4 Jun 2002 raph   » (Master)

Blog 101

This entry is a collaboration with aaronsw.

Blogs are pretty basic. At a minimum, you put posts in reverse chronological order, and provide a permalink (a URL for the post which will hopefully never change) for each one. The permalinks allow other bloggers to put links to your posts in theirs, usually with a comment or response. Links are lifeblood of blogs, and a large part of what makes them interesting.

You don't need any special software to run a blog, although it might be convenient. Some people (such as David McCusker) just edit the HTML by hand. But using a tool can be convenient, and many offer lots of extra features. The most important extras are keeping a list of other sites you visit (a "blogroll") and exporting RSS. Blogging tools should also let you change HTML templates (so you can tinker with the look of your site) and many provide a way for readers to comment on what you write. There are a number of third-party tools to do the latter, such as YACCS and QuickTopic. Most tools support the Blogger API so that you can use a GUI tool like blogBuddy to edit your site.

Blogs are immediate, but not quite so much as chat or instant messaging. Most of the time, blogs are read within a day of being written. One way to think about this is the coherence between what the writer writes and what the reader reads.

Blogs are also firmly in the control of their writers. This means that individual blogs are free of spam, trolls, and other forms of abuse common on the Internet. If someone does try to spam or troll, it's easy to just ignore them.

Blogs are one of the most fertile areas for experimentation on the Web today. People are trying out RSS aggregators, Google API, referrer log analyzer, and other such toys. It's also a fertile ground for research, with projects like blogdex and reptile analyzing the social networks formed by blogging communities.

Advogato diaries are basic blogs, but lack the fancier options. My guess is that it will add some over time. The focus is different than most blog servers - presentation is simple, and free software is a strong theme. The recentlog also occupies a central role, acting as a kind of "communal blog". The scale seems to work well. If more people wrote diaries regularly, the recentlog would be too much to read. On the other hand, there is enough content to convey the vitality of the community.

Social nets have both strong links (close friends and family) and weak links (casual acquaintances). Social networking theory tells us that both are important. Traditional forums such as mailing lists are pretty good at the strong links, bug blogs are public and anyone can read them, so they create weak links among people in different communities that allow information to disseminate very rapidly. Sites such as the Daypop Top 40 track this flow of links.

Even though individual blogs are so simple in structure, you see emergent behavior in the network of blogs. It's common to see conversations between blog authors. In some cases, these blog conversations can take the place of email. This only works if the intended target of the message is reading your blog. Since most people can't read every blog, tools for finding blogs that link to you are quite popular. Many web servers provide "referer logs" which track what site your readers followed to your blog. Some blogging tools even make this part of the blog itself, so readers can follow the links for more information or other points of view. Similarly, backlink tools search the Web (often via Google) to find other pages linking to yours.

Blogs are becoming increasingly popular and mainstream. It's very interesting to see more communities start blogs and how they change and push the medium. Bloggers remind me of Ted Nelson's Hypercorps, the young librarians and teachers of the hypertext system he foresaw and were "paid to sit around and make things interesting for you". Bloggers are only paid in the admiration of their peers, but that admiration is seductive. Soon after you're hooked on reading blogs, you're likely to want to start a blog yourself.


Watching Max's language evolve continues to be a delight. He's working on irregular forms now. He still says, "breaked", and when I say, "broke" back, he usually says, "broked". But in other cases, his use of irregular forms is perfect. Saturday, he picked up "three leaves" (he loves numbers and counting too). I asked him what it would be if it were just one, and he said "one leaf". Also, most of what he says now is either sentences or fairly complete fragments.

There's only another week of school remaining for Alan. We're hoping that his summer break will give him an opportunity to relax and let go of some of his anxiety. When he's in an anxiety freak-out, he is heartbreakingly eloquent at expressing it. At other times, he's happy, bright, and confident. But the amount of time spent in high anxiety seems to be going up. Does anyone have a recommendation for a child psychiatrist in the Bay Area, preferably one who is good with gifted children?


David has been blogging tension in his relationship with his wife, Lisa. However, he has now removed a lot of this discussion at her request. Announcing that he was going to before doing so seems just a bit hostile to me - it is almost like an invitation to archive (I didn't, btw).

In any case, Heather and I were very much reminded of a rough patch in our own marriage, when we briefly separated. Another parent at Quaker meeting asked how I was when we were putting our kids in the nursery, and I responded, "Heather is leaving me". His response: "who's Heather?" We still laugh about that, but it was painful at the time.

I was obviously reaching out to people I could talk to about the problems ("weak links" in the social net lingo), because most of my closer attachments were either entangled in the difficulty, or I really wanted to them to stay untangled (like my advisor and colleagues at school).

If David were to call, I'd be more than happy to talk to him about trees and other stuff. My phone number is pretty easy to find (ordinarily I would send email with it , but this is part of an experiment to avoid email).

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