Where is Jorn Barger?

Jorn Barger, editor of Robot
Wisdom
, is missing. He resides in Socorro, New Mexico, and was last seen there by his housemate in very early October. Most if not all of his possessions, including his ID card, are still at his residence. —Eric Wagoner

Update: According to poster “cedar” on Metafilter: “I called the Sorocco PD at (505)835-1883 requesting any information they might have. Officer Richard Lopez returned my call immediately and let me know that Mr. Barger was not considered missing or in danger.” Glad to hear it.

Update, 5 Dec: In “Jorn
Barger has Left the Building
,” Wired offers a wrap-up that includes reaction
from Barger’s sister, but otherwise depends heavily on links to Metafilter.
Where is Jorn Barger?EricWagoner.com)

I’ve been on the receiving end of some of Jorn’s scorn (though I’m sure I was only a momentary blip on his radar). I’m also aware that because of the pro-Palestine angle of his linkage he has been accused of anti-Semitism. Still, I only reluctantly removed Robot Wisdom from my blogroll when he stopped updating it regularly. His contributions to cyberspace are significant (he coined the term “weblog,” for instance). Certainly any private citizen has the right to disappear from public view if he or she so chooses, but this sounds very strange.

About a week ago, I thought about writing a rather sad blog entry about the sad state of some excellent blogs, such as John S. Rhodes’s Webword (hasn’t been updated in since September), and Elwyn Jenkins’s Microdoc News (activity across all of Microdoc’s blogs has dropped drastically) and, of course, Barger’s Robot Wisdom. For some reason I never got around to writing that entry, but let me try a bit now.

Rhodes and Jenkins had hopes of using their blogs to elevate their profile and thus attract business.

Rhodes worked hard to create Webword as a community focused around usability issues, and though I seem to remember his site being ranked #2 in Google searches on usability, it may have been chilly in the long shadow of Jakob Nielsen. During the dot-com boom, when so much money was being spent on poor web designs, I really enjoyed the usability evangelization (and commiseration) that went on in the comments fields. Rhodes deputized some loyal community members to help run Webword. With my recent job change from technical writing to new media journalism, I’m not spending as much time on usability issues, which makes sense because the journalism majors that I educate will probably not be expected to design the websites for which they write. (I do still teach usability in “Writing for the Internet,” but since I no longer require students to design web pages for real-world clients, usability is less central to my pedagogy nowadays. Had I stayed in technical writing, or moved to a different school as a technical writer, I would have felt Webword’s absence more acutely.)

Jenkins created maybe a dozen or more weblogs with slightly different themes; his aggressive appearance on the blogosphere generated some flak:

“In short, Mr. Jenkins’ vaporous content is well on its way to earning him a place on most of the A-list blogrolls. From there he’ll be able to make a lot of money from blogging. And Google, no doubt, will make a lot of money by inserting ads on the bloggers’ pages. The only people who suffer will be those who try to use Google to find meaningful content.” — from How Bloggers Game Google, from Google-Watch (a site that is as critical of Google as Elwyn is laudatory; one of Jenkins’s several content clusters includes the study of Google)

The basic principle of starting a whole bunch of blogs in order to learn what kind of an audience you attract and then figuring out how to make a living serving that audience sounds like a perfectly reasonable strategy; yet I always found it hard to glimpse the “real” Elwyn in his blog (even Elwyn’s personal blog is sparse). Now, the spam comments collect on the otherwise inactive ProBlog, a group blog that he and others started as a reaction to Andrew Orlowski’s periodic and vitriolic attacks on the blogosphere.

I wouldn’t put my own online efforts in the same entrepreneurial categories as Rhodes or Jenkins… personally, I’m delighted that my position as a new media journalism faculty member gives me the excuse to continue blogging, while also permitting me to teach the occasional literature course, in an environment that seems willing to encourage my own creative new media efforts (chiefly in interactive fiction, but blogging is becoming more and more of a creative outlet for me).

As I contemplate grading weblog portfolios, I am once again buoyed by my own enthusiasm about weblogs as vehicles for personal expression, to help students trace their intellectual development, and to get them to experience the pleasures and responsibilities of publishing their ideas in a public forum, where real people can contact them and disagree or agree (as the case may be). Of course, there is always a certain percentage of students who simply can’t get intellectually involved in the subject matter, and for whom any assignment is tedious and unrewarding. I don’t see weblogs magically helping the disinterested and uninvolved students, but I do see the brightest students and the students in the solid center responding positively to their blogging experience.