An Introduction to the Imagined Community of Instant Publishing

At the core of the blogosphere lies a minority of active and engaged bloggers who post, comment, and link frequently, creating a kernel of conversational community based on personal networks facilitated by blogging tools and associated technologies. However, for the vast majority of users who blog casually, infrequently, and for the benefit of their real-world friends and family, the blogosphere does not exist in the ethereal, hyperlinked connections that bind blogs to one another; rather, it resides in the mind of the individual blogger as an online imagined community resulting from the shared experience of instant publishing. — Graham LampaAn Introduction to the Imagined Community of Instant Publishing (Into the Blogosphere)

In the 80s, the popular Boderbund software PrintShop made it easy for anyone with a printer to make huge banners (on fan-fold computer paper, of course). People who had never designed a banner or flyer before were suddenly able do it easily — though not necessarily well. Lampa begins his article by noting statistics taken from the Perseus Development Company survey that labeled two-thirds of weblogs found on large hosted websites are classified as “abandoned”. Data from these blogs also show that less than 10% linked to traditional news sources, and 20% don’t contain outbound links at all. The survey challenged the notion that weblogs are all (or mostly) updated daily, that they contain political commentary, and that they link to each other and outside sources frequently.



I have some idea of who reads my blog, simply because some of them comment, and others link in. But I get the idea that many more people read my blog than comment on it, simply because frequently when I blog on a topic that has drawn comments from certain people in the past, those people quickly comment on the latest entry, even if they haven’t commented on anything else in weeks or months. But I’m not sure what to make of Lampa’s claim that

for the vast majority of users who blog casually, infrequently, and for the benefit of their real-world friends and family, the blogosphere does not exist in the ethereal, hyperlinked connections that bind blogs to one another; rather, it resides in the mind of the individual blogger as an online imagined community resulting from the shared experience of instant publishing.

Because I don’t see hyperlinks as ethereal, maybe I’m tripped up by the implication that an imagined community is somehow less ethereal (insubstantial, intangible) than what the “typical” social teenage blogger generates in her mind regarding her audience.



If, as the Perseus report concludes, the “typical” social blogger writes casually for a small audience of friends and family, then she probably has a fairly concrete idea of who those friends and family are. That makes sense. But where, then, does “imagination” come into play? How does “imaginary” equate to “less ethereal”? Lampa quotes Benedict Anderson, who writes, “all communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are imagined.” Marshal McLuhan observed that media technology, which extends the reach of the human senses and expands the capacity of our memory, has the potential to turn the world into a “global village.” Lampa also notes the importance of the link economy (where amateurs give their work away for free) as contrasted with the market economy (where experts disseminate their works to the masses). He also notes that consumers of traditional news are only consumers, while bloggers are producers as well as consumers… this alone marks a huge shift in the power structure. This conception of the blogosphere has been examined fairly thoroughly.



Lampa’s section on “Filtering Community” covers the basics well, and observes that because bloggers tend to link to and discuss what interests them, “[i]nstead of deciding what will be most profitable to promote, the blogosphere promotes what its members find to be most interesting”. Of course, he pretty much means the top 5% of bloggers are the ones with the power, though of course if enough low- or mid-ranking bloggers talk about something, they are bound to attract the attention of one of the A-listers.



Lampa pushes the point as he works to his conclusion: “[T]he community represents a relatively small number of global elites who have the luxury of time, talent, and expendable wealth.” I balked for a little bit upon reading that, since the existence of all those dead free blogs on central hosting agencies should be evidence enough that creating blogs are so cheap that they are expendable. But a homeless person can use a computer in a public library in order to maintain a blog, but one has to be homeless in a society that has access to technology. The filtering characteristics of the blogosphere will naturally reward the kind of talent that is required to create content that appeals to the taste of bloggers, but that is little surprise. And, of course, maintaining a blog takes time.



Lampa’s conclusion does not dismiss the vast majority of bloggers who blog below the waterline, and ends on an optimistic note that “the imagined blogging community created by the mass ceremony of instant publishing will continue to produce previously unimaginable quantities of indexed, archived, and hyperlinked material that impacts people’s every day lives.”



I’d like to echo his observation that the nature of blogging necessarily changes as it increases in scale, from a small group of technically-savvy pioneers to a much more diverse and more loosely connected network.