Last night I was reading Andrew Sullivan’s piece on blogging as a literary form in the current Atlantic (in the dead tree edition no less, a format I now use almost exclusively in the bathroom). “Andrew” argues that blogging is to writing as jazz is to music: an improvisational form that at its best is a conversation moderated and organized by the blogger. His vision is utopic, to say the least, but I think that works; the piece is not trying to be a dispassionate analysis of the place of blogging in cultural production. It’s an explanation from someone who not only drank the Kool-Aid, but is mixing it. For anyone who has ever blogged, it’s obvious that linking is what really makes the medium unique. Hyperlinks add an additional dimension to writing that situate your piece as a nodal point in a rhizomatic mediascape. (This has also started to seep into “print” writing to great effect, I’m thinking of Frank Rich).
But writing in this new form is a collective enterprise as much as it is an individual one—and the connections between bloggers are as important as the content on the blogs. The links not only drive conversation, they drive readers. The more you link, the more others will link to you, and the more traffic and readers you will get. The zero-sum game of old media—in which Time benefits from Newsweek’s decline and vice versa—becomes win-win. It’s great for Time to be linked to by Newsweek and the other way round. One of the most prized statistics in the blogosphere is therefore not the total number of readers or page views, but the “authority” you get by being linked to by other blogs. It’s an indication of how central you are to the online conversation of humankind.
In the age of Google the proprietary algorithm holds (arguably the most) significant epistemological power, there is a radically different relationship between media sources. At its best, this new mediascape is network-based rather than supported by an infrastructure of capital (printing presses, distribution networks, exclusive access). The transition from the zero-sum game of dead tree media to the systematic connectivity of new media is a novel logic. That’s why I was really interested this morning to see the newest nyt.com feature since TimesPeople (which I don’t think anyone I know uses): Times Extra. Enabling this feature puts a dynamically-updated list of links to other sources below each headline.
Seeing links to WSJ coverage on the NYT homepage is an example of how I think we can talk of a new logic. I’m under no illusions that little features like this will save newspapers, but they’re certainly not going to survive unless they understand the new rules of information. No paper can be an island.