Just Shelley

Cold day in San Francisco

It must a cold day in San Francisco tonight as I have a case of the shakes and can’t seem to warm up. Of course, cold in San Francisco is all relative — it’s probably a brisk 50F here tonight.

Maybe that cold feeling is from looking at a web site, Explore North with information about driving the Alcan highway to Alaska. I chatted with someone at the site and he said that the road is pretty clear right now.

What think? Zoom zoom zoom?


Technology fails with weblogging

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I own the Google results for add Morpheus node. I found this out when I started getting several Google search hits for the combination, all going to my now defunct TechBlog. And by putting these words into the Burningbird weblog, I’ve most likely “stolen” ownership of the search phrase from the TechBlog weblog — Burningbird is a higher Google rank than TechBlog.

We say that Google is weblogging’s best friend because we rely on it to find information tucked away in weblogs; Information we wouldn’t normally find without a powerful search engine. However, in my opinion, Google fails with weblogs. Case in point is my owning the phrase add+morpheus+node.

If you come to my weblog looking for information about adding a Morpheus Node, well, you’re going to be in for a disappointment. I have absolutely no useful information about adding a Morpheus node. The only reason I own the term is that I accidentally used the words “add” “Morpheus” and “node” within a couple of different weblog postings within the same page. And now I’m getting hits for this from Google.

If you want to own the phrase at Google, go ahead: add the words to your weblog. I won’t mind. Owning this phrase in Google adds absolutely no value to my weblog. And once you own the phrase, then what? More hits? You’ll get better webstats and a higher position in whatever buzz sheet you’re on?

That leads me to another piece of technology closely associated with weblogging — web statistics.

If I write about something I think is interesting and a lot of people link to me because they agree with me, then my web stats reflect this interest — an automated pat on the back so to speak. If I persist in writing interesting things and people continue to link to me and I achieve a nice steady flow of visitors then again, I’ve gotten another nice little automated pat on the back from my stats.

Get enough people and I suppose I could sell popup ads and drive away all the nice people who came in the first place.

Web statistics provide useful information only within the norm — once an extraordinary event occurs, your stats are misleading as well as being misinformative.

Remember back when googlewhacking was the Meme or the Minute? It seemed like everyone was into this, and everyone was trying to steal Googlewhacking buzz. You couldn’t visit a weblog that didn’t have “googlewhack” in it somewhere. The end result is that your weblog gets buzz from Google for “googlewhack”. Wow.

Now that googlewhacking isn’t the buzz generator it once was, the hits based on this term have stopped or slowed down. No value added.

You can’t hold the people who come to your site because of the buzz — you can only hold them if they come to your site in a spirit of exploration that extends beyond the madness of the moment. If they come only for the buzz, they’ll grab it and leave.

Bascially, web statistics are another technology that fails within weblogging because other than providing some fun feedback, statistics are too easily manipulated by transitory influences such as minute memes, or temporary linkage from a popular web site or weblog based on a specific posting, to be truly useful.

This discussion about Google and web statistics and technology and weblogging is ultimately leading up to the discussion on yet another technology and its importance within weblogging — RSS. A thread on this technology started last week and will continue in the days and weeks to come because in some ways, RSS is the tip of the iceberg in our understanding of how much influence technology has on weblogging.

Is it was possible to combine weblogging and RSS? My first reaction — being the good geek that I am — is to say that, of course. After all, RSS is nothing more than another associated technology. However, after reflection, I’m beginning to question my original viewpoint. In fact, as with Google and web statistics, I think that RSS is ultimately another technology failure when it comes to weblogs.

In today’s posting Jonathon, who is also following the RSS thread, says:

When Meryl (amongst others) told me that the previous incarnation of my weblog (white text on a dark gray background) was painful to read, I redesigned the site. I don’t see the RSS issue any differently. Now I’m writer, editor (that’s a problem yet to be addressed), and publisher too. The imperative hasn’t changed: I want to attract readers. (I know that Meryl does too.) I believe RSS can help me with that, and see it as just another way of “letting other people know… that [I’m] writing something worth reading.

Can RSS let people know that Jonathon Delacour’s weblog has something worth reading?

Take a look at a RSS newsfeed that’s not based on a subscription model, such as the weblog category feed at NewsIsFree, or at O’Reilly’s Meerkat. Jonathon’s excellent content has as much chance of being noticed in this undifferentiated flow as I do being picked out in a crowd of people as the next James Bond Girl. Better, if he puts the words sexMac OS X, or Microsoft into the RSS description, with appropriate HTML tagging to make the words stand out. Or uses an outrageous title such as “Technology fails with weblogging”.

RSS newsfeeds are a terrific way of getting news headlines, but they’re not a great way of discovering new weblog content unless the weblog is nothing more than a source of unique news or accidentally stands out in same way. Even if we follow Jon Udell’s Heads, decks, and leads approach to structuring what shows in an RSS news aggregator, ultimately the information all blends into one amorphous pile of effluvium.

Jon’s heads, decks, and leads works for traditional journalism because traditional journalism works within a finite environment. Weblogging is an infinite stream of new content with no beginning point, no ending point, and a hell of a lot of noise in the middle. Modifying the RSS to follow traditional journalism’s principles of structure fails within weblogging because of very reason that Jon say’s we need this — there are too many weblogs, updating too frequently, and the number is only going to increase. The RSS feed becomes nothing more than, with a lot of annoying noise attached.

As for subscription RSS — pull the weblog content out of the weblog and you’ve lost the context of the weblog. Good words or not, you’ve lost the community associated with the posting, and therefore you don’t really get the best that the weblog has to offer.

Google, weblog statistics, RSS. If these fail, then what kind of technology works for weblogs?

That’s easy: it’s called a hypertext link. Simple, easy to use, and powerful beyond it’s complexity.

Wielded within the context of a weblog posting such as this, a hypertext link introduces you not only to the content, but also the context of that content. When you visit the content through the link, you stay to read the content because you didn’t arrive at it based on some accidental combination of words or because you closed your eyes and clicked on a steady stream from a news aggregator.

If you like what you read and link to it within your own weblog, you annotate the link with your own thoughts and effectively create new context for the posting, one that will appeal to your weblogging circle. The result is that you open a path to that weblog for someone who links to you, and the web of discovery continues, all through something as simple as a hypertext link.

Ultimately, any technology that doesn’t have human interest and intelligence as core to its implementation is going to fail within weblogging, because weblogs are a community, not separate aggregable pieces of unrelated information. We’re not headlines within a new electronic form of journalism or isolated pockets of data accessible via search engines; we’re members of clans sitting around St. Elmo’s fire, exchanging tales and stories, and getting to know each other in the process.