Blogs versus MSM in the 18th Century

Trading Places,” by Peter Drucker, The National Interest, Spring 2005, pg 101.

(This article is kind of a rant. But then, so was Drucker’s article, so maybe he is rubbing off on me… — tdaxp)

In a provocative article, notes…

Information as a concept and a distinct category is an invention of the 18th century–of the newspaper in England and the encyclopedia in France. Within a century, information became global with the development of the modern postal system in the 1830s, followed almost immediately by the electric telegraph and the first computer language, the Morse Code. But unlike the newspaper and the encyclopedia, neither the postal service nor the telegraph made information public. On the contrary, they made it “privileged communication.” “Public information” by contrast–newspapers, radio, television–ran one way only, from the publisher to the recipient. The editor rather than the reader decided what was “fit to print.”

Contrasting the mammoth French “encyclopedias” to the frothing English newspapers reminded me of Eric S. Raymond’s short paper, The Cathedral and the Bazaar. In it, Raymond compared the development of Microsoft Windows to the Linux operating system, and he drew some historical parallels

Windows v. Linux
Cathedral v. Bazaar
Soviet v. American

That is, he saw being built laboriously guided by a single vision, like Medieval Cathedrals of the Soviet economy. , by contrast, was collaboratively developed through social networks, like bazaars (marketplaces) or the American economy.

Raymond’s list that can be extended to…

Internet Explorer v. Mozilla Firefox
Network-Centric War v. 4th Generation War
French Grande Encyclopedia v. English Newspapers
Super-empowered leaders v. Super-empowered individuals
Mainstream Media v. Blogs

In every case, the left hand side believes in concentrating power in a few individuals and then using everyone else as footsoldiers. In the 18th century, the French elite chose to concentrate power in the editors of the Encyclopedia, and the rest were left to submit articles for arbitrary approval or disapproval, or else just say good things about the encyclopedia and try to sell copies. In Britain, by contrast, anyone could start a newspaper, they could publish it in whatever format they wanted, and the market chose winners and losers.

We see the same thing today in the blogs v. MSM struggle. CBS, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, CNN, NYT, etc have bet on the Windows/Cathedral/Soviet/IE/NCW/Super-Leader/French approach. Bloggers use the tactics of the Linux/Bazaar/American/Firefox/4GW/English/Super-individuals.

Interestingly, the same super-empowered leader v. super-empowered individual debate exists within encyclopedia publishing itself. The world’s largest encyclopedia, Wikipedia, is organized as collection of hundreds of thousands of blogs. Nearly every page can be edited by everyone, and every page has its own forum or discussion page where anyone can opine. is an amazing project run super-empowered-individual and started by Americans.

Heavens save us from whatever a French-created blogosphere would look like. Probably like some gigantic, pretty, and intellectually dead encyclopedia.

2 thoughts on “Blogs versus MSM in the 18th Century”

  1. As you asked for it, just first random example from the back

    A random example of ideological cliches (I am not going even to comment on usefulness or uselessness of Wikipedia as that’s beyond the point) but only at how things are shuffled to make right ideological impression.

    Windows/Cathedral/Soviet/IE/NCW/Super-Leader/French – are presumably bad
    (not that I use Windows myself as I don’t, but the combination is nothing but a set of ideological cliches, distinctly negative in the mind of certain category of American public).

    Linux/Bazaar/American/Firefox/4GW/English/Super-individuals.- (are presumably good, very American)_.

    Neither one is proved. Supposedly (to American/ideology-constrained mind, not in realty) one system (rigid, Soviet) is supposedly better than (flexible, free, American) -why it is so and under what circumstances it is not explained. it’s just assumed to be so – but even that’s irrelevant even as the presentation in the format of a a Goebbelsian pamphlet.

    Striking (and ironic) are “examples” used to illustrate an ideological statement:

    Windows (used to illustrate rigidity, of being French), developed in the USA, is American, in fact is to a degree of symbol of the United States to the outside world. The publisher of Windows was American.
    vs
    Linux – (used to illustrate flexibility and Americanism) developed in Europe/Finland which has the highest percent of users in France. At the time of writing of original post, the world’s largest publisher of Linux distribution software was also French.

  2. Neither one is proved. Supposedly (to American/ideology-constrained mind, not in realty) one system (rigid, Soviet) is supposedly better than (flexible, free, American) -why it is so and under what circumstances it is not explained. it’s just assumed to be so – but even that’s irrelevant even as the presentation in the format of a a Goebbelsian pamphlet.

    That’s a fair criticism.

    This post is several years old, and (as you correctly point out) not that sophisticated. Indeed, encyclopedias and blogs (to use the guiding metaphor) both have their place, and the rise of Wikipedia argues that both approaches can be used to build a high-quality product.

    Your genetic analysis of Windows and Linux is a further example of this.

    Excellent comment!

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