on blogging, collaboration and the netlab dispatches

Often I think that the fatal flaw of blogs is that they lack an "away" setting. I regret not being able to post as often as I'd like, but there are frequently bigger projects on deck and spending the time to write for the blog would involve interrupting my workflow a little too much. Juggling the Netlab, being a dad for two kids, working on AUDC, teaching and blogging is a lot to do. Indeed, it's too much to do.

I noted with interest the Postopolis project at Storefront a few weeks ago, but alas, was, simply too busy to attend. Still it was interesting to see a new breed of bloggers come together. An Internet generation or two older, varnelis.net is the longest running single-person blog in architecture. I suppose my absence at Postopolis wasn't generational as much as evidence that over time, this blog and this site have led me away from the projective sense of architecture as it is configured in the blogosphere toward a focus on network culture. Still, I'm fascinated by the new archi-blog generation. I'd love to see what it might look like in five years. Will they be blogging? Will there be more blogs? Less? (the Gartner group suggests that blogging is peaking in 2007)? Some will die (recall that I killed this blog for a year after the birth of my daughter and before RSS revived the blogosphere)…but how will they die? What post will they end on? What will the living blogs be reporting on? Will they still be talking about architecture? Or will something else pull them in, as it did for me?

But back to this blog. Readers of blogs are merciless. Stay away for a while and you can watch your readership fall in the mercilessly objective graphs of your stats package. To keep things afloat, a quick note or a link suffices. But, addictive as they may be, rapid-fire posts are only so useful. Substantive posting means serious time. Sometimes an hour or two, sometimes an afternoon. Even this post has grown beyond its initial scope is taking considerable time to complete. My academic colleagues generally either maintain sites instead of blogs (e.g. Manovich.net) or update them sporadically (e.g. Mimi Ito's blog). I'm not sure if there's ever been an academic who has turned a blog into a book and I doubt that it would be easy to do.

And to be sure, there's been a lot to do lately. At the Netlab, my first big summer project is to get Networked Publics out the door for MIT. This book is going to be good, remarkably coherent, something that's quite a feat for a book with 16 authors. In fact, I'm not so sure than anyone's tried a book like this before—in which a large group would break into teams to write collaboratively-written essays—at least not of this scope and ambition and not without seeing the project devolve into the institutional voicelessness of the white paper. Moreover, the conclusion for the book is my first major solo stab at non-architectural theory in computation and I think it's some of my best work (nor am I alone in that, according to some readers). So I'm feeling good about Networked Publics and spending a huge amount of time on the project, which means that the blog gets a bit neglected. And as I hand off the texts to the various authors for one last round, it's time for me to turn to the Infrastructural City project with the LA Forum, so my plate is pretty full these days.

So as far as blogging goes, its solitary nature is at odds with the other things I do. Over the last few years my online production has centered around private Wikis and collaborative document building. Blue Monday was written on a Wiki and finished on writely (now Google docs) and most of the collaborative sections of Networked Publics were also written on writely. There's been a lot of attention to Wikis when they're open to anyone to edit, as at Wikipedia, but when Wikis are limited to a small community, they can be great tools for collaboration. The author-oriented blog doesn't offer that. When blogs interact (remember trackbacks before trackback spam killed them?), that interaction tends to be a contest of voices. I am not so interested in my voice anymore. I am more interested in the intertextual, intersubjective effects of voices getting subsumed within collaborative frameworks that produce new, hybrid voices. Blogs don't really do that for me.

But still, this site has a large and loyal following, so instead of ending with gloom, I'm starting a new feature!

Partly in hopes of getting more discussion going on the site, partly to reach out to a different audience, and partly to say that there are certain posts that aren't merely news or a quick thought or two but that reflect a bit of thought on my part, I am setting up a new series of posts which I'm calling the Netlab Dispatches. Think of these as slow blogging (isn't it great that you can coin a term and then find out that someone else already has written the manifesto for it?), a rejection of immediacy and pagerank in favor of consideration. Slow food for the gaping maw of Drupal.

In recognition of this, Netlab Dispatches will not only be posted to the blog, they will be sent out via e-mail to anyone who signs up for them (in the form on the right). There will be a few Netlab Dispatches a month, maybe one, no more than four (unless something comes over me). The first one comes out next week. I hope these more substantive and more provocative posts intrigue you. You will be able to read all of them here and even subscribe to this set of posts via a special RSS feed if it suits you.

Let's see how this experiment goes.

With that, it's time to sign off for the night.

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Update: Tim O’Reilly on iPhone as E-book Reader

Back in January, Tim O'Reilly agreed that the iPhone would make a great e-book reader.

The infrastructure for selling .pdf e-books is already in iTunes. All Apple has to do is make .pdf downloads available to the iPhone. I can only imagine that they are working on a better .pdf reader prior to doing that.

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iphone or networked book reader?

Last year, longtime readers of this blog will note, I did some work with the Institute for the Future of the Book. One of the things that we were always talking about was the failure of all previous dedicated electronic book readers.

Well, that may have come to an end on Friday.

It is remarkably comfortable to read text on the iPhone. The screen is small, but it is 160 dpi, roughly double what a conventional screen has and about 1/2 the dpi of a printed page. At 320 x 480, the screen is quite a bit smaller than than, say the Sony Reader 's 600 x 400, but instead of the latter's 4 level grayscale screen, it is capable of displaying thousands, if not millions of colors under its optical quality glass. The iPhone's zooming and navigation features work remarkably well for browsing texts, even multi-column texts and pulling out the iPhone to read on the subway is easier than reading the paper, let alone reading text from one's laptop. Of course if the iPhone were double or triple the size, say the size of a Moleskine notebook, it would be perfect for this. But then it wouldn't be a phone.

Perversely however, the iPhone lacks the ability to download text or PDF documents to it so I am condemned to posting them to a private web site and downloading them via Safari in order to read them. But if e-book readers have always failed—partly because they were too limited in their functions, the iPhone's stealthy approach to the e-book may be precisely what was needed.

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