On hybrid forms

There’s a current of creativity flowing in communication and collaboration software, where people are blending aspects of weblogs and wikis, email and aggregation.
In the last few days, I came across a couple of examples of people discussing and experimenting with such things.
Anil Dash recently posted an essay on the “Microcontent Client.” The concept is a desktop tool that will organize all of the information fragments in one’s web experience; something that takes all of one’s RSS feeds and google searches and bookmarks and weblog entries, categorizes them, and weaves them into an organized pattern.
One of the ideas I like is having authoring and search built into one’s basic desktop toolset — personal html authoring tools seem pretty underdeveloped these days. (A friend just recommended TopStyle Pro and Dreamweaver MX).
I’m ambivalent about the notion of a managed “personal information space” with lots of aggregation feeds, nicely organized bookmarks, etc. The world is a big sea of information with a few islands of things that one pays close enough attention to organize; what feels missing is not the organizing tools but the time and attention to organize more things!
Overall, the design philosophy of the Microcontent Client feels a too “robot web” for me. Anil writes that “the passive authoring of the microcontent client creates content that even the ‘author’ doesn’t yet know they want to read”, and “users running the client will find unused processor cycles being tapped to discover relationships and intersections between ideas.”
I suppose what he means is a sort of personalized Google News or personalized Pilgrim context links; but idea of AI discovering insights while you sleep sounds sci-fi and somewhat creepy. (For the Pilgrim links, see Further Reading on Today’s Posts, below the blog entries:
Anil alludes to the reinvention of Usenet in the weblog context; but he doesn’t talk enough about the nouns and verbs of usenet — people and conversation. And therefore, I think, misses key areas of functionality, to support people having conversations and remembering what was said.
In another experiment along these lines, Bill Seitz is working on a weblog that is based on a wiki platform and is integrated with the wiki collaboration space.
I like and understand this concept better; which is to integrate the chronologically organized thoughts of weblogs with the linked, topic-organized thoughts of wikis.
One of the things that I like here is the complementarity between the weblog material that is “published”, however informally, and the wiki matrix, which is a soup of thoughts in varying levels of completeness.
The form seems well-designed to facilitate “gardening” where contextual elements are organized to support some blog topic. Google auto-links would be a nice addition. Perhaps this is what Anil meant, too; but the emphasis here is on the person, helped perhaps by the machine.
One thing that still seems unfinished in Bill’s implementation (which is brand new!) is integrating the more structured, graphical publishing of the weblog with the unstructured whiteboard of the wiki.
One benefit of weblogs is that they are conceptualized as a publishing tool; and therefore have functions for graphic presentation and structured navigation which help readers find their way around. The navigation design of a weblog is so basic that you barely notice that it is there; yet there is a set of structured conventions: the ubiquitous date-formatted posting, and also typically a title, author bios, comments, archives, and links.
Wikis have a text-editor sort of glorious simplicity, which may be wonderful for the author, who has the navigational structure in her head, but is somewhat hard on the reader who is swimming without lane markers in a pool of links. Bill has added navigational bread crumbs, and coloring for entry dates, but that’s still not enough navigational structure; I still feel rather dizzy.
Good food for thought, more toys to play with.

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