[The following is a March 2005 blog post I'm re-running here, for reasons I'll get into after I post some other stuff that's in the works.]
A couple weeks ago I was hanging out with George Lakoff and friends while they waited for a late plane here in Santa Barbara, where George had given a speech the night before. One of those friends was not yet hip to blogs, so it became a fun conversational project to describe blogs metaphorically, especially since metaphors are George's forté, to say the least.
Once he understood that blogs were powerful tools for change, the friend began to run down a list of Big Challenges that I, as a well-known blogger, should tackle.
I'm sure this isn't exactly verbatim, but it's pretty close to the reply I gave:
Tell ya what. I'm fifty-seven years old, and I've been pushing large rocks for short distances up a lot of hills, for a long time. Now, with blogging, I get to roll snowballs down hills. Some don't go very far. But some get pretty big once they start rolling.
See, each snowball grows as others link to the original idea, and add their own thoughts and ideas. By the time the snowball gets big enough to have some impact, it really isn't my idea any more.
Anyway, at this point in my life I'd rather roll snowballs than push rocks.
That conversation came to mind as I re-read Steve Gillmor's RSS for food. This passage in particular:
I also operate on the assumption that if it's a good idea, the chances are also good that somebody else had it too. Case in point, the RSS/BitTorrent idea, which I "invented" back in December in my eWEEK column. In the blogosphere, it produced a dressing down from several techies who assumed I misunderstood how the technology worked ( "The point that Gillmor missesŠ" and "Gillmor's vision is upside downŠ") and a slashdotting of the syndicated Yahoo News version.
The net Blogging for Food result: I am permanently immortalized as an idiot on Google, received no page rank whuffie since the original post preceded the rollout of my eWEEK blog, and didn't even get the benefit of a Slashdot traffic spike on the originating eWEEK.com site. But thanks to Andrew Grumet, who actually picked up the idea and implemented it, and Dave Winer, who saw the familiar makings of a low barrier publishing framework for audio and video, and TiVo, who's fighting Rupert Murdoch's Direct TV and the DRM lobby by moving to Web content delivery, the RSS BitTorrent idea is still growing.
As Jay Rosen said when he snowballed a toss-off line of mine, Blogging is about making and changing minds.
Sure, weblogs are good for making statements, big and small. But they also force re-statement. Yes, they're opinion forming. But they are equally good at unforming opinion, breaking it down, stretching it out, re-building it around new stuff. Come to some conclusions? Put them in your weblog, man, but just remember: it doesn't want to conclude.
I think Big Challenges start with conclusion, with finished opinions. That's what makes them sysiphean. They are bodies at rest that are hard to put into motion, especially in an uphill direction.
But if you start with an idea, whether partly formed or whole, whether yours or somebody else's, and push it in the downhill direction that all blogging (thanks to links and RSS) essentially goes, it's bound to have some impact once it grows large enough. And as long as it keeps going.