Gently Down The Stream
Om Malik wonders if the “stream” as an organizing design principle for information online might be over (via Colin Walker). He’s riffing off of Ben Werdmuller pondering how his blog is organized and seeing it anew as “a hodgepodge” with “no through line”.
I think I’m just sick of my design and need to try something else out. What do you think? Drop me a line if there’s a blog design you particularly like, or if you’d like to see me organize my stuff in a particular way.
As an old-school blogger, I have found a lot of comfort in the stream. I felt that it was a way to showcase my whole “online being.” […] What do you think? Is reverse chronological “stream” still a valid design principle? or should we think differently?
I’ll admit that my autistic brain finds Werdmuller’s site a bit difficult to parse, because I’m cognitively built to view “posts” and “links” as distinct and separate things, and so the format there reads to me as something of a jumble. I’m not, however, bothered by the “stream”, as it were. (It’s important to note, though, that Werdmuller’s site also offers an easy way to browse just posts, just statuses, or just links.)
In general, when I visit a blog, I fully expect an organizing principle built around chronology, whether it be pure reverse or (as Walker does it) reverse days with chronological posts within days. The term weblog itself literally means “log”—an inherently chronological thing.
This might seem weirdly contradictory to anyone who’s read my laments about the cognitive violence of social media feeds, an experience which exists for me even if a given feed isn’t algorithmically determined, but the difference and very clear distinction for me is that a blog contains a sort of inherent narrative structure of an individual person’s life.
In contrast, a social media feed for me is a context-collapsed database with no possibility of (to use Werdmuller’s term) a “through line”.
So, while I tend to prefer that posts and links somehow be separated out from each other, I still prefer weblogs and linklogs within themselves to be organized chronologically, because I innately understand that I am encountering an individual human being’s written progress through their world.
Walker, for his part, thinks that “we need to stop thinking in terms of streams and audience” and “the current model of ‘consumption by default’”, but I fully admit I’m not quite sure what that even means in the context of how to organize a blog. I don’t organize my blog this way, or expect other blogs to be organized this way, because of “audience” or “consumption”.
I organize this way because I view the weblog as a window onto someone’s life, and life is lived in sequential order, and that’s a narrative structure my brain implicitly understands.
It’s also true that “chronological” isn’t actually the only way most typical blogs are organized, because most blogs also have tags, or categories, or “more like this” features, in addition to a search function—so it’s not like readers somehow are stuck within the chronology.
One eventual feature here on Weblog.LOL to which I look forward (and this is something that in the past I’ve tried to kludge into existence when I was using WordPress through internal webmentions or trackbacks) is backinks, so that any older post linked by a newer post automatically will display a link back to the newer post, allowing a reader to follow this or that ongoing thought process (or, yes, through line) in whichever direction they choose.
My point, I guess, is that we can do all sorts of interesting or useful things for a reader (or even for the blogger themselves) without sacrificing the underlying organizing principle of the log.