October 04, 2004

on reBlogging

I’ve just wrapped up a two-week stint as guest reBlogger for Eyebeam, which was a great experience, though pretty demanding: each of the dozen or so reBloggers so far, including me, has added XML feeds to the initial set they launched with, and at this point there are well over 100 feeds to try to keep up with and select the best posts for the reBlog’s readers. Though I could barely handle it on top of existing projects, I couldn’t pass up the chance to take the helm for a while, as the reBlog is one of my only must-read sites, and it was a real challenge to see if I could keep up the quality, while maybe introducing something new here and there. While I have no idea if I succeeded at the former, I did feel after about a week or so that I had begun to figure a few things out.

rebloggerI appreciated reading Tom Moody’s thoughts as he came off the reBlog before me; like his, my initial approach was to stay away from reBlogging too much from the sites I thought people were already reading, unless it was something people absolutely shouldn’t miss. What I also found myself doing nearly from the start was thinking quite a bit about the design of the page at any given time. That’s not surprising, considering what I do for a living, but what was interesting to me was, as I got more familiar with the capabilities of the reblogging tools, how I began queueing up posts deliberately for a better flow, rather than publishing them as I found them, and tried to maintain a rhythm between strong visuals and interesting text, with as diverse a mix as possible of topics. I might find a great photo or really arresting piece of art, but hold off on posting it until I needed it for a transition, to knit things together or break them up. I’d also try to end any batch of posts with a really strong image, so that the top of the reBlog would look great until I had time to reBlog again. I found that it felt, more than anything, like DJ-ing — your hundred-plus feeds gave you a huge palette to choose from, and you could mix in a little of your own voice here and there while still keeping the crowd happy with the sure-fire stuff. In this case, that meant keeping the main focus on the great art and technology news and links we expect from the reBlog, but slipping in posts here and there about gaming, or politics, or alternative comics, or focusing a bit more on mobile phone-based art than usual. I also experimented a bit with RSS feeds from Flickr (subscribing to automated RSS feeds for photos with tags like “streetart,” for example), which have a tremendous amount of possibility when combined with a reBlog-powered site.

But most interesting were the possibilities that came from monitoring feeds from other reblogs, especially those with a strong focus on a particular topic or set of topics. Former guest reBlogger Beverly Tang, for instance, recently relaunched the excellent btang phlog as a reBlog driven by her own personal interests and obsessions, and I found that on any given day, nearly everything she had up there was of interest to the Eyebeam reBlog. This was also true of unmediated, and sites like near near future and Smart Mobs that, while not reBlog-powered, draw much of their content from a pool of blogs and news sites that overlapped considerably with our own. While I initially resisted taking posts (re-reBlogging?) from those sites — as much out of a desire to preserve the original attributions (which is a simple and temporary software/xml data limitation) as a desire to find things on my own — we’d often end up reblogging many of the same things anyway. Eventually, I gave in to the sheer utility of it, as these sites emerged as reliable and useful filters of the many feeds I was trying to monitor. It wasn’t hard to imagine, in the near future, as more reBlogs inevitably crop up, a reBlogger’s job made considerably easier by having a dozen or so specialized reBlogs that filter an ever larger pool of unique and original blogs. And it would go both ways; even while I was lifting from these sites, I’d get a little kick when I saw that they’d lifted something from the Eyebeam reBlog that I’d found on a feed somewhere.

So, now as I hand the keys over to Kathleen, who brings a lot more curating experience to the job than I certainly had, I’ll be hoping to make her job a bit easier with this new site you see here, which is shey.net relaunched as yet another reBlog. There’s not much here yet in the way of design, or functionality, but I’ll be experimenting a lot with the format, and the feed, and trying to refine a voice that’s individual, personal, and hopefully useful to other reBlogs.