From: Big Red Jeff Rubard on
Referenced on Unfogged:

Are Blogs Soviets?

This post is dedicated to my old friend Lisa Kleinman, although I'll
understand if she doesn't incorporate the ideas in her body of work.

By this point in time the weblog is a mature form of computer-mediated
communication, and certain styles of "blog" have developed. One is the
"comment blog", where posts by a small group of people form a backbone
for extensive and free-ranging discussions by a much larger group; the
most prominent example is Unfogged, but it's a general enough
phenomenon to consider generally, and with reference to previous forms
of social organization. The "third place", where people can interact
away from home or work, has been a questing-horse of those concerned
with anomic modern society for some time; perhaps the comment blog
represents a contemporary version of this, a community of sentiment de-
linked from geographical considerations.

But perhaps that would be a politically quietistic reading of the
phenomenon, one which fails to develop the character of these "new
institutions" against the background of real social organization. At
present, it may be less commonly known than it once was that the
Soviet Union was so-called because its system of government was
theoretically based on the "soviet", a council of workers meeting to
discuss political issues and determine plans of action based on a
principle of direct democracy. Though the soviets rather quickly
became irrelevant to the course of life in the USSR, they played an
important role in the 1917 revolution and a system of government
composed of "worker's councils" has remained a demand of anarcho-
syndicalists and "left communists".

Though I may sound like I am parodying Scott McLemee's "I Was a
Teenage Communist" routine, I would like to raise the question of the
extent to which blogs with lots of user participation resemble
soviets. (Incidentally, I was not a teenage communist: my sympathy for
political positions to the left of social democracy came later, and I
wouldn't describe it as "hard-won" so much as "hard-fought". I think I
would have enjoyed living in the Soviet Union -- getting drunk with
oafs is one of my favorite things to do, and I gather there was rather
a lot of that.) It's undeniable that blogs serve a politically
directive role. interfacing with traditional media outlets in a
meaningful way, and the extent to which this is a product of input
from relatively unwashed masses and "natural" social interaction is
considerable. Perhaps a leftist eager to make radical social changes
would want to get on board with an extended role in public discourse
for them.

However, though the similarities are in truth considerable I don't see
blogs as representing a "soviet moment" in computer-mediated
communication; that was much more nearly the role of the computer
bulletin board, the "poor man's Internet" which flourished in North
America prior to the introduction of commercial Internet service.
Usually the project of a private hobbyist, a computer bulletin board
was a forum where people from a limited geographical area (usually
marked out by the local calling zone) could discuss issues, share
files, and so on. Although they ran all sorts of gamuts, they were
actually a popular pastime for relatively impoverished people and so
the question of being "elite" was not a totally serious one. I
personally gravitated towards bulletin boards based on the World War
IV software, which were the most countercultural (having names like
"Cervix Couch" and "Freak Scene").

Unlike Usenet and some other bulletin boards, WWIV was threadless:
everyone would read everything written by everyone else. There would
be a lot of sophisticated linguistic tomfoolery developing out of
extended interaction, but there were also serious political
discussions as well; and, like many bulletin boards, WWIV boards were
networked across the country. "So you had your federation of soviets,
heh heh." Well, look. Although the political content of bulletin
boards could often be extremely right wing (it was a favored mode of
keeping in touch for Neo-Nazis), and most of the people involved
weren't in a position to do much more than pull down a paltry wage,
the way that discussion developed and was disseminated was radically
populist in character: and the ethos which developed around that sort
of online interaction, including extensive real-life interaction
developing from it, was very democratic.

In truth they resembled, perhaps not Russian soviets, but the Italian
worker's councils advocated by Gramsci in his Ordine Nuovo period, or
the Iranian shora; and in truth that sort of thing was a non-
negligible component of the cultural matrix of the '80s and '90s. Of
course you can do similar things on the Internet; my old friends and I
still "hang out" on an Internet bulletin board, although we're all
tired now. But blogs, including comment blogs, are not the same thing.
Bulletin boards were "semi-private", and often semi-anonymous: people
would use "handles" derived from CB practices, and because of this
(and going mores) it was hard for anybody you didn't want to know you
to get much of an idea of who you were. Although blog writers and
commenters often use pseudonyms the vastly increased scope of access,
and the ability to mine things written on blogs through indexing and
searching on Google, means the informational dynamic is quite
different: "Fordist" in a quite definite sense, that of the "Sociology
Department" the Ford Motor Company used to collect information on the
habits, character, and political views of factory workers.

If you thought I was going to finish this analysis without invoking a
concept from formal logic, you thought wrong: there is a concept from
logic and "logic programming" that I think is very useful for really
understanding what is happening in situations where there is Panoptic
access to a person's views. The "resolution" rule of proof looks like

This logical formalism is called a "sequent" diagram. When the
conditions indicated above the horizontal line obtain, the statement
below the horizontal line may be inferred. The Greek letters stand for
groups of formulae and the Roman letters for single formulae; the
commas mean different things on the left and right side of the big
arrow (which means "has as a logical consequence") -- on the left side
they represent disjunction ("P or Q"), on the right side conjunction.
You'll notice that in this diagram there are no statements on the
right side of the arrow for two of the sequents. In (something
resembling) English, the resolution rule collects together all the
logically consistent "atoms" of a set of clauses by establishing that
a set of statements that have as a consequence a disjunct of a
disjunction can replace that disjunct. Resolution is a perfectly
general proof procedure involuting normal "cut-elimination", and as
such is undecidable; but if the premises are restricted to Horn
clauses (conjunctions of "literals"), a decidable fragment emerges.

This forms the basis of logic programming in computer languages like
Prolog: instead of being a recipe for actions that a computer ought to
perform like a program in an imperative language, or a set of
equations to be evaluated like the statements of a functional
language, a logic program takes a set of declarations and tests
logical inferences ("goals") based on them. Of course, all programming
languages are "Turing-complete", and that means that a program in one
language can be duplicated in any other language: the different
programming paradigms have their value in more economically expressing
patterns of thought for addressing a problem. And to my mind,
resolution economically expresses the dynamics of corpus linguistics,
whether it's running an "Able Danger" style analysis to determine the
identity of an anonymous blogger, or simply reading a lot of different
statements by people who have something to do with each other. In the
latter case, I think it often happens that when enough statements get
produced certain things come into view through an automatic process of
logical deduction, whether people intended to communicate them or not.

This is fraught with peril: I still agree with the Lazy Cowgirls that
"What's important is how it looks and how it is/what's important is
how everybody feels", and where a group of people feel like they are
in possession of logically consistent views about someone without
really "taking the attitude of the other" bad things can ensue. But
resolution is a perfectly general rule of proof -- and maybe
situations where people suddenly realize things, even things they find
scary and disquieting, are just part of life. Whether they are all of
life, and whether the level of communication and control present in
the contemporary Internet will be supplanted by a "semi-private Web"
intimated by Web 2.0, a "post-Fordist" moment of nobodies doing
nothing, remains to be seen.