Home' Technology Review : April 2005 Contents 17
become more evenly distributed among nations. That s an un-
settling thought for those of us accustomed to technological he-
gemony, but for the world, it s a better state of a airs. ■
Blogs are unmediated opinion---
Bloggers like to deride MSM (the mainstream media, in their
lingo) for not "getting it." To avoid some of the sarcasm endemic
to the new medium, we declare up front: Technology Review
gets it. In fact, we love blogs so much that technologyreview.com
is in part a blog site: we publish some of our most popular writ-
ers on blogs.
Thirty-two million Americans read blogs in 2004, according
to the Pew Research Center. That is because blogs have great
powers: they can spread the ideas of individuals faster, farther,
and more cheaply than anything seen before. At their best, blogs
are subversive, provocative, and fearless. Most fascinatingly, the
ideas proposed on blogs have some of the characteristics of com-
modities in a free market. New postings are quickly valued by the
blogosphere s economy: reliably stupid bloggers are not linked
to by their peers, and no one visits their websites.
Blogging is good for commerce. Corporations like Sun Mi-
crosystems are discovering that blogging s transparency can help
them reach customers in new ways. More than 1,000 of Sun s
32,000 employees---including the company president---write pub-
lic blogs, many of which freely divulge the latest news about Sun
projects. As our case study "Sun Microsystems: Blog Heaven" (p.
38) reports, Sun s executives have learned that bloggers connect
with customers on a more authentic and human level than any
marketing or public-relations expert.
Blogging is good for the media, too. Political bloggers some-
times describe their movement as a kind of insurgency against
MSM, and the emergence of a new cloud of media critics is, in
fact, a welcome development. Various business and social pres-
sures have made it harder for many journalists to report the news
objectively. Bloggers can quickly call traditional journalists to
task for their errors and biases.
So much for the good. But blogs also have the power to focus
writers ire in ways that can destroy their targets.
Recently, we ve seen the blogosphere s vindictive side. Con-
servative bloggers, o ended by what they see as the arrogance
and liberal bias of MSM, have hounded two prominent news-
men from their jobs. First, bloggers hastened the retirement of
CBS news anchor Dan Rather for his preëlection coverage of
what turned out to be dubious memos relating to President
Bush s national-guard ser vice. Then, in February, CNN s chief
news executive, Eason Jordan, resigned "to prevent CNN from
being unfairly tarnished" by bloggers outrage at an incautious
remark Eason made at the World Economic Forum annual
meeting in Davos, Switzerland (see "Letter from Davos," p. 78).
This relentlessness is in no way limited to conser vative blog-
gers. In February, reporter Je Gannon was barred from attend-
ing White House press conferences after liberal bloggers picked
up on a question Gannon asked President Bush in which he took
a swing at Senate Democrats. The bloggers revealed Gannon s
real name (James Dale Guckert) and that he had obtained press
credentials as a representative of Talon News, a website sharing
an owner with the conservative activist organization GOPUSA---
not the kind of independent news organizations usually ex-
tended White House press privileges. While Gannon hardly
had the stature of Rather or Jordan, the episode was a reminder
that bloodthirsty bloggers can be found on both sides of the na-
tion s political divide.
Perhaps all three men deser ved their fates; maybe the blogo-
sphere is to be applauded. But in each case, bloggers expressed
an unseemly triumph after they got their man. It s hard to feel
happy when bloggers turn into a digital mob. Blogs are powerful,
but bloggers are rewarded for expressing extravagant opinions.
And at least for now, their postings are not subject to the pro-
cesses common for most stories produced by MSM: sober de-
bate among colleagues, followed by reporting, line editing,
copyediting, legal vetting, and fact checking.
Blogging and the Internet must be credited for transforming
the lofty castle of publishing into something like a public utility.
But blogs can also be destr uctive and unaccountable. Readers
would do best to enjoy blogs for what they are---reactive, unmedi-
ated, immediate opinion---and not mistake them for journalism. ■
From California to New York s
Long Island, power-grid
innovation is at a near standstill.
Blame California. Deregulation of the electrical business in the
Golden State in the late 1990s back red so badly---contributing to
massive price hikes, rolling blackouts, and eventually the ouster
of Governor Gray Davis---that other e orts to restr ucture elec-
tricity markets in the United States seem permanently stalled.
For example, rules making it easier for wholesale power genera-
tors to swap power went into e ect in some states and not in oth-
ers, leaving regional regulatory bodies with the power to block
projects that might make the grid as a whole more reliable. "Cal-
ifornia just screwed that up so badly that everybody else is afraid
of it," says Sally Hunt, a power-industry consultant who advised
the United Kingdom on the successful privatization of its own
power industry in the late 1980s.
So it took no small amount of courage for TransÉnergie U.S.,
a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec, to push for ward with a 1999 plan
to lay a new digitally controlled transmission cable under Long
Island Sound. Connecting the New England electrical grid to
power-hungry Long Island, which lacks the on-island generating
capacity to keep up with population growth, would ll an obvi-
ous market need. And because the cable would be bracketed on
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