Saturday Aug 29, 2009

Are blogs losing their infuence?

Richard Morgan sent me this article, "Are Blogs Losing Their Authority To The Statusphere?" dated March 10th 2009, which argues that while blog authority ranking according to Technorati remains fairly static, the scores of the various blogs are declining. Technorati uses an inlist scoring algorithm which may be part of the problem, but it would seem to me that micro-blogging is impacting the strength of the voice of blogs as a communications tool, which is what the article argued. In some way's not just micro-blogging, but the various places where people can and do record what they do and think. When I started this blog 5 years ago, I chose to restrain what I put here but other media have grown in popularity, and so people's ability to express themselves have grown. There is a diversification of publication sites which makes following people harder, although technorati only set out to capture blogs, not people, blogs seem no longer to be at the centre of how the internet records what people think. I know that I have been writing less frequently.

Internet messaging is built on a growing distributed architecture, consisting of

  • publication,

  • distribution,

  • aggregation and

  • consumption.

Different sites and technologies seek to perform and excel in different parts of the chain. The aggregation stage permits people to view people, if they permit it, or subject matter and most importantly control their own entry points to the mess that is today's content, by which I mean choose to follow people of look for specific expertise. I think that authors should seek to co-operate with this consumer control of the reading process. It should be noted that the behaviour of individuals and corporations will differ. In particular most media companies want to capture the reader/viewer but individuals have no need to copy this behaviour. I try to post content and let people find it; I hope I have developed a reputation for expertise in some subjects over my career.

By keeping the architecture in mind, one can try and avoid annoying your readers, who, if one has any, are likely to be your friends. Bad habits I see are people who syndicate their tweets into facebook, so I, and others, get to know about their breakfast twice, and I am not a fan of syndicating one's del.icio.us feed into blogs using the APIs. This latter habit annoys me because I don't see the blog as an aggregation tool, but a publishing tool, and so I expect original work, of some description in people's blogs. This can be even worse when people then publicise the blog, containing bookmarks using a micro blog. That's three clicks to read something written by someone other than the person who's views you've subscribed to, and if using a wireless device that's a real pain. NB This is also true if you subscribe to Digg feeds, you get to 'interesting' content via the Digg page, so three clicks, three tabs or windows to read content you want. Another offence which I wish I could deal with more easily is the microblogging incontinent. The only way I have discovered how to deal with those, is to unsubscribe.

One can, and I do aggregate my feeds into one place. I originally created a personal planet, which aggregates some of the feeds I create. I have tried to create an everything feed at http://friendfeed.com/davelevy, which also has a nice key of the feeds I contribute to. This means that my readers can construct a feed that interests them. I know that some friends are interested in the technology, but not the politics. I commit the offence of subscribing my friend feed to face book, but I consider Facebook to be mainly a consumer. I need to think about this. Its not great, but I don't syndicate my tweets directly to my face book statuses (sic), nor do I copy them back into friend feed. Manging my facebook feed is not easy and is compounded by Facebook's desire to perform all roles in the architecture while being 'open'. Its this open-ness which has enable site specialisation around, for instance, travel, books, restaurants and even at living social, iphone apps.

I suppose I am appealing for people to consider what tools they use to perform a specific role in the the personal content architecture. Don't over aggregate, if people are interested in your thoughts they'll find them. Don't shove it down their throats.

When I first considered writing this little essay, it seemed interesting to consider, “Is the status-sphere replacing blogs?”, others including Tim Bray have written about this since and argue Not. I hope that the evolution of easy micro-blogging, will free blogs to become deeper and more interesting. I know that I have produced less frequent blog article since I took up with Twitter, but I also considered my del.icio.us feed, to be a microblog of sorts. Another key development is that the use of sites like del.icio.us has turned in-list search ranking from a vote of web authors, where you needed the technology skills and resource to have a web page in order to influence the sort order, into a vote of web readers and authors. The ease of micro blog adoption means that an even large crowd should now be participating in the construction of in list search orders. I am unsure how url shortner's impact the search engines in-list calculations. They make it harder, I 'm sure, as does the fact there's more than one. Many argue that Twitter's best value is as a search engine and that it, and other micro-blogging systems won't replace blogs because there are too many subjects that can't be accurately discussed in 140, characters. Techcrunch published further thoughts on twitter, and it chances of supplanting the blogs, however it takes less time to tweet, rubbish gets lost easier, and twitter in particular is designed to be used by handheld devices. (I don't think I'd like to have written this on my new Nokia 5800, or even my ipodtouch.) It should be noted, that while its very easy to create a 140 character message, it should be easy to create a podcast or even a video, but its not. They are both difficult to create, especially if you don't just record a chat amongst friends but try and 'deliver/perform' a report. This is a skills issue. They wouldn't pay Steven Fry all that money to make audio books if it was easy.

One final thought is that communitarian aggregation is not well done at the moment. One of the strength's of Peter Reiser's approach, 'Community Equity', to knowledge management systems that at its heart is a personal rating engine. (See also http://socialadoption.com/ They don't yet have this as truly n-dimensional, which I think is needed, so you can rate your own content, rate other author's expertise, rate & describe their interest to you. I may play with a Google App or Zembly, to experiment with some of how to make some of this work. A very rich inter-personal network with sophisitcated popular and machine calculated relevance scoring is something that can add value. Content could flow through your colleagues votes moving closer and further away from your viewing window and your friends and colleagues advice and hints would influence or determine what you find. Google reader's share facility is quite close, but there's only one dimension, you can have friends, and they can recommend stuff for you to read. (I think more can be done.)

I hint that one of Technorati's problems is its reliance on in-list. Searching the Workplace Web, written by Fagin, Kumar and McCurley, which I commented on, on this blog in an article called, The Shape of Internet, write about a number of relevance and ordering tests that could be used and specifically argue that within the corporate intranet other sorts and relevance tests may be more appropriate to help solve a number of questions such as authority. They also argue that intranet URL naming is less search friendly and it is clear that the dissipation of people's voice and advice over multiple sites with different naming conventions, often using surrogates or numbers and URL shortners means that the internet is catching up on the early intranet in the chaos of name space. It may be time to review in-list and begin to weight votes for relevance and sort-order.

Are blogs losing their relevance, maybe, maybe not. Well written opinions by disinterested experts will always be valued. As the dross moves to the microblogs, this may liberate the blogs to re-establish themselves as clear voices of expertise. Some of what was observed Richard's post to me may be failures in Technorati, its initial insights are aged and its being out innovated.

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Monday Jan 05, 2009

Has Digg jumped the shark?

The comments on the Digg post on "Shouting in the Data Centre" [ Youtube | this Blog ] disappointed me. I am not a great user of Digg and very few of my submissions have taken off. It is one of the feeds I subscribe to using Google Reader which is my first choice feed reader today. It seems that I am obviously not interested in the same stuff as most of its users, but to find the majority of comments about the provenance of the Digg takes self reference to the point of absurdity. It reminded me of a very recent a post 'openpeel', called '5 Ways to fix Digg', and it also reminds me of Simon Phipps' comment,

"When you invent a system, you invent the system that games it!".

Its a shame, but I suppose that the social software designers will have to become cleverer. It's clearly a fact that a 'karma' systems attracts people to contribute to the 'wisdom of crowds', but also trying to measure the influence, popularity or even innovativeness/leadership of contributors often leads to anti-social, even destructive behaviour.

I wonder if digg has jumped the shark as its user community has grown beyond an expertise focus and its designers loose the arms race with the gamers. Is there an alternative? I have considered for a while the use of 'clubs', where feed consumers, i.e. me and you, qualify the contributors to our feeds, or membership is gated. I use del.icio.us to keep my bookmarks and thus act as the original source of my contributions to finding interesting news. These thus become available through RSS, and then those I really think are interesting to others, I use Google Reader shares to share them. In the past I have used Slynkr, and have been using Digg to act as an entry point to my friend feed. The Google Share is a cute feature as the Google Reader makes my google friends' shares available to me. I use this to read other people's shared articles. The google shares I post may become my Digg replacement, but there's now no weighting or rating and my community is pretty small, since it is based on google talk/chat friends, which is not my first choice chat protocol.

The Google Share/Talk synergy is another interesting example of leveraging closed communities, and functional synergy by the software authors. Retaining the choice of internet participants against this new "lock in" could be open source's next big problem to solve.

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Thursday Aug 07, 2008

Rendering a feed into HTML with Grazr

While researching this development of my personal feed, I looked for a generic client side javascript to consume and display feeds, a bit like the twitter and delicious widgets in the sidebar, although these gadgets are tightly tied to their authors own feeds. I found GRAZR, which has offers an aggregation service for its members and a widget against any feed for casual visitors. It has a bunch of themes, and I have illustrated one here....

Grazr <script DEFER="defer" TYPE="text/javascript" SRC="http://static.grazr.com/gzloader.js?view=o&theme=home_silver&file=http://feeds.delicious.com/v2/rss/DaveLevy"></script>

I was looking to embed some of both my published feeds and those I wish to syndicate, having read, onto my HTML sites. This looks like it might do. The example above is my bookmarks feed from delicious and so doesn't have different icons nor different italicised feed names; it is only one feed. I expect one has to use their aggregator to get different icons.

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Wednesday Aug 06, 2008

Whats wrong with secondbrain

Prior to finding FriendFeed, Richard Morgan pointed me at secondbrain.net. This is both a personal feed aggregator with a social networking dimension. It has a limited number of services, which given I blog on roller and snipsnap, causes me an issue in that I can't incorporate my blogs into a second brain feed; they don't have services for these blogs. Its also missing a twitter service. Shame really, I wish them well.

See Jonathan's comments, it seems it does have a twitter service; I didn't look hard enough :( .

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Thursday Feb 21, 2008

Organisation and Communication

Just trying to sort myself out from my last trip abroad.

Firstly, I have sorted out my twitter so that I am now receiving on the phone from all my correspondents. I have looked at forwarding my twits onto my personal planet, but wget fails for some reason. I need to investigate further, although twitter's FAQ talks about a configuration feature. I shall only be using it occasionally, probably in emergencies to let people know that facebook/e-mail is not available to me, and to use other means to contact me.

It might be sensible to ensure that really important people subscribe and follow me, although they might expect a personal message, and also don't care about my internet connectivity.

I have also revised the my flickr application on facebook so that it forwards everything, not just the London pictures, and my facebook correspondents can now see the pictures as I upload them. I am not sure if it auto-updates, but I can force it to write into my mini-feed, so hopefully people get notified when new pictures go up. Now I just have to find time to upload them. The most recent uploads are from Spain and my Madrid trip, the most recent pictures are from Dubai. This will hopefully improve the quality of my facebook feed for those who follow me there.

Its a shame that I am trapped on such an old version of planet-planet, there's a couple of things that don't work as well as I'd hope. The slynkr posts are still broken, they don't display the description, but a generated comment, I have never got round to including either this blog, nor the flickr pictures. The plazes feed My Plazes - Atom feed is also mis-mapped, but  I am working my way through the O'Reilly python book to see if this helps me build a personal feed that does what I want.

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