As new media gets big, it remains small at heart - and not in a good way. Boing Boing, the popular tech-culture blog, has offered a tardy defense of its mass deletion of posts mentioning a sex blogger from its archive, and it amounts to this: Because Boing Boing started as a personal blog, it's entitled to be as petty, as hypocritical, and as inconsistent as a 14-year-old girl with a MySpace page. Never mind the fussing about so-called "censorship" - though one would be sure that, had this happened at another website, we'd be reading all about it at Boing Boing, with its editors in a righteous nerd froth. The excuse that "it's personal" would ring more true if we weren't talking about a media enterprise whose audience exceeds that of Conde Nast's Epicurious.com, or the publicly traded finance site TheStreet.com. While Boing Boing's revenues are unknown, the site formed the cornerstone of Federated Media, an online-advertising startup which has already made founder John Battelle - Boing Boing's "band manager" - a multimillionaire. Oh, and did we mention that Violet Blue, the sex blogger in question (and contributor to Gawker Media's Fleshbot), shown here at right, used to be the lover of Boing Boing editor Xeni Jardin, left?
Some have speculated a love triangle or some other romantic crash-up might be at the heart of the blog spat. The only name in circulation is Kevin Sites, a war reporter that Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin got into blogging in 2003. Did Blue have her eye on Sites? Given that she blogs her own love affairs, including her own despair that she can't blog more about them, and her love affair with Jardin herself, it's doubtful that this triangle is so well-concealed the prolific Blue wouldn't have dropped a Flickr of a hint somewhere.
A more likely inspiration, though more pedestrian, is that Blue's move to trademark "Violet Blue," once her pseudonym and now her legal name, ran afoul of Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow's self-avowed obsession with destroying intellectual property law as we know it. A Northern District of California Court granted author Blue an injunction against the porn performer Violet Blue at the end of May 2008, but the trademark filing itself was in 2007 - about a year ago, which is when Boing Boing claims that the posts mentioning Blue were first unpublished.
But there's one more very likely reason why Boing Boing's editors might have decided to wash their hands of Blue: Her desperate coattail-riding. Before this dispute, Blue had been known to call herself "the fifth Boing Boinger." That's more than a stretch. A crucial point lost in the discussion is that the posts in question, save one, were not actually written by Violet Blue, a fact that bolsters Jardin's take:
This is a directory of wonderful things. If we no longer think something is wonderful, we have every right to remove it from this directory.
A bit harsh, maybe. But reputations have been made on the backs of a Boing Boing link, and Blue is no exception. Even this controversy is now serving to further her career.
This last explanation seems to fit best. But if Blue's ladder-climbing was the issue, why not say that? That hardly seems personal; it's simply business. As it stands, Boing Boing's editors come off looking foolish with their vague pomposities: "Violet [Blue] behaved in a way that made us reconsider whether we wanted to lend her any credibility or associate with her." They want to retain the authenticity of a "personal" blog, with all its quirkiness, to attract an audience discontented with impersonal big media, while claiming that it's too "personal" to explain an editorial decision to that audience. If Boing Boing's readers expect better of it, its editors only have themselves to blame.
(Photo by Jacob Appelbaum)