Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Sat 3 May 03 15:13
Hi Rafe! Rafe is one of the original webloggers: he has been maintaining his weblog, http://www.rc3.org, since before that first community came together in early 1999. I highly recommend his site. He covers programming (which I just ignore, since I'm not a programmer) mixed with current events and politics. Rafe is doing something I see almost nowhere else: reading about and linking to the hot-button topics of the day, then--and this is the part that is so rare--really considering varying points of view. Rafe exhibits an open-mindedness that I just don't find on most other weblogs. He seems to deliberately seek out points of view he doesn't share, and then thoughtfully consider their merits as he weighs his opinion of the thing. I'm continually impressed with his work. So, yes, I'm a fan-girl. :) I had forgotten about the law blogs, or "blawgs" as they like to call themselves. It seems that one person will start a topic-specific weblog and then others quickly follow. The blawg ring now has 178 members http://www.ringsurf.com/netring?ring=Lawblogs;action=list. I know there are more than this: Larry Lessig, for example, hasn't joined http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/lessig/blog/. In some ways, the law is the perfect subject for a weblog--there are so many specialties, you could find a niche very easily. In my book I talk about using weblogs to establish professional reputations. I saw it first in programming and web design, but the same strategy can be applied to lots of other professions. Start a site that focuses on your profession (or hobby, for that matter). Make it the one place other professionals go to, to find all the news of the day that might apply to your field, or focus on providing thoughtful commentary on a few pertinent issues every day. Within a year, you'll be regarded as an expert in your field--and you will have gained an extra measure of expertise just by focusing so strongly on your subject.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sat 3 May 03 15:52
Been thinking about that... focusing more on subjects that are relevant to my consulting practice. I'm conflicted, though, because I like to use blogging as an excuse for websurfing and discovery. We do so well with information, couldn't we master time, as well, and add more hours to the day? <grin> Do you consider your blog part of your business, now, following the release of the book? What else do you do with your time?
The Fucked-Up Piano Chicks (magdalen) Sat 3 May 03 16:48
> Hi Rafe! Rafe is one of the original webloggers: whoah, the Well strikes again. i didn't know Our Rafeco was one of the first! i am all impressed & stuff. anyway, hi there, i'm tiffany a.k.a. magdalen, and i maintain a newish weblog called Magdalen Sez at www.magdalen.com. i guess it's a mishmash of filter and notebook, with a few too many pointers to events that i'm putting on or speaking at or singing at or whatever. what's really fun is being part of a group blog (Incunabula's STARE)... i first got hooked on this when Cory Doctorow invited me to be a guest blogger on BoingBoing.net last summer. having browsed your book and spent a chunk of time the last six months trying to suss out the whole weblog thing, i'm not sure that blogging is really all that distinct from anything else online -- *unless* you allow that the technology itself makes it different. i mostly hear about how blogs let anyone publish themselves. well, that's what we got so excited about when the first graphical web browser knocked us down in the early '90s. blogs immediately and magically somehow put bloggers into a great and wonderful community -- this part of the hype also sounds very familiar, and that is exactly what happened to me when i started shooting my mouth off on The WELL in 1992. blogs allow for a diversity of voices and opinions -- darn tootin' they do, and it rocks! but hey, so did Usenet. so did regular home pages. it's funny. reading your book, reading articles about blogs in which old-school bloggers are interviewed, listening to blogger friends of mine (like Mitsu, who does Synthetic Zero), i have definitely been intrigued by and eventually won over by weblogs. but all those old-school tidbits of goodness sound like people who got in on a neat thing early, enjoying the success that they got primarily because they got in early. it sounds very much like how i and people i knew used to pound the pulpit in favour of online communication, the web, and even just email, in the early '90s (can i get a witness?). we got in on a community partly because there were so few of us at that time. the media interviewed us about our experiences. it was all very exciting. what really makes blogs so much different from those phenomena? the greatest thing i see about it is the technology. "push-button publishing for the people" may not be as cool as coding yr own in Notepad, but it's what genuinely changes the landscape. now *anyone* can publish in reverse chronological order. Blogger and the like are the equivalent of the Mosaic browser. you could browse the web before its invention, but only the ease of point and click brought The People to the Web.
Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Sat 3 May 03 17:41
Thanks for the great compliments, Rebecca. I don't think weblogging is any different than any of the other "revolutions" mentioned in the previous post. It's just an evolution of the homepage, I guess. The great thing about the tools is they let people who are interested in writing, but not learning to code to put their stuff up and find an audience really easily. I can say for sure that I've benefitted from that, not only as a writer (I wrote my own blogging software), but as a reader. There are tons of people writing on many interesting topics who'd be posting to private mailing lists or just keeping their mouths shut were it not for things like Movable Type, Blogger, and Blogspot.
rebeccablood (rebeccablood) Sat 3 May 03 17:51
Magdalen, you've nailed it. And it's what I say over and over again. The technology *is* the revolution. It is now possible for anyone with a web browser and an Internet connection to create a space for themselves on the Web. Weblogs are, for many people, the promise of the Web fulfilled. However, I do think it's important to keep definitions separate from discussions of the technology. The technology has brought the form to the masses. But it doesn't make sense to limit definitions to the software itself--the form pre-dates the software. Weblogs were interesting enough to warrant a few articles (including this one http://www.salon.com/tech/col/rose/1999/05/28/weblogs/) before they became a push-button phenomenon. There are interesting possibilities inherent in the Web, in personal publishing, in self-selecting online communities, in filter-style weblogs, in self-revelation, and many of the other things that weblogs enable or amplify. All of these topics are related to weblogs, and none of them has everything to say about the phenomenon. So, I agree with you, there's lots to be said about weblogs that can be said about many aspects of online life; and people new to weblogs definitely go through the same stages of awe and enthusiasm and contagion that many of us went through when we discovered usenet or BBSs (my introduction), back in the day. I don't agree that it's weighted to the older weblogs, though. There are plenty of old-school bloggers who are just not widely known--and I've seen new weblogs (BoingBoing is a perfect example) go from unknown to must-reads in a matter of months. > rafe: The great thing about the tools is they let people who are interested in writing, but not learning to code to put their stuff up and find an audience really easily. < Absolutely. And I've seen people who are primarily interested in writing become interested in web design and coding, and people who are designers and programmers become more and more interested in writing. Weblogs are a gateway form for lots of people who then cross over into "harder" disciplines. :)
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Sat 3 May 03 18:04
> jon: Do you consider your blog part of your business, now, following the release of the book? What else do you do with your time? < I do consider my weblog to be a professional responsibility at this point, at least to some extent. Since I started my site, I've made it a policy not to talk about myself on my site on the theory that nearly everything else I could write about would be more interesting. It's been quite a change for me to start linking to articles I'm interviewed for, mentioning my book and appearances, and the like. I'm still focused on linking only to the things I find interesting and compelling--there's no point in maintaining the site unless it's fun to do. But I have, on more than one occasion in the last year, wished that I didn't have to update the site. When I finished the book I was, frankly, completely sick of thinking about weblogs. It would have been nice to go somewhere without a computer for a month. What I'm doing this month is preparing to give the keynote for the first weblog conference: Blogtalk http://www.blogtalk.net/, to be held in Vienna, Austria, May 23- 24. I'm trying to learn enough German that I can find the words people say to me in my dictionary, writing the speech, and practicing it. I've also been working on proposals for various projects and lately I've been spending a lot of time talking to the press. That plus the usual day-to-day stuff. My father tells me that it's better to have a few too many things to do than too few--by his standard, I'm sitting pretty. :)
Sean Harding (sharding) Sat 3 May 03 18:05
The technology (Movable Type in my case) greatly has enhanced my weblogging, and I'm a pretty technical user. I'm experienced with web design (since 1995 or so) and programming. I even wrote a couple of different pieces of software for myself that could be called "weblog" software. But my weblogging didn't really take off until I decided to install Movable Type and see what it was all about. I didn't think it would make a big difference, but it did. Movable Type came with several features I never had gotten around to implementing in my own software. But, more importantly, it put me in a position in which I could concentrate on the content instead of screwing with the software all the time. I'm sure that if I put enough effort into writing my own weblog software, I could get it to a point where I'm not constantly messing with it and could concentrate on the content. But I have a lot of other things to do and most days I don't feel like coming home from work and sitting down to program. Movable Type allowed me to avoid that and gave me a very usable system in less than an hour, rather than days, weeks or months of tweaking my own stuff. It's made a huge difference for me.
Rafe Colburn (rafeco) Sat 3 May 03 19:10
If I were starting out today, I'd probably be using Movable Type. When I started, it was some Userland product or something you wrote yourself, and I wrote something myself. That's not to disparage Userland, I just wanted something server based.
Christian Crumlish (xian) Sat 3 May 03 22:42
re book covers, ultimately the publisher always controls that. it's part of marketing, like the wrapper on a candy bar. in my literary agent guise, i try to help my authors understand that they won't control the cover and may not get to use the title they want, either.
It's all done with mirrors... (kafclown) Sun 4 May 03 06:30
I didn't mean to harp on the book cover. From a color standpoint, it definitely stands out. It's just the design ON the cover is not very friendly... But enough of that... :o) One of the things about blogs (and I have to say that I pronounce it "bEE-log" and not the one syllable "blog") is the concept of audience. I do my blog <http://www.quahogs.blogspot.com> primarily for me. But I do have some outside audience in mind. Now my blog isn't very personal (It's about Rhode Island, and I wrote a book about Rhode Island, so I see it kind of as a way of getting people coming back to my site) and it's not like I have hundreds of readers. Still, I do it for myself, and as long as I'm having fun, I'll probably continue....
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Sun 4 May 03 11:16
> xian: in my literary agent guise, i try to help my authors understand that they won't control the cover and may not get to use the title they want, either. < I think your publisher (and editor) has a lot to do with this, too. My editor (John Rodzvilla) was extraordinarily helpful, even though we were under such a time limit. I really felt he went out of his way to help me understand the process and to see that I had a good experience and was pleased with the final result. For example, he had me send him examples of typography from books I admired visually, to give him an example of what I meant when I said I wanted the page to "breathe". Then he had the book designer send me samples of her choice of typeface to make sure I approved. I was very pleased with the level of input I had in the final look of the book. My husband and I noticed a big difference between my book-writing experience and his, which was for a computer book publisher. From what we have gathered from our own experiences and those of our friends, computer book publishers seem to be about finding someone with technical expertise, and wrangling that knowledge onto the page. His schedule was set up with regular deliverables, he had two "tech editors" and the whole thing just had a different feel to it. I negotiated a deadline, and then didn't hear a word from anyone until I delivered my manuscript. My editor sent back notes, I did another rewrite, and then the manuscript went to (an excellent) copy editor (my husband didn't have one of those). I could add and subtract copy all the way up to the galleys. He had about the same amount of time as I did to finish his book. The difference was in process and in the fact that, for his publisher, they were on a normal schedule, and everyone at Perseus kept talking about how we were working "at the speed of light". :)
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Sun 4 May 03 11:28
> kafclown: I pronounce it "bEE-log" and not the one syllable "blog < does bEE-log mean anything to you, or are you just being perverse? it was that kind of perversion that got us "blog" in the first place, I'm just sayin. > kafclown: I do my blog primarily for me. But I do have some outside audience in mind. < I honestly think that's the only way to do it. I know that writing in public instantly made me a better writer. It sharpened me up. Writing in a notebook that no one will ever see has its advantages, but it won't put the fear of an audience in you. :) The combination of writing daily and in the open is a great combination if you want to write well. (The only better combination would be to add a good editor to that mix.) And you have to write about what interests you--you're spending so much time at it, it has to be enjoyable. Weblogging appears to be effortless to many people. I remember one journalist who got very interested in the form a few years ago, started his own, and then quit shortly after. A few months later he wrote in a column that it was a "demanding form." Well, it is, if you take any care with it at all. Finding links, in and of itself, can take a lot of time. Writing clearly about those links (or telling a good story, or articulating a thought) takes more time, still. I think you *have* to be engaged in your subject.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Sun 4 May 03 17:38
Do you think of weblogs as 'conversations'?
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Sun 4 May 03 20:20
In a sense, everything that has been published is part of a large conversation. There is a long tradition in books of authors talking to one another across centuries (Karl Marx paging Adam Smith!). Magazine articles and news opinion pieces do the same thing, in something closer to real time. Weblogs do, too, but hypertext can make those conversations explicit with links and trackback. Commenting systems allow readers to directly join the discussion. Even sites that don't have commenting systems and rarely engage in cross-blog talk are putting their thoughts out there, and so are part of the mix. And sites like the Daypop Top 40 http://www.daypop.com/top/ and blogdex http://blogdex.media.mit.edu/ give a snapshot of what is most compelling to two (overlapping) slices of the weblog community from day to day--what people are talking about to their readers. As tools like trackback are more widely deployed, each of us can potentially maintain our own clipping service, right on our sites.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 5 May 03 06:33
Have you read (and can you comment on) Clay Shirky's _Power Law, Weblogs, and Inequality_? http://www.shirky.com/writings/powerlaw_weblog.html He starts with "A persistent theme among people writing about the social aspects of weblogging is to note (and usually lament) the rise of an A-list, a small set of webloggers who account for a majority of the traffic in the weblog world. This complaint follows a common pattern we've seen with MUDs, BBSes, and online communities like Echo and the WELL. A new social system starts, and seems delightfully free of the elitism and cliquishness of the existing systems. Then, as the new system grows, problems of scale set in. Not everyone can participate in every conversation. Not everyone gets to be heard. Some core group seems more connected than the rest of us, and so on...."
Ari Davidow (ari) Mon 5 May 03 08:21
Hi Rebecca, I just wanted to chime in and say that I really, really enjoyed the book and thought that it had as much to do with netiquette as with anything else. My own website evolved into something webloggish in the late '90s, such that I started saving the main page accumulations from '99 on. Moveable Type has made it much easier for me to return to what I had intended, which is to make the page a filter for things that I think my audience might like. It is somewhat fascinating to be in an area where there really, really don't seem to be other webloggers. I run a site devoted to klezmer, and not only aren't there other klezmer sites, but there don't seem to be related balkan music or ethnic music or whatever sites. It seems curious to me how many weblogs seem to focus on politics, say, and a few broader subjects (technology, of course), and how few seem to get into a place or a specialized field. Or maybe it just takes time.
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Mon 5 May 03 11:15
> jon: Have you read (and can you comment on) Clay Shirky's _Power Law, Weblogs, and Inequality_? < It's a very smart article. I'm glad he wrote it--it puts to lie the two ideas: that there is no A-list, and that the A-list is somehow self-selecting and deliberately exclusive. What the article misses, in my opinion, is the fact that in the weblog universe is still a system in which individuals can rise to the top very quickly. Instapundit, BoingBoing, and Dive Into Mark, three currently popular sites, were completely unknown two years ago--in fact, Instapundit and Dive Into Mark didn't exist two years ago. I've seen this happen over and over again--a new or unknown weblog suddenly shoots onto everyone's list of links, sometimes in a matter of weeks. I don't know how long this will be the case, but because of the highly personal and interactive nature of weblogs, my feeling is that the system will remain more fluid than traditional media for some time. The other thing Shirky misses is the highly selective nature of the data he used to construct his graphs. Each of the weblog popularity systems tracks around (I believe) 10,000 weblogs (out of something like 500,000) and each of them is weighted to certain clusters. Andrew Sullivan and Instapundit are completely unknown in certain weblog clusters, and the stars of those clusters are completely unknown to the wider weblog universe. I wish I could remember who said that in the weblog universe, everyone will be famous to 15 people (anyone remember?). It's true. There are little stars in a thousand clusters, and then there are a very few people who have gotten enough media attention--and whose sites cover topics that are of sufficient interest to a large number of people--that they have audiences that are relatively large.
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Mon 5 May 03 11:23
> ari: I just wanted to chime in and say that I really, really enjoyed the book and thought that it had as much to do with netiquette as with anything else. < Hi Ari, thank you very much. You're right: a large portion of the book is devoted to general netiquette and weblog-specific applications thereof. How to make yourself known within the wider community, how to engage other people constructively, how to get your weblog in front of an audience.... I think there's so much that seems natural when you've been online for awhile, but that really is learned behavior (DON'T USE ALL CAPS!). I hope (and have heard) that the book offers some value to those who have been online or maintaining their own weblogs for a while, too. I tried to look at the dynamics of the weblog community and to inspire people to think about what they really want to do with their sites--and to think about how it is this community functions.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 5 May 03 18:58
Readers who aren't on the WELL can send comments and questions to email@example.com, and they'll be posted here. Rebecca, here's a really easy question... what are the very best weblogs you know?
froom MARK JONES (tnf) Mon 5 May 03 19:32
to: Rebeca Blood: Can you point to locations for basic and more than basic introduction and understanding of what RSS is and how RSS works. Same for linkbacks. (And perhaps their limitations too?) Thanks, Mark J
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Mon 5 May 03 19:54
> jon: Rebecca, here's a really easy question... what are the very best weblogs you know? < That's a hard, impossible question, not an easy one! There is so much wonderful work out there that it's impossible to choose a "best". But here are a few I think offer consistently excellent work, and all of them are as different from each other as can be: rc3.org http://www.rc3.org mentioned previously nobody's doll http://www.nobodysdoll.com/ an engaging, entertaining notebook--what a good writer! quark soup focus on science, particularly the physical sciences viviculture http://www.viviculture.org/weblog/ weblog as meditation earth info net http://earth-info-net.blogspot.com/ sustainability, environment, and analysis (he's threatening to go on hiatus to finish his phD, but so far, so good.) miscmedia http://www.miscmedia.com/ popular culture with a seattle slant wood s lot http://www.ncf.ca/~ek867/wood_s_lot.html art and culture thinklog I think all of these writers have tremendously strong voices, including Mark Woods, who rarely posts any commentary at all. I often say that link choice is voice, and I think one look at wood s lot is ample evidence of the truth of that sentiment. what are the "best unknown" weblogs on your list?
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Mon 5 May 03 20:49
> mark j: Can you point to locations for basic and more than basic introduction and understanding of what RSS is and how RSS works. Same for linkbacks. (And perhaps their limitations too?) < phil gyford has written a wonderful little introduction to weblogs and weblog technology here: http://www.gyford.com/phil/writing/2003/01/05/an_introduction_.php in it he explains both RSS and trackback in very understandable terms. Search Engine Watch has this extensive explanation of RSS that includes further references at the end: http://www.searchenginewatch.com/sereport/article.php/2175271 I don't provide an RSS feed for my site, mainly because I haven't figured out a way to generate one automatically. (Admittedly, this isn't something I've been working on; it's on the list of "if I ever learn Perl, I'll...") In the last year, RSS has really gained traction. With a good reader, people are following hundreds of weblogs instead of the dozens they used to visit by following links. Some people are sending out entire entries and others are just sending out the first 100 characters of an entry, or the title of the post. The limitation of sending out an entire entry is, obviously, that people can read your work without actually visiting your site. If you are a designer or if you measure your "payment" through traffic to your site, this has obvious drawbacks. I don't believe you can get any idea of how many people subscribe to your RSS feed, so you can't measure traffic to your feed. (Rafe, or someone else, please jump in a correct me if I have this completely wrong.) The upside is that you are pushing your content to whomever wants it, potentially reaching many more people than you would if you relied on them to come to see you.
Rebecca Blood (rebeccablood) Mon 5 May 03 21:03
oops! Quark Soup! http://www.davidappell.com/
Sean Harding (sharding) Mon 5 May 03 22:00
You can basically tell how many people subscribe to your RSS feed because their clients fetch it from your web server to update it. So, it ends up looking just like any other web site hit, but it's a hit on the RSS file. That is, of course, made somewhat more complicated if people read the feed on some other website that fetches it and displays it, like I believe NewsIsFree does. But I find that it's pretty easy for me to keep track of RSS feed readership. I include full entries in my feed, but most of my entries these days are photos with only a little text (or none at all), and the feed has only thumbnails. So if people want to see the full image, they have to come to my website. This isn't so much to force people to come to my site (I don't care a lot about that), but I think it looks a little better in some of the RSS readers, and it seems more appropriate for the format. There was also an annoying caching issue with some of the RSS readers that pushed my hand.
The Fucked-Up Piano Chicks (magdalen) Mon 5 May 03 23:48
i don't really understand RSS. can someone point me to an example of a site using RSS? oh wait, i just read that link and downloaded the NetNewsWire software. NOW i get it. too bad my xml feed isn't working.
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