There is quite a bit of buzz/noise/chatter/conversation/discussion happening in the blogosphere lately about… well, about the blogosphere. (This isn’t really anything new, it seems to be constantly recurring.) Several articles, blog posts, and magazine cover articles have sparked this latest round. What really wound things up was an article on Slate wondering if we weren’t witnessing the Twilight of the Blogs as a business. Of course there was the anticipated blogs are dead/blogs aren’t dead round of responses with most of the usual suspects weighing in and filling up tech.memeorandum with their viewpoints.
A fascinating tangent to this discussion has also been making the rounds concerning the format of blogs themselves. Are blogs (and thus bloggers) stuck in a rut? Is the familiar format stifling content?
And then there’s the Search Isn’t Done thread that Scoble brings up with the regularity of a menstrual cycle. That comparison should tell you something. And now we have brrreeeport exercises to demonstrate the point. Here lately that has morphed into a meme (breememe?) and also morphed into a Why do search engines lie? thread. Add to this mix regular bursts of conversations about linking, authority, tagging, etc… and I have to agree with the first paragraph in the Slate article that blogs are in their gangly adolescence. As for me, I’m still bouncing around in training pants.
All of that said, as I continue to read these fascinating posts the analogy that seems most apt in describing the whole kit and kaboodle is a carnival and the wacky chaos, the garishness, and the thrills that come with it. With apologies to The Band, the Blogosphere Is A Carnival. (I'd quote some of the lyrics but you never know when an RIAA Nazi might be sniffing about.)
The carnival I’m seeing in my mind is one of those travelling carnivals that visit small towns every year, complete with the fabulous but cheesy midway. These lovely forms of entertainment have both their seductive and repulsive qualities and in many respects we are seduced by the seedier side of things and the sense of risk involved. The garishness has a beauty in and of itself that often belies the dirty underbelly beneath. There is also a certain comfort zone with these carnivals. From year to year, carnival to carnival, some of the attractions remain the same, never changing, and families and individuals seek out the same stops along the Midway each year. (My wife’s favorite is eating funnel cake.) And there is always something new, something different. And there is always something that fades away and is missing. Tradition and change side-by-side.
There is a great gaggle of humanity swirling around and through carnivals. And while the familiar serves as a comforting touchstone amid the chaos, there is often a delight in getting lost in the crowd, perhaps jettisoning your real persona, and mingling with the mobs. Carnivals are a great societal leveller as the haves and the have-nots alike get rooked by the pitch of the carnival barkers, and the ego swindlers prey on machismo to lure you with their siren calls. Carnivals are flashy, trashy, sassy, and ultimately very messy affairs, (if you’ve ever worked on a clean up crew or lived near a fair ground you know what I”m talking about.) And we delight it in all.
So, how does the analogy apply to the blogosphere? Let’s take a stroll down the Midway. (blogway?)
As you pop out of the parking lot and surf along with the crowds through the Midway gates, you’re attracted by the large and very colorful signs advertising the sights, sounds, and attractions of the Midway. The meme and link mashups serve the same purposes on the Blogosphere Midway. Pop open your browser and surf to tech.memeorandum, Megite, Topix, Blogniscient, TailRank, or any other, and you see long seductive lists of links and threads tantalising you to take it all in, some flashy with graphics, some with just text, but just like the Midway, you really can’t indulge in it all. You need to pick your battles. Because really and truly the Blogosphere Midway can be one big echo chamber with many of the attractions offering you the very same thing. There are only so many times in an evening that you can shoot at the targets for a prize, before you quickly realize each game is the same. But the sheer volume of stimulation adds to the excitement and the rush to take in more.
Amidst the echo chamber and clutter and all that noise you’ve got those special attractions. These A-list entertainments are the ones with the largest crowds standing on line for a chance to simulate mountain climbing, prove how strong they are, enter the fun house, and otherwise satisfy their egos by being the best with the best. Unfortunately right next door to the A-list attractions are the copycats, much like splogs, that rip off the idea, and try to lure you in with the same promises. Its often tough to see the difference because of the clutter and noise, just like its often tough to tell a splog from a blog until after you’ve visited the site.
All of that excitement and expense of energy usually means you get hungry or thirsty, and that’s when you notice the bright lights of the food concessions. Usually run now by large chains or networks, they all offer the same multi-purpose menus of delights from elephant ears, to funnel cakes, to carmel apples, to fancy fruit drinks, to corn dogs. Very similar to the large blog networks who all offer the same menu, with the same flashing lights, to the degree that it is tough to tell them apart.
And what would a carnival be without the Carnies. Folk trying to make a buck, working for the big guy, taking home their share, hoping someday to own their own stand right here on the Midway, right next to the big guy they are now working for.
And don’t forget the Barkers. Those wonderful, fast-talking, silky smooth salesmen, who pitch you and pitch you and point you here, or point you there, spinning words and promises so fast, that you really believe that everyone wins a big prize and that there are no losers. We’re as enthralled by the pitch, as we are by the search engines that promise the largest number of, and the most accurate results. We’re in awe of the numbers, we’re in awe of the speed, but does anyone, anywhere actually really look at entry number 13,417 on any topic? Does anyone, anywhere actually know someone that has won the big prize on the Midway, except the requisite number given away early in the day so that the rest of the crowd sees them being carried along? We see that first page of results, and go looking for more, knowing deep in our soul, that no matter how deep we search we’ll not find what we’re looking for, just like we know those next three ball tosses aren’t going to get us any closer to the big prize. But we toss anyway.
And speaking of those crowds that populate the Blogosphere Midway, you have all types. You see the over eager-achievers who play every game or leave a comment on every post on every blog. You see the over-indulgers carrying around large collections of beer or drink cups and stuffed animals, wearing multiple hats, linking to every post they can find. And there are the quiet-strollers, taking it all in, looking at the crowd, the attractions, the food, the drink, savoring it all from afar, like scrolling through their RSS reader without ever visiting a blog. And in an amongst the crowd there are also the smart guys, or smart-alecks, who love to heckle the barkers, the hustlers, and carnies, and love to pick a fight just for the heck of it, and usually back down like a smart aleck commenter, when he/she is called on the carpet, only to continue their bravado a few steps down the Midway.
There’s the inevitable broken attraction like the inevitable server crash, the occasional fight breaks out and sides get taken, the occasional child cries and the parents do what they can to make them happy, new romance blooms and old romance fades away as everyone struts their stuff down the Midway. It's chaos. It's fun. It's harmless entertainment. It's slightly dangerous. It's always the same. It's always changing. It's garish and beautiful all in the same glance. It's rough edges and ugliness are part of that beauty and part of the attraction.The blogosphere is like a carnival. As you head away from the garish lights to the parking lot, or close up your browser or feed reader for the night, you take comfort that it will always exist, it will always be the same, it will always change. Brrreeeport. Breememe. How about some more funnel cake?