Monday, February 25, 2002

Jason Kottke discusses blogging and

Jason Kottke discusses blogging and the development of peer-to- peer journalism. He asks “is the weblog network efficient at journalism?” He grants that the question may be beside the point, but I think he’s on to something. Blogging, whether it’s used for journalism or for knowledge management (John Robb’s K-Logs group at Yahoo! Groups explores this related topic), can be a tremendous tool for gathering information – precisely when you don’t know what it’s good for.

In other words, you can’t know today what you’ll want to know in a year. For me, this weblog is primarily useful as a running collection of notes, links and other things that may be useful to me at some point in the future. Why? How? I don’t know and I’m not sure it matters. What Jason is asking above is whether blogging is good for journalism – more precisely, he wants to know whether the weblog notion is efficient for journalism. At some broad level, journalism and knowledge management aren’t that far off: both seek to assimilate information, distribute it to a select audience and educate. Where they diverge is in their intended result: journalism makes value decisions about what to include whereas KM exists to make the individual more valuable by shifting the editorial control to the individual. (Put another way: journalism edits, KM empowers.)

But let me get back to answering Jason’s question: on its own, a weblog isn’t a particularly efficient tool for journalism. As tins reader S.R. pointed out when I raised a related issue last month on micropayments, “consumers want editors – they don’t want to have to shift through all the choices.” Weblogs have dramatically increased the number of content providers (that’s in fact the salient point raised by MIT Prof. Jenkins in last week’s article in Technology Review) – which isn’t necessarily a good thing. But do we necessarily need editors? I’m not so sure.

In the same way that Google serves its own quasi-editorial role through its Page Rank technology, MIT’s experimental blogdex site may be the path to turning weblogs into a true knowledge sharing device. This is what makes weblogging “efficient”, inasmuch as efficiency is achievable or desirable. How? blogdex crawls weblogs each morning. (You can see the entry for tins by visiting this link.) blogdex looks for “popular” links, and gives weblog owners a way to see who’s linking to them and what the links say. This isn’t just a good way to stay on top of the popular opinion about what you’re talking about – it also can compile groupings of “popular” links. A more advanced system could group popular links by topic – giving webloggers a way of staying on top of themes they’re interested in. The more popular a link is (especially if grouped by category), presumably the more likely it is that you’d be interested in it. (What you really want is a marriage of blogdex – which is an attempt to rank link popularity and establish connections between disparate sites – and Google, which builds a full-text index of everything it crawls. Give me that, and I’ve got the perfect answer.)

But the blogdex metaphor serves another role – that of informing visitors of new content. Without blogdex (or its counterparts), users only get the benefit of content at sites they know of – which reinforces S.R.‘s comment above that readers don’t want more choice when it comes to content. That may be true, but those same consumers do want better information. In this way, webloggers represent both journalist and editor – and individual readers get to decide which weblogs provide them with useful, interesting information. The fancy term for this is disintermediation. I call it democratic (lower-case ‘d’). What needs to happen for weblogging to grow from an individual news-gathering/link-sharing tool and develop into a true organizational change agent is for the aggregation and dissemination tools to mature – to take the blogdex metaphor and evolve it to be a more effective distribution mechanism. I have no doubt that it will come – most likely from companies like Userland, who have already demonstrated an uncanny knack for innovating in this arena – and whose Radio platform is remarkably receptive to new services. When this metamorphosis comes, I think we’ll see weblogs come into their own as a stand-alone KM platform. (See also my comments on this from mid- January titled “Cancer and DNA”. Yes, there’s a connection. See the post.)

There’s more interesting reading on this, by the way. Adam Curry (yes, the same Adam Curry that was once a VJ) maintains a fantastic weblog. Just last week, he wrote an interesting piece in response to the Wired News article about blogging. You should read Curry’s entire post, but here’s a snippet that ought to get you going:

Weblogging is changing our view of the world. Mainly because we are now writing about our own views. Instead of watching the editied for tv version we are taking the time to collect, rearrange, codify and publish our own version of what we see. We are exercizing our brains, making them stronger, linking them with others who are also emerging from the hypnotic depths of mass-media.

The training wheels are about to come off.

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