| by Flemming Funch|
Now, what was I saying? I've forgotten, I'll have to read my own blog.
The trouble with blogs, and microblogs too, for that matter, is that one tends to be locked into one track. It is still a bit too much like publishing.
You know, if you were publishing a monthly magazine, you'd be expected to produce a certain number of articles, good pictures, a certain type of content, a certain number of pages, and it needs to be finished at the right time. In blogs you can in principle say whatever you want on any topic. And in a microblog (twitter, jaiku, facebook), you certainly can, and it doesn't even have to be important or well thought out. But, still, most people will stay within a particular subset of their life.
A lot of my blog friends seem to be living and breathing social software. Cool new technology fits in well with that too. And it is acceptable to talk about that you're going out to lunch, or that you're waiting for a plane to go somewhere. And a few other odds and ends to show that you're human. But, still, most people stay within a certain format and frequency, and mostly expect the same from others, and would frown upon somebody who uses these media differently. Like, if one person sends out 200 twitter messages in a day about the fish in his fish tank, a lot of his friends would unsubscribe. But what if that really was what was on his mind that day, and what he felt needed to be said?
One channel is never enough. We all have many channels in our lives. And we're probably only interested in some of other people's channels, but never all of them. And that's cumbersome to manage with the current software, unless you focus on very few channels that don't change much.
When I bother to write in my own blog here, I write about a variety of changing subjects. I don't feel there's much I couldn't write about, but I feel somewhat restricted in how much I can write about any one thing that I'd consider off-topic of my idea of the general theme.
Right now I'm very busy in a little start-up company I'm a partner in. I could write a post about that. But, really, that has been a lot of my day for a couple of months. So, what if I wrote a couple of posts a day about what I was doing, and what problems I run into? I don't necessarily feel like doing that, but that's part of where my attention would be. So, what if I wrote about Ruby on Rails development for a couple of months? Other people do nothing but that, and that's perfecly great. But it probably isn't what people come to my blog for, and I'd probably lose people who weren't into programming.
Recently my hobby in my limited spare time has been genealogy, tracking down current or long-dead family members. I could write a lot about that, and that might be interesting to others with the same interest. But what if I wrote a couple of posts a day about it here in my regular blog? What if I chronicled my progress in a few dozen twitter/jaiku messages per day? I dare say it would probably be annoying to most people who glance at what I write. I could find a whole bunch of new genealogy friends, but that would be a different crowd, and they might not what to hear me philosophize about the nature of space time, or about social software, or about my programming projects. They'd want to hear it a little bit, to know me better, but they probably wouldn't want the whole channel.
And there we're even still talking about Subjects, Topics, that one discusses somewhat from a distance. What if I were blogging about the details of my family life, about my personal psychological issues, about my health, or, gee, my sex life. There are lots of people doing all of those things, but generally not at the same time. There are very few combined Ruby programming and sex blogs. And if there are any, it is because somebody came up with a new gimmick, an unusual angle.
So, to get to the point, I'm missing tools for being able to chronicle my own activities and interests, and selectively share some of them with others, and at the same time being able to follow the activities and interests of others, without getting too much or too little of what I'd want to know.
It is not an easy problem to solve. Yes, I could easily use categories and tags to organize the things I write, and I can decide what is published and what is not. But if I then present a list of feeds in my sidebar here, which one can pick and choose from, I'd say that a fair number of people who decide to pay attention to me will just subscribe to all of them. And if they find that a lot of what I'm talking about, in some of those channels, doesn't interest them at all, I'd guess the tendency would be to unsubscribe from all of them. And if somebody had picked just some tags from my selection, they wouldn't easily discover when I go in different directions and write about totally different topics. They'd probably just wonder why I went silent.
The twitter microblogging idea is in part that if the messages are really small, we're perfectly fine with getting the whole feed from a whole bunch of people, even if 90% of what they do has no interest to us. Whether they're at the mall shopping for clothes, waiting for the bus, reporting on a tech conference, or saying something funny, it all just scrolls by, and we can pick out anything that might have interest, and ignore the rest. But that only works as long as these people stay within a socially accepted norm of how much they should post about each thing. 2 or 3 messages about you trying to sell your motorcycle would be fine, but if you posted 50, a lot of people would complain and unsubscribe.
The problem is that everything is in one channel and presented as having the same level of importance. I'd maybe be interested in knowing that a lot of your attention is going into a certain subject and that you've written a lot about it, but I might not want to see it all in the same precious one channel.
It is a matter of peripheral and focal attention. I'd like to know about a lot of things, like what a lot of people are into, but some of it I'd want to know about only peripherally. I.e. I'd know it is there, but not have to pay attention to the details. And other things I'd want to focus on.
So, I want tools that would allow me to do that more fluidly, in a more flexible way than simply subscribing to your one channel, and unsubscribing from it when it bores me too much.
Then there's the growing number of people who walk around with live streaming cameras on their heads all day. See justin.tv. There you have to tune into a particular channel, and you see live whatever those people happen to be doing at the time. Which is a type of reality TV, and quite compelling in its own right. But you only see one channel at a time, so it doesn't quite plug into a similar thing like blog aggregators or twitter channels. But it is related to blogging. I wouldn't mind being able to tune into the live feed of a bunch of friends, and having one screen where I can see all their feeds at the same time, and then focus on any one I want. But other than that, there's no good way of aggregating that at the moment, because it is just too much information.
Anyway, I think what makes the most sense is blogs transforming more into personal information portals, or personal presence portals, and that somebody needs to invent better ways of aggregating such things. Some companies are trying things in that direction, by aggregating your friends' blogs, tweets, delicio.us bookmarks, flickr pictures, etc, in one place. But it is messy, and it does the same mistake of bundling even more things into one channel.
If I should imagine my own blog differently, it would present a number of different kinds of feeds at the same time, leaving out the illusion that there's just one. Yes, I know I can have different things in my sidebar, like my recent Jaiku messages, my location in Plazes, my recent Flickr pictures, but there's probably just one of each, and there's one stream of my most recent messages. Which is kind of what defines a blog: a website format where one posts articles and the most recent one is at the top. And however neat that is, that is what I find limiting. Maybe all it takes is a different layout. Maybe like a newspaper front page where there are different columns. You usually wouldn't feel that it is required of you to read the whole thing through. You'll read the colums that you're interested in, and you're peripherically aware of the others.
Personal portals like Netvibes do that kind of thing, but really as a vehicle for me publishing stuff like I can in a blog. What I need is a blog where I or the visitors can rearrange a bunch of feeds to their liking. And a way of aggregating a whole bunch of people's personal portal information.
I have trouble imagining the perfect way of doing it. But if I didn't have too many other things to do, I'd probably get busy trying to program it.