More About Weblogs

For nearly a year now, I’ve spent one to three hours every night surfing the web, reading everything I came across, judging the quality of the writing and information, and determining whether or not my readers would be interested in the same things I was.

The truth is, I’m burnt out. I simply cannot do it anymore. At least not at this pace. Increasing responsibilities at my full time job that require me to spend even more time in a 12×12 box of pre-fabricated cube walls, surrounded by no less than four computer monitors. As a consequence of this, I have decided to scale back my personal Internet projects to the minimum. Unfortunately, that includes CamWorld.

So, what’s an overworked and underpaid young interactive designer to do? I am not going to abandon CamWorld. No, that’d be wrong. But, I am going to slow down a little and try to write more commentary, more essays, and focus less trying to serve up as many quality links as I could manage. Instead of visiting every day as some of you faithfully have, swing on by every second or third day to see if I’ve added anything.

In the long run, I believe that this is what you all want. Less senseless hype. Less gratuitous linking. Less focus on the sensationalistic journalism that’s crowding our brains and turning them into mush. More focus on the truly exceptional content out there on the web that only a few of us manage to dig up. More personal essays. More professional essays. And yes, even the occasional rant.

You see, CamWorld is about me. It’s about who I am, what I know, and what I think. And it’s about my place in the New Media society. CamWorld is a peek into the subconsciousness that makes me tick. It’s not about finding the most links the fastest, automated archiving, or searchable personal web sites. It’s about educating those who have come to know me about what I feel is important in the increasingly complex world we live in, both online and off.

CamWorld is an experiment in self-expression. And that experiment is not over. Over the next year (or two or three), CamWorld will evolve into something more. It will always have its loyal readers just as Stephen King and his publishing house have millions of people committed to buying his next book (regardless of whether it sucks or not). CamWorld grew from a little site built to support a new media college class I was teaching into what it is today.

Maintaining a daily weblog is harder than it looks, folks. I applaud those who manage to keep their’s updated daily, sometimes with too much material for even me to keep up with. The two that come immediately to mind are Jorn Barger’s Robot Wisdom Weblog and Lawrence Lee’s Tomalak’s Realm. While the former sports plenty of opinionated commentary and dozens of links every day, the latter is nothing more than a headline aggregator with pullquotes. That doesn’t make it any less useful. On the contrary, some headline aggregator sites (often mistaken for weblogs) are very useful for reviewing what’s happening on the web on any given day.

Lately, there has been an explosion of growth in the weblog community. In some ways, I detest this growth, as it makes my efforts with CamWorld even harder. Some have criticized the weblog format and labeled it the “latest Internet craze.” Others have dismissed it as nothing more than people rediscovering the power of a quality home page. I disagree. Home pages are places where you put pictures of your family and your cats. It’s a place to distribute information to a close circle of family and friends. Weblogs, however, are designed for an audience. They have a voice. They have a personality. Simply put, they are an interactive extension of who you are.

In short, the weblog is here to stay, regardless of whether it’s updated daily, weekly or whenever the owner damn well feels like it. And that’s the point. Newspapers have daily deadlines because they have a committed (and paying) daily audience. Magazines have weekly and monthy deadlines because they too have a committed (and paying) audience who expects them to publish on time. Keep in mind that weblogs have their own established audiences who expect certain things from each owner. The last thing you should expect, however, is for them to cater to your every whim. That’s simply a very selfish expectation and shouldn’t be tolerated.

I hope the weblog “craze” continues as more and more people discover the power of a regularly updated site that reflects their own unique personality. In a few years, it’d be neat to see the weblog format overtake the standard home page format with monster GIFs of people’s cats, dogs, babies, and cars. But I doubt it will happen. It’s taken us almost six years to get people to understand that home pages don’t need to have every funny little GIF animation they’ve ever seen, or silly javascript rollovers, or even that crash-happy Java-based pong game. Focus more on the content and less on the glitz. As the Internet community and Geocities members realize that the reasons they’ve had only 102 hits on their page(s) in a year (100 of them from their own IP address), the quality of their online initiatives will go up as they begin to understand what is required to keep a regular audience happy and well-fed.

I know, I know…I’ve rambled on too long, but some of these scattered thoughts have been cluttering up my brain for far too long. So bear with me, as I do a little housecleaning up top.

I’d like to address an issue that has bothered me for some time. It’s about crediting a source online within a weblog. Out of a common courtesy, I (and many other weblog owners) usually give credit to a site where we first saw the article, story, quote, or tidbit we’re linking to. There are two different camps of this thinking. Those who think crediting initial sources is good, and those who don’t. Several weblogs have developed a system where a source is credited with an acronym, and then somewhere else there is a key that explains the acronym system to the reader who is interested enough to dig that deep. Robot Wisdom and Cardhouse are examples of weblogs that do this, with [cw] being the acronym for CamWorld at the latter. Other sites simply add a short credit like [via Flutterby] or [found at Obscure Store].

I like the idea of crediting an initial source, but wonder if it clutters up the flow of information a weblog is trying to deliver. As a weblog owner, I encourage the idea of crediting a source, as it informs each weblog’s audience about another potential source of information they might enjoy. Along this same vein of thought, it’s discomforting to see some weblogs (or headline aggregators) simply compile a list of links culled from a list of weblogs they frequent every day.

The “big idea” of the Internet is the power of distributed information. Where anyone can, with a little hard work, develop a web site that hundreds and thousands of people may want to read and/or participate in. Seeing that hard work being leveraged on another site without proper credit tends to get me down. And rightly so. The Internet is about personalized and customized communication. Weblogs have established a small island of rationality and stability among the sea of information that the Internet has thrown at everyone. Those of us who are honing our skills at filtering this information are creating the best weblogs. The better the signal-to-noise ratio, the better your site will be.

I’m still waiting for the weblog model to be adopted by others. Woudn’t it be great if all the neurosurgeons in the world had one place to go for up-to-date information about the numerous changes in their field? (this could be a subscription-only site!) Or what about government-centric weblogs? The FCC has a Daily Digest mailing list that attempts to keep the public up-to-date on all of their changing regulations, but it’s simply not the same as a weblog.

Every industry in the world has a potential need for a quality weblog or two. It’s safe to say that the Macintosh community has been inundated with Mac-centric news sites for several years now. So many, that I’ve lost count. But what about a weblog for the homemaker? Or the thousands of hot rod enhusiasts? Or the ham radio hobbyists? These are called niche market portals, and every one of them (and thousands of other niche markets) could be a potential source of quality information for someone.

The closest thing to this model I’ve seen is the Mining Company. They have an infrastructure of about 500 mini-sites or so that focus on some of the more popular niche markets on the Internet. They pay editors to keep these sites updated on a regular basis. The only reason I think they are not well-known is the lack of a great advertising campaign, the absence of the infamous Internet hype about them, and a general lack of awareness among the millions of Internet users who could benefit from the information they are compiling and distributing.

Another interesting application of the weblog model would be within corporate intranets. Where I work, much of the company-wide memorandums and communication is done via email, with some emails containing numerous attachments that sometimes weigh in at a hefty one-to-two megabytes. It’d be so much better if these emails only referenced documents somewhere on the intranet instead of including them via attachments. The intranet page for each department could be a regularly updated weblog of information currently being circulated. This would solve so many problems with disk space and deleted emails, it puzzles me that some corporate intranets haven’t adopted these simple concepts for the easy distribution of information.

I hope that you all continue to visit CamWorld, even in its anemic state, and I hope that I’ve encouraged you to continue with your own weblogs. And if you don’t have a weblog, then consider building one for your specific industry, specialty, or occupation. The world is in need of more specialized weblogs.

Go forth and create.

Posted by Cameron Barrett at May 11, 1999 11:59 PM

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