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?