Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fourth Essay

Within the past decade, web technology has broadened the means of communication. Specifically, the advent of the blogosphere has led to an extension of interaction between people all around the world. The blogosphere provides an arena for discussion that most similarly resembles the public sphere. My observations on a particular blog, lead me to accept Barlow’s belief that blogospheres and political spheres share the characteristics of equality, decentralized authority, and inclusivity.

The blog that I chose to observe is called Awful Announcing. Created by Brian Powell in May of 2006, it is essentially a sports blog that focuses mainly on the perils and follies of the Sports Media. In addition, the site critiques and reviews those within the Sports World. The site has gained massive recognition through major sports programs such as Sports Center, ESPN Radio, and WFAN. I particularly liked the manner in which the blog was organized. There was little to no advertising on the website, and the information was easily accessible. The only advertisement on the site was for Yardbarker Networker, which promoted blogs by promising increased blog traffic and wealth of a user. The postings are created by Powell, who operates under the name Awful Announcing. He is assisted by two contributors who are referred to as Signal to Noise and Extrapolater. The three writers create postings and allow users to comment, criticize, and provide feedback on their articles.

For five days, I recorded my observations of all the things I saw in the blog. I made observations regarding the functioning of the blog and the interaction between users. The anonymity of the blog comforted me in some ways. Prior to this assignment, I had only participated in small forum discussions. Because I had known the other users in the forum, I would often refrain from freely expressing my ideas. Awful Announcing, is a large blog site with many different users. Therefore, people are free to express their ideas and discuss topics without embarrassment.

The first article that I observed was one regarding the Portland Trailblazers and Houston Rockets game. One user made a post questioning a decision made by the referee. Within thirty minutes, another user replied to the question. The users engaged in a discussion about their favorite teams and which team they thought was better. Users were not criticized for their opinions, and the discussion was conducted in a civil manner. The flow of discussion reminded me of an ideal public sphere. Users were equally allowed to express their ideas and opinions without being persecuted for their beliefs. The discussion was not regulated by any governing body, nor was the site in the hands of professionals. The flow of the discussion followed the horizontal structure that was described by Barlow. Average users were able to freely post their ideas.

Over the next few days I noticed that the blogs became more interactive and fostered heated debates. This can be attributed to the wide variety of topics that are discussed in the blogosphere. This characteristic of inclusivity is seen in the public sphere as well, strengthening the notion that the blogosphere is merely an extension of the public sphere. The next post I observed was called “The Pam Ward Chronicles”. It was a post explaining the past week in college football and highlighted pertinent issues in the sport. The author of the article received criticism from a user called Jfein. This user pointed out a grammar error in the article. Soon after, another user came to the defense of the author by calling Jfien a sexist. Although the argument between the users soon became off topic, the blogosphere still was open to any form of comment or criticism without any consequences. The inclusivity of the sphere allows the users to talk about any topic of their choosing even if the purpose of the site is sports issues. The argument between Jfien and the other user reminded me of discussions that happen in a public sphere. Arguments between people often get off topic and statements are manipulated. In political debates, candidates’ often try and twist the words of their opponents in order to make the other party look bad. In this case, the user brings up the issue of sexism in response to a grammatical correction made by another user. Irrespective of the intentions of Jfien, the other user brings up an irrelevant issue in order to place Jfien in a negative light.

After witnessing the argument between the two users, I was curious to see if the structure of this blogosphere was truly decentralized. I decided to make comments that would make me unfavorable amongst the users. My intentions were to see if I would be punished for my comments from a central body. The comment I posted was as follows: “San Fran is going to beat the Card’s what are you guys talking about… You are all stupid… It is a great Monday night game.” I wished to belittle the other users by calling them stupid and imply that I was laughing at them. However, no user responded or reacted to my comment. They went along with their discussion as if I had never said anything. To further press the matter, I posted “If you think the Card’s are gonna win you are dumb. You idiots hahahahaha.” This time, I was convinced that my immature insults could not go unpunished. I thought that the creators of the blog would block or preventing me from commenting on their site. To my surprise, I was still able to post comments hours later. The only responses that I received to my statement were requests for me to leave the discussion. Upon reflection, I realized that no user had any power over the other and that everyone was truly free to say whatever they pleased. However, for the sake of maintaining the structure and purpose of the blogosphere, users attempted to stay as civil as possible.

From my observations of Awful Announcing, I am able to conclude that the Blogosphere shares the same traits as a public sphere. Like a public sphere, Awful Announcing allowed its users to post their ideas freely without discrimination or bias. All users, regardless of their beliefs or opinions, were able to write what they wanted on this website. Furthermore, the site had no government or MSM regulation and was not in the hands of professionals. The structure of the blog was decentralized and there was no punishment for unfavorable postings. As web communication expands its horizons, our perception of the public sphere is extended. The blogosphere has fostered greater interaction allowing us to partake in discussions and debates with people from all across the globe.

Barlow, A. (2008). Blogging America The new public sphere. Westport, CT: Praeger.

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