Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

digital slime molds

Steven Frank is a programmer — he’s one of the co-counders of Panic, one of the most highly respected makers of Macintosh software — who used to maintain a blog. In his last post to the blog, he announced that he was going to be suspending it and — I like this word — “outsourcing” what used to be on the blog to other venues. You can see by following that first link what he means: Flickr for photos, YouTube for videos, Twitter for microblogging, and so on. Curiously, I had recently done something similar on the front page my own site, deciding to treat it not as a home for information but rather a portal from which my various online presences could be accessed.

Perhaps the days of the blog as a one-stop shot for discovering someone’s life — their commentary, announcements, photos, home videos, recipes, whatever — are passing. It’s hard to resist the lure of tools that are beautifully engineered and precisely calibrated to do specialized tasks well. Blog software in general — Tumblr being the most prominent exception that I know of — has not kept up with our need for speed and ease. It is so much easier to upload photos to Flickr, adding a tag or two, than to upload them to your blog; it is easier and quicker still to tweet than to post a comment on your blog — a comment, by the way, in my opinion anyhow, that you’d have been likely to inflate beyond its necessary size because you’ve gone to all the trouble to create a new post. (You can see that I think that the concision imposed by Twitter is by and large a good thing. Most blog posts are longer than they need to be, unless they’re dealing with ideas, in which case they’re too short. Like this one. I think.)

But this “outsourcing” to various specialized tools tends to fragment us, leaving the various parts of our lives scattered all over the web. This can be a disorienting experience. It’s for this reason, I think, that Tumblr (other blog software may do this too) allows users to feed their tweets, posts from other blogs, videos from YouTube and Vimeo, and so on to their tumblelog. Tumblr is striving, then, to be a new kind of aggregator: not gathering information on a particular set of topics from all over the web, but gathering you from all over the web.

Our online lives keep dividing and reforming, like some kind of digital slime mold.