June 14, 2002
Technology to enable Community
Serendipity is such a major component of my life, never more so than when I read Gary's attempt to manually connect the multiple threads to the whole discussion about Identity.
While I'm on my long journey through distance and time, I'm working on a new application that will provide a means to track cross-blog discussions, such as those my own virtual neighborhood (and others) participate in. The specs for the application are:
Project is called Thread the Needle, or "Needley" for short. Its purpose is to track cross-blogging threads.
How it works:
You register your weblog, once, with an online application I'll provide (i.e. provide your weblog location, name of weblog, email). Frequently throughout the day, the Needle service bot will visit the weblog looking for RDF (an XML meta-language, used for RSS and other applications) embedded within the weblog page. Note that this may change to scan weblogs.com for changed weblogs that are registered, or based on the first time a person clicks the link or some other procedure - testing these out as you read this.
The RDF will be generated by the service now and copied and pasted into the posting; hopefully someday it will be generated automatically by the weblogging tools.
The RDF either starts a weblogging subject thread - starts a new subject - or continues an existing thread. The bot pulls this information in and when someone clicks on a small graphic/link attached to the posting, a page opens showing all related threads and their association with each other.
AKMA writes a posting on Identity. Because he starts the discussion thread he creates and embeds RDF "thread start" XML into the posting (generated by the tool using very simple to use form, results cut and pasted into posting). Included in this RDF is thread title, brief description, posting permalink, weblog name, and posting category, accessed from pulldown list.
The generated code also contains a small graphic and link that a person clicks to get to the Needley page. Clicking another small graphic/links opens up a second form for a person wanting to respond to this posting, with key information already filled in.
The posting would look like:
This is posting stuff, posting stuff, words, more words more words
more words and so on.
link/graphic to view page Needle thread page,
link/graphic to respond to current posting
Posted by person, date, comment
The embedded RDF is invisible.
David Weinberger creates his own posting related to AKMA's posting, and clicks AKMA's "respond" link and a form opens with pre-filled fields. He adds his own permalink info, pushes a button and a second page opens with generated RDF that David then embeds into his posting.
Stavros comes along wanting to continue on David's discussion and follows same process. Jeneane responds directly to AKMA, and Jonathon, responds to Stavros, and Mike responds to David, and Steve responds to Jeneane and AKMA responds to David and Steve, who responds back to AKMA.
The Needle page for this thread shows:
Each of the above names is a hypertext link to the discussion posting. Some visual cue will probaby be added to assist in the reading of the hierarchy of discussion. (I'll also work to make sure that this page and its contents are fully accessible.)
If a person is responding to two or more of the threaded postings, they can add the generated RDF for each posting they're responding to - there's no limit. So Dorthea responds to Jonathon's and AKMA's original posting:
The asterisk shows that the posting is one response to multiple postings.
It will take approximately 30 seconds to click, complete, generate, cut and paste the RDF for a response; about 1 minute for starting a thread.
The results can either be hierarchy ordered, by response, or time ordered. The thread page starts with the thread title, category, description, date started, date of last update and each weblog entry is associated with a link that will take a person directly to the specific posting.
With this, people can see all those who've responded, can reply with new posting, and the conversation can continue cross-blog, many threaded.
I'll probably try to add in graphics to create a flow diagram, similar to the RDF validation tool (see at http://www.w3.org/RDF/Validator/ and use http://burningbird.net/example12f.rdf as test RDF file to demonstrate).
Discussion thread titles and associated descriptions and categories will go on a main page that is continuously updated, with a link to the main thread page for each discussion. I'd like to add search capability by category, weblog, and keyword.
(e.g. "Show me all discussions that AKMA has originated that feature Identity")
I've already incorporated RDF into Movable Type postings and have been able to successfully scrape and process the information.
I'll be asking for beta testers of this new technology in July, and will be hosting the discussion server at first. My wish is to distribute this application rather than centralize it, and will look at ways this can occur (one major reason why I went with embedded RDF).
Update: AKMA and Gary Turner are collecting suggestions and requirements from the weblogging community for this application. A basic infrastructure is in place, but the user community needs to provide information about how this product will work, and what it will do. Please see AKMA's posting to get additional information.
Just read Meg's What we're doing when we blog article. Though I can agree with many of Meg's sentiments, I totally disagree with Meg's philosophy that the weblogging format is the key to weblogging. Last time I looked, I thought it was the people. Meg truly missed the boat on this one. In fact, she wasn't even at the dock to wave her handkerchief good-bye when the boat left.
The Thread the Needle application will help weblogger discussions, but it's just an enabler - weblogging discussions can continue without it. We are connecting because of what we say, not the technology we use. Weblogging tools help, but they don't create community.
Another instance of serendipity because the same day Meg's article appears, I stated in the Pixelview interview:
Posted by Bb at June 14, 2002 10:11 AM
Too many people focus on the technology of the web, forgetting that technology is nothing more than a gateway to wonderous things. The web introduces us to beauty, creativity, truth, new people and new ideas. I genuinely believe there are no limits to what we can accomplish given this connectivity.
thats sounds awesome BB !
I'd love to offer my blog for the beta.
I'd planned on it Gary. In fact, was hoping to enlist my neighborhood as the beta test group.
Not sure if I agree with your assessment of Meg's column. I don't get the sense from her article that format is the "key" to anything; rather, only that format and features play a large role in shaping weblog communities. (I wish she would have gone beyond the anatomy of a post and included weblog "components" like blogrolls, comments, etc.) It's hard to imagine having such "distributed conversations" and social networks without them. The current concept of a "weblog neighborhood" (not the blogroll, that's different) wasn't popularized until Mark Pilgrim's RSS link idea was adopted.
I agree that people are the key, but I think the article focuses more on how the format enables the network.
I am so there. I mean, I just got used as an *example*, how can I not participate? :)
Is there any way to make this work out-of-line? Sucking RSS feeds won't work because the links are gone, but I should think auto-linksurfing should be able to generate the graphs with a fairly high degree of accuracy. Serialize the results to a blog of their own (updating existing entries every so often), and...
But there's probably some obvious reason this wouldn't work. I am so not an RDF expert.
Scott, I think Meg started in that direction, and then she went into this components of weblogging BS that just destroyed any continuity in regards to weblogging community. At the end, she could have pulled it back together, and then ends with "As with free speech itself, what we say isn't as important as the system that enables us to say it."
Doesn't matter if speech is free by constitutional right, if people don't excercise it.
I know where she's coming from, hence agreement with sentiments; however, she re-directed the focus of the article away from the important aspects of weblogging. Disappointing.
I'm in for beta testing and also would be happy to integrate it into BigBlogTool once you get a formal spec in place. I think its a great idea and would be more than willing to invest my time in offering it to my users.
Dorothea, very good points.
The RDF community has been looking at how to mix RDF with HTML/XHTML, through links and otherwise. My preference is to embed RDF rather than create separate pages. Especially as RDF becomes more used out and about. For something like Blogspot, we have to have this type of functionality.
We could pull hypertext links or generated RSS from weblog pages using weblogs.com, but there's no intelligence to a link.
By using RDF, we're adding some commentary, title, focus, direction, categorization (in a good way). We're doing more than creating an outliner of RSS - which is where this is going to be taken by the time I come back online by party or parties unmentioned. Betcha, betcha, betcha.
Dorothea, you've raised good points, which is why I posted this online now rather than wait until I finished the product. I want to work with the community, not just deliver a product fait acompli.
Ruzz, that would be super cool.
I should have prototype, preliminary RDF vocabulary, and formalized documentation, most likely put into Source Forge at the end of my trip. Needless to say, this is an open source product.
What she said. Beta me. Fantastic idea.
RDF = Resource Description Framework, Denise. Fancy-dancy way of associating things with other things and commenting on the associations, is what it amounts to.
See w3.org for more. If you dare. Most rational beings wouldn't dare.
Shelley, I've only been semi-blogging recently, but I'd love to participate in the beta. I get all droolly whenever you rant about the importance of community.
Oops, email address above is wrong. Serves me right to not have my own domain.
I'm SO there, Shell...as a matter of fact, I'm already sitting on the curb and I'm not goin' till you hook me up. Beta me, girl!
Boy am I glad I'm not the only one that thought the article by Meg was way over the top. Her comments about the blog format is typical of people who misunderstand McLuhan's "the medium is the message" philosophy.
Bb, pull this off and go directly to the bloggers' pantheon! This would be the coolest thing since--well, since blogging itself, so far as I'm concerned.
I'm in, Shelley--I'm in for all of it, any of it, and whatever else you want me in for!
Good to see that I'm getting a goodly number of beta testers! The best type of testers, too - multi-threaded bloggers.
Plan on testing within the first part of July. If all goes well - and so far the technology is humming along, I just need to make sure the product scales and can hopefully existing in a distributed state - this will go production before end of July.
Count me in for the beta and beyond!
I'm really tired of the revisionism I've been hearing the past few weeks.
First the conservative circle jerk claims they invented the weblog.
And now what I thought were reasonable people are chasing Meg with pitchforks and torches because she had the audacity to point out that the weblog is the merger of enabling technologies, and writing style.
Meg wrote huge pieces of the Blogger codebase, and I'm disgusted to hear her get beaten up over her explanation of the technical and literary conventions of the genre.
It's not "the people". That is equivallent to saying you can't have writing, conflict or stupid "which LoTR character are you" quizes without people. Until we get machine intelliengce, it goes without saying that those endeavors require people.
By the way, RDF requires a little more than people. It needs people with expertise and skills. Andrew Sullivan isn't one of them.
Bill, I'm not beating Meg up about talking about technology - honest. I write about technology all the time, and enjoy reading other technical articles, including hers.
What I was unhappy about is that Meg mixed the concepts of technology and community - starting out with a fresh perspective about community in weblogging and then going into this 'safe' explanation of weblogging components. By doing so, she didn't necessarily provide effective coverage of weblogging community or weblogging technology; you can't mix concepts like that without causing confusion.
As for Meg writing much of the Blogger code and being one of the founders of weblogging - that doesn't cut it at all. I'm not going to like or dislike a piece out of loyalty, not when it's published in a professional genre, and Meg is writing as a professional journalist. To be blunt, she wouldn't appreciate that, at all.
My opinion is, and still remains, this was not one of Meg's better articles. She played it safe, and it shows. She has written much better material in the past, and I've referenced these with appreciation.
Regarding Andrew Sullivan - not sure where this one came from, but though I don't read his weblog, from what little I do know about Sullivan, he doesn't know much about technology. We're in agreement on this one.
Not sure if I'd be a good beta tester for this or not, since I don't always participate in a lot of blogversations (although I have been doing that more lately), and I've got a non-standard blogging tool (read python hack that's in the process of being overhauled). But I think this is an ingenious idea and I'd love to help or participate in whatever way I can.
I've been watching this mini-meme for the past few days and I'm astounded, flabbergasted by the assertation that Meg somehow "failed" the weblogging community because she decided to focus on the uniqueness of the format.
The idea that tools and format aren't important anymore is wrong, of course. If they weren't, how come weblogging didn't emerge earlier? Why was the Web a wasteland of content-free "under construction" Tripod homepages circa 1996? Why did it take the emergence of tools like Blogger (which do indeed impose a structure on the medium) for weblogs to reach the tipping point we're witnessing today? It's obvious to anyone that people alone weren't enough.
The weblog format lowers the barriers to entry. Sitting around and having Big Important Thoughts about weblogs isn't doing nearly as much to get new people to begin weblogging as having easy-to-use tools and an appealing format that makes it easy for the beginner to write.
Count me in on your beta test! Sounds like a great idea.
It's not that I'm not interested, I've just been supremely busy... but yes, I'll definitely help out with the testing.
Not that I tend to jump into a lot of conversations out there... I think the last cross-posting I did was the whole feminism bruhaha, but hey. New toy. Shiny. Yum.
yeah, I'd love to try it....
wow, I'm looking forward to seeing this in wide use. Great stuff. I'd offer to use beta, but my site's blogger and I really don't get enough referals for it to really be put to use. bah!
Good luck on the project though, and I will definitely keep my eyes open for the results.
Hey! New vict...urh testers. Great!
You all feel free to send me functional requirements and things you'd like to see this tool have. Okay?
I love this idea, (and I love Meg too, as it happens).
Such a tool is most needed IMHO - it would further 'communalise' the blogosphere and possibly deliver the knock-out blow to the lamentably semi-redundant USENET. Especially if you incorporate some graphical flow chart thingymajigs Bb ;)
Count me in on the beta. Wish I had more time to participate in the specs too.
Beta me, please. (Radio)
Quick question about cross-blog threading vs. comments like these. Do you see the one replacing the other? Perhaps working together? Is there a simplifying assumption to be found?
A few thoughts about the meg article broohaha. Damning the post does not damn the poster; the attention, while negative, acknowledges the poster is worthy of feedback. One of the joys of blogcrit (our mediacrit) is commentary on someone's specific post, peer review at an atomic level. Part of the feedback cycles that improve content and metadata quality.