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Restoring the Network of Bloggers

It’s good to have Hoder — Hossein Derakhshan— back. After spending six years in an Iranian jail, his voice is stronger than ever. The changes he sees in the Web he loves are distressingly real.

Hoder was in the cohort of early bloggers who believed that blogs were how people were going to find their voices and themselves on the Web. (I tried to capture some of that feeling in a post a year and a half ago.) Instead, in his great piece in Medium he describes what the Web looks like to someone extremely off-line for six years: endless streams of commercial content.

Some of the decline of blogging was inevitable. This was made apparent by Clay Shirky’s seminal post that showed that the scaling of blogs was causing them to follow a power law distribution: a small head followed by a very long tail.

Blogs could never do what I, and others, hoped they would. When the Web started to become a thing, it was generally assumed that everyone would have a home page that would be their virtual presence on the Internet. But home pages were hard to create back then: you had to know HTML, you had to find a host, you had to be so comfortable with FTP that you’d use it as a verb. Blogs, on the other hand, were incredibly easy. You went to one of the blogging platforms, got yourself a free blog site, and typed into a box. In fact, blogging was so easy that you were expected to do it every day.

And there’s the rub. The early blogging enthusiasts were people who had the time, skill, and desire to write every day. For most people, that hurdle is higher than learning how to FTP. So, blogging did not become everyone’s virtual presence on the Web. Facebook did. Facebook isn’t for writers. Facebook is for people who have friends. That was a better idea.

But bloggers still exist. Some of the early cohort have stopped, or blog infrequently, or have moved to other platforms. Many blogs now exist as part of broader sites. The term itself is frequently applied to professionals writing what we used to call “columns,” which is a shame since part of the importance of blogging was that it was a way for amateurs to have a voice.

That last value is worth preserving. It’d be good to boost the presence of local, individual, independent bloggers.

So, support your local independent blogger! Read what she writes! Link to it! Blog in response to it!

But, I wonder if a little social tech might also help. . What follows is a half-baked idea. I think of it as BOAB: Blogger of a Blogger.

Yeah, it’s a dumb name, and I’m not seriously proposing it. It’s an homage to Libby Miller [twitter:LibbyMiller] and Dan Brickley‘s [twitter:danbri ] FOAF — Friend of a Friend — idea, which was both brilliant and well-named. While social networking sites like Facebook maintain a centralized, closed network of people, FOAF enables open, decentralized social networks to emerge. Anyone who wants to participate creates a FOAF file and hosts it on her site. Your FOAF file lists who you consider to be in your social network — your friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, etc. It can also contain other information, such as your interests. Because FOAF files are typically open, they can be read by any application that wants to provide social networking services. For example, an app could see that Libby ‘s FOAF file lists Dan as a friend, and that Dan’s lists Libby, Carla and Pete. And now we’re off and running in building a social network in which each person owns her own information in a literal and straightforward sense. (I know I haven’t done justice to FOAF, but I hope I haven’t been inaccurate in describing it.)

BOAB would do the same, except it would declare which bloggers I read and recommend, just as the old “blogrolls” did. This would make it easier for blogging aggregators to gather and present networks of bloggers. Add in some tags and now we can browse networks based on topics.

In the modern age, we’d probably want to embed BOAB information in the HTML of a blog rather than in a separate file hidden from human view, although I don’t know what the best practice would be. Maybe both. Anyway, I presume that the information embedded in HTML would be similar to what Schema.org does: information about what a page talks about is inserted into the HTML tags using a specified vocabulary. The great advantage of Schema.org is that the major search engines recognize and understand its markup, which means the search engines would be in a position to constructdiscover the initial blog networks.

In fact, Schema.org has a blog specification already. I don’t see anything like markup for a blogroll, but I’m not very good a reading specifications. In any case, how hard could it be to extend that specification? Mark a link as being to a blogroll pal, and optionally supply some topics? (Dan Brickley works on Schema.org.)

So, imagine a BOAB widget that any blogger can easily populate with links to her favorite blog sites. The widget can then be easily inserted into her blog. Hidden from the users in this widget is the appropriate Schema.org markup. Not only could the search engines then see the blogger network, so could anyone who wanted to write an app or a service.

I have 0.02 confidence that I’m getting the tech right here. But enhancing blogrolls so that they are programmatically accessible seems to me to be a good idea. So good that I have 0.98 confidence that it’s already been done, probably 10+ years ago, and probably by Dave Winer :)


Ironically, I cannot find Hoder’s personal site; www.hoder.com is down, at least at the moment.

More shamefully than ironically, I haven’t updated this blog’s blogroll in many years.


My recent piece in The Atlantic about whether the Web has been irremediably paved touches on some of the same issues as Hoder’s piece.

10 Responses to “Restoring the Network of Bloggers”

  1. FWIW, RSS used to be the obvious foundational tech here — until Google’s RSS reader more or less ate all the others, and then they killed it.

  2. ISTM there are several parts to this.

    1) YASN-Roll. The list of my profiles on all the networks I belong to. G+ has this but it’s ignored. Bloggers ought to list this as a standard convention on the About page. However, even high profile bloggers don’t bother at all or don’t keep it up to date.

    2) The people and things I like, follow and friend on those networks. It’s quite hard to find this or get access to this from code because each silo considers it to be core value and doesn’t like you taking it away.

    3) The OPML of the things I read. Every once in a while attempts are made to navigate OPML space. eg most recently http://feedshare.net/voidstar/ And every once in a while people (eg DW) talk about building systems to subscribe to curated OPML lists, but it never seems to come to much. But it’s an idea that won’t go away as each silo re-invents it. eg G+ collections, Twitter lists.

    4) The Blog-Roll is a hand curated version of some of these things. But as you have described it’s too much work to keep it up to date. Blogger’s function that displays an abstract of the most recent post is neat but the list of blogs still has to be hand maintained.

    IMHO, there’s potential in building systems to automate some of this stuff, but it probably won’t get mass traction.

    BTW. If you ever find yourself near London’s Brick Lane, we should do veg curry again.

  3. […] There’s a saying that goes something like “on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog”. Well, IMHO there is a way to know when someone is not a dog. This is something I wrote about a while ago in a little piece I called “Authenticity Guidelines“. I was reminded of it today in part because David Weinberger wrote a post about something I consider related — he called it “Restoring the Network of Bloggers“. […]

  4. Julian, I think about this as having the following pieces:

    1. An html widget a user can easily paste into her blog. It can be easily styled. Info about each blogroll entry is embedded in the html so it can be easily found and travels with the blogroll if anyone wants to copy and paste entries. It is in one of the microformats standards; I prefer Schema.org because that will ensure it gets indexed. That information would be things like: the url, the name of the blog, the name of the person, some tags describing the blog…

    2. There’s a web site that enables a user to easily create the widget just by entering the blog addresses she wants to list. It does as much autofill as it can based on the target blog’s RSS. The widget can then be pasted into her blog. This web site also makes it easy to edit the blogroll.

    3. The widget (or the widget-management web site??) makes it easy to export the blogroll info in multiple ways, starting with OPML. (The OPML should capture the full semantics of each entry.)

    4. The world unites to create multiple social-blog-networking services that enable people easily to explore this distributed network. The lion lies down with the lamb and they decide to blog together.

  5. David,

    Good post! I did some looking into some of your points, here is some feedback:

    Per this WordPress support page (https://en.support.wordpress.com/blogroll/import-export-links/), you can type in a URL like the following and see the blogroll or links of a WordPress weblog in OPML format:

    http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/wp-links-opml.php

    http://andysylvester.com/wp-links-opml.php

    In reviewing Schema.org, https://schema.org/WebPage has an element called significantLink. This and some of the other attributes on the WebPage schema might provide the things you identify in your post.

    Looks like an opportunity is there to look at processing WordPress blogrolls for social networks…will let you know when I have something to look at….

  6. […] I also read a post that, among other things, requested a better way for blogs to recommend each other to readers and […]

  7. Thanks, Andy. Some responses:

    1. I think the aim is to make it easy for third party apps to crawl blogs and figure out the network of blogs, based upon blogrolls. I _think_ the best way to do this is to embed the blogroll info into the html of the blog page itself, using standard attributes so that the blogroll visible to the user contains info perhaps not visible to the user. For that reason, while OPML seems like a great choice for exporting the blogroll info, I don’t see it as a primary way of encoding it. But there is a very excellent chance that I am misunderstanding the roll of OPML in this.

    2. Schema.org does what I just described. The SignificantLink attribute may be what we’re looking for, but it would be very helpful to get that included in the Blog spec. (As you know, the official use of the SignificantLink is not currently defined exactly like a blogroll link. A SL is, apparently, a non-navigational link, especially one that’s clicked on often. I _think_ that it’d be helpful to have blogroll entries defined as their own type of object. But I am not good at this stuff.)

    3. If we can come up with a way of expressing and embedding blogroll info that a bunch of us accept (or if Schema.org were to accept it), having an automatic way to generate conforming blogroll widgets directly out of WordPress would be fantastic.

    I hope I haven’t misunderstood you. Thanks so much for the thoughts!

  8. Dear David,

    I really like the idea. It reminds me of sharing one’s fictional reading experience through Goodreads (a ‘bookroll’ in a sense). That brings me to the acronym. How about ROAR instead of BOAB. ROAR would stand for Recommendations Of A Reader. First, it expresses what you are aiming for. Second, is doesn’t require someone to be an avid blogger; merely reading (or e-listening) should be valued and hence inspire non-blogging Internet users to create their own ROAR profile. Third, the acronym has more of a bite to it.

    Last, but that is a long shot, these ROAR profiles could somehow protect us from third party, algorithmic ‘bubbles’ and ‘filters’ we’re not always aware of.

    Regards,
    Paulo Moekotte

  9. […] post Restoring the Network of Bloggers appeared first on Joho the […]

  10. Blogging hasn’t been the same in many years, to many people looking at for themselves and not wanting to help fellow bloggers. If you would like you can visit my blog at http://homeandhealthwithjen.blogspot.com


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