the unbearable impermanence of blogging

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My biggest frustration with blogging is definitely the way that ideas and issues raised in blogs seem to disappear from everyone's radar within days. Blogs encourage a "topic du jour" approach to the world. Once the discussion scrolls off the main page, it might as well never have happened. The swarm of readers is off in search of the newest idea high.

I've noticed this in myself--blogs are great for people like me with short attention spans, people who like starting things more than they like finishing them. Read, write, move on. There's too much to see, too much to think about, to stay focused on one thread for too long.

What got me thinking about this was my attempt this weekend to sit down and brainstorm a social software presentation for ETCon '04. And while I know it's probably not the right direction to go in terms of (a) getting something accepted, or (b) capturing the hearts and minds of the hard-core geek audience, I keep wanting to write something about the "female problem."

Last year's ETCon was an amazing example of how little input from women there is in the development of emerging technologies--even in the area where you might think that input would be particularly helpful, namely "social software." And I wrote about that. Here, and here In fact, the second one was one of most-commented-on posts I've written. Everyone was interested, everyone was concerned. For about a week. Then, so far as I could tell, it pretty much went back to business as usual.

In fact, when I started to write this post, I was originally going to call it "women and social software - why should we care?" Then I realized I'd already written a post called "why should we care?," back when I was talking about the book Unlocking the Clubhouse. Which is what made me wonder if there was any point at all in writing about this again.

Eroded Rock PhotoIn the end, despite the impermanence and apparent difficulty of effecting change through this medium, I decided there was a point. Kevin Werbach, for example, invited me to speak at SuperNova, in part because of those posts. I need to remember that even little waves lapping at the rock can effect change over time. So consider this one more in a series of attempts to erode existing gender imbalances. Eventually, the message may get through to the architects of new social software environments that systems developed only by hard-core geeks aren't likely to appeal to an audience much wider than those same geeks.

14 TrackBacks

mamamusings Read More

Deux billets lus un apr�s l'autre ce dimanche soir. J'h�site � �crire tel que je le pense ce que je ressens � la suite de cette double lecture. La langue d'abord. L'anglais. Pourquoi me sentir mal � l'aise de reproduire tel quel ce que j'ai �crit, tel ... Read More

My title comes from Liz's entry on the way that discussions fade away so quickly and silently from the blogosphere once the topic has scrolled off of the author's main page, creating what she calls a "topic du jour" approach... Read More

Retour de panne from Mario, tout de go... on September 23, 2003 3:21 PM

Je suis de retour depuis 13 h 00 d'une absence qui s'est manifest�e � 16 h 00 hier. Un serveur chez iXm�dia a rendu l'�me ce qui explique que trois billets et deux commentaires ne figurent plus � l'endroit o˘ ils devraient se trouver. Je ne recommencer... Read More

Having been a highly opinionated person for a long time, I have managed to shoot my mouth off on many subjects with varying degrees of understanding and several differing, if not actually contradictory, perspectives. A side-effect of this is that Read More

Mapping Knowledge-Making Efforts from Connectivity: Spike Hall's RU Weblog on September 24, 2003 9:58 AM

Summary: What does it take for kloggers to collaborate on long term work? A suggestion. Read More

It's quiet... from on September 25, 2003 12:37 AM

And a part of the blogosphere goes quiet tonight as people get their Emerging Technology 2004 presentation proposals ready. Lots of people are proposing (mamamusings, Dan Brickley, Morten Frederiksen, to name a few), but of course there's only limited ... Read More

Before it scrolls off the page... The baby samba did finally get uploaded. Click on the picture.... Read More

knowledge-making wikipedia wikipedia patterns from Connectivity: Spike Hall's RU Weblog on October 14, 2003 3:02 PM

Summary: About three weeks ago I wrote an entry which proposed a web-based (possibly wiki) means for dealing with the apt criticism of the blogosphere's short attention span for topics . Read More

A couple of weeks ago Spike Hall wrote about Mapping Knowledge-Making Efforts - inspired by Liz Lawley's criticism of the short attention span of the blogosphere he proposed a web-based tool to co-ordinate longer term collective knowledge making effort... Read More

AoIR 4.1 from Planned Obsolescence on October 16, 2003 1:57 PM

What follows is the first set of what I hope to be a decently full set of entries on my experiences here at the conference. A program note on what follows: because of some of the restrictions in wireless access here, my plan at the moment is to post on... Read More

"Well-behaved women seldom make history," Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote, and it's obviously true: doing what you think people want you to do is strikingly unsatisfying, and believe me, I know what I'm talking about, I spent many years trying. So... Read More

Por favor? Someone to write a plugin (script) that would select a random archived entry at midnight for display. The a-random-entry-from-this-blog-of-the-day script. Liz had talkied about the unbearable impermanence of blogging. (9�21�2003). So while m... Read More

One of the reasons came to be is according to jill frustration because blogdiscussions often dissapear so quickly. Since this is exactly what i want to focus on now, i'll read it through tomorrow and save the link for... Read More


A serious question: Where is it that these issues are receiving respectful, sustained discussion? I'm not sure it's anywhere, frankly.

In which case, blogs are as good a venue as any. Stuff does drop off the immediate radar, true, but because blogs are imperfectly connected, there's a sort of sparkle effect -- a post here, a post there, a post someplace else, and after a while it's hard *not* to have reached a lot of people at least once, and likely more than once.

So don't run your efforts down, is what I'm saying. I think you've done more good than you know.

I agree with the disappointment about the short term discussions in weblogging, that sparkle effect as Dorothea aptly named it. Perhaps weblogging is the start for ideas fed on by discussion, and then it's up to us to nurture the discussion in some other medium, at conferences or in more permanent articles and books.

As for the issue of gender and technology, I think there's been more impact than is immediately apparant. I have a feeling more than one person will be aware of this issue next time they have a get together, conference or otherwise.

But times still aren't changing, true. I started breaking into the tech discussions almost three years ago, the only women, and I'm usually still the only woman. And I don't know what to do to make this change.

Good luck with the presentation idea for Etcon -- this is probably a step in the right direction for breaking the barriers.

It's actually only now that I'm teaching that I'm realising just how rare I am: almost all my students are men. Thank god I'm there, at least the few women present have a role model of sorts. Until now I've manage to pretend that it's not that unequal in "soft" techie subjects like digital art and writing.

Of course almost all the literature professors are men, too. And if you're in business class on a domestic flight in the morning or afternoon (meeting flights, you know) you're bound to be the only woman there, and that's in liberated equal rights Norway. It's not even just in technology we have this imbalance.

Keep licking away at those rocks. We'll get there. It's just going to take a lot of time.

I agree that it is very rare to find a long-term and deep discussion of any particular topic happening across blogs. This follows my general belief that blogs provide an illusion of productivity while requiring a relatively low amount of thinking. That is, most (but not all) blogs posts (like this comment) are off-the-top-of-my-head, stream-of-consciousness affairs, and not the deep thinking that happens in many other kinds of work. Blogs are useful, but they need to occur within a larger intellectual context for each individual.

The way around this, of course, is to start a blog (with comments enabled) on a particular topic of interest. That would provide the necessary focus point for the topic. The Internet Topic Exchange ( might also provide a solution, at least for people willing to ump through Trackback's hoops.

As for the women in technology issue, I would just add my own data point, in that I teach requirements analysis and design of web sites, and approximately half of my classes are usually women. I also know that there are several woman instructors teaching at McGill in IT, from analysis to programming to Cisco certification, not to mention in other traditionally male-dominated fields. Probably not enough, but I would not consider them 'rare.'

Still, I am always interested in learning more about this subject because (a) my experience is probably not typical, and (b) I know that I can benefit from the POV and experiences of others.

The interaction over a post might be short-lived, but I think a good post lingers. Your original "why should we care?" post is one of the reasons I keep returning to see what else you have to say.

This is one of the primary reasons why I do not write something every day. I want to see what people have to say about a given topic, which may take a while. When a discussion settles down, or does not spark into much of a fire at all, then I am more apt to post in shorter intervals.

I also admire your continued resolve in trying to bring the gender issue to light and improving it; being a fellow participant in the RIT community I see firsthand what you speak of.

You said "My biggest frustration with blogging is definitely the way that ideas and issues raised in blogs seem to disappear from everyone�s radar within days."

It depend of your blogging motivations, I think. Personaly, I blog first for myself to construct sens with the echo of what I wrote. Feedbacks from someone help, but the main thing is "what I think just after I red" what I have written...

"I�ve noticed this in myself�blogs are great for people like me with short attention spans, people who like starting things more than they like finishing them." About that, what I have to say is �in education, we dont know when something we said, something we wrote will do effects... It could be in the following minutes, the day, the month, the year after and time is not an issue, really ! It give something anyway... So, I am not agree with this position you took. Be patient: "les paroles s'envolent, les �crits restent...

"There�s too much to see, too much to think about, to stay focused on one thread for too long."

That's the beauty of the engine: we feel the "vertigo power" to blog !

"I need to remember that even little waves lapping at the rock can effect change over time." I need to, Liz ! Thanks a lot for that post...

Liz, we need to have more people blogging about gender and tech - don't give up! There are not enough of us doing this (believe me, I have been looking). I will stick to my favourite blog saying - "If you blog it, they will come" - they will read, and eventually people will learn. "Why should we care?" because we need to "erode existing gender imbalances". Keep on bloggin!

I've often wondered how and if this could be improved... there are obvious solutions like categories (which I do find valuable), better archiving and structure etc. but they seem to be symptom curers rather than looking at the root issue.

Perhaps much more specific blogging (people writing about very specialist areas) will evolve as the blogging universe grows? Perhaps that'll give a little more depth & permanence. Although having said that, there's plenty more penance and depth in weblogging discussions and issues than in plenty of other contexts!!!

Perhaps we're all early adopters, perhaps we're the kinda people who do jump form one thing to another. Perhaps when my dad finally gets round to this he'll stay a bit more on topic, maybe...

(also on my weblog:

Liz, I wonder if the feeling of "impernanence" is generated by the rhetorical form of weblogs or by the interests and attention given to topics by the weblogger?

A good example: Lockergnome's RSS Resource ( which is as good a source as any for all things RSS....but I wouldn't go there to learn about Tivo. For that I would go to Matt Haughey's PVRblog (, which covers things related to personal video recorders.

Suppose you were to write a "women & technology" weblog that focused primarily (if not exclusively) on that topic? I doubt the discussion would cease because the discussion would never "scroll off the main page" -- it *is* the main page.

Generalized publications attract a general audience...and the more general the audience, the less likely that audience is to latch onto any one topic for a protracted period of time.

However, if you tailor your weblog to a particular audience or topic, you are likely to be more successful in overcoming the impermanence of the generalist weblog.

The one thing I certainly miss from is threaded comments. Notifications are automatically sent both to the original poster and to the comment being responded to (if the commenter supplied an e-mail address). This makes it easier to keep a discussion going.




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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on September 21, 2003 11:23 AM.

thinking ahead was the previous entry in this blog.

designing for "the other" is the next entry in this blog.

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