Random Blog Reading

A couple weeks ago I noticed that Auxiliary Memory was getting a bump in hits and discovered the reason:  AlphaInventions.com.  This site, the invention of Cheru Jackson was designed to randomly show blogs from around the world, and promote blog reading.  If you visit AlphaInventions you can sit and watch a new blog pop up about every 10 seconds, like a blog slide-show.  There’s a pause button in case you want to stop and read, and a input box and button to submit your own blog.

I’ve manually done this in the past with blog hosting sites like LiveJournal that used to have a random button, and Blogger which currently has a “Next Blog” button that takes you to a random site.  I wish all blog hosting sites offered this feature.  It’s a fun way to see the world.  Hitting the random button is like teleporting into an unknown home and asking the people, “What’s happening?”  At Blogger, over half the sites are in language that’s not English, but the pictures still tell a thousand words each.

I’ve looked at hundreds, if not thousands of sites in this random fashion and I’ve never found a person like me.  There are a few bloggers that have similar interests to mine, but we have discovered each other in non-random ways.  Most people discover other blogs through googling a topic, from social bookmarking sites, or from the links presented at a blog site they like.  This tends to hide the diversity of the blogosphere because people tend pursue more of what they already like.

Patterns do emerge, but it’s surprising how different people are around the world, or even just nearby.  All over the web people have tried to estimate how many blogs there are, with some estimates running as high as 200,000,000, which I can’t believe.  Here are some numbers from different blogging sites:

  • WordPress.com – 5,056,620
  • Blogger.com – unknown
  • LiveJournal.com – 17,600.000
  • OpenDiary.com – 566,956
  • TypePad.com – unknown
  • Vox.com – unknown
  • Windows Live Spaces – unknown
  • Famous blog hosting sites in other countries – unknown

Still, even if there are only 20,000,000 bloggers, that’s quite a cultural expression of diversity.  Evidently millions people on this planet have an inner-journalist in them.  Those sites with unknown numbers are really big ones, so we could be talking about a major cultural phenomenon.

It only took a couple of weeks to realize that AlphaInventions was failing.  The first time I looked at it a high percentage of pages caught my eye as being readable and interesting.  Now it’s overwhelmed with crap.  There are a couple kinds of blogs that turn me off, but they tend to dominate.  The first are people trying to make money in some lame-ass way.  The second, and more common, are bloggers who like to jot down a few vague lines each day.  Don’t put up a public website unless you’re going to make a serious effort to provide content.  I hate hitting the “Next Blog” button and finding a site that says, “We went to the movies and then went out to dinner.”   Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to write about going to the movies and out to dinner, but you’ve got to make it into a story, or at least a movie review.

There could be tens of millions of bloggers, but there might only be a few hundred thousand serious ones, and if we distilled those down to just the ones you would love to read if you had the time, there could be hundreds.  Finding them is a problem, but as fascinating problem.  Think about it, there’s almost 7,000,000,000 people in the world, and blogging has the potential to connect you with the most perfect friends.

I think Cheru Jackson will need to rethink his concept.  The blog slide-show idea is great.  Letting anyone submit is bad.  I’d like to see the blog slide-show feature combined with RSS feeds and StumbleUpon like technology so the random blogs were all high quality sites with a reader rating button.  In other words, I want random great, rather than random everything.  StumbleUpon is excellent for finding great reading from all types of web sites, but Jackson’s intention was to help the little-guy bloggers, and that’s a good intention.

I think Blogger.com’s “Next Blog” button is the step in the right direction.  If they would add a rating button to their top navigation bar, allowing visitors to rate blogs on the Blogger site, then that could be used to show random sites with positive ratings.  The social bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon and Technorati allows pros to compete against amateurs, and that’s good for that they do, but I’d also like to see an all amateur competition too.

For some reason I mainly read sites from WordPress and Blogger users, with a sprinkling of LiveJournal users.  There are many more blog hosting sites around the world that need to get in on the competition.  Many advanced bloggers hide their community blog hosting services with personalized domain names.  This makes their sites look more professional, but tends to hide their affiliation with their blogging community.  I love being part of the WordPress world, and wished WordPress.com had a random button like the Blogger “Next Blog” button.

Of course, for Blogger.com to offer that button requires their users to show an ugly navigation bar at the top their site.  I don’t know if WordPress users would like that or not.  I see an admin bar whenever I visit my site for administrative purposes, which by-the-way allows me to see a random post of my own.  Maybe blog hosting services could make a custom visitor bar at the top of sites an option.

Blog hosting sites do collaborate with standards like OpenID, so it might be possible they could create a random referral standard.  I like that people at Blogger or LiveJournal have a certain look and feel, because it makes me feel like I’m visiting a country of bloggers with their own shared characteristics and flavor.  I’d like to randomly visit other blogging countries.  What’s needed is a central guide like Fodor’s, or a United Nations of blog countries to start a visa process.

Of course, these suggestions would put poor Cheru Jackson out of business.  He had a good idea, but each blogging host site could easily recreate it, and in the future, with standards, the cross-border random visits could be set up too.

JWH 12/22/8

Blogging, WordPress and the Future

I’ve been blogging for awhile.  I started with LiveJournal, and then moved to WordPress on my hosted site, and finally to WordPress.com.  I like the convenience of WordPress.com maintaining everything, and I’m developing a wish-list of desired features I hope they will roll out in the near future.

First, let’s think about blogging in general.  The basic idea is to write a post and get comments.  Older posts are pushed down and stored away, and the general method used to find these older stories is either by categories, search box or calendar grouping.  It’s pretty effective for what it does, but I wonder if other methods might be developed to organize the overall site and expand the theoretically limits of what it means to blog.  WordPress is constantly adding new widgets, so their structure is built around adding features, so this post is going to suggest some features I want and imagine where I’d like blogging to evolve in the future.

Paid For Feature Modules

I don’t know if I can expect all my desired features for free, but what if each module was a paid add-on or part of a plus service?  I have no idea how WordPress makes its money.  It’s a great free service that doesn’t appear to use ads and what few add-on features they do sell don’t look like big revenue generators.

Some of the features I’m wishing for could be part of a $49.95/year plus package.  I’ve invested a lot of time in WordPress, so I don’t mind paying.  I don’t want them to go bust – I want WordPress to be around for generations to come.  I assume WordPress wants to maintain their current marketing plan of offering a free service, but I can picture my blogging needs expanding, and I imagine so do others.

Right now there are too many Web 2.0 services.  I can share my thoughts on WordPress, my photos on Picasa, computer work on Zoho.com, friendships on Facebook.com, genealogy on Ancestry.com, my book lists on LibraryThing.com, and so on. 

What I’d like is one place to present the digital me.  MySpace and Facebook want that place to be their services, but I’m not happy with those sites.  They are too restricting.  What I want is one place to combine all the features, and for now I’m thinking my blogging home at WordPress.com is the place to start.  I have no idea if the people who produce WordPress want to be such an enterprise, but I’m guessing my desires are just part of an evolutionary process on the web and somebody will offer them.

The Digital Me 

Let’s think of a blog as an analog for a person’s life.  Right now blogs model people with the diary format.  Before computers, memoirs and autobiographies were two ways to convey a person’s life.  However, those formats depend on linear progress and some random discovery.  When you meet someone at a party you don’t get to know them in a start at the beginning, end at the end, fashion.  Generally you start talking about a subject, and this is covered by blogging with categories.  But if you’ve ever been to a blog site of someone you like to read and they have a long list of categories it’s not very inviting.  And if their current three posts are all boring then you’ll get the wrong idea, even if they wrote a brilliant post just before that.

Science fiction has for years imagined artificial beings or speculated on machines recording people’s minds and converting them into computer beings in artificial worlds.  I’m thinking a blog could be something like that – a download of your personality.  But you need a face to represent the whole of your being.

Table of Contents

Magazines use their covers and table of contents to promote their top stories, hoping an eye catching headline will get you to buy a whole magazine and read the rest of the issue.  However, magazines are not good structures to model a person’s complete life, but the TOC could be a good format to use for an introduction, or your face.  Home pages on blogs take you to the latest post.  I’m wondering if WordPress could create a Table of Contents page to use as the default home page, something that would combine the features of the About page and table of contents, to welcome blog visitors and help bloggers introduce themselves, giving guests a bigger picture of what you are like.  Also, let this page have more layout options, use a 2-3 column HTML table to organize the structure, and allow the maximum customization. 

Since the word categories is already used, have an organizing unit called “Projects” to be a super-group above categories.  I like the word “projects” because I like to think of organizing my life into projects.  Marketing people might come up with a better word.  Maybe tie it in with major personality traits.   Here’s an example of what I mean.  For the Table of Contents page have several user-created Topics or Projects called Family, Friends, Work, Hobbies, Travel, and Reviews.  Under Reviews I might have category listings for Audio Books, Books, Movies, Television Shows, Music, etc.  Under Family I might have categories for Parents, Wife, Kids, Genealogy, etc.  Then allow each Topic/Project to have an icon or small photo in the layout, so visitors at a glance can see how the blog writer organizes his or her life.

TimeLine

Another fun format to add would be the TimeLine – something to help people remember when and were things happened.  Since people have imprecise memories, you’d have to have a Date field that could handle  years, months, seasons, and days.  I don’t think hours and seconds would be needed.  (Fall 1949, 12/7/82, January 1971, 1963.)  Users could enter birthdays for family, and then school years and schools.  That way people could quickly know how old they were in a during a particular school year, or what years they worked as a bag boy.  Bloggers could enter dates for when they met people, got jobs, saw concerts, had children, went on vacations, etc.  Additional fun features would be hyperlinks to web sites that show the TV schedules, top news, best selling books, big movies, etc. for each year to help prompt memories.

Lists

I like keeping a list of the books I’ve read, my favorites, the ones I own, favorite songs, my CD library, favorite movies, DVDs, movies seen, etc.  Lots of people are list makers, and so having a list making module would be awful cool.  Like the TimeLine module above, this would force WordPress to get into the database business, which moves them more into the Zoho.com type service.  WordPress could offer both custom database applications and do-it-yourself kits.

Genealogy

Blogs are about people.  I use my blog to help remember things.  One of the things I’ve always meant to get into is genealogy – but not in a big way.  What would be amusing for blogging is to enter enough information so it links to other genealogy sites and to other bloggers, so when you meet people you can glance at their ancestry and maybe check if you’re related.  If this linkage grew eventually we’d be able to say to our blogs, “show a family blogging tree.”

Who Is Your Blog For?

When you’re typing away at your blog posts do you do it for friends, strangers, or yourself?  I call my blog Auxiliary Memory because I’m getting more forgetful all the time.  I really would like to use my blog as a supplemental brain.  If WordPress had the security, I’d even like to save private information on my blog.  Not bank account numbers, but just data only I would want to see when I’m trying to remember something, maybe something personal like address books, Christmas card lists, work and home To-Do lists, etc.  I’d also like to keep my last will and testament and parting thoughts, so when I die, especially unexpected, I can leave some last messages.

Now do you see what I mean when I think of a blog as a digital analog of myself?  Right now blogs are a collection basket for thoughts, but it could collect other personal items, like photographs.

Photos and Time and Place

There are plenty of online photo galleries for people to share their pictures, but I’d like one integrated into WordPress.  Why separate thoughts from images.  I’d like to tie photographs to the TimeLine and to the Genealogy.  Currently we enter posts by today’s date and time, but I’d like to be offered a field that would let me enter posts for past dates and time, that way I could organize my photographs chronologically, and work to remember the past.

It’s quite obvious what would happen if you could link photos to genealogies.  I’d also like to link photos to streets and cities, and I would like to connect to other people to share photos linked by time and place.  I moved around a lot when I was a kid.  Imagine putting all my photos from Maine Avenue when I lived at Homestead Air Force Base from 1962-63 into the system and someday getting a message from long lost friends who went to Air Base Elementary with me?

Photo Rotation and Linking

Right now we get one photo for our header to represent our personality.  It would be great to draw from a pool, so on some pages visitors would see images from a random rotation from the pool of personal or stock photos and for other pages, specific photos to go with the content of the post.

This would be a nightmare to roll out for WordPress.  It’s much easier to manage the system when there’s a limited number of templates for users to build their sites.  For this to be practical, WordPress needs to designate certain sized photographs – so all header photos would be the same size for a particular template, as they do now, but offer you the system to switch photos on the fly.  When you create a new post you’d have the opportunity to link to a photo pool folder or link to an individual photo.  This wouldn’t require a major programming change, and WordPress would sell a lot more space.  Of course, it would be nice to link to Flash videos and animations too.

I’m Sure You Get My Point By Now

By now you should see the trend.  I supposed with XML and web services many of these features could originate on companies outside of WordPress, or allow these features to work across all blogging sites.  I love the idea of OpenID and that needs to be expanded.  Selecting a blogging service like WordPress, Blogger, LiveJournal is like selecting a nationality, but we shouldn’t have language barriers to keep us from communicating across borders.

It may even be possible that various blogging services could work together so you’d have memberships on more than one service and combine the results.  I see people trying to do this now but the results are disjointed, like they have multiple personalities, or they want to have separate public identities.  I hate when I leave a reply on a Blogger site and it wants to send people to my Google identity rather than my WordPress identity.  My FaceBook page should just have a widget that displays my WordPress blog instead of trying to duplicate a blogging feature.

Has anyone thought about the ramifications for blogging for decades?  Or generations?  Permanent storage needs to be addressed for historical purposes.  I always like to ask people, “What would the world be like if Jesus had a blog and we could read it today.”  Whose blog would you want to read from history?  File and data formats are going to have to become standard if they are going to be readable in a thousand years.  And if you spend a lifetime crafting your blog so it represents who you are, do you want it to die just because your body can’t go on?

These are just some idle thoughts on my part.  Start thinking about what blogs could really become.  Just wait a few years for when WordPress rolls out its AI widget that allows you to program a talking personality to go with your blog.  All it’s personality will be based on your past blog entries.  Eventually, we’ll be able to talk to our AI and it will automatically create our posts just from interviewing us.

Jim