to DEFINE 'communication that result(s) in understanding'. You? or the A-List Bloggers? And how do you deal with breakdowns in communication?"

"Communication that results in understanding" is mutually defined. If we're both nodding, I think we're there. If you're shaking your fist and I'm shaking my head, I don't think we have understanding. How do we deal with breakdowns in communication? Keep trying, I suppose, as I'm doing here.

As for the "oceans of errors," please be specific. Joi has asked for constructive feedback, but unspecific hyperbolic complaints are not particularly constructive. And if you're here, not to help, but to complain, aren't you wasting your valuable time?

The funny thing about blogs is their lack of historicity in the minds of so many people. Blogs are just the confluence of a bunch of odds and ends with about as much great earth shattering newness as, say, DOS or the html/www was. Sure, they turned the world on its collective head, not because it was doing something special, but because it wasn't. DOS was lobotomized Unix. Html lobotomized SGML. Blogs just plain lobotomized *.

As with all killer apps like this, the deal is that they don't stretch anyone's paradigms, or challenge anyone's cosmologies, so they can become ubiquitous... be adopted by the treadmill of the pundits who make up the rolling wave of the A-lists, and in the end, not cause much change to the way things are at all.

It doesn't mean that they're not useful, valuable or fun. Just that they're not much more than that.

Jason and Christopher are right, and Greenfield, Lebkowsky, and Ito are wrong. Blogs are nothing special*, but they appear to be in the minds of many bloggers with backgrounds and education in technology and very little knowledge of history, culture, or politics. Because of the quirky way blogs interact with the Google ranking system, bloggers tend to think they and their ideas are much more important and insightful than they actually are. Hence you get the sort of egomaniacal puffery as Ito's "journalism has its place" put-down, as if journalists need the consent of the Imperial Ito in order to operate.

I just read a caption on a picture of Jeff Jarvis on CNN to the effect that 10 million people watch cable news in prime time. When the top three blogs can command one-tenth that audidence we can talk about how important they are in shaping opinion.

As I've said before, "emergent democracy" is an incoherent concept, which would have to be, if it were anything at all, either an oxymoron or a redundancy. The political system is not composed of people so pathetic as to be sitting on the edges of their seats waiting to be told how to reform itself by some idiot savant programmers who don't have the first clue how a bill becomes law, how a journalist constructs a story, how a real community functions (not a hive mind like The Well that expells dissidents), or that genuine dialog exposes disagreements instead of papering them over.
--
*I say this as the original political blogger, since 1995. I have enough experience to know what you can and can't do from a blog, and how the political system really works.

I'm glad that I looked at Richard Bennett's blog before commenting. There's a willingness to be as caustic in his own sandbox as he is in someone else's. Which makes everything ok.

Like Steve Mann (www.wearcam.org) claims to have been glogging back in the 80s, as a precursor to blogs, Richard makes a grandfathered blogging claim. I think we can all take Rebecca Blood's history of blogging (http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html) which hasn't been supplanted by anyone else's history, yet. Just because I shared audio files with FTP, doesn't mean that I invented P2P filesharing a la Napster.

I don't know if Richard doesn't see my comment as less supportive of blogs than I am. I think blogs are absolutely amazing. As someone who has worked and taught online since 1987, which is longer than many, I've seen what puters and the web can and can't do.

There is no question that blogs have just started on the social landscape, and will have a major impact on our culture. One of my students, with significant pre-war experience in emergency education environments has put forth a proposal for developing a blogging tool for women living in purdah. The possibilities in that context are stunning. And it is true that broadcast media are freaking out, just as the monastic scriptoriums freaked over moveable type (Not the Trotts, but the other one). Listening to blogging journalists at SXSWi was amazing, as they tried to appropriate the field and relegate its value to journalistic blogs.

And I do, strangely enough, think that the potential for democracy is vastly enhanced by the potential that blogs offer. Joi's onto the right thing, but the limitation is that his document is only finding bloggers and the like as its critics. It ends up being the naive wishes of a bunch of buddies putting something together. And it misses the embeddedness of an assessment of the past couple of millennia of writings on democracy.

Personally, I think you can't have democracy with a slave class. And at present, most people can't do squatt online without the specialized drones known as tech support. Yes, I'm somewhat joking, but serious in saying that there is a dependence with regards to technology that inhibits democracy.

Then there is the notion of surveillance (and sousveillance) something that Steve Mann, Barry Wellman and I have been writing about. That leads to the ability of any democratic movement online to be totally subverted by outsiders.

The real thing is that Blogs are great because they've brought the tech and knowledge requirements of the users down to such an absolutely minimal level that everyone and the cat can blog. Blogs increase voice and the power of individuals (on the right side of the digital divide) to express themselves, and that always will support democratic aspects of society. Just the same as the monastic scriptoriums freaked out when moveable type came on the scene (no, not ben and mina trott's movealbetype), journalists are freaking over blogs and the hegemonic influence that they are having.

But Democracy? That's a bit of a reductionist view of democracy itself. There is so much more involved in democracy than giving a voice. And even the word itself is so amorphous as to be almost unutterable in and of itself. Most of the world realize that our democracies are only that in name. To call Japan or Canada or America a democracy, just because we have a vote is silly. We don't. We have parliamentary democracies, we have representative democracies. We have *Democracy. And that's something different that has limited purview.

That's my pre-coffee thought. I think what Joi's trying to do is great. But if he was one of my students, he'd only get a B+... good ideas and vision, but further research and development of ideas beyond the narrow scope of the topic undertaken required.

Thanks for the B+ Jason. ;-p

One of the interesting things about blogs and discussion online is that it forces you to have to deal with both academic rigor and popular press at the same time. You can criticize my use of the word "democracy" and when I debate about democracy in academic circles, I rarely use the word by itself without a pile of qualifiers. On the other hand, the popular press talks about "bombing Iraq into democracy." I think the notion of emergence and the notion of democracy represent work in two very different sectors of our society, the scientific community and the political community. I am trying to cross-pollinate these two communities since I think that both communities had a lot to add to each other. As with any inter-disciplinary endeavor, the discussion suffers from the two sides disrepecting each other and oversimplifying things. Democracy and politics is extremely complex. Similarly, emergence and the notion of self-organizing systems is also very deep and complicated, being over-simplified by those who think it is just an extension of "the global brain" idea from the hippie days. My purpose is to try to develop a framework to discuss these two disciplines together and build tools to test theories in both.

I think democracy or whatever you want to call modern politics is obviously much more than just talking about things online, but I believe that one of the most crippling elements of good politics today is the lack of critical debate and transparency. I believe that blogs can provide the ability to support a healthier more transparent public debate. Obviously this is just one element, but an important element in modern politics.

You know what rankles me? It's how you self-styled skeptics keep attempting reframings of the terms of debate, trying to find some stable ground from which to launch further would-be zingers.

Here's an example: the highly doubtable Bennett avers that "Greenfield...[is] wrong. Blogs are nothing special," thus carelessly conflating anything I might ever have said on the subject (very little, actually) with the straw man argument he'd like to assign me, Jon and Joi.

My interest is in frameworks to support new and more responsive and accountable forms of governance. I don't believe I've ever maintained that blogs are anything more than a remarkable organisational tool in this respect, and certainly not a magic elixir.

I *do* believe that the emergence of the sorts of systems I'm interested in would be a whole lot less likely without some sort of global, low-cost, reasonably ubiquitous, peer-to-peer communications modality. You wanna argue that?

I'm also tired of y'all opponents waving Plato and Publius in the air, as if these were anything but points of reference. *People do understand and interpret these works differently*, you know, and to draw different conclusions from a thorough reading of them is not at all the same thing as "a poor knowledge" of them.

So. What's the real axis of debate here? Bennett appears to believe that the Republic stands as the high water mark of human attempts to devise systems of self-governance, that the people can't be trusted with too much say in the management of their own lives. I daresay that any of us who identify to any degree with the rubric "emergent democracy" disagree with this idea and do so strongly.

There appears to be another discussion going on, not without its resonance but fully independent of discussions of emergent democracy, and that is about blogging as a medium in its own right, vis a vis traditional journalism. The debate here is, again, rife with mischaracterization of positions, with the same "antis" making them - although interestingly. the set of those that believe that blogging is a radical improvement on journalism is by no means isomorphic with the ED set.

Again, I don't believe anyone here has maintained that blogs can or should replace the traditional media, although I think it is becoming inarguable that they not merely are transforming reportage but have transformed it. (I certainly get contacted as a source infinitely more than I would if I did not have a self-published Web presence.) So I'm not sure just what it is that you disagree with, Christopher.

And as for your ascription of the Internet bubble as track record? I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm a "user experience" type. Appropriately, the record shows that I've never been anything but a proponent of natural language and clear and honest propositions to the customer, and a devoted foe of marketese and braindead business plans/models. So you'll have to troll elsewhere with that bait.

So as far as I'm concerned, if you feel you have something of worth to contribute to this discussion, I'll thank you to identify what that is and what agenda you hope to advance with this contribution. Otherwise I can but conclude that you're just farting into the wind, for the sheer pleasure of it.

Ya, Joi. It is a difficult thing to run the tightrope. It does depend who you want to listen to you... the sound bite media or the academic stuffed-shirts who want context. If you're shooting for the media, then my comments don't add much. I've had media types calling me since the war started, and I keep telling them that since I don't speak in sound bites, there's not much useful they can get from me. Usually there's someone else I can pawn them off on, so they're happy.

That said, you do seem to be trying to bridge the gaps between public, media and more reflective conceputalizations. Bloody noble, though perhaps impossible. I can't see why you won't end up pleasing no one, especially yourself.

I agree that "Democracy and politics is extremely complex." but that perhaps makes it impossible to bridge the gap between the various domains. I can't imagine a reductionist representation of democracy ever flying in academic circles, just as I can't imagine a pomo view working in the populist press. The same goes for the development of tools ("My purpose is to try to develop a framework to discuss these two disciplines together and build tools to test theories in both.") How can you develop tools that meet both perspectives. Actually, I do know how to do it, but no one seems interested in funding them... CVEs of course.

You do know, I hope, that I'm supportive. I'd not visit your blog if I didn't think that you were pushing the dialogue in interesting ways. And I certainly don't comment on posts that just seem to be spinning wheels. Hope I'm wrong, and you pull it off!

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Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Flattering article in The Register about The Second Superpower paper and googlewashing.

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January 8, 2005 5:51 PM

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