I have always had mixed feelings about linkblogging – on one hand, I read a lot and it seems natural that I would come across interesting articles that other folks might enjoy. In the back of my mind however, I think of linkblogging as slagging off from the more "real" task of writing something (semi-)coherent.
A reflection of that conflict has been how my own style of linkblogging has gone through a few iterations.
One of the very first questions I was asked shortly after I twittered about the new linkblog was simply "Why not use del.icio.us?". The answer dear reader, is that I actually was using del.icio.us for linkblogging.
del.icio.us did seem like the answer at first – as I was browsing, I hit a button whenever I came across a link; filled in some text and by some magic it appeared on the blog.
The infatuation disappeared pretty quickly though – at first, it was just the frustration of the 255 character limit for descriptions. But on reflection, it was something deeper than that – I resented the interruption that posting to del.icio.us represented.
Skimming through the never-ending stream of info that the Web can throw at you and picking out something interesting is an art form – when you are reading north of 200 feeds as I am today, it’s pretty much a survival skill. Yet every time I found something useful, I would have to drop everything and focus on writing something meaningful about why I found this link useful – after all what use is a link without context? Do this context switch 20+ times a day and you start to feel a little ragged.
Foolhardily, I decided the answer was to hand-code a daily link dump. I would open links in individual tabs as I came across them, cull them down to a few interesting links at the end of the day and then using a combination of two firefox extensions and some Autohotkey magic, kludge together the HTML required to format the post appropriately. Not unexpectedly, this experiment didn’t last very long – I made exactly 6 linkblog-style posts using this technique before I gave up all-together.
It was only when I made the switch to RSS that I began to consider how best to start linkblogging again. My requirement was simple – I wanted a way to hit a button and share a link; no comments, no tagging, nothing. I knew right away that FeedDemon supported this through "shared clippings" but I balked at paying for a feed reader and tried to postpone the inevitable by using GreatNews.
In the end however, I switched to FeedDemon and that was when the real power of using RSS feeds for linkblogging hit me – I no longer had to provide a context. The author of each individual article had taken the time to craft an introductory paragraph that explained the article better than I ever could. If you wanted to read further, you kept scrolling or you just switched to the next article – a homage to the low-impact way in which the link itself was blogged.
Is this method without flaws? From an attention perspective – I think no, there aren’t any. I can share links with minimum effort, folks who subscribe to the linkblog feed can skim through the links easily as well.
The real problems lie in usability – HTML is being converted into RSS, back into HTML (on the blog) and finally into RSS (in the blog feed). Validation is a pipe-dream, the visual layout of the blog is often broken and some functionality simply does not work (( I cannot for example, get a feed for a single category to validate and I have no way of fixing it)).
The other problem is the possibility of ads slipping into the blog – I don’t have any ads running and don’t intend to either. I worry that someday, I might share an article that comes with advertising attached and make a mockery of that claim.
Is that risk worth the reward of sharing interesting ideas quickly and without friction? My answer is a cautious yes.