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Friday, November 22, 2002

Revenge Of The Blog: Keynote Address By Glenn Reynolds

Preliminaries: opening remarks by Rob Heverly and Ernie Miller. "LawMeme motto: Human laws are born, live and die." Highlights from Glenn Reynolds' Keynote address: Glenn discussed some interesting evolutions, both at Yale law school and in the thinking about law and technology. (Once upon a time: What sort of legal issues could possibly pertain to technology?) "The Internet is a big playground for guys like me...I've sold not one, but two cds to guys in Iraq!" The fun of the Internet is probably its most important component, and one that doesn't get nearly enough attention. Shift from traditional notions of claiming discussion space exclusively for oneself, and linking both to those you agree with, and even more prolifically to those you do not agree with. "A newspaper is a lecture; the Web is a conversation." (James Lileks) Old media on the Web tend not to link away; weblogs don't tend to worry about that, and consequently seem to generate traffic pretty well. Some of the blogging culture is beginning to penetrate big media sites; it'll be interesting to see how this develops. Glenn frequently gets asked: how sustainable is this? It's a good question. There's a good deal of turnover in the Blogosphere at the moment. Others are still very much around. The upside is this: blogs are cheap. Nick Denton calls them "thin media." [Later: Henry Copeland clarifies: "Thin media was in fact a term I coined after Nick launched Gizmodo and called it 'lean media.'"] Glenn's site is like a small newspaper (minus the revenue). His costs (or lack thereof) are what is notable. Unlimited bandwidth for $36/month. It's certainly possible to spend a lot of money on the Web (accrue $75 million in debt, for example, if you're Salon). Good example of a low cost, highly popular and growing site is Gizmodo; lots of opportunities for things like that. Glenn frequently gets asked: why aren't you trying to make a lot of money out of this? (He thinks this is not an entirely disinterested inquiry.) The fact that blogging is cheap means you don't have to make money to do it, and he thinks there's a place for this, the writings and opinions of amateurs. Thinks we'll see the growth of many "thin media" approaches, that will be partially competitive and partially symbiotic with big media. Killer app for big media is hard news, straight reporting. Opinion and analysis are cheap; weblogs can deliver them as well as big media, but are not likely to be as good as big media at hard news. (Glenn can envision a distributed system for delivering hard news via weblogs, with a Slashdot-like rating system for posters, etc. Encourages the technology-oriented folks to think about this, but doesn't see it being a threat to big media's corner on delivering hard news any time soon.) The political consequences of weblogs are easy to exaggerate. The computer-related phenomenon Glenn thinks is likely to have the biggest long-term effect on society is gaming. Civilization, for example. The assumptions built into the game propel you in a particular direction over time; appeasement doesn't work, the appearance of weakness draws hostile attacks, etc. All kinds of subliminal political ideas built into the AI of the game. There's subtle and interesting stuff there. But journalists don't game. They do read weblogs. Weblogs affect journalistic thinking. They get ideas past the gatekeepers in a variety of ways. Faster, looser organizations that can take advantage of this phenomenon have an edge. Transparency within organizations also is amplified, when there's a blogger discussing how things work. As time passes, the Blogosphere will not be as new and exciting, and may morph into other things. Audio and/or visual blogging? Adam Curry and Dave Winer supposedly are working on software apps to make audio blogging easier. Personal observations: Glenn just sort of started his blog, emailed some friends. Thought it would be fun. This is the first time he's tried to run something that was meant to be read regularly. Hoped to get a couple of hundred quality readers; wound up getting a lot more. It helps him teach, relate to students. Increases the knowledge he can pass along as an instructor. Discussion re importance of referrer id's in the weblog world; how you learn new things from people you've never heard of when they link to you and you go visit their site. Has emphasized for Glenn the real value of free speach. When you get a lot of traffic and a lot of email from people, you cannot help but be stunned by how smart people are, and the academic world on the whole does not have sufficient appreciation of this. The openness is impressive. Examples: The Homeless Guy's blog, in Nashville. This fellow blogs from the public library. He's very smart, whatever other problems he may have. Someone you might not talk to on the street who has many bright things to say. The Baghdad blog. Apparently, this is legit. Blogs by Iranian women. Longterm ramifications of these things may well be profound. The Napster principle is very much alive. It's entirely possible with the advent of things like nanotech that people in the future will have even more free time, and the number of people playing in this playground only will increase. Questions: Pushback on whether big media can really compete on the hard news front. Uses the extensive reporting on this conference as an example: Glenn: "Well, this conference is likely to be overreported. I've been listening to the clattering of keys." Good laugh. Getting the attention of people like politicians is easier the moment you mention you have a Web site and plan to post the outcome or nonoutcome of an inquiry. But blogging does tend to be superficial. There will always be a group of people who are trusted because of their track record -- some of whom will be big media, some of whom won't. Another audience member observes that serious, in-depth reporting requires a time investment most amateurs do not have the luxury of making. Glenn: a distributed network of bloggers is something that in toto may have more expertise than any big media organization. Tying them together is the tough part. He can imagine an enterprise that puts this to work, but nothing like this exists yet. Audience member: blogs don't make money, and actually newspapers don't make money on the Web either. Bloggers may have an edge. Jeff Jarvis chimes in: "Old media bought this suit; and it's a nice one." Bloggers may have an edge on localized issues. Glenn: "'The Blogger Next Door. Title for your next book." If you want to compete with newspapers, the time curve is really a hindrance. Audience member: What do you think about the high uptake of blogs in some fields (politics; law), and not others (literature; poetry). Glenn: also questions whether "Cat Blogs" actually are a myth. The volume of material now and to come is vast; starting to become impossible to get a handle on what is being written about, categorically speaking, in blogs. There are a lot of gay blogs, something Glenn became aware of by perusing his referral logs. Glenn has libel insurance. Not because he thinks he'd be liable (he doesn't think he'd commit libel; he's a law professor, he knows how not to), but because someone might sue who just wants to make him spend money in legal fees. But this may be overkill for most bloggers. Many bloggers are basically judgment-proof. "Try to sue the Homeless Guy!" John Hiler on the libel issue: he has written about Scientology, and now whenever he mentions it he gets deluged by emails from Scientologists. If you put yourself out there at all, it does get a bit scary. Question about under-representation of left-leaning political interests in the Blogosphere. The Internet is fairly libertarian and rationalistic; this probably contributes. Blogs and big media in a negative feedback loop; many people blog because they're tired of shouting at the TV or writing letters to the editor which may or may not be printed weeks later. If there's a liberal media bias, and Glenn thinks there is, this may help explain the landscape.

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