Sunday, October 30, 2005

He asked me why

The truth about stories is that's all we are. (Thomas King, The Truth About Stories)

Some months ago, Rob at Chesterly was kind enough to ask why I blog. I responded by taking about a month's hiatus from blogging. Sorry 'bout that.

In part, it's because I thought the question was asked and answered back at the beginning. One reason I blog because the concept came up on some library listservs I'm on, and I felt I had to experiment with the technology to say anything about it.

So what have I learned? The first is an old library school lesson: first separate medium from content, then explore how they relate. On the software level, a blogging platform is nothing but a simple content management system - a very low barrier to entry way of publishing content to the Web. On the content level, like any other medium, there's good stuff and bad stuff, neither invalidates the other, there's no arguing taste, and Sturgeon's Law applies.

This makes the question, for librarians, whether that tool does what you want it to. If you have information to publish in a reverse-chronological format, then yes, your library could use a blog for that. If you think you need a blog because everybody's got one, or that you don't because they're only for crazy theories about the Men In Black, go back and reread that last paragraph. We fought this battle back in the mid '90s about whether libraries needed web pages at all; we don't have to re-fight it.

I've also learned that I outgrew Blogger pretty quickly. I've considered working on another platform, but I lack the energy to run two blogs, or move all the content from this one. Blogger needs two things to be competitive, IMO.

To encourage discussion, Blogger needs threaded comments and better identity management. LiveJournal seems to be eating everybody else's lunch in this space, and I can't for the life of me understand why. This not new; we learned it with Usenet newsreaders. You can't have strong discussions (i.e. strong communities) with a purely chronological discussion thread.

My interests are also wide-ranging enough that I really want more categorization options, a la Typepad. I should be able to separate out the multiple different areas I write about, and you should be able to easily see only the ones which interest you. If Blogger wants to shed its "cute pictures of my minivan" reputation, this would be a good way to do it.

Oh - and I need some kind of way to format my tangents differently. But that's probably a CSS trick as much as a system feature, so I could learn it mydamnself.

The other reason I started this blog was because my friend Reg asked why I wasn't writing a novel. I repeated this story to my friend CJ, thinking he'd join me in laughing off the idea. He said it was a good question.

All my life I've thought about writing. I've talked about writing. I've told stories very well, and I've had interesting discussions. But what I haven't done is written, actually put words on the page and open them up to other people. Hip Deep finally gives me a place to do that. I don't work as much with technical elements like voice and tone as I want to, to really hone the craft. But at least writing in TextEdit and posting to Blogger gives me a little time to work, and the knowledge that there are people out there, reading and responding, gives me a reason to work on the next one.

And is it working? I don't know. I'm not convinced that my writing is much better than it was when I started. The blogosphere is pretty kind about critiquing your thought instead of your technique. On the other hand, I have a pretty large portfolio of my own writing to review, and I can identify some of my aggravating habits and work on them.

The novel is definitely not coming. Characters don't seem to come to me. I suppose I could work on plots and descriptions and see if the characters appear. These editorials, however, practically write themselves. This is what I can see myself writing... a slice of life, commentary and criticism, reviews, an occasional joke.

At the end of the day, I write in order to write. We are the story-telling animal. We're the only ones who talk about who was here before us and what happens when we're gone. That is why I blog: to tell these stories. To make sure someone does. Because they're mine.


Blogger Rob said...

Thanks for the response, Joe! Very informative.

I, too, don't know if my writing has improved very much from doing this, but my speed has increased (which for me is a good thing). Also, this is the first time in my life I've actually been able to keep a "journal" after numerous other tries on my own. Don't know what I'll do with it in the future, but it will be a good chronicle of this portion of my life, nonetheless.

Thanks again.

10:24 AM, October 31, 2005  
Blogger lemming said...

I'd agree with Rob.

I'd add that, quite inadvertantly for me, blogging has turned out to be an easy way to keep in touch with old friends and make new ones along the way. Given how much time I'm forced to spend alone, it's nice to have a little "social time" even if it is virtual.

1:50 PM, October 31, 2005  
Blogger Rob said...

Amen, sister!

8:55 PM, October 31, 2005  
Blogger lemming said...

(kisses Rob)

(kisses Joe)

2:50 PM, November 01, 2005  
Blogger John B. said...


Totally unrelated to the posting, a librarian story from Sunday:

I went to the local city library to take my 12 year old to do some research for a science fair project.

I took the 9 year old along so that he could check out a few books also, as he is a smart kid and a voracious reader.

The 9 year old asked what all of the numbers on the side of the books were (Dewey decimals, not the ISDN #s we are / were all used to).
I began to explain the dewey system to my son, and then thought to ask the librarian if she had anything that listed the basic numbers and what subjects they represented (just the basics, 000's are reference, 100's are this and that, etc.).

Well, the librarian looked at me funny, and then spent the next 10 minutes searching for a book that had the dewey numbers in it. I finally pulled an encyclopedia out and found it myself.

I couldn't believe that they didn't have anything, a bookmark, anything, with the dewey numbers on it.

Mostly I find librarians to be highly helpful...this one was a ditz.

Just a story...not a reflection on librarians in particular, this was the first time that I ever found a librarian who was stumped on what seemed to be the simplest thing. I know that you are a librarian, thought you might like to see what competition you are up against.

7:08 PM, November 01, 2005  
Blogger Joe said...

Lemming: True that. Blogs seem to encourage a social network which mass email doesn't.

John: It's hard to imagine anyplace paying enough for me to be a public librarian. That's hard duty. Still, you'd think a basic Dewey guide would be on the wall someplace.

I was going to mock her, until I realized that I didn't have the first idea where I'd pull a book on the LC numbers at work.

8:50 PM, November 01, 2005  
Blogger TeacherRefPoet said...

I tried the mass email thing for a while. But it's intrusive. I like writing about wacky stuff I notice, and it seems throwing that into an inbox is rude. At least this way people are voluntarily seeking out my life's minutiae.

9:23 PM, November 02, 2005  
Blogger tommyspoon said...

TRP, does that mean I should remove you from my list? (I won't be upset if you answer in the affirmative.)

1:58 PM, November 04, 2005  
Blogger Reggiemonster said...

I don't care what you think- I still think you should be writing a novel.

2:49 PM, November 04, 2005  

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