Monday, June 05, 2006

Meditations on conversation and equality in the blogosphere: is Blawg Review a digital-age version of the 18th century coffeehouse?

Blawg Review a digital coffehouseThe hard-working (and anonymous editor) of Blawg Review (the weekly review of the best in law blogging) seemed understandably disappointed with the efforts of the most recent host of Blawg Review #60, judging by the post published today, which began with these observations:

When you don't show up to host the Blawg Review as scheduled, and don't offer so much as an apology or an excuse like my dog ate my blog, that's just unacceptable. Pardon me, sir? What's your name? Are you in this class? Sit down then, and pay attention if you will, please. You've already wasted enough of our time.
and ended with this note from the Blawg Review Editor:

…Blawg Review #60 is an alternative to Blawg Review #60: Gimme Some Truth at The Trademark Blog, which is not by any measure a Blawg Review. Regular participants in Blawg Review make their submissions and recommendations expecting that the host will, within the bounds of individual creativity, prepare a Blawg Review. It is essential to our project that we live up to those expectations, and not use the privilege of hosting Blawg Review for some other presentation, however interesting that might be.
While it is indeed true, as this earlier host of Blawg Review observed today, that"each host is free to organize and present the Blawg Review, without restrictions on personal creativity", it is also true that hosts must plan their submission with the understanding that "[i]t is the concept of Blawg Review, within reason, to be inclusive of all posts submitted for review in the week prior to each issue."

Thus, at Blawg Review's table kings and commoners (or, in modern parlance, A-list bloggers together with bloggers who occupy a rung that is lower on the alphabetical ladder) gather to partake equally of conversation, repartee, and wit.

Sadly, this week's host did not fully embrace these egalitarian principles. He linked only to those law blogs which "answer the question that interests me the most as a lawyer: Is this Administration [meaning the Bush administration in the U.S.] acting lawfully?"

What is unfortunate is that he did not place the law blog community on notice of his intentions in advance of the Blawg Review submission deadline. What is equally regrettable is that he chose to focus so narrowly on the vicissitudes of American politics (however deserving the topic may be), particularly when the law blog community's attention has been drawn by blogger Dan Hull to the fact that a whole legal world ripe for exploring awaits beyond America’s borders.

All of this put me in mind of something I had read earlier today on the subway into Boston this morning in Conversation: A History of a Declining Art by Stephen Miller. This delightful book recounts the virtues of England's Golden Age of conversation which flourished in British coffeehouses, the 18th century equivalent of the blogosphere.

Not only were coffeehouses a center for the enjoyment of conversation, but they also provided "a good Fire, which you may sit by as long you please; you have a Dish of Coffee; you meet your Friends for the transaction of Business; and all for a penny, if you don’t care to spend more."

Moreover,
The mingling of different classes in coffeehouses also impressed many visitors. "What a lesson, the Abbé Prévost said, “to see a lord, or two, a baronet, a shoemaker, a tailor, a wine-merchant, and a few others of the same stamp poring over the same newspapers. Truly the coffee houses…are the seats of English liberty."
Indeed.

How very like the broad-ranging and ecumenical Blawg Review. Where but Blawg Review does one find baronets and lords linked cheek-by-jowl with tailors and shoemakers? Law blog luminaries like Denise Howell and Evan Schaeffer together with lesser mortals (like yours truly)? Is not Blawg Review therefore the very seat of blog liberty? A coffeehouse of the digital age?

Those of you who remain confident in the enduring nature of Blawg Review’s democratic principles can partake of the spirit of law blog liberté, egalité, and fraternité at the site of next week’s host, Blonde Justice.

Submission guidelines, for lords and plebeians alike, may be found here.