Don Marti

Fri 17 Feb 2006 05:41:56 PM PST

Blognet of the future and the reluctant A-lister

I had a good conversation yesterday with Doc Searls, acclaimed authoritative A-lister Alpha Blogger Gatekeeper. You will respect Doc's Authoritah!

I know, Doc, that's not the point. Doc is the founder and exalted leader, I mean, just another random d00d, of A-Listers Against the A List (ALATAL).

There is only so far that social convention and self-deprecation can take ALATAL, though. Alpha bloggers as we know them are an artifact of blog-reading tools. There are high and low status participants in other social-software-based fora, too, and yes, the power law is inevitable, but blogdom magnifies status differences because it's far easier to manage your subscriptions by author than by topic, and, at least in the tools I've seen, not yet practical to work with threads productively. On a Usenet-like system, every new participant is likely to be seen and noticed by at least some of the regulars. That's still not the case on blogs.

Randal Schwartz writes, "RSS is Usenet, reinvented badly."

But it's not that RSS is a bad Usenet, it's that RSS aggregation tools are bad newsreaders. Randal writes, "Instead of subscribing to a topic, I'm subscribing to an author. This is just so wrong on multiple levels." He's right.

Doc tells me that he mainly subscribes to keywords and tags, not individuals. That's a great first step, but it gets you roughly where grepping the news spool does. You do a search for "corporate welfare" and get one side of a debate where the other side is saying "public-private partnerships". (Hey, maybe the "echo chamber effect" results in part from the software too.)

What people really read in social software is threads. Blogs have threads. RSS already has everything you need to build a threaded interface on. Just read the One True Threading Algorithm and substitute links for References: headers.

We know how to turn raw RSS into threads, but we just don't have good UI for subscribing to and managing threads once we have them. I want to be able to start reading a thread when (1) it sets off a keyword or tag filter (2) n people whose postings I follow join the thread (3) the thread links to a target I have defined (such as something I've written). From then on I want to see everything in the thread until I "kill thread" it. I don't know if I'll need an RSS killfile, but I suspect I will.

Anyway, I suggested that Doc take a couple of newsreader manuals (tin, trn, PAN, Forte Agent) and hand them out at the next Technorati advisory board meeting. The time-suck problem is best left to something like Webolodeon.