Monday, 26 February 2007

Blog stream

Published July 2002

I was bogged down writing this story until I came across a piece by Simon Tisdall in the Guardian about linking. I thought it was going to be another of many current stories on the great internet deep linking controversy. Having almost forgotten that there was such a thing as a non-hypertext link, I was almost shocked to read about another form of linking. The linking game described in the article, puts imaginary people together linking concepts and events to arrive at some crazy conclusions. David Eyke (remember the shell suit?) links magnificently when he tells all about the illuminati.

Thinking about linking brought me to thinking about lateral thinking and Edward de Bono. He's top of the de Bono list at google, above U2. His site description says

Edward de Bono is regarded by many as the leading authority in the
world in the field of creative thinking and the direct teaching of thinking

He's the daddy of lateral thinking and I think he has a pad on an island in west cork. Which might explain why his website has that ghostly gone away feeling. Back in the heady 90s he was going for it: touting for 5 million members for the Edward de Bono Creative Team - note the trade mark. He also started TOPP, a web-based political party - acronym can mean Tired Of Politics Party we're told. He had lots of specific projects on the go, including Bonto which publishes poems in a creative exercise set by de Bono. Copyright credit for each of the four line poems is Author and the Edward de Bono Creative Team. The team is the sole owner of emails on the TOPP project, which is quite a bizarre archive.

But the poems and the emails stopped in 1999. That's about the time when people started drifting from the party - ecommerce wasn't going according to plan and there was no plan b. The net was getting tacky with email spam and pop up adverts and viruses - and very cluttered. Surfing was harder work for less return and maintaining a site was costly and time-consuming.

The Napster movement kept some of the buzz alive while people shared music files with each other over the internet. The music industry fought back and it's now illegal to share your favourite sounds online. If you want to have a weep, visit the napster site - the day the music died. Be interesting to know where Don McLean stands on Napster.

Napster was silenced but they're finding it harder to stop the individual who flout the law and carry on regardless. So now the record companies are threatening to sue individuals. It seems they're going to hang out in chat rooms and newsgroups to flush these arch terrorists out. Creepy.

Today the bloggers are running with the baton of a free and independent web. In place of music, bloggers share web logs (hence blogs) of links and personal opinions. The logs generate a stream of consciousness flow of dynamic content that races around the web via a rapidly growing network of self-publishers. With the internet going bankrupt, blogging is growing at the speed of light. According to an article in The Economist, a year ago there were about 30,000 people at it, now it's estimated to be 500,000. I did the sums and they support the claim of a growth rate nearing 25% a month. Scary numbers.

Bloggers are re-inventing the web which was (maybe still is) on the brink of collapse. A vast body of knowledgable, articulate writers is creating and distributing a new channel of free dynamic content. Let's call this content the blog stream where stories flow as well as gossip, rumours, tech talk, medical talk, you name it. One recurring theme is about why we blog. Everybody describes it as addictive. Blogging is doing for the art of writing what the Harry Potter books did for the art of reading - reawakening people's delight in airing their views.

Every minute of the day, 24/7, hundreds, maybe thousands of writers are scouring the web for content and streaming it onwards, driving readers to stories through hypertext links. News sites gain traffic, but with advertising sales down, traffic doesn't translate into cash.

Big news sites are expensive to run and money is as tight there as elsewhere. Venture capital is gone, share issues are meaningless and nobody's buying advertising. The print trade has always been an economic litmus test. When times are tough printers are the first to go out of business. That being the case, those news sites that are online arms of paper publishers are under additional pressure, because sales are down across the media board.

News sites must increase revenue and they are trying different approaches. The Financial Times offers readers a mix of free and subscription material but all stories for the past week are open to all. Other newspapers require you to register and supply personal details before providing you with free access to information. This process can be adapted to gather payment information if the publisher opts to become a subscription only service. In most cases the switch to subscription brings about a sharp decrease in readership, with a limited increase in revenue, but less appeal to advertisers if they ever come back.

It goes against the grain for a publisher to turn away readers - reaching readers is their spiritual mission in life. Lose readers they will for sure, if the Danish Newspaper Association acts on its right to ban a search engine from deep linking to stories on its website. The publishing world watched last week while they took their case to the Danish courts, and won. Presumably, they intend to act on the verdict and force the search engine to point links to all pages on the site to the address of the top page. Just maybe, the search engine will prefer to remove all links, period. Either way, I guess there�ll be a lot less people reading their stories.

Continuing with the process of erasing their website, will the Danish group next turn their attention to bloggers. Like the record company police prowling in chat rooms, will Danish journalists be found lurking in the blog stream, pouncing on these dangerous criminals. So people will stop linking to them and, sooner or later, the job is done, the website is wiped from the web. Somewhere or other there's a server storing their content but it has no traffic because nobody knows they are there, or cares.

Hypertext links are the web, the core of HyperText Markup Language. A site that bans deep linking is defying the nature of HTML. At dotblog Richard Giles is running a list of sites to boycott because they are anti-deep linking. Dave Winer on Scripting News thinks it's an oxymoron to oppose deep links and is disgusted by the whole affair. He's also been blogging the Janice Ian story that's hitting the headlines. Here is Janice Ian's ripping attack on the music industry. After you read it, sign her guest book in support. I did and got a personal email in response. Now that's good marketing. I've never had an album of hers but now we're on personal terms maybe I'd like to know how she sounds.

Janis Ian isn't running a blog yet but she's ideal for it � I shall suggest it. Her opinions would be appreciated on the blog stream, where there's a strong music undercurrent. Adam Currie, a founder of MTV, runs a very active blog with a lot of music talk. Today Adam is plugging the Northsea Jazz Festival. He's prolific - probably comes from being a DJ.

Blogs are as much about reading as writing, and bloggers become increasingly well informed. I have no great interest in Microsoft's plans for the future � I resigned myself to their inevitable control some time ago - but the blogs are full of stories about Palladium. As a result, I know a lot more about it and have developed an opinion on the matter. And on the Palladium trail I discovered more interesting bloggers to get to know.

Can you remember how you communicated before email? Not only did you do less of it but you did it in a different, more formal, way. In a few years time you'll be asking yourself how you communicated before blogging and you'll find yourself to be better informed and more articulate.

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