Bloot Me If You Need Me
June 10, 2013
In ancient times, when there was something that a tribe or village needed to discuss they called a folk moot, in which all the free members of the community would come together to discuss the matter at hand and decide what should be done. It is from this practice that we get the contemporary phrase “a moot point” which originally meant not that the subject was beyond discussion but that it was not yet decided and thus it could only be discussed at a moot, in the presence of everyone.
It is in this tradition that I coined the term bloot last week, for a blog moot, an opportunity to have the kind of cross-blog discussions that used to be the lifeblood of the blogging community. And indeed, we have now had a bloot – not the first of its kind, by any means, but perhaps the first to be recognised as such. It is with considerable gratitude that I thank everyone who got involved with this.
The first to speak up was Oscar Strik at Sub Specie, a new part of my blog existence but an increasingly important part of my life as a writer and lunatic. A late comer to the experience of blogging, Oscar nonetheless recognised the problem I was talking about in The Extinction of Blogs. He suggested that we might need to “jury-rig solutions” to the problems inherent in the currently overcrowded space of social media. His concluding remarks are worth quoting:
Twitter and Facebook are the virtual pub, if you will. They can lead to some wonderful acquaintances, and these have the potential to develop into deeper friendships. But again, if we want to maintain more in-depth conversations with some people, we will have to make a conscious effort, and allocate our time and attention accordingly. New technologies haven’t changed that basic principle.
This point reappears in the contribution Chris Lepine at The Artful Gamer made the following week, responding to Prototypes for Blog Revival. Chris, oddly, seemed to think part of the problem was an obsession with listening to ‘celebrity’ voices over personal interconnection. Oscar and I have been sceptical of this point, but I think perhaps only because the problem Chris points out is the wider one – that celebrity interest is more widespread than the desire to have a worthwhile discussion about serious matters. He concludes:
The disappearance of the game blog meant that independent voices were choked out by behemoth institutions that themselves have no special insight into gaming. What we lost was the ability to choose which topics mattered to us, and then start the conversation there… Imagine something like an 18th century Salon, without all the pretension and pseudointellectualism – just some serious chat with nice folks.
This ideal, that of the ‘salon’, is one that I share – and I’m not so worried about the pretension or pseudointellectualism as long as we get the conversation. But if this bloot has shown me anything, it’s that we’re not going to get this with our current technology, a point brought out nicely by Joe Tortuga at Cult of the Turtle:
Whatever software gets created will have to… incorporate the ease, identity and networks of the social sites. I suspect it’s going to be some technology that makes it easier to be who you are online, to carry your identity around, and participate in your networks and blogs at the same time. That’s going to take a third party who is willing to merge these networks together into some new identity, and that’s going to be hard from a political/business standpoint, probably more than engineering of it.
But then there was the tolling of the bell of doom from the longest standing member of my blog cluster, Corvus Elrod of Zakelro! Because Corvus, in sharp contrast to the rest of us, isn’t looking for the revival at all:
So the question becomes - do blogs need reviving? Are they critical, as Lepine suggests, to the growth and development of conversation around videogames? Are they the best outlet, as Bateman suggests, for more formal discussion around certain topics? I don't know. I know that the blogs I continue to read are highly personal explorations of important cultural and social issues around videogaming. I know that any continued blogging I do will be less about being socially networked and more about exploring my own issues in a semi-public forum. If that leads to interaction, that's terrific, but I'm not going to rely on interaction as my motivation for posting. After all, if I were doing it just for the interaction, I'd be on a social network posting this in smaller chunks right now. Speaking of which, I wonder what's happening on Twitter.
And this is the nub of the issue… because not all blogging is about community. My problem, and presumably Chris Lepine’s as well, is that right now none of the blogging is about community, which is a serious step down from where we were not that many years ago. So the situation going forward needs to be to leave the door open for community, when it is appropriate. For this, the informal bloot – an invitation to community on a specific topic – would seem to be a barely adequate solution, and yet the best we may be able to manage.
Fortunately, it was not all doom and gloom, as I discovered when a post appeared at Psychochild’s Blog and produced over a dozen comments within twelve hours! What was Brian’s secret? The answer seems to be twofold. Firstly, his blog cluster is part of the MMO community, which was always much livelier than neighbouring clusters, and although he complains that “there are less MMO bloggers these days” it seems there is still life in this corner of the internet. Secondly, he specifically courted a community geared towards commenting – something that I probably failed to do as my interests veered ever more towards philosophy and away from games as such. Brian concludes:
I think blogs have some serious benefits over social media. Not that I think anyone is going to forsake Twitter or Google+ to go back to just reading blogs, but I think we can do so much more. It might be time to really look at how we present blogs.
I agree. And I agree that we have a technology problem, too. But while we wait for the technical landscape to change, we should take heart from what this bloot has revealed – that bloggers are still out there, that some have maintained community and comments, and that all is far from lost.
Although I welcome further discussion on these topics, this bloot is now at its logical end. But I would like to use this final post to invite everyone involved to accept this imaginary Klieg searchlight with a stylized symbol of a blog on it, and to use the Bloot-signal whenever you feel the need to throw the discussion out to your wider cluster, a cluster of which I am a part. Not every topic demands this kind of discussion, but I for one am heartened to know that it is possible, however difficult, for debates like these to still take place out in the wilds of the internet.
You know where to find me. And you can always bloot me if you need me.
With infinite thanks to everyone who joined the discussions!
The opening image is a Doghouse Diaries cartoon which I found here. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.
For a couple of reasons I didn't blog anything about this and probably won't right now but I had a couple of thoughts.
One is about the ability to cross-communicate. Many moons ago there was Trackback, a way to be notified when someone cited you. Then the spammers got a hold of that and ruined it.
It's not that you blog for the "socialness of it" but often you blog as an opener to, or continuation of, a conversation and what blogs lack to me - now - is this mechanism.
The deeper point though is, I think, about the way that blogging never came to understand how communities are formed and so they were all ad hoc. When the social networks arrived as a force blogging had no compelling argument. Most people are not writers and want the social validation which they get. They never really discover the community they might want to be a part of (unless by serendipity).
I had ideas about solving these problems many moons ago. I suppose I still do but have never had the luxury of pursuing them.
Wish I had more time to be thoughtful about this topic but I'm very glad you've made an effort!
Posted by: Sandbags | June 10, 2013 at 05:10 PM
Oh and I have never wanted a Batsignal more!
Posted by: Sandbags | June 10, 2013 at 05:11 PM
Cheers for sharing your thoughts, Matt! I half-wondered if you'd blog something about this, but a comment is just as welcome. I agree that blogging was seriously deficit in community tools, and it cost them - also that the easy 'strokes' on the social networks were their magic bullet. But alas, that just allowed them to simulate community, to fake it. The blogs could have been more - maybe they still can.
Posted by: Chris | June 10, 2013 at 05:31 PM
Hi Chris, thanks a lot for the roundup of our discussion - very convenient! I thought I had something more to say about the technological side of things, but I haven't gathered my thoughts properly, so this is it for now.
Posted by: Qwallath | June 11, 2013 at 09:27 AM
Although I remained silent, I followed this discussion with great interest, here and on the other blogs. I’ve been following the videogame blogging scene for about two years I think, so I have no first-hand knowledge of this golden era you’re all talking about. But I’ve been blogging for four years now, and in my experience, what you have here is more lively than anything I’ve seen in French, where bloggers rarely respond to each others (sure, there are less writers, but that could also mean closer relationships, which isn’t the case at all).
It’s one of the reasons why I’m trying now to blog in English: people are conversing! Still, I think you’re right that blogging is often more isolated than what I’ve seen while looking in the backlogs of blogs I like (I did notice for instance that your comment section was far busier in your earlier posts). The BotRT at Critical Distance for example is a good initiative, for sure, but I don’t understand why they published all the links at the end of the month: if I write a post, I don’t know what the others are writing, and I can’t really respond to them because by the time I could do it the BotRT has moved on to another subject. I don’t know how was structured the original BotRT but it would be wise to announce the entries as soon as they’re ready. As it is now, the writers are doing their own things on their blogs, the theme of the month serving as an essentially superficial connection with other blogs they may not even be aware of. But Critical Distance does a pretty good job of sustaining the community, although I have a few queries.
And for the social media angle, as I am an artifact with no-Facebook, no-Twitter, no-Google+, not even a cellphone, I’m quite sad to see the conversation go to places I do not like. There’s too much noise on Twitter to follow a conversation, and not much to say anyway in 144 characters. It’s a good tool to promote a blog, but a poor one for discussion. I don’t have any solution to any of this (at least we can see that this bloot is working), but anyway, from my perspective, there’s no doubt that there is an active community here (it’s true though that we see it more often in some recurrent (or shall I say repetitive) debates).
Thanks for the initiative (and congratulations for the blog anniversary)!
Posted by: Sylvain L. | June 11, 2013 at 09:59 PM
Sylvain: thanks for sharing your perspective here! I hadn't really thought about how much worse the situation might be in a different language... French is a beautiful tongue, but of course it is not as widely spoken as English these days. That said, the French philosophers do an incredible job of maintaining links and conversation - why can that not spread into the blogs? Is it just that the English-language blogs pouch the discussions?
I share your view of the BoRT system at Critical Distance... it doesn't work if you post everything in one big dump. Corvus' BoRT had a drop-down box that was instantly and automatically updated when a new post appeared - that meant every blogger involved immediately could follow to the next post. It was incredibly effective! Corvus has suggested he might look into how something like that could be coded now - I hope he succeeds!
Twitter is a great place for a quick chat, but it is also a shallow place to do so. The mega-networks are terrifying and horrible... I participate in Google+ right now under duress, effectively forced to in order to maintain my search listings with Google. I am ethically divided on whether I should be making a stand and drawing a line, or whether I must pragmatically accept participation as a cost of the media landscape. No decision has been made. I have decided to give Google+ a fair shot before making a decision.
It's great that you look here and see a community - for me, it is just so much more diffuse than it was. Looking back over the last eight years, I look at the incredible discussions from 2007-2008 and can't believe how much quieter it is now. Yet, quiet is not dead, and perhaps I am not as thankful as I should be that conversation does still happen. I'm grateful to you for bringing this into focus for me!
All the best,
Posted by: Chris | June 12, 2013 at 08:29 AM
Some new musings on the subject, with special reference to the state of videogame blogging: http://www.eveningoflight.nl/subspecie/2013/07/06/the-future-of-videogame-logging/
This is part of this month's theme for Blogs of the Round Table. It seems we kicked something off here.
Posted by: Qwallath | July 06, 2013 at 11:38 AM