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Why blogs are bad for organizing information

One reason I've avoided blogging was the way all blogs seem to be organized. They gather all your information in a sort of "stream of consciousness" format, regardless of which entries are infrequent but carefully crafted commentary and which are just short notes. Ideally, I might like my site to be more like a magazine, with the best essays highlighted front and center on the home page. Also, all content should be organized in a table of contents by topic, not by date posted! The latest posts could be shown in a "what's new" section. My old home page and my writing page tried to accomplish this to a degree.

If someone discovers a blog a year or two after it's been around, they have no idea what the best essays were from the past. I think this is a shortcoming of any blog that posts infrequent but substantial essays (like tecznotes's book reviews or Aaron Swartz's essays). It's as if instead of a book being organized by chapters, it was laid out in the order the author sat down and wrote each chapter!

Actually, though, most blogs I read work fine in the conventional blog format. They deliver a consistent stream of tidbits or excerpts (like Kottke or Brad DeLong). Each entry has about the same significance level. For those blogs, I can't think of any good way to help people dig into past blog entries, without spending way more time on organizing at the expense of content generation. Unfortunately or not, a reader might as well jump into the blog at any point and ignore past entries. The frustrating effect of this is to obscure a significant segment of the internet behind the serendipity of the search box!

It's likely none of this matters, and I won't be posting many long essays, aside from maybe a few I've sent to friends in the past. Maybe I won't even post anything that deserves to be highlighted beyond the day it was posted! While waiting for the conventional blog format to evolve, maybe my thoughts have evolved into handy blog-formatted bits.

9 comments:

AndyK said...

Within this small circle of blogs I read, I value friends sharing where they are at and what they are thinking at the moment.. I'm not sure a blog needs to be anything more than a snapshot into someone's life, though it certainly can be.

Frank said...

Scott, I understand your concerns. I also don't like it when some of my writing disapears into the archives. It is still google-able, but hard to mine unless you search for a specific topic and it happens to pop up. Maybe a "search" feature in the blog itself would be helpful. Categories for posts helps, too.

I agree with Andy in that I do see the value in having the journal format of a blog, which is more like an ongoing conversation. The hard question is how to combine the best of both worlds into one single format? That is hard to imagine and I am not sure there is a way. You either have a static website or a blog, but something that melds the two is something I can't see how you would do.

A blog is more like a newspaper in that it is updated frequently. It is very nice and organized. But it becomes infitessimally tedious if you wanted to see all issues of a newsaper over the past year, then that would just be a huge database of articles and essays and organizing it in a humane way is a problem. You need to call your local archivist to wade through the water, children.

The best maybe you can hope for is a static blog that features certain writing but to which there is also a blog section somehow inside. Your friends could still interact on an ongoing way in the blog section but there would also be featured stuff for people who just drop in.

Maybe what you really want is something like an internet discussion forum like Greasy Lake, where there are features and static sections but then also an interactive discussion forum as well. It is pretty navigable and not cumbersome to this world. Sites like that also seem to be borrowing the same software for the format, so it is probably not hard to get or setup.

Scott Teresi said...

Greasy Lake is a good example. They use a content management system (CMS) which has a blog built in and forums and some type of article management system, and tons of other features. The learning curve and template customization needed for CMSes is a bit steep compared to something like Blogger or Wordpress. I thought about it...

I thought about TypePad.com or Wordpress.com, which are more powerful than Blogger and can probably do some of this stuff, but Blogger seemed to be the easiest to get up and running with, at least without paying a subscription fee or hosting and maintaining the software myself. And there could be a lot of template work involved to get blog software like those to do something that almost no bloggers I've seen are doing. The major customizations I really wanted to make took me most of a Sunday! (Customizing the blog template by adding the blue sky header and tweaking it to have a fixed width navigation column on the left and a liquid width content area.)

Erin said...

Hey Scott, cool to see your blog. I understand the question of organization. I like the running content of the daily info, but there are times when I am speaking of a particular post and want to share it but forget the name of it or it is hard for find.

This happened recently when I wanted to share my DIP story with my Aunt and had a devil of a time finding it myself. I decided to post it as a link on the blog page for easy reference. I find that I tell that particular story a lot and this was a way to have an easy reference point. I don't know if that helps you.

I appreciate your advice about saving my blog. I may not be savvy enough, but I am just inquisitive enough to try it. Thanks again! E

Mars Girl said...

Hey, how come you dont follow my blog? What, is it not good enough for your refined tastes? *humph!*

Frank said...

Umm... you don't have his on yours.

Scott Teresi said...

You're added now!

Mars Girl said...

Frank! I just found out he HAD a blog. ;)

Scott, you are now added to mine. :P

Frank said...

He HAS a blog. Not HAD. His first post is a dissertation on why he hates blogs, so the future of this blog looks pretty bleak, but let's not rush things, okay? Thanks.