It was hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that the Amazin' Avenue gamethread for the 20-inning marathon between the Mets and Cardinals had generated 4,000 comments, quintupling the Metsblog total. I am not certain as to what the Alexa Rankings have to say about this, and I know that Amazin' Avenue readers participate in threads at a much higher rate than Metsblog "readers", who tend to be casual fans stopping by for a quick update, but it does raise as a serious possibility of a feat that seemed unfeasible a short time ago: that of Amazin' Avenue overtaking Metsblog as the prime Met resource on the web.
I also say that I feel little need to guard my optimism on this. At very worst, it means that the best Met-source on the web has deservedly exploded, but will ultimately fail to overtake the official corporate outlet. But there is little reason to believe that the worst will happen. The economic patters of the internet are very different from that of the industrial model, and of the industrial media in particular, where capital requirements are high and access is restricted and given to favored parties. Capital and access simply do not deliver much of an advantage in the New Media. I'll leave it to the words of the inimitable Clay Shirkey:
The most watched minute of video made in the last five years shows baby Charlie biting his brother’s finger. (Twice!) That minute has been watched by more people than the viewership of American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, and the Superbowl combined. (174 million views and counting.)...
When ecosystems change and inflexible institutions collapse, their members disperse, abandoning old beliefs, trying new things, making their living in different ways than they used to. It’s easy to see the ways in which collapse to simplicity wrecks the glories of old. But there is one compensating advantage for the people who escape the old system: when the ecosystem stops rewarding complexity, it is the people who figure out how to work simply in the present, rather than the people who mastered the complexities of the past, who get to say what happens in the future.
The reasons why the web outlets of the traditional industries are routinely overwhelmed by independent outlets in my opinion has less to do with changing business models proposed by Shirkey than with the inability of these industries to control access and entry into the medium. Frankly, if television were suddenly opened to unhampered competitive enterprise (which it easily could be), something similar would probably happen. Industries that must face open competition cannot afford clannishness and nepotism, since the wages of incompetence are an immediate loss of business to a hungrier competitor. When an industry is dominated by a small elite and protected from competition, however, it is only a matter of time before this elite hardens into a caste and becomes, to varying degrees, hereditary. Remember Jenna Bush, the dissolute college lush? She is now a Today Show Correspondent. It would be outrageous if we weren't so used to the insular, nepotistic world of the traditional media--the world of the singer who can't sing, the writer who can't write, and Unfrozen Caveman Sports Anchor. To this day, this independent You-Tube spoof represents the most spot-on characterizations of Fred Wilpon ever made. It is probably superior to most feature films made in 2009.
For similar reasons, I am optimistic that an increase in popularity for Amazin' Avenue will not result in a decline in the level of discourse. I have maintained for some time that the typical Metsblog reader is far more intelligent than Matt Cerrone, and simply imbibes media chatter out of its ubiquitousness and a lack of alternatives. Once exposed to a superior resource,
most many fans will enthusiastically rise to its level. Furthermore, the environment of Amazin' Avenue is one that encourages people to hold themselves to higher standards, without alienating too many people. After a few episodes of knuckleheads mouthing ignorant nonsense and getting overwhelmed by superior arguments, people develop a sense whereby they can distinguish between real substantiated opinions and vaporous gibberish.
There is a peculiar tension in American society that I have not heard mentioned--that between political and economic power being concentrated into the hands of ever fewer people controlling more and more industrial resources, and yet of information being more than ever before free and open to anyone. Regardless of your ideological, religious, political, or sports orientation, there are whole universes of resources available for you to develop and sharpen (and perhaps even alter) your outlook. But the real power of the web lies in the way it alters the relationship between ourselves and our avenues of communication. In the industrial-age model, media is an industry like any other, with the producers divided categorically from the consumers by every stage of the production line. The New Model is utterly different in that the consumer is, to varying degrees, a producer as well, to the point where the distinction ceases to be all that useful. The consumers of the New Media are often participants--active rather than passive players, in that even if they do not contribute to the content, they can email the host and provide relevant commentary or advice whenever they feel they have it; and the host is close enough to his audience to be able to hear it and value it. The web host doesn't need market research. He simply consults his market. The sabermetric revolution hinged upon the ability of guys like Tom Tango and Joe Posnanski to network and feed off each other, and to gradually draw people into their web, to the point where they were incorporated into the establishment. They were able to bypass the vetting processes and credentialing rackets that stultify progress so brutally today and achieve their legitimacy on their hard-won web-cred.
It is this quality of participation that can eventually bring large numbers of people to tune out the purveyors of dreck that believe to have them fitted and tagged by focus groups and test screenings. So long as we see ourselves as consumers of a product that appears on a computer, we are little more than a niche market overwhelmed by the massive size of the Boys that Count. As participants of a community, this can change. This is why I hope that we celebrate the growth of Amazin' Avenue by simultaneously pushing to expand it further and to deepen it. Simon's expansions into Twitter and Facebook and the publication of the Amazin' Avenue Annual, as well as his connection with Fangraphs, are excellent examples of this in action. And we could all do our part to spread the word. If there is a viewing being held in a local venue, we should go, and bring in any Mets fans from the outside. If we believe that hundreds of emails sent to the organization might ever help make a point, we can do that as well. (I hope to follow this up with an itinerary of things the AA community can do to become an effective force for the reform of the Mets.)
I am not accustomed to entertaining such optimism regarding human nature, and human endeavors, and I would never deny that there are several million tons of human mass that is mentally indistinguishable from stockpiles of industrial waste (see WFAN). But the emergence of the web has valuable lessons for those who are willing to listen. All of us to some extent get our news, our entertainment, our networking, our retail products, and many other services from sources that would have languished in obscurity if not for this communications revolution. I personally see genius springing everywhere, attaining various degrees of recognition not based on their access to controlled and regimented broadcast licenses, but on their ability to attract a following based on their own merit. John Taylor Gatto once said "I believe that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women". While I wouldn't go that far, I do agree that the regimentation and mechanization of the American production process has done much work to suppress the human enterprise that is bursting from the wellsprings. This, combined with a suppression of commercial enterprise has seen a surge of creative output from amateurs. I see no reason why with the right networking this cannot expand to something even greater, not just in sports, but in any aspect in which you would like to involve yourself. If you participate in any of these sorts of ventures, I encourage you to do what you can to see these people face to face and see if you can get anything done. The idea of the American public being composed primarily of a great unwashed mass of stupid is, I believe, a manufactured one, calculated to produce cynicism and powerlessness, in exchange for an impotent sense of superiority amongst those who see it. If I ever feel myself getting uppity, I need only to consult the latest from Sam, Eric, and James K. to remind myself of how ordinary I am, and how great it is to be ordinary.