Why blogs suck

I hate to step on people’s definitional toes, but if I’m going to talk about why [we]blogs sucks, I need to define them.

A blog is an evolving website, with distinct "entries". These entires are long or short, titled or not, and almost always have some kind of distinct URL so that you can link to them directly. Blogs often link to one another, but that doesn’t matter for my purposes.

The key feature of blogs that sucks is the way the entries are ordered: chronologically.

Chronological ordering makes sense in certain genres. It makes sense when writing a piece of history: the text is linked together by certain events. It makes sense when writing a diary: the overall patterns and relationships are not perceivable to the diarist, but they are what makes diaries interesting. It makes sense when writing a narrative.

It doesn’t make sense when writing essays. There might be a certain amount to be gained by discovering how a particular author’s opinions have changed over time. When a blog is a quasi-journal, a chronological ordering makes sense.

But many blogs are ordered by time by default, and for many of them a chronological ordering doesn’t make sense. If I read a good essay about environmental concerns, I am more likely to want to read further essays on environmental concerns than I am to want to read the same author talking about their sexuality, even if the two were written on the same day.

Of course, if the quality of this author’s writing is good, then I am at least somewhat likely to be interested in their writing in general, so the ability to find posts by the same author would also be valuable.

A blog is good at letting me find entries by the same author (spectacularly so – most blogs have only one), and entries in the same time period, but terrible at letting me find related essays, unless they are specifically linked to.

Compare forums. Forum-type webpages (also known as webboards) are good at letting me read entries by many authors. But since they are discussion oriented, they contain few extended self-contained pieces. The quality of writing on webboards is also much more variable – a blog will tend to be either good or bad, not mostly bad with a few gems, like a forum.

The type of content I like most is extended, self-contained pieces. I would like to be able to find many extended, self-contained pieces on similar topics. What is the solution?

Blogs as they currently stand are only a partial solution. If I find a well-written entry in a blog, it is at least possible that the majority of entries will be well-written. Blog entries tend to be self-contained, and are sometimes extended. Some blogs allow authors to categorise and sub-categorise content, so that I can easily read many related pieces by the same author, provided they’ve chosen to use this feature. Many don’t categorise entries – entries are ordered only chronologically, which is much worse.

Forums are only a partial solution. They tend to group entries by category, but the quality is wildly variable and there are few extended pieces.

Search engines as they stand are only a partial solution. They are good at finding pages that concern a particular topic, increasingly good at qualitative judgements, or at least at producing some kind of measure of the judgements made by others, but poor at judging qualities like "self-contained" and "extended".

But essentially what I want is a growth in user-generated content, linked by topic and quality controlled. At this point, hyperlinking is the best solution to this problem, but a more formal method of aggregating suitable content would be a better solution.

I want to be able to access a wealth of similar quality themed content from a single site.

Since web content can be dynamically generated, the ordering and selection of that content should be able to be user-defined, not centrally defined. If I want chronological ordering, I should be able to have it. If I want content by a particular author, I should be able to find it.

My proposal differs from current blogging practice in two ways: I want entries aggregated on central sites. The central sites could aggregate different kinds of content: posts by particular authors, posts on particular topics, posts in particular time frames. The same content is aggregated by <em >multiple sites</em> – a post on dead women might be aggregated on a site about death and one about women.

The central sites should exercise editorial control of some kind, and allows user-defined sub-categorisation of content.

The beauty of this proposal is that the sites don’t need to be created all at once. I could decide to create a site aggregating content about Linux, and soliciting people to allow me to collect their content. As I run the site, I can make editorial decisions. Someone else could do so for women, for death and for the colour purple. The result would be a wealth of excellent topical user-generated content, something that is currently widely distributed, and hence difficult to find.