The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Distributed Media 

I've been thinking about this concept quite a bit since the infamous Memogate scandal first broke. Blogging as a form of Media has been put in the spotlight significantly as of late, and the opinions about bloggers seem to fall into one of two categories:
  1. Blogging is a new form of media distribution that has much to offer and should prove interesting as it evolves more.
  2. Bloggers are people with far out opinions, who type out whatever they damn well please, without consequence, usually while wearing pajamas.

Being the techno-geek that I am, I of course will offer up my own opinion of blogging as it relates to the media. My personal belief is that blogging is much like a distributed computing environment. This can have some significant advantages that many major media pundits don't seem to understand.

With traditional computers, you have a box that does something... what I will call a monolithic system. It offers up a service (or set of services) in a particular fashion, at a particular speed that you know about. However, if that box malfunctions, or becomes unavailable for some reason, you're stuck. Sometimes it goes offline and you know about it... sometimes it malfunctions and provides incorrect results... but you may not know about it for some time.

A distributed computing environment is one in which multiple computers share the load in performing a task. These computers don't have to be identical, and most of the time they are not. They connect to the network and offer up whatever services they have using the capabilities that they have. If for some reason one of these computers shut down, the network remains active despite the loss. If a computer begins to malfunction, and provides incorrect results, than that machine can be forcibly removed from the network in order to maintain the integrity of the system as a whole.

The obvious analogy here is that traditional media services each act as monolithic services providing news at their pace, and in a way they see fit. Blogging on the other hand is the distributed equivalent. Most people who argue that blogging cannot be a valid media source look at each individual node in the network, and criticize it as being too weak. What they don't seem to understand is that this is the power of blogging. Each node offers it's small piece of information to the greater puzzle. There is no need for a single person to be an expert in all fields, as long as s/he has access to experts around the blogosphere. If someone becomes unreliable, or shares false information, they can easily be dropped as a source, thus maintaining the overall integrity of the system. Memogate is a perfect example. The few bloggers who originally broke the story had access to people with expertise in typography and computing typesetting. As the story grew, more people with expertise in those areas offered up their information. In the end, they provided better information than the few "experts" that CBS brought in. Yet individually, they may not have had much expertise at all.

Can a distributed media completely overtake and replace the monolithic services that exist today? I would offer that up to great debate. Even today in computing, there are people who argue the benefits of distributed computer over monolithic services. Distributed environments are generally harder to maintain. They can also be harder to use. Monolithic services offer up a single point of access to a system, with a single well known interface, and for that reason alone are still extremely popular.

The solution that distributed environments have offered to such a challenge is the concept of the "Super-Node". The idea is to have several larger nodes that act more as a routing system for the smaller nodes, than offering up a great deal of information of their own (not that they can't or don't). Not to knock Glenn Reynolds at all... but he is one of the blogosphere's great "Super-Nodes". He is what helps make distributed media easy to use and work well.

Monolithic media services have a hard time dropping their reporters and sources because that's their service. Without them, they almost shut down, and have a hard time recovering. There is power in distribution... it's just not all held in one place.

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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.


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