Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Watch Words

Any blog with the word "watch" in it -- other than one intended for timepiece fanciers -- sends a clear rhetorical signal from the title at the top of the page. It lets readers know that the author is putting forward a blog of single-minded scrutiny and critique, which can be a dangerous bid if visitors to the site assume that an overly narrow focus compromises objectivity and therefore credibility.

It seems that most "watch" blogs are devoted to corporations (Google Watch, Microsoft Watch, etc.), media organizations (Times Watch, Chicago Media Watch, etc.), or ideological orientations (Fundie Watch, Far Left Watch, etc.). To have a blog devoted to the name of a specific individual is, of course, a form of cultural flattery as well, since it occupies the opposite side of the same coin of cultural celebrity as fandom. For instance, there is a Hitchens Watch, which tells its readers in its banner that "We watch Hitchens, so you don't have to" (much as another "watch" oriented blog, News Hounds, says, "We watch FOX so you don't have to) and two different blogs for one right-wing commentator: Malkin Watch and Michelle Malkin Watch.

So it's interesting to look at Battelle Watch, which is devoted exclusively to Federated Media's John Battelle as an example of the genre. At the top of the page, we see the subject of the blog in an unflattering pose, displaying his middle finger, and the banner reads "because one fucking Internet bubble collapse just wasn't enough." The prose that follows is devoted exclusively to savaging Battelle by claiming that he is a huckster promoting a false economy and his own achievements. Its detail-oriented obsessiveness and spoiler mentality is clearly often off-base: for example, its ah ha moment with a broken link to a Berkeley faculty webpage hardly shows that Battelle is lying about past affiliations. Besides, reporters get information about academic positions wrong all the time; they certainly have in my case. There is also some irony to the fact that the author uses the same type of metric tools that his nemesis claims are important for monetizing the Internet economy, since the Battelle Watch blogroll includes sitemeter, Technorati, and Digg logos, and the HTML page contains metadata for collecting data about readership.

Certainly, there's a critique to be made against Battelle's would-be online media empire that has nothing to do with its economic viability. Although many of the digital rights activists that Battelle supports as bloggers and cites as sources are concerned about citizens' privacy and corporate incursions into the public sphere, it is the promise of deeply troubling information-gathering practices that attracts capital to Battelle's enterprises and by extension to these seemingly alternative media outlets. And Geert Lovink and Trebor Scholz have written about other forms of implicit coercion of Internet culture by global finance in The Art of Free Cooperation.

My fear is that what Battelle is talking about isn't actually huckerism or vaporware. There really is a new entertainment and information economy in which people are unwilling to pay directly for content and so will pay indirectly. In Los Angeles, journalists and writers for television and film that I know are only just beginning to realize this. People's individual private search habits and social media profiles already have definite dollar value to marketers, although I always laugh at the targeted ads I see, since I claim to be born in 1910. As search, mail, online video, blogging, social networking, and document sharing becomes absorbed by a limited number of companies, the aggregation of data will only become more totalizing.

However, to think that you can seriously engage in debate by creating one of these "watch"-themed blogs is sort of ridiculous, so I'm not surprised that the author of Battelle Watch eventually gave up on the axe that he was grinding so that now the site has been relegated to the realm of abandoned blogs.

(Thanks to fellow Polytechnic alum Elizabeth Jeffer Anerousis for the link. She -- like me -- went to prep school with Battelle. In the interest of full disclosure, I should probably admit that Battelle also teased me mercilessly as an adolescent -- even though I owned this awesome early PC -- but bought me drinks to make up for it as an adult.)

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Blogger MP said...

Was Elizabeth Jeffer also known as "Ellie" (SP)? There was a girl I remember who hung out with some of us in high school, who I may be mis-remembering as Ellie Jeffers (with an 's') but I thought she went to Westridge.

Fun Fact: I went to Chandler with Mr. Battelle.

1:04 AM  

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