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Mena Trott on Blogging

I have my irritations and concerns about Movable Type’s evolution as a software company, but Mena Trott made some thoughtful observations last week in a post responding to Jason Kottke grumbling about the demise of the Old Internet and Six Apart’s seeming indifference to its “community.”

The old Internet; I remember it well. I was user four hundred and something on Panix, a New York ISP that prided itself on, well, being one of the first. I knew who was rummaging around the Web in 1991. The old Internet was a toy for white male geeks, and its content and its structure reflected the interests of its founders. That’s not an indictment, merely an observation. I was there for the lengthy discussions about traceroute and host and dig and nslookup, and though it was fun on the micro scale, in terms of the impact of the Internet on society, these discussions were both a bit of a red herring and a snore.

The Internet became less fun for some of its participants when it became less of a “community” for the digirati and increasingly accessible to the masses, but it became much more fun, in a serious, big way, when it could be used by everyone else, from librarians helping users find access to health information, to the community members featured on Nightline several months ago who divvied up the Congressional budget among themselves to create a wonderful citizen’s review project–Naderism writ large and local. And yes, the world is a better place for the ability of teenage girls to say “OMG” to one another in the comfortable privacy of a LiveJournal clique. “Only connect.”

Six Apart, which started as a “kewl tool,” is now following the inevitable and salutary movement of many such projects, dismaying some of its earliest acolytes as it turns its focus toward producing stable products with appeal to broad user bases. (As stated before, I don’t have a quibble with paying for a product such as Movable Type, though I have a serious issue with what it considers to be core functionality.) This focus on usable products that bring blogging to every desk is not something to be mourned, but celebrated as a good and necessary development.

To speak to another kewl tool dominated by a minority voice, Wikipedia will have truly arrived when its “community” begins to express disappointment in the rabble infiltrating its citadel. It’s not just a question about content–ensuring Wikipedia has Gretel Ehrlich as well as John McPhee–but about the values expressed through design. The “egalitarian” nature of Wikipedia favors the loudest voice over the most authoritative, and as long as that continues to be the case its structure as an institution will be much closer to Lord of the Flies than Britannica. You can only be oblivious to the problems endemic to a system favoring strength over reason when, to quote one of my favorite bumper stickers, you are part of the dominant paradigm.

Mena also uses her blogging moment to respond with vigor to the “the ‘Where Are All the Women in Weblogging?’ question that pops up every so often,” providing fascinating data that women are half of the Typepad world, 40% of the Movable Type world, and 75% of LiveJournal. As Mena suggests, the women are there; it’s that their blogging efforts are not featured as much in the media, largely because women are not the dominant voices in the so-called “political” blogs, which in the peculiar self-referential nature of sexism, are the important blogs because men write them. This morning I was browsing several major technologically oriented websites such O’Reilly Network,,, and so forth. As is always the case, when you look at the conference panel mug shots, you see men. Men. Men. It’s much less imbalanced in librarianship (though the loudest voices in our own technology discussions tend to be male); I wonder why we haven’t promoted library systems work more to female techies.

I enjoyed Mena’s spirited stab at Kottke, her digressions about women and blogging, and her discussion about what she’s been up to. I agree that work and family can and should crowd out blogging. When I’m on deadline I don’t have time to blog, and after I have met my deadline, I usually need a physical and mental break from writing. My arms are sore, my brain empty, and The Atlantic and Vanity Fair beckon. Still, I wish Mena would take some of those fleeting thoughts she made reference to and share them with her readers, even in brief. She is speaking to a larger “community” than she realizes, and even a post a week could go far to prove that Six Apart understands its users. After all, I wasn’t present at the creation of Movable Type; I’m one of the latter-day rabble that Kottke deplores and Mena speaks to.

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