What Sucks about Blogging

Blogging as a practice is just fine, what sucks is that the way we do it isn’t hypertexty enough.

Blogging as a practice in itself doesn’t suck at all. Writing diary or articles or entries in a journal is just fine. It’s the way how we do it today that needs improvement. I have an incomplete list of desired hypertext capabilities, but when looking at only blogging activities in isolation, it’s also clear that a different hypertext capability profile/subset is needed than for other modes of working on/with text. What sucks about blogging on the web is the absence of that particular capability profile. This is an incomplete list as well.

  • If a text is sent to a machine that has the task of distributing it (which in effect publishes it), usually a server dedicated 24/7 to send the text to everyone who asks for it, if that server goes offline or changes address, all references/links break because they’re hard-wired to that particular machine from which the text can’t be retrieved any more, despite a lot of other places have a copy that could serve it just as well.

  • If a text that was published gets updated by the original author, it’s not made obvious to the reader what version he’s currently looking at, and the previous versions are usually not made accessible. Those readers who received an earlier version don’t have an easy way to learn that their copy is potentially outdated, that a new version was published.

  • People can’t publish their modifications to a text that was published by somebody else. In part because of technical problems: we lack a way to keep the link to the original source, to notify the source in a federated way about the derived work, to import/approve the changes made by others as a new version of the original author (retaining the links to the contributor), to find all derived works based on a base text even if its original author didn’t import/approve them, all of this for every version and derived works getting versioned themselves, basically the cloning/forking/merging as pioneered by git/GitHub. While solutions can be build to make this technically possible, legal permissions are needed as well as the pre-digital copyright law is designed to prevent it, and if people don’t agree on policies that allow collaboration, there is no way to or point in practically engaging with them. Most of blogging is one-way, fire&forget, throwaway communication of little use other than for passive consumption.

  • Blog posts on/for the web usually lack the annotation of semantic meaning. Instead, they target a specific visual rendering by a browser. If a client wants to apply its own ViewSpecs onto the blog posts, there’s not a lot in the data to which the ViewSpecs could react. Blogging on the web doesn’t encourage to improve this, it continues to focus on the visual rendering by the browser as defined by the author or operator of the distribution/server machine.

  • Annotations, comments, citations and so on (secondary additions not adjusting the main text) rarely can be published independent of the operator of the distribution/server machine of the main text, while they should be published independently for the original author(s) to get notified in a federated way to import/approve them or not, but even without import/approval, every reader who looks at the main text from the original source should be able to learn about all comments, annotations, citations in other works regardless of import/approval by the original authors. Furthermore, those works should be independent works of their own, which means that they’re versioned as well, can be modified by anyone in the same manner, or can get annotated or commented on. All those pieces should collate/come together virtually for navigation and manipulation on the client as many distribution mechanisms/servers might be involved, so no single one of them will have all of the pieces or would reliably provide the functions (even if, it would be a bad idea to become dependent on what a particular machine provides).

  • Whatever a user publishes, it should be made possible to show up in his publications feed, if he should choose so. Such contribution feeds of authorship can be created for any arbitrary identity of individuals or groups.

  • Blogs are designed to list publications chronologically. This is only one way to organize material. All sorts of lists of posts should be allowed, publishable by anybody in any combination from the same or different sources. The chronological order discriminates older posts and puts emphasis on new ones. Navigatable hypertext with links between pieces of text should be made an option as blogging integrates into generic hypertext, so hypertext capabilities can be used to create traditional blogging among a lot of other things as well.

  • Every retrieved publication should be saved to a local archive that can keep it forever or only temporarily, depending on policy set by the user, of which there can be many. It should be possible to keep track of what has been read, and to publish such information selectively or as a whole.

  • Despite it’s not really part of blogging, hypertext capabilities should allow the reader to curate his local copies of the retrieved materials, to link them together in ways not foreseen or intended by the original author, and across different sources. That result should be publishable if the user wishes to, which requires a solution to avoid the legal restrictions.

  • Digital technology offers a lot of potential, but it’s rarely realized. There is no reason why arbitrary combinations of retrieved portions shouldn’t be printable by anyone as a neatly bound hardcover or leaflet, in many layouts, optionally interleaved for note-taking, starting from quantities of a single copy, never going “out of print” when a second and third copy is needed. There is no reason why arbitrary combinations of retrieved portions shouldn’t be convertable into a data format that can be read on an e-ink device (EPUB) to be read on the bus or train, or be made available as audio via text-to-speech. Whatever derived formats/renderings are generated, they should be publishable so they can be found when searching for those kind of configurations associated with a text source, regardless if the original author imports/approves them or not.

  • Blogging should be made a thing for audio and video as well.

  • More to come…

In my view, the question “what sucks about blogging” isn’t particulary helpful because what sucks isn’t related to blogging that much. I more lament the general lack of hypertext capabilities for all types of text and media work, which includes blogging of course, but not limited to this particular activity. On the other hand, some aspects of hypertext are less important if one only looks at blogging, so it’s still reasonable to answer the question by trying to point out those capabilities that would improve blogging as implemented today the most. Blogging also invites long-form writing where shorter, hypertextually interlinked pieces make production and consumption easier, while chronological order can be one option amongst many others.

Copyright (C) 2018 Stephan Kreutzer. This text is licensed under the GNU Affero General Public License 3 + any later version and/or under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International.

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