The last thing I would imagine the world would need is a new blog app, but Anil suggested just that in response to my post on building a journal mesh:
I think the best thing that could happen right now to encourage long-form sharing, though, would be having tools made for the job. I've talked to folks like Kottke and Gruber and Dooce, and of course work with Gina and Waxy, and there just isn't a tool out there for people who want something modern, hackable, resilient, and optimized for an individual. The niceties could evolve out of it, but I'd love to merely have a platform that I enjoyed publishing my blog on.
This seems especially foolish according to the common knowledge that blogging is so over. But as Douglas Rushkoff puts in this interview on the Yahoo! Advertising Blog:
Facebook and Twitter are restoring some of the basic functionality of the early ’90s Internet.... [I]t was originally about people having discussions. But a lot of people were introduced to the ’net via the World Wide Web interface and through sites like Amazon and eBay, concluding that the Internet is a place to buy stuff. Then when the dot-com bubble burst, all these things came up that were more “Internety,” like blogs and chats and Facebook.
As far as blogging really means peer-to-peer written web sites, it'll be around as long as people want to write to each other. If we avoid being needlessly dogmatic, the medium of personal web sites we find so fun to play in can evolve plenty.
In presenting some annotation for Technorati's State of the Blogosphere 2010, Brian Solis suggests similarly that a decline in “traditional” blogging will require a reinvention of the blogging application:
It’s safe to assume that next year, we’ll see the rise of a new form of blogging platforms, those dedicated to simplicity with an emphasis on mobility, curation, instant presentation, and community.
What underserved qualities do we want in a publishing tool? I'd say fun is the main criterion, but that's an emergent property you can't design in. While I don't have the benefit of Anil's conversations, I can nominate some candidate parts.
- Keep a memory. As Matt Ogle puts it in his article all about the archive, “The current philosophy... is that if it’s not recent, it’s not important.” With more bloggers starting to hit the ten year mark, surely there are better solutions to making useful archives than a chronocentric table of months.
- Be about the blog. The simplicity of the “fun” blog apps like Tumblr and Posterous make them blogcentric: there's little room for much else. Movable Type poorly served the personal blogger when it became a CMS for integrators to make web sites.
- Provide an environment for writing. A tool could do so much better than being a box where you paste the Markdown you wrote in another editor. (I admit: that's what I'm doing right now.) On the other hand, there are so many wrong ways to facilitate writing.
A 1.0 could do worse than providing a plain pasteable box, but some ideas about writing environment to explore are:
- Be good at keeping drafts, since polishing drafts is a key to quality. Maybe mark your drafts with a Birdhouse style self-rating, so you can glance at which need work.
- Provide a library where you can fill in the post's context. This can include media, as in Vox's “library” feature, but really it's about providing the project box for your post.
- Further, a feed of your recent web activity can provide social context. I often write a post around that tweet I faved or that link I saved. Presenting activity tiny and tastefully like Walt Grayson's microfeed could keep distraction to a minimum. (It's no activity reader in the least.)
Anil named several other attributes, of which I'll address a couple. One is to be resilient. The naive reading would be that you need to scale for Grubers and Kottkes who serve a lot of page views. I think you can bring a system to scale for them through simplicity, especially since they never or rarely take reader comments. You need only get as close as possible to serving static files of HTML.
However, resilience can also be about the ecosystem: as the current sprawling blogosphere shows, a distributed system is resilient. Many sysadmins make light the work, so it's much easier to scale an interconnected network of individual web sites than a TypePad or Tumblr or WordPress.com. A message can't be silenced by taking down any one site (not even by being acquired by Yahoo!).
Consequently, any feature you want to deploy widely (say, a “favorite” style social gesture) has to work in a distributed way. I think this is supported by the legacy of TrackBack, as inelastic to abuse as it was in hindsight.
The other attribute is to be hackable. This is a problem for me, since if you want to claim hackability as a deployable web application, you'd better be PHP. I'd rather have the force multiplier I get from using a more capable, complete, and (for me) familiar system, even at the cost of narrowing the set of people who can contribute to those parts.
In any case, while my experience with blog tools is warped by the ones I worked so closely on, there does seem to me to be an open niche for a tool like this. I'd love to hear where I'm wrong about what bloggers need in a tool or how an app could fill those needs, especially if I turn out foolish enough to try to write one.