Notable insights from the PEW Internet study on blogging:
I knew this and you knew this, but it's nice to see the numbers back it up. What do bloggers write about? Life, baby. Same as it ever was for anyone with a pen and a notepad.
See? Anyone who says there are no (fill in the blank)'s blogging is just not looking hard enough. We're ALL in here. Now can we please get over what color we are and what's in our shorts and focus on what we all have to say?
I'm 33. That means I'm stuck somewhere in between Generation X and Y. Generation X was stereotyped as lazy postmodernists, too comfy with our liberal arts degrees to get off the couch and do anything. Generation Y was defined by being, um, younger than that.
Frankly, I never saw much connection between myself and those labels. And lately, I've been thinking about what truly defines my generation. Us web geeks, us iPodders and remixers. I think we're Generation M. Here's my loose, entirely unscientific definition in three parts.
The "M" is for Multitask. We like to do two things at a time, minimum. We listen to music while surfing the web and having four IM conversations. We check our email on crackberrys and hiptops under the table during meetings. We don't feel fulfilled unless there's more than one thing going on. The closest thing my parents generation had to this kind of multitasking was reading the paper on the toilet.
A small note to all those staring deeply into their navels and fretting about the role of gatekeepers in the blogosphere.
This is a gatekeeper.
Her name is Dana Barrett and she's waiting for the Keymaster to bring about the return of Gozer the Gozerian, who will come in one of the pre-chosen forms. During the rectification of the Vuldrini, he came as a large and moving Torg. During the third reconciliation of the last of the McKetrick supplicants, he came as a giant Slor. (Many Shuvs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of the Slor that day, I can tell you!)
So that's a gatekeeper. Fortunately we haven't seen one since 1984, when Ghostbusters came and went.
If you have a website that you post to every day, and you've amassed a sizable readership, good for you. But you are no more a gatekeeper than the New York Times is a homepage.
What you are is a popular nerd, king of your very own soapbox. Congratulations! But being a gatekeeper in the age of the blogosphere is completely meaningless.
After all, how valuable is it to be a gatekeeper in a world of infinite gates?
I mentioned this idea briefly when I posted about the recent redesign, but I wanted to expand it further. Web designers of the world, let's talk about your bottoms.
When you're designing pages - specifically content pages - what is the best possible thing that could happen? I mean after the user has bought a computer, gotten internet connectivity, figured out how to use a browser, and somehow found their way to your site ... what is the single best thing that they could do?
Read. That's right, read. And read all the way to the bottom of the page. In this business, a user that actually reads all the way to the bottom of a page is like gold. They're your best, most engaged, happiest users. You know, because they haven't clicked away. They did the best possible thing they could do, and now they're at the bottom of the page. And how do you reward them?
With a copyright statement. Maybe, if they're lucky, some bland footer navigation.
If you ask me, that's just rude.
It's been six months since we added Tags to Technorati (where I'm Senior Designer), and as it turns out, it was a pretty big deal. So before we get too far away from it, here's the story of how it came about. From my perspective, anyway.
Firstly and most importantly, Technorati did not invent tagging. We were inspired by the tags that Flickr users were using to describe their photos, and the tags Delicious users were using to describe their bookmarks, and the many tagging adventures that came before them. We thought bloggers should have something similar - an open standard for adding tags to their posts. If there was such a thing, we could display all kinds of different kinds of content on the same page - photos, links, and posts - grouped by tag.
Secondly, it's important to note that many people at Technorati worked on various tagging solutions at different points. So credit goes to the company as a whole. We're a small company now and were even smaller six months ago. Just about everyone had a hand in our tags implementation.
For me, it all started with New Year's resolutions. In Fray, we've always had a New Year's resolutions story, and it was always a big hit with posters. In December 2004, I was in my second month at Technorati, and I had an idea: Why not encourage people to post their resolutions to their own blogs, and then use the power of Technorati to gather them all together on one page?
Over Technorati's winter break, Tantek Çelik, Jason DeFillippo, Bradley Allen and I met at Crepes on Cole and banged out the Resolutions 2005 page with help from Kevin Marks and Aaron Bannert who were there via IM. The page was set up to show any post that contained a link to it - in other words, if you linked to that page, then your post appeared on that page.
The page went up on December 29 and we encouraged people to post their resolutions and include a link to that page. And they did! Hundreds of posts came in. It was great. But the system we'd devised had one critical flaw.
There were two kinds of posts that linked to our resolutions page. The first was what we'd wanted - people posting their resolutions and linking to our page for more. But the second was different - it was just people saying "look at all those resolutions over there." It was not a participation in the theme - it was just a pointer.
What we needed was a simple way to tell one kind of a link from the other. Tantek mentioned the "rel" standard for hrefs that he used in his XFN work. Basically, the rel attribute was a way to describe the relationship implied in a link. With XFN, I could say that Tantek is a friend of mine by putting "rel=friend" in a link to his site. I suggested we just do the same thing here, using "rel=tag" to allow a blogger to say "with this link, I intend to tag my post as being about the subject I'm linking to."
The best part about this technique was we could read the tag from the location in the href. So if someone wanted to tag their post "iPod" they could link to any URL that ended in that text, whether it was our tag page (technorati.com/tag/iPod) or the product page at Apple (apple.com/ipod) or the Wikipedia entry (wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipod). All would result in the post getting tagged as being about iPod.
We were making the taggers do a little bit of work to be included, but it made sense to ask the people who wanted to participate to do the work, instead of the people who just wanted to make a pointer.
In the first week of January 2005, Technorati founder David Sifry and coder Kevin Marks sat down and kicked out a beta version in a weekend. Dave wrote a service that grabbed the feeds from other tag providers, Kevin coded up a spider that would crawl blogs looking for those rel tags. Kevin also added an awareness of categories in RSS and Atom to the spider, so people could use those, too. I designed some templates to encourage fun browsing.
Tagging in Technorati was released on January 14, 2005. And we knew at the time that any search service could read the rel=tag standard. We wanted them to! The success of tags would be good for us, good for bloggers, and good for the web in general.
Since then it's been one of our most beloved features, and not just because it's a browsing experience as I wrote back in January. It's because tags are carefully created visible metadata that, for the most part, you can trust. When a blogger says their post, photo, or link is about iPod, you can generally believe it.
Together we're creating a web that's both more organized and more human. A web where the content creators are in control of how their words are categorized, not some academic in an ivory tower. A web where the difference between a reader and a writer gets blurrier every day.
And I'm so happy I could play some small part in helping it along.
Cool! But, um, what do they do?
These people weren't rubes. My tribe are some geeky folks. Bigtime bloggers, hardcore nerds, and computer-enabled professionals all asked me this. And translated through my filter it said one thing loud and clear: Houston, we have a problem.
I answered their questions as best I could, but I decided then and there to make it my life's goal to do everything I could to make it so that I never, ever have to answer that question again. The site should explain what it does, not the people who work there. Today we took the first step toward that goal and released the new Technorati beta.
This is a huge revision to the site, and the product of some of the most talented people I've ever had the pleasure of working with. I'd especially like to call out Jason DeFillippo who was literally coding with bandages on his fingers, and Ben Jenkins who came on a month ago and has been our ace in the hole ever since. Thanks also to CSS jedi Eric Meyer and illustrator extraordinaire Chris Bishop for lending their talents. And of course the real heroes are the engineers and ops crew who make it so people like me have something to design at all.
But enough with the acceptance speech. There are a ton of changes in the new site. In fact, just about every bit of frontend code has been rewritten. And all toward the goal of making the blogosphere more understandable, more fun, and more accessible to people who don't even know what a blog is.
I'd say more, but right now I'm so tired I'm literally about to fall over. So just go check it out. And, of course, that "beta" slug up there is on purpose - we're still working the bugs out and there's lots more in store. But please do check it out and be sure to let us know what you think.
And now I must sleep.
So this weekend I upgraded all the Macs in the house to Tiger and I upgraded Ephemera to Movable Type 3. It feels like my geek life has all new clothes. Curious to read what yet another geek thinks of 'em? Read on.
Caroline strips down her old site and relaunches at Each Man. (Aside to Caz: I got the reference.) Tom goes minimal with Plastic Bag. (Aside to Tom: Bold, confident design. Props!) I'd say there was a trend here, except that Matt just took his previously stripped-down A Whole Lotta Nothing and layered on the CSS lovin, complete with girly dropcaps. (Aside to Matt: Don't worry, I know you're all man.)
Anyway, redesigns are in the air. Makes me wish I had the time to give the ol' dotcom a fresh face, but, well, my redesign energy is being directed elsewhere right now. More on that soon.
Jeff Veen makes a great comment about intimidating interfaces and I couldn't agree more. My favorite recent example of this was at Tickets.com. Try to buy concert tickets and this is the first thing you see:
Captchas (those annoying "type that crap from the image in the box, you monkey") are annoying enough, but the bold, red time limit is surely the bridge too far. You, there! Jump through this hoop! Now now now!
Back to Jeff's post. If Yahoo 360 really wants to encourage their users to blog, I have an easy two-word suggestion for them: Ask questions.
We've been doing this at Fray for years and it never fails. If you say "tell me a story" to someone, their answer is always the same: "I don't have any stories." But if you tell them a story and then ask them to respond in kind, they will. It's just built in to human nature.
Ben Brown's new dating site, Consumating, does this really well. In addition of the usual boring bio stuff, the site asks an interesting question once a week. Members are rewarded for answering them with more exposure for their pages and "points" they can apply toward special features of the site.
Yahoo 360 should encourage their users to blog the same way you encourage people to talk at a party - ask 'em a question!
I've been posting photos to Ephemera for over 15 months now (666 photos as of today - creepy!). Any content-based site that runs long enough eventually has to solve the how-do-I-find-stuff problem. Blogs do this with archives by date and category. Others increasingly use search, leaving it to the user to figure out what they want (not always a good idea).
But photo sites have a special problem (and opportunity) here. Because the content is visual, simple text search is not a good solution. And tagging is awesome, but only when you've got a community to help you tag (future idea!).
I had a brainstorm while washing dishes last night and whipped this up: Ephemera Archive by Color. It's a page that reduces each photo down to its average color and then displays them all at once. The result is fascinating. A sea of khaki and grey, punctuated by the occasional bright orange or pink.
As a photographer, it's interesting to me to see what colors I tend to photograph in an incredibly general sense. But as an interface designer, I think this is a novel exploratory interface. Sure, if you're looking for puppies, you should just go to the Pets Category. But it's a mistake to think that web surfers always know what they want. Sometimes they just want to pick a theme and be surprised. That's what this is for. Plus it's a great faraway overview of all Ephemera photos, divined down to their base color, in one glance.
Interesting or just silliness? You tell me.
Bloggers Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Journalists
Just a thought from 5 April 2005 about Blogging, Internet, Journalism, Weblogs.
Here's a fun thing to try: Ask your typical blogger what they think of journalists. "Hacks!" They'll scream. "Journalism sucks!"
Then tell them about bloggers being treated differently than journalists. "Unfair!" They scream. "We're journalists, too!"
Try to follow the logic here: Journalism is lame and broken, so bloggers want to be journalists.
With me so far? No? Let's start over.
I went to school for journalism. Got a BA in photojournalism, which just meant I took a lot of photos in my journalism classes. I've worked as a journalist and an editor. I have some experience in this. So let me be clear: Please, for the love of all that's good and holy, do not turn bloggers into journalists.
Folks, journalism is a craft. It takes a lot of time to learn to do well. There are rules, written and unwritten, that are applied. Laws that matter. Experience that you have to earn. Journalism - good journalism - is really, really hard.
Blogging, like you're reading now, is not hard. It's not supposed to be. A lot of people have worked very hard to make blogging as easy as typing a thought and hitting a button. That's the beauty of blogging - anyone can do it, about anything.
So again I say: Please, for the love of all that's good and holy, do NOT turn bloggers into journalists!
When Apple sued the proprietors of three rumor sites because they'd revealed trade secrets, bloggers screamed, "but journalists are protected from that! Bloggers should be, too!" Which sounds good and just until you give it more than a minute's thought.
To become a journalist, you have to go to school, go to college, intern at some crap paper, work for crap wages, write whatever dreck the established writers don't want, put up with egomaniacal, power mad, amateur Napoleon editors who will freak out if you put a capital letter in the wroNg place, and do this all for years and years before they let you near a story that matters.
To become a blogger you have to register for a free account, slam your index fingers into a keyboard a few times, and click POST.
Tell me again how those things are the same. Tell me again how they both deserve equal protections. I mean, with a straight face.
People, being a journalist is hard. A lot harder than it looks, in fact. That's why so many of them are so bad at it. But just because you have a Blogger account, don't pretend for a second that makes you a journalist. What that makes you is a source. A potentially interesting source, yes, but no more interesting than a guy on the corner with a bullhorn.
And, remember, that's a good thing. The reason blogs are interesting is because they're not journalism. They're unfiltered personal voices. Raw emotion. They don't have rules to follow, editors and advertisers to keep happy, parent corporations to make rich. They're the real deal.
Here's a secret: Journalists want to be us. It's true! We bloggers have the freedom to be painfully honest. When's the last time you looked up from a newspaper and said, "wow, I can't believe she said that!" I do that just about every time I read Dooce.
If blogs wanted the same rights and protections as newspapers, they'd have to adhere to the same standards, laws, and process. Is that really what you want? An editor breathing down your neck? And if it is, why don't you just go work for a newspaper?
Please, we have newspapers. Let's make something different out of blogging. Let's not make it into something old and dying because they get the cool toys.
Certainly there are some bloggers that are journalistic in tone and approach, but that's the exception. Why force a young, flexible medium into that one dull corner? Because if we apply the same standards to blogging as are applied to journalism, blogs will get boring in a hurry. That's not what I want.
So if you enjoy blogs, then next time some blogger gets their panties in a twist about journalists getting all the breaks, just say: "Damn right! Ain't it great?"
And then go post about it on your blog.
Here's a little experiment you can do right now. When you reach the end of this paragraph, turn off your monitor. Really. Turn it off and give your eyes a minute to adjust and then look at the screen. What do you see?
Go ahead. I'll wait.
Back already? Did it work? If the light is right, and your monitor is a nice shiny CRT, what you should have seen is your own reflection.
I bring this up because it explains so much about the way we behave online. That mirror image of ourselves is always there when we stare at the computer. And we see ourselves in whatever we're looking at.
I call this The Big Mirror and it might help explain why Steven Levy, a white guy, looks into his monitor and sees only white guys. At least, it's the only explanation I can think of for how he might have missed all the fantastic blogging women out there. (I could go on and on and on.)
The Big Mirror also explains why pissed off angry people look into the web and see only pissed off angry people. Why sad depressives see sad depressives. And why boundless optimists see through a rose-colored monitor. We see ourselves - our fears and hopes and insecurities - everywhere we go.
That faint reflection of ourselves is always there, both literally and metaphorically. So the next time someone tells you about how everyone online is a freaky child molester, ask yourself, what do they see when they look in the mirror?
A new feature to the ol' dotcom: Just a Link. Approximately three years after everyone else got one, I've added a little sidebar link blog to my site. It's for quick links. Just little one-liners: A link and a thought. The same thing I said was not "all that revolutionary" five years ago. And, yeah, it's not. But it is fun.
What's changed? Delicious, a "social bookmarking system." Plenty of other people have gushed about it already. Bottom line: Delicious makes sharing bookmarks social the same way Flickr makes photos social. And when formerly isolated things become social, wonderful things happen.
With Delicious, you can add bookmarks easily, republish them on your site, subscribe to other people's bookmarks and share your own. Plus your links contribute to the global zeitgeist, where you can see what the most popular links of the moment are.
Not being revolutionary has never been so much fun.
I'm honored to be a nominee for the 2005 Bloggies in the category of, get this, Lifetime Achievement. Seriously. If I win, I think I might just retire.
New 'round here? Here's a short history of my affliction with the world of weblogs.
1997: I begin posting personal thoughts in reverse-chronological order. There is a photo of my cat. This is called a "homepage."
2000: Put blog in tiny box. Get called "brain dead" by Dave Winer. Consider it as new slogan. Reject idea. Ask "What's a weblog?" and get some ideas. Go to work for Pyra as Creative Director and design Blogger "B". Host first-ever weblog panel discussion at SXSW. Redesign.
2004: Redesign. You're lookin at it!
2005: Give up waiting for fad to pass. Go to work for Technorati.
Thanks for visiting. Come back soon. Oh, and, please do vote if you're so inclined.
With all the hoopla in the news about the Google IPO, let's take a moment to remember the real heroes: The people who put all that great stuff on the web in the first place.
I love Google, I really do. But I also enjoy a nicely toasted bagel. And when I'm spreading cream cheese on my toasty bagel, I don't say, "Wow, my toaster sure is great."
A toaster is just a tool. It's the stuff you put in it that makes it worth having. The same goes for Google.
Google is the central motivating force here. Comment spammers are adding their links to thousands of weblogs not because the audiences of those weblogs are particularly valuable, but because the links raise their PageRank with Google.
Now, this is far from the first time some group has tried to game Google's system. Google has evolved over the years to combat it, making it more difficult, perfecting their recipe. The plague of comment spam is just another attempt to game Google's system, and it's up to Google to stop it.
Google's bots could be made smart enough to ignore links that come from comments. Ben and Mena of Movable Type could help facilitate this. How hard would it be? I don't know - I'm not a programmer. But I do know it would fix the problem.
If comment spam stopped raising the spammer's PageRank in Google, how long would they keep doing it? Take away the incentive and we could easily avoid the nightmare scenario Mark is so convinced will happen, not to mention make all the work Jay is doing a nice defense against a nonexistent problem.
I'm not saying it ain't a big deal. I'm not saying it's not complicated. I'm just saying, let's lay the blame at the feet of Google, where it belongs.
This section is called Just a Thought. It's a blog where I post little pieces of what I'm thinking about at the moment. This page shows thoughts about Weblogs, including:
10 Insights on Blogs from PEW
1 August 2006
31 May 2006
14 February 2006
Embrace your bottom!
13 September 2005
How Tags Happened at Technorati
25 July 2005
The New New Thing
9 June 2005
3 May 2005
19 April 2005
Come here often?
15 April 2005
Ephemera Archive by Base Color
14 April 2005
The Big Mirror
16 March 2005
New: Just a Link
14 February 2005
A short history of my affliction with weblogs
25 January 2005
The Real Heroes of the Web
20 August 2004
Google Creates Comment Spam
19 November 2003
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Working the web since 1995, Derek Powazek is the creator of many award-winning websites, a couple of which still exist. Derek is the cofounder of JPG Magazine and the CCO of 8020 Publishing. Derek lives in San Francisco with his wife, two nutty Chihuahuas, a grumpy cat, and a house full of plants named Fred. More »
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10 Insights on Blogs from PEW 1 August 2006
Generation M 31 May 2006
Infinite Gates 14 February 2006
Embrace your bottom! 13 September 2005
How Tags Happened at Technorati 25 July 2005