Agoraphobia in the Blogosphere


Early 2006, like late 1989, was the year the wall came down. There was a lot of good conversation about gatekeeping in the blogosphere- the much debated phenomenon whereby the bloggers with the largest readership link primarily to each other and guard carefully the door to the elite blogging clubhouse. As a result of these discussions, a lot of people decided the blogosphere should be a free and open place, where new voices would be welcomed and everyone could join in the conversation.

Quite a few A-List bloggers did their part to promote and nurture the open blogosphere concept. Some even drew maps for the rest of us to use on Blogger’s Hill.

That was a good thing- for everybody. Because it is fair and just, sure. But also because the blogosphere is tiny in general (some people continually forget this)- and the tech-related blogosphere simply cannot survive and stay fresh without an inflow of new voices.

But after the walls came down, it seems a few of the old clubmembers began to feel anxious about the public and potentially crowded nature of the evolving blogosphere. A few seem to be suffering from agoraphobia. They have decided to build some new walls around themselves in an effort to recreate the blogging caste system that seems to be their safety zone. Several people (like Mathew Ingram and Scott Karp) do their best to convince these faux agoraphobics to get treatment, but their cries fall on deaf ears- because these agoraphobics (unlike real ones) don’t want to be cured. They just want their walls back.

Some, like Seth Godin and Russ Beattie (who later stopped blogging altogether), decided that interacting with the rest of us is just too much trouble. Others, most notably Steve Gillmor and those under his influence, argue that conversing with the rest of us is bad for their reputation and makes them seem less of an authority. I’m sure glad my college and graduate school professors didn’t think that.

Here’s the thing (again). There are no rules that require anyone’s personal web page (be it a blog or a walled in soapbox) to look a certain way or to link here, there or anywhere. Not wanting to talk to the rest of us is OK. Turning your blog into a personal newspaper or magazine equivalent of a one-man band is fine. Really.

The problem is that some of these faux agoraphobics want us to believe that they are making all of these decisions based on logic and reflection and with an eye toward the greater good, when the fact is they are being made primarily as a result of unchecked human nature and for personal gain. Cattle ranchers, miners, merchants and bloggers all benefit from being there first. The early arrivals get the best land and a head start on mining for gold and readers. When the gold rush starts and the rest of us head west, we are encroaching on their land and their fortunes. What began as a head start for them has transformed into a God-given right that demands protection. So ranchers, miners, merchants and bloggers try to circle the wagons against the newcomers. This isn’t some story I’m making up- this is history. Grab a book and check it out, or turn on the Westerns channel on DirecTV.

Add to that concept the other human need- to belong and exclude, and you can understand why the open and crowded blogosphere (or the possibility of it) is a ripe breeding ground for faux agoraphobia.

The absurd lengths some people go to in a silly and transparent effort to separate themselves from the rest of the blogosphere makes me wonder what these folks would do if there was actually any money to be made blogging. I suspect these turned up noses and fence building exercises would erupt into a full fledged range war.

Faux agoraphobia is spreading in parts of the blogosphere. There are lots of proffered explanations as to why. But there’s only one reason.

Human nature. They just won’t admit it.