Blog This at Con Jose

I went to the Con José “Blog this!” panel I mentioned here. The panel featured Lucy Huntzinger, Moshe Feder, Evelyn C. Leeper, Bill Humphries, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. My remarks are somewhat disconnected (and as opinionated as usual) since I only took notes when a specific point struck me. It was also cool because I got to meet Dori Smith and Tom Negrino, bloggers (Mac users!) and authors of the best Javascript book I’ve seen for people new to scripting.

Lucy Huntzinger has had an online journal since January of 1997. It sounds to me like she’s hand-coding the HTML herself. She talked about the effect the Open Pages web ring had on online diarists, in that it encouraged a sense of community among the diarists. She also hypothesized that “people who like the longer essay format tend to keep diaries,” rather than web logs. She also suggested that web logs tended to be more politicized, journals more personal. (This desire to differentiate the journalist/diarist from the web logger came up in Friday’s Live Journal SIG as well.) There was some attempt to make the distinction in terms of the underlying technology used by the two formats, with the suggestion that journalists lack a “comments” feature that is used in many web logs. I think that’s a misunderstanding, since certainly Live Journal offers a built in comments feature, and a number of web log systems don’t offer one (though it’s easy enough to use yaccs or other comment add-on tools).

Teresa Nielsen Hayden suggested that the attempt to define or discuss “what is a web log” should be moved outside of a discussion of the underlying tools. Bill Humphries and Patrick Nielsen Hayden discussed the early history of web logs, and referred to their characteristically chronologically ordered posts. Humphries referred to Robot Wisdom, and Dave Winer’s early blogs. I think both have good points, but I’d suggest that in addition to chronologically ordered (most recent at the top) and time and date stamped posts, an emphasis on linking, and the presence of automated or at least publicly accessible archives are also important elements of web logs.

Towards the end of the panel, Bill Humphries said “The web log for me is a research tool,” and pointed (verbally any way!) to Cory Doctorow‘s reference to Dorie Smith’s explanation of her web log as her “Backup Brain.”

Dori had been thinking about doing a weblog for a while, but couldn’t figure out a good reason why. She also had a brain that felt like it was exploding trying to remember where all the good stuff was that she’d seen on the web. A bookmark file wouldn’t work, as she didn’t want to have to look at them all the time; she just wanted to be able to search somewhere (anywhere!) and find things that she’d seen before. She decided one day that what she needed a “backup brain”—offsite storage of her memory—somewhere to store all those links she knew she’d want again someday.

That idea, combined with cool software from Blogger Movable Type, gave her the idea of what to do with a weblog. It’s now a storage place for all those cool sites that Tom & Dori come across that they want to share with each other, you, and themselves.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden said “One of the reasons I have a web log is to keep track of all the things I find incidentally.” The Live Journal folk said the same thing, and so I’m going to point (yes, again) to the commonplace book as a close relative if not a distant ancestor of the web log.