Thursday, November 17, 2005

Welcome to the Blogosphere

Hi! Please read and comment! As I explained a few days ago, I'm writing an article for my college paper. I am looking to bloggers to help write it, as I think that demonstrates the power of the blogosphere. Thanks!

UPDATE: I'm also making this a sticky... scroll down [or click the SerandEz header and scroll down] for the latest from SerandEz.

[NOTE: This is a rough draft. The parts that are iffy to me: Too many quotes about 2/3 of the way through; streamlining quotes in a non-blog version; hyperlinks won't exist in a non-blog version - though those lines, at least, make sense even without them.

When I was first asked to write this article, I was unsure how to go about writing it. After all, the blogosphere is a world unto its own: A world which is limited only by the information and creativity that resides in the heads and hearts of every being on this planet, supplemented by whatever has been heard, written, or seen in each of our vastly different experiences. Or, in other words, it is limited by nothing at all.

The most common metaphor used to describe the blogosphere is an excellent one - a coffee shop. As one commenter put it,
It's like a place you drop in on and numerous interesting conversations are going on. You know most of the people there -- or even if you don't know them, you are welcome to join in the discussions. You can go to one table and talk about politics; another one and have an earnest discussion about religion. At a third table, people are telling funny stories and laughing. It's much more interactive than television or radio. Yet not quite as immediate as real life. An interesting midpoint between the two, perhaps.
But it's not just any coffeeshop. It's a huge coffeeshop in which one can comfortably sit down with just about anyone and start a conversation. Or, as another Jewish (or J-)blogger said,
Where else can you find Orthodox Jews and tallit-and-tefillin-wearing egalitarian Jewish women actually having a serious and respectful conversation concerning the Akedah with one another?
She and another commenter noted the same thing, that
one of the most interesting things about blogging is the chance to interact with the world and in particular the JBlog world gives Jews of all backgrounds a chance to peek inside the lives of others. There are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings of what the life of a Satmar, MO, Reform, Conservative, BT, FFB Jew is like and this world gives us a chance to see what is on the other side of the curtain.
Peeking, however, is only from the reader's perspective. It all begins with the blogs themselves.
I think an interesting aspect of the blogosphere is the fact that it seems to give so many the freedom to express their "true colors" in a way that they seem reluctant to do in real life, because of the anonymity involved. This, in turn, gives the readers the opportunity to see someone noone else ever really would.
Others think it's something else.
I think that for many of us, blogging is like a fantasy writing career.
Blogs (from the word weblogs) can be about anything. They can be someone's thoughts, experiences, or outlet. They run the gamut, from comic to depressing, sports to politics, love to hate. The blogosphere is a world of interconnection - credibility is earned through content; status by the number of people who link to and read you.

The most widely linked blog - Instapundit - is written by a law professor from Tennessee, Glenn Reynolds. Instapundit focuses primarily on news and politics, and interestingly says very little. Reynolds primarily links to other bloggers' posts, and often will say only "Heh" or "Indeed". By choosing only interesting, innovative, or intelligent posts, Reynolds established himself as a premier editor of the blogosphere. A link from Instapundit can result in an "Instalanche", or Instapundit avalanche, to a blog - anywhere between 5 and 15 thousand hits over the next 24 hours. He often notes that one of the blogosphere's strengths is its ability to immediately discover and uncover facts, quotes, and stories and reshape people's views. The mainstream media, for example, has just one hour to cover every major story - which means they pick and choose facts and stories, sometimes for neccessity, sometimes by choice. The blogosphere is an excellent check on this. One of the big booms in blog traffic occured after Dan Rather aired a CBS story with memos that seemed to prove President Bush had skipped out on his National Guard service. Within 8 minutes of the airing, bloggers had proved the documents to be an obvious forgery created on Microsoft Word, and CBS was made to look like fools when it took them almost 2 weeks to retract the story. Reynolds said it best a few years ago, as another blogger noted:
What bloggers are more than anything, I think, is anti-idiot. That makes life tough for Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, and the Revs. Falwell, Robertson, Jackson, & Sharpton, for reasons that transcend traditional partisanship and ideology.
Hugh Hewitt, another notable blogger, put it in perspective:
The old information monopoly had an enormous ability to decide where and when news would be 'news.' That gatekeeping function is gone, and blogs have rushed in to decide for themselves what matters.
The same is true in the J-blogosphere, as well. One of the most widely read Jewish blogs, Hirhurim, mostly discusses Halachic [Jewish law] or historical issues and brings sources to what he says. But not just typical halachos - learning on the subway, vomiting after kiddush, and cloning are discussed, as are the historical accuracies of Tuval-Kayin, the Mabul, and textualism in halacha.

Another prominent J-blogger who just retired from the blogosphere, the Godol Hador, would discuss the most controversial passages in the Torah and issues facing modern-day Judaism. His blog became a haven for believers, heretics, and everyone in between to battle out their facts and opinions, and gathered 230,000 hits in just 10 months. He used to trade barbs with DovBear, a liberal Orthodox Jew who blogs about just about everything, leaning toward cutting criticism of right-wing politicians and Jews of all stripes. Of course, there's also a Renegade Rebbetzin, whose byline, "I am Rebbetzin, hear me roar" speaks for itself, and Ba'al Tshuvas Anonymous [for discouraged and prospective BT's], whose beginning this blogger contributed to.

It is interesting to note the familial feel that occurs among bloggers, despite everyone's differences. As a few bloggers said,
GH's retirement showed that people can actually feel slightly emotional about pixels on their screen.
the people I have met through the blogging world have be incredible additions to my life and I think the relationships that are formed are done do because of the similar goals and focus in bloggers' lives which comes through in their blogs and bonds bloggers together.
I'm "meeting" Jews through the "Olam HaBlog" whom I'd never have the opportunity to get to know in real life. We tend to stay with our own kind in real life--be our "own kind" black-hat or apikorus/heretic. And we spend too much time looking down on one another. I may not always agree with some of the fine folks who comment on my blog, but it's a wonderful opportunity to learn from others, and to try to see Yahadut/Judaism through different eyes.
One of the most amazing things about the internet is that it has a way of bringing people together.

I have found that since starting my blog (as well as through having some of my writings published in various on-line forums) that I have come into contact with some really amazing people whose paths I would have otherwise not likely crossed.
From the Chief Editor of the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal to a teenager who's amassed over 1 million hits, blogs are reshaping America. It is conservative bloggers who first criticized the Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court, bloggers of all stripes who jumped on the PorkBusters bandwagon [designed to cut pork from the national budget; still going on], and a union of some of the most wide-read blogs on the left and right that has joined together against a proposal to limit bloggers' freedom of speech.

The same is true in the Jewish world. The J-Blogosphere has quickly risen to a world where all is discussed. The same discussions that might be hushed in some circles are shouted online; the difficulties and trials people used to suffer in solitude are now shared, if only to know that someone cares enough to listen. Then there's the humor, wittiness, relief, and exultations that are there, and the wonderful support from old bloggers to new.

The blogosphere is a world where there are discussions about - if not the answers to - everything you're looking for; where subjectivity reigns, and lies are shredded. It is a world of hyperlinks and tags, of carnivals and trackbacks. It is a world of storytellers, pundits, and soap-box speakers; of writers, commenters, and silent lurking readers.

Welcome to the (J-)blogosphere.


  1. The most common metaphor used to describe the blogosphere is an excellent one - a coffee shop.

    Phooey on that metaphor. It's too genteel. A good blog is more like a saloon, or a pub. You need yelling and screaming and occasionally a chair being busted up[side someones head to go along with all that conbverstaion

  2. His blog became a haven for believers, heretics, and everyone in between to battle out their facts and opinions, and gathered 230,000 hits in just 10 months.




    Dov, why sign anonymously?! :)

    I actually realized that as I wrote it, and kept it. I'm not about to explain that some people count every page view as a hit, others only every seperate reader. Plus, DovBear gets extra "hits" because people refresh the page to see if there are more comments. Should those count?

    Interesting note about the saloon, though... I'll consider adding that line in.

  4. You must not forget to mention the growth of skeptical/questioning jblogs. They're a vital part of the jblog "ecology" and are well-suited to the medium.

  5. Hi Ezzie, this is 4jkb4ia on the marriage/divorce thing. It turns out that Texas has not reported the number of divorces to the NCHS since 1997, and California since even earlier than that. If you do not have statistics for California any attempt to make any meaningful distinctions between blue and red states is hogwash.

  6. A while back I described blogging as "targeted socializing." I can have conversations with people anywhere about topics that are actually of interest to both of us. I'm not confined to the nonsensical small talk of people I happen to come in contact with in the real world.

    And when the conversation becomes boring, I leave. In the real world, I'm often stuck staring at someone who really doesn't interest me.

  7. Anon - I thought about those, and I'm not sure I have enough room to really discuss them... Instead, I threw in the "discussing issues that otherwise would be shushed".

    Mirty - Interesting point. I'll have to see how to squeeze it.

    PT - Heh. Funny, but actually a great point. That I can stick in easily.

    4jkb4ia - I was actually focusing on Texas vs. New England, but my point was that it's impossible to measure divorce rates simply and say it's "because of religion" or any other single factor. I was noting other reasons why Mass. would be lower, especially considering the rate used in the op-ed was based on per 1000 persons not couples. I think your point actually adds to my own, if anything...

  8. 4jk - Reading my comment, I realize that looks like an attack - sorry. Didn't intend it as such at all. Just noting points in a hurried fashion...

  9. What about heveil hevalim?

    I mention it because it seems to be the most prominent Jewish carnival. Glenn links to it!

  10. R2JB - whoops! Huge oversight. Only issue is I don't have room to explain carnivals... I'll figure it out.