Personal Publishing

A weblog in negative space…

When I first started keeping a link log, I ran out of things to talk about. I’d got so used to relying on writing brief things about other people’s sites – and then occasionally writing longer pieces when I got inspired halfway through something else – that with the restrictions imposed by the linklog format, I suddenly realised I had little else to say.

Except that wasn’t true. I had an enormous amount to say and no time in which to say it. I’ve noticed as time has passed that many things get linklogged as soon as I see them. But many others sit in my browser waiting for greater attention. They’re the things I think I ought to be talking about in more detail – they’re the things I want to think about more rigorously. That’s the stuff I have opinions about. Except I don’t have any bloody time to write about those things, so two-thirds of the time they just sit there for weeks until either Safari crashes or I linklog them anyway. What a weird situation to find myself in – posting only those things that interest me enough for me to want to keep a record of them, but don’t interest me enough to write about thoroughly. There’s something wrong there, surely?

There’s a third category of things that I write about – and that’s stuff that has emerged from me, rather than being a commentary or response to what other people have done. Rather than just a reaction, these pieces represent actual work put in by me. I write these infrequently, not because I don’t have those things to write, but again because I have no bloody time. Last week I asked people what I should write about: my trip into the heart of government, my visit to Our Social World, ETech Proposals, Microformats, Controlled Vocabularies versus URL clouds, splicing semantic structures together with tags, conceptual page-rank, the Guardian redesign and … some other stuff.

What did I end up writing about? Nothing. Why? No bloody time. I have an enormous file of projects to build, ideas I’ve had, posts I want to write. I keep track of them because otherwise I forget them. I used to keep track of them by writing the damn things, in a kind of get … them … out … of … my … head kind of a way. But no longer.

It’s the white space you should be reading, not the weblog itself. The real value around here lies in the stuff that’s notable by its absence.

11 replies on “A weblog in negative space…”

Thanks for this. It’s obvious that the unprecendented access to information we all enjoy is addictive, and it’s undoubtedly helpful for knowledge workers. However, ten years on, I’m still in the process of working out how to focus on the important bits in my personalized sea of information. I have faith that technology will eventually provide help, but the wait is sometimes overwhelming.

You know i had the same feeling a while ago (and still to some degree).
I found some sort of perspective in the story ‘Solid”>”>’Solid Objects’ by Virginia Woolf. Not that I’m saying your obsessed like John from the story but still it seemed appropriate.
I drastically cut down on my RSS intake and news reading to a few cross-section blogs and a few with more in-depth writing that are updated less often and so far thats made me a happier person.
Although given that I’m writing a comment on your blog instead of writing myself some ActionScript I’d say that hasn’t made me any more productive! Good luck finding some time, I’m sure some of us will enjoy reading when you do.

“It’s the white space you should be reading, not the weblog itself. The real value around here lies in the stuff that’s notable by its absence”
Wonderful! I love this. We need an inverse Technorati, searching out the whitespace blogosphere, checking the inverse content-to-comment ratio for those people too busy contributing to the world to write about it.

Love, I think the answer lies in the question – who are you writing this for?
Write any old bollocks, when you want to. I mean ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what you write, does it?
Feling obligated to provide meaning or extrapolation is a huge trap. Who are you obligated to? If you want somewhere to write notes that are meaningful to you – an ideas dumping ground, then do that. If you want to witter on about any old nonsense if / when you can be bothered, then do that instead!
But mostly – *relax*.

Practical advice: use delicious (or similar) to store all the things that sit in your browser until it crashes; make a point of periodically returning to your delicious list and sifting through it to see what matters most, what’s best for following up. Use the tags to markup possible posts, articles, ideas etc. Works for me, anyway.
Much more useful advice: what Cait said.
Another thing: I’ve been talking to my mate Lawrence about creativity and how we’re all running out of time to *just be creative*, largely because (in my opinion), our dependence on computers and internets is sucking the creativity out of us. One thing I’ve been thinking about (and Lawrence has implemented) is setting aside time every week for creativity. Computer-based if necessary, but the time must *not* be wasted reading feeds or checking email or stuff. It has to have a creative output.

time! man. the awareness of time, or the lack of it, the weight of that awareness, the perceived pressure to slice and dice it into the most productive segments possible… it must certainly be the most stressful and maddening malady for the modern creative.
add to that the feeling that you are being somehow misrepresented by the content you are forced to post for lack of time… the feeling that you are not showing your best face to the world… very frustrating.
i found that having a sidebar-blog just for the quick links, and keeping the main column for longer, more in depth posts helped in two ways. it is a visual cue to your intent (what’s important and what’s merely “of interest”) but it also forces your hand. can’t let the main column languish can you?
in any case you’ll never beat the clock. you just need to trick yourself into not noticing somehow.

Hm. Well I don’t know that I agree with some of the comments here. I mean, as I said in the original piece – I often use this weblog to get stuff out in public and out of my head, and I sometimes write to be involved in a conversation with my peers. In both of those situations, it does matter what I write – at least to me. In the first case it matters because I don’t appear to have time to get the stuff I want to get out of my head onto the page, and I find that frustrating. And in the second case, I want to get involved in discussions and I think there is a question there about wanting to argue well and clearly and express my opinion effectively. Again the problem is time.
I don’t think of this place as just somewhere to write stuff for myself, any more than I think of my voice as something that I only use to say things to myself. And I’m quite happy to write stuff that flies off the top of my head when I’m feeling mischievous or playful. But I think I’d also be really unhappy if I only used it to do that stuff. There are things that I care about that I’d like to talk about with people in more detail, and I slightly resent the fact that I don’t have time to do so to a level of quality that I think is important.

The reasons for writing a weblog are always in flux, which is why one is wise to call one’s website something vague like “plasticbag”, rather than something more specific e.g. “TheSocialMarketingBlog” or “TheSocialMediaBlog” or whatever.

Well I’m afraid I don’t agree with that either. The things people write about are always changing, but there is a pattern to it – and that pattern is the person who writes. Weblogs are a place for a person to express their voice, on anything that they care about, and so should normally be associated with the person they’re representing rather than a subject.

I concur completely with what you’ve written. The time to collate and document thoughts is hard to come by, if the rest of (offline) life is given any attention.
When originally planning what I would blog about when starting out, I had high ideals. I would write about things I would like to come to pass in my vision of an ideal world; spare business/project ideas I’d come to realise that I’d never have a chance to carryout; and all the other guff that people generally write about. Clearly the later is what has become my norm, with very occasional sprinklings of the first two (much to my frustration). Why? As you point out – it takes time.
I think there’s another interesting category of white-space in blogs (elegantly put btw) and that’s things that people disagree with or dislike, but don’t write about.
There may be many reasons for this, including the lack of time available, but I think that quite often this is due to not wanting to offend those who are involved with projects – because of their perceived position in the blogging world, or that the people involved are friends, either directly, or through the extended tech network. I’m not going to directly name examples of this, but I’d noticed a distinct lack of critical comments around the blog world about a search engine that had a lot of performance problem and a photo service that has experienced a lot of user disquiet.
Perhaps it’s unrealistic to think it would be any other way, after all this mirrors what happens in the real world. The criticism of friends is one of the hardest things in the world.

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