Looking beyond blogs

Every few years there seems to be some new blogging platform that’s going to solve all (or at least some) of the problems of the old ones. A few years ago Posterous made a splash with its idea of being a hub for your social media and driving everything by email. A few weeks ago a new, invite-only platform called Svbtle made the rounds (disclaimer: I signed up for an invite to check out the new hotness). Svbtle aims to take some of the pressure of blogging by allowing you to save quick, private, spur-of-the-moment “ideas” as well as more permanent, public posts. Though I love to see new platforms and all the innovation brought to bear on web publishing, I have some nagging doubts. I’ve been blogging on and off for about five years and I’m starting to think that blogs are the wrong model.

To be clear, they’re not the wrong model for everyone and everything. But they’re certainly not the end-all and be-all of web publishing. As I start measuring the lifetime of my blog in years instead of months, I’m starting to get just a bit frustrated by a platform designed for immediacy. Blogs are fine if you’re writing about what’s happening in the world right now. Blogs are great if you want an online diary of your life. Blogs are wonderful for documenting the growth of your project and community over the years. However blogs are perhaps not so great for people who want to use their writing to augment their thought process. They are not all that great if there are a handful of topics and ideas that you keep revisiting and refining over time.

For example, I’ve written about writing for the web and publishing models before. This will be the third in the de facto series. However, the posts are widely separated in time. In a typical blog format they won’t appear side-by-side unless I remember them and put in links. It would be great if I could have a single web page, at a fixed URL that holds the evolution of my thoughts on the matter over time. As a visitor to the site you could see each of the versions, not just the most recent one. You could comment on each of the versions, or on the combined document. While we’re at it, I’d also like to see paragraph-level comments and version histories (but with a UI better than standard diff).

What I’m describing is more of an essay platform than it is a blogging platform. However I don’t want stiffly siloed platforms either. I’d like to be able to post articles like the one about what I learned in my first semester of graduate school. These posts would fade into the background over time, just like a normal blog. Writers like Craig Mod do a good job of creating large, permanent articles surrounded by smaller “satellite” articles. But when I last asked him (over Twitter a few months ago) he maintained it by hand. Another solution is two have two separate sites like Dustin Curtis does: one for permanent works and one as a traditional blog. But personally I’m of the opinion that software should do as much work as possible and I’ve already separated some of my writing.

The strange thing about the web is that it is both ephemeral and permanent. Today’s hot articles will be lost and forgotten tomorrow. And yet nothing that gets put online ever truly gets deleted. What I want is a writing and publishing platform that reconciles these two opposite natures. There are other technical and interface aspects I could highlight, but they’re orthogonal to the overall purpose of this platform: let me post time dependent pieces which can be archived after a few days, but also let me have long running, heavily edited works.

I don’t know that such a platform exists. I also don’t know for certain that such a platfrom doesn’t exists. I suppose that the only way to really get what I want is to build it (after all, talk is cheap, show me the code) and I hope one day I’ll actually get around to it. Till then I’ll keep thinking about how we can support writing and publishing for the bipolar web (and linking back to older versions). I’d love to hear what you think about the matter.

5 thoughts on “Looking beyond blogs

  1. This was a great post. Thanks! Really inspires a new way (for me) to consider both the process of authoring and publishing content for the web. I dig that curatorial notion of a permanent works collection. You’re right….so necessary that a framework evolve toward supporting that. Presupposes, too, however enough folks are approaching the act of publishing on the web as something more than trivial or ephemeral….at least enough so as to warrant the development of a consumer-facing platform, rather than merely a nifty custom solution.

    • I would be really happy if someone built an industrial-strength, well-supported platform for the sort of writing and publishing I’ve been describing. But I also think that the best software starts out as a small-scale itch-scratching. Only when you are deeply familiar with the problem can you come up with a proper solution.

  2. Pingback: Still Alive « The ByteBaker

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