I Am Not Charles


Advogato vs. the world

Posted in the Living Room by Joe on April 30, 2008
Tags: ,

Now that I’m not using Advogato any more, I’ve taken a little time to think about what made me dislike it. Mostly it’s that the user interface is bland, but there’s also a bit of clunkiness that really annoyed me:

90% of the world’s blogs are laid out in the same way: if you have something to say about a post, you make a comment on it. If you have something to say that you think deserves a post of its own, you post in your own blog and make a trackback to the post you’re referencing.

Advogato works a bit differently: you can post, and that’s it. There are no comments and no trackbacks. On the surface, that’s because it’s more primitive, but the community’s had plenty of time to add these features. Either they just don’t care or they think their system’s actually better.

(Wait, that’s a misuse of worse-is-better – I should have linked to less is more.)

The advantage of the Advogato system is that people do comment on each others’ posts, but they do it in their own journals. You just start out with a link to the post you’re commenting on, in this format:

shlomif: did you actually read the Nichomachean Ethics? The thing is repulsive…

On most blogs, when referencing a post somewhere else the standard is to quote copiously – quote the parts you are replying to directly, quote the parts you find especially interesting, quote the parts that give the argument’s main points. Since you found the subject interesting enough to go to all this effort, you want to give your readers a good overview. But this gives the reader very little incentive to actually go back and read the original post you’re quoting, since they already have the hilights. The Advogato style gives no context, but readers can always click the link to find it. That means that, on Advogato, people who are hooked in by a post are actually more likely to go back and read the entire context, because there’s no other way to get it.

The other advantage of Advogato’s style is that I can find interesting discussions no matter who starts them as long as someone I know takes part. When a discussion starts on one blog and unfolds entirely in the comments there, it can’t draw in anyone who isn’t already a reader. I only find new blogs when they’re widely linked to, which only happens when lots of different people have a lot to say on a subject, or when they feel that a post is so insightful that it needs to be shared. I miss out on the smaller, more specialized posts which may attract comments and observations by not wide dissemination.

On the other hand, the Advogato style discourages casual commenting, since it’s so much work to make a link – nobody comments unless they have something substantial enough to make a full post. Discussions tend to peter out after a few exchanges. And unless you already have a strong relationship with the person you’re replying to, how do you know they’ll even read your reply? There’s a list of recent posts throughout the entire site on the front page, but this doesn’t scale well at all.

So, no, the Advogato system doesn’t really work as-is. It’s pretty good for building a sense of community, but the poor scalability and lack of features in the interface it makes it unattractive for serious blogging, so many writers migrate elsewhere. (Take a look at the Advogato recent blog entries list and see how many are syndicated from other sites.) In fact, the community feeling is exactly the reason I switched to WordPress – I wanted more control over the layout, the name, and the style. I wanted a blog that I felt like I owned. But here I am complaining about how blogs are fragmented when everybody owns their own instead of participating in a communal site.

So what’s the solution? Act like a writer, not a reader. Unless what you want to say is really inconsequential, do it Advogato-style, in your own blog, with a simple link back to the post you’re referring to. That way more people will see what’s going on, and the whole community will grow. Just commenting on other people’s blogs is easier and faster, but it’s also less effective. Unfortunately, it’s what’s most encouraged by most interfaces.

(Now – should I disable comments, just for irony?)

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2 Responses to 'Advogato vs. the world'

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  1. colin said,

    I think the community context for blogs that you’re looking for is probably best found through technologies such as Google Reader. Not because you can read blogs in Google Reader, but because you can share interesting posts and subscribe to other people’s shared items. In fact, I now find that the best stuff I read these days comes from someone else’s shared items. (for example, Scoble’s shared items is an unending supply of interesting posts that rarely hit digg or slashdot)


  2. [...] to make dynamic zebra-striped tables. He asked for comments to be mailed to him – in keeping with last month’s rant about open discussion, I’m posting my response here [...]


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