Coming to a cinema near you courtesy of the New York Times (if you can bear to go through the whole registering palaver): “Invasion of the Blog” starring Evan Williams and Meg Hourihan. The crowds go wild. [Addendum: Metafilter discusses the article]
Category: Personal Publishing
What a steaming pile of crap. Right it’s time we set a few matters straight around here. It’s time we got the weblogging house in order. The matter under discussion today is: Deconstructing “You’ve Got Blog”.
- The form of the weblog does not generate an appropriate type of content, only a format for that content. “Nominal” purpose be damned. People write about what they want to write about. If that happens to be their lives, and if their lives involve reading about other people’s sites then they will write about it. If it is dull, other people won’t read it. If it is not, people will read it.
- There are of course popular webloggers. There are also 60,000 weblogs or so to choose from if you don’t like them. The fact that individuals get excited when they are spotted by someone who they admire the work of, is nothing new. The fact that people who do good work now sometimes have weblogs is new. Jason gets respect from people because of 0sil8; Powazek gets respect because of Fray; Meg, Ev and Haughey get their share because they work at Blogger. All these people also write well for well put together sites. The other webloggers who have made a name for themselves do so because they write well or relatively well, design well or relatively well and have been around long enough to get known. It is, admittedly, getting harder for people to become well known, just because of the sheer number of the damn things. And who do these A-list people consist of anyway? Is it the beebo.org lot? Because that’s not working any more, and 9/10s of the people in the blogging world had never heard of it anyway.
- Publicity Stunts? Oh please. Intention counts for nothing? Brief piece of pointless history. I was the person who brought up the whole conversation about whether Jason and Meg were seeing each other initially. I got a lot of shit for it, which I regretted. The whole little girl thing was a piece of play, which I decided to expand upon, and which then a hundred other people decided to play with too. This was something fun and interesting in a bizarre way – worth exploring rather than slamming in my opinion. Regarding insularity: Everything that anyone has ever written was designed for a readership. A weblog’s readership might be the world, or it might be the community that has grown up around weblogs.
- Becoming a popular weblog really is as simple as anything else on the internet. If you do something different, If you have a different voice and you update regularly, people will read you. Losing your popularity is just as easy. There’s nothing more to it than that.
The future is masturbatory…
Sometimes I think it’s important to just feel good about yourself. So that’s what I’m going to do. I read a post at Metafilter praising blogger and then I read a snarky comment about weblogs in general. Such comments are bloody boring in my opinion, but tend to run along these lines: 1) What you write is pointless. 2) What you write isn’t much fun. 3) Why don’t you do something properly creative.
In fact, all three of these points can be described in one simple phrase: “weblogs are wank”. I find this kind of thing really amusing, as it seems to be wrapped up in a weirdly strict Catholic idea of what is appropriate sex. Clearly “wank” is considered “unproductive”, “wasteful”, “pointless” and therefore bad by these people. Weblogs are also considered “unproductive”, “wasteful” and “pointless” and also therefore “bad”.
But pretty much no one considers masturbation a sin any more, and a goodly proportion of the world seems to be up to it. And while some people are ashamed, most people are just getting on with it, some more creatively than others. I guess my question is this – why is there a double standard? Does everything have to be productive to be good? I for one am making a stand for the web masturbator. I say to thee: “build it, write it, show it off”.
The future is wank…
On British Blogs…
I started weblogging pretty soon after blogger launched. I think it had been going about a month and a half. And when I started, I don’t think there were many of us doing this, and certainly not that many in the UK. Tonight I was talking to a few UK webloggers (many of whom I am meeting up with on Thursday night) and suddenly realised how much things have changed over the last ten months.
So I decided to compile (more for my benefit than yours) a quick list of well-designed and interesting British weblogs. It’s by no means exhaustive, and is based heavily on Jen’s work at the GBlogs Gateway.
Weblogs (at least those with online diary content) are strange things. They force you to make decisions about which parts of your life are open to everyone and which parts of your life should remain discreetly behind closed doors. Even more so, they force you to decide (at some level) which parts of your life are entertaining enough to be open to everyone.
With a few exceptions (28th birthday, the Yell Awards, Mark and Vance in the UK, Groucho Club), I have hardly been writing about my life at all recently – and when I look back over my archive I can see that this trend started when I last saw Max. [cross referenced for your pleasure: 11 June, 17 June] For a long time after the last disaster, it was almost like excised my personal life completely. I just got on with business. As a direct result of being gutted, I felt I had no inside left to write about…
But over the last couple of weeks it has all been seeping back. The run-up to my birthday was very much one of those times when you look around you and think to yourself – “what have I achieved?”, “why do I bother?”. This is pretty much run of the mill stuff, except that this year I started thinking about questions like – “why am I alone?”. A few years ago I pretty much made peace with being single – it seemed to me that my life was going pretty well without the additional luxury of actually going out with people. After all, if you want fantasy, romance and love you can rent a trashy video. And there’s very little else that a relationship can provide that you can’t find somewhere else.
And yet in the background now, I feel the questions still lurking, unanswered. I don’t really know what’s caused their reappearance – I went to see High Fidelity last weekend, and that compounded the anxieties of my birthday. I had some unromantic, but highly enjoyable … fun. Then I watched Dawson’s Creek with Mella, and watched her invest huge amounts of energy in the burgeoning relationship of Pacey and Joey. We got incredibly drunk on vodka and talked. She put her finger on part of the problem almost immediately – she said that getting older would be fine if it came with all the trappings it is supposed to. The late twenty-something should have a reasonable job with career prospects, a relationship that has lasted a while and should be thinking about things like mortgages and making some kind of long-term committment. To be that age without those things – well it’s like some kind of cruel joke.
Anyway. I’ve decided to let you in on the joke, I think. I think that’s what this posts about – it’s about getting some personal content out there again – picking up my guts from off the floor and putting them onto the web. It may not be entertaining, but it’s as real as you can get. And maybe that’s more important.
I love A List Apart. I really do. But is anyone bored of the anti-weblog riff? It’s a banal conversation at the best of times. It’s good that they are easy to build (html isn’t exactly the trickiest language itself – would it be better if you had to code in C++? Would the content be any good then?), because it makes the web less elitist – makes the information online and the ability to communicate available to everyone. And so what if you get a fair amount of crap? There are many more crap sites out there which are not powered by blogger than ones that are… If it makes a designer more lazy, well that’s his/her fault – not the fault of the tool.
It’s like my whole thing with Dreamweaver. I look at the tool and think to myself – why is this program popular? It’s an idiotic waste of space that generates messy, unclear, unreadable, fat and buggy code. And yet people use it because it makes their lives easier. I hate the program, but I can’t fault the content of some of the sites built with it. And Blogger doesn’t produce ugly code at all, it just provides a basic and surprisingly flexible way of working with daily content.
Or to put it in a more memorable way: Dreamweaver and Blogger don’t bore people. People bore people.
One final quote:
“What if everyone spoke their minds and actually put some effort into it? How about presenting who you are – what you are made of – what drives your inner being? Take a chance and create without bounds. Don’t waste the power the web has given us in a hit-seeking circle jerk.”
If you haven’t found a weblog that does this stuff, then you haven’t been looking very hard. And if you haven’t been looking very hard, then piss off…
On 23/6/00 3:16 pm, Matthew Kingston at email@example.com wrote:
You use Blogger for your weblog, right? I’m wondering if you’ve seen my “Blogger Comments Manifesto” (http://hit-or-miss.org/blogger_comments/) and have any thoughts about Blogger and comment systems.
Matt of hit-or-miss.org
On 23/6/00 9:32 pm, Tom Coates replied:
It’s certainly a very interesting subject. Personally I am interested in seeing Blogger become an online content management system that is flexible enough to handle the updating of different types of sites. But more of that later…
A comments tag would also certainly be useful, but one things occurs to me that might be worrying. How much information might your system be asking Pyra to store? Assuming that more people read and comment on the weblog than actually write the log originally, each log would at least double in size (or more accurately the less visited logs would increase a small amount, while the larger ones would become basically 9/10s comment based). I don’t know what their business model is, so I couldn’t comment on how much bandwidth and disk space they are prepared to pay for without recompense. It seems to me that it has to be a finite amount.
As I said earlier, I personally see the future of Blogger as being a way to manage content for a variety of different types of site based around the same principles as it does now for webloggers. More in depth types of sites, or commercial ones could require a subscription fee, while the weblog template could be free as a taster. Certainly the uptake on Blogger seems to be enough to warrant a more sophisticated, less simple and more expensive version. I mean – I pay for the ubb as it is, and that is certainly nowhere near as flexible and pleasant-to-use a tool as blogger.
An example close to my heart: A magazine site for example would be a prime market for an expanded blogger-based system and is something that I am going to attempt to generate shortly using a good few fudges of my own and a little too much hand-coding. But what I would really love is the ability to write an article with a title, and then define a separate template for a home page or category pages which would then render some taster content and a link through to the article itself, combined with an archive that allows one to list things by title rather than just date.
This would be extraordinarily useful for people who wished to generate webzines (like, for example, ME).
Webloggers in PC Format…
Wise up, UK webloggers, and get yourself a copy of PCFormat. Picture the scene – I’m sitting at my desk, pretending to do work and sending my boss cartoons involving kiwi birds being chopped up into little bits and stuck in fruit salads, when suddenly said boss shouts fuck! and raises his eyebrows skywards. Summoning me over, he slowly opens up the pages of PCFormat to reveal a two page spread on Weblogs. Blogger is featured prominently, and there are detailed walk-throughs of setting up your own weblog.
All very interesting, I think, and slowly and carefully read through the article. It’s a fun piece, which mentions a good number of weblog related sites, from groksoup to eatonweb. And then there is a section on British weblogs…
This looks like it could be interesting, particularly as many of the British webloggers met up last weekend for a couple of drinks. perfect.co.uk is mentioned, as is Need to Know and haddock.org. And then right at the bottom is this little tiny throwaway comment, almost completely lost on the page:
“Our own favourite is Barbelith (www.barbelith.com) for its great design.”
This is obviously completely delightful, and has brought a real spark into my day (which was relatively sparkful already, if I’m honest). But it only gets better. There are also two panels with slightly longer reviews of weblogs, including screenshots. Barbelith is there as well. As are: Zannah, eatonweb, slashdot.org, Ooine, robotwisdom, Daily Doozer, metafilter, mutability and Rebecca’s Pocket. Yay us, guys. We rock…
The evolving role of weblogs…
I am going to respond to Jason Kottke’s comments about weblogs in full shortly. In the meantime here are a few thoughts on the matter:
- Jason Kottke has inspired me to work on the web more than anyone except perhaps Derek Powazek.
- Unfortunately, the “weblogs are dead” discussion is as old as the content of weblogs themselves. The most obvious response that I can think to this argument is that people have found a medium and they are damn well going to use it. Not everyone is going to want to push the envelope – for most people, the web is a way of writing a diary or commentary for more people than just themselves. The journal was basically written in two or three different ways for hundreds of years, and I am not in the slightest bit surprised that the format and content of web journals and logs are following suit.
- And then there is the age old battle – personal content, versus web content, versus commentary, versus self-indulgence. Everyone has a position. Everyone tries to do their own thing. No one can really be right, except in a matter of degrees. If you write it, then they will come…
- That’s not to say that there isn’t room for a bit of dynamism and forward thrusting. I’m in a bit of a downer about weblogging myself at the moment. What happens when you don’t have any more to say?
- The one thing about Jason’s commentary that I have real trouble with is its uncharacteristic harshness. A couple of examples of the unnecessary slamming of other people’s work: “I almost never talk about weblogs here (mainly because everyone else does and it sickens me)”, “It’s just more of what you’re used to; if Swallowing Tacks is a medium Dr. Pepper (hold the ice), Zippyblog is just a refill.” Incitement to change is crucial on the web, but at the end of the day what people decide to say is completely up to themselves. There will be an audience for whatever is written, even if that audience is small. The old web truism stands here: If you don’t like what you are reading, then read something else…
On blog design popularity…
Weirdly, a lot of people have commented on my thoughts on why a weblog is popular. More interestingly, exactly what I feared would happen has happened – by actively trying to demonstrate whether or not my theory was true or not (ie. by producing reviews) I have wandered slap bang into the middle of the debate (once again) about whether weblogs are popularity contests and whether or not good design is something that can be quantified.
It’s strange – in most other areas of web site creation it is considered a given that there are certain designs that are better than others. Unreadable content is surely always the sign of a bad website, as is unclear navigation. I consider kottke.org to be incredibly well designed – it’s clear, elegant and easy to find your way around. So I can only half agree with Blog for One when he says: “on a personal site, one should be able to do whatever they want, and not have to worry about being judged, or measured, or ranked” because while no one should feel under pressure to compete, there is no reason to think that the design, content or character of a personal site cannot be improved, nor that the individuals who run those sites are not interested in doing so.