Saturday, September 25, 2004

I Get It Now

Well it seems Steve was making some sense after all in his post about the proper role of small to medium blogs. This is why God created the caveat, for which I am very thankful tonight, because otherwise I’d be backpedaling pretty strongly about now. But I covered myself in my previous post in response to him with: “It's entirely possible that I will agree with his eventual thesis when I can put that statement into proper context.” Well I now have the context, and I find that I do agree.

Steve was speaking about a specific kind of political blogging, and not attempting to shoehorn the entire blogosphere into his pre-defined mold. And within the area of blogging he’s talking about, I not only agree, I picked up some important new ideas.

Essentially, Steve’s point is about the way the blogosphere is able to find and disseminate information broadly – even beyond normal blog readers. Not everyone is a blog-junkie. But they’ll probably read the blog of a friend, relative, or co-worker, and through that can be plugged into stories the legacy media tries to blackout – like the Swiftboat Veterans, or Rathergate. He sees his “role” as getting the important messages out to those people.

“If I've fulfilled my role properly, my brother will visit my site, read my news roundup or a quick analysis of a subject, forward my post to another friend, or make better informed points of his own while standing around the water cooler discussing current events with co-workers.”

But reading this, I got a new idea. Or more properly, a synthesis of two ideas.

Glenn Reynolds, a. k. a. the Instapundit, has been blogging on the difference between high-trust, and low-trust media environments for some time. Here’s a pretty good example in a recent post from him.

In summary, a high-trust environment is one in which a message is believed to be true without further verification on the basis of your “trust” in the sender. In a low-trust environment, you more vigorously attempt to verify the truthfulness of received information before believing it.

Glenn’s point has long been that the traditional media evolved into a “high-trust” paradigm - we report, you believe - on the basis of their in-house fact-checking, track record of truthfulness, and (in previous days) the large amount of effort required to independently fact check them. The blogosphere has developed as a “low-trust” environment; one in which facts may be (and usually are) checked almost the instant you publish them (via Google, e-mail, etc.), combined with the self-interest of political partisans of opposite perspectives to do that very thing.

Overlay that idea with the idea from Steve above. Steve is talking about disseminating information, true. But he’s also talking about disseminating it within a high-trust environment – family, friends and coworkers. In that way a message disseminated via the low-trust environment of the blogosphere can reach an end-point in which it is suddenly endowed with the attributes of a high-trust environment. People believe the message because of who they heard it from. Even though fact checking remains cheap and easy, they don’t bother. They trust the sender of the message.

I hadn’t thought of how those two things fit together quite that way before. Hugh Hewitt did, incidentally. It’s right in the Instapundit post I linked to above:

Hugh Hewitt makes an interesting point, which is that the smaller blogs -- because they're mostly read by friends and acquaintances of the bloggers -- may actually operate in a high-trust environment: "Sure, a few hundred blogs seem to own a large share of the traffic, as N.Z.Bear's rankings by traffic shows. But there are tens of thousands of blogs each racking up unique visitors. If those blogs in the tail pick up a meme --say, "Dan Rather is a doddering fool and CBS is covering up for him"-- its spread across the universe of people using the web for information gathering is huge and almost instantaneous. And irreversible because a friend or colleague of Rick is much more likely to believe his analysis because he knows and trusts Rick than . . . some knucklehead from CBS who is attempting to dismiss Rick as a pajama-wearing loon."”

Since I wasn’t really in tune with Steve’s message above, this point from Hugh never really resonated with me. Once you grasp Steve’s point above, the importance of the link to Glenn’s point is self-evident. A kind of “Eureka!” moment, which very well may be happening all over the blogosphere soon, if it’s not happening already.

In fact, it becomes the kind of paradigm changing thing in politics that we very well may be experiencing in this election. Big stuff. Makes me glad I finally pulled the trigger and bought Hugh’s book this week (via Amazon, hasn’t arrived yet). That guy is tuned into political blogging like no one else. Makes me thankful he’s on my side.

Incidentally, this also brings to mind some new kinds of high-trust environments which seem to be developing within the blogosphere which have nothing to do with pre-existing friends, family, or co-workers. But I’ll leave that thought for another post on another day.

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