Blogging seems to have entered its midlife crisis, with much existential gnashing-of-teeth about the state and fate of a literary form that once seemed new and fresh and now seems familiar and tired. And there's good reason for the teeth-gnashing. While there continue to be many blogs, including a lot of very good ones, it seems to me that one would be hard pressed to make the case that there's still a "blogosphere." That vast, free-wheeling, and surprisingly intimate forum where individual writers shared their observations, thoughts, and arguments outside the bounds of the traditional media is gone. Almost all of the popular blogs today are commercial ventures with teams of writers, aggressive ad-sales operations, bloated sites, and strategies of self-linking. Some are good, some are boring, but to argue that they're part of a "blogosphere" that is distinguishable from the "mainstream media" seems more and more like an act of nostalgia, if not self-delusion.
There's a lot here to annoy me, starting with the implicit assumption that blogging is supposed to be punditry, and an alternative to the "mainstream media." He does at least nod in the direction of noting the irony of a "blogs these days are just noise, and get off of my lawn" post from somebody who only discovered blogging in 2005.
Mostly, though, I think this falls into the Nader Fallacy, namely that anything associated with a corporation is bad. There are different ways to sell out, and some are more problematic than others. In particular, I don't think the move that Cosmic Variance is making, to Discover is a problem.
Not all "commercial" blogs are a Problem. I think there's a major difference between sites like Gawker or Engadget and things like Cosmic Variance joining Discover, or Andrew Sullivan being sponsored by the Atlantic, or, say, ScienceBlogs.
I'm really sort of baffled by the suggestion that Sean and company moving to Discover is another indicator that Blogging Has Lost Its Innocent Charm, or whatever. Discover, like Seed and The Atlantic, is collecting a bunch of blogs, and giving them a bigger platform. They're not changing the character of what gets posted, any more than Seed is dictating what I post, or the management at The Atlantic is forcing Andrew Sullivan to write what they want.
I will grant that this blog is a very different thing than it was before I joined ScienceBlogs, but this has happened because I wanted to change. I haven't gotten any pressure from the Corporate Masters to alter what I write about, or the way I write (I did once inadvertently break an informal embargo, and was asked to take a post down for a while, but that's a different thing).
If Sean and the gang were being replaced by some Gawker-style blogging sweatshop, that would be a problem, mostly because Gawker's house style bugs the shit out of me. That's not what's happening, though-- they're just moving the same set of people, writing about the same topics, to a new home. All that's changing is the wrapper, not the contents.
Indiscriminately lumping together all magazine-sponsored blogs as something Bad is just foolish. What matters about a blog is the content of the posts, not the banner graphic at the top of the page, or the presence or absence of ads.
"I haven't gotten any pressure from the Corporate Masters to alter what I write about"
How do we know that They're not making you say that? Or that you haven't been secretly replaced by a pod person? Tinfoil hats aren't just a fashion statement, you know.
You're just defending The Man, man! Actually, I'm a bit curious. What kind of contract did you and your fellow Seed bloggers sign? That is, what is your commitment in terms of content delivery, and what happens if you decide to rise up and fight your corporate overlords by not posting anything for a couple of weeks?
Romeo, don't you know that tin foil hats are a devious plot by the Corporate Masters? They act as a kind of antenna, amplifying whatever effect you suppose they defend against. Don't be fooled by those who claim tin foil acts as a shield. They have been compromised.
Actually, I'm a bit curious. What kind of contract did you and your fellow Seed bloggers sign? That is, what is your commitment in terms of content delivery, and what happens if you decide to rise up and fight your corporate overlords by not posting anything for a couple of weeks?
The contract gives Seed the right of first publication, and some reproduction rights (if they want to put together a "Best of SB" anthology, they can). It explicitly states that decisions about content are left up to the individual bloggers, and any problems arising from things we post are our problems, not theirs.
In terms of content obligations, there is some nominal posting requirement (some number of posts per month), but to the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever been sanctioned in any way for failing to meet that. There are blogs that have gone dormant for extended stretches, but nobody's been kicked out for failing to post enough.
#2: Indeed, BruceH has a point. For example, see (very scientific) study: http://people.csail.mit.edu/rahimi/helmet/
I'm just baffled by the outcry, frankly. As Chad points out, NOTHING about Cosmic Variance will change except the design. They'll get some much-needed technical support (CV crashed regularly, and Sean spent hours on the phone with tech support trying to resolve issues). And as popular as CV is, the move to Discover could bring them an even wider audience. Anyone who cares about broad outreach and communication of science should be able to see the wisdom in the move.
Some folks seem to think that only the lone iconoclast raging against the corporate machine is a true "blogger." It's a big blogosphere and there's for everyone, okay? We really need to get over this notion that going professional and/or joining a media outlet is "selling out," especially since the financial rewards are hardly commensurate. I have my independent blog (which I just shifted to group format), and the blog I write for Discovery News (Twisted Physics), that is more focused on space and astrophysics and also features shorter posts. That's the only difference, really, apart from the design.
SEED has proven that this blog conglomerate thing is a workable model for making the most of the blogosphere -- maybe not the only possible model, and one that will continue to evolve along with the industry. Other magazines and media outlets are looking to follow suit; it's a _good_ thing for them to be embracing blogs, an indicator of blogging's enormous success. And they're learning pretty quickly to grant as much posting freedom as possible, because that's what the blogosphere is all about.
And yes, Gawker's house voice can be annoying, but I love io9. Best thing Gawker's done.
If someone keeps my site from crashing, the blogosphere is dead.
As usual, letting great science bloggers focus on science rather than blog maintenance is a win for bloggers and readers. My only concern is that this is a passing fad for magazine publishers and that the gain is a little bit of ad revenue and a lot of mindshare. Mindshare is harder to defend if ad revenue tanks and the accounting department comes looking for results.
SEED has proven that this blog conglomerate thing is a workable model
As a reader, I'd agree. However, it does breed a degree of coziness among the member blogs that is occasionally a bit distressing ... not least the spawning of gag-inducing neologisms such as "scibling."