Wikifying Our Blogging

Con­tin­u­ing my recent post in reimag­in­ing blogs, I’m going to go into some con­tex­tu­al details lift­ed from the Quak­er pub­li­ca­tions with which I’m either direct­ly asso­ci­at­ed or that have some claim to my identity.

My blog at Quak­er Ranter dates back to the proto-blog I began in 1997 as an new home­page for my two year old “Non­vi­o­lence Web” project. The new fea­ture was updat­ed week­ly with excerpt­ed mate­r­i­al from mem­ber projects on Non​vi​o​lence​.org and relat­ed orga­ni­za­tions that already had inde­pen­dent web­sites. We didn’t have RSS or Twit­ter then but I would man­u­al­ly send out emails to a list; we didn’t have com­ments but I would pub­lish inter­est­ing respons­es that came by email. The work was relaunched with blog­ging soft­ware in 2003 and the voice became more indi­vid­ual and my focus became more Quak­er and tech.

The arti­cles then were like they are now: reverse­ly chrono­log­i­cal, with cat­e­gories, tag­ging, and site search­ing that allow old­er mate­r­i­al to be accessed. The most impor­tant source of archive vis­i­bil­i­ty is exter­nal: Google. Peo­ple can eas­i­ly find mate­r­i­al that is direct­ly rel­e­vant to a ques­tion they’re address­ing right now. In many instances, they’ll nev­er even click through to the site home­page, much less cat­e­gories, tags, etc. As I said in my last post, these first-time vis­i­tors are often try­ing to under­stand some­thing new; the great major­i­ty bounce off the page and fol­low anoth­er search result on a mat­ter of a few sec­onds, but some small but impor­tant per­cent­age will be ripe for new ideas and con­nec­tions and might be will­ing to try new associations.

But it’s ran­dom. I’m a bit of a nerd in my cho­sen inter­ests and have been blog­ging long enough that I gen­er­al­ly have at least a few inter­est­ing posts on any par­tic­u­lar sub-topic. Most of these have been inspired by col­leagues, friends, my wife, and ran­dom con­ver­sa­tions I’ve found myself in.

Some of the most mean­ing­ful blog posts – those with legs – have involved me inte­grat­ing some new thinker or idea into my world­view. The process will have start­ed months or some­times years before when anoth­er spir­i­tu­al nerd rec­om­mend­ed a book or arti­cle. In the faith world there’s always books that are obscure to new­com­ers but essen­tial for those try­ing to go deep­er into their faith. You’ll be in a deep con­ver­sa­tions with some­one and they’ll ask (often with a twin­kle in their eye) “have you read so-and-so?” (This cul­ture if shar­ing is espe­cial­ly impor­tant for Friends, who tra­di­tion­al­ly have no cler­gy or seminaries).

A major role of my blog has been to bring these sorts of con­ver­sa­tions into a pub­lic realm – one that can be Googled and fol­lowed. The inter­net has helped us scale-up this process and make it more avail­able to those who can’t con­stant­ly travel.

When I have real-world con­ver­sa­tions now, I often have recourse to cite some old blog post. I’m shar­ing the “have you read” con­ver­sa­tion in a way that can be eaves­dropped by hundreds.

But how are peo­ple who stum­ble in my site for the first time going to find this?

The issue isn’t just lim­it­ed to an obscure faith blog. Yes­ter­day I learned about a cool (to me) blog writ­ten by a dad who research­es and trav­els to neat nature spots in the area with his kids and writes up a post about what-to-see and kid-issues-to-be-aware-of. But when it’s a nice Sat­ur­day after­noon and I find myself in a cer­tain locale, how can I know if he’s been any­where near­by unless I go through all the archives or hope the search works or hope his blog’s cat­e­go­riza­tion tax­on­o­my is complete?

What I’m think­ing is that we could try to cre­ate meta index­es to our blogs in a wiki mod­el. Have a whole col­lec­tion of intro­duc­to­ry pages where we list and sum­ma­rize rel­e­vant arti­cles with links.

In the hey­day of SEO, I used to tag the heck out if posts and have the pages act as a sort of auto­mat­ed ver­sion of this, but again, this it was chrono­log­i­cal. And it was work. Even remem­ber­ing to tag is work. I would spend a cou­ple of days ignor­ing clients to metatag each page on the site, only to redo the work a few months lat­er with even more meta­da­ta com­plex­i­ty. Writ­ing a whole shad­ow meta blog index­ing the blog would be a major (and unend­ing task). It wouldn’t gar­ner the rush of imme­di­ate Face­book likes. But it would be supreme­ly use­ful for some­one want­i­ng to explore an issue of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to them at that moment.

And one more Quak­er aside that I think will nev­er­the­less be of inter­est to the more techie read­ers. I’ve described Quak­erism as a wiki spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Exhib­it one is the reli­gious movement’s ini­tial lack of creeds or writ­ten instruc­tion. Even our paci­fism, for which we’re most well known, was an uncod­i­fied tes­ti­mo­ny in the ear­li­est years.

As Friends gained more expe­ri­ence liv­ing in com­mu­ni­ty, they would pub­lish advices – short snip­pets of wis­dom that were collectively-approved using con­sen­sus deci­sion mak­ing. They were based on expe­ri­ence. For exam­ple, they might find that mem­bers who abused alco­hol, say, or repeat­ed­ly test­ed the dress code might cause oth­er sorts of prob­lems for the com­mu­ni­ty and they’d minute a warn­ing against these practices.

These advices were writ­ten over time; as more were approved it became bur­den­some to find rel­e­vant advices when some issue start­ed tear­ing up a con­gre­ga­tion. So they were col­lect­ed into books – unof­fi­cial at first, lit­er­al­ly hand-copied from per­son to per­son. These even­tu­al­ly became offi­cial – pub­lished “books of dis­ci­plines,” col­lec­tions of the col­lec­tive wis­dom orga­nized by top­ic. Their pur­pose and scope (and even their name) has changed over the ensu­ing cen­turies but their impulse and ear­ly orga­ni­za­tion is one that I find use­ful when think­ing about how we could rethink the cat­e­go­riza­tion issues of our twen­ty first cen­tu­ry blogs and com­ment­ing systems.

Share my offendedness (pleeeaaase)

Some­times I see blog posts that make me real­ly sad at the state of jour­nal­ism. Phi­ly­Mag is the lat­est but you have the fol­low the daisy-chain of ramped-up hyper­bole back just to make see how ridicu­lous it is.

The restau­rant chain Red Robin recent­ly made a fifteen-second TV ad whose joke is that its veggie-burgers are per­fect for cus­tomers whose teenage daugh­ters are “going through a phase.” It’s had rather lim­it­ed air­play (it’s the 450th or so most run ad in the past 30 days) but still, Busi­ness Insid­er ran a piece on it which claimed that “the chain man­aged to insult all poten­tial veg­e­tar­i­an and veg­an cus­tomers” with the ad. For evi­dence, it cit­ed three mild com­ments on Red Robin’s Face­book page. Fair enough.

But then the page-view-whores at Huff­in­g­ton Post saw the BI piece and wrote that Red Robin is “under fire for diss­ing veg­e­tar­i­ans,” still cit­ing just those Face­book com­ments. Under fire? For three comments?

Sens­ing fresh (veg­gie?) meat, Philly­mag links to Huff­Post to claim that ”veg­e­tar­i­ans and veg­ans far and wide are freak­ing out” and that a boy­cott has been declared. The author tells us that “‘Offend­ed’ gets tossed around so rapid­ly” and it must be true, right?, as she uses it three more times just in her open­ing para­graph. It’s a pity that none of the three Face­book com­menters were con­sid­er­ate enough to actu­al­ly use the words “out­rage” or “boy­cott.” One described the ad as “dis­ap­point­ing” (ouch!). Anoth­er used the word “dis­sat­is­fied” (zing!), though he was speak­ing not about the ad per se but rather a recent vis­it to the restaurant.

Seems like if there is an epi­dem­ic of offended-ness going on, we might take a look at the des­per­a­tion of what pass­es for mod­ern jour­nal­ism these days. Offended-ness must get page views, so why not be offend­ed at being offend­ed? (I imag­ine some hack fur­ther down the pageview food chain is right now read­ing the Philly­mag piece and typ­ing out a head­line about the world­wide veg­an army issu­ing a fat­wa on the teenage daugh­ters of Red Roof exec­u­tives.) Is this real­ly the kind of crap that peo­ple like to share on Face­book? Do Inter­net users just not fol­low links back­ward to judge if there’s any truth to out­rage posts on out­rage? I usu­al­ly ignore this kind of junk even to read past the ridicu­lous head­line. But the phe­nom­e­non is all too ubiq­ui­tous on the inter­webs these days and is real­ly so unnec­es­sar­i­ly divi­sive and stereotype-perpetuating.

More coming in from this weekend’s workshop

Both of my work­shop co-leaders Wess and Robin have now checked in with pre­lim­i­nary reports. More mate­r­i­al is being col­lect­ed on the Quak­erQuak­er event page.

Wess and I have both been upload­ing lots of pho­tos to Flickr using the “quakerreclaiming2009″ tag. I’ve been upload­ing my video inter­views both on Youtube and Quak­erQuak­er. You can see them at the reclaiming2009 tag (I have the feel­ing we’ve just dou­bled the Quak­er con­tent on Youtube but it’s not that extreme). Any­one present with more pho­tos can either upload them to Flickr with the “quakerreclaiming2009” tag or send them direct­ly up to Quak­erQuak­er. Same with videos.