Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I'm one of those people who hates reading books and hates writing stuff. I love talking to people and I do most of my thinking when I'm talking to someone or when I'm preparing to talk to someone. That's why I love blogs so much. I feel like I'm talking, not independantly cogitating.

Now my question. In a discussion, you're allow a certain amount of sloppiness and you mold your position and you develop a model together with whoever you talking to. I feel similarly when I blog. Having said that, what you write persists and you can get criticized for what you write. Larry Lessig's blog is "tight". I mean, it's well thought out and non-sloppy. (He IS a law professor. ;-) ) On the other hand, Marc Canter's blog is a bit more sloppy, but quite interesting. Dave Winer seems to have mastered his style, a combination of short references, personal opinions and technical clarity.Doc, Meg, Dan, almost everyone on my blogroll has a pretty cool and unique style that works. One of my problems is that I think and talk differently depending on where I am and who I am with. This is helpful in providing myself with a variety of models that represent mutliple points of view when I think of an in issue. On the other hand, blogged, this turn into a mish mash of styles. Does this work? Can people filter the stuff that doesn't interest them? I assume they can.

I LOVE "10 Tips on Writing for the Living Web" It was a great help when I started blogging. Tip 3 is "Write Tight". So... that's my dilemma. Are people interested in the stream of consciousness sort of blogging I'm doing right now, or should it be tighter? Should I be MORE introverted and personal about my feelings, or more organized and intelligent. Is it OK to use my blog to think out loud? Do I have to check my spelling? ;-p Hmm...


I think there's a natural selection process when reading blogs. Each of us has a different range of interests and filters focused on what WE think is important, so we glance over everything, and read what interests us. Some of us ignore personal posts (especially about Dave Winer's dad or illness), while others ignore political or cultural posts and zero in on technology related subjects. I myself ALWAYS read posts related to sex or music.

So first things first - there's the subject matter of the post - that gets filtered naturally.

When it comes to tightness, clarity, style and succinctness, I purposefully keep things vauge - as we're in 'pre-launch' mode - and I'm only 'tickling' and tantalizing folks right now. There's so much background material, insights and years of thoughts that need to get out - that I feel it's appropriate (especially since I'm relatively new to the scene) to work in this mode - for now, BEFORE I get into the heavy, meaty details of what we're doing and what I REALLY wanna get across.

That meat will include examples of where I see hypermedia going and it's benefits. It'll include examples of new kinds of interactive content and collaboration between other bloggers, on-line communities and even 'normal' people. I'll moblog from the airport, update from the taxi, support a mailist from a meeting and share media files - with my prvate cloud members - wherever I go. Everything I do or say will be an example of what our products can do.

Once we have a product and services to offer - then it's gonna sound more and more like marketing speak, with me standing at a virtual podium and lecturing.

Our company site will have 'official' statements, policies, etc. - and I'll refer to them from my personal site, but my own blog will morph (and it's overall tone will will change with it)- as I wanna get across:

    - the baby steps towards Nirvana have begun (and this is how we define Nirvana)
    - we have a solution TODAY that will help change the world - again - try it out! Click here!
    - here's a roadmap of where we're going - and how others can participate in that journey - and how we plan on working with everyone - openly
    - it's gonna take allot to bring true hypermedia to the world - with libraries of on-line information interlocked together - here's a scenario of how it can happen
    - and THIS (whatever it is I'm saying) is why we're gonna help solve a lot of the problems that exist today [insert specific example here]

I'll always have an enigmatic, loose style that I currently employ, with tounge and cheek insider jokes, but that's just me. Many people (most investor types for instance) confuse my style with seriousness (I hope you;r enot one of them!) Just 'cause I'm having fun, doesn't mean I'm not about business. Or making money. It's just that's not the most important thing in the world (just don't let our investors know that :-)

Joi, here's my belief system for writing a good blog-entry, from the top down:

1. Headline

Your headline needs to be a clear summary of the story. Cuteness should always take a back-seat to informativeness.

What's more, the headline word-choices should go from most- to least-informative (i.e., "Man bites dog: terrible tragedy," not "Terrible tragedy: man bites dog"). That way, people who only see the first part of the headline (in an RSS reader or mail-reader) get the goods.

For this reason, headlines should not, if possible, begin with "The" "A" or other nulls.

[much of this shamelessly cribbed from Jakob Nielsen's "microcontent" white-paper]

2. Post

The post should lead with summary and then analysis. Ideally, this takes the form, "Here is a $THING, and it is $INTERESTING."

3. Excerpt

Following that, a brief excerpt. The excerpt should be exactly as long as it needs to be to support the premises laid out in $THING and $INTERESTING, and no longer. Very long posts make it hard to see, at a glance, their neighboring posts.

4. Links

Every link on a post should be self-explanatory, so that I click through to get more info, not to find out what's on the other side. So "This *Flash animation* is a haunting, surreal retelling of Alice in Wonderland in the style of the Hellraiser movies," is good, while "*Creepy* as hell, but worth a visit" is bad.

It gets down to this: I read blogs so that people whom I respect can tell me about the things that they find noteworthy. If your post doesn't tell me what it's about, if your post doesn't tell me why you made it, if your post doesn't tell me what you're asking me to look at, it fails.

5. Style

As to graphic look, I'm distressed by the trend to using grey type and tight stylesheets on sites. A friend who has vision problems emailed me lateley to tell me that he just CANNOT read grey-on-white. He's an incredible person, and it makes me sad to think that he's shut out of all of these blogs.

Even I -- with relatively well-corrected vision -- find it very hard to read many blogs.

Joi, did you know that your blog's type looks like this on a 12" iBook at 10x7 in Mozilla 1.2?

Hmmm. If it's not okay to use your blog to "think out loud," then I'm in trouble...that's what I see as its primary value for me, at least in a professional context. By allowing ideas out into the open when they're still largely unformed, I'm able to invite input into the process of refining them. And simply the process of writing them down is often enough to move them forward for me.

I think a lot of this comes down to the "who are you writing for?" question. I write best when I write for me--a record of what I want to remember, or a method for formalizing ideas that haven't yet fully formed for me. When I start trying to write for my "audience," I run into trouble--I don't really know who they are, and what I do know indicates that their tastes and needs and reasons for reading my blog vary widely. If I tried to write for them, I'd lose my voice in the process.

Joi = This is a tough one. I like your point and many of the other comments here. I guess my favorite thing about blogs -- whether succinct or verbose, techy or not, quotidien or of major worldwide importance -- is the VOICE. I like to go "hear" Dave Winer, whether he's bitching and moaning, or just thinking brilliantly out loud. I like to go "chat" with Doc and his voice is unmistakable. I like to go "wander along the highway" with Chris Locke as he's letting Rageboy out of the cage for an afternoon marauding.

The only thing I want people to do when they visit my blog is to feel like they just got a love letter from ME and even if I didn't sign it, they would know it was from me and no one else. So whatever you need to do to sound like and BE you in your blog is what I want from all bloggers. Cheers -- H

This is great feedback. Thanks. Cory, I think your points are great and that is EXACTLY why you can count on the fact that I read Boing Boing EVERY day. On the other hand, I wonder if it fits my site? I guess I could make the entries smaller on the top page and then elaborate with a More... link. I do like being able to see many adjacent topics. (Fewer now with my politically correct fonts.) But I think I go to Boing Boing for quick hits and links. I guess I DON'T know why people come here, but I have a sense that it's different from Boing Boing. Having said that, getting to the point quickly so people can figure out whether to read the rest of the entry makes a lot of sense...

It's striking to me how this thread sounds like the debate around the table at growing magazine, one that just found its voice and is seeing subscriptions spike based on its first great issues.

Cory's style points are good editorial design rules for any magazine. Joi, Liz and Halley sound like the writers who have captured attention doing something they love and now wonder if they can do it every day for the sake of the editorial style under discussion. Marc's the editorial director who thought up the package ("Bloggered: The things the matter").

We're really at the beginning of something big, but it's not a new medium as much as one of format for paper publication that captured both the creative world and the audiences' attention. It's like being the first to realize that a tabloid size publication is easier to read and ideal for quick, entertaining stories that can be consumed on the trolley. Because "blog" is simply a format and voices are emerging through it. We'll add to the format, like adding color to a paper, and go from here. Where we go from here is anybody's guess, but we all know that some of us have to decide to go together to make a collective impact big enough to leave a mark.

This year, bloggers will begin to organize into some kinds of networks that provide an economic return, because the audiences are coming.

Since Cory mentioned Neilsen's micropayments whitepaper (which is also being talked about on slashdot), and Marc and Mitch are also talking a bit about micropayments and aggregation, I thought I'd point you guys at Clay Shirkey's excellent "Case Against Micropayments": his argument, Micropayments will never work because users hate them, what will work is aggregation, subscription and subsidy.

Oh...please, please, please don't start using extended entries regularly. I really hate having to click to read more. The blogs I read, I read regularly, and I want the content on that main page if at all possible.

The more I've thought about it, the less I agree with Cory's "rules," outside of blogs that specifically serve as journalistic or newsy outlets (like Boing Boing, or Gizmodo, etc).

I've been reading Christina Wodtke's
Information Architecture
book, where she specifically addresses this topic of journalistic style in web pages. She points out that not all content fits that model, using the example of a fairytale. "Yesterday, Snow White married Prince Charming, after overcoming challenges ranging from a wicked witch to a poisoned apple. Click HERE for details..."

I don't want my titles to all be self-explanatory. I don't want the first sentence of my posts to summarize everything else. I'm writing narratives, not news, and while it's fine with me if people don't want to wade through them, that's the price they have to pay for the content. :-)

As to the economics, I don't particularly want blogging to make money for least, not directly. At its best, it can serve as a showcase, as a way of disseminating information, as a way of helping me gain credibility when I'm looking for jobs or funding. But the writing itself continues to be something I do for me, not for an audience--and I don't really want to change that.

Liz to my rescue... or to confuse me even more. No one agrees on any of this stuff. It's quite frustrating. My font size poll right now is 34 vs 34. Ha! It reminds me when I was running Infoseek Japan. Every time we did a survey after changing the top page, asking people which they liked better, we always got 50/50. It was quite frustrating to the team after they spent all of that time thinking it through and changing everything.

So... I guess maybe I should just try to figure out what I like best. I'm starting to get used to the big fonts though.

The other thing I've noticed is that MANY people now read just the RSS feed. Which doesn't include comments.

I was talking to Howard Rheingold and he thought that blogs did not support comment contributors enough. I agree with this. I should probably write a new entry about this, but so many good ideas come up in the comment sections of blogs these days, but they are "below the radar"...

I'm going to add a comment here after this entry was linked to by Andrew at The Register since I guess my "hates reading books" at the beginning of the entry is a bit strong. If I had a choice about how to learn something, I would rather learn in a discussion with someone than from a book. I also find reading books physically tiring and have never been very good at focusing on books as a child. I don't know why, but I think it might be partly physiological. I get physically very tired reading.

Having said that, I read quite a few books and enjoy what I learn from them and could not survive without books. I guess I just enjoy conversation as a form a lot more than reading or writing by myself.

I have been away to another planet and,upon returning, heard of this thing called, "Blogging". I rushed out and found a site to give me free blog space and started writing, switching between buttons to affect style, etc., all to no effect. I see others have articles downloaded,colored fonts, borders, etc.and use the same site as I do. Now,besides the, "You're an idiot" part, I want to find FREE information on the WHAT, HOW, WHERE, of blogging. I mean I'm just getting to square one, and assume a blog is a web-log, or diary-type web site having less freedom of page- style or megs. can you or a fellow, 'blogger' please refer me to a,'101' site on this subject that I won't be charged for?

V Useful!

i need blog style

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