Even though I’ve been blogging for half a year now, I get the feeling that I’m not doing it “right”, or at least I’m not doing it the way normal bloggers do. Whenever I read other people’s blogs, they’re usually taking part in actual conversations: I dipped into several blogs a couple of weeks ago, for example, and learned that apparently all the hip bloggers are supposed to have an opinion about Google’s Active Toolbar, and were linking to each other’s arguments, whereas I’d never heard of the thing. Oops.
I’m being flip, of course, but I really do like following the links in other people’s blogs; it increases the chances that I’ll run into something both interesting and unexpected. It reminds me of the early days of the web, when the web sites that were common cultural references were much more individual, idiosyncratic efforts (I still read Dr. Fun regularly…), there was always something new and neat around the corner, but if you kept on tracing through new stuff, you’d find references back to familiar ground. Kind of like Usenet: a huge amount of stuff there, with lots of subcultures, but you’d quickly recognize the regulars on the groups you read, and you’d occasionally see those same regulars in other, unrelated groups.
Still, my lack of links is largely just the way I am: while I do spend lots of time thinking about others’ works, those works aren’t particularly likely to be on the internet; the Amazon links that I provide are just a pathetic pretense of an attempt at electronic reference. Better to chose my topics based on what I actually spend my time thinking about, instead of what happens to be on the internet; there are lots of other people who do the latter much much better than I could.
But part of the reasons were technological. When I read other people’s blogs, I often found them interesting; but the irregularity of their updates meant that I didn’t really want to add them to my list of links that I click on daily. (I actually did most of my blog reading at work, largely because Jonathan Schwartz, Sun’s president, has a good one which freqently links to interesting stuff.) This problem, however, has a well-known solution: RSS. I’d put off reading RSS feeds because Galeon, my browser of choice, doesn’t understand them, and I didn’t want to switch browsers. And I wasn’t sure that RSS reading fit most naturally into my browser: better, perhaps, to read RSS feeds in my mail/news reader, Gnus. And, while I’d heard about people using Gnus to read RSS, I couldn’t find it in the manual (as packaged with XEmacs, or maybe it’s Fedora Core’s fault).
A month or so ago, though, I got fed up with this situation, and did some poking around. It turned out that XEmacs was distributing a slightly out-of-date manual; when I looked at the version of the manual available online, it made it clear that the version of Gnus I was using really did support RSS. But when I followed the instructions in the manual, it completely failed to work! Fortunately, gnu.emacs.gnus came to the rescue, and a few GR’s later in my *Group* buffer, I’m subscribed to RSS feeds, and happily reading blogs regularly.
Not a lot of blogs, though. (As you can see: for now, I’m putting the ones I subscribe to on the links list on the right side of this blog.) I hear about RSS aggregators, but I haven’t yet felt a need for that. (Good thing, too, because I don’t know how to do that in Gnus, though it’s probably possible.) It will probably grow, though, because there’s actually another weird feedback loop going on here: when I’m in an authorial mood, I log on at home more frequently than I used to, which means that I would quickly work through my old, familiar list of regular links (and my regular list of newsgroups), which meant that I’m looking for more stuff to read online. (Then again, I might put a damper on that feedback loop by, say, spending less time on the computer at home, or spending more of my computer time at home programming.)
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