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 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.







  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

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

    Un salu­do cordial,

    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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