Karma Columnist

16 December 2006

blogging pontificate technology web-20

columns.jpgBlogs and such are supposed to be about both aggregation and syndication. With aggregators such as Bloglines or NetNewsWire, I think we've thus far got a pretty good handle on aggregation. Or at least personal aggregation. In true populist web2.0 form, the user is supposed to cut out the middleman, and just go straight to the blogs he wants.

No intermediaries.

But how does he find those blogs? Technorati? Google? Somehow simply searching for information sources by keyword will cause relevant and worthy blogs to appear? I personally haven't had a lot of success with that.

There are super aggregators, like Javablogs or Ruby Corner, but these aggregate on a very broad topic (ie, Java or Ruby), from anyone who wants to be a part of it. And many times the aggregees don't even bother filtering their feed to assure that Javablogs only gets Java posts and Ruby Corner only gets Ruby posts.

The result? A lot of junk (via javablogs).

Perhaps cutting out the middleman isn't quite so great. The middleman also acts as a voice of authority, helping you to find your way. While technologies may enable populist, expertise is not. Some sites, such as Squidoo encourage these voices of authority. Unfortunately, Squidoo only allows a single authority for each topic.

Maybe the newspaper model isn't so bad.

Editors act as authorities and give personality to the paper. Or at least before the day of the Associated Press, they did.

My corner market has at least 6 different local papers, from the daily paper to the various free weeklies. Every point of view can be expressed on the topic of "the news." Nothing forces a single authority. You can pick your middleman to match your own view.

Growing up, we had "the newspaper" which had a morning and an afternoon edition. With different names. But the same publisher. The morning paper's editorial page contained a conservative slant, while the afternoon paper's editorials were decidedly liberal. You could subscribe to the paper that was more aligned to your liking.

On the web, though, there is no concept of "the newspaper" beyond what traditional newspapers put on the web. Blogs enable anyone to be a columnist. How do these two meet?

Through aggregation.

Individual bloggers continue to blog on their own, but a 3rd party (the hated middleman) optionally gathers up some select subset of blogs on a topic and republishes (syndicates) them in a more cohesive form.

Lazy (or busy) readers can find these aggregations and feel confident that if they trust the editor, they will receive a lot of good posts from a variety of sources.

Why not simply do a group blog, with multiple authors? For one, there's the logistics of setting up a multi-user blog system, authors keeping up with credentials, etc. Secondly, blogging is personal. Even if it's shared and aggregated, the posts are still hand-crafted by the bloggers and they feel a certain attachment to their work.

Personally, I like to keep my work on my own blog.

Keeping up with regular blogging can be difficult. Often bloggers think to themselves "jeez, it's been 2 weeks since I've written anything." If they go write something for a group blog, their own soapbox doesn't show evidence of the effort. If authors truly syndicate themselves to these middleman aggregators, they get to participate in a larger publication while still winning personal blog karma by being active on their own blog. Plus, they can use the tooling they're happy with, and let RSS sort out the differences.

I ultimately feel that the columnist model works. But a columnist without columns to fill is just a blogger on a soapbox. It takes the middleman to bring many columnists together to weave a larger context.