Home Weblogs should be topic-first, not author-first

Weblogs should be topic-first, not author-first

Clay Shirky (via Ross Mayfield):

“The weblog world has taken the 4 elements of organization from mailing lists and usenet — overall topic, time of post, post title, author — and rearranged them in order of importance as author, time, and title, dispensing with topics altogether.”

This is something that makes me a little queezy about weblogs. If I had my way, I’d rank the importance of topics as number 1. I would like my RSS Aggregator to deliver RSS feeds to me based on topics that I subscribe to, rather than by author. Don’t get me wrong, an author’s ‘voice’ is what makes a weblog unique and interesting. But I don’t believe the blogosphere should rank the importance of a weblog post based on who the author is. Google ranks on topic relevance, why shouldn’t the blogosphere?

For example, I am very interested in reading weblog posts about Longhorn. But I actually don’t care who writes them. I’m curious about everyone’s opinion – and I will make up my own mind about how relevant the information is. Right now I rely on Robert Scoble’s weblog to deliver me new posts about Longhorn. Robert Scoble has a fantastic policy of giving everyone “one free link” and I enjoy the wide variety of weblogs he links to. It gives his weblog a feeling of openness and freedom. Everybody – A, B and C List bloggers alike – feels welcome to respond in writing via his Comments. It’s no coincidence that Scoble’s comments system is one of the liveliest and interesting on the Web (even though it is a bit funky – ie the software deletes stuff every now and then!).

Clay Shirky goes on to say:

“This “author-first” organization gives the weblog world a huge boost, as the “Who said what” reputation system we all carry around in our head is a fantastic tool for organizing what we read, as well as acting as a kind of latent bozo filter.”

I couldn’t disagree more with that statement – organizing what we read according to who wrote it is plain elitist. I’d much rather organize what I read based on topics – then decide for myself if it has any value. This is the beauty of a system such as k-collector, which Paulo and Matt have developed as a means to track and connect peoples weblog posts by topic. It’s still in development, but so far I like what I see. I can browse topic pages and read through what various bloggers have to say on the same topic. It’s a good way of discovering new voices – rather than simply reading the A List Bloggers.

To be fair, Clay does point out the one major downside of the “author-first” model of weblogs – the blogosphere becomes riven with personality clashes. This is particularly so amongst the A List Bloggers, who because of their high profile in the blogosphere have reputations to uphold and so frequently challenge each other. They engage in epic pissing contests and unfortunately the rest of us get sprayed too. It’s not particularly fun to read and, as Rogers can testify, it’s no fun to be on the receiving end. 

Watching the Echo project unfold in the blogosphere is like watching the WWF’s Royal Rumble – we see each A List Blogger climb into the ring, until about 30 of them are in there slugging it out. Who will be left in the ring at the end? Who knows, and I don’t care. I’d rather just read and write about topics that are of interest to me, thanks. Leave the Web-wrestling to the pros (it’s all fake anyway).

How can we improve the weblog world, so that it does take into account topics? Well I’d like to see new versions of RSS Aggregators give us some more options to filter weblog posts by topic. And Paulo and Matt, I look forward to the next version of k-collector. Keep up the good work!

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