Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

A story about how Ivan, a meme, is created by Alice and makes his way through weblog space. I wrote this little story to try to illustrate how microcontent cruises through blogs. I try to include all of the applications and services that I use regularly when I blog. It's probably a good place to start in inspiring me to make my glossary. If anyone notices any technical mistakes or things I should add to make this story more interesting, I would greatly appreciate it.

Alice had been thinking about Ivan, the idea, for a while. At 2am, Ivan was ready and Alice popped open the sleeping PowerBook by her bed and opened Kung-Log, a client for posting entries to Movable Type. She typed Ivan into Kung-Log. She selected Ivan's category, clicked a button to include the song she was listening to on iTunes and clicked "post". Kung-Log connected to Movable Type running on her server AliceBlog. Kung-Log talked to Movable Type in metaWeblog API which allowed Kung-Log, who grew up in another neighborhood, to explain to Movable Type exactly what Ivan was, who wrote Ivan, and what category he should be in. Movable Type took Ivan and put him in MySQL, a database also running on the server. Movable Type then went to work. Movable Type called all of the Templates together and called all of the other microcontent who would be neighbors of Ivan (which Ivan was now one of) and got them together and rebuilt all of the relevant html and xml files of AliceBlog. Movable Type also connected to and a few other sites and talked to them in XML-RPC to let them know that Ivan had just been added and AliceBlog updated. Because Ivan was the newest microcontent on AliceBlog, MovableType put Ivan prominently on the top of the index page, included him in all of the category pages and even gave him his own html page and put a permalink to that on the top page. Ivan also ended up in the RSS file. The RSS file is an xml file, which included Ivan and a bunch of other microcontent. Ivan was very well defined with metadata including who had written him, when he was written, a picture that Alice had included to help explain Ivan and even a link to an explanation of the picture.

Bob was a big fan of AliceBlog. Bob lived in Tokyo and was running Radio Userland on his PC. He had his news aggregator page open. Radio Userland knew that AliceBlog had been updated because had added AliceBlog to the changes page as soon as it had received notice from Movable Type that Alice had updated AliceBlog. Bob saw Ivan and was quite impressed. He clicked "post" next to Ivan. Ivan showed up in a new window and Bob typed a few extra thoughts into the window and clicked "publish". Ivan and Bob's comments were saved in the Radio Userland folder on Bob's PC. Radio Userland called up the Templates and rendered all of the files just like Movable Type did, except it did this all on Bob's PC. Then, Radio Userland upstreamed all of the files to the cloud where BobsBlog lived. Suddenly, BobsBlog included Ivan, a link to Ivan on AliceBlog and some thoughts from Bob. Radio Userland also let know that BobsBlog had been updated.

Charlie liked the design of BobsBlog and always visited BobsBlog first when he accessed the Internet. He saw Ivan on BobsBlog and thought Ivan was really cool. He noticed that Ivan was from AliceBlog, which he had never been to. He clicked on the link to AliceBlog and thought AliceBlog was really neat. He decided that other people should read AliceBlog. AliceBlog had a button that said, "blogroll me". He clicked the button and a script ran on his machine to take AliceBlog's address and send a message to to include AliceBlog in his blogroll. Charlie'sBlog knew to get an updated version of Charlie's blogroll every time someone looked at Charlie'sBlog and include it in the page and now AliceBlog was on it. Charlie also wanted to write about Ivan so he went to his Blogger page and copied Ivan into the window, added some comments and clicked, "publish". Suddenly, Ivan was on Charlie'sBlog and in Charlie's RSS file which live on Blogspot, a server run by the same people who make Blogger.

Dave was a very busy guy who liked Charlie's stuff, but didn't have time to surf the web. Dave ran NetNewsWire on his Mac. Every 30 minutes, NetNewWire went to all of the weblogs that were on Dave's list and picked up the RSS files from the weblogs. Since the RSS files included information about when Ivan was added, NetNewsWire knew that Ivan was a new piece of microcontent so NetNewWire highlighted Ivan as he came in. Dave hit the space key and NetNewWire diligently flipped through all of the new microcontent. Dave was really excited to see Ivan. Dave clicked "Post to Weblog" on NetNewsWire. Dave actually had a lot of weblogs that he wrote for and NetNewWire could post to any of them, even though they all ran different weblog systems because all of the weblog systems talked in an API that NewNewWire could communicate in. Dave decided to post it to his Movable Type weblog, DaveBlog. He added some comments and clicked "post". Just like Alice's Movable Type, Dave's Movable Type rebuilt DaveBlog, and sent an XML RPC message. Dave's Movable Type noticed that AliceBlog was a Movable Type weblog so it also sent a trackback to Ivan on AliceBlog. Movable Type over at Alice's server received the trackback and rebuilt AliceBlog to include a link to DaveBlog's permalink of Ivan in the trackbacks section of Ivan on AliceBlog. Now everyone who saw Ivan on AliceBlog could also see Ivan on DaveBlog, who was older and more interesting because he had additional comments from Bob, Charlie and Dave.

In several hours, Ivan was all over the place. Blogdex was crawling all over the web and noticed that everyone had links to Ivan. Blogdex compared the number of websites linking to Ivan with the number of websites linking to other microcontent and realized that Ivan had more links to him than any other microcontent. Blogdex updated its page and put Ivan on the top of the list with a link to a list of all of the weblogs that had links to Ivan.

Technorati, was also crawling the weblogs and noticed a lot of links to AliceBlog. The number of weblogs linking to AliceBlog had increased significantly since Ivan was posted and the total number of weblogs as well as the total number of links to AliceBlog were higher than any other weblog so Technorati put AliceBlog at the top of the list.

Alice had an RSS feed that Technorati created just for her which included all of the people who linked to her. At the office, she had a PC that was running FeedReader which received this Technorati feed and showed all of the people linking to her in little balloon windows on the bottom of her desktop. She was really excited. She could see Ivan growing into a meme and spreading across the world. Since so many people were linking to AliceBlog and to Ivan, Google ranked Ivan at the top of the page rankings. People who were searching for information about ideas similar to Ivan found AliceBlog and left comments about Ivan on AliceBlog. These comments became a dialog on AliceBlog about Ivan. She saw some particularly interesting comments about Ivan so she collected quotes and links from all of the weblogs and opened up Movable Type from her browser at the office and created Ira. Ira was even smarter than Ivan and was sure to be a big hit.

Evan, who tracks ideas like Ivan and Ira and is writing a paper about the subject drags them from AliceBlog onto NoteTaker and puts them in his outline with other ideas about Ivan and Ira. He selects, "save as web page". NoteTaker posts the whole notebook including the new entries for Ivan and Ira and they become part of Evan's online notebook, which is structured by topic, rather than by time like most weblogs. Evan also saves the notebook as OPML and emails it to Frank and Greg. Frank uses OmniOutliner and is working on the project with Evan. Frank is able to open the OPML file and add it to his OmniOutliner outline. Greg, a Radio Userland user, opens the file in Radio Userland and saves it to his outlines folder. ActiveRender, renders the OPML file into an html file with javascript to allow viewers to manipulate the outline and Radio Userland upstreams the nifty outline to GregBlog.


By the way, here is an example of a page created by NoteTaker. It dones't work in Safari because of a bug in Safari. I'll write a comparison of Radio's Outliner, Omni Outliner and NoteTaker when I've used it a bit more.

So this morning, instead of working on our new product, I'll have to (obviously) create a major accompanying document - specifying exactly where a) new kinds of micro-content (reviews and conversations) flows through this universe, b) where the notion of topics, people and media public open servers can lead to MORE interaction and c) how this all leads to a world going beyond just linking.

It's gonna take me a while - but it's the right thing to do. It's been fun watching you set-up happenings, grow addicted to blogging and make committments to help fund this world. Now that Blogger has been bought, hopefully there are other companies you can help fund and might bring to Idei-san - to fulfill the destiny of Sony's hardware, software and services.

joi, this is a great little story. it shows noobs what happens and honestly it even defined a few terms more clearly for me. you've clearly illustrated what a community event blogging is too.

i have but 1 suggestion: it would help if you linked to a definition of meme .

That was a wonderful illustration of how fast ideas spread. It is important to note how human decisions are critically involved in the whole process. Machines do wonderful stuff, but the magic wouldn't happen without us.

I'd second what Seb said: the combinations and connections of the technology are interesting to be sure, but I'd love to see a 'parallel' narrative that illustrated the personal/social processes, and the affordances in the technology that led to them. Paging John Seely Brown / Bonnie Nardi / Anne Galloway!

Great story! I think I really knew how cool this was all going to be when I was sitting in a convention room in Iowa on my WiFi enabled laptop checking my blogroll and listening to Leo Laporte speak and noticing Evan Williams had just updated his blog. Clicking on Evan's blog he said he had just gotten off stage at the same convention and if anyone reading his blog was in the room to come up to him and say hi and he'd give them a free blogger sticker. I turned around in my chair, stuck out my hand and asked for my free sticker :-) Using my tool based in New York I accessed content that he had created a minute before using his tool based in San Francisco because Dave's tool based somewhere else bridged the gap between both of the tools and the final effect was me turning around and getting a free sticker in the middle of Des Moines Iowa. This is all just too much fun.

Great story. Are the movie rights for sale?

I think it's really a TV series.

I can hear the storylines. Ira involved in a terrorist plot. Igor saving a patient's life. Ira helping Charlie and Alice find true love. Uncovering corporate misdeeds. Bringing five clothing designers together to win the Walmart contract against all odds.

And its got characters in spades! I'm thinking long story arcs where Igor confronts his inner uncertainties, learns to express himself in new ways, visits other worlds, meets new kinds of ideas across cultural divides, matures, comes to terms with himself, sinks roots in the community.

Prime time, baby!

I think Dave has a virus or something - his copy of NetNewsWire keeps renaming itself ;-)
Nice article! I'm just getting into blogging and this explains it well (at least for someone who can kinda grasp ideas like 'meme', my mom probably wouldn't understand).

I enjoyed the story. It helped me gage v. quickly and effectively my knowledge of the “elements” of the blogosphere. What I found particularly fascinating was the starting point: turning a glossary into an Internet fable. If it had remained the former I definitely would not have read it, while through the latter here I am.

Fascinating because it uses of one of (wo)mankind’s oldest tools: storytelling. In other words: the transfer of knowledge encoded in narrative. A vital tool that has allowed us to build on the past to develop the future. Storytelling as a survival tactic.

(As an aside) Not surprisingly, in fact, from the depths of our common histories and just like in agriculture, there are attempts to genetically modify the essence of storytelling. A whole sub-genre of knowledge management found in business academia. See, for example the work done by David Snowden for IBM or Steve Denning for the World Bank.

Finally, to turn it on its head: if this is a story about the tools of blogging, it will be very interesting to follow the way these tools will change the art of telling a story.


I can hear the storylines. Ira involved in a terrorist plot. Igor saving a patient's life. Ira helping Charlie and Alice find true love. Uncovering corporate misdeeds. Bringing five clothing designers together to win the Walmart contract against all odds.

The good thing about your information is that it is explicit enough for students to grasp. Thanks for your efforts in spreading academic knowledge.

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