Results tagged “blogging”

What Medium Is

August 23, 2013

First, some disclaimers: I’m writing this as I sit a few feet away from Medium’s NYC team. (I even asked them for tech support while writing this!) Ev Williams, founder of Medium, is an old friend of mine, whom I became a fan of as I was the first public user of Blogger, which he cofounded. And Ev explained the idea of Medium to me before he’d even decided on the name. So, in addition to offering the falsely-humble way of bragging that such disclosures always provide, it should be pretty clear that I’m far from objective about Medium. I like it, because I like blogging, and I want it to succeed. This piece originally appeared on Medium.

Lately, there’s a bit of question about what in the hell Medium is, exactly. Alexis Madrigal neatly captures most of the common perspectives on this question in his piece today, aptly entitled “What Is Medium?” But Medium’s nature isn’t confusing by accident — it’s confusing by design.

I’m more circumspect about confusing lots of people (although Ev’s patience in trusting people to eventually figure out a new communications platform has been right with both Blogger and Twitter, see below) so I thought I’d explain what Medium is, for the benefit of the smart people who build it, the creative people who publish on it, and the larger audience of people who are starting to discover it.

Medium is blogging in form, but not in structure.

Ev explicitly evokes blogfather Dave Winer’s definition of blogging as the “unedited voice of a person”. With respect to two of the people who’ve done more to define blogging than almost anyone, I think that’s an adequate description of the content of blogging, but that the reverse-chronological structure that’s defined blogging and its descendants such as Twitter’s timeline and Facebook’s news feed is just as essential to the medium’s nature thus far.

Medium eschews reverse chronology, organizing instead by “collections” (which seem to be an aspect of the platform that is in significant, if largely behind-the-scenes, evolution). Collections can be fairly arbitrarily created, both by authors and by readers.

Tellingly, Winer’s new work on Fargo also steps away from focusing solely on reverse chronology to be based more fundamentally on the hierarchal outlines that are core to Winer’s work and philosophy.

In both cases, the abandonment of reverse chronology has the effect of undoing a core tenet of blogging: The social contract. Blogs have had prominent timestamps on each post since the turn of the century, and the newest content has always sat on top of a stream since the form was born. As a result, even casual readers understand an implicit promise from the blogger that more content will appear in the future, and the expectation changes the nature of reading what’s written.

The promise of updates to a blog has positive impacts, in that it assumes some literacy and persistence and an ongoing relationship on the part of a reader. But it’s also been the biggest cause of stress for bloggers; Having to keep updating is seen as an overwhelming obligation by many, and the requirement of newest-on-top has frustrated countless bloggers who want to assign some semblance of editorial judgment (or simply want to inflict their authorial authority) on behalf of readers. Trying to fight reverse chronology has been the impetus behind most of Gawker’s never-ending parade of reader-enraging redesigns, and is part of why Winer advocates his outline-based organization as superior.

Despite the good reasons for Williams, Winer, Denton and many others to resist the tyranny of reverse chronology has triumphed (see “Stop Publishing Web Pages”) and a billion people spend time reading a reverse-chronological stream almost every day. Even Winer, with his preference for outline-based organization on pages, is a relentless advocate for RSS, the syndication format he pioneered, which offers only a singleminded newest-on-top organization to feeds.

So what does Medium resemble more, with its organization-by-collection, diminished prominence of the creator’s identity, and easy flow between related pieces of content? It’s simple: YouTube. Though some subset of YouTube users subscribe to channels, most of us just graze through the site when someone sends us a funny video, only barely aware of who even posted a video. Medium is evolving to be the same; We get sent an article that someone wants us to read (or in the case of the recent spoiled-startup-boy essays mentioned in Madrigal’s piece, we get sent an article someone wants us to hate), and then hopefully we click around to check out a few more things.

Medium doesn’t (yet?) support the embedding of its content into other sites, which was essential to YouTube’s wide adoption, but in the core experience by which content is created and discovered, Medium is much closer to “YouTube for Longform” than it is “Blogger Revisited”.

Medium is a better magazine.

When Chris Hughes picked up The New Republic, I found it a charming throwback to the days when tycoons would pour their money into publishing. This of course presaged Jeff Bezos’ purchase of the Washington Post, but the core idea was the same—rich guys buy “credible” publications in order to have big platforms for their ideas.

But, even though I like what Hughes seems to represent, and he’s seemed to have a thoughtful touch in how he’s running TNR, I’m pretty sure I’d forgotten the magazine existed by the time he bought it. I have no doubt there is a small but significant audience to whom the brand is really important, but cultural credibility is no longer based entirely on having an august old name atop of some writing.

By contrast, Medium is a free-for-all, with the most perversely obtuse branding for a platform since Google named its nearly-chromeless browser Chrome. There’s some amount of crap on the site, for which it’s justifiably earning criticism, but there are also paid pieces which will undoubtedly start to meet or exceed the quality of the average TNR article.

And then it occurred to me that the contrast between Hughes’ and Williams’ approaches to making modern media mirrors a bit of their own background. Hughes has the most old-school (and impressive!) credential possible: He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. Williams, on the other hand, dropped out of college shortly after he started, a story which he offers up in great detail during this fantastic interview with Kevin Rose.

This is the fundamental nature of Medium: it’s meant to be inclusive and egalitarian. In crass terms, it’s arguing that 10,000 monkeys can make a better magazine than Ivy League editors. In the more charitable terms I prefer, it’s arguing that culture is better for amplifying the voices of those whom traditional institutions exclude, even if that requires giving a platform to those who are thoughtless or negative.

Regardless of which tactic is more successful (and fortunately for Chris and Ev, it’s not an either/or scenario), Medium is at least a reinvention of the traditional narrative whereby the tycoons who win at the beginning of a new technological era plow their winnings into buying up captive media to act as a house organ. Carnegies build libraries, yes, but they don’t usually try to give away printing presses.

Medium At Large

Going forward, Medium has to solve some issues about what it wants to be when it grows up. Since it piggybacks on Twitter’s identities, it doesn’t have the struggle of defining who’s “verified” (along with all the attendant inanity that accompanies verification) but it should do a better job of identifying the commissioned pieces that appear on the site.

That’s not because the money being paid is all that important, but because it provides a declaration of intent for the kind of content the site is going to promote. (It should be noted that Medium’s rules for content are admirably clear.)

Every social media platform is identified by its early breakout successes (few of us realized just how profoundly prescient Lazy Sunday’s success would be in representing YouTube’s future), and while Medium has done a brilliant job of presenting itself as a “serious” or desirable neighborhood for writing on the web, the great danger now is that it’s seen as just a plaything for overprivileged techies. In fact, the first thing I ever wrote on Medium was about exactly that danger. Sure, Williams’ earlier efforts with Blogger and Twitter transcended those concerns to some degree, but those were started back when he was an underdog.

And I’m equally excited to see how Medium evolves technologically. It doesn’t presently have much of a social model; The inability to follow people is clearly intentional (probably part of undoing some of that obligation to post often), but it’s tough to follow collections and discoverability overall is a challenge.

At a deeper level, the authoring environment on Medium is unparalleled (they actually have repeatedly quoted me to that effect on their introductory articles), and the increasing amount of code the company is sharing on GitHub makes me hopeful that some of the tech that makes such a good experience possible will be opened up.

There are more nuanced choices, such as offering statistics to authors that show not just page views, but how many people actually read an article, which offer great promise as well. This is especially true as Ev has hinted at an interest in paid content as part of the mix of revenue streams for Medium, and anything that changes the web’s current relationship with traditional display advertising would be incredibly powerful.

Similarly, the fact that Medium is entirely a web-based experience (it has a responsive design on mobile devices, but almost no mobile writing experience, and no native mobile applications) is heretical according to current Silicon Valley orthodoxy. Certainly we can picture mobile applications being added in the future, but the fact that Medium is web-first is an under-sung victory for those of us who love the web, and harkens back to some of the idealism about the Internet that’s always underpinned blogging technology.


The most important parts of Medium’s future aren’t about its technology, although those innovations have been surprisingly underplayed.

Instead, Medium matters because it helps to define whether great writing finds a sustainable expression on the web in the post-banner-ad era. Medium matters because it pushes blogging, the native medium of the web, to a new stage of evolution after a decade of relative stagnation.

And Medium matters because of what it is: Something that looks really familiar, but is actually quietly something truly new.

I like blogging software.

April 29, 2013

I lament the end of the personal CMS market; I was happy to back Ghost on Kickstarter today for the same reason that I back pretty much any effort at making blogging software — I think these tools matter. I find it interesting, and telling, that there are still so many static publishing tools that geeks care about, and though I think WordPress is an awesome tool, I lament the virtual monoculture that's resulted from its success in the run-your-own blogging software market.

This is a particularly acute pain for me not just because I used to help make these kinds of tools, but because my own needs are sort of prosumer-grade concerns. We have the Garage Bands and iMovies of blogging, but we really don't have Logic or Final Cut for individual bloggers who aren't trying to run some giant professional blogging network.

So, my contribution is to collect some of the notes I've been gathering for the last few years about what I'd like to see in a blogging tool. I know there are apps with many, perhaps even all, of these features, but I'd like to see one emerge as a leading platform for doing innovative work. My blogging features wishlist:

  • I enter markdown in plain text files; these are stored on Dropbox/Google Drive/Skydrive and/or S3 and/or GitHub.
  • The system renders those plain files into JSON assets in a documented format.
  • A Bootstrap-themed reading client app lives at my site, on my domain, and reads a single simple config file to learn how to display and navigate between those JSON assets. This client app would also have to handle URL routing and persisting states, while ideally also keeping preferences and reading history for readers.
  • The default theme offers a YouTube-style browsing view of all my content, where people can make playlists of posts (this is equivalent to navigating my archives by tag), embed my posts on their own sites, and easily explore by traditional groupings like category or date.
  • There might be an optional administration interface separate for me, just for editing the markdown files through a plain text in-browser editor; In this case, it should be a responsive app that works in all my browsers.
  • Ideally comments are handled as small messages in a documented json format, sent between instances of this blogging application. Of course in the short term I would just embed Disqus/Facebook/Google-style comments until that infrastructure was further along.
  • Having a documented format for the json objects which represent posts and comments would permit transclusion and sending of posts between sites, in a manner analogous to how Fargo does this for outliners, and in a way that would bring back some of the positives of TrackBack in the early blogosphere.
  • "Themes" would largely be implemented as Bootstrap CSS stylesheets, with some affordance for separate content modules. By default, themes are public so I would just be able to tell an admin app to import a theme from your site so I could remix it.
  • The API endpoint for discovering the json representations of content would double as the API for others to access my data to build around it; Eventually a posting app which saved POSTs of that json format as fiels in dropbox would allow a write API.

I think that's it for now. Let me know if somebody's got all these boxes checked on their platform today, but I suspect the hardest part is the client app for readers, which works in a way analogous to an RSS reader or email client, but would have to support a new format and would be optimized for clean reading and subsequent discovery, rather than the three-pane model which has dominated those apps for the last decade or two.

The Web We Lost

December 13, 2012

The tech industry and its press have treated the rise of billion-scale social networks and ubiquitous smartphone apps as an unadulterated win for regular people, a triumph of usability and empowerment. They seldom talk about what we've lost along the way in this transition, and I find that younger folks may not even know how the web used to be.

So here's a few glimpses of a web that's mostly faded away:

  • Five years ago, most social photos were uploaded to Flickr, where they could be tagged by humans or even by apps and services, using machine tags. Images were easily discoverable on the public web using simple RSS feeds. And the photos people uploaded could easily be licensed under permissive licenses like those provided by Creative Commons, allowing remixing and reuse in all manner of creative ways by artists, businesses, and individuals.
  • A decade ago, Technorati let you search most of the social web in real-time (though the search tended to be awful slow in presenting results), with tags that worked as hashtags do on Twitter today. You could find the sites that had linked to your content with a simple search, and find out who was talking about a topic regardless of what tools or platforms they were using to publish their thoughts. At the time, this was so exciting that when Technorati failed to keep up with the growth of the blogosphere, people were so disappointed that even the usually-circumspect Jason Kottke flamed the site for letting him down. At the first blush of its early success, though, Technorati elicited effusive praise from the likes of John Gruber:
[Y]ou could, in theory, write software to examine the source code of a few hundred thousand weblogs, and create a database of the links between these weblogs. If your software was clever enough, it could refresh its information every few hours, adding new links to the database nearly in real time. This is, in fact, exactly what Dave Sifry has created with his amazing Technorati. At this writing, Technorati is watching over 375,000 weblogs, and has tracked over 38 million links. If you haven’t played with Technorati, you’re missing out.
  • Ten years ago, you could allow people to post links on your site, or to show a list of links which were driving inbound traffic to your site. Because Google hadn't yet broadly introduced AdWords and AdSense, links weren't about generating revenue, they were just a tool for expression or editorializing. The web was an interesting and different place before links got monetized, but by 2007 it was clear that Google had changed the web forever, and for the worse, by corrupting links.
  • In 2003, if you introduced a single-sign-in service that was run by a company, even if you documented the protocol and encouraged others to clone the service, you'd be described as introducing a tracking system worthy of the PATRIOT act. There was such distrust of consistent authentication services that even Microsoft had to give up on their attempts to create such a sign-in. Though their user experience was not as simple as today's ubiquitous ability to sign in with Facebook or Twitter, the TypeKey service introduced then had much more restrictive terms of service about sharing data. And almost every system which provided identity to users allowed for pseudonyms, respecting the need that people have to not always use their legal names.
  • In the early part of this century, if you made a service that let users create or share content, the expectation was that they could easily download a full-fidelity copy of their data, or import that data into other competitive services, with no restrictions. Vendors spent years working on interoperability around data exchange purely for the benefit of their users, despite theoretically lowering the barrier to entry for competitors.
  • In the early days of the social web, there was a broad expectation that regular people might own their own identities by having their own websites, instead of being dependent on a few big sites to host their online identity. In this vision, you would own your own domain name and have complete control over its contents, rather than having a handle tacked on to the end of a huge company's site. This was a sensible reaction to the realization that big sites rise and fall in popularity, but that regular people need an identity that persists longer than those sites do.
  • Five years ago, if you wanted to show content from one site or app on your own site or app, you could use a simple, documented format to do so, without requiring a business-development deal or contractual agreement between the sites. Thus, user experiences weren't subject to the vagaries of the political battles between different companies, but instead were consistently based on the extensible architecture of the web itself.
  • A dozen years ago, when people wanted to support publishing tools that epitomized all of these traits, they'd crowd-fund the costs of the servers and technology needed to support them, even though things cost a lot more in that era before cloud computing and cheap bandwidth. Their peers in the technology world, though ostensibly competitors, would even contribute to those efforts.

This isn't our web today. We've lost key features that we used to rely on, and worse, we've abandoned core values that used to be fundamental to the web world. To the credit of today's social networks, they've brought in hundreds of millions of new participants to these networks, and they've certainly made a small number of people rich.

But they haven't shown the web itself the respect and care it deserves, as a medium which has enabled them to succeed. And they've now narrowed the possibilites of the web for an entire generation of users who don't realize how much more innovative and meaningful their experience could be.

Back To The Future

When you see interesting data mash-ups today, they are often still using Flickr photos because Instagram's meager metadata sucks, and the app is only reluctantly on the web at all. We get excuses about why we can't search for old tweets or our own relevant Facebook content, though we got more comprehensive results from a Technorati search that was cobbled together on the feeble software platforms of its era. We get bullshit turf battles like Tumblr not being able to find your Twitter friends or Facebook not letting Instagram photos show up on Twitter because of giant companies pursuing their agendas instead of collaborating in a way that would serve users. And we get a generation of entrepreneurs encouraged to make more narrow-minded, web-hostile products like these because it continues to make a small number of wealthy people even more wealthy, instead of letting lots of people build innovative new opportunities for themselves on top of the web itself.

We'll fix these things; I don't worry about that. The technology industry, like all industries, follows cycles, and the pendulum is swinging back to the broad, empowering philosophies that underpinned the early social web. But we're going to face a big challenge with re-educating a billion people about what the web means, akin to the years we spent as everyone moved off of AOL a decade ago, teaching them that there was so much more to the experience of the Internet than what they know.

This isn't some standard polemic about "those stupid walled-garden networks are bad!" I know that Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and LinkedIn and the rest are great sites, and they give their users a lot of value. They're amazing achievements, from a pure software perspective. But they're based on a few assumptions that aren't necessarily correct. The primary fallacy that underpins many of their mistakes is that user flexibility and control necessarily lead to a user experience complexity that hurts growth. And the second, more grave fallacy, is the thinking that exerting extreme control over users is the best way to maximize the profitability and sustainability of their networks.

The first step to disabusing them of this notion is for the people creating the next generation of social applications to learn a little bit of history, to know your shit, whether that's about Twitter's business model or Google's social features or anything else. We have to know what's been tried and failed, what good ideas were simply ahead of their time, and what opportunities have been lost in the current generation of dominant social networks.

So what did I miss? What else have we lost on the social web?

A follow-up: How we rebuild the web we lost.

We Have To Make The Web We Want

March 14, 2012

On Sunday, I interviewed Nick Denton at SXSW about Gawker Media, commenting culture on the web, and a good bit of the history of professional blogging.

In advance of the conversation, I began a conversation with Elizabeth Spiers, Choire Sicha, Lockhart Steele, Jake Dobkin and Gina Trapani asking whether comments on the web have "failed", as the SXSW session's title proclaimed. Their responses, as expected, were both insightful and hilarious. Gawker naturally picked up the conversation and posed the same question to its commenters. I quite enjoyed the results!

Then to the main event. We had a terrific turnout within the room, and responses to the interview started almost immediately. Within the room, Andrew Federman was illustrating our conversation for Ogilvy's visual notes series:

Mat Honan also followed up almost immediately on Gizmodo, with a series of curated tweets that managed to capture a lot of the highlights of the conversation.

Tom Lee also started documenting the interview while it was still going on. And Owen Thomas summed up much of the spirit of the conversation while also watching us from the first row. Adweek offers up some straightforward coverage, as did Now Toronto, CNN manages to cover the interview without mentioning that I was doing the interviewing, Liz Gannes at All Things D focuses on comment moderation, and perhaps most interesting was Doree Shafrir's take at Buzzfeed, which was informed by her stint at Gawker:

I wouldn't say we exactly lived in fear of the commenters when I was at Gawker, but they were always there, looming, and no matter how many times we told ourselves not to look at them, it was impossible not to. The tone of a comment thread was set within 30 seconds of your post going up, and more often than not, what you wrote — particularly if it was personal — felt like an attack by a thousand spikes all piercing you at the same time. (That said, I think working at Gawker at the height of the obsessive Gawker commenter gave me a much thicker skin than most people who write online, so, thanks, everyone!)

The Gawker commenters had their own community, their own inside jokes. They knew each other by their handles. At yesterday's panel, a former Gawker commenter got up to ask a question, and informed the crowd that he had
once been named Commenter of the Year around the time I was there. (Former Jezebel editor Irin Carmon and I had simultaneous and similar responses, which were basically: Oh my god.)

But all the hand-wringing aside, and regardless of whether Gawker's new experiment in commenting succeeds, the thing that excites me here is that Nick is still experimenting, still trying new things. For too long, the fundamental assumptions and format of blogging have been stagnating, and the technology has barely been advancing. At the same time, there's been almost a casual acceptance of the shoddiness of conversations on and between blogs.

Worse, those who used to decry the incivility and snarkiness and, well, unproductive nature of much of what passes of comments on the web today are instead just participating in that culture themselves:

It's not enough for us to decry the worst things about the web. We have to actively work to change them. For my part, I think encouraging the conversation about these issues, getting those who have influence about them to publicly commit to making changes, and then working on promoting those experiments is the most productive thing I can do. Because if the web we have today isn't the one we always imagined we'd be working on, then we have to make the web we want.

Related

Evolving Blogging

March 6, 2012

First, a bit of background: Blogger, Google's venerable and pioneering blogging service was created in 1999 by a small team at Pyra Labs, as an offshoot of the project management platform they'd originally set out to make.

As one of the earliest users of Blogger, I was always amongst the service's biggest fans (and have been duly impressed by the new features introduced on Blogger lately). Pyra went through financial struggles, had a painful breakup of the original team, got back on its feet with a new team, and then finally sold to Google. And all of that happened more than nine years ago. Amazing how time flies!

In the years since, I've either remained or become friends with most of the folks who were involved in Pyra's various incarnations, and so when I started to lament the lack of innovation and evolution in blogging software and platforms in recent years, that early crew came to mind as the first people to talk to about where we should be headed.

Thus, I present a discussion which became wonderfully fruitful, featuring Ev Williams, Meg Hourihan, Paul Bausch and Matt Haughey. Along with Matt Hamer, they formed the core of the Blogger team at the time I fell in love with it thirteen (!) years ago. I think you'll enjoy their conversation as much as others who've shared a link to it, ranging from Tim O'Reilly to Michael Arrington to Om Malik to Dave Winer.

How do blogs need to evolve?

Add your comments by, you know, blogging about it on your own site.

Related: My skeptical, but not entirely incorrect, post about Google's acquisition of Pyra from 2003. And courtesy of the Web Archive, my info page on Blogger Pro from early 2001, proving what a fanboy I've always been.

If You Blogged It, It Did Happen

September 6, 2011

At the beginning of this year, I wrote a piece called if you didn't blog it, it didn't happen, about how your thoughts, ideas and conversations need a place to live permanently over time if they're going to inspire a useful discourse. And while today's social networks don't really enable that potential, we have some fantastic examples of how these conversations can bubble up across blogs even in a world of short attention spans.

  • My brief musings about what tech entrepreneurs should aspire to, influenced by Dave Winer's thoughts and aided by some riffing over dinner helped nudge Caterina Fake into writing Make Things, an all-time classic even in the context of her truly formidable blogging career. This in turn inspired additional phenomenal responses like Chad Dickerson's. From Dave to me to Caterina to Chad to dozens more people — this is exactly how blogging's supposed to work!
  • I mused a bit on what they're "protecting" us from when pointing out that many of the characteristics that describe Steve Jobs are exactly the traits that would keep many from allowing him the opportunity to succeed in America. Now, admittedly, I buried that point in the title of the post, but many mistook my point to be that Apple itself is somehow a bastion of liberal policies, as adequately refuted by Andrew Leonard's piece in Salon. To be fair, I've been strongly critical of Apple when appropriate, so I'm not at all arguing the company is the perfect representation of progressive ideals, but rather that regressive policies would prohibit it from existing in the first place, which is relevant in a time when every viable political candidate from one of the major political parties would try to enact those prohibitions if possible.
  • And going back over a few different pieces in the past several years, John Battelle's cry for an identity aggregator links to a few pieces that I've written about identity. There's something particularly gratifying to realizing that independent thoughts I've had at various times can evolve into a coherent body of thought when seen through the lens of another person's writing.
  • Finally, in response to an offhanded tweet of mine and a curmudgeonly request, Alpesh Shah made "We Have A Mobile Site! It's a quick and fun Tumblr where we can all catalog examples of "newsicide", that bizarre phenomenon where big news sites actively turn away parts of their audience by denying incoming mobile users the ability to read a story by redirecting instead to a homepage or ill-conceived mobile landing page. It's exasperating, but maybe a good catalog of such examples can help curtail the practice.

In short, by blogging the right things, and connecting the links together when a conversation gets going, we can really make things happen. That's still exciting.

The Busta

July 18, 2011

A few months ago, I introduced a blogroll on my site, making me probably the first person in more than half a decade to get excited about a blogroll. But my exuberance is based on the quality of the people listed there: I wholeheartedly endorse their work, and delight in being able to link to their personal blogs, where they create work of substance that they own and control, instead of merely feeding it on to someone else's social network or onto a corporate site.

As far as I know, no one's ever clicked on a link to someone's site from my blogroll. But that's now why it's there. In fact, my motivation is reflected in its name, "Leaders of the New School", which is a half-joking, but fully loving, tribute to the influence that I believe their work has. Its namesake hip hop group has been on my mind of late, especially because of Busta Rhymes' recent re-ascendence in the pop sphere due to his appearance on Chris Brown's "Look At Me" and his brief cameo in the A Tribe Called Quest documentary. (See below)

To my delight, there's even been a recent standout performance among the awesome writers assembled in my blogroll which rivals Busta's legendary guest spot on "Scenario", by Paul Ford. My friend Paul has just spit out piece after piece of some of the best-written, most thoughtful, most compelling writing of late. It's as exciting as hearing a guest verse on a Tribe song and knowing a star has been born. Here's a quick sample:

Social media has no understanding of anything aside from the connections between individuals and the ceaseless flow of time: No beginnings, and no endings. These disparate threads of human existence alternately fascinate and horrify that part of the media world that grew up on topic sentences and strong conclusions. This world of old media is like a giant steampunk machine that organizes time into stories. I call it the Epiphanator, and it has always known the value of a meaningful conclusion.
Jay Street was miles away—a two-hour walk even without two feet of snow, or without a limping wife. The clinic itself was more than 10 miles away, an impossible distance. I didn’t know what to do. Life before this morning was all planning, percentages, and optimism, but now all hope left me. I leaned against the wall of the station, thinking of the trudge back to the apartment, the thousands of dollars in chemicals slowly leaching out of my wife, all that health and all those eggs wasted. I thought: We didn’t get to try
  • Just before that, on his own Ftrain.com, Woods+:
[T]he new thing from the Gootch makes it really easy to sort people into the holes, which is good, because this lets you divide people into clusters and lie to each group in different ways, which makes it easier to preserve the fictions that make up our polite racist society. And it looks pretty sweet and works well so far, which probably means that there will be a huge battle-in-earnest between the Gootch and the Books, between Circles and Friends. For example, I don't know if you saw this but according to the New York Times Mark Zuckerberg is taking walks in the woods with people he'd like to hire. If he really wants you to work for him he takes you for a walk in the woods. It's gotten that serious. And this is a responsibility of a well-educated American, to think about Mark Zuckerberg taking walks in the woods with multiple unnamed sources.

The amazing thing is: We all can do this. Now, normal people like you and me can't write as well as Paul Ford. It's alright, he can't sing as well as you, so we'll call it even. But! What we can do, all of us, is put it out there. Write what we know, and what we live, and what we love, and put it under our own names where nobody owns it but us, unless we say otherwise. I've made a whole list of people who've done just that, at the bottom of this page, if you need inspiration.

Or, you can look to those who used a few moments to create a standout, passionate performance. I think one of the best of all time was Busta Rhymes; You might find your own. But at least be one of the people who gets nominated for having a great guest spot.

Sparking Innovation

May 10, 2011

In a remarkably fast evolution from what-if rumination on a blog to cutting-edge news dissemination, Alex Kerin's idea last year of how to use Twitter to share sparkline infographics on Twitter was used by the Wall Street Journal to share unemployment statistics.

It's a clever hack, as well-explained by the Journal's own Zach Seward, building on work by The Data Collective to create a web-based sparktweet tool. The results really do an effective job of showing how compelling news can be when it embraces a new medium instead of fighting against its constraints.

WSJ sparktweet

But aside from sharing interesting data in a novel way, what's most remarkable about the example is how quickly new ideas can bubble up from creative individuals all the way to powerful media institutions with huge reach. And it only happens if those creators blog about what they've done.

More in this vein:

Nobody's Read Everything

January 30, 2010

I'm going to be offline for a little while (some would say that last rant of mine was a sign I should have gone offline a bit sooner) so I thought I'd leave you with some good sites to check out that you may not have been enjoying.

  • Dan C's Lost Garden. Though nominally about gaming (particularly Flash gaming), it's among the most consistently thought-provoking tech-oriented blogs that I read. Every idea of his is one I want to steal, and nothing exemplifies that pattern more than his recent work on Ribbon Hero.
  • Sleevage. Album covers, one at a time. Single-topic blogs run by passionate individuals (instead of paid blog barfers) are still among the best sites on the web. This one is a perfect example.
  • Modcult. Though I am Jeb's number one fanboy, I will begrudgingly concede that all of the authors of this venerable group blog are awesome curators.
  • Mixtape Maestro. Probably the single music blog that comes closest to my own fixations on the production end of pop; I miss its erstwhile spinoff 90s R&B Junkie (the archive is still online), but this is one of those few sites where I try to read every single post and feel let down if I miss one.
  • RC3. Rafe Colburn is living proof that some folks really hone their craft at blogging after being at it for a decade.

And then, two newcomers, from a genre I'm dubbing "Under a Rock" blogs:

  • Hobbited, where my friend Natalie is mirthfully blogging her way through her first-ever reading of Tolkien's classic The Hobbit.
  • Tellywonk, where Anna Pickard is documenting her first viewing of Lost, by trudging through every episode.

Both of those last two blogs touch on a recurrent fixation of mine, the myth of the cultural canon. No matter how ostensibly ubiquitous or universal a particular work of art is, no matter how frequently it's referenced or alluded to in culture, the majority of people have probably never seen it.

My friend Meg told me the other night that, as an early-to-bed morning person, she's never really seen an episode of a late night talk show. I would love to read a blog of her watching an episode of each of the major shows, documenting the things that seem remarkable or bizarre. I've toyed with the idea of blogging my way through playing Beatles Rock Band, since I've never actually listened to any Beatles album all the way through and only know their work from its pop culture ubiquity. This, despite my love of pop music in general. (I first heard "Eleanor Rigby" from Aretha Franklin, "Norwegian Wood" from P.M. Dawn, "We Can Work It Out" from Stevie Wonder, and probably have more examples like that than I can count.)

Inevitably, people react to that revelation from me with something between shock and dismay, often evolving into disgust or revulsion. But it doesn't much bother me; There's lots of culture that I haven't gotten around to participating in. I've never been to an opera, either.

What I'm curious about, though, is how people who are fairly culturally literate and very well-educated respond to works that pervade culture. Under a Rock blogs are great for showing how ideas percolate through the media world, and how those ideas are imperfectly absorbed.

So, confess: What have you never seen, heard, or read?

Ten Years!

July 20, 2009

While I'm still hard at work at responding to all the requests that have been made, I had to take a moment to mark the tenth anniversary of this blog today.

Anil Dash -- that's me!

I could ramble at length about the many ways in which writing this site has enriched my life, but suffice to say that every part of my personal and professional lives has been utterly transformed by the connections I've made through this site. I am thankful every day that some number of people read the things that I write here, and even more appreciative that so many of you find enough value in it to respond, reply, refute or just return over time. I'm particularly thankful to the few of you whom I know have been here from the beginning

To my surprise, many of my most popular and best writings have happened in just the past year or two of my site. In my mind, I always see the peak of my site's popularity or quality having come at some fabled time in the past, but it's my sincere hope that I actually haven't done my best work yet on this site.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for the inspiration. Hopefully these archives are just the first ten years.

(Thanks to Merlin Mann for the photo.)

At Ten Years, I'm Taking Requests

July 6, 2009

In two weeks, I'll be marking the 10 year anniversary of blogging on dashes.com. I'm celebrating by making a simple request: Tell me what you'd like to see me blog about. I can't guarantee I'll get to every request that's made, but I am going to try to cherry-pick the best ideas that fit into what this site is all about. (If you're curious what that means, check out my Best Of, or just view the Most Popular things I've written.)

To support the effort, I'm taking off the next few weeks to focus primarily on writing and researching. While it might seem like a weird way to spend a "vacation", running this site over the past 10 years has been among the most fulfilling and rewarding things I've done in my life. So it only seemed natural to me to dedicate even more time and energy to it.

And to that end, if you're in the NYC area and we haven't had the chance to meet up in person, or it's been too long since we've caught up, drop me a line to anil@dashes.com or give me a ring at (646) 833 8659 and if I've got time, I'm happy to grab coffee or a drink with anybody who's a reader of this site. (I'm also open to suggestions of things I should check out in NYC that I might have missed — the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel is already on my list, but I'm open to anything. And you know, parties and meetups are fun, too.)

Thanks to everybody for helping me celebrate my site's anniversary in style, and I look forward to getting even more ideas and inspiration from all of you!

First!

June 18, 2009

Jay Smooth, "Please stop calling everyone and their mother 'The First Rapper'":

U-Roy may be one of rap's predecessors, and among the influences that laid the foundation for rap, but he did not invent it...any more than Jocko Henderson, Gil Scott Heron, Lord Buckley or the West African Griots invented it. All of them may be forefathers, but none are the inventors. And muddling their places in music history with his sort of specious, sloppy revisionism does hip-hop AND its forefathers a disservice.

Scott Rosenberg talks about The First Blogger, as part of his promotion for his upcoming book "Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters":

It's interesting to contrast these points because all of blogging is hip hop.

Update: If you enjoyed Scott's video, you might enjoy the series of interviews and profiles of pioneers I did for blogging's tenth anniversary, including Dave Winer, Leslie Harpold, Michael Sippey, and Harold Check.

Actions Are The Body Language

October 16, 2008

If the words I write in these blog posts are my acts of speech, then the trail of actions I leave around the web must be the body language that accompanies them. So I made a page to capture what I'm doing around the web.

If you read my blog in HTML (as opposed to via the feeds), you've probably seen a short version of this on my sidebar. Now, I'm not supposing that all of this information is of interest to everyone reading this site. And in fact, there have been some pretty good essays written about how some of these more trivial updates can be perceived:

We'll finish up with Anil Dash's blog. Anil has been blogging for a long time and he places a prime importance on good, clear, effective, writing. His articles are always a great read. Most of one of his sidebars, however, is filled with a neverending Action Stream that only kills the freshness of his blog. Perhaps Anil is playing along by employing the Plugin on this site -- there's a lot of peer pressure to Twitter and Action Stream if your friends are doing it -- but I somehow expected Anil to be above that sort of verneration of dead deeds.

I appreciate David's kind words about my blogging there, but disagree strenuously with his conclusion about sharing one's actions online. As he notes, I do have a dog in this fight — I'm an unabashed advocate of the efforts my coworkers have put into technologies like Action Streams. But I support it because of its ability to capture the many actions we perform online, not despite that fact.

Part of it is that I know some people with whom I have a real personal connection do read my site, and may well find it interesting to see which YouTube videos I've marked as favorites. If you read this site years ago when I had my Daily Links blog, you might well be the kind of person who appreciates that.

It's just as significant from a technical perspective, though, that the most useful types of metadata are those which are captured passively. If you let people tag and share things themselves, you have to deal with spam and inaccurate data and any matter of other social complexity. But look at the data that's automatically captured, like when Microsoft Word tracks the number of times you've saved a document, or when Facebook lets people know who you've added as friends. That data is captured on the fly, and thus tends to be accurate and useful while requiring very little effort on your part to share.

I think that's a promising new area of sharing data online, and I think it's key that this kind of data is shared using open standards. But ultimately, I think the highest goal is that we enable more nuanced, complex communications online, where we don't just have our spoken words, but also the body language and gestures and facial expressions that inform those.

Words should be accompanied by actions. So now mine are. Take a look, and let me know what you think.

Mayor Mike's Not Wearing His Pajamas

June 17, 2008

Today Newtalk, a site dedicated to substantive political discussions, hosted a conversation asking "Is it possible to fix government?". In his response to host Philip Howard, NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg reveals that it's his first time responding to a conversation online:

Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this discussion, Philip. This is my first time participating in an online discussion, but I can assure you I am not at home wearing my pajamas. This is a great group, the kind of crowd I'd enjoy having over for dinner. So I'm just going to pretend that we're all sitting around a big table. I always learn something when I break bread with diverse groups of talented people, and I expect this conversation will be no different.

It's a little bit depressing that, more than ten years after blogging's taken off, even some of the most prominent politicians in the country still think bloggers are folks at home in their pajamas. But I will take it as a sign of at least a little progress that Newtalk is a Movable Type Community Solution site, so maybe indirectly my day job helped Mayor Mike make his first steps online.

Sippey, Superstar!

June 11, 2008

One of the most satisfying and fun things I've ever seen in my job was the sight of my friend and coworker Michael Sippey onstage with Steve Jobs and the Apple crew, showing off TypePad for iPhone. In our line of business, Apple keynotes are just about the biggest shows in town, and Sippey killed it on the toughest stage around.

As Michael graciously mentions in his own post, the demo wouldn't have been possible without our great developer (and demo god in his own right) Ray Marshall, along with Stephane Delbecque on our team who helped pull the entire effort together. You can watch the whole keynote on Apple's site, or just see a short clip of the TypePad demo for yourself:

But while I'm happy for Michael and the team on such a great demo, it also made me happy to see Michael onstage showing that his knowledge of blogging is second to none. Michael was, along with Peter, one of the people who really inspired me to start blogging, and he's probably under-recognized as a pioneer.

The list of ways he's influenced blogging and our industry are countless: Even the biggest gadget blogs today still make a huge deal out of featuring big-name tech CEOs when they get an EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW, but Michael interviewed Jeff Bezos for his seminal blog Stating the Obvious twelve years ago. I interviewed Michael for our series on the 10th anniversary of blogging last year, in which Michael talks about creating what was arguably the first link blog, Filtered for Purity, ten years ago. And of course, Mena mentioned Michael's joining Six Apart back in 2004 as our VP of Products. It's a role he's held ever since.

Add in his influence in efforts like advising the original Pyra team, which created Blogger, and it calls to mind the old chestnut about the Velvet Underground: Not everybody has read Michael Sippey's blog, but everyone who did, started a blog. (And at some point in recent history, it's possible that everyone who did started a blogging company.) Congrats to my friend Michael on putting that experience on display on the biggest stage around.

(And oh yeah, if you're the best in the world at what you do, you can work at Six Apart, too.)

On Exposure

June 1, 2008

I started blogging when I was 25, and it was a much smaller blogosphere back in 2000. I was able to make my mistakes in oversharing, overexposure, and unmitigated egotism in a smaller pond, without the entire New York media world and Jimmy Kimmel staring at me. In some ways, blogging and I grew up together, so by the time I was doing national television, I'd already had lots of media training ... a luxury Emily Gould didn't seem to have. I also developed some personal boundaries before I had thousands of daily readers, a luxury Emily Gould also didn't have.

Ariel Meadow Stallings, on Emily Gould's recent NY Times Magazine cover story.

I work at the new Six Apart (in New York!)

April 23, 2008

Five years ago, I said I work for Six Apart. At the time, that sort of thing was a big deal, not because of me, but because so few of us who loved blogging could get a job doing what we loved.

sixapart-office-locations.gif

Since then, amazingly, it's become downright common to work in the blogging business. I have literally dozens of friends who work on creating tools and technology for blogs, and dozens more who blog for a living as part or all of their job. I even get to work with the best of them, from San Francisco to Paris to Tokyo. And now I can celebrate the company and industry I support in the city that I love, since we have an office in New York City.

As always, I'm immensely proud of working at Six Apart, even more proud to count such amazing coworkers as peers and friends, and proudest of all of what our community of bloggers has accomplished. When I started working at this company, my hopes were that we'd be able to teach more people about blogs, and that we'd be able to build a sustainable, ethical company that gave a bunch of talented people a great place to work. But in retrospect, I find it almost impossible to believe the role we've played in helping blogs become so common that they're taken for granted.

That's not to say it's been easy. At Six Apart, we've made a number of mistakes, and learned from them. We've all been through a lot of stress, both personal and professional. But even after all we've been through, Mena wrote a beautiful post in my honor, and last Friday offered one of the kindest compliments to me that I've ever gotten, recognition in front of all of my coworkers, a group of people whom I hold in the highest esteem.

But one point that she highlighted last week was that all acts of entrepreneurship are really acts of faith. My title these days (though I often cringe when I say it), is "Chief Evangelist". I've always been uncomfortable with the religious implications of it, but I've become comfortable with the fact that it reflects a bit of faith. This goes back to why I started doing this work in the beginning:

So I make tools that help people communicate. Mostly because I love technology, mostly because I love to try and build things and to get other people to think these things are cool, too. And certainly because I'm hoping to impress my friends and family with the end results. But some small, central part of the effort is because I know I'm privileged to be able to talk to anyone in my family at any time. In the span of a few decades, my father went from not being able to even send a letter to his father for a few years to being able to instant message me frequently enough to pester me.

Our letters to each other used to be the documentation of the lives we'd lived, the entirety of our correspondence forming memoirs for those who weren't accomplished or pretentious enough to formally write out a memoir. I think that, among many other functions, this is one of the key roles that personal publishing can play in our lives. Weblogs and other social media document the lives we live and let us connect in ways that are, despite the cliché, genuinely new.

This is more true than ever. I am glad to have stuck with a company, and with blogging, through both points of ceaseless hype and endless criticism. Well past any point of blogging being "cool" to the insular world of tech geeks, blogs have become enough of the fundamental infrastructure of communication to actually become interesting to the world at large.

And of course, I had some personal goals, too. I wanted to work with good friends, with people I know and trust. I wanted to show people that New York City is, and will be, one of the centers for real, hardcore technology innovation and invention. (We're hiring!) I wanted to bring together the worlds of the two things I have always been passionate about, technology and media.

6a logo white.png

As is likely obvious from our announcements this week, we're close to being all of the things I'd hoped a company like Six Apart might become. In just the past year, we've damn near reinvented the company, with Ben and Mena and our CEO Chris Alden have been leading some brave efforts to do what few have the courage to do: Reimagine a company that's already successful and growing, and picture it honoring its innovative roots in a way that's actually new. We've invented, launched, and promoted more things that make the web better in the past year than at any time since the beginning of the company.

That kind of creative destruction, the willingness to take apart something that's working in order to make it something truly inspiring, is actually even more ambitious than I'd imagined Six Apart being when I'd joined. And it's the reason that, after five years, the milestone for me is that it feels much more like I'm starting a new job than that I've been at one for half a decade. I can't ask for much more than that.

Embedded Journalism

March 14, 2008

I want you to place the text of this blog post on your own site. But I don't want you to do it just by copying and pasting it into your own blogging tool. I think there might be a different way to do it.

Now, I probably obsess over embedded objects and copying and pasting even more than most geeks. When I attended the recent Graphing Social Patterns conference, one of my great frustrations is that people are talking about platforms like Facebook and OpenSocial and MySpace and widgets, but they're leaving out fundamentals like copy and paste. It's a basic capability, but none of these platforms address even basic interoperability for the applications that are built on top of them.

I don't know how we get there; I've written in the past about reinventing copy and paste, Live Clipboard, Ajax Linking and Embedding, and more.

Despite all these developments, what's actually taken off with real users is the plain old browser and operating system's copy-and-paste, combined with <embed> or <script> tags to pull in content from other sites. It's powered the rise of YouTube and many of the biggest widget providers. (APIs are of course a big part of this, too; Flickr and Delicious propagated themselves by posting directly to blogs using standard APIs.) But regular people on the web have settled on copying inscrutable, nonstandard HTML markup as a pretty effective way of getting the functionality they want.

But we've only been using this stuff for the most complicated parts of the web, like rich media. What about text?

My blog is mostly text, with some bits of video and images embedded. So, I've created a javascript embed tag at the bottom of every post on my blog, to let you embed the title, an excerpt of the post, and a list of commenters on the post in your own blog or site.

What use is that? I have no idea. Obviously, you could copy and paste the raw text to excerpt it. And certainly, pulilng in a javascript from my site to live on your site means you've got to trust my content, unless it's sandboxed somehow.

But there seems to me to be something really interesting, some kind of potential, to including our posts (or parts of our posts) in other blogs that way, and while I'm no great coder, making the Movable Type templates to do this took about five minutes. I'm hoping something even more interesting comes from the world of compound objects or compound embeds, with a text post containing a video clip or image, and then being included on another page.

So: Has someone done this before? I've made blog templates that output widgets before, but what if we assume every blog post is a widget? How could we address the security issues? What does it mean that the included text and content can be updated remotely? What purpose does this serve, or is it just a really complicated way of copying and pasting text?

Then You Evolve

March 4, 2008

I'd forgotten to mention it yesterday, but as a number of people have asked, I had a nice little quote in the New York Times yesterday, talking about Wal-Mart (and large companies in general) embracing blogging.

Though it unfortunately is pretty accurate in quoting the clipped, self-interrupting way that I actually speak, I think the point still comes across:

Anil Dash, a blogger at Six Apart, which makes blogging software, said the evolution in Wal-Mart's thinking about blogs was typical. "You start with this total lockdown, suits read everything, one post a month model," he said. "Then you evolve. A year later, you get one that is more open. A year after that, they start to do something that is far more authentic."

Mr. Dash said Wal-Mart's decision to let buyers do the blogging reflected a growing recognition that "trying to control who can speak and what they can say does not work."

I've been obsessing lately over what it takes to make change happen, in both culture an technology. And the answer to me seems to increasingly be the embrace of iteration. I never imagined that I'd spend five straight years of my life advocating blogs, long after the novelty factor had worn off, but that's where I'm at now. And It's been enough time to see, for example, Wal-Mart start with a site that used Movable Type, but was barely a blog in any other sense, and then iterate their way into a site so human that it can easily have an individual post taken out of context by the New York Times.

There's a little quiet victory for myself in the story, too. When Michael Barbaro asked me how I'd like to be credited for the story, I just said I was happy being described as a blogger.

Blogs of the Year: 2007

December 9, 2007

This week, I'll be highlighting the sites that I think stood out this year. July marked the 8th anniversary of my blog, and over these past eight and a half years, my appreciation of what it takes to run a successful blog has really grown and changed. As a result, many of these picks are admittedly subjective, and are based on the fact that I think the best blogging is an art, a skill, and a craft like any other form of creative expression.

That's not to say blogging can't also be a business, or just an outlet for venting, or all of the above -- some of the best sites alternate through these different modes of communication. But these are the ones that moved me or inspired me or just entertained me this year. Each is accompanied by a brief description, a screenshot, some sample posts, and some suggestions of related or similar or complementary blogs you should check out.

As always, your recommendations of other sites, especially more obscure ones, are very welcome. Astoundingly, it's been five years since the last time I recommended some blogs. I think there may be a few more blogs around now. (Last time I did say that Gizmodo was a promising newcomer, so lookit me, I'm a geeenius!)

The Picks:

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