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03.04.14.mo | Why Does Phil Geenspun Like Blogging?
In the first half of the 90s Phil Greenspun published a photo-journal, Travel with Samantha,and started photo.net. After nearly 10 years the photography site continues to be one of the best communities in which people can post their images and solicit feedback. There's discussion groups, neighborly recommendations, and photographic guides. So when I noted his new blog I asked him:
"I'm curious to what degree you consider it different from what you did at photo.net? You already had a mechanism for posting your thoughts (or photos) and seeing folks comments. In what ways do you consider the blog variant novel?"?
Apparently he takes my philosophy of never answering but always repurposing to the extreme, "Ask the question in my Ask Philip forum at http://philip.greenspun.com and I'll post an answer!" Ok, so I finally found that forum off the home page (not directly linked), recreated the user password, and posted this entry. Hopefully it was worth it and since I made the effort, I might as well create an entry out of it as well!
-- Joseph M. Reagle Jr. --, April 14, 2003
How is the blog different from photo.net? In a photo.net-style Q&A what is most important are the answers because the site has an explicitly tutorial mission. The questions and answers are thus presented with equal status on the same page. In the blog world it is all about the author. The comments show up in a separate window and, befitting their puny status, the pop-up comment window is puny.
You can certainly use blogs to teach but I wouldn't say that their primary function is computer support for collaborative informal education (what an online community is generally all about).
What do I really like about blogs?
One thing that is interesting about the Web is that it provides an outlet for 30-page ideas, for which the commercial publishing world has no place (too long for a magazine, too short for a book). An analogous thing that is interesting about the blog is that it provides an outlet for 3-paragraph ideas, for which the standard Web doesn't have a good place.
Because of the protocol infrastructure of the blog world, in which lots of programs pull together blog updates from various sites, it ought to be possible for a 3-paragraph idea to get appropriate distribution.
The software community that exists to support the bloggers is also interesting, perhaps the one truly vibrant open-source application software community right now. It should be much cheaper in the long run to operate an information system based on an open-source toolkit rather than built from scratch. If an information system has a strong need for user-authored content, starting with blog tools might be the best way to go because there is a fair chance that in three years those tools will still be under active development and in widespread use.
-- Philip Greenspun, April 17, 2003
Philip writes that blogging "provides an outlet for 3-paragraph ideas".
My preference for these is to post them to a Usenet newsgroup, and link them from my weblog via Google Groups (when they show up, many hours later). This allows anyone to comment, in a much more open and democratic way.
"If an information system has a strong need for user-authored content, starting with blog tools might be the best way to go..."
I disagree with this because the defining characteristic of weblogs is that they're chronological, but for most website content that chronological aspect is irrelevant and distracting.
The deal-killer here is that it's very rare for anyone to read straight thru the back-issue archives of a weblog-- the medium is optimized for daily visits and current topics.
This was part of why I shifted away from blogging circa Y2K-- I wanted to find a format that wouldn't immediately grow stale. And what I've come up with is densely-linked resource-pages or topical "workups", usually centered on a timeline with at least one link per timeline entry. [latest]
For me, weblogs have always been more about sharing links to others' writings, not mainly my own ideas. But to create an enduring resource, I choose a topic, start a page, and then spend at least a day doing searches, winnowing out the best links, and sorting them into the page. For most topics, a day is sufficent to create the best single-page resource on the Web. (My most ambitious timeline has taken four months now.)
-- Jorn Barger, April 18, 2003
I forgot to say: I'd love to see Philip work up resource-pages on "biology, geology, and perception" (quoting his homepage on his current study-topics), or history (the Israel piece is brilliant writing even if the argument has gaping holes).
-- Jorn Barger, April 18, 2003
In Usenet, the focus is discourse on a particular subject matter. Hence, participants are extremely worried about the discussion going off topic or becoming personal. Blogs are vitally different because the focus is on the person and his ideas. The reverse chronological format enhances this purpose because it allows the reader to see an evolving picture of another human being, rather than an (d?)evolving discussion of a particular subject. When I come across a new blog, I rarely go back more than a days because I only want to get a taste for the author. The most interesting part of a blog is seeing what the author becomes, rather than what he was.
-- Ryan Campbell, April 18, 2003
Ryan writes: "In Usenet, the focus is discourse on a particular subject matter. Hence, participants are extremely worried about the discussion going off topic or becoming personal."
On some groups, yes, but if that really concerns you you can 'occupy' an abandoned group (like alt.cloudshapes).
"The reverse chronological format... allows the reader to see an evolving picture of another human being"
My weblog format still allows that-- in fact it's much easier to skim because it separates the headlines from the thoughts: robotwisdom.com/
"Democracy and Tyranny" I'd say private chatboards are a much greater risk for tyranny, because the owner can delete messages. If the posts are on-topic and not-personal, most newsgroups will be delighted.
-- Jorn Barger, April 18, 2003