Friday, July 21, 2006

Tech: the future of blogging, and why it matters

I stumbled across an article on the Future of the Blog (courtesy of Luis Suarez): some thoughts from one of the earliest originators of blogging software, Mena Trott.

Why blog? I can think of a lot of reasons, but at its best, it’s a form of communication and collaboration. For example, if several experts in a given field are blogging and reading each other, an interchange of ideas can happen at a distance that used to require either working in proximity or an inordinate amount of time for the exchanges.

If you search at random through a blogging site such as Blogger or Typepad, it will eventually strike you that most blogs are either personal, political, or technical in nature. Perhaps not surprising. Some people use it as a form of diary, or a substitute for writing letters to family and friends. Others want to express opinions. And why technical? Right at the moment, that’s because those closer to the leading edge of technology tend to have a greater than average technical interest.

In my particular case, I have a few different aims, including some of the above. I post five times a week, and since technical betterment is one of my aims, every second post is technical. Currently.

Mena Trott’s vision of the future largely emphasised the biggest advantage blogs have over traditional media: they are more personal. Thus she envisages a future ability to filter readership – so that, for example, you can intersperse the private with the public, and set levels of access. If such a filtering mechanism can be made relatively painless, I expect it to see an awful lot of use, as bloggers will feel freer to set entries to specific communities. (For example, I’d feel freer to add personal content which is not relevant to a general audience.) Further, blog entries could be rendered private or public at will.

Further, the ability to add any type of digital content to a blog will make the experience richer for both the writer and the reader. I can vouch right now that we’re nowhere close to that yet, and the blogging tools we have are still relatively rudimentary.

Why tools? As a medium, blogging is meant to make for quick and easy communication. Although we already see all manner of digital content on web pages already, to suit the purposes of blogging, it needs to be just as easy to add audio, video, files and pictures as it is to add words. To date, I’ve found most video and audio on the web has required plugins and helper applications. Longer term, this should not be necessary… maybe when formats are more standardised…

Trott highlights the perception that blogs are mainly political or technical in focus; yet she emphasises their significance in communicating the personal. Luis Suarez in turn advocates a mainstreaming of blogging to enhance knowledge sharing. His focus is Knowledge Management, and in that context he sees Personal Knowledge Management as an important outcome.

Yes indeed. In some senses this all calls in question the purpose of blogging, and reading blogs. Trott emphasises the personal outcomes; Suarez is more expansive in applying outcomes to professional situations too. The ultimate result is knowledge sharing (even – or particularly - through disagreement) and thus new information, knowledge and insights. In the past, this could not be done through either traditional media, or personal communications, with the reach, immediacy and power of blogs. Marry this with the ability to specify audience, and to add anything that can be digitised, and the sharing of information and ideas is revolutionised.

24-Jul-06 Update: Pew Research has just released a survey on blogging. Amongst other findings: 37% of blogs are exclusively personal; next highest cagegory is politics/government, at only 11%. Technology ran a distant 7th at 4% - which surprised me, but maybe that reflects the circles I move in. Technology was beaten by entertainment, sports, general news, and business. "Sharing knowledge or skills" is cited as a purpose by 64%, which is some verification of the collaborative significance of the blog.


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Bazza said...

Hello Stephen. When randomly trawling through Blogger's blogs I find a lot more categories than you indicate in your very interesting blog. I have only posted aboput 18 blogs in two months but I still don't know what I want my blog to be. I have learned that it is a way of finding my own 'voice' if that makes sense; a bit like a voyage of discovery! I really enjoy it and will probably change direction or start a secong blog later on. I will return to your blog and try to keep learning. Thanks.

S Simmonds said...

Hi Jonh,

Are you really just trying to get hits for your ads? (Jonh's link is all ads and _no_ content!)

Hi Bazza,

It's often hard to categorise blogs that I stumble across. I believe it helps to have a clear focus - yet much blogging consists of people with a desire to simply express themselves. I'm guilty too, although over time I've made more effort to focus. And for me, five entries per week is my attempt at discipline.

I'm sure that the better the focus and/or discipline, the more the blog is worth reading.

Stephen Simmonds