The rise of the Internet has brought about a shift in the way people receive information. News and information on the Internet can now be identified as massed media, shifting away from the vertical structure in which it used to be obtained (Barlow, 2008). Without a doubt the vertical structure is still present on the Internet, as many of the major newspaper corporations have created online outlets. However, as Barlow mentions, the popularity of the blog has been created by the horizontal structure we now see (p. 88). A simple definition of a blog, found on SLSConsulting, states a blog as, "An online diary where people can post messages and others may view and respond to the posts." This simple idea has evolved into a new medium where anyone can report information about anything they want to. The horizontal structure found in blogs is makes them a successful communication medium.
Over the past week, I have submerged myself into the blog community of Boing Boing; to observe the horizontal structure first hand. While doing so, I kept a journal of what I saw and what occurred when I interacted with this blogging community. Boing Boing states itself as a "Directory of wonderful things." I agree with this statement as a vast amount of topics can be found on this blog. These topics ranged anywhere from flying cars to information on President elect Obama's food policy. Boing Boing has five authors who are the only ones that can edit and post to the blog. The blog is set up into three main pages. These consist of a general information blogging page, a blogging page focused on gadgets and a blogging page focused on videos they create. It also contains a directory of its posts since January 16, 2000, which gives it some research and more entertainment value. The main interaction tool of this blog that defines it as a community, is the comment tool. To use this, a user must sign up for the blog through create an account. This allows the user to further discuss a blog post with others and expand on the story.
Now that a general outlay of Boing Boing has been given, I can now dig deeper into the discussion of blogs and their horizontal structure. As Barlow mentions in chapter 4 of his book, Blogging @merica, blogs have become a successful way for a non-journalist to relay news and information (p. 89). The fact that anyone can be an author on a blog gives people this power that was once not available. Before the Internet, the news media was monopolized by major news corporations. In a sense it still is, but blogs have proven to be a new and popular outlet for relaying information (Barlow, 2008). While I was observing the Boing Boing blog, I noticed that it had a small amount of the top to bottom vertical structure. This is represented because the five authors are the only ones who can decide what stories can get posted to the blog. As mentioned by Barlow, this power is the only source of vertical structure in blogs (p.86).
As mentioned earlier, Boing Boing has five main authors for their blog. This in a sense also displays a democratic horizontal style because they all can have a say with what is posted (Barlow, 2008). I have yet to see any hierarchy within the five authors while observing the blog. This observation is only a minor representation of the horizontal structure found in blogs. The feature of Boing Boing and other blogs that screams out horizontal structure is the user comments. As I mentioned, a user is able to comment and discuss a story that is posted on the blog. During my observation period of Boing Boing, I decided to become a part of this discussion on a couple of posts.
The first post I commented on was about a man's house that was destroyed by an explosion of a nearby plant in England. This was posted by the author Mark and provided me with visuals of the house via a YouTube video. While I was looking through the comments I noticed that many users were offering their support to the man, as I did. One comment that caught my eye was by a user named Simon, who gave background on this town and the explosion, which wasn't available in the original post. This was a perfect example of the success that the horizontal structure gives a blog. This user gave their input of research on the story thus expanding it. Another user, in the comment section of this story, sparked a separate story within it, by providing a link of a documentary of England law. The fact that everyone has a say in a blog and can create their own story within another person's blog, proves on how successful blogs and their horizontal nature has become (Barlow, 2008).
The other blog post that I commented on was about the e-waste issue that I found within the gadget section of Boing Boing. This time I tried to generate a discussion by asking where I should recycle my old computer. I was quite surprised when the user "Not A Doktor" replied with, "Two words for you bud, nethack server." At first I was slightly confused, but then I looked up what a nethack server was and determined he was enlightening me of another use of my outdated computer. This story has been going around on blogs for a while and was just recently picked up by the television show 60 Minutes. As Barlow mentions, this is an example of crowdsourced journalism, which is another example of the advantages and success of the horizontal structure within blogs (p. 97).
In conclusion, the time I spent observing and interacting with the Boing Boing community was worth it. Through my observations I discovered how the horizontal structure of blogs works and encountered many examples that prove the success of blogs and their horizontal ways. The ability to post whatever information you desire is a unique quality of blogs and is not seen in the vertical structure of other media outlets. Whether its crowdsourced journalism or stories created within an original post, blogs prove to be a new competing medium (Barlow, 2008). With the further advancements in communication technologies, the Internet is becoming available almost anywhere. This gives blogs a bright future and could someday make them the paramount source for news and information.
1. Barlow, Arron. (2008). Blogging @merica: The New Public Sphere. Westport: Praeger.
2. Boing Boing