Weblogs as social infrastructure

elephant-with-blind-menUp to now I’ve tried to steer clear of the whole ‘what are weblogs’ debate. I think it’s a futile question. They are whatever the owners of weblogs choose to make them. What is television? Same futile question.

There is a lot of talk lately of social software. Exactly what social software is I still don’t know. But as people are fundamentally social people it must be important. I have a suspicion that what most people are talking about when they talk about social software are contact managers. Glorified online address books where I share my contacts with you and vice versa in the hope at least one of us meets new and interesting people as a result.

These days I tend to meet new and interesting people on the web by reading their weblogs (I have a life outside of the computer where I use different – though not fundamentally so – strategies for meeting new and interesting people). I find new weblogs via all kinds of routes such as links, trackbacks and comments to my own weblog (an ice-breaker for sure as we must have had something in common to have established the link) or via similar links on weblogs I already read. In one sense therefore I am already a participant in a social network, the network that extends around my weblog and those weblogs I read often. As a result of the nature of the web, and the rapid take-up of weblogging as a form of personal expression, this network is ever-expanding.

This social network is richer than any I could attempt to create intentionally. By reading a person’s weblog I can get so much more understanding about them as a person than I ever could by using so-called social software, where an individual is reduced to a thumbs up or thumbs down icon plus ancillary information such as place of birth, pet’s name and favourite colour. Like Lilia, I think weblogs are conversational tools. Sometimes you may be having a conversation with yourself, other times you’re part of an exciting group discussion, but either way you’re part of a social network that surpasses any that existed before weblogs.

So, despite my reluctance to enter the ‘what are weblogs’ debate, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that weblogs are the social infrastructure of the Internet.