Low impact Link-blogging: Design Reboot (Part 2)

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.

It’s well hidden now, with no obvious way of getting at it, but there are over 50 posts on this blog that are just links with a little commentary – here’s the first one, and this one’s the last.

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.