Full-Duplex Metablog

Tuesday January 13, 2009
I've been doing some thinking about what I use this medium for.  I've come to the conclusion that I'm not really sure.  And yet, I know there are a lot of the things I don't use it for.

I try not to write about blogging (although this post is clearly evidence that I do sometimes) becuase a medium that does nothing but navel-gaze is dull.  I got really tired of reading a few otherwise good authors (names withheld to protect the guilty) who seemed unable to stop writing about how amazing it was that they were writing all this stuff!

I try not to write about politics, because I think it'll do more harm than good.  Here, I will name names, because one person in particular stood out: ESR did a lot to damage his credibility in my eyes with his "Anti-Idiotarian" manifesto and subsequent political blathering.  (Link omitted on purpose. I'd rather remember his useful writing, not go read that junk again.)  My distaste was not really because of the views he espoused, but because they demonstrated the poorly-socialized adolescent perspective on politics that the popular media is so quick to ascribe to all nerds: "If we insult our opponents enough eventually they'll realize our superior reasoning is obviously right".  Now, I can't help but read all of his writing in that light.  I live in mild fear that I might be a poorly-socialized man-child myself.  I don't want to walk around wearing that fact on my sleeve.

I try not to write about personal events, because in many cases they're not that interesting to a wide audience.  For every blog post about how cool blogging is, there are two about how angry somebody is that somebody else is wasting all their time with articles about their cats.  MC Frontalot told me so himself.  (Although I wonder: does anyone complain about how much time is wasted by people forcing them to read blog posts about blog posts about people talking about their cats?  If so, is the irony intense enough to be a carbon-neutral power source?)

I don't bother to write on a schedule, because it seems somewhat arbitrary.  Nobody is desperately waiting to hear my experience of audio problems in Linux.  Nobody's week is going to be ruined if they don't hear me complain about shared-state multithreading yet again.  And of course, keeping to a schedule is hard.

There are lots of things I don't do.  So why am I publishing this stuff at all?

The one thing I can say that I do already do is write about technical topics.  I'm pretty confident in what I'm saying.  I have complex ideas that I want to refer to later, so writing things up in detail is useful to me personally.  It seems like other people sometimes enjoy my perspective.

More generally, I think writing is an important skill, and practicing it helps to develop it.  The process of writing itself is enjoyable.  It's like programming, but easier.  I don't have to be right all the time; if I misspell a few words or use the passive voice, the article doesn't crash.  I find writing for an audience a useful way to explore my own ideas, and having audience is a good way to draw attention to my work.  This is particularly useful in the dog-eat-dog world of open source, attention is the fuel that projects run on.  It's also nice to keep others up to date with what I'm doing.  Public writing serves as a sort of social lubricant.  It's always nice to start a conversation with, "so I heard on your blog...".  It short circuits awkward "I-don't-know-what-you're-about" smalltalk, as well as repeating oneself a lot when asked "what's going on with you".

My motivation, as stated, partially contradicts the above list of self-imposed prohibitions.  If I want to draw an audience, writing about emerging communication technologies, such as blogs (perhaps, especially blogs), seems to attract a default audience that is enthusiastic.  New Media geeks do, after all, read a lot of New Media.  Not that I'd have to force it, either, I have a lot of ideas about the world wide net that I could share.  Similarly, the popular reaction I mention to stories-about-cats blogs indicates that lots of people read them (albeit with mixed levels of disdain).  Writing about personal events would be useful to some of my audience; members of my family, for example, who don't really care about, or even understand, my technical stuff.  Even writing about politics might clarify my thinking.  Since I'm very concerned about politeness to those I disagree with, maybe I could write about my ideas without dropping an "anti-idiotarian" firebomb.

Writing on a schedule might also improve my writing skills somewhat, in that it would cause me to come up with things to write about even if the words weren't bursting forth.  In fact, it was Jeff Atwood talking about "success" as a blogger having to do with keeping a schedule that got me thinking about this in the first place, both about writing on a schedule and defining "success" for myself.

If I were on a schedule, I'd have to learn tricks like coming up with concise ways to phrase things quickly, rather than re-editing and deleting and re-editing and polishing in odd moments for weeks.  For reference, I wrote this post in one sitting, so it was easy to time how long it took.  Granted, it's non-technical, so it's a less comfortable area for me, and I wasn't giving it my full attention, but still: it took 9 hours, 4 of which were almost exclusively proofreading and deleting.  If this were a typing test, I'd clock in at just under 3 words per minute.  I could stand to get a bit faster.

Ultimately these thoughts end up being circular though.  I don't know how I'm going to evolve my writing habits because I don't know what my audience really is.  The whole point of writing for an audience is that one has to leave aside one's particular whims and try to communicate what the audience is interested in.  Feedburner hasn't given me too much information about you thus far.  I know there's about 300 of you.  I know that most of you use Google Reader to read my blog.  Beyond that, the general trend seems to be that later posts have gotten more interest, but that may just be a function of the fact that I'm picking up readers as I go along.  (Plus, feedburner never seemed to work quite right for my LiveJournal.  I'm sure I'm missing a lot of data.)

That's the magic of blogs as a medium though, right?  The instant feedback from the audience, transforming the creation process from the simple act of creation to a feedback loop?  From an isolated experience in the mind of the author to a continuous process, a genuine collaboration between creator and consumer? By the way, if you ask me for more blogging about blogging, don't complain if you get more pretentious nonsense like this.  I've got buckets of it.

Please, tell me what you'd like to read.  I'd also like to expand my audience to other people who might not have exactly your interests, so I'd like to hear what you wouldn't mind.  Would it bother you to see the occasional funny picture of my friends' cats?  To read all about my plan to revitalize the economy by investing a trillion dollars of federal money in buying me a lot of really nice computers, cars, and houses?  How about my Culture / Star Trek crossover fan-fiction?

If I do tackle a wider diversity of topics, do you have any preferences for how I should segregate them?  Different blogs?  Tags?  Does it matter if I segregate them, or would knowing that I'm a card-carrying member of the American Reptoid Control Party destroy your confidence in my technical acumen forever, even if you had to click through a bunch of links to find out?

I'd also be interest in when you'd like to read it.  Personally, I've cared about posting schedules for comics and serialized fiction.  I've never really been waiting around for the next episode of Joel on Software or Coding Horror though.  Have you?  Would you like to see a posting schedule here?

So, there you have it.  Your move, Internet!