Friday, December 25, 2009

Why Write a Blog?

I wrote my initial blog post here two years ago, but I knew at the time that it was unlikely that a second post would follow it. No one is more surprised than I am that there will now be more. The reason I was so sure back then that I wouldn't use this site for actually blogging is that, at the time, I hated the whole notion of blogs.

This might seem an odd attitude given that I ran a blog long before the word had been adopted. Originally, I ran a site based on Squishdot. This was an add-on for the Zope web publishing framework which at the time I was quite impressed with. Squishdot was a clone of Slashdot whose user interface I thought to be perfect for a news site. Hence, I ran a Squishdot site that aggregated news on a subject that was important to a community I belonged to. The site ran collected news items and also my own take on the import of some of those items. It was a blog before the notion of blogs existed. Eventually, when its purpose had been served, it was retired.

So if I am an early adopter who saw my blog benefit a community of people, why did I bear such a grudge against the whole concept for all these years? The simple answer is signal-to-noise ratio.

Anyone who remembers the early days of Usenet will remember how quickly once great newsgroups can be destroyed by a sudden drop in signal (interesting posts) versus noise (ones where you want back the portion of your life taken to read them). When every single person has a printing press, which is what the Internet gives us all, the amount of worthwhile information drops to a very low ratio and the noise becomes very loud indeed. Most of the people who choose to express opinions on their blogs, in my experience, express uninformed, unconsidered opinions which do little for anyone that doesn't already hold exactly the same point of view.

This is not to suggest I would want to stop them from publishing. I think that everyone having the ability to publish whatever they want to publish is one of the great cultural changes that the Internet has bestowed on the human race, and I have great hopes for what it will accomplish in the long run.

Up until now, I have personally chosen not to join in the fray. I have always loved the quote, "He read everything and, to his credit, published nothing." When people give you their attention, they are giving you a gift and you have a responsibility not to squander that gift lest they choose to bestow it elsewhere. I always took that responsibility seriously enough that I chose not to try imposing my views on others.

Even the so-called blogger "thought leaders" in a subject seem to lose sight of this in the process of churning out a blog regularly. They start repeating themselves. They start remarking on topics that they haven't adequately thought out. They start raising the noise against their signal.

Given the preceding, you may be wondering what caused me to have a change of heart. The simple answer is that I want to give back.

In the past several months I've had the luxury of being able to take time to do some research on topics of interest to me, and one of the surprises that has come out of that is the huge value I've discovered in the more thoughtful blog posts and how readily I found them. Thanks to the nature of the web, seeking out the signals among the noise is easier than with Usenet of old. One particularly wise commentator is likely to link to another wise commentator within the same subject area, and so by reputation (and willingness on the part of the reader to recognize when the commentator starts straying from relevancy) you can be quite productive in acquiring new and interesting points of view.

Since I have found this value from the contributions of others, it only seems fair to at least try to give back in the same way. If people find it of value, then hopefully it will rise above the noise. If they don't, it will sink below the waves where it belongs, no harm done.

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