Blogal Governance and Ideology

stockexchange.jpgAh, the simple pleasures of a navel-gazing post.

There have been some rumblings of late about the relationship between the corporate form of law blogs and their informational ideology. Two examples:

  • Bill Sjostrom highlights the Caron Blawg Network’s insistence on non-competes, and adds that the policy “is consistent with the reception I got from the “blog empire” when Geoff and I launched this blog (at the time I was a contributing editor on Business Law Prof Blog and Contracts Prof Blog).”
  • James Grimmelmann criticizes SSRN for its deviations from open access norms, concluding that “[t]here’s a common theme here. In every case, SSRN put its own institutional self-interest ahead of the cause of open access.”

Grimmelmann adds later on in the post:

“SSRN is a for-profit corporation. It’s not yet (I think) a money-making corporation, but its goal is to make money for its owners. It has chosen to do so by providing useful open-access services to scholars, but when push comes to shove, the bottom line comes before the open access part. We don’t need to blame SSRN or find fault with it. It’s just doing what comes naturally—making the decision that it’s supplied sufficient open access to fit into a market niche and declaring that good enough. This point, by the way, applies to the Law Professor Blogs network. Almost uniquely among legal blogs, they are run by a corporation. Also almost uniquely among legal blogs, they don’t provide full-text RSS feeds. This is not a coincidence. The choice of organizational form leads to an obsession with revenue (or, less charitably, vice-versa), which leads to an emphasis on advertising revenue through ads on the web pages, which leads to a fear that full-text feeds would substitute for the revenue-producing web pages, which leads to the deliberate crippling of the feeds. Thus are the traditions of free scholarly exchange betrayed for thirty pieces of silver per click-through.”

The idea that corporate form determines an entity’s stance toward intellectual property seems pretty obvious, although I confess that I hadn’t thought of its application to the blawg context until quite recently. Indeed, after reading Eric Goldman’s Co-Blogging Law, I’ve been pushing for our blog to become incorporated, or at least significantly more sophisticated about its governance. (That lack of sophistication, by the way, is part of the reason that we’ve been ad free to date.) It is, I suppose, an empirically testable problem. Do incorporated blogs demonstrate different stances toward, say, linking to competitors (instead of quoting them in bulk), restraining co-bloggers, kowtowing to advertisers, etc.? I’d imagine so. But, no doubt, they also are probably more respectful of copyright and reputational claims.

To the extent that the maturation of blogging is now well begun, I wonder if it is fair to say that the current norms that mark the blawgosphere are also in flux. Ann Althouse complains mightly here of the unfairness of not being linked to by Andrew Sullivan, but this kind of thinking is so 2005. In today’s blawg-eat-blawg world, sending your customers to a competitor is just grossly negligent.

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3 Responses

  1. Ann Althouse says:

    But Dave, my post, the one he didn’t link to, was asking him to engage with me, to see me as an ally. By answering me in the unlinking way, he was implicitly saying “I don’t want to engage with you. I want to live in my insular world.” I agree about not linking to enemies. People attack me all the time and I can see that I shouldn’t reward them with a link. And if that’s what Sullivan thinks of me… well, that’s very interesting information. I wanted to call attention to that.

    I could have written this as a post on my blog, but I then I’d have had to link to you, and by your standard I’d be a chump.

  2. Dave Hoffman says:

    Ann.

    I think you are sort of missing the point of my post, which was to suggest that the norm of linking is related to the nonprofit, commons, ideology of the blogosphere. Sullivan is a self-employed businessperson – he doesn’t hate you, I’d imagine, but neither is it in his interest to link to you. I’m not sure how that decision gets turned into an “enemies” problem.

    I’d be happy if you linked to us – as I did to you – but, as I suggested, CO is a pretty uncommercial place at the moment.

  3. Ann Althouse says:

    Dave: “Ann Althouse complains mightly here of the unfairness of not being linked to by Andrew Sullivan, but this kind of thinking is so 2005.” That had enough of the flavor of insult to rub me the wrong way, especially in the context I was in, which involved lots of people mischaracterizing the nature of my dispute with Sullivan. You seemed to have picked up the meme, which I wanted to correct. I wasn’t trying to address the more general point of your post. In fact, I now realize that I didn’t ever read it. I’m interested in the topic of the noncompete agreements. I tend to think that selfish behavior in blogging — I hate the word “blawg” — will backfire. I stress the ethics of blogging in part because I want to thwart the people who are violating the traditional norms.