May 26th, 2005

beartato phd

(no subject)

In this article, titled "The First Rule of the Blogosphere...", Chris Anderson states a rule and, arguably, violates it twice. The first violation is in emphatically agreeing with the generalization "Blogs are all individual", and the second is his claim that "In short, blogs are a Long Tail, and it is always a mistake to generalize about the quality or nature of content in the Long Tail--it is, by definition, variable and diverse." The rule is, by the way, "don't generalize about the blogosphere". I always thought the cardinal rule was "don't use words like 'blogosphere'", but what do I know.

I wish to draw attention to this second statement, which I think is a rather cunning rhetorical move. Schematically, I see it like this:

  1. Step 1: {Thing X that we both know about} is {Term Y that I invented or at least popularized in a certain jargon sense}. (At this stage I cannot disagree, since I do not know what Term Y means, exactly)
  2. Step 2: {Term Y} has {Property Z}, by definition! (Prima facie, I cannot disagree with this bit either, since he is free to define his terms however he likes! However, the property of "being susceptible to no generalizations" I think is fatally barberic — this is really my objection to this whole business of the "long tail")
  3. Conclusion: Bingo.

It takes a sort of mental "second pass" (not that it's a significant burden) to notice that Step 1 and Step 2 taken together are actually making the claim (call it C) that {Thing X} has {Property Z}. If you're paying attention, you'll catch it, but it really sounds seductively like an argument for C (and a tight one at that: "look! it holds by definition!") when in reality it's no argument at all, just an assertion that C holds. I'm not really accusing Chris of being deceptive intentionally, but writing like that can be deceptively persuasive even in excess of its "true" argumentative content.