Weddings, ticks and blogs

April 25, 2002 "What do weddings, the Super Bowl, presidential inaugurations, graduation ceremonies and political rallies... have in common?" asks Virginia Postrel in today's New York Times.

These events help solve what game theorists call the "coordination problem" that results when players do not share a common understanding of a situation, or, if they do know the same things, don't realize that they share this understanding.

Thus the importance of the events highlighted by Postrel: each allows you to make sure that "other people know what you know and that you know that they know that you know." The events establish a common knowledge that serves as a bedrock for future interactions. In other words, these events put everyone on the same page.

Economist Michael Suk-Young Chwe has stressed the role of public rituals in economic behavior, notes Postrel. Chwe's theory helps explain the premium value of advertising at "common knowledge events." Products or services like computer programs or stylish tennis shoes, whose success depends on widespread simultaneous adoption by a self-concious community, do well to advertise at the Super Bowl, while privately consumed goods (like batteries or pizzas) don't. Postrel continues:

Conversely, advertising to large markets where audience members are unaware of each other isn't as valuable. The lack of common knowledge may explain, for instance, why a high-traffic Web site like Yahoo still has trouble getting the sort of ad dollars a TV show with the same audience would draw. Because Yahoo users are unaware of each other and may in fact be looking at different parts of the site, Yahoo doesn't generate common knowledge.

A community of bloggers seems a perfect "common knowledge event." Smaller than the Super Bowl but bigger than a wedding party, bloggers refract information through a transparent public space, and each participating blogger is aware of what her peers know. I hope Postrel, an accomplished blogger, takes a stab at connecting these dots, at least on her own blog.


Doctor Weevil recently floated a meme -- what's the best analogy for the relationship between blogger & journalist? (Via John Hiler.) Weevil offered tick/sheep, remora/shark, gadfly/horse (a nod to Socrates), and toothcleaning bird/crocodile.

In the comments section, other bloggers suggested pairs like darts/boards, referrers/webpages and jesters/kings. I particularly liked Ed Murray's "apples/oranges." But most of the analogies belittle blogs, so I'll turn the relationship upside down and offer these pairs to express the blogs/journalism dualism --





Journalism (as promulgated in J-schools) isn't "more real," "older," "more legitimate," "bigger" or "truer" than blogging. On the contrary, it's journalism that is the derivative, the inbred offshoot of old and durable species of human interaction -- talk, gossip, information trading, story telling, oration and theatre -- while blogging is the healthy descendant of the old, natural stock.

Blogging is bigger than Journalism. John Scalzi's useful recent number crunching ignored the impact blogging has on the lives of its producers/consumers. For both writer and reader, blogging works better than Journalism because, as with all natural communication, there's instant feedback between audience and creator, whether through log files, reactions in other blogs, or opinion aggregators like Metafilter, Blogdex and Daypop.

It is a rare publication that receives more than a handful of letters to the editor per issue. Last week, Matt Welch., 2500-visitor-a-day blogger, told me he gets 30 e-mails daily from readers. Over three decades, the tale of Woodward and Bernstein inspired hundreds of people to try journalism. In just six months, the daily example set by Glenn Reynolds has inspired hundreds of new bloggers.

Force = Mass X Acceleration. Blogs are gaining both M and A, Journalism is gaining neither.

Henry Copeland in Paris, France.

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