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The Blogger as Producer, by Eduardo Navas

Image source: http://blog.monty.de/?p=256

This text was published in April 2007 in the edited book Installando/Installing, by the Chilean Colletive Troyano.

Revised in January 2007. Originally published in Netartreview in March, 2005

Read in Spanish


This text considers the position of the “collaborator” as defined by Walter Benjamin in the first half of the twentieth century in relation to the blogger at the beginning of the twenty-first. The text considers the concept of anarcho-communism and the role of the gift economy in online culture as defined by Richard Barbrook to better understand the critical position of bloggers.


The weblog (or blog as it is now commonly called) is a recent cultural manifestation of a specific shift in consumer culture, which Walter Benjamin noticed during the early half of the twentieth century with the popularization of printed media. Benjamin observed that more and more people started to become “collaborators” in his own time with the rise of the newspaper. Editors created new columns according to the trendy tastes of their readers, including the now standard section “letters to the editor.” These spaces were created for the reader to feel in touch with her culture, and in this sense the reader became a type of author. Benjamin saw the reader redefining the literary text; his example is the Russian press:

For as writing gains in breadth what it loses in depth, the conventional distinction between author and public, which is upheld by the bourgeois press, begins in the Soviet press to disappear. For the reader is at all times ready to become a writer that is, a describer, but also a prescriber. As an expert even if not on a subject but only on the post he occupies—he gains access to authorship.[1]

Here Benjamin observes a new development in writing, a major change in literature, to be more exact, which is the reader attaining an influence in what is published for her; and he claims that when such shift happens, literature moves from “specialized to polytechnic education;” that is, the work loses some of its depth in order to attain an efficiency in production. If one is to think of literature from this point on, Benjamin entertains, one must also include newspaper publishing as well.

Today, blogs follow the evolution of the newspaper writer, the newspaper reader, and the rise of the collaborator. Blogs have pushed the idea of the collaborator (as Benjamin saw it) in unexpected ways. For instance, because blogs function on a network (the Web which runs on the Internet), these are able to perform as platforms for not only feedback on printed media that is newspapers and magazines (which now also have online versions of their publications), but also as places where to simply exchange ideas with other writers. Communities of bloggers (this is the name given to those who write on weblogs) flourished beginning around 1997;[2] and recently, blogs have become an important part of the World Wide Web’s infrastructure.

Following Benjamin’s criticism, one has to admit that this type of online publishing must also be included as part of the history of Literature, if one expects to understand what Literature is today. But some questions arise with this latest manifestation: how does this type of online publishing relate to culture today as opposed to Benjamin’s time? What is the actual cultural agency that blogging has today vs. the early days of the newspaper, when the reader mainly had influence as an active audience? And most importantly, what does it mean to be a “contributor” in the age of the Internet and the World Wide Web?

A brief answer to these questions is to consider the blogger a reader and writer, a hybrid producer/consumer who does not necessarily share the critical meta-narratives of Walter Benjamin (that of the bourgeois writer on the left who sides with the proletariat). In short, the active Benjaminian reader has reinvented herself as an online weblog writer. The blogger, who now functions as a checkpoint for the newspaper journalist, usually is not a person with an average education. As John Stiler explains, a person who has the time to blog, especially on a specific subject with authority, holds an advance degree, often in direct relation to the blogging subject.[3] This reader turned author, then, does not fit the type of newspaper reader Benjamin referred to. This reader/author, this blogger, is usually an academic of some sort, or a professional who holds some authority in a specific field. Other questions that arise when one realizes this is why would anyone bother to make her thoughts public on a daily basis? What does she get out of it if there is no money involved?

Richard Barbrook explains that the Internet has been largely built on the gift economy.[4] Barbrook connects this term to the 1960s’ situationists and their interpretation of the Potlatch: the tradition of gift giving in Polynesia. He explains that open source, as an online practice, closely resembles the act of giving away gifts. Barbrook also connects this practice to the academic field, where researchers often share information and ideas through conferences and academic journals. There is no direct money exchange involved in this aspect of the practice, but what the members do get is public recognition that can lead to tenure jobs in major research institutions. Many of the early pioneers in Internet and Web development were academics, or at least were individuals interested in research (hackers), which means that they were decently educated. This also means that they were willing to collaborate without direct monetary rewards for their labor, as long as they got public recognition for their contributions. This is one of the reasons why open source is so popular on the Internet. A good example of open source used by a corporation is Netscape, which survived its competition with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer by releasing its code to the online community. [5] This meant that anyone could download the source code of the Netscape browser and try to improve it. If such changes were accepted then the developer got public recognition, which lead to legitimacy on many levels, both, academically as well as online, with hacking and/or research communities. Another example is Linux, an operating system that is free online which has become a major competitor of Microsoft’s Windows.[6] In short, open source promotes collaboration and is a major driving force on the web. This type of activity relies on the gift economy infrastructure, which depends on the individual developing a social bond with others, supported by the act of giving (contributing), and leading to trust that makes individuals reliable members of a community. This is essential for people who interact via networks, like the Internet.

There are many types of blogs that function with diverse purposes; that the open source tradition is a major influence in their reasoning for sharing information is undeniable, and while bloggers may not get direct monetary rewards, they do get recognition much in the same way as open source contributors do. Bloggers also see themselves as collaborators as they comment on already published material as well as on material published by fellow bloggers. In this way Benjamin’s idea of the collaborator is extended, as the online reader is ready to write at the same time she reads new material. The boundary of writer/reader becomes blurry.

In less than a hundred years the reader went from a passive participant with agency to a more active “collaborator” (a blogger). The media, which includes the newspaper in our times, now not only considers its popularity according to the reception of the readers, but also, thanks to blogging, looks at the readers for possible stories. Bloggers can function also as check points for reliability of the story once it is published and this process then can even lead to a new story, as Stiler explains.[7] What is interesting about blogging is that it is always about archiving information that refers to other archives of information. In this way the type of “literature” of today, that is if we keep in mind Benjamin’s terms, is both “polytechnic” and “specialized;” an odd turn, which became possible because the technology is efficient enough to let people do today more things than it was possible in the past. Professionals are able to write casually on topics that they are experts on; their comments carry some depth at the same time that they are efficient in production. Here, leisure, private life, and work are combined as the blog functions as a type of journal giving each writer certain authority, while also demanding that they spend time they would otherwise use to entertain themselves writing about topics of their choice.

People like Barbrook consider the Internet an arena where both capitalism and the gift economy, which he strategically connects with what he calls anarcho-communism, are actually working together.[8] He claims that both political camps function simultaneously by compromising and sharing resources. He explains:

What was once revolutionary has now become banal. As Net Access grows, more and more ordinary people are circulating free information across the Net. Crucially, their potlatches are not attempts to regain a lost emotional authenticity. Far from having any belief in the revolutionary ideals of May ’68 the overwhelming majority of people participate within the hi-tech gift economy for entirely pragmatic reasons.[9]

This would be the case for many bloggers as well. And to make this proposition more complex, most recently the professional blogger has emerged; the individual who can actually make a living by writing on her blog full-time. Thus, it can be stated that the contemporary blogger finds herself in multiple positions in culture: at times as part of mainstream journalism, and at others in peripheral online communities. The contemporary blogger can hold multiple positions as amateur or professional, and this does not imply a necessary contradiction.

Benjamin’s demand of the author as producer to side with the proletariat, then, may still stand but only if one is willing to admit that such position has now become diversified into many interests in culture. It is the ever-changing plurality that the author as producer must be wary of but also embrace, and this is the reason for a constant reinvestment in culture: a space in which, regardless of late postmodernist cynicism, meaning can still be questioned.

Benjamin’s demand appears to have taken on many shapes and forms that make it possible for the producer to get lost in an oubliette of ideologies.



1. Walter Benjamin, “The Author as Producer,” Reflections (New York: Schocken, 1978), 225.
2. Barbara Blood, “Weblogs: A History and Perspective,” Rebecca’s Pocket, September 2000. (25 May 2004) .
3. John Stiler, “Blogosphere: the Emerging Media Ecosystem,” Microcontentnews.com, 28 May 2002, (25 May 2004). .
4. Richard Barbrook, “The Hi-Tech Gift Economy,” First Monday, 1999, (10 May 2004).
5. Tim Berners-Lee and Mark Fischeti, “Competition and Consensus,” Weaving the Web (New York: Harper Collins, 1999), 84.
6. Barbrook.
7. Stiler.
8. Barbrook.
9. Ibid.



Barbrook, Richard. “The Hi-Tech Gift Economy.” First Monday, 1999. < http://firstmonday.dk/issues/13_12/barbrook/> (10 May 2004).
Barrett, Cameron. “Updated Daily Camworld.”10 June 2004. (10 June 2004).
Benjamin, Walter. “The Author as Producer.” Reflections. New York: Schocken, 1978.
Berners-Lee, Tim and Mark Fischeti. Weaving the Web. New York: Harper Collins, 1999.
Blood, Barbara. “Weblogs: A History and Perspective.” Rebecca’s Pocket. September
2000. (25 May 2004).
Eagleton, Terry. After Theory. New York: Basic, 2003.
Media Matters, “Welcome to the Blogosphere.” PBS. 14 January 2003. < http://www.pbs.org/wnet/mediamatters/303/blogs.html> (10, May 2004).
Kornblum, Janet. “Welcome to the Blogosphere.” USA Today. 08 July 2003. < http://www.usatoday.com/tech/webguide/internetlife/2003-07-08-blogs_x.htm> (15 May 2004).
Pax, Salam. Where is Raed, 6 April 2004. (10 May 2004).
Romenesko, Jim. “Romenesko on Romesnesko.” Obscurestore.com.1999. < http://www.obscurestore.com/jimr.html>. (9 June 2004).
Stiler, John. “Blogosphere: the Emerging Media Ecosystem,” Microcontentnews.com, 28 May 2002.
(25 May 2004).




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