Russ Lipton Documents Radio
simplex veri sigillum

Of Weblogs, Websites and RCS

Yes, I know there are several ways to slice the new Radio Community Server project - say UserlandBootstrap [1:3] where the list is [Jabber, Frontier, Radio, Conversant, Manila] or is it UserlandBootstrap [1:4] or is it UserlandBootstrap [:4]?

Jabber, you say? Yup, I do. That is a story for another day.

Anyway, to the point, which is me - that is, the user's view of all this. I offer two definitions:

Russ Lipton defines a website: anything that I read in a browser.

Russ Lipton defines a weblog: a website with a calendar.

I am quite content that Userland focuses on helping me author and publish weblog/websites, whether locally or externally. I don't care whether they are published to or or

It's all Net to me.

Where Userland could confuse and frustrate me (or enable me in a marvelous way) is by its relative skill at helping me manage the flow between my "private" and "public" life. Let me explain.

My writing enters this cruel world as something personal. Private. Me. It doesn't matter whether I write in Word (arrgh), an .opml outline (within Frontier or Radio) or through the browser interface of Manila or Radio.

In all three cases, I need to know (and receive comfort through user interface gadgets) that my private stuff stays personal until I decide to share it.

Publishing changes the entire dynamic.

The Outward Flow - From Private to Public

Manila's strength (Manila is another Userland product) as a content management system comes from my complete clarity about my own stuff. Everything I post to Manila is, by definition, public. That is, it goes "out there". If I don't want it to go "out there", I shouldn't write it.

(To be sure, content management systems introduce editorial privileges, workflow, "hold until date" and such but the flow-target is always external. By analogy with paper, the end-goal is a "public-ation" not "private-cation".)

Radio appears to confuse the deal (this is not a bug but a feature) by blurring the line between private and public. 

The varied flavors of upstreaming, online-offline, posts-stories and categories puzzle many Radio newbies. We misinterpret this as a confusion between websites and desktop applications.

It is, instead, a reflection of still immature tools for identifying where something is - right now! - in the flow of your communication, my communication and the flow between the two. While Radio is just an adolescent, at least it moves far beyond the toddler stuff typically available elsewhere.

I believe it is far more important to focus on a unified user model that clearly manages, traces and makes visible the private-to-public and public-to-private flows than it is to worry about demarcations of websites and desktop applications.

Tracing Across Communities

Enter the upcoming Radio Community Servers (RCS). These will allow me to share something within a specific, private community (workgroup) rather than with the world at large. 

Any given community to which I flow (publish) might be the endpoint of my labor (as the Userland Community Server is for my personal weblog). Or, such a server may prove an intermediate flow point ... with my weblog moving from there to another receptive RCS.

(Parenthetically, such private communities can fulfill the editing functions currently reserved for Manila and other more static CMS applications).

Where things get dicey - but exciting - and illustrate my need for assistance is that each such community is public to me but it may be private to another community that is external to it. 

A workgroup might (with my input counting appropriately alongside other members) make my now shared writing available more broadly by flowing it to another community - maybe from marketing to the office of the CEO or from an article of mine in a local paper to the New York Times.

(By the way, that 'writing' could be text or program code or audio clips or ... but I digress).

Relative to me, the marketing department (community, let us say) was public. Relative to the office of the CEO, it is private - not because the CEO couldn't demand visibility into it but because the CEO doesn't want to have to care about that stuff.

But, when a particular piece is made public to the CEO's office, we now have ...

me ---> marketing ---> CEO office

and where we had ...

me-private ---> marketing-public

we now have

me&marketing-private ---> CEO public

My work becomes part of a chain of private-public flows, made even richer (let's not say more complicated but richer) if the same piece, say a strategy piece, flows through multiple communities ...

me&marketing ---> CEO public

me ---> development

me&research&VCs ---> press

I could care less whether the target is a website, a weblog, a server or all simultaneously. I don't care whether people are coming to my desktop server or whether I am going to a server in New Delhi or both.

I care about maintaining a sense of ownership, control and traceability of my work.

I need comfort that the stuff has not only gotten to its varied RCS targets but that I don't need to manage the flow in my head. Each private musing must be tagged so I can trace its flow to each community.

The Inward Flow - From Public to Private

The reverse is also vital.

RSS flows will come to me from the center (the Internet) to me (the edge, at least from my vantage point) through the communities to which I belong.

Omitting the very pesky details of subscribing, filtering aggregating et al across communities, the real key is that I once more need the comfort of being able to trace the inward as well as the outward flow much as above.

So, What's The Point?

Just this - I don't believe the cognitive sweet point centers on the issue of 'what is a website?' or 'where does a website live?' or even 'where is the website hosted?' (that is, on my desktop or somewhere else).

As a user, I don't want to think about that - especially about where it is hosted. This doesn't mean I am unwilling, by the way, to host-and-manage my own desktop website. I have managed a Frontier host. Not hard. It's not the task I object to but rather being forced to think of myself as an admin.

My interest is simple:

I want to keep my private stuff private.

I want to know to whom I have flowed my private stuff and where that stuff has, in turn, gone subsequently.

And I want the software to catalog and protect that along the way.

I believe it is far more important to focus on a unified user model that clearly manages, traces and makes visible the private-to-public and public-to-private flows than it is to worry about demarcations of websites and desktop applications.

To put it another way, thinking about my writing life as a bi-directional flow from private-to-public (my stuff) and public-to-private (RSS feeds) seems like a neat and useful simplification.

In fact, I think Userland would do well to make it clearer that everything they do (well, almost) has to do with helping me write-and-publish websites. Websites EVERYWHERE! My laptop, my desktop, your desktop-server, your workgroup-server, Userland's server ... who cares? Websites. Websites. Websites.

Love Your Mom

Isn't this the way mom looks at it?

If I try to get her to understand that "this" is a website, "that" is a weblog and "this thing over here" is a desktop application and that thing over there is a "server", she reaches for the aspirin.

She also asks me a searching question: if all these things are different, then why are they all being done on the Internet (by which she means, in a browser)? To her, the browser and the Internet are identical concepts. This is the stroke of genius behind Userland's decision to focus on editing-in-the-browser. It's a horrible place to write. So what?

(And no, Mom isn't stupid).

If I say to her, "just go write in the browser and here is a way of seeing the places where it has gone after you posted it" and "here is the place in the same browser where you go to assist the people who are coming to you" - RCS on her desktop-and-in-the-browser for the flower club work - she is quite likely to go, "ah, that makes sense."

If I go the other way, she nods politely and then nods out.

You know, it's odd. Millions of other folks - doctors, lawyers, teachers and candlestick makers - react just like Mom.

 <-- Return to Home Page

Copyright 2002 © Russ Lipton.
Last update: 4/25/02; 10:09:12 PM.
3 page reads.