March 6, 2008
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BlogTalk remains a very interesting conference, but one unmoored from its roots in the academe and, indeed, from weblogs. Pretty much gone, now, are the papers on the characteristics of national blogospheres, on effective blogging practice, or on the scholastic uses of weblogs. Instead, there's a lot of interest in social networks, in new standards for exporting lists of friends, in OpenID and mashup plumbing.

Several talks showed the same slide, diagramming a succession of Web 2.0, Web 3.0, and Web 4.0 technologies. As far as I can make out, Web 1.0 represents the bad investments you made and wrote off, Web 2.0 is whatever revenue you're generating now, and Web 3.0 (labelled "the semantic Web") is the promise of whatever stuff your engineers are building. Web 4.0 is labelled "Web OS", is based on "artificial intelligence", is scheduled to arrive between 2030 and 2040, and is, basically, magic. This discussion of the semantic Web tended, to my ears, to be radically naïve; people pretty much rehashed the TBL CACM paper, except that they now expect that the metadata will be added automatically through tagging and natural language parsing. It's such a retro view that I wasn't quite certain whether the proponents had never left 2002, or had learned something new that led them back again.

Fortunately, there remains a core of real work. Salim Ismail (no longer at Yahoo) and Joe Lamantia (Keane) kicked things off with interesting talks about, in essence, the place of advertising and deception in the Web business. Most people talk about spam and deceit and wring their hands, or plot ways to punish wrongdoers and clean up the world; both of these speakers accepted corruption as our lot and urged us to reflect on how much dirt we can accept on our own hands.

Anna Rogozinska (Warsaw) has a fine bit of Web scholarship in a critical study of Polish diet blogs. There's a lot to be learned, here, both descriptive and prescriptive; I'm not sure we know a lot more about cultivating Web and Wiki communities than we did when Powazek wrote the book. This was pretty much the only critical scholarship in evidence, and so the paper was in its way a saving grace, a proof that this is still BlogTalk.

Jeremy Ruston and cohorts have an open source lab at BT. They're building lots of TiddlyWiki infrastructure for a variety of collaborative tasks, and have interesting things to say about insurgent tech in a conservative corporate host. The wiki/weblog connection is far more interesting than people understandl Ruston didn't address the issue, but it's clearly one foundation for their work.

Brian O'Donovan and Gabriela Avram have been studying a formerly-conservative corporate host, IBM, and its embrace of groupware, blogs, and related tools. Andera Gadeiv (Dialego) does qualitative analysis of virtual market research focus groups — an unexpected and interesting application of groupeware. And Jon Hoem (Bergen) presented a nice Javascript framework.Memoz, for spatialized weblog-as-collage; there's other pertinent work in this vein (Shipman and Revilla, J. Nathan Matias), but this is certainly interesting and useful.

A weakness of BlogTalk has always been its assumption that software happens, and that our job is to find good uses for whatever tools the software companies provide, or to study the way typical users adopt them. I think that's short sighted, and it's good to see some timid steps toward new systems or, at least, new facilities. The semantic Web handwaving will, I suppose, subside in another year or two, replaced either by some new form of handwaving or by real work with real metadata. But I still think the turn to include "social software" with blogs was a mistake; when any ploy (however ineffectual or dishonest) that spreads through a buddy list or address book is equally pertinent to the conference, BlogTalk tends to become another meetup about marketing on the Web.