Saturday, August 04, 2012

How to improve blogging

David Foster over at Chicago Boyz announced that August was going to be re-run month because the journal format of a blog is just not suitable for keeping track of essays of long-term relevance. Reading a blog focuses on whatever is most recent. Using tags doesn't help a great deal, since they are also ordered by time.

There's no automatic way to turn daily entries into a coherent whole. That is going to take effort by the author, and possibly quite a lot of effort; including rewriting to join essays together.

Using a "Best-of" tag is too coarse a division, unless the blog is laser-focused on only one topic.

I broach the subject with fear and trembling, because "new feature" is equivalent to "lots of new bugs and instability."

But... There are some things that would make connecting essays easier.

For example, suppose there was an option to order the presentation of essay in a category by rank. The most useful ranking is the author's (unless readership is static a Facebook-like "like" won't reflect real reader approval). The author then can put essays in some category in a "read this before that" order, deprecate things he changed his mind on, and so forth. Ranking in one category doesn't reflect ranking in other categories. This changes the "tag" structure associated with posts, but shouldn't be too hard to implement.

Simplicio: "But can't we do the same thing with meta-posts that consist of links to the others?"

Salviati: "Yes, but it is taxing for the reader to be perpetually jumping back and forth rather than reading longer blocks of related prose. In addition, it compels the author to edit old posts. Granted, there can be more connective detail between the links with the special-post format, but I think the user-interface argument is compelling.

Another thing that could make the user's experience easier is a way to use multiple tags in a single search: "Tribes" and "Geeks" for example. That requires a change in the generic user interface.

And one more thing: you create a structure consisting of different posts without bothering with tags, and tag the whole structure as a "book." A "book" might even include posts from other blogs, provided the authors of that blog all agreed to the inclusion (revocable at any time) and the outside posts were clearly formatted.

And if posts had version control available to the author and the reader--a "book"s version of a post could leave out duplicate introductory material (but still available for other views of the post).

Organizing the material is still going to be hard work.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

I have thought of this often, with no solution satisfying me.

I write many of my posts as if they were essays, to be collected at some later date into some coherent whole, as they once did with newspaper columnists. Yet I write others as pure day-to-day conversation with readers I am familiar with. I don't make a clear distinction between these even as i write them.

I have reluctantly come to accept that blogging is essentially impermanent, carrying some of the longevity attributes of older forms of writing, but ultimately closer to FB posts than George Will columns. Even if many individual posts are much more like Will's columns, they are never going to be aggregated in that way, and will remain ephemeral, like it or no.

I have 3700 posts. If even 10% of those are worth keeping for some length of time longer than this week, it is still more than even my friends and relatives will put in the effort to read.

james said...

I had your tribes series in mind, and was puzzling over ways to make cleaner collections.

At the end of the day, the amount of authorial effort required might just as well be used to cut and paste the essays into a giant file and edit it.

I've only half as many posts, and very few series--and the prospect of searching back through 1600 posts to pick ones relevant to some theme seems daunting. If something more sophisticated had been available from the get-go, perhaps I might have incorporated it. Or perhaps not.

"Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body."