Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I am working on a follow up post on tags and folksonomies, but the going is slow, not the least because I’ve been helping folks with trackback spam and various other technical problems. Too much so at one point because I think I deleted good trackbacks along with bad in one instance.

I will say that the most effective defense I’ve found is to turn off trackbacks and comments on all entries over one week old. From the attacks on my various weblogs, all have been focused on older posts. Unfortunately, it looks as if the older version of Movable Type, 2.6x, disregards this instruction and lets some or all trackbacks through. WordPress stops them dead when the status is closed. I’m not sure how other tools handle this.

I’ve always liked trackbacks because it gives people a chance to become part of a conversation. Even if you don’t specifically address a post in your writing, if you think the readers of the post would be interested in what you wrote, you could send a trackback and help the conversation flow. Referrer tracking in Technorati and other tools doesn’t provide this.

However, since people aren’t using Trackbacks for this purpose, maybe it is time to close the door on this functionality. Pingbacks, too. Especially pingbacks, because these are nothing more than link referrers, and this kind of information can be found in Technorati.

To return to the new tags/folksonomy post, it threatens to be even larger than my previous one. I know this is against accepted practice, and I also notice that it plays havoc with the weblogging technology; but I’m enjoying the approach of finding other people’s entries on the topic, and grabbing their links and the bit of text I wanted to highlight and putting it into the work in progress. I’m finding that the post writes itself, as it adjusts to each new thread added. It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed writing, as much as I have these recent essays and my other slower, more thoughtful writings.

I gather from a couple of people’s writings that David Weinberger’s after dinner speech at the recent Bloggers Journalist conference touched on the nature of weblogging and conversations, especially as it related to the style of our writings. For instance, he talked about how the typical weblogger writes daily and sometimes several times a day; that the entries tend to be short, and unedited, either before or after publication. Among the writings, conversations are fast — bang bang bang — weblogger A writes on a topic and B responds almost immediately.

Jon Garfunkel from Civilities, who attended the dinner and the conference, jotted down a transcript of the pertinent parts in a long response. He says of himself, then if this is the criteria he must not be a weblogger. We’ve been over this ground before, but I liked what he said on completeness. Of course, I would because it supports my longer works, such as the essays I’ve done recently on tags and digital identities:

Certainly, there is a great value in voicing incomplete thoughts. I tend to do mine over a glass of wine (or three, as the case was that evening). Or I just do it in an email, or, if I want to do it publicly, I go do it on the mailing list or forum or blog where a conversation has started. I have no angst about the fact that some of my online presence may exist on David Weinberger’s blog, or on the Personal Democracy Forum, or on the Massachusetts Democratic Future mailing list.

But I need a place to show off my completed work. I collect facts, I research; I find quotes, and I try to check them. I listen and re-listen to an audiofile to do the very first transcription. I visit the library to find offline books and old newspaper, I scan in images that have no online prescence of themselves. I’m not writing myself into an online existence, but other things, facts and totems which have no power of themselves to join into something greater: this is what goes almost each piece on Civilities.

If I have one caveat with Jon is that it seems he’s arguing on the side of long and complete, where David argued on the side of short and conversational. I’m right in the middle in that sometimes I feel short; sometimes I feel long, and can’t I have it both ways?

Yule disagreed with David, but her focus was primarily on the speed of posts and fast conversations:

Conversations don’t have to be fast, and besides: fast is always a competition, and when you start getting into competitiveness, you lose me. I can’t compete with you, or at least I don’t want to. Conversations, David says, are the lifeblood of weblogging, but the way “conversation” starts getting defined here turns that art into a competition. The conversation becomes a question of having conversations in comments, of having conversations with other webloggers, especially by linking to them profusely, and the goal is to have different perspectives in conversation with one another. That’s fine as far as it goes, but I feel that the problem is that you’re starting to define conversation as a fast-paced essentially inward-closing circle.

I can identity with this strongly. I have seen, time and again, where a group of people used to communicating with each other get into this loop among themselves, referencing each others writings so tightly that it forms an iron ring around the conversation making it virtually impossible for slower, or newer, voices to enter the fray. Yet, much of the conversations that happen in this context are ones that happen over and over again, because its the same people arguing the same topics–there is no entry of new blood, and new voices into the midst of the rapid fire postings.

But there is no tried and true alternative to this one, either, because if we all don’t want to post short bursts across each other’s horizen, neither do we all want to post long, slow to perculate, thoughtful responses. In fact, I think the two complement each other in that the longer responses tend to gather all the short bursts together; building stories around them that enables others to join into the conversation.

I guess I’m a fence sitter, post up my butt, about this conversation about conversation. Except for one thing: the importance of perspectives in our conversations and the mechanism that enables this–the link.

David Weinberger also talked about how in our conversations, different perspectives emerge and it is these perspectives, combined, that forms much of the objectivity around a topic in weblogging. You and you and I may have subjective views of a topic, but combined, we have an objective whole. How do we get the difference perspectives? Through links. Lately, though, linking has become more of a mark of favor than a sign of interest.

Rebecca Blood also responded to David’s talk, but about the statement he made on ethics (one speech, so many responses). She wrote:

First of all, publishing a weblog is not at all like a conversation between two people, it’s more like speaking in front of a room full of people–some of them trusted, some of them strangers–and having every word you say recorded and catalogued for future random retrieval. So that analogy doesn’t work.

Even if it did, honorable people do apply ethics to their conversations, most commonly the ethic of telling the truth to the best of one’s ability, not repeating a confidence from one person to another, and representing one’s friends kindly–or at least, fairly–when they are not there. In fact, I would argue that personal conversations work best when such ethics are in place: I simply couldn’t speak freely to my husband if I thought that anything I said might be repeated at work the next day, and I would have trouble confiding in a friend who, in my absence, just sat silently when I was being unfairly represented.

I can agree with Rebecca about weblogging — it isn’t a conversation between two people. If it were, it should happen in emails or on the phone, sparing us the idea that we’re outsiders being priviledged to overhear great minds in conversation. But she said something else that bothered me, in that we shouldn’t stand silently by when our friends are not being treated kindly, or are unfairly represented.

Should we then, only speak up in defense of our friends? Should we always speak up in defense of our friends? If so, how do we define ‘unfair representation’? If I’ve learned one thing in four years of weblogging, subjectively we all suck at being objective. So then, how can we have conversations, or even decent exchanges of ideas and opinions, if much of this is broken down into ‘friend’ and ‘not friend’, qualitified by subjective terms such as fair and unfair, kind or not?

I am especially attuned to this one because I have angered folks who I have never had direct contact with, only because I have been critical of the writing or actions of a person who they are ‘friends’ with. It wasn’t that they disagreed with my writing so much, as they disagreed with the fact that I disagree with their friend. Yet if our friends make outrageous or provocative statements shouldn’t they, then, defend themselves? Is the person being a ‘friend’ enough to discount the statements of those who disagree, regardless of the merit of the respective statements?

More, is it enough to discount a person in perpetuity because they have disagreed, either with ourselves or with our friends in the past? This strikes me as the height of intellectual dishonesty–the quality of our writing and the force of our words no longer matter: all that matters is who is friend and who is not friend.

And I don’t even want to get into the increasing parsimony of linking that is appearing, particularly in certain circles who weight all their conversations on the pagerank scale, before deciding who is worthy of a link or a response. Especially with that abysmal masquerade of a HTML hack, nofollow, aiding and abetting the increasing fragmentation of our conversations; giving ‘juice’ to those liked, and withholding it from those we dislike.

At least we can be thankful people aren’t refusing links to others, regardless of friend or foe status or quality of writing, just because some folks don’t include the full content of their posts within their syndication feeds.

Oh. Wait