My blog as a commonplace book

Greg Linch likes to talk about com­mon­place books. It’s even what he named his Tum­blr. Basi­cally, it’s a means of col­lect­ing and stor­ing all those bits of infor­ma­tion that make our lives inter­est­ing. It could be a photo, an essay, or a quote. Regard­less, it’s impor­tant infor­ma­tion that you want to mark and save for later.

This has long been the approach I’ve taken to this site. Years ago Matt wrote about how asides are use­ful.  Pre­sent­ing con­tent in the form most appro­pri­ate is some­thing I have tried to make more explicit in the design of this site. It’s why I’ve also exper­i­mented with things like the read­ing list that I now have. Dif­fer­ent con­tent requires dif­fer­ent pre­sen­ta­tion but there’s no rea­son it can’t all live in the same house.

Anil Dash has said, “I expect that my blog will in some ways be one of the most sig­nif­i­cant things I cre­ate in my life.” I agree. There’s some­thing immensely pow­er­ful about tak­ing a cor­ner of the web and say­ing “this is mine.”

Shar­ing things in my cor­ner of the web makes them also form a part of my iden­tity. What I share, to a large extent, is who I am. It’s how I com­mu­ni­cate with you even if I’m not able to talk to you everyday.

As this his­tory of shared items grows there’s also the fun aspect of flip­ping back through it. Steven John­son has a great post about the com­mon­place book where he writes that:

Each reread­ing of the com­mon­place book becomes a new kind of rev­e­la­tion. You see the evo­lu­tion­ary paths of all your past hunches: the ones that turned out to be red her­rings; the ones that turned out to be too obvi­ous to write; even the ones that turned into entire books. But each encounter holds the promise that some long-forgotten hunch will con­nect in a new way with some emerg­ing obsession.

Where I can, I avoid farm­ing out my iden­tity. If I do share­crop I back it up. This is why my blog is my pub­lic com­mon­place book. The col­lec­tion makes me, me. It’s on my domain. It’s free. That’s all impor­tant because if I lose my shared items, I lose a part of that core identity.

The destruc­tion of a shar­ing ser­vice means I would also lose the abil­ity to flip back through a his­tory of my thought. Those long-forgotten hunches would stay for­got­ten and lost to his­tory. With­out a com­mon­place book that you con­trol you’re gam­bling your abil­ity to learn and grow from your cur­rent actions.

Google+ and importing identity

Thanks to an early invite from Raanan I played with Google+ over the week­end. I want to jot down one thought about how Google+ treats identity.

A sig­nif­i­cant bar­rier to entry for many social tools is find­ing the peo­ple you already know who are using the ser­vice. This is what gets you hooked on a social service.

After log­ging in and explor­ing the UI for a bit I went to start cre­at­ing cir­cles. Here are the options, besides search of course, Google gives for find­ing people.

Yahoo! and Hot­mail are the only two exter­nal con­tact sources I can use. 1 Those of us who have taken the time and care­fully cre­ated lists of peo­ple we fol­low else­where should be able to import those net­works directly into Google+. I don’t par­tic­u­larly care about the peo­ple Google rec­om­mends for me to follow.

With all the data Google has they could be pop­u­lat­ing lists of peo­ple. Instead pre­sent­ing new users with their email address book, Google rec­om­men­da­tions, and Yahoo! and Hot­mail imports Google+ could instead be pulling data from Twit­ter, Face­book, Google Reader, and much more. Break each ser­vice into a fil­tered list and voilà, easy and rel­e­vant user dis­cov­ery for first-time users.

Our iden­ti­ties online are formed by much more than our address books. If Google+ is what comes next it would be nice if they acknowl­edged and worked with this.

What’s impor­tant as a first run expe­ri­ence on Google+ is whether the peo­ple I fol­low else­where are already there. The eas­ier it is for peo­ple to bring in their exist­ing net­works of friends and fol­low­ers the bet­ter Google+ will fare.


  1. Seri­ously?! How minis­cule is the Venn dia­gram of Google+ and Hot­mail users?