TOM CRITCHLOW
January 5, 2018

Experiments in Networked Writing

What's next?

I often talk about blogging as “networked writing”. For me, it’s the key difference between other forms of writing and blogging. The idea that blogs exist within the network is crucial to understanding the medium (the medium is the message - could one say the blogosphere is the blog?).

Why networked writing? For me, blogging and networked writing is interesting because:

Nodes and network graphs

Every blog and every post exists as a node in a web of connections. This has two direct implications, firstly that you (anyone!) can create new nodes in the network. Creating a new blog or a new post creates a new node that can reference and participate in the web of connections between nodes is exciting! Secondly, it implies that the connection between the nodes is important. Every blog and every post can live as both node and as connection.

What does that mean? It means you can write a post that is directed within the network. If you want to get on the radar of a blogger - write about their ideas and reference them. The lowly hyperlink is a connective tissue that creates a network graph between the nodes.

Collectable and addressable

Everything is indexed and searchable by default on the web and search engines do a good enough job but indexation and search is only one dimension of discovery and the content network graph has more dimensions than that! There’s room for curation, lists, pointers to things. Plenty of link blogs do this very well (though increasingly these are moving to email newsletters)

You can think of creating sets of posts and sets of blogs as the network infrastructure - aiding discovery and exploration of the network. This is of course only possible with stable addresses (i.e. URLs!).

Commentable

Commenting is dying a death on the web - disqus, the only real solution that works just recently got sold to an ad tech company and no one knows what the future looks like here but it’s always been a crucial piece of the networked architecture to be able to comment and respond to posts in a way that allows others to see the network activity.

I’m curious to see Nathan’s approach to “discuss on twitter” see here for example - the new twitter threading UI feels pretty good at this though definitely still not “solved”.

So, what’s next?

Thought experiments in networked writing

So what would be some new exciting options and ideas for networked writing?

  • Open Feeds - I wrote a little about this before in resisting hyperfeeds but I maintain my own publicly accessible feed reader at tomcritchlow.com/feeds and if more people did the same I think we might be able to make RSS have a come-back moment. There’s something interesting about more explicitly exposing my own network activity to others…
  • In-line comments - Commenting is the next big piece of open blogging architecture to change. We’ve been trained through Google Docs and other tools that in-line commenting works and is a solved UI problem but no one has yet built a satisfactory infrastructure for it (yes, we’ve been trying for a while, remember sidewiki?). I’m curious where this next innovation will come from. Perhaps from hypothes.is.
  • Open drafting - This isn’t a technology problem but the deeper I get into blogging the more I realize a non-trivial amount of the value for me and for my network is in the drafting and editing phase. My longer blog posts often get reviewed by 5-10 people in a Google doc with long in-line comment threads before they even make it to the blog. The connections and discussions that shape the drafts and happen around them are exciting. I’m curious to see what a more explicit process of exposing, collaborating and sharing draft blog posts would look like (if only we all drafted in Google Docs together and could browse each others drafts?!)
  • Pingbacks 2.0 - pingbacks got ruined by SEO spammers but there’s a real need for better tools for networked authors. What dashboard is there besides Google Analytics that shows where/how your content is getting referenced and discussed? How can we build better self-hosted tools that offer insights and power tools for writers to better plug the writing into the network.

What would you want to see from networked writing? How do you think about it? What tools would you like to see?

(PS - I’ve enabled hypothesis in-line commenting on this page as a trail. Check it out and see how you like it! I don’t think it’ll replace disqus for now but it’s fun to experiment with it.)


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This post was written by Tom Critchlow - blogger and independent consultant. Subscribe to join my occassional newsletter: