Free thinking

I wrote the following as a comment on a post by Dave which was an addition to posts by Beth and Lorianne reacting to Google+. And thought I might put it here as a post in the hope that someone might come by and offer a solution to my socialising software widget of choice which doesn’t yet exist.

I have no great love of the signal-to-noise ratio generated by the popular social networking sites. I have to care for my introvert, and my introvert loves information and interaction but is a quiet mulling creature valuing quality over quantity. My introvert has no interest in ascribing numbers or degrees to relationships, and indeed feels this isn’t possible in any meaningful way. My introvert has no interest in these judgements made on her by other people preferring instead to draw her own conclusions from the nature of the interactions themselves. Ravelry, mentioned by Dave in his post, is my home page but not because it’s a social networking site, that’s a very small part of what I use it for. Anyway, here’s the comment:

Interesting. As a consumer rather than a producer I have a slightly different take I suppose. What I would like is a way to aggregate the conversation. You’ve mentioned both Beth and Lorianne’s posts, both of which I’ve read, but not the comments. Some blogs have feeds for the comments on individual posts. I’d like the ability for posters to have a shared comment space. So instead of travelling between individual seminar rooms with a speaker and small audience in each it would be more like a meeting with a couple of speakers or more and an integrated audience responding to each other as well as the speaker they’re not best acquainted with.

This wouldn’t be timezone dependent in the way that the google “hangout” is. And raises, I would hope, the possibility of broadening conversations and discussions rather than closing them down or seeing them take place in an echo chamber. What I dislike (and fear) most about much use of the Internet is the drive to serve up more of the same. If you like this… etc. The homogenisation of polarization, the gated communities of the mind. Which can be, and often are, driven by desire for gain or bigotry. I don’t want the same, I want new, exciting, challenging, thought-provoking. Different. Broadened out of my comfort zone, not stroked in it or stomped on. Oh, and I want this facility to be cross platform non-sign-up.

And I think by definition Google+ couldn’t do that because of the necessity to have an account. You can only “follow” blogspot blogs if you have a blogspot or google account you want to tie to it. I can’t be a “me” I choose, I have to be a me defined by software.

Which brings me to my social programme/s of choice – an rss feed reader and a browser. I’ve 0nly recently come to this realisation as a result of Flipbook on the iPad. It’s a feed reader into which you can stick any bunch or collection of feeds in groups of your choice as well as offering its own aggregates (UK News and Tech are the ones I follow). It presents the posts like pages in a magazine through which you can flip in various ways. Or open individual posts in a browser. There’s no desktop equivalent that I know of yet but when there is the business of reading feeds will be revolutionised and, I would guess and hope, revitalised. This is a selection process which is entirely under my control – I don’t have to sign up to join anything, and nor does anyone who I choose to “follow”, nor do they have to be aware of my interest. I can group them in ways to my taste under names I have chosen. And for certain blogs where discussion is of a livelyness and informativeness to my taste I also subscribe to the comments.

And so it was, sitting at the breakfast table with a cup of coffee flipping through the morning’s news and thinking how comfortingly familiar and how like having a non-hand-griming newspaper it was, that I read your post and had these collaborative comment rss thoughts.

I also had other thoughts about the use of the word “display” on Google+, about marketing, promotion, the machismo of speed, the nature of “information” and identity. But they were only half formed and not really relevant.

So what do you think? Is it a good idea? If so, does such a nifty little “let’s make a widget to share comments across blogs which updates on each in real time via rss” widget already exist? And if not do we know anyone who could make it? Think how it could aid conversation at something like the Festival of the Trees. And reduce the necessity to go to the hideous Facebook.

Oh, and if it existed I would already know whether someone had already recommended to Beth that she get a browser add-on which zaps ads for a better browsing experience almost everywhere, not just on FB.

I thought about this some more, and it really shouldn’t be too difficult to do if the blog/source in question has the facility to enable an rss feed for comments on individual posts.

It might be possible to bodge such a thing already – take the feeds, put them into a single feed folder in a publicly available aggregator such as google reader and then embed that feed in a separate post labelled as discussion of the initial post with links to the other posts on the topic from which comments are being aggregated. The url of the combined feed would be public and could be picked up by the other posters.

Of course that would only work within small communities because as soon as anything seen as valuable (“gain” again) to spammers (which is, let’s face it, untrammelled promotion) anything public would be open to hijacking. The ideal solution would require mutual consent between posters, the ability of all to suggest further inclusions, the ability of each to enforce their own comment policy where the comments appear on their own space (in practice probably to delete only an individual iteration, not the original) and above all a really quick and easy interface. This isn’t, after all, a mechanism to facilitate rewriting the DSM IV, it’s a way to make chewing the fat easier and more fun.

So. Anybody know anybody who could implement such a thing?

(This post was written on Blogsy, a not-quite-all-CMS-embracing-but-trying piece of blogging software which can post to multiple blogs from a tablet [ok, iPad] which, together with Flipboard exemplifies some of the ways small independent producers can free us from some of our big-brother-software bonds.)

4 thoughts on “Free thinking

  1. Peter

    No suggestions here; just the same desire. I came over here from your comment on Dave’s post. I think your comment there and post here have served to crystalize my thinking. What I really need, until someone can find or make what you’re looking for, is to keep my feed reader up to date. It is far more meaningful to me than Facebook is. I find that I enjoy skimming it and clicking through, whereas I feel like I and many of my friends are living the shallow virtual life on Facebook that people used to (falsely) accuse us bloggers of living years ago. These days, Facebook makes blogging feel like real life to me, and real life has gotten bumped up to feeling like I guess heaven. So why ain’t I happy?

    It’s the feed reader. Yeah.

  2. rr Post author

    Thanks Peter. One of the more irritating things is wading through the duplication everywhere which seems to happen as a result of people wanting all their output to be seen on all the platforms they use. I suppose FriendFeed was intended originally to get around that but of course it’s just another multiplier. At the moment each “manufactured” social network seem to be like a big box with many individual compartments. Fine if you’re inside the box but no good if you’re not. And twitter is like throwing leaflets out of a helicopter. I realise I’m valuing the blogging space and the flexibility of rss feeds. But I do rather fancy the idea of flexible, ad-hoc collective comment spaces and only wish I even new where to start to try to make it happen. And another thing – would I ever have met half the people I count as dear online friends if I’d only been on Facebook? No way. It was blogs, writing and nuanced discussion which forged those links. Not the binary of “like” and “no comment”. Sheeesh.

  3. Peter

    Good point. All of my online relationships began with blogging, too.

    I really like the idea of collective comment spaces. Pingbacks aim for that (though I can’t have Pingbacks on my own blog because of the havoc they create from my frequent links to older posts). I also like using the “Press This” WordPress plugin to add snippets of posts I like to my blog’s home page. But neither is the same as the collective comment spaces you envision.

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