Wednesday, July 31, 2002


A few minutes after I posted a note about hypertext in film, Aaron Swartz blogged it, suggesting that "Mark Bernstein...soaks up more media than anyone I know."

I don't think that's true. I'm not especially immersed in books and films and hypertexts. But you know what I'm reading and seeing, because I mention it. I usually don't mention books and movies very prominently, but the lists of titles grows over time and gradually paints an interesting picture of the passing seasons.

This brings up a useful point about weblog writing: the distinction between foreground and background. The foreground of a weblog needs to matter. The first rule of weblog writing is, after all, write for a reason. The foreground needs a narrative arc; if you don't supply a narrative, the reader will discover one for you. You need to write the foreground with passion and energy, lest your weblog become a passive filter or (worse) the annals of your personal idiosyncrasies.

But weblogs also have backgrounds -- material scattered in the margins, placed behind the main figures and hinted at in the weblog's negative space. My list of movies is an example: I don't know much about film, I don't make film, I don't study it. But, if you're interested, my film list is there for you. So are my book notes. It's raw data; if you can find value in it, that's great, and if you can't, it's not in the way.

Background material forms part of the weblog gift economy. Blogrolls, gift lists, book notes, music links -- none of these are compelling in isolation, but together the form a base for clustering, community, and consensus.