In my recent post on habitable software, I proposed evaluating software through the lenses of functionality, openness, and habitability. Given that one of my schticks is to yank analytical concepts out of one context and try to apply them elsewhere, this suggested a followup question: does this classification only make sense when talking about software, or can I use it elsewhere? And, given that another one of my schticks is relentless navel-gazing, this in turn led to a specialization of that question: what happens if I apply that classification to this blog?
So: functionality. In the context of a blog, I suppose that means: does this blog talk about topics that you’re interested in, and have interesting / useful / provocative contributions to the discussion about those topics? I’ll mostly leave that to others to decide; certainly I wouldn’t blame anybody else for not being at all interested in what I have to say here! But I do try to dig a bit into whatever topic happens to interest me in the moment; if you happen to find my topic du jour interesting, maybe I’ll have something worthwhile to say. I’m sure I can do better in that regard, but I’m also sure I could do worse, under the (very) generous assumption that I’m speaking of a reader who shares my peculiar collection of concerns.
And openness. I try not to hoard my ideas, I’m happy to talk about them with other people and let them build on them or disagree with them. And I try to look at what others have written, too – I read a lot of blogs, I dig for blog posts on topics that I’m focusing on, I include references to them even if I can’t find ways to fit them into the main thrust of my discussion. Again, I’m sure that there’s room for improvement, but I’m not particularly concerned on this front either.
Habitability, however, is another matter entirely. In fact, part of the reason why I’m happily giving myself a pass on the previous two criteria is that I strongly suspect that my blog is about as uninhabitable as they come, at least for readers who don’t happen to be me! This blog is a record of my day to day obsessions: when I find something I’m interested in, I try to use this blog as a way to get a piece of my thoughts on the matter better defined to myself. But I’m not particularly concerned with presenting those thoughts in a fashion that’s going to fit well with anybody else’s thought patterns. Habitability doesn’t mean “reduced to a least common denominator”, and one thing that this blog has going for it in that regard is that it is very much inhabited, but I don’t think that it’s inhabited in a way that manifests core living structures that will resonate more broadly.
One of the directions to approach this from is to come up with a set of constraints, a set of patterns. Looking around, I see some other interesting experiments. Roger Travis has been talking about taking a bardic approach recently; I’m curious about that, but I don’t have a clear vision what it would be like. (If I were still teaching, though, I would be thinking very hard indeed about what he’s been doing.) I’m very impressed by what Duncan Fyfe has produced recently, but his approach wouldn’t work at all for me. Justin Keverne seems to be in the process of rethinking his blog; some of the seeds there really appeal to me.
And then there’s Gödel, Escher, Bach, which I’ve just reread for the first time in more than a decade, and which is fascinating both as a model and as a cautionary tale. As a model: the dialogues are wonderful, and are a form that I’ve loved for ages. As a cautionary tale: while I enjoy the non-dialogue parts of the book, I also suspect that a large part of the reason why they’re there is that Hofstadter can’t bear to not explain what he’s thinking about, so they’re really there for his sake more than the readers’ sake; this is something that I do All The Time. As a model: the pictures in the book are pretty wonderful, too.
(Presentation Zen pointed out rather forcefully the strengths of pictures as well. The blogger computer geek thing to do seems to be to start taking photography seriously; perhaps inspired by my daughter, though, I’d be more interested in drawing, were my “learning non-programming stuff” slot not taken up by Japanese. Still, having a camera in my pocket isn’t the worst thing in the world; and there are zillions of images out there on the web if I only take the time to think about how to use them.)
I suspect that I should take a lesson from both Justin and from Hofstadter and play around with length. I have enough experience with writing posts in the 1000-2000 word length; I should experiment with both much smaller and much larger pieces. (Possibly starting from the same basic material, but presenting it in either a suggestive or a well worked out approach, instead of typical blog pontificating.) And I should cast my net for presentation approaches more broadly: while linear written exposition is pretty deeply embedded into my brain, now more than ever it’s not the only approach worth considering.
I have a lot to think about in terms of presentation and habitability, that’s for sure. Though I should return to the question of functionality: if I’m considering writing something longer form, I do wonder what other people would be interested in reading about from me. Obviously it’s mostly my problem to figure out what I have that’s worth saying, but I am curious what suggestions and advice others have.
After more than five years of writing this (and a couple of years of Twitter usage), it feels quite odd to be thinking about writing something that won’t immediately be available via an RSS feed. Don’t get me wrong, this blog isn’t going anywhere, but I should carve out a quieter space to think and experiment, too.
This post has not been revised since publication.