conclusions from the SXSW panel

About two weeks ago, I did a panel at SXSW with a couple of friends, and the topic was the future of personal publishing.

There were a handful of points that I keep coming back to in regard to the future of weblogs, and they’re all based around the fact that we experience life as a series events, each one registered as an individual idea, filtered through our experience and context. Perhaps not coincidentally, weblogs are based on the publishing of idea-sized entries, with social, political, economic, and cultural context assigned by choice of links and blogrolls.

Though Justin, Ben, Paul and Mena each made great points during the panel, I can’t really do justice to articulating their ideas, so you’ll have to check out Heath’s transcript for what they were trying to communicate. But I thought it might be useful to summarize the points that I intended to get across, a few of which I actually succeeded in articulating.

The first one’s no surprise, if you’re a regular reader of this site or my sidebar: We’re all going to start using desktop software that’s designed to handle chunks of data, regardless of source or format. I explained a lot more about this in Introducing the Microcontent Client. Paul disagreed, saying that it makes more sense for the chunks of data to come to you in the applications you’re already using, like your mail client or IM client. He almost had me convinced.

The second idea that I really believe in, despite the fact that nearly everyone who heard it thought I was either being crazy or facetious, was that in 2 or 3 years, many of us will be reading 10,000 weblogs. It’s a hard statement to justify literally unless you factor in how sofware and platforms are going to evolve.

If you look at the classic Gladwell progression of idea spread, as outlined in The Tipping Point, the tiers at which social systems tend to reach new thresholds occur at groupings of (roughly) a dozen, one hundred, and ten thousand.

Two or three years ago, I read about a dozen weblogs. Now I actively track nearly a hundred, with another hundred that I either check infrequently or read because they’re linked from the sites I am already visiting. I also (still!) check in on MetaFilter, which currently has over seventeen thousand members. Now, I’m not actually asserting that I’ll click through a 50-page blogroll, reading each update, but I do think that a smart system that knows the people I trust (maybe the same list of 100 that I use now) will be able to follow the network out to the people they trust, and when you get two generations out, you’re easily past 10,000 blogs.

So get the posts from people I care about, plus the relevant comments from the 10,000 people who are within 2 degrees of my blog, and you’ve got my personal MetaFilter, with posts just by people I’m interested in, and comments from only the people who are either trusted by them or me. Only I think I’ll read it in a client like NetNewsWire or NewsGator, not the web browser.

It’s not that far from today’s New York Times, in some ways. The Sunday Timeshas easily got 10,000 contributors in total, if you count all the AP stringers who contribute wire stories and all the editors who pore over the text and all the people who write copy for the ads, etc. Except that I don’t get to be in ultimate control of what appears there. With weblogs, I will.

Next up: The really big point I wanted to raise about weblogs, but didn’t get to mention yet.