… and pretty much every other variant of videoblogging. The glorious thing that the internet gives us is precision; I can take interest in a particular point of a post and add my own comment in my own space. Video blogging is inherently imprecise. Sure, Bloggingheads gives bookmarks to particularly interesting parts of the conversion, but even judicious use of those bookmarks leaves the viewer struggling in a wilderness of irrelevant non-sequiter. To push the military technology metaphor, if blogging is a cruise missile, video blogging is an artillery barrage. Artillery barrages are great, but cruise missiles are as likely to get the target and are far less wasteful. For example, I’m actually pretty interested in what Matt Yglesias and Dan Drezner have to say to one another, but I have no interest whatsoever in wasting an hour of my life watching them chat. How is a Bloggingheads matchup more productive than, say, setting up a messenger chat and recording the transcript? That, at least, would have the benefit of being easy to quote at other blogs, and would presumably be easier than the “click here, then advance 2:41 seconds”. I’d also like to think that such a chat would produce discussions that were better thought through than what we see on Bloggingheads. Drezner and Yglesias might also have engaged in an interesting dialogue about any number of issues through a series of (gasp!) inter-linked blog posts. That would have the merit of allowing others to contribute to the conversation as it proceeded, rather than comment about it afterwards.
The above problems are common to all video blogging, but I find Bloggingheads specifically troubling for other reasons. Bloggingheads breaks, if you will, the formal diplomatic equality of the blogosphere. One of the great things about the blogosphere is that a single post at a tiny blog can, if good and lucky enough, reach thousands of readers through a series of links. I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that the blogosphere is egalitarian or meritocratic, but there is something… democratic about the way the system doesn’t formally privilege any particular author over another. Bloggingheads breaks that system in three ways. First, it’s not egalitarian; tiny bloggers don’t have a voice, while big bloggers have their voices amplified. Second, Bloggingheads gives little or no opportunity for the boosting of small blogs. It’s cheap and easy for a major blogger to send some hits to a small blog with a brief description and a link. This rarely happens in Bloggingheads, because the format doesn’t easily support it (although, in fairness, they usually have links to mentioned posts), and because the time limit doesn’t facilitate discussion of small blogs or posts of mild but specific interest.
Last and worst, Bloggingheads brings back the fourth wall. As far as I’m concerned, comments are critical to the functioning of the blogosphere. This is more true in left blogistan than right, but I’d call that a point in favor of comments rather than against. Bloggingheads has comments, but the act of commenting there is much different than the act of commenting at Crooked Timber, or Tapped, or here at LGM. Comments at a good blog are a conversation between the blogger and the reader. The blogger may not read the comments and may not respond even if she does, but then again she may. At Bloggingheads, the comments are a conversation about the speaker. The Bloggingheads participant is, in an important sense, speaking a different, more rarefied language than the commenters. This destroys the particular blogger-reader relationship that makes blogging a worthwhile form of communcation. It’s worse than that, even, because the Bloggingheads form makes the other form of blog communication (posts that comment on other posts) so much more difficult. It’s harder to link to Bloggingheads conversation, harder to track back such that your discussion becomes relevant, and harder in general to become part of the discussion, rather than part of the audience.
The blogosphere ought to be about more than producing a leaner, meaner generation of TV pundits. I grew out of Crossfire when I was sixteen years old, long before Jon Stewart scuttled the wreckage. While toppling David Broder and replacing him with someone sensible would be an improvement, it would also be a crushing disappointment of the prospects of the blogosphere. Bloggingheads fundamentally misses the point of the blogosphere by trying to make the stars converse with one another. What makes the blogosphere unique and exciting is that it facilitates a conversation between the stars and everyone else.