Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Jon Udell: The future of online community

Jon Udell: The future of online community:

From Jon's Weblog (emphasis mine, including the shameless plug ...
I used to think I knew what online community was all about. I thought it had something to do with discussion forums, like the one here at InfoWorld I've recently tried to colonize. Having spent too many years, keystrokes, and brain cells debating the pros and cons of various discussion technologies, I'll just cut to the chase. This WebX thing is not working for me. It's not simply that the software mangles URLs, doesn't preview messages, and handles topics and threads in a way I find awkward. What's broken, for me, is the idea that an online community is a place where people gather, and a centralized repository of the discussions held in that place. In that model, I've concluded, the costs are just too high. It's expensive to join. It's expensive to participate, because interactive discussion demands a lot of attention. And it's expensive to leave, because the repository has your data, and may or may not (probably won't) preserve its linkable namespace or hand the data back to you in a reasonable form.

The weblog model reduces all these costs. It's single sign-on: just log into your own blog software. There's less pressure to participate: you can acknowledge other blogs that comment on your stuff, or not. You control the data and can, if you choose, ensure that your namespace persists.

There are tradeoffs, of course. People do miss the feeling of direct interaction. Comment trails attached to blog items are one attempt to recreate the feeling of a discussion. Trackbacks/pingbacks are another. For me, neither quite manages to restore that sense of place and belonging that is lost when you switch to blogging's more loosely-coupled mode of interaction. But I think we'll get there. And when we do, virtual community is going to be even more virtual than we think of it today.

For a couple of years, Steve Yost has been pushing the idea of ThreadML -- that is, a way of representing discussions as portable XML objects. When I went back and looked at the column where I first mentioned Steve's idea, I found it to be a quilt woven from many threads. It began with a wonderful essay posted by John Faughnan to my newsgroup -- which I'm glad I quoted in the column, because the newsgroup is now defunct. The column went on to weave in discussion at Steve's QuickTopic site, on the Yahoo Groups syndication list, on Rael Dornfest's weblog, and elsewhere.
I found the above when testing Google's indexing of my personal blog. In the midst of discovering that Google still wallops Teoma/AskJeeves and AltaVista I came across Jon's essay.

I quote it here not only because Jon speaks of my "wonderful essay". Ok, so I think Jon's a genius and it tickled me no end to have him mention me. I also think Jon has hit it on the nose.

The blogger movement has a funny name, but it feels to me more like the original visions of Vannevar Bush's Memex and Tim Berners-Lee's WWW than all of the Amazons and MSNs put together. Google, with its acquisition of Blogger and their fascinating extensions to the Google toolbar lays just claim to being the home of the modern memex. (Apologies to the valiant efforts of Ted Nelson and Project Xanadu.)

I've failed a LOT with online project collaboration (exactly one success in 10 years or so). Jon's track record is far more extensive. Now I'm trying Blogger with a course I'm teaching and as part of a web development project at my son's primary school. I actually think it might just work. I love the speed and simplicity of how blogger works. (Of course I also want built in thread searching, alternative queries, effective metadata views, back links, etc. etc. But that doesn't have to make the basic UI more complex, that's all value add.)

I'm really looking forward to having moveable type class dynamic backtracks and comment threads that work with Google's painless blogger and that aren't IE specific. I'm reasonably hopeful that will happen.

No comments: