Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Blog Pioneer: Cameron Barrett of CamWorld

Essay #1 in the Blog Pioneers Series

CamWorld is the blog of early blogospheric pioneer Cameron Barrett.

CamWorld started on June 11, 1997 as a link log, a place for Cameron to post links to web design articles he wanted his students to read.

Cameron also operates:

BlogLabs, Inc.

which deals with blogs and online communities for industrial group interactions.

We're going to look now at a classic essay of Mr. Barrett's entitled "More About Weblogs".

Let's see how the ideas and observations hold up under the scrutiny of a deconstructive blogologist writing about 6 years later.

[QUOTE] with [STREIGHT commentary]

May 11, 1999

More About Weblogs

by Cameron Barrett

For nearly a year now, I've spent one to three hours every night surfing the web, reading everything I came across, judging the quality of the writing and information, and determining whether or not my readers would be interested in the same things I was.

[STREIGHT: Cameron introduces his orientation. His blog is of the early "pre-surfed web" type. A blog portal, or starting point, toward selected sites for online information. In other words: a link log.]

The truth is, I'm burnt out. I simply cannot do it anymore. At least not at this pace. Increasing responsibilities at my full time job that require me to spend even more time in a 12x12 box of pre-fabricated cube walls, surrounded by no less than four computer monitors. As a consequence of this, I have decided to scale back my personal Internet projects to the minimum. Unfortunately, that includes CamWorld.

[STREIGHT: A common evolution. Initial elation and devotion to the blog, followed by interruptions, dissatisfactions, or new priorities that demote the blog to a less frantic pace, accompanied by reduced activity.]

So, what's an overworked and underpaid young interactive designer to do? I am not going to abandon CamWorld. No, that'd be wrong. But, I am going to slow down a little and try to write more commentary, more essays, and focus less trying to serve up as many quality links as I could manage. Instead of visiting every day as some of you faithfully have, swing on by every second or third day to see if I've added anything.

[STREIGHT: Now we see the very nature and purpose of the blog begin to be transformed, actualized in a new focus and content. From the link the essay portfolio. It's much easier and faster to post original opinions and musings than to do the research and linking for a portal functionality.]

In the long run, I believe that this is what you all want. Less senseless hype. Less gratuitous linking. Less focus on the sensationalistic journalism that's crowding our brains and turning them into mush. More focus on the truly exceptional content out there on the web that only a few of us manage to dig up. More personal essays. More professional essays. And yes, even the occasional rant.

[STREIGHT: The concept of clinking, "gratuitous linking" is now mentioned. Quality of original writing is emphasized and the primacy of choice content culled from other sites.]

You see, CamWorld is about me. It's about who I am, what I know, and what I think. And it's about my place in the New Media society. CamWorld is a peek into the subconsciousness that makes me tick. It's not about finding the most links the fastest, automated archiving, or searchable personal web sites. It's about educating those who have come to know me about what I feel is important in the increasingly complex world we live in, both online and off.

[STREIGHT: Even more strictured definition of his blog. It now feels like the blog is expanding, e.g. "both online and off", perhaps as a reaction against earlier expressed intention to reduce frequency of posts.]

CamWorld is an experiment in self-expression. And that experiment is not over. Over the next year (or two or three), CamWorld will evolve into something more. It will always have its loyal readers just as Stephen King and his publishing house have millions of people committed to buying his next book (regardless of whether it sucks or not). CamWorld grew from a little site built to support a new media college class I was teaching into what it is today.

Maintaining a daily weblog is harder than it looks, folks. I applaud those who manage to keep their's updated daily, sometimes with too much material for even me to keep up with.

[STREIGHT: This introduces the concept of "posting too frequently" and the problem of overwhelming readers with "too much, too fast".]

The two that come immediately to mind are Jorn Barger's Robot Wisdom Weblog and Lawrence Lee's Tomalak's Realm.

While the former sports plenty of opinionated commentary and dozens of links every day, the latter is nothing more than a headline aggregator with pullquotes. That doesn't make it any less useful. On the contrary, some headline aggregator sites (often mistaken for weblogs) are very useful for reviewing what's happening on the web on any given day.

[STREIGHT: Notice how blog differentiations accumulate. Now we learn of "headline aggregator sites", "with pullquotes", that are "often mistaken for weblogs". The pre-surfed web link log demoted to "headline aggregator".]

Lately, there has been an explosion of growth in the weblog community.

In some ways, I detest this growth, as it makes my efforts with CamWorld even harder.

[STREIGHT: Now it's getting juicy. The revolutionary stance, the blogophiliac lilac time, the defense of the blogosphere against bloating and floating uselessly, enmeshed in a quagmire of "junk journals", "me too diarizations", "pseudoblogs", and even "anti-blogs". The "blog noise" that Seth Godin got me started in thinking about, the lowering of the overall value of the blogosphere by the proliferation of dubious, worthless, or malicious entrants. More hay to dig through in search of the golden needles of insight.]

Some have criticized the weblog format and labeled it the "latest Internet craze." Others have dismissed it as nothing more than people rediscovering the power of a quality home page.

I disagree.

Home pages are places where you put pictures of your family and your cats. It's a place to distribute information to a close circle of family and friends.

Weblogs, however, are designed for an audience. They have a voice. They have a personality. Simply put, they are an interactive extension of who you are.

[STREIGHT: Differentiating "home pages" (restricted audience, personal/family sites) from "weblogs" (wide audience, self and professional expression/community conversation sites). It seems that the criterion "intended audience" is the sole arbiter of this definition.]

In short, the weblog is here to stay, regardless of whether it's updated daily, weekly or whenever the owner damn well feels like it. And that's the point.

[STREIGHT: Granted, however, if the posting at a blog is too few and far between, not often enough, users will think the blog is dead. Users will assume the blogger lost interest, died, or abandoned the blog due to other priorities ascending and filling his or her available time.

Blogs must generally be updated, in accordance with user expectations and blog norms, once a week, as the rock bottom minimum. Updates twice a month or less resolutely demonstrate a weak comprehension of blog dynamics.]

Newspapers have daily deadlines because they have a committed (and paying) daily audience.

Magazines have weekly and monthy deadlines because they too have a committed (and paying) audience who expects them to publish on time.

[STREIGHT: Now we shift, in the next paragraphs, to considerations of the blog readership, the audience.]

Keep in mind that weblogs have their own established audiences who expect certain things from each owner.

The last thing you should expect, however, is for them to cater to your every whim. That's simply a very selfish expectation and shouldn't be tolerated.

[STREIGHT: No butt kissing should be expected from a blogger's readers. Be prepared for honest, hostile, or halographic critiques that may even include unedited, raw, heat of the moment outbursts.

An online community of readers and blog author must be based on candor, compassion, and collective vision. Even a personal blog can share a vision of web design, art, politics, women's rights, literature, spirituality, information architecture, business, marketing, astronomy, anthropology, law, whatever the blog has as its focus.

A local barbershop practioner could operate a blog. Think of the anecdotes, historical insight, and legends this one would be able to convey.]

I hope the weblog "craze" continues as more and more people discover the power of a regularly updated site that reflects their own unique personality.

In a few years, it'd be neat to see the weblog format overtake the standard home page format with monster GIFs of people's cats, dogs, babies, and cars.

But I doubt it will happen.

It's taken us almost six years to get people to understand that home pages don't need to have every funny little GIF animation they've ever seen, or silly javascript rollovers, or even that crash-happy Java-based pong game.

Focus more on the content and less on the glitz.

As the Internet community and Geocities members realize that the reasons they've had only 102 hits on their page(s) in a year (100 of them from their own IP address), the quality of their online initiatives will go up as they begin to understand what is required to keep a regular audience happy and well-fed.

I know, I know...I've rambled on too long, but some of these scattered thoughts have been cluttering up my brain for far too long. So bear with me, as I do a little housecleaning up top.

I'd like to address an issue that has bothered me for some time.

It's about crediting a source online within a weblog.

[STREIGHT: I'm deleting this somewhat Off Topic tangent. Read the whole essay at CamWorld.]


The "big idea" of the Internet is the power of distributed information.

Where anyone can, with a little hard work, develop a web site that hundreds and thousands of people may want to read and/or participate in.


The Internet is about personalized and customized communication.

Weblogs have established a small island of rationality and stability among the sea of information that the Internet has thrown at everyone.

Those of us who are honing our skills at filtering this information are creating the best weblogs. The better the signal-to-noise ratio, the better your site will be.

I'm still waiting for the weblog model to be adopted by others.

Woudn't it be great if all the neurosurgeons in the world had one place to go for up-to-date information about the numerous changes in their field? (this could be a subscription-only site!) Or what about government-centric weblogs?

The FCC has a Daily Digest mailing list that attempts to keep the public up-to-date on all of their changing regulations, but it's simply not the same as a weblog.

Every industry in the world has a potential need for a quality weblog or two.

It's safe to say that the Macintosh community has been inundated with Mac-centric news sites for several years now. So many, that I've lost count.

But what about a weblog for the homemaker? Or the thousands of hot rod enhusiasts? Or the ham radio hobbyists?

These are called niche market portals, and every one of them (and thousands of other niche markets) could be a potential source of quality information for someone.


Another interesting application of the weblog model would be within corporate intranets.

Where I work, much of the company-wide memorandums and communication is done via email, with some emails containing numerous attachments that sometimes weigh in at a hefty one-to-two megabytes.

It'd be so much better if these emails only referenced documents somewhere on the intranet instead of including them via attachments.

The intranet page for each department could be a regularly updated weblog of information currently being circulated.

This would solve so many problems with disk space and deleted emails, it puzzles me that some corporate intranets haven't adopted these simple concepts for the easy distribution of information.

I hope that you all continue to visit CamWorld, even in its anemic state, and I hope that I've encouraged you to continue with your own weblogs.

And if you don't have a weblog, then consider building one for your specific industry, specialty, or occupation.

The world is in need of more specialized weblogs.

Go forth and create.

[STREIGHT: Wonderful conclusion to an essay that is still loaded with relevant insights now 6 years later. Still many aspects of blog, clarified here, are misunderstood by the average blogger or blogophile.

Cameron's mention of intranet weblogs is interesting, since that is the direction I'm heading now. How business can use weblogs for project collaborations and catalogues of recent work accomplished on a process, system, or goal.]

Posted by Cameron Barrett at May 11, 1999 11:59 PM


Blog Pioneers Series now launched

We will look at other Blog Pioneer Classic Essays, Rants, and Ideas in the coming months.

I plan to conduct analysis of writings by such early innovators as:

* Rebecca Blood

* Evan Williams

* Meg Hourihan

* Wil Wheaton

* Biz Stone

* Benjamin and Mena Trott

* Cory Doctorow

* Brad Fitzpatrick

* Steve Jenson

* Jorn Barger

* Tim Berners-Lee

* Dave Winer

* Doc Searls

* Justin Hall

* Joel Spolsky

* Jason Kottke

* John Battelle

* Christopher Locke

* Chris Sells

* David Weinberger

* Heather Armstrong

* Halley Suitt

...and more.

[signed] Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate


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