TECH TALK: Constructing the Memex: Building Blocks: Blogs (Part 2)

Steven Johnson built on the thinking of using blogs for information management further in the Salon article of May 2002:

The beautiful thing about most information captured by the bloggers is that it has an extensive shelf life. The problem is that it’s being featured on a rotating shelfI don’t always want to know what ber-blogger Jason Kottke happens to be thinking about this morning — I want to know what he thinks about the page I’m currently reading, or the paragraph I just wrote. If I stumble across a page 10 weeks after Jason wrote up a description of it on, his description is just as valuable to me as it was 10 weeks before — in fact, it’s probably more valuable, because I’ve come across the page on my own personal journey. But as it stands now, to figure out if Jason’s referenced the page I have to copy the URL and paste it into the search engine on If I’ve got 20 or 30 bloggers that I’m following, I’ve got to paste that URL into 20 separate input fields.

But the bloggers needn’t be anchored to the headline-news mentality. Think of them as less like a newspaper substitute and more a kind of guardian angel, hovering over your shoulder as you surf. Punch up a URL and if Jason, or Andrew Sullivan, or Sopsy has an opinion about that page, you see their comments in a floating window alongside your main browser window. It’s a simple enough trick: Sites like Blogdex are already tracking blog-borne references to different URLs. All your browser would have to do is send an additional request to a database of blogged URLs anytime you pulled up a page: If there’s a match — if one of the bloggers you’re following has referenced the URL — their comments get sent back to your machine and appear in the floating palette.

You define a few “guardian” Bloggers, perhaps by checking a box when you visit their site. You also instruct your software to watch the activity on sites maintained by “friends” of those key bloggers. You tell the software that you want a medium level of intrusiveness: In other words, you want the system to point out useful information to you, but you don’t want it constantly bombarding you with data at every turn. And then you start using your computer as you normally do: surfing, writing e-mail, drafting Word documents.

The first steps in this direction are already being taken by blog analysis sites like Blogdex, Daypop, Feedster,Technorati and our own BlogStreet. No single one of them has the answer, but it is possible, for example, to combine BlogStreets neighbourhood analysis tool to limit the search space on Google to a specified list of blogs. Or better still, imagine if one of these sites can start building up a database of blog posts being done by the bloggers. That could provide a central repository of blog posts to be searched with a neighbourhood as filter. This could even be extended to a peer-to-peer approach if the various blog tools offered a web service via XML and SOAP to offer a search for a specific word or phrase and returned the results in a manner which could be aggregated. To make this even more effective, one could even set up an RSS feed on specific search terms for a blog.

The point is that the blogging ecosystem is now ripe for harvesting. Over the past two years, there has been a critical mass of bloggers who have mapped out the information space. Even as they have done their work (and continue to do it) individually, the tools and technologies are now available to provide each of us personalized maps and paths to navigate the world of information.

Next Week: Constructing the Memex (continued)

TECH TALK Constructing the Memex+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.