My post in response to Clay Shirky's article on Corante generated some interesting discussion. The time is ripe to discuss weblog topics, thanks to innovative new tools such as k-collector, Phillip Pearson's Topic Exchange, and itopik. I want to address a few points about organizing weblog posts by topic.
1) I still believe authorship is important. I have favourite bloggers who I will read no matter what topic they write on. They are authoritative voices and I trust them to inform and/or entertain me. But I also believe the blogosphere should allow for the emergence of new and alternative voices. One way to achieve this is to have a system that organizes information via topics. Otherwise A List bloggers will continue to dominate the blogosphere, like A List actors dominate Hollywood. Do the rest of us really want to be waiting tables the rest of our lives, looking for our big break in the blogosphere? Hmmm maybe the majority of us are better suited to acting in local plays, than on the big screen ;-) But either way, organising weblog posts by topics potentially gives more people a chance to be read in the blogosphere. And the more bloggers that are 'in the mix', the better the chance of finding new and unique ideas.
2) Topic generation should be automated. I've seen a few comments along the lines of: "Oh I wouldn't know what topic to choose, and anyway who's to say my definition of a certain topic will match other peoples definition?" This is a fair point and as I've been using k-collector, I've often wondered if I'm choosing the correct topics for my posts. There have also been instances of duplication or overlap of topics - e.g. there have been two topics about the new Matrix movie on the same k-collector cloud.
The answer (easier said than done) is to automate creation and management of topics, so us humans don't have to worry our pretty little heads about it. k-collector and Topic Exchange are on the right track, as they already automate some functions. For example when you need to choose a topic for your post using k-collector, the software automatically presents you with a list of potential topics to select from. Matt Mower has previously suggested there may be ways to fully automate topic assignation, which in a past entry I likened to an automated Yahoo!.
I'd like to imagine also that topics can someday be managed in a decentralized way, like the World Wide Web itself. Currently k-collector and Topic Exchange both maintain topics on a central server. Perhaps there is a peer-to-peer way to manage topics?
And my final point for now:
3) Topics are different than categories. I use Radio Userland as my weblog authoring tool and I have the option of dividing my posts into 'categories'. However I choose not to, because categories are too broad and they aren't flexible. Anil Dash posted an entry today about posts being the "atomic element" of weblogs:
"When I first wrote up the idea that had been percolating in my mind for the microcontent client, the one element that kept popping up was "meme-sized chunks [are] the natural idiom of the Internet". A post is that memetic chunk, exactly the size of one idea. Not coincidentally, a lot of emails are that size, as are a lot of instant messaging conversations."
Topics can and should be "exactly the size of one idea", whereas categories usually encompass a number of similar ideas. For example if I have a category called ".NET", then I may use it to file links to information about ASP.NET, my thoughts on how .NET can be used to build a Universal Canvas, how Microsoft is using .NET as the base for their next Operating System, etc. Many topics, but just one category.
Here are some trackbacks from my original post...manually tracked mind you. Bring on the Radio trackback Matt :-)
- See Also: k-collector | Semantic Web | Topic Mapping | Weblogs