Monday 06 January 2003

Tracking all the lies

I think I might be getting the hang of TrackBack. A couple of pointers, offered in response to my request for a succinct explanation of how TrackBack works, got me started.

Firstly, I realized that I should have sent a TrackBack ping from my previous post to Allan Moult’s New Dishmatique Sighted post. Done.

Then I read and was inspired by Burningbird’s TrackBack-related posts, The Year of Linking Dangerously:

Once your tool supports Trackback, use it. It’s there to allow people to visibly show their connection to your writing. It lets your readers know that others have something to say about your post, good or bad. It continues the conversation. It breaks the hell out of this idea that weblogs are just some form of electronic journal, written in isolation that just happens to be published for posterity’s sake.

More than that, though, Trackbacks provide deliberation and some intelligence with the link. Not a whole lot other than the words of the associated post, but it’s a start. There’s a tiny bit of RDF/XML associated with the Trackback link — a placeholder for future information, future bits of knowledge. A base on which to build.

and Adding TrackBack Entries to Individual Archive Pages:

To implement trackback within the archive page following my prefered approach, I did need to make a minor modification to one of the Movable Type’s Perl modules, Trackback.pm. It’s a minor change: it forces a re-build of the archive page when a trackback occurs so that the new trackback entry displays in a manner similar to how new comments are added, automatically, to the page. You can download the modified file here and replace the in your MT directory (put it into /lib/MT/App/). However, you do so at your own risk.

Yikes! I’ve just started playing with plugins. Am I now on the brink of modifying Movable Type’s Perl modules? Evidently so. I like the picture Burningbird paints of breaking free of the tyranny of links, burning down “the house that Google built before we become as dependent on Google as we almost became on Microsoft Windows.” (Ironic, I know, given my previous post, but are we not all capable of redemption?)

And I read, at Burningbird’s suggestion, Joshua Allen’s Renmin Voice. The intricacies of RDF and XML pass straight over my head, though that doesn’t trouble me at all. I’m only really interested in two things: content (telling stories) and community (amplifying other people’s stories). So three sentences—more particularly, five words—in Joshua Allen’s post grabbed me by the throat:

The key point here is that the web, and especially the semantic web is about capturing and communicating human knowledge. For people who have trouble understanding that “knowledge” is a truth-neutral word, it is fine to say that the semantic web is about capturing and communicating human voices.

The web from the very beginning was a digital library of human knowledge (or lies, it doesn’t matter), and all sorts of useful new applications have evolved as people continue to innovate new techniques for representing and mining that knowledge.

(or lies, it doesn’t matter)

Is it because we swim in an ocean of lies that we make such a fetish of discovering and bearing witness to the truth?

I like very much Joshua Allen’s refusal to distinguish between knowledge (truth) and lies since that refusal acknowledges (in a formal or technical context) the way in which, in our everyday lives, we hide the truth so artfully from ourselves and from others, as one of my favorite poems, by the tenth century Japanese writer, Ki no Tsurayuki, suggests:

To the distant observer
They are chatting of the blossoms
Yet in spite of appearances
Deep in their hearts
They are thinking very different thoughts.

I have no idea—to be honest, I don’t really care—whether TrackBack will enable us to establish a more “truthful” web but it does seem to hold out the promise of allowing us to create more nuanced and inclusive relationships than a web based on links and PageRanks. Who knows? It might even reveal more of the very different thoughts that lie hidden, deep in our hearts.

Permalink | TrackBack (4)

Comments

I have never understood where this 'lie' thing came from. There is not technology that can somehow make all of this 'true', as you note.

My only hope is to allow voices to be heard other than those at the top of the charts. We say 'Wow, weblogs allow everyone to have their say!" and then we all read the same list of 100 people. Or only the few on our blogrolls.

If we start adding intelligence to our connectivity, something beyond s/he with the most links wins, we can, I truly believe extend our reach beyond these little bubbles we've manufactured for ourselves. And by allowing others to join existing conversations, we can effectively meet new people by interest rather than by accident.

Another friggen windmill.


Posted by: Burningbird on 7 January 2003 at 02:45 AM

Burningbird also inspired me to start Talkback, as some might have noticed as I repeatedly tried to initiate its use last night.

I finally got it up and running, and now I fell a need to install the "plugin" from Shelley's page.

Hopefully my page won't suddenly disappear, awaiting Jonathon's rescue again.

Posted by: Loren on 7 January 2003 at 02:52 AM

Shelley, I wonder if you ever stop to ask yourself *why* we all read the same 100 people. Obviously no one is forcing us to do so; no large companies are making auto-downloadable ActiveX plugins that change our home page to instapundit.com behind our backs. Everyone who reads my site, or your site, or Dave's site -- they all choose to go there, and they all choose to come back (or not). Why?

I think that any community, left to its own devices, naturally creates celebrities, because people want celebrities. Given unlimited choices, many people apparently just want to do what everyone else is doing, read who everyone else is reading. Why not let them do it?

(There was a Demotivator poster about this once, which I can't find at the moment. Pity.)

Yeah, I read all the people on my blogroll, every day. I subscribe to all of their sites. It's a small group, and I know all of them at *least* through repeated email, and several in person. One I've known for 10 years. I'm an introvert; I *like* small intimate groups, and I dislike crowds. So I section off a small part of the vast virtual world and say "this part is mine, these people are the ones I'm comfortable with, and the rest not so much".

My site is a reflection of myself. I think most of our sites are. If you're just trying to educate people about what their sites are saying about them, that's fine. But I already know what my site says about me (and not all of it is flattering, but there it is). But if you're saying that we know what we're doing, we're just doing it wrong -- that's like saying we ought to *be* someone different.

If you let people define themselves, some (many) will define themselves as followers of the crowd. Some people *like* following the crowd. Some people like advertising their social circle. Why the big push to make them something they're not?

Posted by: Mark on 7 January 2003 at 03:51 PM

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2002-2003 Jonathon Delacour