Friday, July 13, 2007
  Thanks for submitting my post to programming.reddit.com
…or slashdot, del.icio.us, dzone, and all of the other “social bookmarking” sites. I really appreciate knowing somebody likes what I’ve written.

But you know, as much as I love these places, I’m getting a little worried by where we’re headed. The thing is, these aggregation sites are taking the value that the web provides and concentrating it in proprietary databases. They operate on the Internet, but not on the web.

Let me give you an example. A popular blog post can generate hundreds of comments. When those comments are attached to the post, you can read them right on the post. Anybody finding the post finds the comments. That’s value added to the post. Search engines can index them. If there are links in the comments, search engines can make inferences about the relationship between pages and ideas.

Likewise, if you follow-up with a comment on your blog, your words are forever available to anyone reading your ideas. Search engines can make inferences about the relationship between pages and ideas. Words and links on the web add value to the web.

But when the comments are in programming.reddit.com instead of on the blog post, what happens? I hope that search engines are smart enough to index those comments as if they were attached to the post, but I’m not so sure they do. And what if the company owning the comments blocks search engines, or goes out of business? The value is lost forever.

The web is composed of pages with contextually relevant links between them. Social bookmarking applications subvert this basic structure. They are unravelling the web itself.

Those comments are on the Internet, but they aren’t on the web. The web is composed of pages with contextually relevant links between them. Social bookmarking applications subvert this basic structure. They are unravelling the web itself.

This isn’t just a problem with the value of comments and discussion being redirected off the web and into Internet applications. It’s a problem with the basic link structure of the web itself. As much as I love the convenience of del.icio.us (I have a special tag just for links to fold into my weblog’s feed), it’s a culprit as well. Recently, I read something very interesting by Carl Lewis. I posted the link to my weblog feed and to programming.reddit.com. Traffic followed for Carl. Great.

In Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Lawrence Lessig argues that the the Internet is being steadily regulated and controlled by businesses and governments. Are we going to sit on the sidelines whilst others decide its fate? Or will we get involved and participate in the creation of the future?

This is a must-read for anyone passionate about the Internet, the web, and its role in society and business.

But you know what isn’t great? There’s no context for these links. There’s one-time traffic to Carl’s post, but although that happened on the Internet, it didn’t happen on the web. There’s no permanent link to Carl’s post on my weblog. There’re no words, no matter how brief, explaining what I thought of the post and why I liked it. Sure, search engine providers can add a page’s number of del.icio.us links to their formula for calculating popularity.

But now, the smarts about what a page represents and the relationships between pages have gone from being embedded in the pages themselves to the tags that reside in a proprietary Internet application. Once again, the inherent smarts of the web are being leeched away.

The web has its faults. But it’s open. Anyone can write a new search engine. Sure, the big “Do as we say when we say do no evil, not as we do” company has a tremendous competitive advantage in their massive S^Hk^Hy^Hn^He^Ht^H computing network. But in principle, all the data they’ve collected from pages and links can be collected by their competitors, or by you in your garage.

Not so with the tags in del.icio.us or the rankings in digg.com. All it takes is a EULA at the bottom of each page and they slam the door on us.

call to action

Naturally, keep using these applications. If they add value to your life, that’s great! But spare a thought for the web, for true freedom of information. There’s value there too. If you blog, don’t forget that old fashioned links, the kind with HTML anchors (not blogrolls or JavaScript or what-have-you) are still what the web is made of. And a link with even a sentence explaining why you’re linking is even better.

And do you have something to say about a post? Why not put your comment right there on the post? Or better still, why not publish your own blog post with your words and link back? I know all your buddies are on reddit or what-ever, but your words will be (relatively) immortal on the post.

It’s our web. Let’s keep it that way.

update: Thanks for some of the early feedback, I’ve tried to clarify something: I don’t want to hog your comments on my blog where I can moderate them or get Google-juice from your words or even sell books to people searching for your words. What I want is for your words and links to be freely available to everyone to read, search, index, and add value.

They’re your words, put them where you will (I obviously do). They’re your links, aggregate them where you will (again, I do). But words on the web are more open and more valuable than words in a social aggregation application. And links that make up the web are more open, more valuable thank links in a social bookmarking site. I just want to encourage us all to keep growing the web.

Update II: After thinking about it, I see the issue as being congruent to the walled garden syndrome. It isn’t about taking content behind a log in or sign on, but it is about taking information that used to be open and distributed (like links and relationships) and putting it into proprietary Internet applications.

And it happens for the same reason: a true commons requires more work and has messier connectivity than a walled garden. When a city grows organically, it will always have icky bits and inconvenient bits. A “planned community” with a reasonably benevolent dictator will always offer a much more attractive vista, with more convenience and better looks. Naturally reddit has more convenient commenting. And also naturally, Condé Naste owns its database.

In Toronto, we have vibrant neighborhoods, and we have corporate spaces like shopping malls and nightclubs. Each have their place, but if I could only have one, I would have the public spaces. I don’t want to wake up one day and find that we can have any Internet we want, as long as it’s proprietary.

And update III: Is raganwald leasing space in Blogger’s walled garden?

Update IV:Joel Spolsky on why comments are bad for blogs, especially anonymous comments. Worth reading. This does not affect my thinking about the importance of having web pages link to web pages rather than using bookmarking sites.

Comments on “Thanks for submitting my post to programming.reddit.com:
I'm not sure you should be that concerned. Many people just read the (poor) summary on the social bookmarking site and respond to that. They are talking "about" the post, not necessarily responding to issues raised in the post.

Sure there is good discussion on progamming.reddit now, but I think as the social bookmarking site "matures" (a term I use loosely) the signal to noise ratio gets too low (see the comment tree on most digg/slashdot posts).
There are some advantages to posting comments on the bookmarking sites instead of on your weblog.

Here, you are the moderator. On reddit, everyone else is. If I disagree with you, maybe what I typed will never be visible again, even to me.

Reddit doesn't have the retarded captcha system (if it does, it's only when you log in, but I can't think back that far).

Each blog software has different retardations for formatting. I can't include formatted code in blogger-hosted comments, for example.
I don't follow your argument.

Are you saying it's breaking the web to have comment about your pages on reddit but that it's fine on your blog? What about if I write a response on my blog and link to you? Is that also breaking the web?

I understand you want to keep all comments about your post together, but that's not the way the web works. Someone posted your link to reddit. The discussion there now has a one-way link to you. Do you want your readers to notice? Provide a link from your article to the reddit post.

It's true that a link doens't guarantee permanence: reddit could decide to delete the comment page. But why does it only matter in one direction? What if you decide to remove your post?

It sounds like a very self-centered argument: "since I wrote the original post, comments about it should live with me."

But perhaps I have misunderstood your point. If so, please correct me!

Actually, I like the idea of you posting a response on your blog. That's even better than a comment on my blog. Much better!

I'm glad you brought that up, I really like the point you raise.

It isn't breaking the web, it's adding more threads, more connections, more intelligence for you to put a page on the web with your thoughts that links to my thoughts. Terrific.

But yes, I do think comments on reddit and most especially links in social bookmarking sites break the web by placing them in someone's proprietary database, instead of on the web itself.

As I said, the intelligence about which ideas go with which links is most valuable when it is (in aggregate) public.

You mentioned what if I delete my post?. Of course, bloggers delete their own posts. But it isn't like every blogger decides to delete their own posts in one fell swoop.

But what happens if del.icio.us publishes a new EULA and shuts their API down? Suddenly, it's as if all the links, all the intelligence, was locked in a box.

With "bloggers," each individual has a lot of power over a very small part of the web, but no one entity has a lot of power over a lot of the web.

Social bookmarking sites concentrate that value in a few hands. You may not trust me. But you can trust bloggers in aggregate, and the web as a whole.
Regarding the concentration of power, that's just an economic requirement. Most users can't create their own websites, or run their own servers, much less write their own software. Even you are using Blogger which could close up shop tonight.

I get your point about social news sites stealing away comments away from the original content producer, but they also bring a ton of traffic into a site, so to me that's a fair trade. Much better than the wholesale ripoff of content/design that happens every day bringing the producer no benefit whatsoever.

Personally I find Digg, Reddit and the like to be pretty worthless overall. They are tabloid entertainment. I'm not interested in the comments archived there. Sure there are some gems, but overall it's a lot of noise; the bigger these sites get the worse they become.

I used Digg back in the early days and then switched to Reddit. But for the past 6 months I haven't used any social news site. Instead I focused on my RSS reader and filling it up with good blogs. When I go back and look and reddit comments now, it's immediately apparent how inane the whole system is. It's just a mob. Every time I hear "wisdom of the crowd" I have to laugh because you can't extract any wisdom without some kind of filter. Society has always had a filter on information in the form of a barrier to entry.

Removing the barrier to entry has a lot of benefits, but it's not a panacaea. Without a filter it becomes a crescendo of irrelevancy. With my RSS reader at least I can filter on a fine-grained level. But with Digg all you get is democracy, and democracy only gives you the lowest-common denominator.
And.. blogger really sucks.
Ironically being debated on Reddit right now.

First time it happened I tried following and responding on Reddit. And then DZone and then ... It's a waste of my time, and it has limited value. Does anyone actually follow all these little threads to get at the larger conversation and all the view points?

I thought so.

These threads are just loose pieces of conversations never joined together.

If you want to be heard, comment at or trackback to the source.
Also interesting is that the 'social' aspects (reader comments, up/downvotes) of both social bookmarking sites like prog.reddit and individual blogs are subverted by XML syndication.

I have programming.reddit.com on my Google Home page, and the links take you directly to the pages/articles/whatever in question, so I hardly ever vote anymore because I never make it onto Reddit's pages themselves.

Same thing with blog subscriptions. Everything I read regularly that has a feed gets thrown into a Google Reader subscription, and it's rare that I ever make it on to the actual blog page unless (1) I want to add a comment myself, or (2) I'm interested enough to hunt down what other people have commented, if it's a comment-enabled blog. Which is sad, because often the comments are at least as valuable as the original post.

The problem is that the syndication stuff, particularly when it's a hosted web app like Google Reader, is *so damned convenient*. I have 4 machines I use daily ({work windows, home linux}x{desktop, laptop}) and the value of having a single source available from anywhere that can tell you what you've already read and what you haven't trumps pretty much everything else. The trade-off is that RSS breaks the social-semantic structure of the blog page as a 'forum', and turns interested users from participants into mere consumers.

I've noticed that some bloggers syndicate only teaser portions of their posts, and force you to jump there to read the rest. This may have more to do with the economic model of the web, but maybe it's a partial answer to the above as well. Of course, sometimes I'm too lazy to jump to those...
I totally agree. It always seems so silly when there is already a thread of discussion on a blog, but then there is a completely new thread started on reddit. Seems strange that someone wrote something up and people feel compelled to comment on it, just not where the person that wrote the original article might see it.
"But yes, I do think comments on reddit and most especially links in social bookmarking sites break the web by placing them in someone's proprietary database, instead of on the web itself."

How is blogger's or wordpress's database, or even your database (if self-hosted) any less proprietary than Reddit's?

What if people want to comment on a site like Daring Fireball, which is more intent on telling than telling and listening?
What a coincidence that you posted this today, as I was thinking along the same lines this morning. Since I'd just posted the very rare post to my blog that gets submitted to any such sites, I was thinking what a shame it was that comments and conversations could get spread out. (As it happens, there weren't many, so I need not have worried.)

Anyway, I was thinking that it would be handy if reddit, Y Combinator, DZone, Digg, etc. at least had comment feeds and Trackback. Then blog software could aggregate comments for posts that received pings from such sites. Actually, just getting Trackback pings would be a good first step.
Your blog software should notice all the hits it’s getting from Reddit/Digg/whatever and add links to the discussions happening there.
I actually think blog comments are far worse from a community aspect.

I was drawn to reddit because I miss the old days when I would have conversations with large groups of people in newgroups. You had the advantages of a core group of consistent writers as well as a larger community that only occasionally posted something.

With blogs you have countless little islands. Even keeping track of one conversation is hard because it may span several different sites.
I have a branch in Angerwhale (my blogging software) that lets you suck in a specific RSS (or JSON or YAML or Atom) feed and treat it as comments. This sounds exactly like what you want... the only hurdle is to get Reddit/Slashdot/etc. to syndicate their comments and preserve the threading.

Take a look at www.agnerwhale.org (or #angerwhale on irc.perl.org); patches welcome!
I've thought about this in the past. And, to an extent, I agree. But the technology isn't there yet.

When I post a comment on Reddit, I already have an identity. When I post a comment on your blog, I have none. I can either invent a new one, or post anonymously.

When I post a comment on Reddit, I have the option of responding to one comment in particular. When I post a comment on your weblog, there's no facility to do that; I can perform a crude, manual emulation with @foo, but there's no threading, so it doesn't make it much clearer at all.

When somebody replies to the comments I've posted on Reddit, I'm notified. If I want to know when somebody replies to my comment on your weblog, I have to keep coming back to check.

The problems are threefold:

1. Identity.

Both your weblog and Reddit should accept my OpenID.

2. Interoperability.

When I post a comment on your weblog, it should be automatically mirrored by Reddit, and vice-versa.

3. Feature-set.

If you want people to comment on your weblog, you should at least provide threading, which I consider to be an absolute minimum for any technical discussion.

PS: Reddit doesn't ask me for an annoying captcha. Your weblog does.
I agree with you. Wholeheartedly. I also hate how people can slender, accuse or be extremely offensive to me and I don't have control over what is said about me on Reddit. On my blog if you call me "retard" I can moderate you and even ban you, on Reddit I can't. I know, your point wasn't this, but to me this is the reason number one.
"I also hate how people can slender, accuse or be extremely offensive to me and I don't have control over what is said about me on Reddit."

Do you try to control what people say about you in meatspace, too?

Putting yourself in the public allows more people to become aware of you. Unfortunately not all of them are friendly, just like life.
I understand why people like reddit. Standard interface for commenting on any number of potentially hideous sites, notifications when people reply to posts, etc. It makes sense.

The thing is, if people truly embraced the web, it'd be possible to build a layer on top of it that gives you all those things. It's the same as the search engine example, albeit certainly more difficult. If everything is linked, you can have a service that organizes everything neatly for you. That's essentially all reddit is - it lets you tag content as an article, or a comment, and organizes it all in a logical manner.

There's no reason that you can't build that convenience over the web, assuming good enough links. Sure someone might control the service, but they don't control the underlying content, making the service reproducible by anyone. When bloggers control their own content, blogs will come and go but the web as a whole can never be killed.

btw I agree with the people who hate the captcha. Blogger has to have the worst one ever. I've NEVER EVER been allowed to post after the first captcha (and I know I get all the letters right). I always have to do it twice. Is that on purpose? It's so friggin annoying.
You've just pointed out McLuhan's notion of "reversal" when observing social bookmarking sites.

They make your work easier to find, but in return keep a part or all the value added to themselves... From your pooint of view, this is the medium reversing itself (withdrawing beneit or introducing harm) when reaching an extreme.

Find out about Reversal and the other members of McLuhan's tetrad of media effects here:

Hi, a few quick things:

There’s no context for
these links.

That's not entirely true. The "Notes" field in del.icio.us, for example, is specifically designed to allow users to provide context. I think your statement should read "There's no open context for these links."

And second, I find your complaints highly ironic, given the fact that
I landed on your blog via Google Reader via del.icio.us.

Third, don't you think that Blogger (which this site uses to manage its comments) is every bit the closed system that del.icio.us is? Maybe you ought to set up a proprietary backend of your own to store your comments in case Google slams the door on its silo shut..


don't you think that Blogger (which this site uses to manage its comments) is every bit the closed system that del.icio.us is? Maybe you ought to set up a proprietary backend of your own to store your comments in case Google slams the door on its silo shut..

I have always shared this concern, which is why I have Blogger publish my blog and the comments by FTP to the server of my choice.

If Google turns Blogger off, my blog and all of the comments remain as static HTML pages.

That may not be obvious to someone using Blogger to post a comment, but it helps explain why there can be a delay in your comment appearing: after you post it, Blogger still has to re-render the entire page and FTP it to my server.
Seems to me that rather than unraveling the web, this phenomenon *is* the web.
Amen to that, Reg. I had one of my posts linked over on reddit the other week; a few comments there and just about none on my blog proper. Which got me to thinking - what if I wasn't a loser constantly checking my referer (sic) logs? What if I didn't already read reddit?
There's something that feels sneaky, underhanded and maybe more than a little snarky about commenting on other people's posts on reddit rather than in the comments section or with a blog post of my own. In bigger words, it feels like decontextualization; we're talking behind the author's back, spawning multiple disparate, unwieldy threads of conversation where there could be one (hopefully) vibrant one.
Has anybody created decentralized social bookmarking? That is, a distributed digg or reddit? (I don't even know what I'm talking about, but brainstorm with me.)

I really like mailing lists, for exactly the reasons you give above. They aren't controlled. Yes, the gateway to a mailing list is controlled by one server, but even if that server shuts down, everybody everywhere still has their own copies of the discussions. And their threads are often converted to HTML by various bots on several different sites, adding to the richness of the web.
I agree with everything you have said.

I feel like the social news sites are providing less and less meaningful information, and the discussions attached to those social sites are nothing more than arguements.

I would much rather have the comments on my own blog where they can be read in the appropriate context.
The solution at the individual level is to learn how to stretch, just as you do to extend physical reach. This can mean challenging long-accepted notions on technique that may no longer be the pinnacle solutions they once were, particularly when crossing disciplines—keeping with the software design idea, , for example, when switching from procedural to object-oriented programming. At the group level, extra attention should be paid to transitional aids and training to help lower the resistance borne out of knee-jerk anxiety triggered by a perceived threat to one’s identity.


Link Building
if i submit a post in this programming.reditt.com means then it will be more powerful than posting in a blog,because it embed the feature of a blog as an added value.

Link Building
Most people like to see their comment on Reddit than on the blog.

Social Bookmarking

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Reg Braithwaite

Recent Writing
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What I‘ve Learned From Failure / Kestrels, Quirky Birds, and Hopeless Egocentricity

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The single most important thing you must do to improve your programming career / The Naïve Approach to Hiring People / No Disrespect / Take control of your interview / Three tips for getting a job through a recruiter / My favourite interview question

Exception Handling in Software Development / What if powerful languages and idioms only work for small teams? / Bricks / Which theory fits the evidence? / Still failing, still learning / What I’ve learned from failure

The unary ampersand in Ruby / (1..100).inject(&:+) / The challenge of teaching yourself a programming language / The significance of the meta-circular interpreter / Block-Structured Javascript / Haskell, Ruby and Infinity / Closures and Higher-Order Functions

Why Apple is more expensive than Amazon / Why we are the biggest obstacles to our own growth / Is software the documentation of business process mistakes? / We have lost control of the apparatus / What I’ve Learned From Sales I, II, III

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