Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Circles of friends in the digital age

Using Google Blog Search, you can instantly get a list of blog posts by people who share your niche interests. I can find people interested in Xootr scooters. I can find people interested in Kreeft's Prayer for Beginners. I can find people talking about Bjork's Vespertine album. I check out these blogs and they're by people I wouldn't mind hanging out with. It reminds me of high school, when you find a circle of people interested in the same things you're interested in, and you sit down with them at lunchtime and talk about those things. Except with blog searches, the people are dispersed over thousands of miles, and they don't know you, and you don't really know them.

How can we use the existing infrastructure - blogs, blog searches, RSS subscriptions, CoComment comment-thread tracking - to set up online flash mobs - fleeting circles of people sharing a common interest, even for a few days, a few hours, a few minutes - tied together or finding each other via blog-search keywords? This is a strange twist on the meaning of friends - in this scenario, friendships are transitory, interactions short-lived, discussions asynchronous.

And it could use the existing network of blogs. People continue to write in their blogs as usual - some of them just have this optional new layer of interactivity with people with shared interests. I dunno - maybe it takes the form of a browser extension that monitors new blog posts and blog comments that you write. After you write your blog post, you immediately see pictures of a couple of people who have posted on the same topic. So you write a reply right there (it posts a comment to their blogs automatically) to the first person's post and to the second person's post. Meanwhile a couple more faces pop up - responses to some replies you wrote earlier. So it is a rapid-fire conversation - composed, under the covers, of comments and replies on various blogs - arranged on the screen in some clever way that lets you maintain context (perhaps comments from different threads are clustered on different parts of the screen). It is a chat room powered by blog commenting, focused on very specific interests of yours, drawn from the pool of all people who write blogs. It is the 21st century's friendship evanescent.


  • It is fun, isn't it? And a form of community I never imagined when I began my blog. :-)

    By Blogger Julie D., at 6/23/2007 5:36 a.m.  

  • OK great post, gets me thinking. Off the top of my head I'm putting together things like Technorati meets Wiki meets RSS meets...Yes, I was going to say the format would involve too much reading but instant chat is different.

    Flash mobs online, indeed. A more open, two-way slashdot effect...Yes, and formatting all that rapid-fire content is important, and visualizing it. Like some of those Digg Labs tools like swarm or stack. I'm also thinking flickr and mobile phone cameras: communicating in near or actual real time.

    [Gears turning]

    By Blogger Jeff Werner, at 6/23/2007 7:04 a.m.  

  • It makes me think about what all of these friends networks really are. The more and more times I get invited to a new friends network, the more disdain I have for them in their transitory effect, and the more I want for something that draws together people without even knowing it. Friendster, Facebook, Ringo, even Flickr, they all suffer from a chronic disassociation from daily computer routines - unless something integrates into my daily interests, it is a labour to maintain the investment. Before I know it, I have ten accounts and haven't accessed any of them regularly. The answer is a very much integrated/parasitic approach of discovering ways that circles of friends leak into what we read,work on,search through, listen to, and look at. In this concept, the recreational email message dies a slow death and becomes the same anachronism that it replaced, the hand-written letter. The new friend network is so completely tied up in digital routines that communication and collaboration are inextricably joined at the hip with web searches, blogs, photo/video/audio sharing, and shopping, to name a few.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/23/2007 9:23 a.m.  

  • : )

    By Blogger High Power Rocketry, at 6/23/2007 11:48 a.m.  

  • Julie - How wonderful to discover that you read Kreeft's book and quite liked it.

    Jeff - I think I'm getting influenced by Chipchase's blog, which you recommended, and your own thoughts.

    Rob - love how you put it: "draws together people without even knowing it". In fact I love everything you wrote above.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 6/23/2007 1:45 p.m.  

  • Hi Jon. I think about such things also, but, even though I'm a web guy, I do not think of them in terms of technology. I use the technology, but it always comes up short of connecting me with new friends.
    Here's a perspective. After thirty-five adult years of reading books I finally realized I read to get to know the author. Not for information so much as to know what kind of person the author is. Authors reveal themselves personally to varying degrees and it shows in their books.
    Now, with the new technologies we find the same thing. Some content creators reveal themselves more than others. Some don't tell the truth, or project a mask of falsity to hide their true self. I think a good mix of information combined with good self-revelatory stuff makes a good weblog or whatever.
    Of course not everyone wants to see people's guts spilled all over the page, so one has to use common sense and good manners.
    Now, about the niches of information that people are interested in - good friendship usually have content that both parties are interested. C.S. Lewis said good friends do not spend a lot of time facing each other, but rather standing side by side looking in the same direction.

    By Blogger OpenJoe, at 6/30/2007 4:49 p.m.  

  • OpenJoe - Great thoughts. I like your parting sentence.

    By Blogger Jonathan, at 6/30/2007 5:52 p.m.  

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