Facilitating local blog-sprawl
by Shai Sachs, Tue Apr 18, 2006 at 07:12:58 AM EDT
(Cross-posted on my blog, Planting Liberally)
Yesterday I posted about how we can help support local political groups. In that post I suggested that there are going to be three major waves of supporting local political groups, and that we are on the cusp of the second big wave.
Today I'm presenting the corrollary to that post: thoughts about the three waves of supporting local blog-sprawl. What is local blog-sprawl, and how can we support it?
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Blog-sprawl happens when a large number of blogs pop up and start focusing on a particular topic. Blog-sprawl is particularly useful when those blogs are organized around a city or town, since that's how political power is commonly organized. Local blogs can cover a local race in great depth and detail, and prove a tremendous resource for providing information and arguments in local political debates, and they can be a good compliment to local political groups in organizing residents of a town around an issue or an election.
As Chris Bowers has noted previously, conservatives have the upper hand on local blog-sprawl, even though liberals dominate the blogosphere on a national level. This local dominance has already been used to devastating effect, for example in the 2004 South Dakota senate race.
The three waves of supporting local political groups - technological support, followed by resource guides, followed by mentorship institutions - will hopefully be mimicked online. We should be especially careful to make sure that local blogs are, to the degree possible, community blogs which allow commenting and user posts.
The technological barriers to starting a community blog are lower than ever, thanks to efforts like Soapblox, and to a lesser degree, Civic Space Labs. We are well into the first wave of facilitating blog-sprawl.
The next wave of blog-sprawl support will be resource guides for people interested in starting blogs. There are many useful tips to be shared among blog-writers: technical know-how about using blog software, RSS, aggregators, and that sort of thing; savvy in getting information and assessing its quality; tips on what to write and how to write well; know-how about developing a readership base, managing a community, and interacting with the press and political officials. Local liberal blogospheres will benefit tremendously from a resource guide which pulls together all these tips and bits of wisdom; to date, there is no such resource guide that I know of.
The third wave of blog-sprawl support will probably take the form of training institutes and workshops which train local activists on the art and science of blogging. Conservatives already have such an institute up and running, although I haven't been able to find the link for it. It's not strictly necessary for the institute to take the form of a brick-and-mortar operation; it could, for example, exist as a small office which sends trainers to Democratic conventions, liberal conferences, small political group meetings, and similar events in order to conduct workshops. With blogging, getting your feet wet is often the most important step, and this should be the primary focus of the third wave.
The "third and a half"-th wave, or perhaps the fourth wave, will be a concerted effort to make money off of these blogs, and to financially support bloggers. A promising sign along these lines is the emergence of self-organizing blog advertising networks on BlogAds. Another promising sign is the publication of Crashing the Gate; as some reviewers have noted, this book is essentially a summary of the conventional wisdom in the liberal blogosphere regarding Democratic strategy, circa late 2005. This book is a landmark in that it does two things well: 1) it helps bring the liberal blogosphere's conventional wisdom to a wider audience; and 2) it helps blog-writers make money by selling books using intellectual products which are already fine-tuned by years of comments, posts, and ratings. In this case, the beneficiaries are Jerome and Markos, neither of whom need much help making money off of their blogs; but other blog-writers certainly do, and this book is an important first step.
The compliment to helping bloggers gain circulation and make more money is financially supporting bloggers. Right now, if a blogger is to obtain her own domain name and server, the costs are around $100 per year, plus a few hours' work in setting up the software. It's not a very significant cost, but it is certainly an obstacle for some. A blog-sprawl institute could help bloggers by maintaining its own servers, assuming all or some of the costs of technical maintenance, and even providing turn-key solutions that reduce the labor costs of installing and configuring software.
Along the way, throughout all three (or three and a half) waves of blog-sprawl development, the liberal blogosphere should pay particular attention to diversity. Bold affirmative action programs should be pursued to bring the voices of more women and minority authors online. Liberal blog-writers should be aggressive about discouraging sexist or race-baiting comments and posts on their blogs. Strict censorship is unnecessary in all but the most extreme circumstances, of course. But the front-page bloggers set a tone for the entire blog, and they can make a tremendous difference in whether sexist and racist language is considered acceptable on a blog. Blog-sprawl institutes should make a commitment to recruiting and supporting women and minority bloggers.
Similarly, liberal blogs should make serious efforts to support accessibility on their blogs. To the degree possible, liberal blog-sprawl should be accompanied by Section 508 compliance in blogging software. Section 508 compliance measures the degree to which a website is easy to use for disabled persons.
There's a long way to go before we have full-fledged support for blog-sprawl up and running. Luckily, I think that we can do quite well by just getting to the second wave, that is, resource guides for local bloggers. The third wave will no doubt be useful, and indeed necessary, within a couple of years. But I think the gains to be made from resource guides will dwarf the gains we make from blog-sprawl institutes and the like.