Web Service Idea: Perpetual experimentation with the blog format's constraints

by phil on Tuesday Dec 16, 2008 4:18 AM

What if you had some core blogging engine, and every week you created a new kind of blog format, gave it a new brand and domain name, and its own unique marketing campaign.

What if you imposed a 800-1200 word min/max (standard size for an op-ed article) and made a blogging community for aspiring opinion-writers? or fiction writers? or wanna-be National Review writers. What if you had a blog software that didn't have titles? What if you had or didn't have a Twitter-style follow feature. What if your blog's front-page always mixed in your friends' posts? Different companies (that are getting funding) just take a slightly different approach to the format and users love them. The non-Twitter example that comes to mind is Tumblr.

I'm just thinking about Twitter and how technology-wise, there's nothing interesting under the hood. But their medium, which is a handful of tweaks to the blogging format, has made all the difference. I believe a lot of blogging services have thrived simply because they were couched in a certain light. This is an old thought of mine, which first occurred to me observing the popularity of DeadJournal, which is basically a LiveJournal software for goths.

There's nothing new, though, with the idea of taking an engine and making a bunch of spin-offs geared toward different niches (for example Mi Gente and BlackPlanet), but I like the idea of playing with the format of the communication medium, and seeing how that impacts the nature of the expressions.

In the first few months that I started blogging in 2003, I used Blogger. Back then, the basic, free version of Blogger did not let you have posts with titles (or maybe they did, my memory is hazy, but either way, I know I didn't have titles for like my first hundred posts), and as a result, my blogging style was very different than it has been ever since. My posting was more stream-of-consciousness, kind of like what I do on Twitter. When I upgraded to Movable Type, my blogging evolved over a couple months into more like flash op-ed or flash essay. Every post was like a discrete event of inspiration, as opposed to Twitter or Blogger-without-titles where blogging is more of an ambient phenomena interspersed throughout your entire living.

Here's the particular medium configuration that sprung into my mind today. I want to get rid of titles and have a blog spool. Then retroactively, you can like section off periods of thought with a particular title. Or better yet, I really like the way things are done on Daring Fireball where 95% of the content is just links that he likes, and then 5% are longer essay-style posts where goes at length with his ideas. That sort of matches how my thinking works. 95% are snippets, little drips of interestingness. I usually think of like 3-5 zingers or witty lines per day. A coherent flash-essay-length thought comes to mind every day, but if I'm not in the right mood, or it's not fully formed enough, then it doesn't end up on my blog. Right now, maybe because I don't know how to work things right, I could theoretically just leave out titles, but I'd feel guilty for doing so, or I'd feel like I was screwing up my template because of that. Or I'd be spamming my RSS subscribers.

The challenge is, you have no idea what format is going to excite and work for a core group of users. So you have to just keep iterating and re-branding, until you come up with the next Twitter, Tumblr, or DeadJournal. Or you find out you come up with a format that takes on a life of its own that is larger than blogging itself, even though it's technically still a blog.

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