Kicks Condor

Notes: The Weblog Handbook (2002)

Quotes and marginalia from my 2019 reading of Rebecca Blood’s blogging advice.

(This is a draft. I am still in the process of reading this book, currently on page 149.)

After putting together Notes: We’ve Got Blog (2002), I checked out this book through the interlibrary loan, on the strength of Rebecca Blood’s quotes in that book. This book is not quite as rich at that one - the subtitle here is “Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog” - so there are sections on how to choose a host, how to decide the name, blog conventions - and this is all geared toward an absolute newb, and much of what I’m looking for is outside of that.

None of that is criticism, I just mention that to explain why I might be skipping large sections in my notes.

p. 9. “Webloggers understand that people will regularly visit any website that reliably provides them with worthwhile content, even when that content is on another site. As counterintuitive as it may seem from an old-media perspective, weblogs attract regular readers precisely because they regularly point readers away.” (This is one way that I feel blogs have returned to an ‘old-media’ perspective - people are much less likely to link externally in 2019. Most Medium posts or recipe blogs or coding tutorial posts - you don’t see so many links any longer. I think this a combination of a lot of things - links now have a decent monetary value due to affiliate linking and they also became a liability due to SEO rules. (See Linkfarmville.) As a result, I don’t think we can call this an ‘old-media’ perspective any longer. I think you could even safely call it the ‘new-media’ perspective! 😂)

p. 11. “The new information space includes a website devoted to the adoration of Converse’s popular ‘Chuck Taylor All-Star’ sneaker, a site detailing the exploits of two friends who photograph each other attempting to match the appearance of strangers they happen to see, and one that seeks to elucidate an artist’s curious obsession with young women holding celery.” Okay, had to track these links down! They are: The Chucks Connection (still up), Dean & Nigel Blend In (defunct), and The Art of Frahm (also, still there, just as it was!) It’s interesting to me though, that the conceit of these websites would probably still work in 2019 - so though the ethic of ‘new-media’ in the 2000s has died, the creative concepts haven’t. In fact, I’m sure that they’ve cannibalized the ‘old-media’ creative concepts.)

p. 12. “For everyone, the great task of the future will not be to gain access to more information, but to develop avenues to information that genuinely enhances our understanding, and to screen out the rest.” (Yes, ok, here we go. I think we can all agree with this. And this makes me think of the ‘layers’ I mentioned in Notes: We’ve Got Blog (2002) - layers of reading, layers of writing. Social media is too raw - it’s all random snippets of text, no summaries. I need high-level views of the information, then the ability to zoom into the details. A ‘layer’ is a level of detail - and it includes both a measure of polish and quality, as well as a measure of intimacy with the topic or person.)

p. 12. “Even the man who turns first to the Sports section of the paper version of his hometown newspaper is exposed, however briefly, to the front news page; and an interesting headline in the Living section may catch his eye when he puts down the rest of the paper.” (Ok, here we see the value of directories when compared to a search engine. Even ‘awesome’ directories are this way - you start to wonder, “What else is in here?” I think that even social media and Reddit give you this adjacency exposure - but perhaps it’s too random. The underlying assumption of this analogy is that the man values the newspaper as a whole.)

p. 12. “Read a good filter-style weblog for even a few days, and you will never doubt the value of an astute human editor. Because he evaluates content rather than keywords, a human editor provides his readers with more relevant information than the most sophisticated news aggregator ever can.” (This has definitely been my experience with Andy Baio. He has plugged me into better links over the years than any algorithm has. I mean algorithms have done some good work, too, but I think that they owe a lot to human editors downstream who initially bring some attention to a link that then gets picked up by an algorithm. So the algorithm relies on Andy Baio, too!)

p. 17. “With the addition of a comment system, many weblogs actively solicit ideas and opinions from their readers.” (This is one line that really struck me as being in stark contrast to today. Blog comments are seen as being synonymous with ‘cesspools’. I have not personally had that experience - but I have never had many readers and I am not a target for some reason. Large websites are obviously a target because they give a random commenter a large audience. Nevertheless, there is no question that people want feedback. For some, I think they would be happy with just measuring ‘likes’. But I think this is what the Indieweb gets soooo right - there are no ‘comments’, only blog posts interacting with each other. However, it’s clear that there are ‘readers’ who just want to send an e-mail, rather than having to write, edit and publish a blog online.)

p. 18. “I would go so far as to say that if you are not linking to your primary material when you refer to it—especially when in disagreement—no matter what the format or update frequency of your website, you are not keeping a weblog.” (What a prescient, clear-headed sentiment! This is something we still need to integrate into our ethic today.)

p. 29. “Writing short is hard—and very good for you. Seeking to distill your thoughts to the fewest words, you will find out what you really think, and you’ll work even harder to find the precise term to express your meaning. Paradoxically, writing short also spurred me to write longer pieces. Finding that I sometimes had more to say than I could comfortably fit in a weblog entry, it was natural to turn my comments into an essay. Rather than distill my thoughts, this longer form required that I flesh out my ideas and more fully support my conclusions.”

p. 30. “The weblogger is privy to the entries she posts and those that she does not: I think I’ll blog that! followed a moment layer by No. . . . Acutely aware of what she does not type, the weblogger more clearly defines her own boundaries. Reviewing what she has written, she catches glimpses of her less-conscious self.”

p. 40. She doesn’t mention how to set up any specific services, saying, “Even if I had a favorite, software of this type comes and goes.” It makes me very grateful that she wrote this book, despite the trouble with keeping it current.

p. 48. “When I look at an unfamiliar weblog, I always take note of the names listed in the sidebar. The first question I ask (still) is ‘Am I listed?’ Pathetic, isn’t it? I don’t think you ever outgrow it.” 😉

p. 56. “I knew of one weblogger who told no one he knew about his site. His audience developed when the sites he linked found him and linked back.” It’s interesting to see my blog explained in two sentences. It’s cool that this still works twenty years later. (This section of the book focuses on the value of using a psuedonym. Kind of like with blog comments, I think people have rested on making generic claims (i.e. the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory) and dismissed the valuable tradeoff that they offer.)

p. 68. “Write some linktext or a personal entry in the voice of another weblogger, using your own material. Then try using that technique once a day for a week or two to whether it suits you.” (I’m unsure as to whether this suggestion is a kind of A/B testing or if it is merely a game. I’m noticing in these next sections that there are some sales and marketing type strategies discussed. This fits inline with the idea that bloggers had to adopt the roles of editor and publisher. And promoter I guess. While I feel like there is discussion of ‘old-media’ vs ‘new-media’ writing approaches - but not so much ‘old-media’ vs ‘new-media’ publishing and promoting (whatever that may be.))

p. 69. “The audience of one is the single most important principle behind creating a website—or anything—that is fresh, interesting, and compelling. Consult your own taste, and then consult your audience—but only in regard to your presentation of the material.” (This seems a misnomer to me. I would think this would be ‘a creator of one’ rather than ‘an audience’. Look: this book, these notes I’m writing, every blog, every thread comment on the Internet, is written to the audience of humans out there. So I don’t think it’s useful to say that your audience is just yourself - if so, it would change the voice of the writing. For instance, you wouldn’t feel a need to explain anything. You wouldn’t take the time to write out your background on a topic. Even h0p3 sometimes writes in an explanatory voice and other times in a shorthand - like in link logs, where there are often short, cryptic comments in bulleted lists. Perhaps these varieties of voices also play into hypertext ‘layering’ - need a better name for it…)

p. 70. “Take your time. Think as you write, and be willing to rewrite until each sentence of each entry says exactly what you want it to.”

p. 72. “You will most enjoy writing your weblog if you approach it as your private sandbox. If, after writing and rewriting an entry, you can’t quite articulate your objection to current foreign policy, post it anyway. You’ll have another chance to try tomorrow or next week or next month.” (Again this is where ‘layering’ - ‘hypertiering’, ‘tearing’, ‘funneling’ - gaaa I don’t know what to call it - this is where it comes in. Having parts of your site that are less accessible and more personal and rough, alongside more public surface material.)

p. 74. “I would encourage you to embrace all the elements at your disposal. Experiment with different forms of linktext, different lengths of entries, much commentary, no commentary. Write short. Write long. If you are so inclined, play with the design of your site. If you love to code, your site can be a project that expands as your skills grow; if you don’t know anything about coding, your site may become a fantastic impetus to learn a little bit about HTML or cascading style sheets. Add photographs. Write essays. Hone your Web searching skills and publish the results. Tell stories. Be willing to experiment. Play.” (This is a photograph of the feeling towards one’s blog in 2002. This seems very basic now. However, most people have lost access to this freedom I think.)

p. 75. Linked article: “Adding value to your links.” This is still a solid bit of advice for writing directory entries.

p. 80. “GLBT bloggers…” (Didn’t realize this acronym had some shuffling occur. Good to see the lesbians prevail. Makes sense to me.)

p. 85. “You may choose to follow and participate in only one or two threads a day or week; you may find that you gain more from the community by lurking than by actively posting; and you must always remember that your words are the only measure other members have of you.” (There is good advice in the etiquette section here, but I am sure that anyone who needs the advice won’t take it.)

p. 87. “Some webloggers regularly provide coding tips, free postcards, or desktop wallpaper. If you feel that you are an expert user of a particular weblog tool or other commonly used software, consider offering tutorials on your site or providing advice in user forums.” (We’re past this, right? I think we’ve moved past this.)

p. 90. “[Linking to others] is probably the single most effective strategy for politely announcing your presence as a new member of the community.” (It’s interesting how this has changed subtly with @-mentions becoming the primary way on social media sites. I like how Webmentions have cleaned up this ‘strategy’ and allowed mentioning to become more nuanced. I wonder if ‘likes’ are a good way to announce your presence. Like I wonder if people generally check their likes for ‘others’.)

p. 92. (wrt to ‘cross-blog socializing’) “Be aware that if your weblog largely consists of comments to other webloggers—even two or three a day—you will severely limit your potential audience.” (Again, funneling.)

p. 95. “Every experienced weblog reader knows that the best way to find good weblogs is to follow the links from the sidebar of their favorites.” (The lost art that ‘friending’ killed!)

p. 102. “Weblog clusters emerged as webloggers converted their sidebars from more general lists of ‘other weblogs’ to ‘other weblogs like mine.’” (I don’t connect with this portrayal of the blogroll sidebar AT ALL! To me, it’s a chance to advertise my favorites - the tultywits. Admitting this is terrible - because it may hurt someone’s feelings that they’re not on my list. That’s the hard part of the tradeoff. But what can I do - I need these on my list to survive. Go focus on your list, make it good - and just don’t put me on there, I’m fine.)

p. 103. (wrt the word ‘attack’) “I don’t mean a respectful disagreement with her opinion on U.S. foreign policy; I’m talking about outright attacks that seem grounded in a personal dislike for the victim.” (Is an ‘attack’ an ad hominem argument? Is it using a derogative name? To accuse someone of an ‘attack’ - is that also an ‘attack’? It’s strange to live in a society where now I hear all the time in personal conversations with friends or neighbors: ‘[Person] attacked me on social media.’ Part of the trouble is knowing whether I can affix those intentions of ‘personal dislike’ to the other person. I get that this is unsolvable - part of my point is that we’re too wrapped up in conflict. People seem to collect it, categorize it and make rules around it, as if it were the loveliest game in the whole world.)

p. 104. “Again, I’m not counseling against thoughtful criticism of another weblogger’s political opinions or her editorial stance on the proliferation of trees with fuzzy pink flowers in her part of town. A public site invites scrutiny. Most people who offer opinions about current events are interested in, or at least not offended by, a respectful dissenting view.” (This is a perfectly rational view. But I try to stay away from criticizing someone publicly. I hope none of my thoughts here are perceived as looking down on Rebecca Blood or rejecting her work. I think this is a fantastic book - that’s why I’m talking about it. These are rough notes where I’m just using her statements as a springboard. I am probably wrong, up and down, left and right.)

p. 105. “My policy on dealing with weblog flamewars is simple: Ignore them.” (I get this. But this often feels like high-horsing. It feels arrogant to just ignore something completely. I think it’s fine to just say: ‘This hurts my feelings’ or ‘I’m not in a good state to reply to this’. People also seem to demand apologies and have become experts at dissecting apologies, as if you can get to the truth of something so subjective and surface-level. So silence doesn’t really cut it in many situations anyway.)

p. 134. “I focus my weblog on the ideas I find interesting, not on myself.” (Wonder about the PSM take on this.)

p. 144. “I don’t know if the ex-webloggers miss their weblogs. I don’t know if they ever wish they still had their little spot on the Web, a place to share stories, tell a few jokes, learn a little HTML. I think that I would miss those things, but I wonder if that might someday change.” (Would be interesting to ask Rebecca about this.)

p. 148. “Those first webloggers soon discovered a community of parallel sites that called themselves E/N pages (for ‘everything/nothing,’ a description of their subject mater). Though they used the same format (dated entries, newest at the top), their focus and sensibility was completely divergent from that of the emerging weblog community. Members of both communities agreed that though the format was identical, the sites, some how, were different.” (Hah, wow!! I missed this one. See here. Then here. I love how low the ratings are on these. I do think this is closer to what the Web has turned into, rather than blogging. Really appreciate that Rebecca pointed this out!)

Study of E/N pages also led me to Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything book. Here is an essay with some of the basics. To review later I suppose.

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