Weblogging and Dave Winer

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I read that you recently had dinner with weblogging pioneer Dave Winer. I'm curious about your impression of weblogging in general and where it fits into Web publishing, whether you see it as a useful way of organizing information and of distributing online communities -- in some regards cross-linked weblogs seem to have replaced online discussion forums. Also curious if you had any general impressions of Dave, our distinguished hippie ambassador ....

-- R Tate, April 6, 2003


Wow, word travels fast...

In terms of the distribution of authorship the Weblog seems to have ushered in a Third Age. The first age was authorship by people who could write HTML in a text editor (1990-1995). The second age was authorship by people who wanted to somehow upload a bunch of custom-looking HTML to a service such as Geocities (1995-2001?). At first glance the Weblog appears to be not much better than Geocities but in fact it is a lot more useful because (a) the users aren't able to do arbitrarily awful things with formatting, (b) the entries can be commentable if the user wishes, and (c) the better tools (e.g., Winer's) support workflow so that several people can collaborative to produce and edit a Weblog. The fact that the Weblog community has been able to agree on some data exchange standards is very impressive as are the things that have been done with those standards.

I find it amusing that journalists and cartoonists such as Gary Trudeau have attacked the bloggers. The average blogger might not rise to the towering intellectual heights achieved by the LA Times but there are individual bloggers who have much more interesting ideas than you'll ever see in a newspaper (Larry Lessig is an obvious example).

As for Dave.. Well, he is obviously an innovative thinker. It takes about 3 days to write a discussion forum in a decent RDBMS/Web programming environment. Probably 2 more days to add the core blog features. Thus a tiny percentage of the programming effort expended every day at organizations ranging from Microsoft to Oracle to a Fortune 500 corp to a newspaper site to a university. And yet nobody did it until Dave!

[As for Dave the Man he's a nice guy personally but like a lot of folks who've made big contributions he is very focussed on a few themes. The themes that I've seen him focussed on are outliners, object databases, and his blogging software. Kind of refreshing in a world that watches CNN obsessively :-) ]

As for weblogs replacing discussion forums... I think that in some ways the weblogs scale better. On photo.net, for example, I added an "interesting person" system 3 years ago. You could say "I'd like to see more from Bill Smith" and links to his new postings would show up in your workspace. This was an attempt to help people find good content in a noisy crowded environment. Because each blog is personally edited you don't have that problem. If an entry has attracted 250 comments, 99% of them uninteresting, you don't have to even look at them if you are only interested in what the primary author of the blog has to say.

The rise in popularity of blogging has changed my way of thinking. For example, if I'm at a dinner party and say something that sounds interesting, I often think "I wish I had a blog so that I could write that down".

-- Philip Greenspun, April 6, 2003

Wow, word travels fast...
Word travelled, naturally enough, by way of a blog.
As for weblogs replacing discussion forums... I think that in some ways the weblogs scale better...(snip snip)...If an entry has attracted 250 comments, 99% of them uninteresting, you don't have to even look at them if you are only interested in what the primary author of the blog has to say.
Other factors contribute to weblog scalability as well. Weblog discussions are by nature distributed and amorphous. Though the better weblog tools have a "comment on this item" feature, the response to an item is more likely to appear in the responder's weblog. If I want to comment on an item in your blog, I don't need to get your permission, sign into your system and work within the confines of your system's screen flow: I simply post to my own blog and include a link to yours. In this sense blogs can be thought of as massively distributed, platform-agnostic personal web publishing communities.

Data standardization is interesting on several levels. The most obvious application are the news aggregators. These tools, which include Radio, Amphetadesk and Aggie, allow you to specify which blogs you want to follow, and then aggregate and display the stories for you in a concise summary.

But what makes weblogs especially interesting are the byproducts of data format standardization. RSS syndication, pingers, and RSS auto-discovery help to ensure that content will find its way to interested parties. Hence we see the rise of systems like technorati that allow us to ask the web questions such as what breaking news stories have people linked to in the last hour? and what new bloggers have come online in the last fifteen minutes?.

I think Philip's comment about weblogs ushering in the Third Age is right on target. At the risk of sounding breathless, it feels like we're on the rising edge of some significant evolution. My subjective impressions of weblogs today remind me vaguely of how I thought about home pages in the early days of the web. Everybody seemed to have one, and it wasn't quite clear what the point was. The appearance of so many homepages wasn't interesting in and of itself. It was the pervasive use of the technology that eventually led to interesting, useful applications like online communities, search engines, research sites, e-government, online shopping, etc. I suspect the same thing will happen with weblogs and their associated tools.

-- Andrew Grumet, April 6, 2003

While we're on the subject of the blogosphere standardizing on data structures, I think is appropriate to point out a few other facts.

a) Though OPML and RSS are used predominantly in the blogging world (we call it blogosphere) - CURRENTLY - I think these standards will grow way beyond those confines. Folks are currently extending RSS with embedded topics and even flowing eCommerce items through it - and OPML is quickly becoming THE file format for structured data (otherwise known as outlining....)

b) Credit is also due to Dave for protocols standards as well - like XML-RPC - which Userland developed with it's user community and SOAP - which Dave was instrumental in contributing to. So don't limit his contributions, or the blogging world - to JUST data structures.

c) Finally - now that Dave has taken up residence in Beantown, I'd like you to help him get to know the area. Besides skulling on the river, and taking in games at Fenway, I'd like to request that you take him to Kelley's out on Revere Beach. He should get to love the Fried Clams and Fried Scallops - as I do.


And the Blue Fish pate at Legal's is killer!


- Marc Canter    

-- Marc Canter, April 7, 2003

Add a blog to your ACS installation

blog is an openacs 3.2.5 module that adds a blog forum and blog formatting code to a site. (It's modifications to /bboard. It requires dropping a constraint on a table, because, ahem, someone hardcoded the allowed types of a forum into a constraint as opposed to a table).

It supports userland shortcuts (nifty icons), but alas, doesn't have the support and momentum of a weblogs.com, blogger, mt, ....

-- jerry asher, April 7, 2003

Oh. You can see what they might look like here.

-- jerry asher, April 7, 2003

"BlogMax is an Emacs package that aids in the creation of a weblog," and it is available at http://billstclair.com/blogmax.

I added a feature that syncs the blog directory with ACS so the server will include an "Add Comment" link at the bottom of the static page (blog entry). To see this in action, go to http://jamesthornton.com. E-mail me if you want the code.

-- James Thornton, April 9, 2003