Initial Reflections on Blogging

As someone who has designed online communications systems for most of his life – I created a BBS in 1981 before I even knew what a BBS was – I'm approaching this blogging phenomenon with a spirit of avid exploration. Blogs have been around for a while and I was vaguely aware that some people kept online diaries, but I wasn't aware until recently just how big the phenomenon had become. You may think that Mr. Online Communication here must have been sleeping under a rock for the past few years, but the net is a big place; I wasn't sleeping, I was lost.

During the heydey of BBS's, there was schism after schism as people became dissatisfied with the policies or features of a particular system. They'd start their own system and by golly they were gonna do it right. Blogs seem to be the ultimate extension of this tendency: everybody gets to be sysop.

I don't think that's the whole story, though. I think blogging was kick-started by the unpleasantness of messaging on the net. On USENET you'd run into horrid flame-wars and this discouraged a lot of people from participating.

I have also documented another disturbing phenomenon called trolling. You can read my article about it at www.intwg.com/trolls.htm. Briefly, trolls are people who use the Internet to annoy other people, following the idea that if you can't be liked for what you are, you can still get affirmation of your existence by being disruptive. (Think of a troll as an unruly five-year-old with net access and a propensity for shouting "Doodie!" in church.) Blogs are immune to the troll problem, too.

I'm still not entirely comfortable with the idea of blogging, though. I'm reminded of C.S. Lewis's vision of hell as a landscape of isolated, single-occupancy houses that keep getting further and further away from each other. Whereas all of the online communications systems I've designed or worked with in the past emphasized the gestalt, blogging seems inherently designed to put people into their own little boxes.

Since I've only been blogging for three days, it's far too early for me to criticize, though. The bottom line is this: blogging is growing fast. That means something. I'm not yet sure what that is, but I'm keen to find out.

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