The folks at O’Reilly Network talk with Steven Johnson on “Emergence” (who will be keynoting at the Emerging Technology Conference this spring). Since reading it last fall, I keep coming back to the ideas presented in the book in the context of weblogs.
Take the universe of weblogs as a complex system. What, if anything, is “emerging” out of that system? One possible answer is that the collective act of weblogging is producing a basic form of journalism, which you might call “bottom-up journalism” or “peer-to-peer journalism”.
It works like this: individual webloggers, each acting in their own self-interest (the “simple-minded component parts” Johnson refers to), post bits of information to their weblogs.
Then the feedback loop starts. Readers and other webloggers take those initial bits of information, rework them, and feed them back into the system in the form of weblog posts, email feedback, or comments on individual weblog posts. Rinse. Repeat.
At the end of the line, in some instances, you eventually get a story that has been collectively edited by the system. Repeat this process millions of times a month with hundreds of thousands of participants, and you’ll get a few such stories a month.
In the end, at this stage in its development, it’s difficult to say whether the network of weblogs is emergent or not. Is the whole smarter than the sum of its parts? Is some higher level of structure or intelligence coming out of these 500,000 monkeys at their typewriters?
On the specific question of journalism, is the weblog network efficient at journalism? Probably not right now, but maybe that’s not the point. I have a hunch that weblogs are not “for journalism”, in the same way that the Internet is not “for business”, but that they will have an important role to play in the informal movement, filtering, dissemination, and refining of information.
What are your thoughts?
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