In ancient India, along the scenic Indus Valley, someone came up with a system of social control so good it survives to this day. It was called the Caste system and basically it codified the privileges reserved for the in-crowd and the drudgery dished out to everybody else. While the Caste system is no longer socially acceptable in most places, in a few dwindling pockets, where the light of meritocracy has yet to shine, it thrives. Rural India is one such place. The Blogosphere is another.
Despite the thousand of years that separate the beginning of the Caste system in India and the beginning of personal logs on the web, there is only one major difference between the two systems; in rural India you can never change your Caste while in the Blogosphere it only seems that way.
In the blog Caste system there is no need to petition to get your name on someones A-list, no moaning over your B-List status, no lamenting being ignored as a C-Lister. Unlike the forced ranking of bloggers popularized by Blogebrity and reinforced by the A List Review, where bloggers are said to be either A-Listers, B-Listers or C-Listers, the Caste system naturally occurs throughout the Blogosphere. This guide to the Blog Caste system will help you better understand your Blog Caste as well as explain how to improve it.
The Caste system of the Blogosphere parallels the ancient Indian Caste system, therefore, I’ve adopted the names from that older system, with some modifications, to help us categorize modern day bloggers.
Brahmin Blogger – Much like their ancient Indian equivalent, Brahmin bloggers are the high priests of the Blogosphere. This is the group that the rest of the Blogosphere turns to for moral and cultural guidance, along with intellectual rigor and academic obfuscation. Like most ascetics, Brahmin bloggers arent very well known outside of the modern day bastion of religious orthodoxy, academia. Examples of blogging Brahmin’s include luminaries such as Clay Shirky, Lawrence Lessig, Danah Boyd, Henry Jenkins, and Michael Geist . From the minds and keyboards of these lettered intellectuals springs the mana that feeds the rest of us. Brahmin bloggers transcend their Technorati rankings and are afforded the privileges of blogging celebrities although their true popularity is much more limited. Brahmin Bloggers define and describe the evolving culture of the blogosphere.
How to become one: There is almost no way to become a Brahmin Blogger unless you have an advanced degree (or you’re ABD) and have published some iconoclastic insight on a lightening rod issue, like copyright, commerce, social networks etc…
How to improve your status: A true Brahmin Blogger does not seek to overtly enhance their status, especially since being a Brahmin Blogger is the height ofblogging success. The next step up from here is Blogging Divinity and only Matt Drudge has been able to achieve that status, although he uses his powers for evil rather then good…
Shatya Blogger – The original Indian caste system revered a group known as the Shatriya’s. They were the warriors and ruling elite. For the Blogosphere’s updated Caste system, I’ve renamed this group the Shatya Caste.Shatya Bloggers are those members of the blogging A-list who pick fights on our behalf and lord over the Blogosphere with an iron fist; banning, blacklisting, exiling and defunding those who dare to offend their high minded ideals. This group is typified by Mark Cuban, Fred Wilson, Jason Calacanis, David Sifry, Michael Robertson and a bunch of other wealthy white men alpha-males. Their rule over the Blogosphere ranges from the benign to the overbearing. Members of this caste often become identified with a meme and play up the association with any trend they can hitch their names to. As a result this group has cornered the market on press quotes, Web 2.0 conference keynotes and launch party invites.Shatya bloggers see their roll as the defenders and directors of the evolution of the blogosphere’s culture.
How to become one: Becoming a Shatriyas Blogger takes some work but it isnt impossible. All you need is a wildly successful Internet business, a contrarian bent, some media savvy and a typepad account. If you’ve got these pre-requisites then the next step is to publicly challenge another Shatya or Brahmin blooger and knock them down a peg or two. For example, Lee Gomes was almost elevated to Shatya blogger status when he took on Chris Anderson at the height of the love fest for The Long Tail, but he foolishly didnt have his own blog from which to fight and was ignominiously forced back into carping from the sidelines.
How to improve your status: The key to Shatya blogging is hubris. You have to put some bass in your voice, talk in broad sweeping generalizations, assume that everything you say is fact and disagreement is a form of stupidity. The one thing that you can never be as a Shatyablogger is silent.
Special Note: There is a disproportionately high level of testosterone inherent in the Shatya blogger Caste and unfortunately, this limits the opportunities for women to be Shatya bloggers. While its not definitive, both Maureen Dowd and years of evolutionary biology suggest that women have neither the capacity nor tolerance for the self-delusional pomposity required to be a trully iconic Shatya blogger.
Vashya Blogger – The third rate citizens of the ancient Indian Caste system were merchants, artisans and farmers who where called Vaishya. These folks did the all the work of creating art, literature, cuisine, trade, agriculture and all the other traditions that make a group unique; you know, the basic underpinnings of culture. My updated term for this group is the Vashyabloggers and in the Blogosphere’s modern Caste system, Chris Pirillo, Ze Frank, Kathy Sierra, Mack Collier, Eirik Solheim, the oh so beautiful Zadi Diaz, and many, many others are representatives of the Vashya Caste. These good folks are toiling away in front of computer screens and video cameras, creating the cultural artifacts that are becoming the defining elements of the Blogosphere.
How to become one: In some ways this is the easiest caste to become a part of, all you have to do is offer new expressions of creativity, produce a novel tool or service or facilitate a market and poof your in the Vashya Caste. With a bit of creative inspiration, a willingness to be silly and the ability to attract a few thousand people, you too can attain the modest notoriety of Vashya bloggers.
How to improve your status: The key to improving your status as a Vashya blogger is novelty. What do you, as a unique human being, bring to the party that no one else has? Introducing something new to the space, be it your coding skills, business sense, artistic flair or comedic timing is what will elevate you out to the Dalit Caste.
Sudras Bloggers – Near the bottom of the Indian Caste system was a group whose sole function in life was to serve the other Castes. They were called the Sudras and identifying their equivalent in the modern Blogosphere has been extremely difficult. One of the reasons its so difficult was that none of groups are an exact parallel for the ancient Indian Sudras. Iwasnt sure if I should include this as a full blown Caste, but decided to include it since its equivalent in the Blogosphere was so clear. There is no group whose sole function is to serve the needs of the other Caste. Even when the blogs with massive traffic and a cultish (but mostly mute) audience forget that they are engaging in a conversation with a community, not a broadcast to a demographic, no one is reduced to the level of a Sudras. Unless you count the bots and Splogs. Sudras Bloggers have no function other then to serve the needs of other Castes, from Google bombing to archive comment spam and they are a huge part of the Blogosphere. However, The closest the Blogosphere comes to having a caste like this is the hordes of bots that swarm the Blogosphere.
How to become one: Code your consciousness into a PHP based program which gets sold to Garage Ventures. Guy Kawasaki will then use your program (you) to help propel his stalled Technorati ranking into the top 10 and every tech pundit will follow suit. And just like that, you’ll become a Sudras blogger slaving away for higher Caste.
How to improve your status: Ahh, upgrade from PHP to C++?
Dalits (Untouchable Bloggers) – In the original Indian Caste system, some folks were so low that they didnt even get a Caste. They got lots of manual, tedious, dirty jobs but no Caste status. These folks were called the Dalits and they were literally “untouchable”. You will find the modern parallels of this group creating sites like Introspectre (148,620th), NappyDiatribe (14,139th), Adrenaline Shadow (415,327th), My Brain Hates Me (39,512th), The Assimilated Negro (13,032th) and the Mike Abundo Effect (115,899th), none of which are particularly work safe. Since the other Blog Caste are producing their blogs in order to attract and keep an audience, not build a community, linking to (“touching”) any of the interesting and hilarious content to be found on sites in the Sudras Caste is strictly verboten. The job of the Sudra Caste is to continually and chaotically expand the Blogosphere in all directions, the work of Dalits in the Blogosphere is creation.
How to become one: Unless you are a best selling media darling, hand out money and advice like they were equally valuable or own a firehouse your a Dalit blogger by default, in the Blogospheres Caste system. There is nothing to do but try and discover your voice and an authentic form of expression that you can offer to the world.
How to improve your status: Since this is pretty much the bottom of the barrel as far as the Blogosphere goes, your status can do nothing but improve. Its a very small step to go from a Dalit to Vashyablogger and all it takes is tending to your community and making it grow. Where Vashya bloggers are dependent on novelty to keep their growing audiences, Dalit bloggers rely on authenticity and connection to get their communities going.
Democratizing media? Not!
There are two competing mythologies about the nature of the Blogosphere, one rhapsodizes about the merits of an arbitrary linear ranking of blogs while the other waxes poetic about the fictional digital democracy blogs have created.
Trying to rank the Blogosphere (operative word being sphere) as if it where linear, is clearly faulty and doesnt capture what is happening in the medium as well as the metaphor of a Caste system does. In any sphere there is no top or bottom, no base and no sides. There are however lots of identifiable clusters. Clusters of similar content and similar content producers who share a bunch of common traits, just like in any other self-organizing social group.
Its equally faulty to treat the vast hordes of bloggers who neither write, nor care, about the latest tech meme, political scandal or gadget as if they were on an equal footing with the pundits and pontificators endemic to the blogosphere. The much ballyhooed digital democracy of the blogosphere, where everyone has a voice and every voice is heard, is about as real as Mr. Snuffleupagus.
All mythology was once some body’s religion and so there is a grain of truth in it. Ferreting out that grain is what I’ve tried to do with this post. Hopefully you better understand your blog Caste and how you can go about improving it. Of course if this doesnt work you can always email an A-lister and beg them to link to your site.