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2001-11-14 16:51:31+00 by Dan Lyke 28 comments

I'm missing the old days of regularly updated personal pages, before they were weblogs and "the next big thing", back when we used to cross-link and carry on debates across sites and such. Dave Winer, RageBoy and Doc Searles recently had an exchange about memes that I thought was completely ridiculous, but reminded me that community and discussions are why the world is interesting. Any suggestions on how we can revive that feeling of community across[Wiki] web sites?

[ related topics: Dan's Life Weblogs Dave Winer Flutterby Meta ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:19+00 by: Doug Kaye

I think I disagree, Dan. Even if I read all of the weblogs participating in a cross-weblog conversation, it's damn confusing. If only read some of the weblogs, it's even tougher. And when more than three or four people join in, it's a mess. I find that Usenet newsgroups, mailing lists, and "add your comment here." like this one, make it much easier to follow. Sure, if you're one of the authors of the conversation, it's fun and interactive. But most people don't read weblogs five times a day. Just MHO.



#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:19+00 by: mkelley

Over at daynotes.com & daynotes.org, there is an interesting group of computer folk who use their pages to talk about computers, politics, etc. Some of their backchannel discussions crossover to the main pages, and some of the journals carry on conversations like what you're describing.

See, I enjoy when conversations go from one page to another. That is what builds a community. But I hate it when it turns into a mess, like what Doug described. But I've only seen it like that once or twice. As to how to make that feeling of community spead..I really don't know. Webrings suck, Blogger is too big for a community feeling, and way too many blogs are about nothing, not in the Seinfield way, but in a bad way.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:19+00 by: Dan Lyke

Doug, I think that's why I don't do it any more. It used to be that I knew that the readers of stuff I found interesting in one place were probably reading it on another, and, more important, that the writer of that other weblog was reading Flutterby. That's no longer an assumption I can make, so I don't cross-comment often any more.

The other thing that's happening is that, except for snide remarks, I don't have much to cross-comment on recently.

I'll go checkout the Daynotes stuff. More later.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:19+00 by: John Anderson

> It used to be that I knew that the readers of stuff I found interesting in one place were probably
> reading it on another, and, more important, that the writer of that other weblog was reading
> Flutterby. That's no longer an assumption I can make, so I don't cross-comment often any more.

I've been in a bit of a down spell lately, but I'm trying to come back out of it, because I find I miss doing the whole "weblog thing", the writing, the thinking, the reading, and all the other stuff[Wiki] that goes along with it. So I've been doing a bit of thinking about how I can go about transfering some of the energy that I've been expending on "small group" (mailing list, etc.) communication back into "big group" communication (weblog).

One thing that I've come up with, and that I'm mentioning here because your comment helped me fully flesh this idea out, is that I need to concern myself less with the reader. There almost seems to be a need to strike a Zen-like balance between knowing that other people are going to read what you write and striving to make sure that your ideas are clear and understandable on one hand, and just writing about what you're[Wiki] interested in, without any concern for the reader at all. I think I've had this balance, in the past, for brief periods of time -- usually when I quit *trying* and just *did*.

Maybe that's your answer, or part of it: nothing kills a conversation faster than somebody who wants to have one too badly. Conversely, some of the best conversations occur spontaneously, among virtual strangers. Cross-link when appropriate; follow-up on incoming cross-links when appropriate. Flow, don't force.

And you're not the only one who remembers the "good old days"; I miss the cross-linked conversations as well, as much for the anticipation of a returned link+comment as for the content of the comment.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:19+00 by: dhartung

I don't think *conversations* per se work well in this format, but *collaboration* can.

#Comment made: 2001-11-15 02:32:36+00 by: John Anderson [edit history]

I don't think *conversations* per se work well in this format, but *collaboration* can.

I agree that collaboration has its place -- Dan and Co. do a good job here, frex. And when I say "conversation" in regards to the sort of back'n'forth linkfests that we used to have, I'm not using it in the sense of "the two of us had a conversation after work over drinks", but rather in the sense of "Clik'N'Clak have a weekly conversation about cars in front of millions of people". But it's still a conversation, and it can work, and work well -- I've seen it.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:20+00 by: ebradway

I frequent three sites: flutterby.com (Dan and Co), Pelican Parts BBS (Porsche drivers), and NakedPretzel.com (Ultimate Frisbee). The strongest 'community' of the three is the Porsche board. The Ultimate board tends to be very much just an adjunct to happenings on the field and elsewhere. Dan's board exists entirely on the web and lacks a specific focus.

One of the great things about the Porsche site is that the common thread, the cars, pulls together people from many different areas. When an 'off-topic' discussion pops up you get to see a wide variety of opinions. Interestingly, the admin of the Porsche board just this week had to switch software because the old software required that he purge archived entries more than two months old (on decent hardware). Of course, the old software was static html based - no backend system - but it's a testament to the volume of traffic on the site.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:20+00 by: DaveP

>Any suggestions on how we can revive that feeling of community across web sites?

One of the things I've noticed about this sort of cross-site conversation is that it's a lot easier to get started when the blogging software makes it easier to link blog-to- blog, either citing someone as a source, or just directly linking to their post.

But you need to be able to link to a specific post in order to do that, and there are still many blogs where that just doesn't work correctly (if at all). If I want to link from my blog to a specific entry on Flutterby!, it's easiest to link to the discussion. If you were to try and link back to a specific entry in my blog http://davespicks.com/ you'd be out of luck.

And there's so much stuff out there that trying to track a conversation without links right to the bits being referred to is nearly impossible.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:20+00 by: Mike Gunderloy

No firm answers, but three thoughts:

  1. The community needs back channels to thrive: places like this, or mailing lists that are *not* open to everyone.
  2. *MY* community does not include most of the crap that's being passed off as weblogs these days. Most people who publish with Blogger or one of the other tools have zero idea what a weblog is. Yes, so I'm an elitist A-lister-wannabe. Deal with it.
  3. A lot of people seem to have gone into weblogging slumps lately, as the initial enthusiasm wore off and the community got defocused.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:20+00 by: Dan Lyke

With no particular focus or order:

Linking to particular items

DaveP: Yep. It's very frustrating when I have to go poke through archives to try to find a link, or (as happened today when I wanted to link to an entry on Pursed Lips) when it requires registration or some similar process to get to the archives of that link. Even more frustrating when an item won't go into the archives for a month, so I'd have to remember to update an item after some time.

The ability to view individual entries without the comments exists, but I haven't exposed it because I think it's important to make comments an integral part of the entry. Of course I originally wanted comments to be just links and headlines to other people's entries (that's a memory from the dusty recesses), but somehow I decided that only a few people would care enough to make that happen.


One of the things that I think has hurt Flutterby is that when I went to the DB backed CMS it got harder to do longer essays. I need to get that back, especially now that I've actually been writing a few longer rambles for certain mailing lists. But that's also a recent thing, and in general I haven't been writing longer rambles, and my mailing list participation is falling off.


Mike, you talking about "A-list wannabe" is like Madonna being grateful she can buy a drink at the Mondrian. I mean, I understand that you don't have 20k weblog hits per day, but you've got cred!

But even in those elitist forums that would not be named even if they did exist there's little discussion recently, so maybe the newness has just worn off.

I guess another part is that I've become sort of clique-ish in a discriminatory way: There are often times when I see something worthy of comment (either positive or negative) from Dave Winer or Doc Searles, but I don't want to let them become the standard-bearers, the people about whom I'm commenting, so even when I see something worth arguing over on sites like that I'll often drop it. I'd much rather link to Dori to ridicule Web Standards Project stuff, because I respect Dori[Wiki] generally.

And John, I'm not quite sure what the difference between conversation and collaboration is in this context (although I'm thinking about it), but, for instance, I know that I can have a coversation with you publicly here, because I know you're a reader and I read your site. There are other people whose sites I don't read, or who don't read my site, and I'd like to automate a way for me to connect with them.

#Comment made: 2001-11-15 22:21:35+00 by: Dori [edit history]

I'd much rather link to Dori to ridicule Web Standards Project stuff, because I respect Dori generally.

Thanks, I think.

But I agree with the issue about linking to specific posts. If a blog doesn't have a simple way to identify a particular post, I often won't link to it at all just for that reason.

For instance, I don't link to Flutterby as as often as I'd like to. I usually want to link to just a post, not its discussion, but there's no way to do that. I don't want to send people straight to the discussion because there's no way for someone who's coming straight here to see the weblog as a whole (there's no link from here to there) and I think that the context is important. The lack of archives (so far as I can tell, at least) hurts, too.

[Note: I could very well be missing something--it wouldn't be the first time. I changed my appearance settings on Flutterby once and found all kinds of options that I didn't know I'd had before.]

Hmmm... now that I think about it, the people I want to link to most often are those whose sites give me the least ability to do so. That's an interesting thing to think about.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:20+00 by: DaveP

Hmmm... now that I think about it, the people I want to link to most often are those whose sites give me the least ability to do so.

Well, I don't know about the people you want to link to, but I don't have links for individual entries yet because I haven't gotten around to writing that code because I spend more time linking....

I think that may apply to others, too (if they're not writing their own software, they're not finding time to switch to something better). There are only so many hours and you can either spend them making the software behind the site cooler or making the content cooler.

And yeah, I'm guilty of not putting things into the archive for a month, too. Sorry Dan. It's in the works, but there's paying work in the queue ahead of it.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:20+00 by: Dan Lyke

Okay, Dori, I'll probably change the visual, but the parenthesized asterisk now points to a non-comment archive entry.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:21+00 by: Dori

Very cool!

Now, if you'd just change the Flutterby logo in the top left to be a link to the main page, I'd stop whining. (Hmmm... maybe a little too optimistic?) Well, I'd stop whining for a little while, at least. Until I think of something else to whine about.

But really--I didn't think that you'd respond to my feature request that promptly--thanks!

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:21+00 by: Dan Lyke

Incidentally, Dori, or anyone else, if you know of something that's functionally different between the various appearance settings, please let me know. So far as I know, right now only the colors change.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:21+00 by: John Anderson

And John, I'm not quite sure what the difference between conversation and collaboration is in this context

Yeah, I'm not totally clear on that either; I think the line fuzzes depending on what the technology lets you do. (I wasn't the one that came up with the distinction, either -- that was dhartung.)

I know that I can have a coversation with you publicly here, because I know you're a reader and I read your site.

And vice versa. But how did that get started? I think I linked you, way back when (or the other way 'round -- whatever), and then it grew from there. So what's different now? What's to prevent either of us from getting that sort of thing going with other people? Nothing, far as I can tell -- there may be a lack of people I want to have a "conversation" with, but that's a seperate issue.

(And all you people whinging about the lack of permalinks -- phuffi. Back at the dawn of time, when we made our weblogs by banging together rocks and FTPing the shards over wet twine, we didn't have any stinking permalinks. Didn't need 'em -- didn't want em! Damn kids. Get out of my yard!)

There are other people whose sites I don't read, or who don't read my site, and I'd like to automate a way for me to connect with them.

Why not add something to the no-doubt highly designed ulta-spiff engine that drives Flutterby that offers you the option of emailing a particular entry to somebody (or bodies) when you post it, perhaps with a bit of header text that doesn't appear on the website ("This is a courtesy copy of a weblog post about something from your site. If you care, you can respond at $URL"). It won't be completely automatic, because you'll still have to dig up an email address, and select a form element or something, but it's pretty damn close.

At worst, you're going to piss off people who don't like getting email from strangers -- and you're not really losing anything there, because you already don't know them.

The more I think about it, I think we have all the tools we need to do most or all of what we want; we just have to figure out how to combine them in the right way to produce the desired result.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:21+00 by: Dan Lyke

Actually, we connected back in the days when I had tens of readers and knew every IP address in my log, except for this silly azstarnet.something address, then one day you emailed me. But I think that's just a matter of scale.

And I'm always reluctant to mail to[Wiki] people. That's part of what started Flutterby to begin with, a way to say "this is pull information" rather than forwarding everyone cool links. And I always hated referrer log readers. So I don't have a good answer.

Finally, and I realize I'm just slapping down ideas way faster than I'm thinking 'cause I wanted to tweak some more of the CMS this evening, computers don't enable us to do anything we couldn't have done already, they just make it easier. But in making it easier, they let us prioritize differently.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:21+00 by: Mike Gunderloy

At the moment I don't WANT 20K hits per day; I'd have to move the weblog off to the colocated server to handle the traffic. I have my steady readers, which is good enough for me. And actually, I'm among those who would do this even with NO readers. I just have a constant itch to write; it started in elementary school, flared up in SF fandom, and has just kept going. I was thinking the other day about how many words I've written over my lifetime and my best guess is that it's somewhere upwind of 10 million now.

In thinking a bit more about the question of "who is my community?" I'm getting convinced that conceptualizing it as "webloggers", even "REAL webloggers", is a mistake. That's a category error, mistaking form for function. The reason that webloggers were special a couple of years back is NOT because they were maintaining weblogs, but because they were (largely) technically-oriented people who could also manage to write a sentence without butchering the English language too badly. People who had interests and didn't mind talking about them to anonymous others. Fascinating extroverts.

The barrier of having to roll your own software or learn to edit HTML to produce a weblog acted to limit webloggers to the sort of people I like to talk to.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:21+00 by: sethg

It would be an interesting project to design a protocol for messages of the form "I assert that the content at URL X is making a comment of type Y regarding the content at URL Z (insert digital signature)". It wouldn't be too hard to make an XML (hey, let's be trendy) format for the messages, and set up an alt.third-party-links USENET group where they could be distributed.

The real trick would be making tools for conveniently generating and searching those messages.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:21+00 by: Larry Burton

While we are making all these tools to make stuff easier why don't we just add an Eliza engine to handle the analysis of the links we are commenting on. I think I agree with Mike G., the easier it is to maintain a weblog the more less interesting people start keeping them.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:21+00 by: Dan Lyke

Larry: I'm working on the Eliza engine. Currently it's effectively parsing some on this day pages and returning to me names, titles, roles, and birthdays. I'm working towards a slightly more generic system that'll handle the AP on this day, New York Times obits, and New York Times on this day pages, since specific information about people ("born", "died", "affiliated organizations", "acquaintances") is an easier knowledge representation than trying to find solutions for the general case of representing meaning.

Doug: Do you find Scripting News easy to follow? Dave does much of what I'd like to do, it's just that he does it with people whose opinions I think are irrelevant. I guess one of the things I need to be working towards is getting people whose opinions I find interesting publishing more.

Mike: Yep. When this whole thing started, "Webloggers" (before that term was in vogue) was enough of a filter. Now that it doesn't take either the dedication to write lots of glue HTML or the skill to slap some Perl together saying "weblogger" doesn't really distinguish much from "average schmoe on the street".

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:21+00 by: Mars Saxman

Interesting, Dan. I've thought for a long time that it would be neat to hook an English parser up to a program which could extract symbolic assertions-of-fact, with attributions, from news articles. The language used is simpler than the general case, and the topic is always a description of an event with quoted assertions. It would make for a fairly impressive search engine - you could give it a topic, and a report-generator could spit out an encyclopedia-like article on the topic from the recorded information.

It's probably a lot harder than I think it is, or someone would have done it already...

I've recently relaunched my weblog, but it isn't really a weblog anymore...


#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:22+00 by: jessamyn

the easier it is to maintain a weblog the more less interesting people start keeping them

you know, I just think that the easier it is, the more everyone has one which means a few things:

  1. people think they share weblogging as a common experience if they have one and I have one. I don't always think this.
  2. every now and then someone like Vince Gallo gets one and I say "hurrah"
  3. the average PWAW [person with a weblog] is not necessarily someone who felt the urge [maybe] but someone who liked the idea when they saw it.

I thought a lot of these same things when I saw everyone getting their noses pierced and had to stifle the urge to think "but i did it for the RIGHT reasons" which gets back to a-list posturing. If I lived on a desert island and knew I would never meet the people who read my website, I might be less inclined to maintain it like I do. For me, its all about getting to know real life people and then getting to keep in touch with them from my Vermont hermitage.

I hope people read my blog and then want to come help me clean my basment. I went to a dinner with Mena and Ben [moveable type folks] and some onliner types and there was much too much tossing around the phrase 'blog that' as a verb and I got all weird feeling. If my online products are only good as social currency in the online world, then to heck with it.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:22+00 by: John Abbe

My vision of the wiki-weblog-PIM technology i would like to have includes easy ways for multiple personal and group sites to mirror a page together (in wiki, every page has a unique name). So for example, a bunch of people who are having a conversation about memes could mirror a MemeConversation page, and discuss on it together wiki-style.

Note this wouldn't keep anyone who didn't like the wiki style of discusssion from participating -- they could still mirror that page, talk about memes on another page (say, their weblog, or MyThoughtsOnMemes), from which they could link to the MemeConversation by just mentioning it. On MemeConversation, a link to MyThoughtsOnMemes would go to that page on whichever wiki the person browsing is in. If you wanted to refer to a particular person's MyThoughtsOnMemes, you would use the standard InterWiki markup, e.g. AbbeNormal:MyThoughtsOnMemes.

The only big challenge to this i can think of is that with a page being mirrored on many sites, how does one deal with multiple edits at the same time elegantly? And does the solution scale? If there isn't a directly technical solution, is there a social/cultural one?

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:22+00 by: Dan Lyke

Is the full-on editing of Wiki necessary for this, or would a page that consisted of owned portions that were individually editable be sufficient? The specific case of owned paragraph simultaneous edits is much easier than the general case of simultaneous edits anywhere in the document.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:23+00 by: sethg

I remember reading about Roger Schank's research group at Yale's AI lab, writing a program that would read stories off the AP wire and generate headlines for them. This was at least ten years ago, so I assume that if you can dig up the source code, and an interpreter for whatever language the code was written in, you could run it on a modern desktop PC.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:24+00 by: Mike Gunderloy

So, we have learned that a meta topic will generate lots of discussion. Dan, perhaps you should try posting a weekly meta topic :)

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:33:24+00 by: Dan Lyke

Mike: Yay meta-topics! That make-work thread is kinda meta too, and taking off. Too much of this and I've gotta start threading discussions. Dang.

sethg: If you can get me one other person who wants to implement such a protocol, I'll implement this end of it. Heck, I don't even have to have it signed, at least not for starters.

And I'd forgotten about the headline generator, I'll have to see if I can dig that up.