A question that has cropped up a good few times over the course of the last few years is whether or not social networking sites will ultimately win out over the humble weblog. Except people often use much more extreme language for this, so perhaps I should say will social networks kill blogging. Well, no, I don’t think so. In some ways they’re probably helping blogging (in the classical sense) along its evolutionary journey. And here’s why.
Exactly a decade ago, I began to write a weblog. It began as a diary of sorts, and its spectacularly low readership reflected its lack of appeal to anyone outside of myself. But I never aspired to be a writer, a journalist, or indeed anything other than what I was at the time — a web application developer. In fact the writing of a weblog was little more than a byproduct of working to develop a content management system.
Unlike some others, I can’t claim to have prduced ten years’ worth of weblog entries. But nonetheless a decade has passed since I began and, in that time, I’ve been exposed to some wonderful people, ideas and technologies I would otherwise have surely missed.
At the time some of us thought weblogs were perhaps something a little special. Tom Coates’ thinking of the day articulated this admirably. But while I anticipated the emerging amateurised culture would grow and grow, I still managed to underestimate it. Early on, I dismissed “social software” as management bullshit and, although the first few attempts seemed to flop, there’s no denying the impact of the current generation of such offerings; most notably Facebook and Twitter. I also underestimated the part that weblogs would come to play — I never thought that they’d grow to become so ubiquitous that they’re no longer special, but normal.
Indeed, the Prime Minister resigned this afternoon, and I learned about it not from the mainstream media, but from a weblog entry by someone I’ve met in real life. It’s as if mass amateurisation, backed by large social networks, is breeding mass personalisation.
Weblogs have evolved into a glorious conversation, and I am left to wonder what point it will have reached a decade from now.
I thought I’d write something of a normal post for a change, so here it is and you’re welcome to it. Regular readers may have noticed that my posts tend to exist at the extremes (either short links or spectacularly long passages) so I thought I’d attempt something in between. I should warn you that I may include a classic new-year cliché, around about the beginning of the second paragraph.
So, 2009, eh? Phfff. Where does the time go. Even if, like me, you’re entirely sceptical about the meaning of a new year, it seems impossible not to reflect on things that have happened and things that could be approaching. If you’ve been anywhere near any kind of current-affairs broadcast in the last twelve months, you’ll be only too aware that there could be many things to be miserable about right now. But here on the web, and specifically in the wacky world of the weblog, it’s a very positive time. There are plenty of reasons why this is the case — here’s the first five that came to my mind:
- Lists are okay again now. Seriously. For a time it seemed like they weren’t, given that almost every blog post in the world had adopted a list-like format, but that’s now calmed down. It’s nice to have lists back. Yay!
- Isn’t WordPress great. For a time it seemed like it wasn’t, but the latest version’s really good. Yay!
- Hasn’t the web become a pretty place of late. For a time it seemed it never would be, but now that modern browsers are really rather good, and thanks to the tireless efforts of many thousands of talented people, it’s mostly looking rather nice. Yay!
- If RSS killed blogging, then microblogging brought it back to life. The social, personal side has returned with force, be it on Twitter or elsewhere. Even the status line on Facebook has rejuvinated personal publishing. Yay!
- Isn’t there a lot to write about, all of a sudden. For a time it seemed like there wasn’t — you could either talk about Iraq or what your cat’s been up to. But right now there are loads of things to worry about! Yay!
So that’s not so bad, is it? Exactly. Plenty of reason to be cheerful there, even for a miserable sod like me. The global economy may be skirting around the pan, the energy crisis is still looming, but at least blogging’s in good shape again. Of course, this doesn’t quite stack up, but it might help to take your mind off the more pressing issues of the day once in a while, and everyone needs a little mental space from time to time. Anyone fancy a pint?
A title that amuses the author in at least three different ways simply isn’t enough: convention dictates that a weblog should have a subtitle. A number of publishing applications, notably WordPress, have functionality to allow, even encourage, the use of a subtitle. Prospective authors would do well to note the default subtitle, “Just another WordPress weblog”, with foreboding: for never a truer statement will likely fill this line.
Here, the use of a subtitle has been played down but, when one was required, I went with “a sporadic weblog from the United Kingdom about culture and technology”. You’ll agree that this, while basically accurate, is about as vague as its possible to be on subject matter. It does nothing to capture what the author regularly publishes nor, more importantly, what the visitors come to read.
Of late, I’ve been writing at length about my faulty brain; not exactly a cultural nor technological subject. Quite a fair few people came to read about it too, mainly because they’d been pointed to it by someone else. But what about the casual visitor? The ones that come here following a search on Google and the like? As it turns out, they care very little for my faulty brain. They also don’t care much for culture and technology. By far the most popular search term is “things to do on a train”, which guides them to a highly facetious post I wrote more than seven years ago.
Back then, it wasn’t so easy to post to your weblog on the move, but I’d developed a way involving my own CMS, a Palm Pilot (with sexy folding keyboard) and a mobile phone that allowed me to recover some of the time I was spending on trains (over two hours a day). All that was left to do was think of something to write about. As I looked up and down the carriage, I realised that inspiration was sitting all around me: a rush-hour train out of London packed to the rafters with irritating people. This was a time long before publishing weblog posts as lists was commonplace – I simply observed annoying things going on around me, arranged them in order of irritation caused.
It has occurred to me, however, that those arriving at this post via Google are going to be disappointed by what they find. Whereas they turned up looking for something to fill a tedious journey, what they find is me whinging about how bloody awful people are. So, let’s leave culture, technology and faulty brains to one side for a moment, and give the masses what they want. Following a bit of research, may I present (slightly) more appropriate lists of suggestions of things to do on a train.
WordPress 2.3.3 and older have security holes that are being actively exploited by hackers to inject spam links into blogs which are not maintained
A musicblogger is a person who offers interesting, out of print, rare or otherwise engaging music to people at no charge, simply out of love for the sound and to promote artists that they would like to see get more popular. I’m not prejudiced; I also include record label sites, artist’s personal sites, people who aggregate the daily adventures of other musicbloggers into digests… I like em all.
There are more musicbloggers out there than most people would believe; I’ve been keeping a close eye on the phenomena these past eleven months and have compiled what I think is the most comprehensive list of musicbloggers yet available.
Last year, it was the Best British Blog Competition, and this year it’s the British Weblog Awards. Last year, many weblog authors, myself included, were very critical of the whole affair, and boycotted the competition. This year, however, such criticism is noticably absent. If anything, it has been greeted with comparative nonchalance.
For the 2002 awards, the basic idea was that a panel of judges would pick out the best British weblog, and give the author £1000, as well as five runners-up who would receive £500. What’s so bad about that? To start with, as was debated in great length at the time, defining the “best” weblog seemed to be an attempt to quantify the unquantifiable. It implies a set of criteria, and it was hard to imagine any criteria that were appropriate to use for this purpose. What is it that makes a weblog “the best”? The look of it? The content? The number of gizmos? I lost count of the number of times I asked “what is the best vegetable” in an effort to highlight the challenge the Guardian had put before its appointed judges.
The reverse-chronological arrangement of weblog posts has frustrated me for years. It’s a format that works for about the first week in the life of a weblog, and after that it becomes more and more of a headache.
One of the most basic principles of information architecture is that the good stuff should float to the top. Of course, what that means in real terms comes down to your definition of “good”. In the world of weblogs (and many, many other varieties of sites), this refers to the most recently added content, hence the reverse-chronological ordering of posts. But is the most recent thing you’ve written necessarily the good stuff?