Monthly Archive: June 2012

Reverse Chronology Is Not The Best We Can Do

The Web, and Web logs in particular, suffer from structural difficulties.

Consider “the tyranny of time order,” a phrase from Clay Shirky’s article on recent changes to Gawker’s comments page structure. “Nick Denton, Gawker’s founder and publisher, Thomas Plunkett, head of technology, and the technical staff have re-designed Gawker to serve the people reading the comments, rather than the people writing them,” writes Shirky.

Software developer Dave Winer is another person working on solutions that address these structural difficulties. In a reflective piece on the origins of blogging software, Winer also confronts the tyranny of time order.

Why was blogging so appealing? Why did it work so well? There are lots of ways to pick this up. One is that gave us a structure to hang our writing on. Time.

But time isn’t the only structure we can hang our writing on. That has become more and more apparent as our blogs get overloaded and we get so many of them that we can’t keep track of them. Our ideas are out there swimming in a vague space and we have little sense of its shape or dimension.

Correct. Unlike print, you can’t just turn to the page in question, you have to find it first. Winer points to the problem this creates for prolific bloggers, but it is also a problem for readers, since blogs serve up the latest articles first, and the most recent articles are not necessarily the best articles, or the articles readers seek.

Of course, it’s not just blogs, Facebook and Twitter that present content in reverse chronology. Mainstream news sites also operate within this limitation. And the categorization tools we rely on today–Categories and Tags–have proven insufficient. Online indexes, also, are mostly non-existent. Which leaves the us Search Box, a tool as imperfect as the people who type random phrases into it.

This problem of “too much content, and no good way to organize it” exists on both the micro and macro levels. Google and others have become wealthy by offering solutions to the marco problem, but there’s still plenty of opportunity to bring even better solutions forward. Personally, I see an opportunity for human editors to help people find and organize content. It might seem an intrusive layer for the most ardent of digital hunters and gatherers, but not everyone has the time or the inclination to keep an eye on the latest developments in their field, or areas of interest. Like hiring a personal chef, people who need or want specific information will be able to hire an editor to find it, and package it just for them.

One company already charging down this path is HyperInk. HyperInk provides a crucial service to bloggers who want to pull a book from the material previously published on their site. As Winer says, “Our ideas are out there swimming in a vague space.” HyperInk’s blog to book service solves this by gathering one’s scattered (across the server) content and giving it form.