Latin American «national» blogospheres in a dialogic society

A young generation of Spanish speaking bloggers is creating new forms of small scale, unpretentious public spheres. Álvaro Ramírez Ospina analyzes the emerging blogosphere in Latin America.

Álva­ro Ramírez Ospina is an associa­te pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Bergen’s Depart­ment of Infor­ma­tion Scien­ce and Media Stu­dies. His Spa­nish lan­gua­ge blog is cal­led Ojo al Tex­to. (Read the Nor­we­gi­an ver­sion of this article).

Blog­sMéx­i­co, PerúB­logs and Blog­sCha­pi­nes are part of a group of rare direc­tory web­si­tes that are faci­li­ta­ting the con­struc­tion of a myriad of small sca­le and unpre­ten­tious kind of “pub­lic sphe­res” in today’s inter­net. They are not as visib­le as most pro­mi­nent stars, poli­ti­ci­ans or media chann­els, but they are gat­he­ring a young gene­ra­tion of Spa­nish speak­ing blog­gers that behave with ener­ge­tic autar­chy and a she­er sen­se of belon­ging.

Before and after the pre­si­den­ti­al elections in Vene­zu­e­la this mon­th, the latest examp­le of the renew­al of the pub­lic sphe­res in Latin Ame­rica emer­ged: Blog­gers in Vene­zu­e­la joined for­ces to report and discuss the cam­paign and the election issues direct­ly on their own blogs.

Glo­bal phe­n­ome­non, regio­nal dia­lects
This past sum­mer the Bri­tish deputy pri­me minis­ter John Pres­cott said: «I think it’s cal­led the inter­net or somet­hing — blogs is it? — I don’t know, I’ve only just got used to let­ters.» The remark is typi­cal of such an impor­tant per­son, and not an iso­la­ted one. Poli­ti­ci­ans in gene­ral igno­re blogs for many rea­sons.

…the phe­n­ome­non is roar­ing, main­ly among midd­le class young­s­ters…

Not many peop­le can descri­be how a blog works or define its main featu­res. But approxi­mate­ly a hundred thou­sand peop­le are crea­ting their own new blogs eve­ryday and lear­ning about them in the process of pub­lish­ing. This has allow­ed David Sif­ry to pub­lish his “alerts”, which are quar­ter­ly reports about the sta­te of internet’s blo­gos­phe­re based on data from Tech­no­ra­ti, a search engi­ne that by Decem­ber 2006 was tra­ck­ing over 62 mil­lion blogs all over the world.

If few peop­le in the stre­ets of any big city in Latin Ame­rica have heard about blogs, the rea­li­ty is that the phe­n­ome­non is roar­ing, main­ly among midd­le class young­s­ters who live in a vast geo­grap­hi­cal region that stret­ch­es from south of the Rio Gran­de in the US to the last tip of Pata­go­nia in Argen­ti­na.

Skjermbilde av bloggportalen BlogsMujer
Scre­en­s­hot of the blog por­tal Blog­sMu­jer, which aggre­ga­tes the con­tri­bu­tions of female blog­gers.

Latin Ame­ri­can blogs resem­ble their coun­ter­parts in the rest of the world but have a par­ti­cu­lar featu­re that deser­ves some atten­tion. They tend to gat­her them­sel­ves around some sites that func­tion as phone cata­lo­gue lis­tings, whe­re aut­hors can find them­sel­ves and other blog­gers under coun­try cate­go­ries, regio­nal and even gen­der Blog­sMu­jer forms of belon­ging. The majority encoura­ge the buil­ding of natio­nal blo­gos­phe­res on their own right which are bits and pie­ces of the great inter­na­tio­nal blo­gos­phe­re being tra­ck­ed by Tech­no­ra­ti.

Natio­nal blo­gos­phe­res as small socie­ties
These natio­nal direc­to­ries func­tion as vir­tu­al gat­he­ring places whe­re Spa­nish speak­ing blog­gers can be updated about new blogs being created, recent pos­tings, and a weekly selection of remar­kab­le aut­hors which are featu­red in a spec­i­al sec­tion of the site as “recom­men­ded” or as “the blog of the week”. Not all of the notice­ab­le blogs are neces­sa­ri­ly high­brow, as many are per­so­nal dia­ries (writ­ten most­ly by women) that enga­ge can­did­ly and some­ti­mes expres­sive­ly in tales about their own expe­ri­en­ces.

These lis­tings can be sear­ched by means of a care­ful list of blog the­me cate­go­ries. In most of them 15 cate­go­ries are featu­red. The most popu­lar are the Per­so­nal, Opi­nion and Cul­tural blogs. Other popu­lar cate­go­ries are Fine Arts, Tech­no­lo­gy and the Inter­net, Fot­o­blogs, Humor, Music, Lite­ra­tu­re and Poli­tics.

Ecuab­logs have short news about its mem­bers and acti­vities whi­le Blog­sCo­lom­bia gives blog­gers the opport­u­ni­ty to chat and to plan annu­al face to face meetings. Vene­blogs func­tio­ned as “god­fat­her” and refe­ren­ce to other blog­ging com­mu­nities for a whi­le, but its foun­ders have show­ed recent signs of been stalled after four years of run­ning their site. A much newer ini­tia­ti­ve Blogs­Do­mi­ni­ca­nos with help from some of their most acti­ve and ent­hus­i­a­s­tic mem­bers orga­nizes regu­lar real life group encoun­ters (Coro­blogs). The main func­tion how­e­ver of all of them resi­des in the search for peers, the exchan­ge of links and the abi­li­ty to ping the direc­tory ser­ver eve­ry time a blog­ger pub­lis­hes a new post in his own blog. By sen­ding a coded ping, each blog­ger acti­va­tes the con­ti­nuous rol­ling list of blogs that are updated as new entries are pub­lis­hed. In that way he or she gets to be “top news” wit­hin their com­mu­ni­ty, for brief peri­ods of time during the day or week.

Naming them, Tico­blogs, Ecuab­logs, Blog­s­Pa­na­ma, Blog­sPerú, and Blog­sChi­le, one can notice their simi­lar naming pat­tern and by visi­ting them their simi­larity and moti­ves can be sum­med up as sites that intend to con­struct a sen­se of read/writing com­mu­nities of inte­rests. Two of them, La Union de Blog­gers Hispa­nos and Blo­ga­laxia igno­ring natio­nal bor­ders, attempt to gat­her the whole spec­trum of the Spa­nish speak­ing blog­ging expe­ri­en­ce.

When inter­net for­mats favour hori­zon­tal media­tions
A clue in good media stu­dies has always been the ana­ly­sis and com­pre­hen­sion of the “media­tions” that mass media pro­vi­de. It should be a study not about “tech­no­lo­gies” but on how peop­le use them and how audien­ces make sen­se of the mes­sa­ges, ima­ges and com­mu­ni­ca­tions stra­te­gies that are media­ted through those tech­no­lo­gy chann­els.

In spi­te of the fact that mass media behave as a very ver­ti­cal, one way only form of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, recep­tion stu­dies proved that audien­ces whe­re atten­ding, reac­ting and resis­ting much of what was broad­ca­s­ted or pre­sented to them via film, radio, TV and the press. Audien­ces were not as pas­si­ve as many theorists inten­ded them to be.

Blog­gers, vlog­gers and podcas­ters are about con­nec­ting, sha­ring and buil­ding com­mu­nities

With the inter­net how­e­ver new forms of a less ver­ti­cal approa­ch to com­mu­ni­ca­tion are emer­ging. The world wide web was born and used at the begin­ning in a simi­lar ver­ti­cal mode that imi­tated tra­ditio­nal mass media approa­ches to audien­ces. But new chann­els, for­mats and gen­res are emer­ging, and with them a new trend towards a somehow more hori­zon­tal approa­ch to the way ima­ges, mes­sa­ges and com­mu­ni­ca­tion stra­te­gies are media­ted. The fact is that mil­lions of peop­le are adop­ting for­mats like blogs and wikis, for the fun of it, wor­king in col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve fil­te­ring and impro­ving their opport­u­nities and abi­lities of becoming visib­le and opi­nio­nated con­su­mers, and some­ti­mes citizens too.

In Latin Ame­rica the blog­ging acti­vity is just emer­ging with a pec­u­li­ar inte­rest in emp­ha­si­zing the soci­al and the local aspects of the aut­ho­ring tools, in an attempt to swim in the vast waters of the glo­bal ocean cal­led inter­net.

Wikis and blogs, as new and uni­que for­mats wit­hin the web, allow audien­ces to jump into a two way dia­lo­gue chann­el of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In wikis any­body, in theory, can par­ti­ci­pa­te and add their five cents of know­led­ge to a par­ti­cu­lar the­me, dic­tio­na­ry or repo­si­tory of infor­ma­tion. In blogs, podcasts and vlogs or video­blogs, mil­lions have found a way of expres­sing them­sel­ves, whi­le giving others (usu­al­ly their own rea­ders or audien­ces) the opport­u­ni­ty to respond on line, com­ment or con­tra­dict what these creators/bloggers show or sta­te.

This chan­ge of per­s­pec­ti­ve is chal­len­ging main­stre­am media out­lets around the world and pre­sents a chal­len­ge to the tra­ditio­nal mono­po­lists’ game of media indu­stries in Latin Ame­rica.

Some of them, inclu­ding the writ­ten news and TV pro­gram­ming, are jum­ping on the band­wa­gon, try­ing to catch up with this two way dia­lo­gue approa­ch. They have created pro­grams were audien­ces can phone in with their ques­tions or opi­nions or send text mes­sa­ges to tele­vi­sion chann­els to be viewed by all. But tra­ditio­nal media lag behind in their approa­ch becau­se what they want pri­ma­ri­ly is to be heard, as the mobi­le phone manu­factu­rer Erics­son used to say in their old slo­gan: «make yours­elf heard». It was Eirik Sol­heim who noted that Nokia, on the other hand, has always pointed in their slo­gan to the inno­va­ti­ve media­ted approa­ch that inter­net eli­cits: “Con­nec­ting peop­le“.

In Latin Ame­rica, inste­ad of wan­ting to be heard most blog­gers, vlog­gers and podcas­ters are about con­nec­ting, sha­ring and buil­ding com­mu­nities. They help each other fil­te­ring the loads of infor­ma­tion coming from all over the world, whi­le devel­o­ping new forms of dis­sent, con­tro­ver­sy and dia­lo­gue betwe­en aut­hors and audien­ces in what the Clue­tra­in Mani­festo has coined as con­ver­sa­tions.

The dia­lo­gic socie­ty
The exist­en­ce of these emer­ging natio­nal direc­to­ries is a good examp­le of still weak but inter­e­s­ting for­ma­tion of small com­mu­nities (with their own rules and codes of con­duct), that resem­ble an ear­li­er for­mat, the news­groups. It was the­re that peop­le devel­o­ped what later beca­me internet’s neti­quet­te, just a few years ago. In some natio­nal blo­gos­phe­res it is com­mon to find discus­sions about codes of con­duct, how to tack­le insults, fla­mes, trolls, spam and other forms of imp­ro­per con­duct whi­le sha­ring thoughts, poems or dai­ly expe­ri­en­ces. Some blog­ging com­mu­nities are inte­re­sted in ethi­cal beha­viour, whi­le others fier­ce­ly defend the free­dom, inde­pen­den­ce and auto­no­my of their blog­ging acti­vity.

The pro­fu­se use of links, not only to other blogs, new­spa­pers, video, and other on line media resources, allow blog­gers to enga­ge in a lar­ger web of com­plex exchan­ges that are rele­vant not only as enter­tain­ment, and soci­al inte­rac­tion but as a cul­tural and edu­ca­tio­nal phe­n­ome­non in itself. It has even begun to show how rele­vant they can become in the poli­ti­cal are­na, espec­ial­ly during election peri­ods in each coun­try.

In a recent inter­view with the Finan­ci­al Times Eric Schmidt, the chair­man and chief exe­cuti­ve of Goog­le, said: «Many of the poli­ti­ci­ans don’t actual­ly under­stand the phe­n­ome­non of the inter­net very well. It’s part­ly becau­se of their age … often what they learn about the inter­net they learn from their staf­fs and their child­ren.»

Poli­ti­ci­ans who have maste­red their skills in com­mu­ni­ca­ting via radio and tele­vi­sion face now the chal­len­ge to adapt to the new tri­bes of inter­net nati­ves. Blogs and blo­gos­phe­res are a very young phe­n­ome­non. They are in rap­id chan­ge and it is impos­sib­le to pre­dict whe­re and how they will be used by the peop­le who are empo­we­ring them­sel­ves with these tools. As with all tech­no­lo­gies they will be used for good and not so fair pur­po­ses. But one thing seems cle­ar: if the Guten­berg Era was pivo­tal in the dis­tri­bu­tion of know­led­ge and sha­ring of new ideas, poli­ti­cal actions and renew­al of thin­king, the inter­net looks today as a new are­na that can deepen the impact of networ­king know­led­ge and discus­sion on socie­ties in need of wider forms of con­nec­tion, par­ti­ci­pa­tion and engage­ment, becau­se it seems to expand the pos­si­bi­lities of a wide varie­ty of “pub­lic sphe­res”.

As seve­r­al and new areas of discus­sion, action and dia­lo­gue appe­ar in the inte­rac­tion betwe­en blogs and news media, the hopes for more democra­tic socie­ties are increased. At least in Latin Ame­rica whe­re power­ful eli­tes still domi­na­te all kinds of venues of poli­ti­cal deli­be­ra­tion, and few can afford to take the risks, or have the will to enga­ge in it. Whether or not those hopes are fulfil­led is a mat­ter of time, chan­ce, power rela­tions and a cri­ti­cal mass of inter­net acti­vists.

Jill Wal­ker and other scholars have been obser­ving, ana­ly­zing and reflecting on blog­ging com­mu­nities around the world. Some papers have been writ­ten on the vigorous and ener­ge­tic dia­lo­gue that has emer­ged main­ly in the Eng­lish speak­ing inter­net com­mu­ni­ty the last two or three years. Other pro­jects like Glo­bal Voi­ces have begun to look into other dyna­mic com­mu­nities around the world, speak­ing dif­fe­rent lan­gua­ges and eager­ly enga­ged in their crea­ti­ve and expres­si­ve goals. As a mat­ter of fact things are chan­ging and the Eng­lish lan­gua­ge hege­mo­ny in blogs will soon be a bygo­ne era becau­se of the mas­si­ve erup­tion of blogs on other lan­gua­ges, espec­ial­ly Japa­ne­se, Chine­se and Spa­nish.

For my part I plan to con­ti­nue obser­ving and study­ing the way blogs have been adop­ted by the Spa­nish speak­ing com­mu­nities around the world, com­po­sed main­ly of peop­le from the old Spa­nish Empi­re, their old colo­nies in Latin Ame­rica, and the dia­spo­ras of peop­le who have emi­gra­ted from their home lands but keep using their mot­her tongue in blogs. Many things are hap­pe­ning and tra­ck­ing their rap­id evo­lu­tion is not an easy task. The rew­ards can be fruit­ful in many areas of socie­ty, espec­ial­ly in the field of edu­ca­tion, whe­re these for­mats and tools are showing their dyna­mic poten­ti­al.

Blog­ging and poli­tics in Vene­zu­e­la
In the pub­lic sphe­re of poli­tics the recent pre­si­den­ti­al election in Vene­zu­e­la show­ed the poten­ti­al of a natio­nal blo­gos­phe­re. The soci­al dyna­mics of that blog­ging com­mu­ni­ty was set in motion under the lea­dership and inspi­ra­tion of young jour­na­list and blog­ger Luis Car­los Díaz. In his own blog he pro­po­sed to orga­nize a network of blog­gers in order to follow, report and pub­lish in their indi­vi­du­al blogs direct­ly from their neigh­bour­hoods, vil­la­ges and cities around the coun­try:

“… let’s try to con­ver­se with our neigh­bour… ask ques­tions, and also pay atten­tion to the other’s voi­ce. If you can do this with your fri­ends and neigh­bours, con­gra­tu­la­tions, you can post about it if you find it inter­e­s­ting. No need to stick a microp­hone in front of their mouth and pre­pa­re an inter­view.»

The call got an imme­dia­te and ent­hus­i­a­s­tic respon­se. A group of blog­gers of the dia­spo­ra joined in and deci­ded to cover “Election Day” (3rd of Decem­ber) from embas­sies and con­su­la­tes around the world. Luis Car­los’ idea was to add a third voi­ce or dimension to the Vene­zu­e­lan pub­lic sphe­re. Up to this election day Venezuela’s pub­lic are­na was fed only from press relea­ses from election aut­hori­ties and the mass media cove­ring of events around election day. This time around blog­gers con­tri­buted with a more per­so­nal approa­ch tel­ling sto­ries and rela­ting to people’s expe­ri­en­ces and tales.

En gruppe bloggere i Venezuela samlet i september 2006 (foto: oso)
A group of blog­gers meeting in Vene­zu­e­la on Sep­tem­ber 29, 2006. Luis Car­los Díaz is no. 2 from left, Iria Puyo­sa nr. 2 from right. (photo: oso. The pho­to­graph is pub­lis­hed here under a Crea­ti­ve Com­mons-licen­se).

It took them only five days to get orga­nized and run­ning. Iria Puyo­sa initi­al­ly offe­red a free domain name and site in order to col­lect all their pos­tings. A bet­ter solu­tion came some hours later from the new­ly for­med Vene­zu­e­lan direc­tory To2blogs.com. They had the peop­le, the engi­ne and tech­ni­cal solu­tions in order to set up an auto­mated RSS aggre­ga­tor to col­lect and upda­te on line all pos­tings refer­ring to the the­me of elections under the ban­ner Eleccio­nes 3D (Elections 3 dimensions). One thou­sand blogs have joined the the ini­tia­ti­ve and many of them are still pub­lish­ing in the after­math. The site got more that ten thou­sand hits on election day. This unpre­ce­den­ted event in Venezuela’s election cam­paign was tra­ck­ed by Tech­no­ra­ti and by a coup­le of pre­sti­gious Eng­lish speak­ing blogs.

Some peop­le cal­led it citizen repor­ting, for me it was an edu­ca­tio­nal expe­ri­en­ce, too.

TEMA

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enezuel
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3 KOMMENTARER

  1. Excel­lent reflexion! I thing in some ways we still can see natio­na­lism in our blog­gers. Don’t you think? Why we can’t speak only of Spa­nish blog­gers bet­ter than countries. Long way to go!

  2. Monica Campbell says:

    Hola Alva­ro:

    Me lla­mo Moni­ca Camp­bell y soy peri­odis­ta con base en la Ciu­dad de Mex­i­co. Estoy pre­pa­ran­do un arti­cu­lo para el Ame­ri­cas Society/Council of the Ame­ri­cas sob­re el impac­to del Inter­net en Ame­rica Lati­na, en par­ti­cu­lar en cuan­to de la cul­tura poli­ti­ca, la trans­pa­ren­cia, la evo­lu­cion de los blogs. Tend­ria tiem­po mana­na, mier­co­les, o el jue­ves para hab­lar sob­re el asun­to?

    Estoy en la Ciu­dad de Mex­i­co y el tele­fono es (5255) 5514–9436, tam­bi­en (646) 775‑2969 (US inter­net phone). El correo es moni.campbell@gmail.com.

    Gracias por su con­si­de­racion y espero que este­mos en con­tac­to pron­to.

    Un salu­do cor­di­al,
    Moni­ca

  3. OBAMA ES LA MENTIROSO
    Oba­ma pan­de­red al Lati­nos hoy, decir que él tiene una his­to­ria de colo­car lati­nos para votar. Por supuesto Oba­ma no men­cio­nó que cuan­do él ayudó a Lati­nos y a otras minorías a votar, él enton­ces eli­mi­nó a sus opo­si­to­res polí­ti­cos en una tec­ni­ci­dad, que resul­tó con Oba­ma que era el úni­co can­di­dato en la balo­ta… así qui­tan­do cual­qui­er opción, excep­to se, para el Lati­nos al voto para.

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