God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman

This whole idea of actually having a vacation before Christmas hell turned out to be a wondrous one. It's been one of the best breaks I can remember, possibly because I was so wiped out beforehand. I want to thank my trusty under-bloggers, Chris and Patrick, for holding down the fort and proving yet again how this blog is now far more than my lone efforts. But a special thanks to Andrew Sprung and Conor Friedersdorf. Conor, a Dish alum, has swiftly become one of the more lucid, calm and persuasive right of Darwin-1-sm center voices out there. Andrew's blog is one of my secret Internet pleasures, another oasis of reason and insight in a blogosphere with plenty of emotion and propaganda. Keep up with Andrew here.

A small word about the increasingly collaborative nature of the Dish, since some strangers to the blog seem to have misunderstood its structure. This is understandable since the Dish has, since its beginning, been a consciously and continuously evolving site. Some blogs are basically now what they were when they started, and that's a fine thing. But since this blog started when Bill Clinton was president, and since I'm a restless and curious spirit, that hasn't happened here. The original 2000 concept - one writer sending his wisdom to the world - almost immediately succumbed to the medium. The minute I started blogging, the readers insisted on being an integral part of the project. Their contributions, emails, tips, links, harangues, praise, and criticism became a form of lodestar for the Dish. From the dissents to the window views to the email threads ("The View from Your Recession," "It's So Personal" on late term abortions, etc) the Dish is as much your blog as mine at this point. And it's much stronger for it. (I recount some of this in my 2007 essay, Why I Blog.)

In the last three years at the Atlantic, I also experimented by marshaling interns to filter the web. They began by writing me memos of links I might have missed or new bloggers I couldn't keep up with. The best and most attuned to Dishness eventually became staffers - all two of 'em - and went from memos to draft posts, which I then edited, tweaked and posted. That's still the basic structure. But as time has gone on, and Chris and Patrick have become so skilled - the Iran coverage of last June was a genuine three-man-effort round the clock - I've been able to delegate some more. This coming year, I hope to evolve this concept even more to include a couple more under-bloggers.

I'm doing all this experimentally and provisionally, figuring out what works, what doesn't, and trying to learn all the time. We're pioneers here at the Dish and that means knowing what you don't know. But my sense of the current intimations is that the Dish has organically evolved into an edited viewspaper, which has at its core my own take on the world, but which hopes to incorporate as many alternative views as possible in a coherent and entertaining conversation.

Is this an evolution in the idea of a "magazine" online? Who knows? What I do know is that the collaborative nature of the Dish is something I regard as a strength and something unique to the web and therefore worth exploring further in this open source medium.

If new readers are deluded at first blush in thinking that all this is the result of one man alone typing into a laptop, then they'll soon figure out what's going on. Should there by bylines at all times? My sense right now is not. Since almost everything goes through my frontal cortex, and very very little (and nothing substantive) appears without my clicking publish, I function as the editor and chief writer. Any editorial views published as such on this blog are therefore mine and mine alone. But the content and counter-argument are generated by the collective mind of the readers, under-bloggers and the rest of the blogosphere. I think it's cleaner and simpler not to clutter the blog up with bylines, and to retain its identity as one single narrative conversation. As long as you're transparent about that, and we have been, I see no problem.

In fact, this is what magazines used to be in the good old ancient days. Think of the Economist, one of the few old magazines to have retained its by-line-free content. No one believes that everything is written by one person; but it is all part of collective effort ultimately overseen by one editor. It was like that when it started and it retains a simplicity and coherence that other magazines do not have. Its point is the content not the authorship, like our emails, which have always been anonymous. An online blogazine will never be quite like that, since it's far more open-source, but I like the idea of importing a classic magazine form into a new medium (remember when the New Yorker's Talk of the Town was also non-by-lined and when TNR was largely one unsigned editorial after another?). No one else is doing the web quite like this - evolving a one-person blog into a collaborative but edited news and views stream - and it may all end in tears; but the reason I jumped into this medium a decade ago was to experiment in ways I couldn't elsewhere. Ten years in, the Dish is still experimenting, and I'd get bored and move on if it weren't. As we add new under-bloggers and mature as an organization, we'll be as transparent as feasible without somewhat solipsistic posts like this one appearing too often.

Plans are still fluid and provisional, but the next year could take the Dish to a new level and in a new direction; and if I can find a way to do that without driving myself to exhaustion, I will. In fact, finding a way to share this burden is the only way a single human being can continue to do this at this pace for this long. The principle will be as it always has: a pursuit of the intimations within the medium, executed very gradually and transparently. It's an adventure. And I hope you'll stay with us for the ride ahead.

(Darwin poster by Mikero.)