Wednesday, May 19, 2004

In the place where you are

When Six Apart released MT3.0 (Beta-Developer) and a new pricing structure early last week, I started out with an uneasy feeling. Lots of froth and fray bubbled out from the announcement; some among the MT faithful cried out Betrayal!, some swiftly dumped MT...hooks to beefmeat.

Parts of what Clay Shirky wrote at Many2Many yesterday got me thinking about content management systems as social organizers, more specifically weblogging systems, as a kind of cybersocial fabric, a "community enabler" as he puts it.  He argues that social software built on a free now, pay later upgrade scale dupes the community by imparting a class system and, basically, the branches or divergences in the system are inimical to the sense of community shared among users.  It makes sense that "changes to the [social software] tool trigger anxiety." Many anxious variations have turned up in these six days (apart) from the announcement. FWIW, I have a less easy time making sense of the move to separate the rational users and emotional hooks. And I grant that I have, in the use of a handful of MT plugins, benefited from the fruits of an MT developer community that might shift, fade, vanish in the months ahead (toward other platforms or more recent versions).

The comments following Shirky's post are worth a read, too.  Perhaps it's because I've never fully realized membership in a community of MT users that I don't see my laggard attachment to the older, freer version of MT as a social rip-departure from the upscale 3.0 users.  I'll be able to read their blogs; they'll be able to read mine.  Presumably, I will be able to leave them trackbacks; they will be able to link to me.  In fairness, I really don't want to use Shirky's post daftly. However, as a blogger, I never saw myself as a member of an MT community more than, say, a member of a blogging community among people I admire and read regularly (mostly) in my field(s) of interest.  The self-defined blogroll trumps the CMS community, I think, and it's much more directed, much more real to me, having a greater effect by far on how I conceive of blogging as purposeful.  These are the people whose weblogs I keep up with.  So, Shirky's entry set me to thinking about a few other issues that have stirred in these six days--other material I want to dig my 2.65 anchor (temporarily, perhaps) against.

First, my blogroll, which has remained relatively stable lately, includes a array of platforms:

Mister BS - Blog-city; Clancy Ratliff and Charlie Lowe - Drupal; Dennis Jerz - Wordpress JWeblog; Will Richardson - Manila; Dr. B - Blogger; Ken Smith - pMachine; Marie Freeman - TypePad; John Lovas - Manila; Rich Rice - Who knows?; Amy Propen - Blog*Spot; Jeff Rice - Greymatter

These are most of the non-MT bloggers I keep up with (although aggregation isn't possible with a few of them, so I visit less frequently, attributable to business, absentmindedness).  Without gushing burning bloglove, their regular entries, getting to know people by their work, their ideas, their weblogs--that's the sense of community membership I identify with.  And...important and, here...I appreciate that they work from different platforms.  I'd feel uneasy if all of them used Movable Type or Drupal or Wordpress. Changes to platforms (upon which or through which our conversations unfold, our connections manifest) are less significant to me socially than their persistence as available, present, and connected bloggers.  In other words, it would matter less if John Lovas, for example, switched to Blogger or Manila than if he gave up blogging altogether--literally checking out of the "membership in a community."  

Second, software choices present ideological window dressing, perhaps more, perhaps less.  Hanna from join-the-dots makes this point squarely in her announcement of the switch from MT to Wordpress.  For folks committed to GNU GPU licensing, true open source, as I understand it, the point is crucial.  Honestly, I'm not sufficiently well versed in property law to give a responsible run-down of the differences between CC, GNU GPU (which applies to software source more than IP?) and all the gradations. Suffice it to say that I've always struggled to live out ideological fancies with lasting vigor--I have worn Nikes, munched on KFC, even thrown away perfectly recyclable materials in the trash.  So, without preferring to be an ethical slob or a hypocrite, I'll continue with MT 2.65, no matter how that reflects an ideological layer.  I on-ramped to blogging with a recommendation to use MT.  It was free.  I'm content with it.  I don't have time to tinker with Drupal or Wordpress.  MT will continue to meet my needs for writing here and teaching and so on.  Bunker the social and ideological gales along the way.

Third, I haven't observed any features in other blogging systems that vastly expand the potential of EWM to do what I mean for it to do. Maybe my mood would change if I got hit with 1000 spam comments, but that hasn't happened yet.  Drupal is the only system whose look, feel and usability appeal to me--for the wiki functions than the threaded comment functions. On that note, Drupal and Wordpress users have been out in full glory, converting the MT-disgruntled, inviting the dejected into the warm and gregarious open source alternatives.  Distracting us from smashed idols and empty dreams.  Please forgive the evangelical language. I'm just having a bit of fun.

This is less of a defense of sticking with an earlier version of MT or riding out the ripples of Six Apart's mustard-on-the-shirt announcement last week than it is an attempt to make sense (for me or for you) of why I'm doing what I'm doing.  Maybe, in the next six months, the competing platforms will feature collaborative entry authoring (co-authorship or tri-authorship functionality...for comments, too) and other stuff, such as [insert wishlist here].  In the meantime, I'm going to idle, wait it out and blog contentedly in this MT space, crossing my fingers that my delicate sense of community won't be obliterated.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at May 19, 2004 1:01 PM to On Weblogs

Good post.

Actually, though, my personal blog uses JWeblog, an open-source product developed as an independent study by a former student.

During 2004-05 I taught with Moveable Type, though I haven't made any decisions about next term.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at May 19, 2004 2:23 PM

I'll let your comment speak for itself as a correction, Dennis. Thanks for setting me straight. I'm sorry for getting it wrong; I went through fairly quickly and thought I saw a Wordpress insignia somewhere at your blog. I mainly set out to suggest that the diversity of blogging platforms in my (perceived) network doesn't weaken it. Other than the fairly obvious compatibility needs (RSS, trackback functionality, linkable entries), the diversity of platforms cycling on one's network might actually enhance our various senses of these tools' potentials. -DM

Posted by: Derek at May 19, 2004 2:46 PM

Hmmm...the medium or the message? The medium /is/ the message. Or at least, that's what folk like Skirky would have you believe, as long as they're trying to tattoo a class system onto a technology that's more or less the great equalizer. We're pretty much the same in the eyes of mighty Google, aren't we?

If you really want to set up a class heirarchy in the blogging community, you could better look at people's access to web hosts -- free blog tools with advertising banners (blogspot, blogdrive, etc.), paid hosted (typekey), or self-hosted (MT, wordpress, any number of home-grown solutions and community-site hybrids like Geeklog or PHP Nuke).

But still, we're just patting our own backs at that point, aren't we? I think we're better served having a "class structure" evolve through the quality of our blogs, not the tech they're built on.

Posted by: toby at May 19, 2004 5:31 PM

I hadn't considered applying McLuhan to this. Good point. I don't know enough about all of Shirky's work to characterize him as someone who agrees with the class division. I think--at least in the post I link to--he suggests an inevitable division: pre-MT3.0 $plit from everything after.  And I suppose you're right that Google doesn't discriminate between blogging software; it's all stuffed in the hopper.

If we must spend much time on rankings and stratification, status measures argued out of hit counts and so on, I'm not sure where it leads us.  My semi-informed impression is that A-listers have a longer shelf life. I don't know if they're doing it better as much as longer, perhaps more frequently.  But that's just a guess.  I don't spend much time reading the top (as established by popularity) as I do reading the stuff best suited to me, most interesting, etc.

So I'm with you that we must be mindful of content, and I'd say we should also remember that the medium is affected by users in all their creative variability. And to that, I concur that the medium is never separable from the message. At EWM, for example, if the medium is weblog and the platform is MT 2.65, no matter--I'm always goofing with the CSS, and the entries: some days they're great, other days, so-so. Second class?

Say, on the subject of McLuhan, would you say there is an important difference between "the medium is the message" and its close variation "the medium is the massage"?  I haven't studied McLuhan beyond his book by the same title (using "massage").

Posted by: Derek at May 19, 2004 7:09 PM

For the record, Derek, I use Manila because it's what my college supports. And I agree that the writing is more important than the platform, though clearly some features are more reader friendly than others (like my "comment" feature sucks).

I'm going to learn all I can about these platform issues at C & W in Hawaii and then I might experiment with another platform this summer. But it's through reading lots of blogs that I've discovered many of the colleagues I'll see in Hawaii. That's the far more important outcome.

Posted by: John at May 20, 2004 9:07 PM

I wonder how the loosely networked readers of weblogs work at specific institutions to build a dimension of community beyond the usual, passing-in-the-hall familiarities. I'm thinking more about professional sense of community more than the ones we share with our students. This is an aside to what you've noted here, John. And I appreciate the clarification on your use of Manila. I look forward to having jocalo on my RSS list one day. Because blogs give a distant reader ready access to fresh and frequent (in many cases) writing, potential interchanges and so on, they bring about "found colleagues." And that's been great. But I wonder what they do differently for people who already know each other and each other's work. Do you think weblogs present problems or sources of discussion to professional folks already working side by side?

Posted by: Derek at May 21, 2004 3:21 PM