This is a post about blogging, and how the software I use affects what I write. It follows on a little from Saturday's post.
I’ve been blogging since about 2000, when I used Blogger, FTP and a demon.net account. The idea of a weblog, a CMS that almost anyone could use, was powerful and allowed a lot of people to set up websites. Early weblogs were a little bit cobbled together, with comments hosted on separate services, but there was an active community with people communicating back and forth. It was fun.
Nowadays I use a Typepad hosted site. Considering Typepad is a paid service it’s not very good (stats and spam detection are particularly poor). It works just well enough that I haven't got around to setting up a server to host my own blog.
What I like about blogging is that the space here is mine – people choose to visit, some by google but most directly. They know what to expect and don't seem unhappy with what they find.
I’m still not sure what blogging is for. I enjoy writing the posts and have had some interesting responses. I miss the community aspects of weblogs, which have moved on to twitter and facebook. This means the conversation has become transient and isn't attached to the posts they reference.
I’m not sure I like the blog post as a format since there is something intimidating about it. One has to start with a title and produce a complete, well-formed thought. The resulting writing is given its own webpage and permalink. Each post has a date and a calendar groups the content, exposing periods where a blog-owner hasn't posted. The whole idea of pages is a strange one in itself, a physical limitation translated to the Internet.
The writer goes on to say “And I don’t know about you, but I have a sense for the amount of writing that can be done in a single go—a single flurry of the keys. An idea strikes, or a memory; you bang it out and post it. There’s such pleasure in that.” That sort of writing, capturing an idea and setting it down, is what I aspire to produce online. But writing weblog posts seems so weighty and formal. I can’t rant about a book for a bit, or simply say what is provoking me. The only place where I produce that sort of loose thought it on twitter.
I’m certainly not the only person frustrated by the weblog format. This is something Tom wrote about recently: "When I first started blogging, I used a quite esoteric product called Radio Userland… I found myself jotting down lots of short-form thoughts. My style of writing was very different to the longer pieces I do nowadays, and in part I put this down to the lurking "Title" field that TypePad includes: it suggests a formality to individual posts. But I quite miss being able to throw out any old idea. The conciseness of Twitter makes it great fun, but it's an awkward place to carry out conversations and sometimes I want a little more than 140 characters…"
The tools I use are certainly problematic. I’m writing this in a word processor because I want to use numbered paragraphs and a word processor feels most natural for that. The Typepad editor is horrible, slow and clunky, with a somewhat whimsical approach to paragraphing. Most times I write my posts as HTML in a plain text editor then copy them to Typepad for a final polish.
I’m also not as fluid a blogger as I would like. It takes me considerable time to edit my posts and remove silly errors. Sometimes I read back my posts and don’t sound as assured and confident as I would like. I have posts languishing in my drafts folder that have been there for months, some half-complete, others never posted. Would I find blogging easier if I didn't have a drafts folder, if I had to commit to an idea once I started it? I don't know yet if this post will be published or if it will end up in the drafts folder before being deleted.
I find Twitter much easier than blogging since everything is potentially throwaway but, if I want, I can develop an idea further.
Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr have changed the way in which people read the Internet. From Matt Locke's post Getting Attention: "Most people using the web, especially in younger age-groups, now experience the web as streams, not sites. It might be the stream of updates in Facebook, or their contact’s Flickr photostream, or a string of results on Google, or in an RSS reader…"
One is not supposed to read everything on Twitter and Facebook. You accept the risk of ‘missing’ things. Content is there in-the-moment and can be difficult to find again. It has changed the way we read things online: How do we comment and share? How do we save things for posterity, so we can find them again? There is something disturbing about streams too, the constant flow of information, all somehow reduced to the same level of importance, each message ready to be replaced by something else.
The lack of memory is a major problem with streams. Twitter currently offers no access to the users' old tweets. As Matt Ogle wrote in his post Archive Fever: A Love Letter to the real-time web: "The problem is ultimately one of attitude. The current philosophy underlying most of the real-time web is that if it’s not recent, it’s not important."
If I had time, I would restart this weblog as a wiki, where a page can be a stub, a single thought. The discussions pages would allow feedback in place of comments. There would be no final version of any content, everything reduced to a work-in-progress that might be finished but doesn't need to be, the full history available to people who want it. Linking between the pages would be more associative.
This still wouldn't solve the problems of participation, of capturing the comments on Twitter and Facebook, but I think the writing I would produce would be more satisfying for me.