Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Blogging 2.0

In trying to define his “Web 2.0,” Tim O’Reilly lists Internet entities and aspects that he sees as part of “Web 1.0” and their 2.0 counterparts. The personal website, for example, is superseded by the blog in the Web 2.0 world. At the heart of the Web 2.0 concept is the idea that the web itself, and not the individual computers supporting it, becomes the platform for applications—in fact, for the complete ‘life’ of the web. Even our home computers are reduced to functioning as access points, no longer operating simply as independent platforms in their own right.

In some respects, the movement from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 is a motion away from the individual to the communal, something of a reversal of the earlier trend from the mainframe to the stand-alone PC. As O’Reilly admits, defining Web 2.0 is difficult; some of the concepts associated with it (even the idea of the web as a platform) were also part of some Web 1.0 applications. Yet there is a clear difference between Web 2.0 and the earlier Internet manifestation—a difference of power, possibility and flexibility.

A similar progression is taking place today in the world of the blogs. They may themselves, as O’Reilly claims, be a part of Web 2.0, an interactive, somewhat communal and expansive replacement for the personal website, but their evolution did not stop with their establishment. Today, even as it is being incorporated into mainstream journalism at its own 1.0 level, the blog is progressing to a 2.0 manifestation that will be as different from the technology allowing for the commentator in pajamas to compete in the news media world as (to use another from O’Reilly’s list of differences) a “content management system” is from a wiki.

Of course, blogging manifests itself in a number of ways, especially as one begins to differentiate between the “blogging 1.0” level and “blogging 2.0.” “Live blogging,” for example, where one person present at an event records it while others comment, is qualitatively different from the individual commentary from the privacy of home—and really should be categorized as a manifestation of “blogging 2.0,” for it goes well beyond individual blogging and individual response. It brings the event into the world of the blog in a real-time manner. A stand-alone “community blog,” however, remains in the 1.0 world, for the focus is still on the individual writer operating in isolation. Even a community blog that exists as a discrete part of a broader web presence belongs at the 1.0 level, for it lacks the cross-over that brings it into the 2.0 world.

Some community blogs, however, exist within a broader, 2.0 network. One of these is sponsored by a group, ePluribus Media, that I am involved with.

Just what, then, makes ePluribus Media a “blogging 2.0” entity and not merely a manifestation of “blogging 1.0” sensibility?

First of all, the organization sprang from a “blogging 2.0” event two years ago this week, sparked when the faux reporter, Jeff Gannon, asked President Bush:
Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy. Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock-solid and there's no crisis there. How are you going to work -- you said you're going to reach out to these people -- how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?
Many listening (including me) found this question outrageous in its dishonesty (neither Reid nor Clinton said anything like what was attributed to them) and completely beyond anything that could be considered good journalistic information gathering.

A call by blogger SusanG on Daily Kos sparked a number of people to start looking into Gannon, his employer Talon News, and the process of White House press credentialing. Others, writing up their results on other blogs, began doing the same thing (it was elsewhere—on Americablog—that the most salacious bit, Gannon’s past as a gay male escort, was uncovered).

At first, I was simply an observer but (about two weeks later), realizing that something was happening that I could use, if for nothing else, for my writing classes (where I was experimenting with blogs), I contacted SusanG and assigned my students to start following the unfolding story and to write about it. SusanG put me in touch with the group that had formed around her and a “propagannon” investigative website that was being used to sort and discuss privately the information being gathered.

This was my real introduction to the Web 2.0 world, not too long after the phrase was coined. It was also my introduction to “blogging 2.0,” the expansion of the blogs into networks of various types of websites, people, writing, and researching that led to such quick and stunning results in the Gannon case.

The group that SusanG introduced me to, of course, was the group that would soon form ePluribus Media. Though some, including SusanG herself, have moved on to other projects, ePMedia remains a “blogging 2.0” organization. The latest manifestation has been work relating to the firings of US attorneys general—research and writing that has utilized email, web searches, hidden websites (for vetting information and asking questions before “publication”), and other Internet possibilities.

It is here that groups like ePMedia are distinct from the “blogging 1.0” sites like The Daily Kos. dKos, no matter how much many of us may love it and use it, doesn’t by itself move beyond the world of the individual blogger. Though that's not completely true, for dKos has evolved into an online political vehicle that is becoming much more than a simple blog, its “platform” is still the individual. What we are seeing with ePMedia and other blogging operations with a broader connective scheme (Jay Rosen’s NewAssignment.net comes to mind), is much more than an addition to the blogs as they were first conceived a decade ago. No, just as Wikipedia moves far beyond Encyclopedia Britannica Online into a Web 2.0 universe (which is no knock on the Britannica—just recognition that it exists within a differently constructed universe), so some bloggers are moving beyond “blogging 1.0” into a blogging universe that contains much more than an individual “call and response.”

The whole idea of Web 2.0 has bothered a number of people, for it has no clear definition. It is based on a mindset that embraces the illusion that the web is a thing (a real “cyberspace,” twenty years after) and that it can actually house both applications and data (though, of course, it does use physical computers in an almost endless series of networks to do this). It relies on the synergies of online applications and users to create something greater than any single application, physical platform, or user could manage. Similarly, “blogging 2.0” steps beyond the “physical” blogs themselves, beyond the websites that house them and even beyond the discussions they engender, creating an ephemeral network of people and information with much more power than the sum of its parts.

ePMedia contributes to that. It is going to be extremely interesting to see the other manifestations of “blogging 2.0” that will surely be appearing over the next few years, joining ePMedia and the others that have already stepped beyond the 1.0 world of the blogs, making it into something that can become a significant part of a new American public sphere.

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