The decentralization of publishing

Lately it seems I spend more time on Facebook and Twitter than on the blog. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; it just reminds me that I need to make an effort occasionally to write longer form content, as fun and entertaining as it is to write bite-sized summaries of links on Delicious.

But when I think about how user-created content has changed in the last seven or eight years, it’s kind of amazing. We’ve gone from monolithic content management systems like Manila, Radio, and Blogger to what can only be characterized as swarms of lightweight, single-purpose applications: Delicious, Flickr, Twitter. The CMSes are still there–WordPress being, as far as I can tell, the leading personal CMS right now. But what’s changed is the assumed ability to suck content out of multiple services and put it into one place. Or multiple places: my posts to Delicious are picked up nightly by my blog and then syndicated into Facebook posts, for instance. Twitter content can appear in my sidebar. Flickr photos can be syndicated or blogged from within the application.

And then there’s Facebook. It manages, by virtue of its application ecosystem, to be all of the above: a swarm of lightweight apps, a walled garden… and an Outlook replacement. It’s astonishing how many people that I know now communicate with their friends primarily, if not exclusively, on Facebook. If they made their app sync events to the iPhone calendar, it would pretty much completely replace the traditional mail/calendar/address book troika for most purposes. Not all, and I certainly think that the platform has a long way to go before it replaces email. For starters, allowing us to download our inbox from the service would be a good idea; I don’t like anyone holding all my data and not letting me move it. But I bet someone’s working on an app to do that, if it doesn’t already exist.

On data portability: back in 2004, I insisted to a meeting of the Berkman Bloggers’ Group that there was a tradeoff between having all your content resident on your own server and using these decentralized apps. At the time it was a native photo management system vs. Flickr. What I didn’t take into consideration was how much harder it is to move content that’s resident in a CMS vs. decentralized in the cloud. When I switched this blog over from Manila to WordPress, it wasn’t the images that were in Flickr (and even on .Mac) that were the problem; it was all the image content in Manila.

We’re in a golden age for personal publishing right now. Which makes it all the more ironic that people are still fighting the blogging vs. journalism battle (previously linked here). While you’re doing that, folks, it’s turned into blogging and Twittering and Facebooking and Deliciousing and and and and. Never has it been so easy for people to share what they want to say with …

And that’s the other interesting part. Part of it is, of course, communicating with your closest friends, a la Facebook. Part of it is communicating with people who subscribe to my blog via RSS (all twelve of you, for whom I am very grateful). But a big part of it, for me, continues to be communicating with people who might find the site through a Google search (what I’ve called my time-delayed audience). And writing just keeps getting easier, because formats like Delicious and Twitter provide a proper channel for bite sized content, while WordPress provides a fantastic way to write longer form stuff.

6 thoughts on “The decentralization of publishing”

  1. Hey Tim,
    So,bottom line is word press better than blogger, even since Google acquired it? I have a couple of blogs on blogger….how would I change over if I wanted to switch??

  2. Better is in the eye of the beholder. I’m actually pretty conservative about publishing platforms–they’re just a tool. But you can do more with some tools than you can with others.

    Regarding migration to WordPress from Blogger, there may be a tool included in WordPress to do the migration. I’ll post a link when I find the documentation.

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