Why Am I Blogging?

I’ve followed the blogging community for over a year now, but had no desire to participate until recently. I didn’t think the world needed to know what I had for dinner on Tuesday, or the latest hijinx involving my neighbor’s cat.    (F)

Two events changed my mind about starting a blog: The launch of Blue Oxen Associates, and constant badgering from my Blue Oxen Associates’ cofounder, Chris Dent.    (G)

Our goal at Blue Oxen Associates is to understand and improve all aspects of collaboration. In this context, it’s important for us to understand why blogging is important and where it fits into the collaboration universe. More importantly, we believe strongly in learning by doing. Studying the community along would only take us so far. To really understand blogging, we would have to blog ourselves.    (H)

Observation and Motivation    (I)

Despite this reasoning, Chris jumped on the bandwagon well before I did. When we first got started, I was fascinated with Wikis — still am — and we made them, along with archived mailing lists, an integral part of our tool infrastructure. Chris, however, didn’t let me forget about blogs. As we worked on projects and discussed bigger picture issues, he often talked about how cool the blogging community was. Many of his comments centered around the openness and looseness of the community, how there were few barriers to participating and yet enough structure to serve as a community as opposed to a random amalgam of voices.    (J)

Because of Chris’s enthusiasm, I started following blogs more closely, and I began gaining a better understanding of when they were effective and why. After only a few months, a cluster of bloggers — Chris and several others — had emerged seemingly out of the blue, and were having insightful discussions about many of the topics that concerned us.    (K)

In the meantime, I had started to notice some strange behavior in our own communities. We host several collaboratories, online spaces where members can collaborate and experiment with different tools and ideas. Our collaboratories are still in beta and are currently invitation-only, but our Collaboration Collaboratory has been active since December 2002. On several occasions, someone on our mailing list would raise the possibility of using a blog as a way of disseminating information. The responses ranged from apathetic to negative. The strongest objection was that while most of our members read their e-mail, they wouldn’t proactively seek out a blog.    (L)

As I observed both the blogging and our mailing list-centric communities, I realized that some people were using our list as if it were a blog, instead of an actual blog. One of the culprits explained that he did so if it were a blog] that he did this because he knew that people read the list and would give him feedback, whereas he wasn’t confident that the same would happen with a blog.    (M)

Patterns of Collaboration    (N)

What’s wrong with this reasoning? Frankly, nothing. When we collaborate, there are certain patterns that arise over and over again. Tools can facilitate these patterns, and often, more than one tool applies. For example, several software tools facilitate Telling Stories — e-mail, blogs, Wikis, even word processors for that matter. As the patterns become more specialized, however, so do the tools. You can put a nail through a board using a frying pan, but you’re much better off using a hammer.    (O)

We were supposed to be a high-performance community, and high-performance communities were supposed to use the best tool for the job. I didn’t like the fact that we were using a mailing list as a blog, when a blog was much more effective for that purpose. Thanks to Chris’s badgering and my own observations, I knew that we could overcome some of our member’s objections to blogs. I also knew that if I were going to convince others to change, I would have to change first.    (P)

Coevolution    (Q)

One other thing about bloggers that resonated strongly with me was that this community actively coevolved its tools. Coevolution — a term coined by Doug Engelbart — describes the relationship between tools and human processes. One does not evolve without the other. In order to facilitate this coevolution, those who design tools must work closely with those who use them. This sounds obvious, but it is a depressingly rare practice in the software world.    (R)

The hacker community is one of the best practitioners of coevolution, because they are both tool developers and users. They eat their own dogfood. Bloggers are much the same way. Two widely used Web technologies — XML-RPC and RSS — were invented by bloggers to support their needs. Ben Trott, one of the creators of Movable Type, recently created TrackBack, which has the potential to serve as the foundation of an Internet-wide distributed backlink engine. In general, many bloggers seem to be on the cutting edge when it comes to Web standards adoption and compliance.    (S)

Eating our own dogfood is also a constant refrain within Blue Oxen Associates. Chris has been generating large amounts of tasty dogfood recently, and so it’s time for me to have a bite.    (T)