Sunday, January 09, 2005

Publishing in the Age of Blogging

I have a long history in publishing software, having started working at Adobe Systems in 1985 when there were only 25 people there. I developed the original EPSF specification, wrote two books on PostScript, built a page layout application for NeXT computers, wrote the web and hard-bound book publishing back end to Apple's iPhoto application. It's all template-driven publishing, and not all that different from blogging, in my mind.

As the dust clears, and I think more generally about the Information Age and publishing in general, and the phenomenon of blogging in particular, I see some trends that I find fascinating. What it boils down to is that most information is published because it's easy, and because the person/company doing the publishing has some vested interested in it.

But what about the poor people who have to sift and sort through bookstores, the web, the blogosphere, looking for what they are interested in? The glut is getting bigger and bigger.

In the traditional publishing industries (books, music, fashion) for better or for worse, the process has long been that somebody else (the record labels) decide what you should read, or listen to. They promote, they payola, they send authors on the talk-show circuit. It's hard to get your writing published by Random House. It just is.

Now anybody with a keyboard can start typing into a blog, and, well, a few of them even get book deals. But for those of us with little time on our hands, we still need somebody to help guide us to what is "worth reading".

Technorati kind of does this, by tracking the blogosphere, the most popular bloggers, by making it searchable. But there's still very little editorial oversight. It's more like the yellow pages. You still end up asking your friends for their recommendations on a good dentist, rather than picking one out of the phone book.

I witnessed firsthand (and contributed to) the desktop publishing revolution. It was democracy in action. People would hang posters on their walls that said the power of the press belongs to those who own one. Graphic designers and typographers wrung their hands with despair as "anybody with a Mac" could publish printed pieces. Shocking! A lot of it did suck, and there were many pages that looked like ransom notes the fonts were changed so many times. But over time, people got the hang of it, and did pretty good work, and it has been both liberating and empowering.

Blogging is the same thing, but on a larger scale, because you don't have to staple your published piece to telephone poles to get other people to read it. You just post it to the blogosphere, and chances are, many people will read it.

I'm on the fence as to whether more editorial oversight would make the blogosphere better, or whether it will just evolve naturally and democratically. I, for one, would love somebody else to do some of the sifting for me and tell me what to read, but maybe that's just blog rolls and I'm not seeing it yet :)

3 comments:

JC said...

Glenn,

Very interesting post as always.

I think that "somebody else to do some of the sifting for me and tell me what to read" that you hope existed cna be aptly replaced by folksonomies (taxonomies by the people).

Tools such as del.icio.us and spurl.net allow you to look at what other people find interesting through the use of tags applied to content. You can either track what everybody tags under software for example or monitor what a specific person adds to the collection if you recognise that person as a reference.

Folksonomies are just at the beginning but they are meant to address the issue you described.

Froggy said...

Very interesting and insightful post.

It is really interesting to see ordinary people have their talents spotted in the otherwise bureaucratic old world order.

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