Sunday, December 31, 2006

Oh yeah... It's the last day of the year.

Looking forward to Gravity Lounge tonight with Devon and Paul and a ton of other artists.

I guess if I've got to make a New Years resolution it would be to try and cut back on ideas for new projects and to start finishing the ones I've got. Reading more books would also be nice. Not letting my geeking nature make me forget about politics (which is very tempting right now I'm sad to admit) is another good one. Perhaps the most important would be to not let people get between me and my grades.

You see... this is why I don't make resolutions!

Current Page Flipping:

William Gibson - Neuromancer

Tom Mes - Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike

Speaking of Aggregators...

Online blog aggregators need an easy to use function that can allow syndicated blogs to control which entries are published on them. I'm not a programmer, and am thus only aware of the complications of creating such a feature as pull-blocking on the most basic of levels. I haven't even taken the time to see if this idea is already being used. What I do know is that I have not seen the following idea as a feature in or on the aggregators I've fiddled with, and believe it should be the next step in the evolution of blogging.

The basic problem I've found with online aggregators is simply that they are normally formed around a theme while most blogs are actually quite eclectic. As a result, two problematic groups tend to accumulate. The first are such eclectic bloggers that do join themed aggregators and thus clutter them with numerous entries that are not relative to their themes alongside those that are. The other group is made of those more prudent bloggers that restrain from sharing the irrelevant with the relevant, and as a result miss out on the benefits of the aggregator.

Recently I found myself in the predicament of the latter when my blog became focused on the Marshall-Newman amendment. (As my last entry discussed, politics had not and probably will not be the norm on my blog.) With my arguments against the amendment restrained to the locally eclectic Charlottesville Blogs aggregator as opposed to one purely focused on politics, my chances of reaching people outside my choir were limited. Maintaining multiple specialized blogs is one alternative that many blogger use. However it is not always practical for the more casual blogger. Inactivity can result in diminished traffic, and since traffic is usually desired, the effort to maintain two or more blogs can result in unfavorable ratios of quantity to quality. Another risk in biting off more than one can chew is that in trying to maintain the more formal blog(s) the initial and more casual blog might be put to the wayside, along with a great deal of whatever enjoyment engaged the person to blog in the first place.

By having a function to select which articles appear on an aggregator, more people would potentially be able to use it while maintaining the central focus of the aggregator. It could also hypothetically allow members to self editorialize. So that they might state a well established position personally without contributing to a saturation of one topic on an aggregator (a rather exceptional act of consideration and humility I doubt any of us would actually partake in).

Perhaps most relevant (though in no notably direct way applicable) to the recent uproar in Virginia political blogging: It would allow bloggers to compose pieces with content that is not permitted on an aggregator. The degree of value in this depends greatly on your use of aggregators. In my case, I seldom read them. More precisely, I peruse them in order to find blogs outside of the circles I frequent. When an article on an aggregator catches my eye, I follow the link back to the original blog, look over its recent articles and if not thrown off I revisit it until I decide it's worth linking to so that I check it routinely. To me, aggregators are a means to advertise new and old blogs outside my spectrum with not necessarily like-minded or opposing ideas, but well argued, intelligent and above all interesting ones. With this reasoning, having material available on an aggregator through abiding its terms of use can potentially draw people back to your blog other material that they may not otherwise read. In this way, a blog can interact with other blogs without compromising its martial or the standards of the aggregator. To give a less heated example than current events, consider for a moment an aggregator for articles focused not on the differences of parties but on common issues. With such an aggregator, theoretically, blogs could maintain their articles dealing with squabbles between parties and submit only their input on things both sides would benefit from resolving collaboratively. It could be as much a means to consensually maintain a formal tone without surpassing free speech as a restriction of content beyond the parameters of your intellectual property.

Were such a feature as syndication with pull-blocking to become popular, I see a few interesting and at times troublesome possibilities arising. One benefit of this would be the increased interactivity of syndicated blogs and their online aggregators, giving them qualities similar to group blogs while operating on potential scales that would be impossible to maintain in that format. It would be interesting to see the effect such a feature would have on the culture of the blogsphere and particularly the aggregated body. Would themed aggregators find complete pull-blocking of indirect entries? If not to what degree would it be enforced? It could be argued by those that rely more on aggregators as the kind of customized newspapers (that they were initiated as) that by removing the more personal or otherwise indirect entries, one loses that human touch that is often so badly needed in aggregators themes such as politics to keep both sides from concluding that the other is made up of crazy evil backwoods ghetto ninja gremlins (from Mars). Where best to draw those lines and enforce them?

To further complicate things, if bloggers can control what is and is not pulled, there could be some issues with misrepresentation. A blogger could permit several entries of an alluring nature while blocking the pulling of entries that are intentionally shocking in some sense for people following the aggregator link to find. To add insult to injury, these shock entries would likely reveal heavy sarcasm in the baited syndications (e.g. a series of articles proclaiming zealous devotion to a faith or idol that lure back to a blog full of images of desecration towards the same idol). However, for such a prank syndication scheme like this vermiblogging (after the vermiform tongue alligator snapping turtles use to catch fish) to occur on any scale beyond typical online trolling mischief would require either a fairly elaborate setup or complete negligence on the part of the person running the aggregator. It should also be realized that were sexual predators to apply similar techniques to lure adolescents, it would in all likelihood only aid in their apprehension. Ultimately the real problem will be the accusation of vermiblogging. The degree of validity in a claim could be tricky to prove and the potential for abuse by all parties involved very real. Which would be discouraging to say the least in that it would recreate the problem I'm suggesting that pull-blocking could help resolve on an all new level. Still, with a good up-front policy most sticky situations could be avoided.

Overall I think it's where things ought to go. The benefits our obvious and the detractions tend to lean more towards worst-case scenarios. I've repeatedly referred to political aggregators in this because they are the most topical right now, and due to the present (though settling) state of unrest the presence of such a feature might prove fundamental in the reshaping of the blogsphere. However the same could be used in any number of different aggregator forums were they to be fully realized as the solution to this blogging movement that is growing at a rate that is quickly becoming intimidating for the average meatspacer to approach. We've never seen a world where so many people have a voice such as they do right now thanks to the web. With the rapid growth of blogs, the question of what to read becomes more and more common. With political blogs easily exceeding a hundred in Virginia alone, on any day a reader looking to take in as many perspectives as possible could be potentially faced with a novella's worth of pages of information to sift through. That's Virginia alone. What if you wanted a more collective national opinion? Or even an international view? Accessibility and easy to maneuver routs through this cacophony are essential. Aggregators seem to be the best highway out there, and a pull-block feature seems the best way to improve upon them.

Update: Vivian J. Paige is currently testing a new feature from Wordpress that would make it even more difficult to lure people to a shocking picture. I really hope Blogger and other providers follow suit and that this technologey becomes availible outside Wordpress. As long as it doesn't make people more vulnerable to viruses, its applications for avoiding sites that are not worksafe alone make it one of the best ideas I've heard of in a while.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Where to go from here?

This might be a two-part entry because my mind started to wander before I could get everything I wanted to address down. I came to a good stopping point and took it. Normally I'd just save it and come back later, but I'm not sure how busy I'm going to be in this post-Chirstmas-approaching-New-Years period, between work and still not (but working on it!) managing to visit zee girlfriend's folks. So here it is and if the other stuff lingers I'll bellyache about that as well later.

The dust is finally starting to settle from Christmas around the house. It was a pretty hectic one this year. We had a lot of people over on the days leading up to Christmas. Culminating in an 18 people dinner on Christmas night. I'm not meaning to complain at all. Still, I can't deny savoring today's relative silence. It's nice to be able to sit down and write again. Getting back into fiction has been on my to do list for a while now. There are a rather intimidating number of unfinished projects to choose from but I'm starting to narrow it down. Right now I'm looking at some notes for a novel, a short story to be expanded into a novella and another short story that has one finished draft in need of editing and a rewritten ending. A few other short stories and novels in various states of development are pulling on my coat as well, but for now I'm going to try and work on those three projects. Ah, the joys of ADD.

As for blogging... I've obviously been a little slow in getting back to it. The problem is that I'm not quite sure where to go from here. I started this blog for three reasons. First off, friends that I discuss philosophical ideas with encouraged me to. They felt it would be a good medium for that sort of thing. The second reason was for communication. College has simultaneously allowed me to make new friends while at the same time made it more difficult to keep in touch with older ones. So having a space where people can keep up with what's happening in my life seemed like a good way to avoid spending all of the little time I do find with them catching up on the trivial events of the several months between last seeing them. The third reason for the blog was to keep me engaged in things happening in Charlottesville's music scene. With my generation almost all graduated from LEC, my band dissolved, and half my favorite hangouts closed or drastically changed, I found myself drifting away from that space which had felt like an important part of my life for so long. With my grandmother beginning to need round the clock attention, going to hang out without and notable reason simply became illogical. Blogging about music became a way to keep track of the artists I liked and support former band mates and friends when they had gigs. It helped me hold on to a little bit of that scene.

Those were basically the reasons for the blog in the beginning. Things changed gears pretty drastically though as I became involved in opposing the Marshall-Newman Amendment. Some friends from the last semester had graduated or moved, and though I there haven't been any partings on bad terms that I'm aware of, the blog became clearly less direct in who I was writing for. It was also flirting with becoming a full on political blog, which would seems about as uncharacteristic of me as I would have imagined. Still that was what seemed to be happening. I was linking to political blogs and political blogs were linking to me. After the election I got some positive feedback from close friends and family to keep it up, but the truth is I not another Kenton Ngo. I spent most of my summer studying the gay marriage issue from the state constitution and laws, to the ethical end. I'm pretty good at dissecting rhetoric and meddling around philosophical fields, but I think one of the biggest problems in political blogging is that there are too many inexperienced people writing with a false authority of the issues, and I don't want to contribute to that. If something comes up that moves me enough, I'll do my homework again and address it, but I'm not going to write about things that I don't know enough about to be trying to influence other people's view of.

So I'm still trying to figure out what this blog is going to do from this point on. The best answer that is coming to me is that I'm just going to write about whatever I feel like. I guess I've just grown to like a level of consistency in content and quality. It will probably be a little while before 2007's elections get me geared up to write about incumbent Bob Marshall

High Rotation:

Charles Mingus - The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady

Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation

Beck - The Information

Tom Waits - Orphans