Blogal Governance and Ideology
posted by Dave Hoffman
Ah, 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.