Use the Blog, Luke by

Use the Blog, Luke
by Steven Johnson in Salon

But both Blogdex and Bookwatch share a conceptual limitation with most individual blogs, a limitation that is hard-wired into the software used by the great majority of webloggers: They are organized around time.

Time is central to the philosophical DNA the blogs share with journalism: Both compulsively feature today's link, today's controversy, today's top books. This might seem like an obvious organizational principle, but it comes with great restrictions. Google, for instance, is largely oblivious to time: When you use Google, you're usually not looking for up-to-the-minute info, you're looking for authority and depth. (Try getting a useful stock quote directly from Google and you'll understand immediately.) Many of the bloggers that I follow comment on links that are time-sensitive on the scale of a year or two: Someone's rant on the latest XML spec revisions is just as relevant next week, though probably not nearly so relevant a decade from now. But because those links fall off the front door every few days, they effectively enter a de facto oblivion, where I have to hunt them down actively three weeks later when I'm looking around for useful assessments of XML. The beautiful thing about most information captured by the bloggers is that it has an extensive shelf life. The problem is that it's being featured on a rotating shelf.

But the bloggers needn't be anchored to the headline-news mentality. Think of them as less like a newspaper substitute and more a kind of guardian angel, hovering over your shoulder as you surf. (The Alexa software created by Brewster Kahle relied on a similar approach: He called it a "surf engine.") Punch up a URL and if Jason, or Andrew Sullivan, or Sopsy has an opinion about that page, you see their comments in a floating window alongside your main browser window. It's a simple enough trick: Sites like Blogdex are already tracking blog-borne references to different URLs. All your browser would have to do is send an additional request to a database of blogged URLs anytime you pulled up a page: If there's a match -- if one of the bloggers you're following has referenced the URL -- their comments get sent back to your machine and appear in the floating palette.

[interesting riff on collaborative filtering via blogs]

There are almost as many potential ways to manage that new flow of information as there are bloggers providing it. But to open up these new avenues, the bloggers are going to have to shed their dependence on the traditional journalistic models: Instead of going to today's blog the way you pick up today's paper, the bloggers should follow us around, providing context and commentary, supplementing our libraries and our memory. Many blogs out there possess the standards and intelligence of conventional journalism, but there are already too many of them to keep track of the way we subscribe to old-style magazines or habitually tune in to favorite TV networks. If the blogging population expands at the current rate, soon enough you'll be able to spend an entire day just reading the front doors of all your bookmarked blogs. Better to do away with the dependence on front doors, and let your favorite bloggers come to you.

Posted by Jay Cross at May 12, 2002 10:36 PM | TrackBack

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