There is no blogosphere

There is no blogosphere. There is only the people in it.

It drives me nuts when peope continue to try to treat us as a mass. The blogosphere isn’t a thing. It is an uncollection of completely independent people talking. That is still the best definition of blogs I can think of: People in conversation. Just people: constituents, voters, customers, students, parishioners, neighbors, people.

But mass media keeps trying to lump us into a mass — the mass where we lived until we had the means to be heard as individuals.

Here’s Vaughn Ververs reacting to Richard Cohen reacting to the reaction to his column reacting to Stephen Colbert, to which Howard Kurtz also reacts. (And they call us an echo chamber?):

At the risk of running this topic into the ground, it follows my argument that the blogosphere is risking marginalization if it is perceived as a cauldron of anger rather than a repository of thought-provoking conversation.

We are not a mass, not a monolith, not even a medium. We’re just people talking. You’ll agree with some, disagree with some; like some, hate others. It’s just like life. It’s just people. The sooner you stop treating “the blogosphere” as a medium, the sooner you’ll understand how to interact with it. It’s made of people. Talk with them.

  • Tom B

    Disagree. Your definition is correct but there is a subsection of the blogosphere that consider themselves the “outsiders” that are “crashing the gates” of media, politics, government.

    They choose to get involved, or only converse about media/politics/etc.

    And when someone prints something they don’t like, many of them hurl invective and insults which hurts the legitimate criticism of the ones that try and argue reasonably.

    It’s like Jayson Blair huriting all press credibillity.

    Like it or not, bad apples spoiling the bunch is an apt metaphor for politicians, CEO’s, newspapers and bloggers in the blogosphere.

  • http://www.donatacom.com/blog.shtml Terry Heaton

    The press or anybody else can call us what they’d like and lump us into any mass they choose. It doesn’t and won’t change reality, though. One of the neat things about all this is that a decentralized world makes its own definitions and doesn’t need those from the centralized past.

    If you’re playing fullback and the announcer calls you a tailback, is it your responsibility to point out that the announcer is wrong? I don’t think so.

  • http://www.businessblogwire.com Easton Ellsworth

    This will sound geeky perhaps, but here goes: “The blogosphere” is a socially constructed concept or identity, not necessarily a reality with that term attached to it. You’re exactly right, Jeff. There isn’t even a cohesive, unified “we” or “us” to it. Sure, there are trends, unifying characteristics, and other general aspects that can be applied loosely (or tightly) to certain segments of the blogging population, or maybe even to all of it, but we still have to realize that when we say “THE BLOGOSPHERE,” we actually mean something else – for example, we are implying a certain political bias, or a certain style of reporting, etc.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to use the term “blogosphere.” I just think it’s naive to assume that everyone understands it to mean the same thing, or that all blogs somehow agree with one another or follow some mystical rules of physics that apply universally in some sort of collective entity.

    These ramblings were brought to you by a grad student in history, hence the “socially constructed” thang. It’s a fascinating topic to me, though: the changing ways in which people perceive what’s happening to media and the sharing of ideas and information.

  • http://balfes.net/blog Bob Balfe

    Why don’t we all rally and make it come true!

    Easton says it well:

    I just think it’s naive to assume that everyone understands it to mean the same thing, or that all blogs somehow agree with one another or follow some mystical rules of physics that apply universally in some sort of collective entity.

    If everyone agreed or knew what everyone else new there would not even be blogging.

  • http://oodja.blogspot.com Jersey Exile

    But Jeff, haven’t you yourself trumpeted the power of the blogosphere as an aggregator superior to that of individual critical voices? Seems to me that at times you like to play fast and loose with the definition of the new media, delighting in pointing out what the blogosphere is *not* when others attempt to define it as if you were a virtual Taoist sage. Which is totally cool with me (and probably befits you in your professorial aspect), as long as you acknowledge the possibility that the ‘sphere is both an individual and collective phenomenon. That of course is the beauty of the new media. When it needs to be about the many, it is about the many; when the individual voice is most important, that is what comes through instead. Naturally people will misunderstand it — especially those who are most threatened by its dynamism and ambiguity — but by now you should well know that these misunderstandings are as valid a part of the conversation as anything else.

    In other words: welcome to the po-mo funhouse, Professor Jarvis!

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  • http://billhobbs.com Bill Hobbs

    Amen. And as I tell my clients, the “blogosphere” is just a giant web of conversations, and you can’t influence the conversation about you unless you’re in it.

  • http://ruthcalvo Ruth

    The Richard Cohen episode seemed to be a peak of frustration by a lot of viewers who got annoyed when all the reruns and news reports showed the president’s little ‘my alter ego’ joke instead of the very raw remarks by Colbert, and that frustration caused a lot of people to direct their anger very volubly at Mr. Cohen for his put-down of the Colbert remarks.

    While it doesn’t surprise me that he got lots of complaints, I am constantly surprised that anyone feels it necessary to talk ‘trash’ – which is almost always counterproductive. But then, I realize that letters to the editor and calls to congresspeople have a lot a crank content, too.

    As Jeff says, it’s a collection of people and some of the world consists of cranks. But I see a lot of reference to the ‘blogosphere’ as a world of cranks being used to ward off criticism – by pundits who have earned the criticism. In Richard Cohen’s case, it did seem to produce what Jeff has referred to here as a ‘pissing contest’.

  • http://www.inopinion.com David Mastio
  • http://redstapler23.blogspot.com Suebob

    It seems that every columnist must attack bloggers at some point. I feel like it is fear of competition – columnists have traditionally had a pretty cushy gig and now the unwashed masses are writing things for free that are in many cases more interesting and educational than anything they ever said.

    As for the blogosphere being a place – I noticed this waaaay back in the late 80’s (pre-GUI, ha) on the Well in Berkeley (anyone? anyone?). I could not get it out of my head that the Well was NOT a place, because it felt so much like a neighborhood.

  • http://www.alistreview.com Diane Ensey

    The blogosphere isn’t an entity – Jeff is right about that – but there is a blogosphere in the sense that there is a North American, an Asia, even the Earth. The term blogosphere is a container for all the personalities and conversations that are occuring.

    People tend to view the blogosphere by their own contact with it. Like the joke about the six blind men and the elephant they think their personal contact with it is the entire entity.

  • Taylor Walsh

    A “collection of people” is a pretty broad description. Ghenghis Khan had a collection of people.

    The distrusted, uncontrollable, outsider-laden blogosphere takes its time-honored place along a path that links directly back to the appearance of the Internet itself, and to the original Big Bang of Us, the appearance of the most distrusted, uncontrollable device of all, the personal computer. There is really nothing to do but to keep doing ad-ons and see where they take us. And chart how we are changed in the process.

  • http://divedi.blogspot.com/ Dimitar Vesselinov

    Could someone marginalize 60 million people all over the world? I don’t think so.

  • Toblerone2

    The problem is in the word “blogosphere.” It has connotations of a self contained entity, one with physical properties to be studied and analyzed.

    Now, if we just used the logic of your last paragraph, we could just rename ourselves “Soylent Green” (it’s made of people!”) And then they would surely leave us alone. Or maybe even get your point.

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  • A Quiet American

    Let me get this straight.

    YOU can refer to the entire “mass media” as a singular faceless organization, despite differences in medium, region, language, point of view, target audience, etc.

    But THEY, THEM, the OTHERS, are completely out-of-bounds to refer to bloggers in the same way?

    Pot, Meet Kettle.

  • http://fratelliditalia.iobloggo.com Domiziano Galia

    There is no blogosphere. In fact there are blogospheres.

  • http://www.swarmingmedia.com nathan

    I think a pluralization of the word (to ‘blogospheres’) is actually a handy linguistic cue of what’s actually going on. It gets at the point that what goes on among these new media (and it’s not just blogs that interact in the ‘blogospheres’) is inherently multiple. To understand this refigured mode of interaction we need to address multiplicity in both identity and interaction.

    Yes, there are some emergent results which can be ade singular, but these actions are the product of multiple individual interactions on a lower level. The issue with older media is that these institutions are used to focusing on the singular mass product of many individuals (a newspaper, a television station) as opposed to focusing on the many mass products of individuals interacting within a complex network.

  • http://www.21learn.com Tuur Demeester

    as Ludwig von Mises said:

    ” There is no need to argue whether a collective is the sum resulting from the addition of its elements or more, whether it is a being suigeneris, and whether it is reasonable or not to speak of its will, plans, aims, and actions and to attribute to it a distinct “soul.” Such pedantic talk is idle. A collective whole is a particular aspect of the actions of various individuals and as such a real thing determining the course of events.”

    (, p44)

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  • http://mediabistro.com Dorian

    Did I piss you off, Jeff, when I said you were a “man who’s approaching stardom in the blogosphere”? It’s shorthand. It’s a way of saying, “one of the rare people using this particular tool or device who has also achieved name recognition among people outside the particular group.” Through your blog, Buzzmachine.com, you have achieved a certain recognition. The main point was that, though you are known in the space — whatever space it is — and somewhat outside it, the Yahoo chief didn’t seem to realize who you were.

    Maybe next time I’ll just say “punditry” ;) . That’s a joke. K?

  • http://mediabistro.com Dorian

    Sorry, forgot to include the URL.

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  • http://www.successful-blog.com Liz Strauss

    I can’t help but think that blogosphere is a term that takes on a connotation in context, and that it is sometimes used by those who don’t like bloggers to avoid sounding like there are people involved.

    Hear the difference? Russia Russians, America, Americans, Blogosphere, Bloggers. Stay with the first word in each case and as you propose, Jeff, the individuals are gone. We’re just one mean machine–a faceless body of text.

    I too agree with Easton

    I just think it’s naive to assume that everyone understands it to mean the same thing, or that all blogs somehow agree with one another or follow some mystical rules of physics that apply universally in some sort of collective entity.

    But I suspect it goes even further.

    Often when folks face things they don’t understand, they look first for the differences — particularly the differences, they cannot explain or those that they fear. Then they group and label them. That very act offers a feeling of control.

    On the other hand, we *wear the t-shirt* that says *I’m in the blogosphere.* so that we know who’s in the club and who’s not. Another very human response to something new. It’s how we tell each other who we are. Do we ever get out of high school?

  • http://www.chrisabraham.com/2006/05/the_blogosphere_4.php Chris Abraham

    I really didn’t meant to call you a moron but then again the name of my blog is Because the Medium is the Message and it was late last night when I read it.

    I constantly tell my students that they are way way way more than just their personal voice. Yes, there are two distinct levels: individual (blogger) and cultural (blogosphere). And each blogger is for sure a person and for sure has her own words and her own personality. But you’re doing bloggers — especially the neophyte — a disservice when you suggest that they’re not a medium.

    The blogosphere is a medium — a very powerful tsunami of individual voices (individual ants) that in unintended consequence have created an emergent pattern, an emergent voice — the passion chamber, if you get my drift from Naken Conversations — that is “a mass, not a monolith, not even a medium.”

    You can call an AP stringer just a person, a voice. But, if thst stringer is picked up and repeated and replicated (and we all know that there is zero discernment between AP stories and NYTimes stories, sadly) then that single voice can simple change brand and cultural perception.

    The single voice is not alone. That single voice is Kosmos.

  • http://islandmonkeyworld.blogspot.com/ ISLAND MONKEY

    Vladimir: Well, shall we blog?
    Estragon: Yes, let’s blog.
    They do not move.

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  • Mike

    Blogosphere is a word for idiots, it’s for sales people and cable news reporters. It is a word used by people who say things like Web 2.0 and own iPods.

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