Gatekeeping on a Flat Earth

Steve Rubel makes a good point about gatekeeping in a flat world.

Everyone’s a gatekeeper- not for keeping people out, but for putting information in.

Also note Amy Gahran‘s always interesting perspective in Steve’s Comments.

Steve’s post was inspired by this one by Jeff Jarvis. Jeff’s post is mostly about gatekeeping in the news media and public relations context, in preparation for some radio or TV show Jeff is appearing on to talk about Walmargate.

I don’t have any strong opinions one way or the other about Walmargate, other than to wonder what’s so different about what Walmart did and developers wining and dining bloggers, giving them free access to products and applications, and writing emails asking a blogger to review their product that contain feature summaries (parts of which often find their way into a blog post), etc. I’m not saying that opaque is good- I’m simply saying that if transparency is required, it should be required across the board.

Anyway, there are some other things in Jeff’s post that I find interesting.

Let’s start with this:

The problem with gatekeepers is that they try to control, to get in the way, to keep us from getting what we want.

Sort of Jeff, but in the context of the blogosphere that’s the indirect result of the bigger concern- keeping control of the microphone. Sure, that means that readers don’t get content they might want, but many of them probably don’t know they want it because the microphone holders fill the space pretty well.

Wanting to be the only one talking is different from wanting to be the only one being heard. The concern is not so much that a reader is getting a new perspective on an issue; it’s that “someone else is trying to use my platform to be heard.” It’s more of a musical chairs sort of thing. If that new guy is sitting down then one of us might be standing up when the music stops. It’s front end, not back end.

Again, I’m largely over the gatekeeper thing, which is why I focused on and started with Steve’s flattened earth comment. There are people out there who still want to silence the new voices, but:

(a) there are less of them than I originally thought; and

(b) the flattening forces at play in the blogosphere make it very hard to keep people out of the proverbial club.

Clearly some folks have a conscious or (perhaps, but not likely) unconscious desire to withhold conversation from without their favored peer group. Jeff strongly implies he’s not one of them, and I’ll take him at his word.

More often than not, the lack of a response is because the intended recipient didn’t see the post, as opposed to some sort of exclusionary practice. Not all the time, but more often than not.

He later updated his post to mention Steve’s post and say he hopes we’re not all gatekeepers. I think it’s a matter of semantics.

We are gatekeepers, the same way entrance ramps are gates to the freeway.

For example, I wouldn’t have heard about much of the stuff I write about if I hadn’t seen a reference to it somewhere- on My Yahoo, on a blog in my reading list, in the newspaper. Someone was an entrance ramp and put that information on the – tired metaphor alert- information superhighway (ugh!).

The onramps are always open- anyone can drive.

We just need to keep working to make it like that in the blogosphere.