There Is No Cat

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

RSS levels community

Jeneane Sessum writes about something that's been on my mind since my posts a few weeks ago about community or the lack thereof in Blogistan. At that time, some were saying that RSS was the great leveler, the development that would make Blogistan the same kind of community that Usenet was back in the day.

Jeneane disagrees.

Feed aggregators reduce every site to a dull grey lowest common denominator. Allied is Burningbird is Emergency Weblog is the New York Times; they all look the same in a feed reader. Most feeds don't include the associated comments from a post; if they did, the same item would come up as new over and over and over as comments were added, which would break the model on which feed readers are built. Some CMSes attempt to work around this by providing a separate comments feed for each post. Subscribe to all the comment feeds on all posts you read and see how your aggregator likes dealing with 10,000 feeds, most of which will be effectively dead after a week or three.

Feeds may make it possible to discover threads in conversation across weblogs; I'm unconvinced, but concede that there's a possibility. But at what cost? The feed aggregator model reduces readers to that horrible word that anti-marketers so despise, "consumers". It's hard enough to build a sense of community in this medium that I've argued doesn't lend itself to the task. In the process of potentially discovering links between weblogs, feeds make it less likely that we participate in conversations on a single weblog. The last thing we need to be doing is placing another barrier in the way of the conversations we so want to encourage.

I resisted using a feed aggregator for a long time. I tried and abandoned them a number of times. Only in the past month or so did I give in. I find it makes it easier to keep up with a wider variety of weblogs. Right now, I think that's important for me to do. I used my blogroll as my primary means of keeping up for a very long time, and enjoyed taking a leisurely stroll among my neighbors in Blogistan, but lately find I need the time I used to spend doing so for other pursuits. Aggregators make that possible. But I have to remind myself to leave comments, and even to read the ones others have read, because they don't show up in most feeds.

I don't think there's a solution for this. One reasonable band-aid I've seen in a few feeds is to list how many comments there are for a given post in a feed. I may try implementing this to see if it's not too disruptive to the aggregation process. But to my mind, the whole system is another way in which the structure of Blogistan and the web actively fight against the human desire to create community in a way that other tools on the net don't.

Tags:

Posted at 9:32 AM

Comments

Note: I’m tired of clearing the spam from my comments, so comments are no longer accepted.

Re: comments and threads: There are some CMSes or add-ons that allow you to choose to receive email whenever someone else comments. Which is fine for a comment thread that goes from 3-12 comments or so, but for those threads that number into the hundreds, ferget it!

I recently put a recent comments list on my sidebar at 2020hindsight.org/ ... just to highlight whatever conversation is taking place. But that first required taking care of the comment spam problem (which is working out pretty well, thanks to Akismet). I'm thinking that the trackback portion I also posted is a wash, though.

There's one feed that includes the comments with the post, which might be a thing to do. It's on one of the Los Angeles sites, I'll hafta look into that, I think.

Posted by Susan Kitchens at 1:34 PM, March 22, 2006 [Link]

E-mail and recent comments works for your own weblog (although as you note, it doesn't scale), but for following conversations on other people's weblogs, not so much.

Posted by ralph at 3:17 PM, March 22, 2006 [Link]

Well, I hope that by posting 'em there, people see that conversations are taking place and, therefore, they might wish to join in. I see the folly of it, now. They have to be visiting via a browser to do so.

Posted by Susan Kitchens at 6:37 PM, March 22, 2006 [Link]

Sad but true. That's why I added the number of comments posted to a given entry to my RSS and Atom feeds today. Fingers crossed that it doesn't break anything and cause my items to appear as new every time someone posts a comment.

Posted by ralph at 7:03 PM, March 22, 2006 [Link]

I guess maybe there's another divide between the community aspects and the storytelling aspects of this blog'o'sphere of ours. I am there for content, dammit!

"I am not writing posts for you to read; I AM TALKING TO YOU."

and most of the time, I'm writing to be read, not to chat. (except today, when I'm looking for advice.)

on the other hand, the problem of following conversations where they do exist is real, and really annoying. I have a cocomment account but have yet to do anything with it.

on the third hand, I find a real difference between the blogs I read as if they were mass media and those I read as friends. my friends I'm more likely to go look at in context, and to keep an eye on the comments where they exist. with "mass media" I'm happy to have control over the visual presentation.

I don't have a fourth hand on this particular issue, not yet anyway.

Posted by Elaine at 7:31 PM, March 22, 2006 [Link]

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What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


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