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Weblogs as Social Networks

I recently cleaned up a web server no longer in active use and found weblog archives from my site going back to my original weblog post four years ago. In that first weblog post, I wrote about how it was "better late than never" to get my weblog started. Now, I'm an old lady on the scene.

I don't think anyone could have properly envisioned the social explosion that weblogging would become. Now, technologists and designers are becoming aware that the tools being developed for the weblogger offer real solutions to real web design problems far beyond the vanity plate of a weblog and are in fact part of the social networking phenomenon.

Biz Stone, author of Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content and member of the Blogger team at Google, supports this perspective. "Social networking applications lack context. That's why I'm so keen on blogging. A network based on mutual intellectual attraction that has grown not by people choosing traits from a menu, but by continuously projecting the contents of their mind onto a living stage and inviting others to know the person behind the curtain is far more interesting."

Along with the social aspects of blogging have come numerous opportunities for technological growth. Blogging software has offered up such important tools as

  • Comment systems. One of the most interesting side effects of blogging software is that commenting systems have become a key way of implementing social interaction on a weblog or web site with very little maintenance or overhead.

  • Automatic content aggregation. Many packages such as Movable Type offer a variety of aggregation formats. Users can configure their blogging software to automatically create one or several aggregation formats seamlessly when a new entry is created for the site. Followers of a blog then input the aggregation data into a newsreader software and are automatically notified when new entries have been added to the blog.

  • Blogrolling. Blogrolls are automated lists of blogs that a given blog author reads. The rolls are usually kept on the blog home page, and there are a variety of ways in which you can configure the software to work, typically having recently read sites roll on and those not recently read roll off, keeping the blogroll constantly rotating new links to new people.

  • Trackback and Pingback. Some software for blogging allows for Trackback, which is a method of communication between web sites. The software essentially sends a Trackback Ping, a small message to another site. Typically, Trackback is used to exchange and aggregate specific topical content between sites. Pingback allows for web site authors to be notified when someone links to their site using the Pingback specification, which is considered by some to be more organized and documented than Trackback.

  • Automatic pinging. This feature is similar to Trackback in the sense that you can configure some blogging software to ping a specific site each time a new post is made. Users usually set up their sites to ping weblog search engines, so the scope is usually broader than Trackback, less specific to the content.

That we're only at the beginning of our relationship with these technologies is a commonly held thought. Stone feels that "social networking has yet to reveal its most important use." It's the unexpected side effects of social software development that he feels is enriching the scene. "When Blogger launched in August of 1999, it was to make updates easier—not to fuel the emergence of a hyper-connected intelligence. That was people using a simple tool, reacting to their environment and establishing feedback loops. It was nature, not just software."

NOTE

Speaking of software, there are a tremendous amount of blogging software tools, utilities, plug-ins, tutorials, communities, search engines and so on.

An excellent article by John Hiler, "The Microcontent News Blogging Software Roundup" provides a great overview of current tools and their uses. And Al Macintyre keeps a current list of blog software.

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