'Second Generation' Web-logging: This Journal's Double Century Is Just One Tiny Step

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Laptop (small).jpgThere are now two hundred 'article' postings on this website. Over the past year the style has changed and so has the emphasis. Are we, as Tim Berners-Lee has said, at the beginning of the 'second generation' of web-logging - perhaps a phase in which not only the technicals but also the social networks will change fundamentally? This journey takes us from CERN all the way to Six Apart.

It's always difficult to recall what things looked like when one's been involved in them for a while; and for me, this weblog is no exception to the rule. There are some two hundred posted blogs on this website now, and the terrain has changed.

Certainly, we can all see that the 'product' is now sometimes crisper and often more colourful (in the literal sense..) than the original, but that's different from remembering what it felt like when I embarked on this adventure.

Perhaps on reflection what intuitively attracted me to web-logging is the idea of universal space which, as long as we remember the 'rules' of sensible evidence and behaviour, we can all share and use together.

Anyway, I'm glad that I decided to go ahead with my weblog / journal.

Thinking things through
I've mentioned before how I feel that writing about things in this quite abbreviated (for me) way is helpful in getting my thoughts together, and how I enjoy taking the photographs and finding appropriate books to illustrate and animate my text. This, to my mind, is much more interesting than just a quick blast at something and a half-finished comment without back-up.

And now, fifteen years after Tim Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web (WWW), I am reading that others too are getting into web-logging in a more formal way. It seems that a lot of web-writers (if that's what we are) are beginning to acknowledge that there's something to be said, as Berners-Lee also emphasises, for using weblogs to make the 'argument' as well as just the odd comment.

More structured debate
Good. I always hoped that weblogs like mine could become the focus of debate amongst people who have thoughtful things to say. I don't mind at all if someone disagrees with what I say, as long as they can back up their argument with reasons, and can also recognise why I / others have adopted whatever position is in dispute. That's how we all learn.

It would be a disaster if the WWW became, as its inventor and many others fear, a place simply of scurrilous half-truths or worse - though I recognise of course that sometimes news and views have to emerge in roundabout ways, and the WWW is ideal for this strategy where it's needed.

But in the end, something which can't be substantiated is often of less value than something that can. That's why in academia we have peer-review, referees and gatekeepers, to ensure the quality of published work. (Yes, I know that process sometimes backfires, but reasoned and / or evidence-based debate is fundamentally still a good, positive way to proceed.)

Everyone can have a say
So now we have Wikipedia ('What I Know Is...'), first launched in the original English version on 15 January 2001, and other recent e-inventions which allow everyone a say - on the condition that they don't mind being challenged or put right if someone else thinks that should happen. The pros and cons of how successful Wikipedia can be remain to be seen, but the admirable concept behind the idea is now established.

This is knowledge democracy in action, open to all. In a way it's the dialectic of learning by discussing - a method previously available to those of us who went on to higher education, but less so to everyone else. Now virtually everyone who wants to can find out about things and join in the discussion. How much better is that?

Business, commercial and community, too
Nor ultimately does it matter that interactive blogging is becoming a business and commercial activity, as well as a voluntary one; either way, people are connecting. The massive market leaders, companies like YouTube, MySpace and Flickr, have their part to play in the engagement process, as do the newly e-friendly business interests which now offer interactive websites - BT amongst them.

Of course there are issues around the strategies used for 'fooling' the search engines, so that certain names and topics rise to the top of the list; but that probably applies as much, say, to film and book sales as to the web itself. (My own website designer, Nick Prior, offers a valuable insight into how search engine interest can be attracted legitimately.)

And now we have an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) report telling us that smaller community groups should do the same. I think they're right. The more ideas are shared, the better. Being on the WWW doesn't, after all, preclude also being on the radar of the local newspaper or even just the local gossip.

But still there are people, such those discussed in Mike Ion's blog, who doubt the web has relevance to the lives of others 'in the community'.

'Good' weblogs vs 'bad' ones
The race is now on between those who could damage the good intent of Tim Berners-Lee, who gave us all the WWW for free because he believed it should be available to everyone, and the rest of us, who admire this generosity and vision.

Very few can achieve a great impact in going for a positive future for the WWW, but it's nonetheless an ambition for many of us in our own small, often minutely small, ways to do what we can. The more people 'connect' in this activity, the better, as far as I can see. And don't just ask me. Look at the way innovations like Mena Trott's Six Apart (which 'owns' the Moveable Type facility which I'm using here) are developing....

Agree only this...
This is just the beginning of what could be a very long debate. Being 'accessible' may not mean being 'free at the point of delivery'; that could even become impossible if there is to be any proper regulation of quality - without which access is in any case of little value. Nor does a new emphasis on social connection eclipse the technical aspects of the semantic web and e-intelligence. These are critically important matters for future consideration.

For now the only thing we have to agree to agree about as a general principle is, as Berners-Lee says, that "We're not going to be trying to make a web that will be better for people who vote in a particular way, or better for people who think like we do.....The really important thing about the web, which will continue through any future technology, is that it is a universal space."

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