Proposal for Near-Future Blogging Megastructures

By November 1, 2019 Uncategorized

This post is part of Blogging Futures, a collaborative blogchain-based learning adventure exploring how we can reimagine blogging. Feel free to join the conversation!

Blogging is great, but it sometimes feels like every blog is an island. To have a robust blog society requires connection, community, conversation. Part of the problem is we don’t have many great ways to connect blogs together into larger conversation structures.

Sure we have hyperlinks, and even some esoteric magic with the likes of webmentions. But I want big, simple, legible ways to link blog discussions together. I want: blogging megastructures!

We have one great example of this sort of structure in the blogchain, courtesy of elderblogger emeritus Venkatesh Rao — a way of denoting a loose ongoing conversational series of posts, with a single author or in conversation with another. I’ve started playing with this a bit (see: Networked Communities blogchain) and it’s already getting me excited about blogging again.

But I want more structures; grander structures! So, putting on my speculative taxonomist hat: what else might be out there?

I think we can consider blog structures along a few axes:

  • Number of participants (single player vs. multiplayer)
  • Complexity (graphically) i.e. how much branching and interconnection
  • Directedness (topically) i.e. how much order vs. randomness / divergence

What’s beyond a blog post; beyond a blogchain? One idea is that a collaborative series of posts need not follow a single linear alternating structure, but could potentially unfold more like a Twitter thread, with multiple forks, some dead-ending after a reply or two, others branching off in new, fertile directions. Posts could be published with modularity in mind, short and single-topic, for more conversation-forking possibilities.

With a rich enough seed topic, and multiple participants who are game for exploration, this could lead to a complex tree-like structure. It would add some complexity for visualization and navigation, but some kind of nested outline table of contents view could work. And, thinking of how my own blog ideas sometimes lead me in multiple directions at once, this could make the act of publishing feel more lightweight and generative.

Because words and categorization are fun, some tentative ideas for how we might identify a few such structures:

  • Chain: perhaps the simplest collaborative blogging form; a straightforward back and forth exchange of posts exploring a particular topic
  • Mesh: like a chain, but with multiple participants; still a legible structure e.g. alternating / round-robin style, but with more possibilities for multiplicity of perspectives and connections across posts
  • Fractal: multiple participants and multi-threaded conversation; more infinite game branching; a possibly ever-evolving and mutating conversation, so could probably use some kind of defined endpoint, maybe time-bound
  • Cabinet: one author or several; posts curated into particular collections or series’, often with thematic groupings, perhaps a “start here” page for new readers, or other pointers to specific reading sequences
  • Labyrinth: one person; a tightly sequenced collection of posts with many twists and turns, the order of presentation not necessarily matching the publishing chronology
  • Wiki: any number of participants; structure characterized not by any particular ordering of posts, but by density of internal connections, highly self-referential

In this discussion of hyperlink.academy, where CJ describes the idea for the Blogging Futures learning adventure, Jared mentions some further ideas for how to structure learning-focused communal blogging: exploring a particular question together; aggregating a collection of resources; reflections on a set of shared experiences. My above ideas are kind of abstract structure seeds, but I think it’s also important to consider how the content — a shared fascination; a particular learning goal — can shape these structures.

This reminds me of an existing blogging megastructure: the classic group blog! One blog, many authors, a shared set of themes or editorial voice. This includes, say, Gawker [RIP] and Snarkmarket and Boing Boing…but another very common example is the university course blog, co-authored over the course of a semester, with each student in a seminar contributing a weekly post. For many this is likely a first introduction to blogging and working in public.

Another example would be kind of the inverse: one author, many blogs! A portfolio; a cathedral if you will. Kevin Kelly gives us one great example, his site spawning various sub-blogs (not to mention several separate but linked sites) like The Technium and Cool Tools and Street Use, each with their own identity.

This all leading me to the question “just what is a blog in the first place?”

We often identify a blog by its signature structure: a reverse chronological list of posts. If my site features a list of short, recently dated essays…well, that’s my blog. Companies and institutions can have blogs too; when they share behind-the-scenes insights they can be great, and when clearly a collection of SEO-bait they’re often awful. The point is, there are all kinds of sites on all kinds of topics that we identify as “blogs” largely by their recognizable structure.

But we can also identify blogging by something less tangible, more of a stance or ethos for written exploration. I tend to think of blogging as “thinking out loud”, a combination of personal essay, journaling, brainstorming and public memo. Not everything feels like blogging, and there are of course all kinds of other great structures possible for serialized fiction, or online courses, too. But framed this way, by shared ethos, I think blogging can manifest in a many different shapes than we’re used to, and open up some potent possibilities for collaboration and dialogue.

Baroque, brutalist, Borgesian — let’s build some blogging megastructures.

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