Friday, August 25, 2006

blogs as publishing: Doc Searls

Pioneer blogger Doc Searls thinks a blog is more than a static place or settled location. It's also a way to transport information to readers (via posts) and readers to other sites (via links).

He and Dave Winer are rightfully excited about the fast flowing news river RSS feeds, like NYTimes River. I've added that one to my sidebar. For mobile devices, but great view in web browsers too. Optimized hurried New York Times headline-deck skim scanning for busy users.

I'd like to make my headlines and decks available as steadily flowing streams to user computers, just the linked heads and the one sentence explanatory tagline or deck. Then users could click on heads to visit posts they select as most relevant.

This means your headlines will generally have to be even more disciplined, and enriched with benefit, promise, specifics. Not vague, absurd, or cleverly obtuse.

River of information is what RSS/Atom feeds provide. The updates are flowing to the user, but we must not forget the vital flow of content (comments) from users to blog author.

Thinking of a blog as a river, or at least a faucet with sporadic flows is fruitful for further research and enablements. Speaking of blog as fixed location where something happens and users must visit it, reduces a blog to a semi-static system. Updates from the author flow to it, but it has no outward flow, until it provides an email alert subscription or XML feed (RSS/Atom).

There is a double dynamic nature of blogging --

(1) author updates (new posts of text, static image, audio, video)

(2) audience interactivity: reciprocal commenting, blogrolling, RSS feeding, podcasting, email updating, post linking, video player embedding, satellite link-up web conferencing, and other interactive mechanisms.

But then again, to see your blog as a perpetual flow of data (posts and comments), leaves the experience lacking in stability, identity, fixed density. The truth seems to be to combine metaphors:

Blog as Location, Transportation, and Communication hub.

The blogger is author, designer, editor, publisher, director, marketer, distributor, promoter, archivist...of his or her own work. All these are marketable skills. Are you developing them to perfection and peer review accolades? Or are you a minimal blogger, just barely getting by?

You are an infobot. As blogger, you dredge up goodies from your inner consciousness, the internet, or offline sources. Items you hunt for, capture, then display to your readers.

You are a "pre-surfed web" service, saving them time and trouble. Your readers encounter a sector of the web and blogosphere, as it's filtered through your blog's editorial values and multi hyper media content.

You work AT your blog, you transmit textual/visual/audio infotainment THROUGH your blog, and point to other locations WITH your blog.

I see the blog as an octopus, rocket, sponge, and church.

As octopus it reaches out (links). As rocket it blasts off (video). As sponge, it soaks up nutrients (comments). As church it preaches, distributes, and archives truth (posts).

I have also called it a car, a thing you get into to travel a territory.

Doc Searls challenges our perceptions and terminology, in his post "River's edge".


When we "develop", "architect", "design", "build" or "construct" a "site" with a "location" and an "address", we are doing more than borrowing the language of real estate and construction.

We literally understand the Web in terms of real estate. Metaphors like The Web is Real Estate bring clarity to what we do, but they also bring limitations. If you're like most bloggers, you know how hard it is to convince some people that a blog isn't a "site" that requires a "designer"; but that it's a "journal" that you "write" and "post" or "publish".

Some people can't get what you're saying because they continue to frame their understanding in terms of real estate, development and construction. They can't see that the Web is also a publishing system.

Conceptual metaphors are what we think and talk in terms of. We unconsiously borrow the language of one subject to talk about another. Yes, we mix them all the time, too. But one usually prevails.

Another example. Jon Stewart and a zillion bloggers have had fun with Sentator Stevens' description of the Net as a "a series of tubes". Yet most Net-savvy techies call the net a "pipe", and the Net itself depends on transport of packets. At a technical level you can't get away from the transport metaphor.

Yet we experience the Net as a place — as something we build on, and publish on. Not just something stuff goes through. Even though that's what it is. So we're not just talking about what's true here. We're talking about how people understand something.

"River of news" usefully combines three metaphorial frames: place, transport and publishing. Using all three, it proposes an approach to publishing that respects the fact that more and more people are going to want to get fresh newsy information on handheld Web devices.

The River of News metaphor not only speaks a new kind of sense to the NY Times and BBCs of the world. It speaks to a new blog sensibility as well.

I'm starting to think about how I might want to change my blog to be more Webphone-friendly. Can I live without all the junk on the left and right margins, for example? (Probably. They're worse than useless to readers with Treos and Blackberries.) Alternatively, should I have a special feed just for Webphones?

Whatever the answers, I'm not thinking about my blog, or what it does, as a "site". Meanwhile, that's how most big publishers think about what they do on the Web. That's why their sites are often so chock full of... stuff. They're all about being sticky and holding your eyeballs inside the sitewalls.

That might be fine on a computer screen, which is big and placelike in the sense that it usually isn't moving around when you're using it. But a Blackberry or a Treo or a Nokia 770 is different. It's mobile. It's going somewhere. You use it in a much different way.

Mobile feeds and systems for looking at them on phones may not be new. But getting publishing in alignment with the needs of Web users with cell phones is new. That's why River of News is a business hack. It's not a social hack, because the users are already there. The River of News idea calls attention to an opportunity opening up for everybody who produces news. Not just for those who consume it.

Here's another thing. River of News is one more way that the Live Web is branching off of the Static Web. I've written and spoken about this before.

If you read or heard that stuff, you'll understand why I see River of News as a Live Web development.



carrie said...

love the pink

steven edward streight said...

somehow the light green "honeydew" #F0FFF0 was drabbing me out. Had a sliderule engineer feel to it.

This try it called Misty rose #FFE4E1.

May also try a light yellow, aqua, blue, orange.

Maddox of The Best Page in the Universe, a rowdy un-pc blog, said that black type on white was like staring at a light bulb.

I think he's right.