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July 09, 2005

Blogospheres

This week, the biggest blog on the left and one of the largest on the right decided to purge their comment threads of disruptive influences. Kos's smiting was aimed at conspiracy-theorist leftists who were blaming Blair and Bush for the London bombing. RedState.org, for their purging part, is declared jihad on leftists in their comments.

Enough has been said about the right's distaste for comments that I'll not waste your time by charging that trampled ground, but it's nevertheless interesting that one of the few prominent sites in the conservosphere consciously attempting to build community and foster discussion is rapidly lifting the drawbridge and ejecting liberals into the moat. I've got conservatives on my blog. I've got conservatives in my e-mail. And while it's not always pleasant to read their rebuttals and rejoinders, I've always figured it's part of the conversation. Why hasn't the right done the same?

Matt thinks it's because of our parents. Atrios and Kos always had vibrant comment threads, so those who came after retained the tradition. Instapundit and Powerline had no space for discussion, so their successors were similarly dismissive of conversation. On the other hand, Josh Marshall, our most prominent professional blogger, has always floated far above the medium's amateurs, descending only occasionally to link to important posts on the largest blogs. Conversely, Andrew Sullivan enthusiastically promoted, applauded, and pushed those below him. The result? The right loves to promote its own, the left is more closed at the top.

I'm not sure I buy that. Josh Marshall, though much admired and emulated, wasn't so much a pacesetter for our side, if for no other reason than he eschewed involvement with the blogosphere. Looking to him for online etiquette would've been akin to asking an ascetic for advice on table manners. The left's inattentiveness to its young is just that: an absent-minded tendency to not spend time searching blogger's newest recruits. The right's doting character is similarly not Sullivan's fault, it's much more the example of Reynolds, who's a linkbot posing in humanoid form (presumably for take-over-the-world purposes).

But more than mere duplication of bloggers atop Technorati, I think the two sides have evolved as they have to support the sort of activism they favor. The right's activism is command-and-control stuff. By elevating a set of generals, they let a few at the top (and sometimes higher, as when directives from the RNC blast into their inboxes) decide the topic, and all those below begin hammering the message. Having comment boards, which by nature dilute messages and criticize ideas, would be less than helpful. More, this helps explain the right's love for promoting its young: smaller conservative bloggers know that Instalinks and Hewitt-mentions come from launching venom at the day's bete noire, and so they do. That incentive, plus the legions of like-minded blogs conservative writers have previously chosen to promote, creates the perfect structure for message dissemination and outrage coordination.

The left's activism, in contrast, is much more involvement based. It's coordinated. How many e-mails can we channel into Lou Dobbs' inbox? How much dirt can a thousand keyboard jockeys dig up on Jeff Gannon? How much money can we donate to Jon Tester? The bloggers (often) choose the goal, then turn it over to their commentors. Kos's self-sustaining, on-site blogosphere was the perfect setup for this. he doesn't need to give the order more than once or offer threads for updates and further discussion. It can all be sustained independently in the diaries.

RedState's purge is just inexperience, they don't trust the comment boards yet. The right doesn't delegate, they disseminate. As for the left? Our general ignorance and inattention to young bloggers is a symptom of trying to build our own sites into action centers, what happens outside the domain's boundary is of only limited use.

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Comments

Nah, I'm right and you're wrong -- ha! Also I don't think the left is bad at promoting young bloggers (there's you, after all, and me) we don't do much promoting of young blogs which is different.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Jul 9, 2005 6:08:05 PM

Fair semantic point. Beyond that, I don't blame you for worngness. I know Josh is in the room with you, waving the contract around and demanding you defend his influence.

Posted by: Ezra | Jul 9, 2005 6:11:11 PM

RedState seems to have absorbed their intolerance from other sites, like Tacitus, as the bloggers joined together, apparently to counter the effects of DailyKos.

The commenting rules at RedState are very explicit, and while they allow some Dem/Lib comments, they must be meek, humble, and certainly not attacks against their own or prominent Repubs. This isn't far different from other conservative environments (O'LIEly: 'just shut up') or the House of Reps disallowance of Dems amendments to bills. There isn't any observable interest in dialogue. That may explain why so few conservative blogs allow comments.

The lengthy comments from both sides of the issue on whether journalists should have an unimpeded right to protect sources (at dKos, for instance) is most characteristic of the liberal blogs. You can see both hard positions and people being swayed by cogent arguments and evidence. I'll take that kind of community discussion and advocacy any time.

Impressionistically, it seems like Dems like, tolerate and encourage more shades of opinion than do the Repubs. Repubs get high marks for staying on script, but the monolithic response seems to me to be evidence of top-down, rather than bottom-up thinking.

Could it be that the conservatives have more lower-visit sites than Dems be traced to voices trying to emerge from the group-think of Repub. thought?

And on the other side, could it be that Dem/Lib blogs like dKos and Atrios are bigger, more visited because Dems like to see a wider range of opinions and argue about it?

The more I see over the years of Repub vs Dem behavior, the more I become convinced (but not yet fully) that there is a major difference in personal worldview and political behavior between us, not just different opinions.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jul 9, 2005 6:35:22 PM

OK, given the premise that the left is "involvement based", how does this explain the lack of support for new bloggers on our side? You kind of tossed in this off-the-cuff explanation that we're absent-mindedly ignoring them, but that's no answer. Why are the lefties ignoring the newbies? What can we do to switch that around?

Posted by: PZ Myers | Jul 9, 2005 7:36:44 PM

We're ignoring them, in many cases, because what we want to do with our blogs doesn't include them. The right wants to spin its argument into an echo chamber, we want to mobilize our legions of commentators. As for how to change it...subvert the dominant link hierarchy? Invite smaller bloggers on to guestblog? Have Atrios, Kos and five other biggies jointly decide on five blogs a month to push?

I have no idea. I'm a problem-explainer, not solver ;)

Posted by: Ezra | Jul 9, 2005 7:47:43 PM

Nah, Ezra, you are the all-purpose solvent.

I think Atrios does a reasonable job of linking to less-heard places. Kos rarely links to anything in blog-world. Kevin Drum does some linking to the less-known.

A potential solution: mini-blogs on the major sites, liking to promising-voices' stories.

Guest blogging is also good, but runs the danger that the 'voice' of the home-blogger is diluted. Since Dem. blogs are not an echo-chamber, the blogs tend to get a distinct opinion-aura about them - a valuable asset (your blog being a great example).

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jul 9, 2005 8:14:09 PM

I think it's entirely possible to do both (do what you want with your blog and promote younger or smaller blogs). I will forever be indebtted to you for allowing me to guest blog for you - which helped me a lot. And I think your idea to let people step in on weekends is a good one - traffic is lower on the weekends, anyway; your voice (I don't think) is diluted by your guest bloggers.

I'm still a young (and small) blog, but I actively try to help blogs that are even younger and smaller than I am. I have a regular guest contributor, and I make a point of blogrolling only on Fridays, taking a moment to explain why I like the blogs I'm adding (an idea I stole from PSoTD). And I have Monday, Wednesday, and Friday Blogwhoring, which are essentially open threads for people to link back to themselves. And the Big Brass Alliance page is set up so that people can enter their own stories with links back to their blogs.

Basically, I just try to open as many avenues as possible for people to make themselves known. It doesn't take anything away from what I'm trying to accomplish, and it also suits my laziness (lol) - new bloggers find their way to me.

Jazz at Running Scared offered space on his blog to his favorite bloggers for their logos. The Dark Wraith started blogScream, which is essentially a blog ticker announcing headlines from participating blogs. I think there are lots of ways to support other bloggers that don't undermine one's primary goals, with a little thought and effort.

Posted by: Shakespeare's Sister | Jul 9, 2005 10:46:07 PM

I think the really big boys of the left seem to be a bit infatuated with themselves. I'll take the Pandagons and Ezra Kleins over the world over Atrios or Kos any day...which is why my netnewswire always has no new posts on those blogs and I have to hit "mark all as read" on the big boys every couple days.

The problem, in a way, with the big blogs, and I think this happens more on the left than the right, is that the blogs themselves have become news. Atrios and Kos are so controversial that they are frequently their own subjects. More generally, I wish there weren't so much in the news about the news, so I suppose its an extension of that.

An apologia for the big boys though: They're so frequently in the limelight as big-media sources that they scarcely have time to go ferret out the newest and brightest bloggers and posts. Everyone reading this can agree that blogs are an EPIC time-suck.

--adam

Posted by: adam j. sontag | Jul 10, 2005 4:14:10 AM

I think there's a lot of factors, since each individual blogger's choice to have comments or not has a lot to do with her personality. But as far as the trend, I honestly think it's because the left wing is committed to the idea of democracy and it just seems un-democratic not to have comments. Whereas the right is infatuated with the concept of authority, which is why their blogs take on a tone of pronouncements handed down from on high. I mean, think about which side thinks that a stone monument of the 10 Commandments in every courtyard is a good idea or not--a list of thou shalt nots that you can't argue with.

Posted by: Amanda Marcotte | Jul 10, 2005 11:16:17 AM

I find it frustrating that some of the major league bloggers continually link to only the major league blogs. I may be the most widely read and least linked to blogger and I find the experience frustrating. Matthew Yglesias, Atrios and Kevin Drum don't need the traffic. I could use some.

On the other hand, I'm writing largely about a subject, Latin America, that few on the left or the right (or in the White House and Congress until a crisis erupts) really give a shit about, so maybe I get what I deserve. ;-)

Posted by: Randy Paul | Jul 10, 2005 11:46:46 AM

From comments on Red State:

"This is a REPUBLICAN website created for the purpose of furthering the REPUBLICAN agenda. When the site becomes so over run with lefties that all the republicans are throwing in the towel and leaving, then the purpose of the site is being defeated."

I can kind of understand the commenters frustration -- the blogosphere has always acted as a place where a person can find information that supports one's viewpoint, even when unpopular -- but yeesh.

Where does it end? Are Hagel supporters in 08' persona non grata on the website because they don't support the war or demand resignations of Rumsfeld and the like? How about McCain supporters if/when he becomes more aggressive concerning the President's reckless fiscal agenda. How about if a moderate GOP senator (Snowe) lobs aggressive questioning concerning the GOP majority's courting of the religious right?

Kos is a strong force for the Left -- and I deeply admire both what he and Jerome at Mydd have achieved -- but the community there can, at times, act like a mob if one strays from current orthodoxy (the Dean vs. non-Dean flame wars were my favorite example). My point is that it shouldn't be the only place people look for left-leaning views.

I honestly don't know why one would shut themselves off from other views. It shows insecurity in your own intellectual views and a inflexibility that can be very dangerous (akin to the President's current inflexibility).

Here's an unorthodox thought. Ezra: why not have a guest blogger from the Right -- one you respect -- guest blog from time to time? One condition: he answers well reasoned arguments from the other side in comments or e-mail. I'd suggest Dave Justus, but I'm sure there are a ton.

Posted by: Chris Rasmussen | Jul 10, 2005 12:25:27 PM

OK, given the premise that the left is "involvement based", how does this explain the lack of support for new bloggers on our side?

I think that in Kos's case, support for "new bloggers" comes from the fact that Kos allows anyone become a "new blogger" via his Diary section. Those who are successful in using this format to promote themselves have to maintain a high level of consistency and quality over the long term, however, but that goes for any blog. It's always been my experience that the best way to attract traffic to your blog is through the judicious use of trackbacks to other blogs, and it would help if lefty-blogs made more universal use of trackbacks

Also, the experience of Red-State dealing with left-wing posters seems to be atypical of "community" blogs. When blogs force the use of user registration, the number of trolls seems to evaporate almost overnight (eg, Pandagon and OliverWillis). Kos, for example, simply doesn't have a large contingent of right-wing commenters trying to stir things up. Red-State's problem may be that simply the "culture of comments" exists to a much larger degree among the left, so any comment-based community system is going to attract a much larger percentage of those on the left than a left-wing community weblog will attract commenters on the right.

Posted by: Constantine | Jul 10, 2005 12:41:55 PM

Constantine highlights an important point. Changes at dKos and MyDD and the introduction of TPMCafe, as well as the launch of a bunch of group blogs out of dKos, may have introduced a relatively limited number of new blogs but has created a large number of opportunities for new bloggers to find a large audience at established high traffic sites.

I have a niche blog and some have asked why I don't open it for comments. Well I am way too busy over here where the readers are to worry about Site Meter and troll patrol. I guess the real question is whether there are Lefty voices out there that feel that they just can't get heard, and if so whether putting up an occasional comment or diary at dKos or Josh's new place maybe just the ticket they need.

(Maybe not everybody needs to be skippy international (tm))

Posted by: Bruce Webb | Jul 10, 2005 1:57:26 PM

Comments keep you honest, though not in the sense that there aren't commented blogs that are full of smack talk. But if you start a blog, and open up comments from the beginning, you aren't likely to really sling the trash talk until you've got a nice little posse of loyal commenters watching your back.

The application to RedState, with their large and thriving community, seems obvious. It's cool with me if they want to make the place a comfortable one for conservatives to discuss policy and strategy. But the time-honored way to accomplish this is, not for the site to ban the crashers, but for the regulars to mercilessly heckle, deride, and throw food at them. Bottom-up, not top-down, wouldn't they say?

Posted by: kth | Jul 10, 2005 5:47:15 PM

Are right wing commenters allowed on Kos? I can't recall ever seeing Republicans comment there since the whole registration system took effect.

Posted by: John | Jul 10, 2005 8:23:40 PM

I think John has a fair point. I've seen far more Democratic comments on redstate than I've seen right wingers @ kos.

Posted by: djw | Jul 11, 2005 12:07:41 AM

djw, as far as i can tell, they're allowed, it's just that they choose not to come. The act of requiring registration seems to discourage right-wingers from participating in a forum on a liberal blog. The highest profile purge of users of kos was directed a left-wingers peddling (in kos's opinion) unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

As I said, my theory is that the "culture of comments" is such that liberals are much more likely to join right-wing communities than the other way around, simply because liberals are used to joining online communities, and right-wingers are not.

Posted by: Constantine | Jul 11, 2005 2:39:59 AM

I think there's a lot of factors, since each individual blogger's choice to have comments or not has a lot to do with her personality. But as far as the trend, I honestly think it's because the left wing is committed to the idea of democracy and it just seems un-democratic not to have comments.

Yeah, I guess that's why Amanda's blog (yes, it is *her* blog now) only allows comments if they meet her "feminists" criteria. Criticism is not tolerated on Pandagon. I post on this and other liberal-leaning blogs and have for months now and no one other than Pandagon has any problem with it.
"Un-democratic" is not the term anyone would use to describe pandagon.net. That's OK, but like the Chinese government touting it's tolerance....let's call a spade a spade.

Posted by: Robert Zimmerman | Jul 11, 2005 8:40:15 AM

"Un-democratic"

OK, error there......should read "Democratic". Damn those flying fingers!

Posted by: Robert Zimmerman | Jul 11, 2005 8:53:03 AM

The act of requiring registration seems to discourage right-wingers from participating in a forum on a liberal blog.

Thats why you see many of the conservative commenters on TPMCafe keep the anonymous login.

There isn't any observable interest in dialogue.

Bingo. I think liberals actually believe that our ideas and words can stand up to fairly leveled criticism, so there is less fear in allowing it.

As for promoting smaller blogs, there is indeed a fair bit of stuff that doesn't make it into the community's eye. Of course, not all that stuff is really worth the links, is it? But if you, Ezra, or the bigger wigs, of which you will join soon enough, are truly interested in promoting smaller sites, then gosh darn it just do it. Create a special section of your site if you wish.

The other problem, re: the echo chamber. I think part of the problem is that lefties believe that when you make 1 remark, that is good enough to state your position and might be good enough to get others to comment on it, thereby echoing the sentiments. This is not true. Matthew realized this some months back, I wish I could remember the topic, but I believe it was some grand Republican lie during the campaign. He would repeat the truth of the actual matter and also preface the remark with a "I know I've said this before, but it bears repeating." Sometimes, it really is important to simply hammer away on a topic until it becomes common knowledge. (Of course, its hilarious at those times to hear the conservative commenters saying to "just get off it already, we heard you" when this happens, even though that's their sides main tactic.)

Posted by: Adrock | Jul 11, 2005 10:39:32 AM

Sometimes, it really is important to simply hammer away on a topic until it becomes common knowledge.

"If you say something often enough, to enough people, even if it isn't the truth, it becomes reality in the mass consciousness."

Posted by: Robert Zimmerman | Jul 11, 2005 11:59:45 AM

Constantine - I don't think conservatives are explicitly banned from Kos, but it certainly seems as though they're informally banned on a case by case basis. I know that if anybody puts out a diary with a Republicanish point, people come in and start leaving comments saying it should be removed, and it usually is pretty quickly removed.

To be honest, I'm glad that Kos has decided to purge some crazies from the site, but the atmosphere at Kos is generally so rabid (and, often, stupid) that I almost always feel uncomfortable going through the comments there, and I'm as much a Bush-hating liberal as anybody. I don't see that Kos should be held up as an example of how to have a community open to Republicans.

Posted by: John | Jul 11, 2005 2:39:55 PM

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 17, 2007 3:19:47 AM

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