Television

Catagories are a kind of precursor for violence. In Tilly’s book about violence he enumerates three precursors for violence one of which is to invent catagories. All three means are used sharpen the boundry between groups. Before you can get Canadians to fight with each other you have to sharpen up a catagorical division. What to start a fight? Invent a category, say French Canadians.

You can see Dave Winer playing this game when he writes:

Sifry must think weblogs are like television. Shirky sure does. What is it about people with two-syllable names that begin with S and end with Y. I think I’m going to publish a law about this and go on the speaker’s circuit.

I’m willing to give Dave the benefit of the doubt that he’s only trying to be cute when he does that. Given my last name and Dave’s last name I think I can say that it’s a tacky ploy. That cute device obscures what is a more important dispute. He writes:

You know what’s always bothered me about Technorati? I don’t care about millions of blogs. I’m going for quality not quantity. Sifry must think weblogs are like television. Shirky sure does.

Is the blogging universe “like television”?

Dave attempts to dismiss the question by framing it as obviously false. But is it? The presumption in his statement is, of course not. I can be cute too: Dave’s the man that brought us a product call Radio.

The real question in dispute here is about concentration of power (or wealth). What the power-law distributions in blog linking and traffic suggest is that even with an architecture that is peer to peer (one that doesn’t treat the distribution channel as a scarce resource) you still get extremely high concentrations of power.

The few to many audience topology found in the 20th century broadcast media is emerging in the 21st century peer-to-peer media! We certainly didn’t see that comming! But denial is a mistake. Our presumption was that a peer-to-peer network architecture would assure an highly egalitarian outcome. Compelling data to the contrary makes clinging to that optomistic bit of logic a mistake. A dangerous mistake.

This is the arguement at hand. One side, the power-law fans, have noticed that what we want is not what we are getting. That side thinks we should be worried. The other side – the build it right and we won’t need no stinking regulatations side – is sticking to it’s design principles; if not it’s goals.

I’m in the first camp. So, I think the otherside is mostly engaging in denial and minimization. While I think the design principles are good, their outcome seems quite unfortunate. We need to think deeply about why, and what to do next.

One last point. Dave’s Scripting News is #15 on technorati. Does anybody think that’s because Dave’s got the one of the best blogs on the entire planet? It is beyond ironic to realize that Dave has become a vested interest. “I don’t care about millions of blogs.” Who’s the television now?

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