RSS feeds: Leader or not?

I break most of my blog posts, here and on scienceblogs.com, into a pre and post section with the pre-section being what shows up on RSS feeds and the rest below the fold. Some people find this annoying, but I find the opposite annoying. I don’t use my RSS feeder to read other people’s blogs. I much prefer to read those blogs on their own terms. I want to see the blogger’s choice of typeface and styling, layout, etc. etc. and I want to know what else is visible on that blog post’s page, i.e., on side bars and such. This is because, as a blogger, I know that people who bother to write for the internet also often have other tings going on, other things they want to show us. Like fer instance, James Hrynyshyn at Class M has a widget on his left sidebar that shows us the “remaining allowable emmissions in tonnes of carbon from fossil fuel use etc.etc.” and I like to keep track of that. (The current countdown reaches zero on October 8th, 2043). And there are other things like that.

I examine a lot more blog posts than I read. If I open a post in the RSS reader that I use, I want to see enough to know what the post is about but not enough to even fill my computer’s screen, so it is one less step to navigate to the next post (depending on what navigation tool I’m using). In other words, I like to use the RSS feeder like those old chapter headings used in many 19th century books, which gave you a bunch of information underneath the chapter heading about what was coming up in that chapter (some TOC’s of the day did the same thing, a tradition revived in recent years in textbooks).

I suppose that it is because I like RSS summaries better than having RSS’s provide the entire post that I write most of my own blog posts this way. Some people tell me that they will never, ever read my blog and that I am a bad person because I do this. I am considered “guilty” of doing something ungood, and I’m told by some that they routinely unsubscribe from bloggers who do this. Some of my fellow bloggers never split posts for RSS feeds and claim that this is the only moral way to blog, and act all holier-than-thou about it. My fellow bloggers who do split their posts are usually silent on the issue because post-splitting is stigmatized as the wrong thing to do, and because it does have a mercenary aspect to it; In theory, we who get paid by the hit get something if you actually show up on our sites, but not if you merely read a copy of our work delivered to you by a third party. A split RSS feed is like a marquee; you get to see the name of the movie or maybe a poster or a trailer for free but if you want to watch the whole thing you’ve got to pay. For a movie, that’s between five and ten bucks where I live, but for a blog post it is a mere mouse click. A blog post that is a short announcement of something else (a pointer to another post or an upcoming event, for instance) should be all “above the fold” but a longer written work is the author’s intellectual property and there are numerous ways to deliver such property. Requiring someone to open the book to read the novel is not an immoral or unethical act.

The mercenary nature of splitting a post along with the grumbling of the annoyed, I think, causes many of those who do this to simply remain silent when the conversation is happening, but I find that silence annoying as well because in fact, there are those of us who strongly prefer the split method in no small part becuase that is how we use our RSS feeds. Everybody has a set of preferences as to how they want the Internet to be, and sometimes individuals make their little part of the internet the way they want it. If one presents the attitude that one is expressing oneself by doing this, then other people may grumble silently and even walk way unhappy, and usually people leave you alone. But, if others have already expresses a disdain for a certain practice then an individual blogger or webmaster does not really have much purchase in the game, and it is hard to claim freedom of expression or artistic license.

The point is, what we do, what we can and can not say that we like, what we are expected to dislike, is a function of culture and received knowledge (or, really, received attitude) more than it is rational. For instance, there is a good argument that the typeface “Comic Sans” is an excellent typeface for certain uses. It seems to go well with presentations for children, for instance. But other than its use in a cynical context, the people who have decided what your attitude should be have decided that you can never use it. In fact, you can’t even use it in a cynical context because people often notice the typeface before they notice the cynicism, and most people who are ready to condemn you as a human being based on a typeface choice are rarely able to take back their hatred once they’ve unleashed it.

There are also profound differences in the choices we have. Over at Scienceblogs.com, we are about to have a major redesign of the site. When that happens, I think I’ll be losing my left sidebar. I put a lot of important stuff in my left sidebar, including badges linking to various networks or causes. I may have to live in a world, in a few weeks, where I have to tell people “no, sorry, I can’t be part of that network anymore because you require a badge and my blog can’t have badges.” Some people will storm off and hate me until the day they die. Others will not notice. Eventually it may be that nobody uses these badges anymore because some other way of doing whatever the badges do emerges and spreads. Oh, and in case you have not noticed, left sidebars are becoming increasingly rare. It turns out that current models suggest that ad-clickiness of a web site is enhanced with all content on the left and all the ads above, on the right, within the stream of text/comments, and in that annoying popup that is currently sitting behind this very window waiting for you.

I personally disdain white or light text on a black or dark background. Yet, one of the blogs I write for does this. It is not a choice I make. Do I hate myself for writing a blog that is annoying for myself to read? (There are technological fixes for this problem, and I use those, by the way.) At one of the blog networks I contribute to, the blog post is split automatically for me, I have no choice. At another we are encouraged by management to split posts so that our front pages look a certain way and we all get more views. At another, there is no rule and the bloggers are split between “I split for the cash” and “Splitting is immoral, might as well step on the baby kittens” and “What is this splitting thing you speak of?” and everything in between. Then there is me: “I split because I like it, and I want everyone else to do it” which, I know, holds no cachet whatsoever with the anti-splitters because they have already received their culturally determined stance on the morality of splitting and that’s the end of it for those poor souls. And, yes, for me it is also true that “I split most posts because I want you to come to my blog and read them …. I want you to click on my page, I want you to see my sidebars, I want you to see the pointies to before and after posts and visit them as well. My motivation for writing this post is in part to get you to join me here.”

There is another level at which choice is limited. Some of us don’t care if our blogs make any money for them. Some people even claim that they don’t care if anyone even reads their blog (which I find hard to believe). Some of us got laid off and live in a house with not enough room so we sleep on the living room floor and would appreciate the fucking clicks so we can keep the interest on our loans paid off, thank you very much. One could argue forever about choice, but if one is going to do that, your argument will not have much meaning unless everyone else can also examine all of your choices, because you are certainly not doing it right from the point of view of someone else, maybe many others!

I want RSS summaries, not whole posts, unless the posts are short. I want my blog’s home page to have title/text, title/text, title/text for several posts with little paging-down, and I want you to read most of my blog posts at my site, not on your reader, because a) I made it all nice for you and b) I want your damn click. And, I can exercise that choice because it is my intellectual property, and you can vote one way or another with your “feet.” It is just a bit annoying to me that the rhetoric related to this issue describes the situation in only one way, with little or no reference to the full context and all the relevant factors.

I guess it is polite of RSS to take only what our posts suggest for them; Technologically that is not required. Technologically, you can scrape the whole blog post if you like. But, there is a copyright issue here. Scraping past an RSS summary and taking the rest of the post is sort of like being sent a PDF file of a free chapter of a book otherwise available for sale, but you have software that searches the host’s site for the rest of the book and takes that too. Your access to my blog via third party technology, interfaced with your wants and needs and my intellectual property, certainly makes an interesting nexus.

That is all, thank you very much.

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The X Club

Michael Barton with Darwin Coffee Mug

Michael Barton with his bounty, a Darwin "I Think" Coffee Mug.

The Following is a Guest Post by Michael D. Barton. Michael is a reader of this blog and did his thesis on Darwin and Tyndall. For this reason, he was easily able to win the bounty for identifying the meaning of the term “The X Blog.” And, it was obvious that he should write a guest post here about “The X Club,” after which this blog is named. Don’t worry if this is not entirely clear; It will be after you’ve read Michael’s excellent essay.

The Darwin I Think Coffee Mug and other fine merchandise can be purchased here.

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Blog Business

A little blog business for our readers.

As you may have noticed, Free Thought Blogs is continuing to grow. New bloggers are being added now and then, and our traffic is growing as well. Last month we passed the 5 million page view mark, and growth seems to be continuing. I estimate that our current rate is close to 7 mpm (million per month) or more.

Amazingly, our server set up, due to the excellent tweaking done by our highly skilled technical team, has been handling this traffic, but that is not going to last long. In order to manage the expected increases in traffic, therefore, we are going to migrate the site to an entirely new server. A Super Server.

This will be done on Friday night, 10pm Eastern. The site will be down for a few hours for that purpose, but you can bet it will be off and on for a day or two after that because that is what always happens.

There is other interesting news as well, but it will wait for alter. I’ve got to go get ready for at TV show taping now. Have an interesting evenin.

X Blog 2.0: New Policy

I regret having promoted Richard Dawkins latest book. What I should have done is to suggest people refrain from buying it until we hear something from him that places his insensitive and idiotic comments, those uttered on PZ Myer’s blog Pharyngula regarding Elevator Gate, in some sort of explanatory context that makes Dawkins look less like the rest of the emotionally disturbed highly offensive lumps of drek that inhabit certain blogs which I shall not name. See, in that post I tried to do two things that miserably failed. I tried to demonstrate bridge building, and I said a very simple seeming thing that required more than a third grade level of comprehension to get. Fourth grade, at least. Bridge building with people who revel in bridge burning might be possible but it is not worth my effort*, and exposing slightly complex conversations to the emotional and cognitive borderline of the blogosphere is just asking for trouble.

That is context, background, but not explanation for something I want to make clear to you, dear reader. When I first started up the X-Blog, I had two goals, and both were formed in relation to my blog at Scienceblogs.com. The first was to separate out, most of the time, what I write about topically. I stated that I would not be held to some idealized version of topical separation that others might form in their fertile imaginations, but that I would more or less blog about science and science related topics (including science education and policy) on Scienceblogs.com and other political or social topics here on the X Blog. That has actually worked out fairly well, and I’ve not had too much trouble making that distinction.

The second objective was to move the free-wheeling no holds barred often nastier discussion over here to the X Blog, encourage those of you who, for some reason, have decided that being offensive is a good thing and part of your mode of expression, to take your severe tone and your snarky language here, to allow my Scienceblogs blog to develop a more PG-13 demeanor, in line with our National Geographic association.

With respect to my blog at Scienceblogs.com, that has worked fairly well. The offensive comments, those with the severity and snark and insult, most recently have only come from Climate Change Denialists and the occasional Nuclear Power Apologist. And, I have allowed the AGW denialists to have a bit of room in the commenting section for one reason only: To demonstrate to those just tuning in how far out on the fringe they are. But, as that has largely been accomplished, anti-Science yammering in general is now re-disallowed. Let the accusations of censorship Begin! I don’t care! I’ll delete them all! Bwhahaha!!

But with respect to the other part .. moving the drek over to The X Blog, I now see that this was a mistake. Drek is still drek. It still smells, it still annoys, it still serves no purpose. I learned this when the angry children of the blog that shall not be named came over to the Dawkins post and started giving me and various readers a hard time for not subscribing to their version of MRAdvocay or misogyny.

Now they are banned, and no longer welcome here. It pains me to do that because one of those assholes was actually someone I consider a friend. But a friend who has no ability to respect is not a friend, really. Might as well cut that bit of gangrene off sooner than later.

So now let me explain the new commenting policy to you. It is very simple.

The part where you insist that it is my responsibility to ensure your right of free speech? No. It is not. I am the arbitrary Hand of Blog which shall smite your comment any time I want to, and you are not welcome to do whatever you want at The X Blog. Not even a little. I will write my blog posts, you will read them, and you will comment respectfully to the other commenters and to me. And I will be respectful to you in return. If that is not acceptable, you should have little difficulty finding something else to do.

And there will be transgressions and regressions, and thus forgiveness. Up to a point.

I need to do this because I need to be more comfortable with certain things I’m doing. You may need to embrace this new approach for similar reasons, whether you know it or not, though I don’t expect everyone to feel the same way. And if you don’t feel the same way, you are of course free to express yourself.

_________________________
*For those who take “it is not worth my effort” for “I’m trying hard to do it” let me be more clear: I am not interesting in building those bridges. Not. That’s a negative. Negation.

How to get a free Darwin Coffee Mug and show off at the same time SOLVED

Puzzle Solved! (See comments)

I am very very disappointed in my readership that no one has yet figured out the meaning of the phrase “The X Blog.” I admit that if you google “The X Blog” you get things that are not helpful in pursuit of this information. And I admit that there is no wikipedia article on “The X Blog” so you can’t just look it up there. But if you do piece together just a few additional clues that are in the first post on the blog, and do a little bit of investigating, you can figure it out. It isn’t totally obvious. It is obscure. But once you are there, it’s very cool.

To know what The X Blog is, you need one word.
There are clues all over the place.
The modern use of “X” will seem absurd.
You’ll be close when you find the face.

A blog is like a child
And a child is like a blog.
A name can be revealing
Or it can be like fog.

To win this cool mug
Be the first to know the name
And you can rhyme me some smug.
And revel in the fame.

If you are a blogger on Freethoughts.com, you probably already know this (especially if you are Stephanie). That makes you ineligible! Also, Amanda is ineligible! Julia is overseas so she does not know, and Huxley is too little. Everybody else, let’s see what you can do.

In the event of close calls or ties, I’ll determine who gets the mug. Win a bounty of one mug to the first correct guesser, put your guess in the comments.

Ivan’s Coffee Shop II

It occurs to me that I have known, even been close to, people whom I’ve never met in the flesh, that I know in a virtual world only.  Only one or two, but it is really true and when I think about that, I’m astounded.  More common are the people whom I know as well or best from virtual space but I also know or have met in person.  Most (maybe all) are colleagues.  It’s like knowing someone only from conferences.  You see the guy every year at a conference and when you get together again each year or two an unmaintained friendship turns back on and runs from that Thursday to that Sunday.  My point is that part of my world has been virtual for a long time.  <!–more–>

I wish to live near a spot frequented by my loved ones.  They are all too polite to stop randomly in my house (but they would be welcome).  Not everyone loved by me knows they are.  Some I wish to see sometimes but not necessarily care for that much.  Some I simply need (you know who you are!).  This is the coffee shop model of society.  I want to be writing and thinking intensely and be interrupted by one I’m glad to see, rather than by an intrusive email or thoughts I don’t want to have.  But there are reasons why this cannot happen, including the unfortunate fact that not everyone I love or like or need lives within walking distance of any place.

I’m sure when I was young I thought of the Internet.  So many people must have.  I’m sure when I was about 13, I read Ivan Illich’s “Deschooling Society
” and that was the first time I ever heard of a coffee shop.  He wanted everyone to hang out in coffee shops instead of having universities.  I remember thinking it would be easier to do this by computer than to invent the coffee shop.  At the time, this meant  to “finger” someone.  Having an identitycrisis?  Just type “whoami” at the terminal.  Today, virtual communities use the exact same technology (… really, the exact – same – technology …) but wrapped in layers allowing human readability.

I have the strange feeling that I have been ignoring the Internet all along even though I am constantly connected to it.