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Observations on the Social Dynamics of Blogging

Patterns within the blogosphere bear a striking resemblance to those I see in the offline world.

I’ve had several opportunities to be “the new guy” throughout my life. Whether it’s being the new guy at school, the new guy on the job or the new guy in the country. Being a recent addition to any population allows you to observe certain things that those already involved might take for granted. So being a blogger infant has given me the opportunity to see certain patterns within the blogosphere, as it’s called, and they bear a striking resemblance to those I see in the offline world.

The Popular Kids Phenomenon
Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and if you’re a blogger, you’re probably someone who has no qualms about expressing them. But there are a select few whose opinions matter to more people than others’ and in high school, those were the popular kids. These were the kids you wanted to notice you, who you wanted at your parties or whose parties you wanted to go to and the ones who determined what was “in” and when the “in” was now “out.” Likewise, there seem to be those in the blogging community who’ve been elevated to “popular kid” status. Although I’m not sure how the election process goes in adolescentland, these Celebrity Bloggers seem to have earned their status through a more democratic means. Simply put, they’re the ones who’re saying something a lot of people want to hear. Therefore, they’re the ones PR firms want to use to promote their clients (most of the times unsuccessfully, as I discovered at the Un-conference, but more on that later). But what’s so cool about how blogging works is that everyone’s invited into the cool kids club. As long as you’re saying something of interest you can get your “50 GB of fame” (can’t take credit for that one). The cool kids are cool because we said they’re cool. The barrier to entry isn’t decades of expertise (or good looks) but a computer ( or a friend with one), internet connection (or a good coffee house) and a willingness to spend more time behind a keyboard than you do catching up on season 2 of Lost.

Sincerity Rules
The average American has seen 12 million hours of advertising by the time they reach puberty. Actually I made that up. But the point is that we’ve been sold to a lot, and that has heightened our sensitivity to disingenuousness. Which is why I mentioned above that trying to get bloggers to pander to corporate spin is a futile endeavour in the blog-ociety (ok, so I got tired of typing blogosphere).
I frequently heard the theme of self-regulation raised at the Un-con, and how that played out when dealing with malicious commenters. But I was told that those were in the minority and that for the most part, the interaction is positive. Honesty is valued highly here, and I found it very heartening to hear that when people were given a limitless forum of free expression such as blogs, one of the values that rises to the top of the food chain is sincerity.

Words of Mouths
I can understand why marketers would want to tap into bloggers as another broadcast medium, because word of mouth press is still the best press. With a celebrity blogger you have an individual with a mouth that can reach millions of people. (I guess the same rationale behind celebrity endorsements, except that presumeably the blogger’s credentials are more suited to the product their endorsing and then there’s the appearance of being sincere instead of being paid to do it).

Power to the People
Another term I keep hearing is web2.0. Which I understand now to be a term used to describe the user-generated nature of a lot of the popular web services out there today. The influence that Youtube is having on something as big as superbowl spots, and Wikipedia is having on…well, knowledge, is an indicator of how far reaching this web2.0 thing is. What that does is set up the bottom-up hierarchy. What the masses decide is most noteworthy, is what’s honored with that title. Rather than a select few deciding it for us.

It all boils down to the innate human need to connect. Blogging just happens to be one of the latest in a long line of forums through which we can interact with each other socially. Therefore, all the same rules of social intercourse, come into play; Courtesy is encouraged and the jerks are quickly dealt with, what you say can come back to bite you, etc.
There’s an ordered chaos that organically works out the kinks and allows there to be growth in this blog-conomy. Some people aren’t comfortable with the chaos because they don’t trust it. Others trust it because they trust people and the social dynamism that makes society tick. They trust that if you put a group of strangers in a room without an explicit lesson plan, education can still take place and meaningful relationships can be formed. Therefore they encourage the dialog and the mixing it up because that’s how we get the kinks out, and the cream to rise to the top. Here’s to Un-conference 08!

a few other references

Andrew Davies

Drew's degrees in Illustration, 2D animation and Broadcast Design, and his volleyball skillz mean he can get your design done and play well with others at the same time. He’s the Creative Director at Paragon and will call you out if you start hanging out with shady-looking fonts and messing around with whacked-out color palettes.