Tuesday, March 11, 2003

South by Southwest 2003 XVII

Paul Bausch, Anil Dash, Justin Hall, Ben Trott, and Mena Trott: Beyond the Blog

Bausch co-created Blogger. Dash used to write for the Village Voice. Hall has a long and storied history that you can check at Justin's Links. The Trotts co-created Moveable Type. Here is a rough transcript of the panel discussion:

Mena: Welcome to the Beyond the Blog panel. I'm one of the co-creators of Moveable Type and co-founder of TK which is the company that releases Moveable Type. I also have a personal blog called a A Day Late and a Dollar Short.

Das: My name's Anil Dash, and I live in New York City. Until recently I worked for Village Voice Media. Before that I worked in the music promotion industry. And now I'm freelancing about Web logs to see if there's a possibility of making a living in this area.

Bausch: I was one of the co-creators and developers of Blogger. Recently I helped write a book about Web logs.

Ben: I'm co-creator of Moveable Type as well. I have the exact same bio as Mena except my site isnt A Dollar Short, it's Stupid Fool.

Hall: In 1994 I got really jazzed about making pages on the Web using Simpletext and Emacs. I did that for 9 years. I kinda fell into freelance journalism because it’s the thing closest to writing on the Web and getting paid for it.

Mena: We want to talk about how the different elements of a Web log are going to evolve. Basically, we see a Web log as a reverse chronological, permalink-filled sort of mess. It's open to question whether the chronology is important.

Hall: Personal Web sites were a big topic of conversation at SXSW four years ago. Today we talk about Web logs. If everyone organizes their thoughts in reverse chronology, there are other ways to organize our thoughts. There's something being broken about the Web sites being so strictly controlled. What possibly could be better?

Bausch: I have to defend reverse chronology because I helped put that in there. It adds a hint of structure to something that might not have structure.

Mena: I agree with Justin that we shouldn't be limited to reading Web logs in day order. Part of it is that we expect it, but if you find somebody's Web logs six months after they started, you don't care about the date, you care about the content.

Bausch: We need a way to get a sense of how ideas evolve and how memes move throughout communities. Before Web logs put that structure into the Web, there was no shared time. Web logs provide that.

Dash: One of the things I think is valuable about having time in your Web log is that there's a contract. There's a social contract. You want to know when there's going to be something new. If it's ordered by date, I can scroll down to what I've already read and get a sense of completion. The contract has been fulfilled.

Mena: It isn't so much the date but the expectation that they're going to be publishing.

Hall: It's like commitment.

Mena: It's commitment. It's weird. When I see a regular Web site it's weird. What is this? They haven't updated this in six months?

Hall: Even with personal Web sites, there's no sense of immediacy. The convenience of Web logs is neat because people can make their own personal newspaper. That’s great. But now that we've got personal newspapers down, what else can we do?

Dash: I want to be able to view by category or by author or by topic or by arbitrary category, not the ones that they've assigned.

Mena: PB [Paul Bausch] has a lot to say about where the content is. We have personal newsletters. We want to publish our thoughts, own our thoughts, and be responsible for them.

Bausch: As people get the taste of controlling their own information, it's going to be harder and harder for centralized sites to get people to contribute there. We contribute to the Web in lots of different ways. It's not just about posting to our Web logs. We post to other sites. We post via email. We IM. It's just one big text box. All of these applications can talk to each other. You can post a review to Amazon.com but why can't you also post it to your Web log?

Ben: This comes back to identity and ownership. How do you feel like you have control over your information on these other sites? Your URL is your identity in a sense. You have the control over where it flows.

Mena: I think that’s why Web logs have take off. We have our identities. And we like that control.

Hall: That predates Web logs in a way.

Dash: Part of what interests me is this entry form, though. There is one entry that works. You have our URL, your identiy, your entry form. I want blogs to look the same. I want to know how they work. I want it to be a desktop application. I want anything I do in Word on the desktop to be available to all of these media.

Hall: I was talking to a guy whose working on a universal gaming system. The game scales to fit the client. The direction you're moving with blogs is happening in other areas of electronics.

Mena: This is Matt Haughey's Web log.

Bausch: He realized that he's contributing to many different places across the Web. He didn't have a place to aggregate all of this information together. If you don't know Matt personally, you might not know that he contributes to all these different sites. It's sort of a next step of taking information that’s distributed.

Mena: if you post a comment on Amazon, you don’t want it to be limited to Amazon.

Dash: I almost resent that someone else control swhat I've written. The tools need to evolve so I post to this one place, and it's posted somewhere else.

Bausch: The interfaces are so similar, why can't they just talk to each other?

Dash: Can't we all just get along?

Hall: I was in Japan taking pictures with a cell phone, and I decided I would only post in Japanese. It's hard to write in these shrunk-down devices. People are also hacking audio blogs.

Dash: Audio blogs suck.

Hall: No, it doesn't fit into your rational Web log structure, Anil.

Dash: How many people here have had a crush on someone just from reading their Web log? You fill in the blanks just like you do in a book.

Hall: Do you like pictures?

Mena: He doesn't even like pictures. He likes straight text.

Dash: I want binary. I want to be able to fill in the blanks myself. Because you know what it is.

Hall: What you really want is video blogs. Is that what I'm hearing?

Mena: Let's play devil's advocate. I have a similar feeling about audio blogging, but I think it'll work as supplementary content. Not every post needs to be audio. Maybe it would work in a disaster.

Hall: Matt Haughey at the bottom of his blog said that he wished he had a recording of the sound of the forks hitting the plates in the restaurant he was in because it was so dinny.

Dash: If we look at what Ben and Mena and Paul have done with moblogs, or little photos that they've taken somewhere, that is interesting to me. It is a snapshot of their life. Audio could be supplementary content. But photos and text are less intrusive and work better for me.

Hall: They're less captivating. You can multitask more easily just with text and pictures.

Mena: In Japan, they're not really allowed to use their cell phones on the train -- as though to speak. So they're IM'ing.

Hall: They're also checking their stock quotes and getting their fortunes told.

Mena: We should talk about identity.

Ben: I guess identity as your identity is your URL.

Mena: In the sense of your reputation, how do we see the blogroll changing?

Ben: I don’t think we'll see it change much in terms of how it looks, but the back end will change. Like the Friend of a Friend thing in XML. You have data in interchangeable formats that you can make sense of. You can graph relationships.

Bausch: Blogrolls are used for several different things. These are the people I fit in with.

Dash: Or want to fit in with.

Bausch: Yeah. This is my community. These are the people I trust. We need tools. No one is going to write Friend of a Friend files by hand. It's just like RSS. The tool should handle the creation of it and the consumption of it. It's moving beyond what tools can currently do. You're going to need semantic search engines. You're going to need to be able to traverse the tools. And these tools aren't here now.

Dash: The number of Web logs I track has gone up exponentially. I know a lot of people who keep active track of 20 and then through an aggregator keep up with 100 Web logs.

Hall: Those aggregators increase Web log consumption.

Dash: The next threshold is 10,000. If you use an aggregator and all this stuff, I honestly think that a lot of people will actively track 150 and passively track 10,000.

Mena: The day we have no jobs.

Dash: You may not know everybody by name. If you take everything your immediate friends have posted in a given day and then go out two degrees, you've got Metafilter. It looks like Metafilter.

Mena: We're evolving to each of us having our own Metafilter.

Hall: What's the Lafayette Project?

Dash: As far as I know it's what Nick Denton and Meg Hourihan in New York are working on, some sort of content aggregator.

Bausch: I don’t know that RSS readers are the best way to read personal publishing.

Dash: Is this because of the amateur thing?

Bausch: We're all designers.

Mena: That’s just part of the personal publishing thing. There's a bigger part. Are we just aggregating text? If I was writing about design, I want people to see my site to maybe think I know what I'm talking about.

Question: Why do you even want to keep track of 10,000 web logs? How much information can you assimilate even with 20 or 30?

Hall: If you look at what the newspapers now, they've got hundreds of reporters. They take Ap and Reuters stories, and AP and Reuters have 10,000 reporters. So the New York Times is basically 10,000 reporters. Anil's tool is people's amateur, non-professional, non-corporate news sources.

Mena: We assume that when we get to 10,000, we will read them differently.

Hall: If we read them like we do now, we'll need to buy a new mouse every two days.

Dash: For me, it's because I don't watch TV. I would rather have 10,000 people's real realities than one B-list celebrity on a desert island.

Hall: Or 10.

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