Is the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood blogging movement falling apart? Marc Lynch notes that one of those involved sees the energy being tamped down. A "personal thing" attracted notice last month, but has become a faction, which the leadership doesn't appreciate.
Interestingly, it's not a simple generational divide:
[T]he greatest pressure, I hear, actually came from the more radical and salafi youth who vehemently opposed the relatively liberal trend embodied in the blogging experiment.
Perhaps the movement will return to personal activities, underground.
Another population has started blogging: more than one hundred members of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. Marc Lynch, Middle East scholar and author of the fine Abu Aardvark blog, notes that this subsector of the blogosphere now constitutes an online pressure group within than Islamicist organization.
a novel feature of the Brothers’ “true face” began to emerge: sustained criticism of the platform posted by young Muslim Brothers on their personal blogs... “Is this the platform of a political party or a religious organization?” queried one youthful blogger, ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Mahmoud. The posts, in turn, generated another sharp debate, not only about the platform, but also about what it means to be a member of the Brothers and the limits of public dissent... Their jibes at the draft platform, along with those of secular commentators, were undoubtedly one reason why the draft party platform was withdrawn for revision in late October...
We might be seeing the emergence of a new generation of the Brotherhood, one attuned to a different form of information warfare:
Muhammad Hamza, a Muslim Brother and a blogger, identifies his as a “generation of the 2004 movement,” shaped by the information revolution—satellite TV, cellular phones and the Internet—and the appearance of human rights organizations. Armed with handheld technology, this “2004 generation” obtains and analyzes information, and communicates with fellow Brothers and activists with other leanings, with rapidity and ease.
These blogs are also oppose people outside of their organization, namely other Egyptian bloggers with different political stripes:
Until quite recently, Arab political blogging was dominated by liberal voices, often writing in English, with little representation for the powerful Islamic trends in society. In Egypt, blogging became virtually synonymous with the Kifaya movement. Innovators like Wa’il ‘Abbas (misrdigital.com), ‘Ala’ ‘Abd al-Fattah (manalaa.net) and ‘Amr Gharbiyya (gharbeia.net) were at the cutting edge of Internet activism, offering platforms for political debate and posting firsthand accounts of Kifaya demonstrations replete with video and photographs. Kifaya members used blogs to spread information, coordinate protest activities and communicate with each other.
As the Reason post and comments point out, these bloggers also blog about life in a non-party-discplined way.
September 23rd 1917.
I have received your letter and I got the cigs alright. You did not
mention about the mug you had got for Willie it will be very nice. I
will tell Ethel he has to use it. The raid you read about in the papers
was made by our Battalion. B Coy went over and we, no 12 platoon C. Coy
stood to. It was made to get a prisoner or two, to get information
which they did, they lost one man and two wounded, it happened about
five one morning. I got a slight wound in the face with shrapnel but
not much it is alright now, I did not go to the doctor. There as been a
big advance this last day or two but I have been left out. We get left
out in turns.we are expecting our Coy out tonight. We have some rough
times out here but I think the Germans have it rougher. We have to make
the best of it. I should be glad when it is all over.
May 28, 1793 – My weeding-woman swept up on the grass-plot a bushel-basket of blossoms from the white apple-tree: & yet that tree seems still covered with bloom. May 28, 1793 – The season is so cold, that no species of Hirundines make any advances towards building, & breeding. Brother Benjamin & Mrs. White, & Mary White, & Miss Mary Barker came. May 28, 1791 – Bantam-hen brings out four chickens. May 28, 1789 – A fly-catcher has built a nest in the great apricot-tree, in which there is one egg. May 28, 1788 – The Flycatcher, which was not seen ’till the 18th, has got a nest and four eggs. May 28, 1784 – Timothy the tortoise has been missing for more than a week.
And so on. Each of those days has its own URL (for example), but the main site aggregates many years. It's an interesting move, forcing our attention into a comparative stance. Makes sense, given the ecological nature of this text.
*1789... which reminds me: has anyone started blogging historical events along these lines? Focused events, such as a trial, an election, or a military campaign, for example. 1789 of course suggests doing "this day in the French Revolution," perhaps over a series of years. Or the Napoleon 101 duo could blog the Russian campaign, with podcast highlights, such as letters read aloud. One could post summary texts, quotes, maps, pictures, and so on to the blog.
Launching his Citizendium*, Larry Sanger offers a manifesto at Edge. He lays out an intellectual apparatus supporting the 'endium, and builds up an argument to lure readers away from the Wikipedia. It's a flawed, strange, unnecessarily difficult essay, but a useful one, in part for its flaws.
One interesting gap in Sanger's argument is his failure to address the blogosphere. He references blogs only three times, doesn't engage at all with them despite being useful for nearly every point of his argument, and actively avoids them at key points, like this one:
it is absolutely true that dabbleristic (if you will), expert-spurning content creation systems can create amazing things. That's what Web 2.0 is all about. While many might sneer at these productions generally, Web 2.0 has created some quite useful and interesting websites. Wikipedia and YouTube aren't popular for nothing, and for many people they are endlessly fascinating.
Setting aside the condescension (see below), Sanger's focus on aggregation-oriented "websites" as sources doesn't really apply the the many-millions-sourced blogosphere. This is where his dichotomy of experts vs Web 2.0 falls apart, since many bloggers are experts, and blog precisely from that standpoint. Consider public intellectuals, researchers, critics, and teachers, just for starters. It is, in fact, the disunity, the multiplicity of the blogosphere which enables so many points of attraction; there is no site. Instead the blogosphere offers distributed conversations and filtering. Hence the usefulness of RSS in letting individuals aggregate and work between these many points - and notice the absence of RSS in Sanger's piece?
Notice, too, that Sanger doesn't say much about people enjoying the publication platforms represented by Web 2.0. Instead the content presented there exerts a fascination, the allure of a shiny object to which one does not contribute.
A different problem comes from the historical background Sanger evokes. He offers a model of ancient hierarchical domination of knowledge early on in the essay, seeing it advance up to something like the present day. As Nicholas Carr snarls,
If elites were tightly controlling "what we know" for the past few centuries, they were certainly doing a clumsy job of it...
Moreover, Sanger's historical model isn't merely inaccurate and simplistic, but based on an unsurprising, even predictable elitism:
What's most appalling is the way it presents "we" - by which I assume Sanger means the entirely imaginary claylike mass of undifferentiated beings that to him and others of his ilk represents mankind - as being dumb receptor valves entirely without imagination or a capacity for free thought. If from the Enlightenment to the present, "we" were spoonfed "what we know" by some central cabal of elitist gatekeepers bent on thought control, then why are we - or, more precisely, were we - so smart?
The new politics of knowledge that I advocate would place experts at the head of the table, but—unlike the old order—gives the general public a place at the table as well.
"Is that the kids' table, Larry?" one speaker laughed on the podcast.
Sanger also commits the far too popular error of conflating wikis in general with the Wikipedia case. Quoting James Surowiecki, "An intelligent group, especially when confronted with cognition problems, does not ask its members to modify their positions in order to let the group reach a decision everyone can be happy with," Sanger claims that "that's exactly what happens on wikis, and on Wikipedia." Larry, that describes some wikis, but not all. Some wikis are closed, or single-authored, or group-authored, in ways which promote writing in ways other than consensus. How many have you seen?
Furthermore, one of the great problems of Web 2.0 is the fate of content which doesn't receive attention. The famous Siegenthaler entry, for example, became a problem in part because nobody bothered to read or edit it. It wasn't consensus, but lack of attention, and hence no operation of the wisdom of crowds, that led to the persistence of hoax content. This is very much a problem, especially for academia. Citizendium might offer some fixes for that, but Sanger doesn't offer any sign of seeing this possibility.
Sanger's essay falls prey to another historical problem. Despite it being a decades-old movement, the driver of the World Wide Web, with large numbers of academic objects attached to it (conferences, journals, scholarly articles and books), hypertext remains a problem for academia. We aren't sure how to handle the literacy of hyperlinks. We like to built information architectures which keep people from linking outwards, or just make it damned hard to do.
If Wikipedians actually believe that the credibility of articles is improved by citing things written by experts, will it not improve them even more if people like the experts cited are given a modest role in the project? And, on the other hand, if (somehow) it is not the fact that the cited references were created by experts, one has to wonder what the references are for. They have a mysterious, talismanic value, apparently. It seems that we all know that footnotes makes articles much more credible—but why? Whatever the reason, Wikipedians wouldn't want to say that it's because the people cited are credible authorities on their subjects.
That "mysterious, talismanic value" is simply the old, useful practice of hypertextual contextualization. That's foundational to the Web, both 1.0 and 2.0 (but not the 3d Web so far!). We can rely on the great work of experts, in short, without setting up hierarchies internal to our projects.
One last point: Sanger fails to offer a good answer to the challenge Wikipedia presents to academia, which is to participate in it. When I meet with other academics (professors, librarians, other campus staff) and read academic writing (cf the Chronicle, home of "internet: threat or menace?" journalism), they often speak of the Wikipedia as something wholly external, an object to behold, shun, or examine with goggles affixed to eyes lest they be injured by exposure.
What rarely comes up is the possibility of editing the thing, which would address many of the problems Sanger raises and suffers from. If one half of the United States professoriate and half the grad students - not all, just 50% - spent five minutes every year in one or two entries in their fields, surely the result would be an improved Wikipedia.
Take five minutes, folks, from a faculty meeting, or a committee, or a Friday afternoon, to check in on an entry concerning a topic to which you have devoted your adult life. Tweak a sentence for clarity. Add a line. Jump into the discussion of an article. Link to a single scholarly source you trust. Pick an entry which looks like it hasn't received as much attention as the others. Five minutes a year can't be too much to ask. Imagine the aggregate improvement for the Wikipedia, and, in turn, for the vast numbers of people who use it. If we can't see the latter as a good, why on earth have any of us selected academia as a field?
I'm still going to follow the 'endium, in part because it is exercising an attraction on academics. But I suspect the problems I've laid out here will appear and shape the project's developmental arc.
*"Citizendium": the awkwardness of this name has come up nearly every time I've heard it spoken aloud. I wonder if those involved in the project will embrace the goofy sound, as various Web 2.0 proponents have done for their names.
An anthropologist explores why Iranians blog. Good, very short article:
[M]any young Iranians are increasingly turning to Persian blogs as gateways for speaking out. According to unofficial statistics, there are more than 100,000 active Persian weblogs updated regularly, and figures suggest the larger portion belongs to ones maintained outside Iran. Themes vary tremendously from a regular documentation of how one feels about basic daily incidents, to sports, news,arts, business, religion, science and in its most complicated and probably risky shape, politics.
This note should be read by anyone following the O'Reilly bloggers code of conduct debate:
As opposed to the West where blogging is one of several ways to express personal opinions, knowing that one can blog anonymously about any desired or culturally taboo subject is critical in a heavily censored Persian society.