How can you laugh when you know I’m Down and Out?

So I’m probably the 7.6 jillionth person to weblog this, but I just
downloaded Cory Doctorow’s
novel Down and Out in the
Magic Kingdom.
I’ve liked everything of his I’ve ever
read. “Craphound”, the story after which his website is named, really
knocked me out. I don’t actually read Boing Boing very often (only
when I see a reference to something on it), but I was one of the beta
users for his company’s product, OpenCOLA. I have some intersection with
Cory’s geekosphere, but less than many folks.

There is also an interview
with him at Creative Commons
. This interview includes his
refutation of a statement that I have seen repeated so many times that
it threatens to become received wisdom:

There’s an old chestnut in online science fiction fandom that the
Internet “makes us all into slushreaders.” (“Slush” is the unsolicited
prose that arrives at publishers’ offices — a “slushreader” wades through thousands of these paste-gems looking for the genuine article). This has always struck me as a pretty reactionary position.

Nearly every piece of information online has a human progenitor — a person who thought it was useful or important or interesting enough to post. Those people have friends whom they trust, and those friends have trusted friends, and so on. Theoretically, if you use your social network to explore the Web, you can make educated guesses about the relative interestingness of every bit of info online to you. In practice, this kind of social exploration is very labor-intensive and even computationally intensive, but there’s a lot of technology on the horizon that hints at this.

I believe that he’s the first person that I’ve ever heard express an
opinion that this “everyone is a slushreader” statement isn’t true or
useful. There is definitely an implication here that online content
pales in comparison to that which has been through the publishing
machine. While certainly there is a correlation between poor quality
and lack of editorial input, I’ve read my share of really shitty books
and stories that have had plenty of editorial machinery applied to
them. The place where the slushreader thing gets strained is the
thinking that you are always looking for new stuff and have no input
from anyone else. In truth, people are always recommending things to
each other – that’s what makes weblogs tick. I have people recommend
things to me all the time and vice versa. I’m only the “slushreader”
on the things without recommendations. Doctorow’s whole company is
about high powered recommenders. I get recommendations from AlexLit such as Barry Hughart’s
Number 10 Ox books and such. It’s an interesting line of thought.

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Dave Slusher is a blogger, podcaster, computer programmer, author, science fiction fan and father.