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Weblogs and the Public Sphere


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Summary and key points of Andrew O Baoill's article about blogs and the public sphere

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Weblogs and the Public Sphere

  1. 1. Weblogs and the Public Sphere Andrew Ó Baoill, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Discussion led by Ben
  2. 2. Purpose <ul><li>Baoill examines impact of blogs (“weblogs”) on the public sphere, based on the Habermas model of an idealized public space </li></ul><ul><li>Examines how effective blogs are as new form of “public space” and impact on public debate </li></ul><ul><li>Only concerned with blogs dedicated to political/legal domain of public sphere </li></ul>
  3. 3. Purpose, pt. 2 <ul><li>Baoill posits that inclusivity of access, disregard for external rank, and potential for rational debate of any topic until consensus is reached meet Habermas’ criteria for idealized public sphere </li></ul><ul><li>Not at this point yet </li></ul><ul><li>Examines current state of “blogging” and ways to achieve those ideals </li></ul>
  4. 4. The Public Sphere <ul><li>Idea introduced by Jurgen Habermas </li></ul><ul><li>Defined as &quot;a network for communicating information and points of view&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>Ideas eventually become public opinion </li></ul><ul><li>“ Public sphere” is in contrast to “private sphere” </li></ul>
  5. 5. The Public Sphere, pt. 2 <ul><li>Public sphere and public space are closely connected with politics </li></ul><ul><li>Describe places and situations where people meet to discuss matters of public concern </li></ul>
  6. 6. The Public Sphere, pt. 3 <ul><li>Habermas identifies 3 key features </li></ul><ul><ul><li>1. Participation is open to all </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>2. All participants considered equal </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>3. Any issue can be raised for rational debate </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Minimum criteria for how debate in public sphere should be conducted </li></ul>
  7. 7. I. Inclusivity <ul><li>Three impediments to participation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>1. Technological literacy </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>2. Time commitment </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>3. Additional financial resources </li></ul></ul>
  8. 8. 1. Technological Literacy <ul><li>Many tools available, free software </li></ul><ul><li>Much easier to maintain simple site today than just a few years ago </li></ul><ul><li>Too much information? </li></ul>
  9. 9. 2. Time Commitment <ul><li>Significant time investment to produce quality blog </li></ul><ul><li>Time investment is in reading, not writing, and keeping up with new developments </li></ul><ul><li>Time needed to browse sources and contribute to debate may dissuade involvement </li></ul>
  10. 10. 2. Time Commitment, pt. 2 <ul><li>24% of Americans “have no direct or indirect experience with the Internet” (Lenhart, et al., 2003) </li></ul><ul><li>“ In general, Internet population is younger, wealthier, and more educated than offline population” (Rodriguez, 2000, p. 21) </li></ul><ul><li>Potential for structural exclusion </li></ul>
  11. 11. 3. Additional Financial Resources <ul><li>Some free hosting </li></ul><ul><li>Use of specific domain name costs $$ </li></ul><ul><li>Hosting may cost $$ if site gets a lot of traffic </li></ul>
  12. 12. 3. Additional Financial Resources <ul><li>Need to develop viable funding models </li></ul><ul><li>Tip jars </li></ul><ul><li>Pledge drives </li></ul><ul><ul><li> </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Chris Allbritton Back-toIraq </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Joshua Marshall, funding for TPM to finance presidential primary reporting in NH </li></ul></ul>
  13. 13. II. Rank <ul><li>Habermas criteria states outside rank should not be factor within public sphere </li></ul><ul><li>Outside relationships are large factor in blog popularity </li></ul>
  14. 14. 1. Eugene Volokh <ul><li>Eugene Volokh, UCLA Law Professor and publisher of “The Volokh Conspiracy” blog: </li></ul><ul><li>Blogging is more of a meritocracy than many other media are, but it's still hard to get noticed, even if your material is very good. My coconspirators and I had an edge: We know quite a few of the big guns personally, and our academic credentials give us extra credibility. (2003) </li></ul>
  15. 15. 2. Shirky Study <ul><li>Shirky study, 2003 </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Sampled 433 blogs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Top 12 (less than 3%) accounted for 20% of inbound links </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Top 50 (just under 12%) accounted for 50% of inbound links </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Shirky believes it’s not impossible to launch a good new blog and get popular, but it grows more difficult each year </li></ul>
  16. 16. 3. A-List Bloggers <ul><li>What leads disproportionate readership for blogs with A-List authors? </li></ul><ul><li>Some involvement in development of blog tools </li></ul><ul><li>Blogging for quite a while, more time to develop reputation </li></ul><ul><li>A-Lister welcomes new blog, drives traffic there, but only if you have connections </li></ul>
  17. 17. 4. Page-Ranking Problems <ul><li>Google, other engines, use page ranking to reflect site reputation </li></ul><ul><li>Google can’t recognize negative links </li></ul><ul><li>All links to a certain page push rank up in Google, Blogdex etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Doesn’t matter if post that links to site was positve or critical </li></ul>
  18. 18. III. Rational Debate of Any Topic? <ul><li>Concentration on ephemeral issues with little insight or productive results are common criticisms. </li></ul>
  19. 19. 1. Emphasis on Breaking News <ul><li>Danger of faulty information being published </li></ul><ul><li>Blog layout can limit debate </li></ul><ul><ul><li>New story pushes other story down on page, few read and comment on it </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Prevents Habermas’ call for “rational debate until consensus is achieved” </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Consensus may be easier to reach with Wiki. </li></ul></ul>
  20. 20. 2. Trent Lott & Talking Points <ul><li>Lott story originally posted on Joshua Marshall’s page, </li></ul><ul><li>Story then went to professional publications – Slate & the Washington Post </li></ul><ul><li>Only after that publication was widespread attention gained online. </li></ul>
  21. 21. 3. Blog-centric <ul><li>Stories, articles, entire blogs etc., related to blogging always rank high </li></ul><ul><li>Other relevant or related issues of concern to bloggers – intellectual property, online controversies – also garners links </li></ul><ul><li>Many popular bloggers are known for commentary about blogs </li></ul>
  22. 22. 4. Themes <ul><li>Specific topics get disproportionate coverage and debate </li></ul><ul><li>Iraq war vs. war in the Congo (2004) </li></ul><ul><li>Popular stories are emphasized, unpopular stories are pushed off page, essentially censored </li></ul>
  23. 23. Local News <ul><li>Geographically-bound stories at a disadvantage </li></ul><ul><li>Local news lacks coverage in blogs </li></ul><ul><li>Austin bloggers metablog is an example of a narrow, regionally-focused blog </li></ul>
  24. 24. 6. Speaking Out <ul><li>Some have used blogs to comment on conditions within oppressive regimes </li></ul><ul><li>Salam Pax, Baghdad blogger who wrote about Iraq before and during war </li></ul><ul><li>Sina Motallebi, Iran </li></ul>
  25. 25. In Closing <ul><li>Baoill sees blogosphere as an overlapping collection of conversations, not a single conversation as many claim </li></ul><ul><li>System fosters development of celebrity/A-List bloggers, fails to disregard rank </li></ul><ul><li>Blogosphere is technically inclusive, but propagation network privileges some </li></ul>
  26. 26. In Closing, pt. 2 <ul><li>Conversation tends to focus on small number of topics, disadvantages discussion of topics with a local focus </li></ul><ul><li>Not all topics equally subject to rational debate </li></ul>
  27. 27. Questions <ul><li>1. Habermas feels the growth of capitalism has led to unfair wealth distribution, which widens economic polarity and limits access to the public sphere. He also argues that political control of the public sphere is an inevitable consequence of capitalism and this is necessary for capitalist forces to operate and thrive in a competitive economy. (Questions follow) </li></ul>
  28. 28. Questions, pt. 2 <ul><li>As university students, we obviously have some $$ and some access, so how limited is our access to the public sphere? </li></ul><ul><li>Additionally, since billions of people lack internet access and thus access to the public sphere, how much do they count as far as public opinion is concerned? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>If your essential needs are not met, do you really have time to engage in any of the public dialogue? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>If you don’t have money to spend in the capitalist system, does anyone care about your opinion and contribution to the public dialogue and public opinion? </li></ul></ul>
  29. 29. Questions, pt. 3 <ul><li>Baoill cited examples of pledge drives to attain funding for blogs. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Can you envision doing this in the future? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Given all the information contained within a daily newspaper or a free news website, how much would you pay for a good article? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>How about for continued access to a specific blog, for say a year, like a newspaper subscription? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Is this model only viable for special topics like those cited by Baoill? </li></ul></ul>