Reflections on the distributed blog experiment

Having set up a distributed blog article this week, and just concluded it I thought I’d reflect on the process.

Overall I thought it worked well, in that it got at some interesting points and covered some different perspectives.

Some negatives:

  • It will be hard for a reader to read it as a whole. I will try and formulate it into a real article for publication somewhere.
  • The time pressure (which I created) meant that you didn’t have sufficient time to always get the references you wanted, or to check it through as thoroughly as you might, or to redraft it.
  • They were long posts. Alan Cann has said that he found them too long for blog posts and I noticed David Warlick today offering the general advice "write short blogs.  I can’t tell you how many good blog articles I’ve missed, simply  because, as I pull it up, I decide instantly, I do not have the time to read this right now." I have to say I’d find it a shame if I felt restricted from writing long posts, I value the diversity in the blogosphere, but maybe the medium isn’t right.

The positives:

  • It worked! There are a lot of empty wikis and blog experiments out there, so by structuring this one and creating a definite timetable we were able to get something completed.
  • Being open sharpens writing. Of course I coul have done this with Ray, Patrick and Will in Google docs, but there is something about being public in the process that a) makes you do it since I have told everyone that you will and b) makes you produce a good first draft.
  • It has brought in other contributions. Through comments and links from other blogs the overall article has been enriched.
  • It generated some traffic – David Weinberger blogged it so what more can I ask?

So would I do it again? Sure, why not, what have I got to lose but my reputation. Next time though I’d do really long posts.


  • Will Woods

    Hi Martin, From a personal perspective I really enjoyed this although the time pressure got to me a bit because I enjoyed the research so much it was getting frustrating trying to fit it all in. I wanted to get references to the cacheless society as I saw a really good talk about that recently but Nikki was nagging me to ‘get off the damn computer’ last night so I stopped.
    I’m not sure how useful it was from an overall perspective. I felt like you and Ray had already covered the big stuff by the time Patrick and I joined in so the sequential nature of it limited our engagement a bit. A bit like in a ‘chaired’ meeting where everyone has to go through the chair. It wasn’t as free flowing as a wiki and the comments on posts (or replies) were difficult to seed between all the sites so lots of interlinking and small offshoot of discussions taking place. I did really have fun though and it’s a great reference since I’ll pick up some of the threads again in my work.
    I’m also concerned that it was too long to read, it was fine for me as I was part of the experiment but it was probably too much for eveyone else and smaller chunks would have been more palitable. So perhaps small bites of this issue taken over a longer period and with a larger group of contributers using a public wiki would work better?

  • Martin

    Doug – TLDR – GRRRR!
    This worries me slightly in that I have made the case that blogging is a scholarly activity and that there is real intellectual discussion and material to be found in blogs. If we start feeling that blog postings have to be short then maybe it’s playing in to the hands of the dumbing down crowd and the Keens of this world. It’s all short posts linking to each other. Sometimes there are things that need to be long in order to be covered effectively. Or am I just making excuses for my verbosity?

  • Doug Clow

    I was, of course, joking – for clarity, I agree with you entirely. (And have read the lot.)
    It depends what you’re trying to do. There’s a terrible tendency in the blogosphere to see the blogosphere as the thing that matters. If you want high traffic and links, then you need short, punchy, partisan posts, and lots of them. (If you want Technorati mojo, you better be about new technology too.)
    But there’s more than one way to do it. Or rather, you can do more than one thing with the technology.
    If you’re trying to have an open, timely discussion of an interesting issue then short, punchy and partisan is the wrong direction. I think this experiment has been a huge success – it seems to me to be an interesting new academic form of discussion, with pluses and minuses compared to other forms (see me avoid the ‘A’ word!). And it certainly got me thinking in new ways. And that’s what I want from blogs.
    (Plus gadgets and cute kittens, but I can go elsewhere for those. *grin*)

  • Gill

    Hi Martin,
    I thought this was an nice idea, but I too found myself skipping parts of the longer posts – mainly because I hadn’t expected to come across anything that long in a blog. I decided to see how it would work if all four blogs were aggregated together in a single feed, so I created this yahoo pipe http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.info?_id=ymK6GMVw3BGFbaADJphxuA I’m not all that proficient at this, so the source of each post still does not appear with the title, and the four parts are not adjacent to each other. Still, it was an interesting exercise, and I’ve read much more of all the blogs than I had before πŸ™‚

  • Martin

    Thanks Gill – this is interesting, although the further we get away from the debate, then the less bearing the posts have to each other. I feel as though I’ve been through some machine like in The Fly and been gene spliced to produce patrickraywillmartin. Not a pleasant image..

  • Gill

    Good point, and I feel that if I can get the pipes to work the way I’d like, it would be much easier to stay on topic, as it were.
    This has now become my preferred displacement activity, even beating Facebook πŸ˜€ I’ve filtered out the non debate related posts. Your first two posts are proving difficult to filter in for some reason. Next displacement activity will be to sort them into the correct order and work out how to display all the comments along with each post in this pipe a new pipe http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.info?_id=yguecbtx3BGnf6mFEpPZnA
    I can understand your disinclination to be spliced together into an amorphous MartinRayPatrickWill entity – didn’t occur to me at the time, so I’ve deleted that one.

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