blogs and the long tail

(Initially written for Networked Rhetorics)
Back in early February, I sat on a panel with Dan Gillmor as he positioned blogs within the proverbial “long tail.” With the influence of bloggers on mainstream journalism, he says, the tail has begun to wag the dog.
He’s right on a couple of things: blogs are definitely part of the long tail, and some bloggers are beginning to have an astonishing influence on breaking news stories, perhaps most notably with the Rather scandal. There’s a lot of talk lately about bloggers as journalists, fueled both by Gillmor’s We The Media and the recent Apple suits against bloggers. I won’t argue with any of that.
I do think, however, that these theories are only applicable to a very small portion of the blog population. Yes, some very prominent bloggers devote themselves to breaking news and attendant commentary. I would also extend the “journalist” definition to the pundit blogs. These folks are not the long tail, though. They’re toward the front of it, and if we lopped off the tail just behind them we’d have a very stubby tail. The whole blogger-as-journalist metaphor just doesn’t account for what the rest of us do.
Rather than journalism, I think the print precedent for most of us lies in zines. Remember zine culture? You, or you and a friend or two, put together this weird little collection of stuff that had to do with your particular, peculiar interests. It didn’t appeal to the masses and it wasn’t meant to. I think most blogs follow the same principle � a way to announce yourself and the strange little star you follow. Some look more zine-like than others: The Heretik and Slight Publications are examples. But regardless of visual style, the majority of blogs I read are targeted at a zine-like niche audience. There’s only a certain number of people who want to read a blog about grad student musings, intellectual property, pinups and (currently) broken ankles. Only a specific audience wants to read about badass, hilarious mothers. Or a postmodernist priest. Or a bunch of dieters. Or a lyrical cook. Or fringe music Or a bunch of rhetoricians.
These people aren’t wagging the dog, and I suspect they really don’t care one way or the other. The majority of blogs are firmly situated in the long part of the long tail, in the funky little cultural crevices. They provide expression and community for writers who are, in one way or another, part of the cultural fringe, and they provide a means for the mainstream to stumble upon us. And I think that is what makes the medium so powerful, and so interesting.

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One Response to blogs and the long tail

  1. Cristina says:

    So right. Just want to add: MSNBC has regular updates about what the “blogosphere” has to say, and all its anchors (more or less) have a “blog” on their site (“Hardblogger,” etc.), which are nothing more than editorials , indistinguishable per se from regular newspaper columns. They even asked for the opinion of (at least) one European blogger (who’s writing in English, of course) on the Terri Schiavo case! The blogs they cite are, however, always part of that front, stubby end of the tail. I think they miss entirely the point of 90% of the blogs, which, I agree with you, are way more personal and “niched.”

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