Þe "Washington Post" Decides Þt It No Longer Has to Fear þe Blogosphere. Do Hijinks Ensue?, & BRIEFLY NOTED
CONDITION: A Very Nice Review of Slouching from John Quiggin!
John Quiggin: The slow demise of neoliberalism: ‘How the all-conquering movement contained the seeds of its own destruction…
Order Slouching Towards Utopia <bit.ly/3pP3Krk>! (If you have not already done so. If you have already done so, please email me to tell me what I got BigTime wrong in the book.)
FOCUS: Þe Washington Post Decides Þt It No Longer Has to Fear þe Blogosphere. Do Hijinks Ensue?
Dan Drezner of The Monkey Cage returns and dips his toe into the newsletter-weblogging pool with a bang!
Dan Drezner: Back to Old School Blogging?: An awful lot of forces seem to be pushing folks back to blogging. Is it 2002 all over again?: ‘John Scalzi wants a return to the “artisan, hand-crafted web” that was the old-time blogosphere.,,, DeLong likes the idea but notes that it ignores good old-fashioned incentives…. “we need to have an accurate theory of what caused the Fall of the Blogosphere in the first place. Why did the audience—and, yes, the creators too—succumb to the Siren song, and wind up doomscrolling through clickbait so that their glued-to-the-screen eyeballs could be sold to advertisers convincing them that the worse is actually the better product as they sell their fake diabetes cures and crypto grifts? When I talk to people, they shrug and say ‘attention economy’ and ‘human rapid, response, dopamine loops…”.
This already feels like a first-generation blog post, so I’m going to fall back into old habits and disagree vehemently with DeLong! [God, this feels so good, so right!—eds. Don’t start.] The incentive structure might be shifting back to blogging! Three things killed the old blogosphere good and dead… money… [as] bloggers were willing to… work for more established media outlets… Twitter… a far superior focal point for finding quick links, reactions, and responses… the smartphone… [as] the vertical… screen made normal-sized paragraphs look like tedious blocks of unindented text….
Each of these trends has now been partially reversed…. Mainstream media outlets that had previously embraced blogs are now spurning them. I left the Washington Post because the Post didn’t want to renew my contract… part of a larger trend to focus on news and investigations…. Substack phenomenon has enabled some to earn an income…. As for Twitter, well…. Finally, Substack’s subscription-based distribution has also conquered the phone problem. Folks read blogs as newsletter emails straight to their phone…. So in conclusion, DeLong might be wrong!… [But] for the old-time blogosphere to be revived, the superstars will have to endure, and I don’t know if that is possible in such a polarized political climate… developing…
I disagree that Twitter was a far superior focal point for "finding quick links, reactions, and responses".
RSS was the One True Protocol.
Admittedly, RSS had a problem amalgamating in presenting a combination of micro, blocking and longer form. But it always seemed to me that hashtags and feed-filtering could easily take care of that: #Microblog, #BlogPost, #Longform--those tags could have done the job. But then Google killed Google reader, and Twitter was there, and became the clown car that stumbled into a gold mine.
So perhaps, now we have another chance?
Do remember that the original aspiration for vox.com was to take the energy of the blogosphere and expand it out into an organization that would make money and transform the public sphere:
Matt Yglesias: What I learned co-founding Vox: ‘Our vision for Vox… revolved around embracing… digital… cover[ing] a wide range of topics with more depth and more speed, taking advantage of digital tools but also the timelessness of the web. The founding group included a tight-knit group of very talented digital journalists…. And we thought this was scalable—that it would be relatively easy to hire a lot more people and train them based on this vision and our methods. This was basically wrong. We did launch right out the gate with some fantastic high-volume writers and video visionaries, and over time Vox has continued to add amazing people…. [But] it turned out we didn’t have any “secret sauce” methodology we could reliably impart to new journalists to make them do work that was Ezra-esque….
The other gaping conceptual problem is that while I believe there was and is an audience for the kind of broad explanatory journalism we wanted to do, there weren’t customers for it. Journalists like to think of our audience as the customers, and one thing I love about Slow Boring is that here that really is true. But Vox’s readers weren’t customers; Vox was an ad sales business…
When I read this by Matt, I want to say: No, Matt! Talent is not scarce! There are huge numbers of people out there who could do Ezra-quality work! But you did not have the mechanisms to find them, bring them in, and pay them $$$$$.
And perhaps the real kicker comes in the second of the paragraphs I quote: You can’t do explainer journalism and still be a money-making subcontractor for Google and FaceBook ads unless you already have Ezra’s audience and reputation at hand. I noted an anguished cry from Timothy B. Lee:
in response to that paragraph he quotes by Matt.
It is in this context that SubStack’s free-and-paid newsletters model becomes very interesting. Perhaps it has the promise of providing people with a place where they can do their best work, and get a little cash on the side—enough cash that it is worth their while to continue spending some time doing their best work.
But by this time we are very confident that getting into the advertising-supported game makes it all about impossible to continue doing your best work. And distributing it all for free—well, it is a nonstarter to hope that you can gain a reputation which will then open other doors one of which will be remunerative.
We shall see…
MUST-READ: How to Grasp What GPT-Chat Might Be Good For:
Ethan Mollick: Four Paths to the Revelation: ‘our exercises to help you understand the potential…. Path 1: The Invisible, All-Knowing Intern…. Ask the AI to do some sort of writing you would need for your job…. Now, ask for changes. Remove the paragraph about uncertainty, add one about how hard it is to find an idea. Add a real example case to the point about competition. Boom. You may have to experiment to find the right prompts, but you can correct the AI when it is wrong…. Path 2: You are a Game Designer, Now…. Path 3: Launch a Business. Idea generation is a place where wrong bad ideas are easy to reject, and may help you think of good ones. The fact that AI can easily come up with ideas, even though some will be bad, makes this another way experience its power. So, lets explore some ideas, with the eye towards launching a business…. Path 4: Hallucinate Together. One problem with AI is its tendency to hallucinate, making up fake facts that seem entirely justified. This is a problem if you are not an expert in the field the AI is addressing, but it also means that the AI is capable of tremendous world-building. You can work together to go as deep into a world as you would like…. Taylor Swift starts a supergroup with the Beetles who have time-travelled from 1969. Give me the set list from their first concert, telling me which songs are by which people, and which are new songs…. Other Possible Paths…. Automate your job…. And this is just the beginning, rumors abound of GPT-4, which will likely be another huge increase in AI ability. If you hit a wall in your explorations now, it likely won’t exist sometime in the next year. And that is a revelatory realization…
Slouching Towards Utopia | J. Bradford Delong ’78. - Ep14: ‘In this episode of the Lives That Speak podcast, Bryan Gorman spoke to J. Bradford DeLong ’78, an economics professor at UC Berkeley about his new book, Slouching Towards Utopia: An Economic History of the Twentieth Century. They discuss technological innovation, the unintended outcomes of development, historical hypotheticals, and the economic lessons learned from the long 20th century.A highly regarded author, public servant, and scholar, Brad is currently a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. Brad also writes a widely read economics blog called Brad DeLong's Grasping Reality. Previously, he was a deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury during the Clinton administration.
Very Briefly Noted:
Henry Simons: A Positive Program for Laissez-Faire…
Noah Smith: The dream of bringing back Bell Labs: ‘Was America's most famous corporate lab a product of its time, or something that can be reproduced?…
Adam Gurri: The Case Against Dictatorship: ‘China’s system, rather than a monarchy or the fascist state, which stands as the alternative to liberal democracy…. Now, however, China has failed to vaccinate their vulnerable elderly population to any great degree, while those who have been vaccinated have received a markedly inferior product. Their lockdowns have grown more and more intense as the contagiousness of COVID has increased by leaps and bounds; for this and other reasons, US GDP will actually grow more in percentage terms this year than China for the first time in my lifetime…
Fun trivia I just learned that you can footnote for your 2nd edition of Slouching. In 1913, Wittgenstein, Hitler, Stalin, Tito, Trotsky, Freud and Jung were living in Vienna.
Lots of interesting things today - Quiggin being not the least. I'll touch on two others.
A good line, one unfortunately mostly absent from such discussions:
"If you hit a wall in your explorations now, it likely won’t exist sometime in the next year. "
Rather oversimplified, but how could it not be? I probably spent decades looking at dynamic objects as if they were static till that finally sank in. [Of course this then opens the hype window pretty wide.]
Meanwhile, at the level of user experiences, I'm sitting here looking at this on one of the virtual desktops on my macbook pro (on my lap, indeed) with the browser filling the screen, and as usual I seem to be an edge case for much of the discussion.