I've just finished transferring a bunch of links from Outlook to my linkblog. They are links I've been hoarding over the past few months, as ideas for future weblog articles or just for inspiration. I plan to use my linkblog to store all the ideas I harvest from the Web. Beats emailing myself, plus because my linkblog is Movable Type I am able to use the search functionality to find things easily.
I'm still going to use this weblog, Read/Write Web, as my vehicle for original writing. And I promise my next article won't be about linkblogs! Even I'm getting bored with that topic now ;-)
I've been playing around with some linkblog solutions. Firstly, on Phil Pearson's advice I tried http://del.icio.us/. Once I negotiated my way around the minimalist design and even more minimalist documentation, I liked del.icio.us. However the problem is that it's a 3rd party hosted service and I want to host my linkblog on my own server. So I had to nix it. Next I tried Erik Benson's Morale-o-Meter. This is a linkblog script that Erik has kindly made available to people from his website. It looked like what I wanted, but unfortunately for me I ran into some server issues with the CGI. I'm afraid I don't have much patience for CGI errors, they are very nit-picky and it's like hunting for a needle in a haystack to fix them. I should add that there is nothing wrong with Erik's script, the fly in the ointment was somewhere in my web server's configuration.
So, the end result is I have started my linkblog. It is called Web of Ideas, even though it's just the beginning of what I'd like to include in an Ideas Database. But the best applications start off as simple ones. Or as Lawrence Lessig memorably put it in his book Code: "Keep the elements simple, and the compounds will astound". He was talking about the TCP/IP protocols, but the principle should apply for all Web applications.
I've just returned from 4 days holiday. I was disconnected from the Web for the entire time. This was a good thing, as I spent lots of quality time with my family. Now I'm back sitting in front of my PC at home. I've spent the last hour reviewing stuff in my RSS Aggregator. But with 4 days worth of updates to dig through, I've barely made a dent in clearing out my RSS Aggregator! So rather than totally swamp my mind with new data, I decided to take the plunge and click the Mark All Read button. It's a drastic move I know, but it's the only way to keep my holiday clearheadedness intact. Plus, do I really want to engage myself in the RSS-Data debate? That's a rhetorical question ;-)
I did however bookmark Jon Udell's latest articles, on browsers and interactive microcontent - yum! I'll devour those later. Plus I've bookmarked a Mezzoblue essay entitled "markup: Bulletproof XHTML". That's of interest, because I have my own XHTML essay brewing inside me...
Too. Much. Information. Data floods my mind and my actions become water-logged. What to do? There's too much to do. Information washes over me, my head is submerged. Metadata fills my nostrils. I'm drowning, help!
I'm being melodramatic :-) But actually I do feel this way sometimes. Right now I am struggling to manage my information flow. Let me list my current methods of information management:
- Email for communication
- RSS Aggregator for reading weblog feeds
- Weblog for writing
- Linkblog for aggregating Web links (I haven't started this yet)
- Personal journal (currently inactive, superceded by my public weblog)
- Paper notebooks, lots of 'em
- Various bits of paper with scribbled notes (a sea of them)
- Emails to myself with ideas
- Ideas Database - my dream app, not yet off the ground...it's possibly my own personal Tim Berners Lee Semantic Web-like folly.
- SMS (I don't use mobile phones much though)
- Tasks in Outlook (separate ones at work and home)
- To Do lists written in my diary or on pieces of paper
- Outlook calendar (work only)
- Diary: where I note down tasks, appointments, do my finances.
- Jottings in books
- Photocopies and printouts - screeds of 'em
And that's probably just the tip of the iceberg. I haven't even mentioned other popular forms of information management like Instant Messaging or Skype, neither of which I use. The point of all this is that I have too many data platforms. What I'd like to do is reduce it down to 4-5 key platforms. Solutions?
Erik Benson posits a "universal text box", which would be a one-size-fits-all writing tool. Whether you're entering a weblog entry, an email, a search query, a photo, a comment on someone else's blog post, a ping to a server - it all gets put in the "universal text box". This is a variation on one of my favourite themes: the Universal Canvas. To me it would be a dream web application. The nightmare scenario, however, is that Microsoft are already building it and it's called Longhorn :-0
Erik concludes that to make a universal text box, we'll need to reduce and consolidate in terms of functionality and features:
"I'd like to create a catalog of different ways that people can currently write to the web (web forms on a zillion different sites, all ignorant of one another, various desktop applications, all saying the same thing in a slightly different way) and find the lowest common denominator. It's good that so much exploration has happened (that's the benefit of allowing innovation to occur in a distributed fashion) but I think innovation in the "write to the web" action is going to have to go through a couple steps of choice reduction and consolidation before we fully cross the chasm."
nb: emphasis mine
This is pretty much what I want to do in my own personal world of information. I want to pare down my data platforms to the bare minimum. I want 4-5 platforms maximum, which could be the following:
- Writing tool - my weblog and my paper notebooks (I still need both computer
- Ideas: Database
- Communication: Email
- Tasks: Outlook (or Chandler when it is finished)
- Reading tool: RSS Aggregator
Ideally I'd like to have just one app: one tool that rules them all. Not everyone would agree with me though. Andrew Chen is one person who believes we need specialist tools. Andrew writes:
"We need to make things "fun" for people to enter in the necessary MetaData in order for things to work. And to do so, we need more than just some generic one-size fits all data-entry method. That's why I think we'll need speciallized tools for each type of "fun" meta-data that people might want to enter."
I appreciate what Andrew is driving at and I agree it is fun to play with all the new Web toys that come out. But on the other hand... the amount of choice in web applications these days gives me a headache. There are just too many tools for a single human to grok. For example, every time I go to the Mozilla Projects webpage I feel a tremendous pressure of information... like a dam that's near bursting. Or when I go to the W3C site, I'm battered by giant waves of protocols and standards. Or when I go to SourceForge.net, I'm soon engulfed by the flow of web apps.
Yes I would be much happier with less information, less tools. It's why I'm so fond of the humble Web Browser, which is the nearest thing we have to a Universal Information Application. Sure it's not perfect, it's not a "smart" client. But hey, we can write in it. We can read in it. We can plug things into it (like Flash, or the latest Laszlo app). The Web Browser will suffice for me thanks... at least until Erik builds the Universal Text Box, in which case I want one ;-)
I've been thinking about starting a linkblog, like Phil Pearson has just done. Two of my favourite daily reads are Anil Dash's Daily Links and Erik Benson's Morale-o-Meter. Both those guys post a daily list of external links, with a 1-2 line comment on each link, which pretty much align with my own interests. Personally I prefer it when daily links are kept separate from the author's main writing blog. Which brings me to my dilemma. Every day I read interesting things on the Web. I want someplace to store those things, because they often seed ideas of my own, which inspire what I write in this weblog.
This continues my owngoing search for the ultimate Web of Ideas application. I see a linkblog as being one source of ideas, gathered from the Web. Other sources of ideas include my own mind, books I read, music I listen to, people I converse with, etc.
But the question is - is it worth me publishing my list of links so that people can subscribe to it? Because my special interest is the two-way web, my list of daily links could actually be a useful resource - especially considering the official Two-Way Web website and the community Write The Web site are no longer being updated (the latter has been taken off the air, which is a pity). So a focussed daily list of links by me, on the topic of the Two-Way Web, could be of value to other people.
2003 has so far been a year of hype for weblogs and k-logs. Blogging is on the cusp of the mainstream. Or is it? A few posts recently have me wondering: why would normal people want to publish to the Web?
Mark Pilgrim: "... it’s possible that an unfiltered... unedited... personal publishing system... with instantaneous worldwide distribution... is not for you."
Dan Shafer: "OS integration...isn't the big feature that's going to draw millions of folks to blogging."
Robert Scoble, responding to Dan Shafer: "Personally, no one has found the mother lode of weblogging tools yet: corporate webloggers."
My disclaimer: I believe strongly in the power of the two-way web - where any person can not only read and browse the World Wide Web, but they also have the power to write and publish to the Web. Mainstream publishing mediums today are mostly one-way. Newspapers, television, radio, magazines - these things all dish out content to a largely passive public. And people lap it up. We live in a Remote Control culture. We believe we have control over our ideas and thoughts, simply because we can flip to a different channel. Well the Web has changed all that. Weblogs in particular have shown us that not only can we consume content, we can create it too.
Now that my prejudices are out of the way, let's consider some real life issues. How many people have cottoned onto the read/write revolution? How many people actually have a reason or the inclination to publish their ideas and thoughts to the Web? In my country, New Zealand, I only know of a handful of people who blog. I'm definitely in a minority. And I have to wonder whether it will always be a minority activity. I hope not, but consider this...
I've been working on Intranet development over the past 5 years, in a variety of companies. And you know what the biggest challenge has always been? Getting the "content owners" to write stuff. There are always a few business users who are keen to publish their own content, but these people are the minority. The majority of business users don't want to write and publish content on the Intranet. The excuse I hear most often is that they don't have time and it's not what they're paid to do. Which are perfectly valid reasons. What business people are really saying is: hey, I don't have any interest in writing or publishing - I have my own job to do (be it accounting, legal, corporate, marketing, whatever).
Granted, partly this has been a tools issue. Over the years I've managed my fair share of unnecessarily complex Content Management Systems. But in 2003 we have the option of using weblog authoring systems like Radio Userland and Movable Type. Those tools are proof that publishing can be a 'one-click' experience. And now there are new tools being introduced to the market that make publishing even simpler, by taking the set-up and configuration hassle out of the equation - Typepad and i-book are two examples. So ease of use for publishing to the Web should no longer be an issue. But the question remains - do most people have a reason or inclination to write and publish on the Web? There's an old saying: where there's a will, there's a way. Do people have the will to publish?
"Now it's time for Resumes, Reviews, Calendar Events, Recipes, Conversations and People. These data structs are just as important as blog posts. You can call them micro-content, new kinds of blog structs or whatever - but everybody wants to subscribe to them."
...and everybody may want to write them too. The things Marc mentions are all simple, everyday things that people may be willing to contribute content to. Another trend I've noticed that people are doing in droves is taking pictures with their mobile phones. Moblogging is the term for publishing data from a mobile device to a weblog. While moblogging is a minority activity now, the number of people who own a mobile phone capable of taking pictures is growing daily. Which means the potential for moblogging also grows. (me, I'm still waiting for photo-capable mobile phones to reduce in price - in this I'm not an early adopter!).
Back to weblogging and writing. k-logs (which is the fancy term for corporate blogging) are being trumpeted by various people as being the next big thing in Intranet tools. This from John Robb:
"K-Logs radically increase the possibility that meaningful information and knowledge will be captured and archived on the Intranet. There isn't another system that even comes close. K-Logs provide employees with a system that is easy to use (virtually zero training), immediate benefits, and enhanced personal prestige/value."
While I agree wholeheartily with the sentiments expressed by John and others like Phil Wolff, I wonder how practical it is to expect business people to write k-logs. It's all very well having tools like k-collector to aggregate Intranet content, but the real issue is how do we get people to create the content in the first place? Interestingly, this is the exact same problem the Semantic Web has getting off the ground, people currently aren't writing enough metadata to make the Semantic Web happen.
So while I am an avid supporter of the Two-Way Web, I do wonder whether writing to the Web will ever be more than just a minority activity. And if it does become popular, maybe we need to consider Mark Pilgrim's advice that it isn't for everyone. Personally, I hope that weblogging does become mainstream and helps people find their voices (on whatever topics are dear to them).
The current blogging activity amongst American presidential candidates is a fascinating experiment to see if weblogging has the legs to stand up in the mainstream. I actually wish Dave Winer would blog more on this subject - perhaps he will after he's finished with BloggerCon, which is preaching to the converted. What we need to do now is preach to the masses ;-)
9:49:43 PM comment  trackback  - See Also: BloggerCon | Blogging tools | Content Management | Dave Winer | Intranets | k-collector | k-logs | Knowledge Management | Marc Canter | micro-content | Moblogging | Technology and Society | Two-Way Web | Weblogs
CSS and XHTML are still dominating my mind's attention.xml file. As you can see in my menu, they're numbers 1 and 2 in my Weekly Topic Top 10. btw the Topic Top 10 is going to be a weekly record (pardon the pun) of the most popular topics on my mind. I've actually created some XML files to store each week's top 10, so I can track what topics are occupying my mind over time. I'll see if I can implement this into my Radio blog, so the menu automatically extracts the data from the XML files. In fact this feature could be extended across the blogosphere too (but by a better programmer than me!).
Wouldn't it be fun to have a Rick Dees-like weekly countdown of the Top 40 topics in the blogosphere. Popdex has something similar - a popularity index of weblog posts and stories. Technorati comes very close by sorting posts from different weblogs into topics (nice work again Dave Sifry!). But ideally I want something attuned to my interests.
To make the Weekly Top 40 relevant for different groups of people, you'd need to categorize topics...like they do with the Billboard charts - there's a pop chart, an R&B chart, a country chart, etc. Likewise in the blogosphere you could have a Tech Blogs chart, a Political Blogs chart, a Personal Journal chart, etc.
In the meantime, you can tune into my Weekly Top 10 topics chart. CSS is number 1 this week, but there are many topics vying for my attention currently. What will be number 1 next week?
I've been totally absorbed in my CSS re-design this past week. I did some final tinkering tonight, trying to find a solution to the "bottom horizontal bar" issue (outlined in my previous post). But CSS positioning is an abstract thing to get ones head around. It's not like good old fashioned HTML table designs, where you can set the table borders to equal "1" in order to view the layout. I eventually decided to remove the troublesome bottom horizontal bar. It wasn't that functional anyway. Once I've spent some time studying CSS positioning in detail, I may come back to it.
What have I missed in the blogosphere while I've been touring CSS-land (along with its neighbouring country, XHTLM-land)? I see that Paulo and Matt are nearing the release date for k-collector - cool, I believe k-collector will blow some minds when it's released into the wild. Phil Wolff had an interesting comment on k-collector's potential benefit to Intranets (which interests me in my work role). What else has been happening... oh I see the A Listers had a brawl last week - the "you're full of shit" posts, heh heh (Dennis Conner once said that to a New Zealand boat designer in the first America's Cup regatta we entered, back in 1987 - we won the thing in 1995...but, er, lost it recently to a land-locked country, Switzerland - isn't life funny). What else... Marc Canter is pushing hard to get an RSS 2.0 developer to build an events aggregator - good on you Marc, there are lots of exciting developments happening in your neck of the (blogland) woods.
So it's all happening, which is why blogging is so much fun. I'll be back in writing mode this week. I have some thoughts perculating on XHTML, which I'll type up tomorrow.