I relished Om Malik's post "Blogs are thought spaces" in which he said that he started blogging for two reasons:

  • to share what he had learnt as a reporter, and
  • to have a place to think out loud.

This reminded me of something I wrote in 2014 where, I too, said I like to think out loud. Blogging has always given me a way to do that but I don't think I realised it properly until undertaking my Write 365 challenge.

At the time I was riffing on a piece called "Your Outboard Memory" by Steven Johnson, creator of the Spark file.

The outboard memory is like an external hard drive, a place to curate any useful information, quotes, facts or figures you might come across. You might be familiar with the term "commonplace book" which is, usually, a handwritten book where all these references and snippets would be placed.

Literally a "common place" for everything. Johnson's Spark file is just a digital version.

We have other digital repositories where we place our "things to remember/things we might use someday" but the peculiarity of the commonplace book is that it's monolithic. There is no folder structure or tagging or other organisation, just one item after another after another.

It's how my own notebook operates at present: no dates, no references, just a series of items that, on reading them back, I might find new ideas and connections.

Because I was "social blogging" at the time I framed my thoughts in that context:

"This lead me to wonder if our musings on social media were, in essence, our own outboard memory.

Whether it is our own thoughts and writings or the items we share and curate, everything at some point and at some level was of sufficient interest to us, ignited at least a temporary spark, such that it demanded sharing.

Are our social profiles a version of the commonplace book but with the added benefit of instant feedback and collaboration?"

Obviously, the same can be said for our blogs. Should be said for our blogs. These little corners of the internet are ours to do with as we please, to store information and quotes, and to explore the ideas we get from them.

The likes of Twitter and Facebook are perfect outlets (or inlets) for these snippets of information and that's part of why they took over. People wanted somewhere to put them all without the overhead of managing that location, be it physical or digital.

Over the years, however, I have come to realise just what a waste this is. These thoughts are cast into the relentless stream, swept away and then lost. By giving them to the networks we subconsciously disassociate ourselves from them, they are no longer truly ours and are forgotten just as quickly as they are posted.

Do we ever go back over our social profiles and check what we posted or look for threads and ideas that might emerge from such a history?

No. They are gone, time stamped into obscurity as the stream demands "NOW!"

I also regret that, for a number of years, this blog became too focused, too specific and not a true thought space. In trying to be one thing it lost the essence of what it should have been.

Having blogs as places to think out loud we can pool our resources. By following blogs we outsource the gathering of these snippets and they are buffered for easier perusal in the outboard memories of others, ready to be raided at our leisure.

But, in doing so, we should not forget our own, not forget to load up our memories from time to time to keep at least some of them fresh that we may be inspired.

  1. amit says: #
    @colinwalker this is such a great post Colin. I am fascinated by the concept of outboard memory, the commonplace book. Blogging was always supposed to be the log (of thoughts) you maintain on web.

    Over the years it lost its fundamental reason for existence and became something too formal, too complicated.

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  2. colinwalker says: #
    @amit Yeah, some managed to keep going but I was guilty of letting it become something it shouldn’t. Glad I’m getting back on track now though.
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  3. amit says: #
    @colinwalker same here. I cared so little on what (& how) I was writing about in my early blogging days, thought so little about everything meta to the posts (the tags, the numbers etc). A thought kindled within was worth jotting. Wish I get back to that level of activity.
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  4. colinwalker says: #
    @amit My early blogging days (2003 – 2008) were a lot better but I became obsessed with becoming a thought leader and I think that’s why I ended up dropping the blog for a couple of years.
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  5. akurjata says: #
    @colinwalker @amit in retrospect, the worst thing to happen to my writing was to have a few “hits” and a suddenly higher subscriber count. I stopped posting until I felt like I had something great to say… which wound up being not posting… Now my followers are gone and I am free to do what I want 🙂
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  6. amit says: #
    @akurjata @colinwalker same here. There was a time when some blogs became big suggesting what other blogs should do – SEO, identify audience, gain subscribers, etc. I started focusing more on that, less on actually writing.
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  7. colinwalker says: #
    @mrkrndvs Thanks for the reply, Aaron. Yes, the way our usage of blogs morphs over time is very interesting to observe.

    Don’t know why but I didn’t get a mention at all 😢

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  8. colinwalker says: #
    @mrkrndvs Looking at your source I see you have p-in-reply-to which I don’t think is valid. Normal usage is u-in-reply-to.
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