Ping (zestyping) wrote,

  • Mood:

How it feels to be an outsider.

At SXSW, i learned that in order to be relevant, one must:
  • Have a blog, and update it two or three times a day. Bonus points for recording and posting video. The blog must run on fashionable blogging software; LiveJournals do not count.
  • Be a talented photographer and shoot beautiful images for decorating the blog.
  • Know CSS in detail and use it to make one’s pages gorgeous. All pages must validate perfectly. Bonus points for using unusual designerly typefaces or doing some crazy CSS trick no one else has thought of.
  • Read at least 50 or 60 other blogs every day, and comment on them. (And they must be the right ones. Bonus points for using aggregator software to suck in hundreds or thousands of blogs.)
  • Formally identify popular or famous people as friends on one’s blogroll.
  • Constantly monitor several incoming pubsub feeds on interesting topics.
  • Have a profile on Technorati and monitor several watchlists there.
  • Post ten or so pictures on Flickr every day.
  • Add a few dozen links to every day, and tag them with popular tags.
  • Have written a book (or a few books).
These are minimum requirements; to actually be considered interesting you must also do something exceptional or creative beyond these basic tasks, such as inventing a new blog-related technology, championing a controversial point of view, or running your own design company. Fail to meet the listed requirements, and you might as well not exist; it won’t matter what you have to say, what ideas you have, what you invent, or how hard you work, because no one who matters is listening.

The above is a bit of a parody, of course, but it does describe how i sometimes felt. It’s a little weird to see all the fretting about marginalization and lack of diversity in the community — not because such concerns are invalid, but because this community seems so oblivious to the entrenched exclusiveness yielded by its obsession with clique-forming, clique-reinforcing, and attention-shortening mechanisms.

(If you’re a member of the blogging elite, please understand i have nothing against you personally. I’m very glad to have met so many interesting people at SXSW, and i'm certainly guilty of my own biases and elitism. I merely want to document what it felt like to attend for the first time, and speculate on what makes the community as a whole behave like it does. Today i picked up a great catchphrase for describing this feeling: “going to your wife’s high school reunion.”)

Before i joined LiveJournal, talking to friends with journals felt a lot like this. It’s worse in this case, though, because now there are so many more information-gathering tools one is expected to use.

I think it’s noteworthy that every additional mechanism focuses heavily on the short-term past. In the blogger-oriented parts of the Web, recency is the universal quick-and-dirty substitute for relevance. BloggerWeb tools always sort information by recency; once items get old past a certain point, they are buried in heaps of older entries, condemned to the oblivion of too-many-clicks-to-find-it-again. Unless you read and respond fast enough, you risk trying to have a conversation with an empty room long after everyone else has left the party. I suspect that all this emphasis on the short term leads to an ignorance of the long-term past. The faster you add items to a blog, the faster each individual item expires. The more blogs you aggregate, the faster each individual item gets forgotten. The faster you dump information into your brain, the faster it falls out. Maybe spending so much time shoving in short-term items even starts to elbow out long-term memory after a while. Maybe that’s worth thinking about when we design new tools.

I think the requirement for ever-faster information processing is the source of some of the exclusivity i felt. As tools enable us to do more, the bar keeps getting raised higher and higher for how much you have to scan, how quickly you have to respond, and how much output you must generate in order to stay relevant.

Now i'll link to this post from a more popular blog, since this journal isn’t cool enough for anyone to whom this is relevant to read it (see requirement #1). ;)

By the way, if you’re coming from a “real” blog and want to make a comment, you’ll be treated as an outsider by LiveJournal’s software, i’m afraid; kindly indicate your name or URL in the text of your comment.
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