Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Blob

Blog blob - noun: A type of blog post composed of strongly-associated sub-posts.

It's an idea of mine. Let me explain.

There are two ways that objects could be associated with each other. One way is to be part of an aggregation of objects, the way a packet of M&Ms contains a bunch of M&M's packed together. A mere aggregation is a weak association, meaning the association could be removed and the objects could still exist. If you open the packet of M&M's and give the pieces to random people, the packet association disappears, but the M&M pieces are still there somewhere (though not for long! *gobbles up the candy-coated chocolate*).

Another type of association is called composition. This is when a bunch of objects are strongly linked to a bigger whole, in the sense that the whole owns the parts. The parts are dependent on the whole for existence, like how my organs are dependent on me existing. This is called a strong association.

One of the reasons why Gmail is such an innovative email service is because it redefined how our email is organized by creating new associations. While before we had the highly restrictive email folder association (a form of composition), Gmail replaced it with the aggregation called labels. It allows for a more dynamic type of organization, where a single email message could be given various labels. Yet Gmail didn't abandon the idea of composition entirely. Rather, it created a more natural composition association in the form of email conversations. Some messages are part of a bigger conversation, and if you remove the conversation, you remove those messages as well.

In the world of blogging, the aggregation association in the form of tags has become a very, very popular way of organizing blog posts. It's all very Web 2.0, and it's cool. Composition exists in the form of comments, which are after all a form of conversation. But when you think about it, blog posts that are strongly associated with each other are far from non-existent. Consider the following examples:

  • Serial fiction. There are lots of fiction-related blogs wherein authors write one series after another. There are people who mix their normal individual posts with their occasional forays into fiction, and these sometimes take the form of a series. Some fiction blogs are entire novels in themselves, yet chapters that are too long might become composed of multiple posts.
  • Posts on specific topics. Some people write multiple, not necessarily contiguous posts about one narrow topic/issue/theme. A lot of times these posts are treated as a series (e.g. posts w/ titles like "Topic X Part III: blah blah").
In these cases, it would be natural to want to view the associated posts together, yet it would be unnatural to tag them together. You can't tag a part of the first chapter of your novel "Chapter 1", for example, because that is way too strong and already implies ownership rather than mere aggregation.

In other words, we might want to group some of our posts into cohesive wholes, but we shouldn't use the wrong tools to do it. If I made fifteen posts last year on the sole topic of my left little toe (which is very interesting), I don't want to tag them all under "random"; I want them to be under "On my very interesting left little toe", which shouldn't be a tag. I think you get the point. The only downside to my idea as far as I see is that I chose to call it blob. Say "blog blob" fast and repeatedly in front of people, watch as they stare at you, then go think of something less ridiculous and tell me ASAP so I can edit this post.

Anyway, the way I imagined blog blobs, they would have their own separate RSS feeds, similar to how some blogs have separate feeds for comments. Only the title of the blob and an optional description would be included in the RSS feed, with a link to the rest of the blob. Viewers comment on the blob, not on its individual members. The blob's timestamp would be that of its most recent member, so a blob would shoot up to the top of your blog every time you update it (or maybe the most recent member should just have a link to the rest of the blob?).

And to make it a bit more interesting, I would suggest nested blobs, like an amoebic goop phagocytizing smaller ones, eventually engulfing the whole blogosphere, AND THEN IT WILL ENGULF THE WHOLE WORLD, KILLING ALL THE CUTE BUNNIES! Okay, so it's not a very good idea, after all. Let's stick to simple blobs of manageable length.

By allowing strong association of blog posts, not only do we get to have a more semantic organization of posts, we also create new ways of using the blogging platform. Go ahead and create Best Of lists that span multiple posts. Integrate your tumblelog as a blob in your blog. Suddenly, it doesn't seem so weird to put your status-updates (ala Twitter) and your longer posts in the same place. Think about it: micro-blogging, right in your own regular blob...I mean blog.

Yes, you might say I have just reinvented multi-blogging, except blobs are more like mini-blogs that act as posts in your regular blog. This isn't a bunch of separate blogs being shown on one page; it's a heterogeneous blog, composed of regular blog posts and blob posts. I can't believe I just used the word heterogeneous, I mean, what the hell?

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I apologize for all the incoherent silliness. The midnight hour makes me loopy. blog-blob-blog-blob-blog-blob...