December 31, 2003

Lightweight Agents

A problem with conventional weblog category schemes is that they're a pain to set up. When you add a category, it's empty. So it's one more thing to worry about, and remember, every day -- and an empty category is merely a liability.

A nice thing about Tinderbox agents is that they let you add a category page to an existing weblog, populate it with relevant posts, and automatically update it every day. For example, over the past year I've discovered the work of Louis Menand, who Diane Greco brought to my attention. In Tinderbox, I can quickly make an agent that collects everything that mentions Menand (except not anything still filed among my private drafts).

In 45 seconds, I've built and populated a new category. Here it is. And I made a discovery: months and months before Greco told me about Menand, I'd blogged his marvelous New Yorker analysis of The Cat In The Hat. I didn't know that!

"But that was then, a long time gone. Now we have something different: we have "anything goes" without the spirit. "Transgression

Agents aren't completely free. Since agents constantly scan your writing, a large array of agents operating over an extensive body of text -- such as a weblog that goes back to 2001 -- can slow things down. And, if agents make it easy to create lots of categories, that could lead to new kinds of confusion. There's no free lunch. But it's a new set of affordances and a new set of tradeoffs, and that's the name of our game.