The dictionary definition of "blog" is correct, but it says nothing about the network in which the blog participates. By way of analogy, consider a dictionary definition of a telephone: "an instrument that converts voice and other sound signals into a form that can be transmitted to remote locations and that receives and reconverts waves into sound signals." That's fine if you already know what a telephone network is, but the definition doesn't work on its own.
Just as telephones are meaningful only when connected to the telephone network, so blogs are meaningful only when connected to the blog network. Both are carriers of human communication, but where the telephone network is essentially fixed -- at least for now, until VoIP softens its structure -- the blog network is malleable and is shaped by our use of it. It's more like a nervous system than a computer network, and for good reason.
We can't say exactly how the trick is done, but we understand the basics: a network, a message-passing protocol, nodes that aggregate inputs and produce outputs. The blog network shares these architectural properties. Its foundation network is the Web; its protocol is RSS; its nodes are bloggers. These ingredients combine in ways that are not yet widely appreciated.
The blog network is made of people. We are the nodes, actively filtering and retransmitting knowledge. Clearly this architecture can help manage the glut of information. More subtly, it can also help ensure that no vital inputs are suppressed because nobody has to rely on a single source. If one of the feeds I monitor doesn't react to some event in a given domain, another probably will. When they all react, I know it was an especially important event.
The resemblance of this model to the summing of activation potentials in a neural system is more than superficial. Nature knows best. [Full story at InfoWorld.com]
When I gave a talk on social software to a group of CTOs this summer, this fragment of dialogue ensued:
Them: So what are we really talking about here?
Me: Do you want the cosmic answer?
Me: OK. We're in the process of creating a planetary nervous system.
Them: Yeah, we get that. But how?
This column is my best answer to that question.
Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2004/12/17.html#a1136