Everyone seems to assume that new technologies tend to decenter and diversify social ties. I think the best example of this is the degree of contact undergraduates have with their parents these days, even when they are “away” from home for school.
But it also seems to tie together people in the “medium range”–what once might have been called the community. These are communities of interest that retain some degree of regionalism. Of course, meetups and similar events represent the most explicit case of this.
In a more personal sense, though, blogs have served an interesting role as matchmaker. John Schull recently tracked me down as part of a serendipitous path through the blogosphere, for example, and I have more than once been unnerved by meeting someone who reads my blog regularly (and thus knows far more about me than I know about them).
I think this is an important issue when it comes to identities and weblogs. The best blogs I read are clearly identified with the author(s). That’s why I have names on my blogroll whenever possible. There is something about have clear ties to reality that seems to affect the quality–not always, but often.
As the blogging trend continues to grow — and the entry of AOL will constitute a tsunami here — there will be a lot more out there to sift through. I think that some of the tools at our disposal already put us in a better position than the Web as a whole was in during its explosion in the mid 1990s, but we need to be able to find tools that allow us to locate the good stuff, but maintain the kind of random connections blogs now allow. Increasingly, the Web is no longer “surfed,” in large part because connective hypertext has become a rarity outside of blogs.