Out in the blogosphere, a most intriguing story is – well, not unfolding, exactly. That's precisely what it's not doing. It's more like a well-written psychological thriller, where event piles on event but the truth becomes ever more difficult to untangle.
It all revolves around Boing Boing, one of the Web's longest-running alternative publications. Subtitled 'A Collection Of Wonderful Things', it's run by a small coterie of high profile individuals and is dedicated to a wry, enthusiastic take on events and inventions best categorised as youthful, creative, energetic eccentricity happening on the edges of the mainstream. As befits such a nexus, it has a strong cultural disinclination for the censorious, the corporate (unless it happens to be Disneyland) and the incurious: it is perhaps too easy for the cynical to read Boing Boing's passion and self-confidence in such matters as smug self-righteousness, and its fondness for reporting on the extramural endeavours of its team as irritating self-promotion. Me, I like the place.
Recently – how recently remains under discussion – Boing Boing decided to remove all posts related to one Violet Blue, a friend of the blog whose field of expertise was and is "sex culture commentary, accurate sex information, erotica and more". This sudden excising attracted the attention of many, including those on the Metafilter group blog, another very enjoyable site whose remit overlaps that of Boing Boing but which is lower profile and driven by a much broader group of contributors. Many of those, it transpires, find Boing Boing extremely annoying – the Metafilter thread on the Violet Blue affair is now longer than that provoked by 9/11. The schadenfreude they feel at such a high-profile defender of online cultural freedom behaving in such an unusual fashion has been described as that inspired by finding the leader of an animal rights campaign being found in a restaurant tucking into a large and bloody steak.
This reaction has only been heightened by Boing Boing's extreme reluctance to explain why the removal happened. Such official response as has been forthcoming has been defensive, lacking in detail or explanation and managing only to further inflame the meltdown. Third party comments have been quietly deleted on Boing Boing and on other, related blogs – and those quiet deletions have led to further rooftop shouting elsewhere. Violet Blue herself affects a naïve bemusement.
There are, of course, any number of theories. Is it a lovers' tiff? A case of wrongdoing, badly handled through a wish to avoid too much worldwideweb mudslinging? A massive egofight? Or are legal machinations at work behind the scenes, of the sort precipitated by expensive lawyers slapping on injunctions? For what it's worth, which is precisely the value of the paper on which this is written, my money's on the latter. You can taste the frustration in some postings by the protagonists, who want to say more but are utterly unable to do so.
Certainly, there's a lot at stake – Boing Boing's extremely popular and at the heart of a considerable commercial empire, and as such seen as a leading example of new-wave Web publishing done right. Just as certainly, there's a lot of passion involved. I find it rather heartening; the legacy media is no stranger to similar secret battles played out in public, but in a code only discernible to the cognoscenti – and the readers of Private Eye. It's to the credit of the blogosphere that such peculiar and distortive happenings are far harder to hide from readers.
What happens next – well, we've all got ringside seats. The truth will come out, I'm sure, and I hope that the collateral damage isn't too painful to those involved. Meanwhile, I commend the case to anyone interested in the anthropology of that new yet very familiar breed, Homo cyberneticus, into which we all appear to be evolving.