Saturday 21 December 2002

Fresh out of trinkets

Steve Himmer posed some questions about writing for the web:

What are we we writing, and how are we writing it? What constitutes good writing on the web, and is it determined by the same criteria that determine good writing elsewhere?

Jeff Ward suggested that conventional web writing bore strong resemblances to the writing taught in school:

It’s academic. Sort of like speaking up in class with just the right comment at the right time, rather than providing a complex dissertation on a topic.

Sometimes I think that the discourse of blogs doesn’t really reach that high. It’s more like show-and-tell—like kindergarten. See the nice link I found? Admit it, show and tell is fun and most outgoing adults still enjoy it. Some blogs stake out that territory and stay there—it’s comfortable and non-threatening. To an extent, it’s academic too. Say hello to the class and show them something so they will like you. Link heavy blogs create persona through a process of selection, of valuation. It’s interesting that this is perhaps the longest surviving mode of blogging, which does not show much sign of fading—I remember when I started that this seemed mostly bush-league. It takes guts to put yourself out on the commons without any trinkets to sell.

Comparing the link+quote+comment weblog to show-and-tell made me laugh, even though I started out that way myself. I didn’t stay there for long—within my first week of blogging I’d written my first long form post. Thinking back to how I approached blogging in those early days, there was an element of wanting to please that’s less evident now (to me anyway). And it does make sense that this is the longest surviving mode of blogging given that it requires hardly any effort and even less risk.

Perhaps, though, Jeff’s analogy depends on defining show-and-tell such that the objects brought to class should be produced or created by a third party, that one’s own creations are not admissable. Such a definition would allow us to easily differentiate between the link+quote+comment weblog and the long form weblog that consists mainly of original writing.

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917I have friends with young children so I called a couple of them to ask whether original works were accepted at show-and-tell. Absolutely, they replied. My nine-year-old goddaughter summed up the intellectual property issues: “You can take anything you like.” Why, then, was I surprised to learn that a found object—such as a seashell plucked from the beach or a Barbie doll purchased at the mall—is treated with the same seriousness as something the child actually created, a ceramic coil pot or a handmade dress? Anyone with even a passing knowledge of art history could have pointed out that show-and-tell and weblogging lie squarely in the tradition established by Duchamp’s readymades.

It’s not clear from Jeff’s post whether he still thinks that link+quote+comment weblogs are mostly bush-league but it seems to me that we’re all engaged in show-and-tell, of one kind or another. I read both kinds, although—as my (soon to be extinguished?) blogroll indicates—I prefer the long form to the traditional weblog. I guess it’s like having two different friends: one who has fascinating ideas and another who knows interesting facts. You enjoy spending time with both of them while acknowledging that it’s a lot tougher out there on the commons, when you have no trinkets to sell.

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> (soon to be extinguished?) blogroll

Are you going to extinuguish the calendar ( as well? :-)

For me, the blogroll is not an expression of who I am, or what I like. It's a list of what I actually read, arranged chronologicially so I can see what's new. In fact, it's the actual tool I use to read (embedded in a Mozilla sidebar... I'm an old fashioned person who still uses a browser to read weblogs).

There are a lot of sites listed there that I disagree with, but they are all interesting to me. At least right now. If I lose interest, I eventually delete the entry, without any fuss or ceremony.

I'm not sure I could pick out posts, or even use my weblog in general, to describe who I am. A weblog is at best a snapshot of today. Tomorrow I'll be somebody different. I am dynamic, not static. That's why I'm not at all fascinated by FOAF. My life is not well-formed XML.

Posted by PapaScott on 22 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Yep, the calendar is about to go. I'm honestly not sure about the blogroll, though. I'm waiting to see Shelley's "lists of favorite essays/postings written by other webloggers, sorted into [her] own categories based on [her] interpretation of the posting subject." I may wind up having both. But the calendar? It's almost history.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 22 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I obviously lean toward long-form blogging, too, but when the show-and-tell style is done at its best (Wood's Lot, say []) it's really something special.

I read W's L for the links themselves, just as I read Arts and Letters Daily, but there's more too it than that: there are times when I feel like I can see a glimpse of Mark's process of disovery in the way link follows link, chains of thinking sparked by a single item and carrying him (and us) all over the web and all over our minds.

That's how I feel about the Readymades, too: there are connections being made, unexpected ones, and puzzling out what they might be or making them for ourselves isn't really so different from reading a long post in which we try to tease out the connections and discoveries being made by the author.

Posted by steve on 22 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

You know what? It makes me decidedly nervous sometimes that people like all y'all are reading my blog.

Posted by Dorothea Salo on 23 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

You know, I get worried too, Dorothea. But I figure they all live quite far away and I should be safe...

Posted by Burningbird on 23 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Well, Steve, you picked my two favorite link heavy blogs. I should actually have taken the trouble to mention that wood_s_lot is the one link+quote+comment blog in which the selection of links reveals true artistry. Arts and Letters Daily is a great site but Mark's is in another league altogether.

Yep, Dorothea. We're watching you. And we could arrive in your neighborhood unannounced at any time. So beware! You too, Bb!

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 24 December 2002 (Comment Permalink)

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

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour