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January 12, 2004

happy birthday to this

This blog celebrated its first anniversary on Jan. 8, although I forgot to mark the day with an entry. (You can click here for the very first post.) Just a few days before I began to blog, I had moderated a conference panel on "communitarian approaches to cyberspace." Amitai Etzioni had selected the speakers, who included two of the most prominent--and best--bloggers in America: Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds. I knew about blogs, but I didn't recognize these people. Before the panel, I had quickly looked them up on their respective universities' websites, saw nothing about their blogs, and therefore failed to mention what makes them both most famous. The panel discussion naturally focused on blogs and strengthened my feeling that I'd like to get into the game myself. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who reacted that way. The two other invited speakers were Jack Balkin and Amitai himself. Balkin started his fine blog on Jan. 10, 2003; Etizioni's equally good one was launched a few months later in '03.

(Incidentally, I don't see blogs as having very much to do with community in cyberspace. I deeply appreciate the frequent visitors to this site who leave posts or send me email, and I look frequently to see what they're up to online. In a couple of cases, they have volunteered invaluable assistance or advice. Nevertheless, I doubt that any of us would describe those occasional exchanges as a "community.")

Posted by peterlevine at January 12, 2004 08:00 AM


Happy Anniversary to you and your blog. :)

On community - I agree, to an extent. There's a society of weblogs, and they do have their own little communities. These communities aren't traditional communities - rather they are made up of people as you describe, people we look in on occasionally or frequently. That's not community - but when they look back, that's a loose community.

Of course, when you find people who have worthwhile things to say you stop in and check on them to see what is going on in their own worlds.

And you wish them Happy Anniversary with their weblogs.

Posted by: Taran at January 11, 2004 09:21 PM

I had some misgivings when I wrote this post.

On the one hand, as someone who studies community and civil society, I don't see blogs as a very promising way to build community. I spend quite a bit of time both writing and reading blogs, yet my really significant human relationships are offline (sometimes enhanced by email).

On the other hand, I did not want to overlook certain relationships that have developed solely because of this blog. Taran (at is an example of a frequent visitor whose postings I always appreciate, yet we only know one another because of cross-postings and comments on our respective blogs. I am happy to call this a "loose" or "nascent" community. But I still feel that blogs will not do much to restore community in America as a whole. To the extent that the Internet can help, I would look to community websites, email lists, multiplayer games (not that I know much about them), and wikis--not blogs. But I certainly could be wrong about this, and I've been pleasantly surprised by the interactions that have occured simply because of this blog.

Posted by: Peter Levine at January 12, 2004 10:29 AM

Yes, I met you at a physical conference, and there are certain aspects of that conference that can't be replaced online. But actually, I find the informal parts of the conferences (lunches, hallway conversations) to be more valuable than the actual work of the conference. Here on your blog, we can have hallway conversations anytime, from anywhere, recorded for posterity which I value a lot.

In terms mechanics, think of blogs as local radio communities for civil society. In those communities, the majority of participants are listeners, with a few call-in guests and a tiny minority that are hosts.

In terms of impact, think of blogs as the new civil society. Just as we don't expect every citizen to be a part of 'civil society', we shouldn't expect that all citizens will think of blogs at the center of their communities. Blogs have a direct impact on how ideas spread among leaders, and an indirect, highly leveraged impact on "restoring community in America as a whole."

I do consider myself to be part of your community, with the blog at the center of it. Happy Birthday, blog - keep the faith!

Posted by: Michael Weiksner at January 12, 2004 12:00 PM

Congratulations, Peter, and great job on the weblog, as always. I believe I share your skepticism about blogging and community, much as I am wary of those who preach the "virtual community" mantra, which seems to suggest the possibility of a disembodied, entirely intentional community that exists independent of economic, political, cultural, and other factors.

On the other hand, I am quite convinced that activities like blogging can be very important community/association builders. I'm just back from the American Library Association conference where my blogging associations were a very important element in helping me become part of a number of face-to-face groups. I have yet to meet you, Peter, but I also believe that when that happens, our previous blogging communications will be an important contributor to that experience. That isn't to give some magical priority to blogging, but to recognize it as having the potential to promote relationships beyond the blog.

Part of the difficulty of talking about communities (whether online or not) seems to be that we experience our relationships quite fluidly and apply different priorities to them. This makes it difficult to clearly delineate what constitutes community and what does not. For instance, while I agree that there is a certain priority that we place on face-to-face relations, I would not agree we do so in all cases.

Finally, it would seem an egregious error to fall into the trap of letting an idealized definition of community stand as a static vision of appropriate social relations. To a certain extent, community is as community does (or as communities do). If community is to be a useful category for understanding human behavior, then the category must be flexible enough to accomodate the ways behaviors change as we develop new ways of relating to one another.

I have gone on long enough. I will think on this topic some more and, should I come up with something blog-worthy, will post a link in a subsequent comment.

Posted by: Frederick Emrich at January 13, 2004 07:58 PM

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