What has struck me over the past few weeks is the fact that blogs represent a radical new approach to public discussion – one that, in essence, completely and naturally “solves” the signal:noise problem, and does so through creative exploitation of a unique architecture based upon decentralized representation of discussion threads. Let me elaborate.
In traditional discussion, topics and their responses are contained and organized within a centralized database. The relationship between topics and responses is generally maintained in a manner specific to the nature of the database – that is, in newsgroups the messages might be related by Message-ID hyperlinks or crudely by title, in Notes they are related by the $REF hyperlink, and so on. Summary-level “views” are generated through database queries. And that has been the general architectural design pattern of public discussions for quite some time.
But blogs accomplish public discussion through a far different architectural design pattern. In the Well’s terminology, taken to its extreme, you own your own words. If someone on a blog “posts a topic”, others can respond, but generally do so in their own blogs, hyperlinked back to the topic’s permalink. This goes on and on, back and forth. In essence, it’s the same hyperlinking mechanism as the traditional discussion design pattern, except that the topics and responses are spread out all over the Web. And the reason that it “solves” the signal:noise problem is that nobody bothers to link to the “flamers” or “spammers”, and thus they remain out of the loop, or form their own loops away from the mainstream discussion. A pure architectural solution to a nagging social issue that crops up online.
The downside? Well, part of why people like getting together is that unintended consequences can be quite rewarding. And there’s a danger that the self-selecting environment of a given blogging community might limit unintended outcomes. But, then again, I could argue quite the opposite: in a traditional public discussion, a good idea might get lost in the noise.
The bottom line: architecture matters, and we’ve yet to discover the limits of where this fascinating medium will take us.
Beautifully expressed. For blogs to work, they need to be like email: everyone should use them. There will be some who will write much more, but others also need to read and contribute. Blogging is “writing in one’s own space”, so it means that people can be a lot more open. It is a fundamental change – writing does not come naturally for most. But thinking and doing does. Think of blogging as writing about what is doing and thinking – that makes it easier to get started.