Sunday, June 13, 2004

Blogs as APAs

The parallels between Amateur Press Associations (apas) and the emergent blogosphere have been much on my mind of late. The interactions are essentially the same, with the difference being that blogs usually have a daily turnaround, whereas the most frequent apas were monthly, and the norm was quarterly mailings. The greater posting frequency of blogs obviously changes the dynamic to at least a degree, since the blog provides greater immediacy but therefore requires a correspondingly greater commitment on the part of the reader who chooses to keep up; and of course, the blog carries less formal productivity requirements, though some of the indexes require that member blogs remain current or risk being delisted, which I suppose amounts to the same thing. But the blog provides a much closer parallel to apas then say the chatroom or list serve, because the blog provides a much higher degree of ownership, editorial control, and creative expression. Like the apazine, the blog belongs to the originator, and commentary on other blogs (including commentary on others’ commentary) is contained within one’s own editorializing rather than as part of a shared forum. Consequently, unlike the list serve where one has to put up with the intrusion of idiots and flame wars over which one has no control, in the blogosphere, one can simply ignore any discussion one considers a waste of time and any writer with whom one disagrees. The signal to noise ratio is therefore considerably higher than in chat rooms or list serves, since readers can follow link referrals from bloggers one admires to other similar –minded bloggers without ever encountering those who are less simpatico.

I had thought that chat rooms and list serves would spell the end of apas, and while participation in apas did decline rapidly during this period, the major apas survived. But the greater editorial control and creative expression available in the blog seems likely to displace the print apa. A few, like the original National Amateur Press Association (NAPA) and the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA) may continue to attract individuals who are interested in the print format per se, since (especially in NAPA) there were always a percentage who were primarily into printing (often using antique presses) as an art form; but for the majority, like myself, who simply used print as a medium through which reach an audience, the greater flexibility of the WWW (wider, cheaper distribution; free color; the potential for audio / visual / animation etc where required) pretty much displaces the earlier technology. But I see this as an evolution of the apa rather than its demise.

I was fairly active in the apa movement for much of the ‘80s and 90s, and learned a number of lessons which appear to carry over to blogs. One trend I am fairly confident in predicting is that blogs, like apas before them, are likely to drift off topic after an initial foundational period. Although many blogs serve a key networking function in allowing like-minded individuals to find and keep each other informed, once these individuals become comfortable within their circle of self-referential links, the original topic which brought them together is likely to become secondary to their personal interactions. The ease with which blogs can be initiated and maintained may mitigate this tendency to some extent, since many people keep both a topic specific blog and a separate personal blog, but as multiple entries in multiple blogs becomes onerous, the temptation to merge them into one commentary may increase over time. In any event, since these separate blogs often refer to each other, and since the topic blog is generally the primary source of recruitment of readers to the personal blog, they may be considered analytically part of the same output. And what I am observing is that the key words that classified and indexed particular blogs originally often do not accurately describe the content by the time I or others find them through the blog list & indexing services to which they subscribed.

This is, I must admit, also true of my own blog. I may have started this blog as part of my Social Context course, but even before the term was over, I was often a long way off the issues of popular culture and education, though simply by being who I am, those topics are more likely to crop up than some others. We’ll see what happens here once the fall term starts up again and I have another class

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