World Wide Whiteboard
by Doc Searls Sunday, November 10, 2019

Back in the '00s, I said blogging was "like sending email that's 'cc:world'." That was kind of the way my old blog (1999-2007) worked.  The subject was the headline and each post was as short or long as I liked—as an email also might be. And, like an email, it was personal. I was speaking for myself.

These days I write on four blogs:  my personal oneProjectVRMCustomer Commons, and here. Of those four, only this one is fully* personal, and only this one runs on a writing platform like my old blog had. (No surprise there, because both platforms were creations of our blogfather, Dave Winer.) Sometimes I also cross-post to Medium, which is now less leveraged than it used to be. (I can explain later, but it's beside the point of this post.) And I tweet

*A bit of explanation: my personal blog is a Harvard one, and so is ProjectVRM's. Customer Commons' is also not mine. And I'm mindful of those institutions when I write there. Here the institution is me.

Bigger than all four of those blogs is Linux Journal, where I wrote a great deal, including what amounted to blog posts on its website, for 25 years. That ended when Linux Journal ceased business in August. Also, as of today the entire site, with all its archives, is offline, erasing a third to a half of what I've written online so far.

While I'm hoping that the owner will bring the site back up again (they did promise to keep it up), the prospect of losing the whole thing has shaken my belief that the Web itself will ever be a true place for archiving anything. Instead it's a whiteboard.† And writing on a whiteboard is not a prospect that energizes me. Quite the opposite, in fact. Especially when so much of my online work is gone. (Again, at least for now.)

Here's another depressing thing: Google and Bing searches are now biased for traffic rather than links. I know this for two reasons. One is that I planted keyword easter eggs in some old and well-linked-to blog posts, which both search engines used to find; and now they bring up goose eggs: nada. (I'd tell you the keyword, but that would blow the test.) The other is that links to this blog don't cause it to show up in search engines, but visits to this blog do cause it to show up—at least for me—presumably because Google and Bing watched one person come here, and customized the search result just for that person (moi).

Or so it seems. I really don't know.

Are there studies on any of this... about how the Web is a whiteboard, or how search engines are becoming biassed for observed visits rather than for inbound links?

I suppose studies like that would be hard or impossible, given the operational opacity of search engines, their tendency to change constantly, and the ways they are rigged to personalize results.

So I'm in something of a liminal state right now, wondering where to invest my ceaseless writing energies. At the moment the Web is looking less appealing than ever. My mind might change, especially if we succeed in getting Linux Journal back up. But that's where I am right now.

†I first wrote about this in Linux Journal back in 2003, noting a split between the "static" Web that was like a library (with its "locations," "sites," and "domains" you could "visit" and "browse"), and the "live" web of blogs and posts. I also wrote about it at greater length in 2005, when we had the first hints toward what became social media. Here's a link to it I just found on Google. It currently goes nowhere. And, if the Linux Journal site doesn't come back up, Google's search engine will forget it, and the live Web's whiteboard will be wiped clean.