posts are the atomic element of weblogs
July 2, 2003
I'm very fortunate to get the chance to go around and talk to people who helped create the tools that have shaped the weblog medium, and so I tend to notice trends in the way we're all talking about weblogs. One of the recurring ideas that I've seen pop up in Meg's What We're Doing When We Blog, in conversations with PB and in listening to presentations by Jason is that there's a consensus that the atomic element of weblogs is the post, the single entry of a weblog.
When I first wrote up the idea that had been percolating in my mind for the microcontent client, the one element that kept popping up was "meme-sized chunks [are] the natural idiom of the Internet". A post is that memetic chunk, exactly the size of one idea. Not coincidentally, a lot of emails are that size, as are a lot of instant messaging conversations.
And, as PB pointed out, the reverse chronological ordering of those posts creates an implicit social contract. By putting the newest items first, you're promising your readers that your site will stay current, with the enforcement of that promise being strengthened by the prominence of the date itself.
But what I've been pondering lately is whether the reverse chronology is intrinsic or incidental to weblogs. Sure, we've got categories and different ways of archiving, but is a weblog still a weblog if it doesn't have a default view that's reverse-chronological?
It's probably a moot point. My email is still my mail regardless of how I choose to sort it. But I'm somewhat concerned that we're not exploring (or maybe people are exploring it and I'm just not privy to it) other ways of arranging data. Having been forced to make substantial use of a wiki for the first time in my life lately, I can see that pervasive hyperlinking is so compelling that it makes wiki enthusiasts willing to overlook the incredibly hard to use environment. And I can relate, as weblogs were so compelling to me that I've been keeping one since the olden days when there were no tools to make it easy.
But the idea of a broader view, with richer cross-categorization or even emergent categorization has largely evaporated from the realm of weblog tools, and I'd love to hear people's ideas about how we can bring it back. Or how you've been experimenting with the form. I know from keeping up my Daily Links every day that date can sometimes be almost entirely irrelevant to a weblog post. Many of the links I post are, deliberately, years old and not chronologically related to the ones that precede or follow it. So what other ways should posts be arranged, and what are the implications of posts as atomic weblog elements that we haven't understood yet?
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